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‘Epping solution’ goes to Minister

A bus industry solution to the Epping-Parramatta rail conundrum has been presented to the NSW Government – and it looks a likely winner

By David Goeldner | June 22, 2011

BusNSW in conjunction with planners from two of Sydney’s largest bus operators – Comfort Delgro Cabcharge and Busways – have come up with a bus rapid transit alternative to the much vaunted Epping to Parramatta rail line upgrade.

The proposal is a hybrid transitway with some sections partitioned from existing arterial roads, and linked to new dedicated busway infrastructure on sections of reserve land near Macquarie and further west at Parramatta.

The transitway would run 16 kilometres between Macquarie’s university and business centre, tracking through Eastwood on to the University of Western Sydney and terminating at Parramatta interchange.

New roads would be constructed or upgraded along parts of the proposed route, and travel times would at least halve from 45 minutes in peak periods down to around 20 to 25 minutes between Parramatta and Macquarie.

The proposal was put together by a group of planners from CDC and Busways, and presented by BusNSW to NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian in mid-June.

Busways Group Service Development Manager Andrew Glass says the corridor identified by the planners is a potentially strong passenger generator, well served at either end by existing public transport.

“By providing the link between Macquarie and Parramatta via a Bus Rapid Transit system gets people across the missing link between these two important centres,” Glass says.

Glass echoes the sentiments of western Sydney residents questioning the value and worth of upgrading the Epping to Parramatta rail link, although he admits that his expertise is in bus service and route planning – not in rail.

“Whether the existing rail line is in the right place isn’t for us to say,” says Glass.

“What we can say by developing a BRT system is that it determines where people want to go and links into the existing urban fabric a bit better than trying to adapt an existing rail line and make that suit the purpose.”

Glass says planning a Bus Rapid Transit system from ‘scratch’ considers where people live, where they want to go and what links they would benefit from.

“A BRT can be planned in such a way that it may help to move a lot more people,” he says.

The bus industry’s proposal has considered using sections of land the NSW Government had set aside several years ago, bringing unused space suited to a transit corridor into ‘active life’.

Glass says the County Road reservation from Eastwood through to Macquarie, for example, would require very little property acquisition to form part of a busway section of the transitway.

The County Road reservation section would take up about a quarter of the proposed 16 km transitway.

Glass says County Road has been identified as one of two sections where busway-style infrastructure would be built.

The other section identified for busway infrastructure is at the western end of the corridor through the old Macquarie Boys high school near the University of Western Sydney, to be developed as Peter Shergold Avenue, named after the current UWS Chancellor.

The remaining sections of the transit way would run adjacent to existing roads, heavily partitioned in most parts to stay separate from traffic.

“This has been labelled as a transitway rather than a true BRT system,” Glass says.

“There are aspects of a BRT such as the Country Road reservation and proposal to construct Peter Shergold Avenue at the Macquarie Boys high school, but there are also elements of transitway bus priority systems,” he says.

As the transit way won’t be completely segregated along its entire 16 kilometre path, Glass sees the compromise as a promising start.

“We could get this up and running in a short period of time, compared to a full heavy rail link,” he says.

“I think this transitway has the potential to be converted to a full BRT system if the demand and its success proved highly desirable by the community.”

Glass says neither his company Busways, nor CDC – the co-planner – would gain exclusively from the proposal as the transitway’s path lies outside of both operators’ contracted service areas.

“Under the current contract system it would fall inside the State Transit operational area, so what we are proposing is a transit link to the benefit of everyone,” he says.

“It’s not a proposal that pushes any one company’s advantage – we are a group of planners who have seen a need for development of a BRT in this area, and this is a good system that could be introduced.”

Glass says whether the Parramatta to Macquarie transitway was operated by a private contractor or whether it’s run by State Transit as part of the metropolitan bus system contracts is neither ‘here nor there’.

“The fact is we will have a good piece of infrastructure that could be the start of many other things.”

BusNSW Executive Director Darryl Mellish agrees, acknowledging that the movement of people west of Sydney is a major task.

“We don’t believe there has been enough attention given to bus rapid transit as an option in a number of places in Sydney,” he says.

“And with the formation of Infrastructure NSW there’s been a lot of publicity about taking the politics out of deciding on infrastructure priorities.”

Mellish says the NSW Government has placed itself on record as taking the policy position of providing infrastructure regardless of the political expediency of various electorates.

“The bus industry has been effective in getting new bus services into areas that haven’t been well serviced by rail, but there seems to be a thought within various planning groups that all of the linkages in the north-west and west have to be heavy rail,” Mellish says.

“We would like the concept of bus rapid transit more actively considered.”

Mellish has also looked to Brisbane and overseas for world class examples of bus rapid transit systems, and how these ideas can be transposed in Sydney.

“If you look at Brisbane and some of the overseas examples, they are moving massive amounts of people at a fraction of the cost, and allowing funding to be developed in other areas like tunnels or overpasses where there have been bottle necks before,” he says.

“And we are seeing examples where BRT can move about 40,000 passengers per hour in a single direction.”

Mellish and the planning group also understand there are roles where rail, light rail, bus and ferry modes are best suited around Sydney.

“We are committed to the best solution for the task,” says Mellish.

“But we also believe that BRT can play an important role in parts of Sydney where it hasn’t been considered.”

With a change of government in NSW and the creation of Infrastructure NSW, Mellish has considered state budget forward estimates and is optimistic that the Parramatta – Macquarie transitway will receive funding as a major project.

“The state budget comes down shortly, and we are confident that there are funds available for proper transport infrastructure,” Mellish says.

The planners estimate the transitway project would be constructed in 18 months at an estimated cost of $250 million, significantly cheaper than the proposed $2.5 billion required for the Epping rail link.

Exclusive for busnews subscribers, the Parramatta – Macquarie Transitway proposal and maps are available to download here

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