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Parramatta light rail costs blow out to more than $3.5 billion

An artist’s impression of how the light rail will look in the Parramatta CBD. NSW Member for Parramatta Geoff Lee, Minister for Transport Andrew Constance and NSW Premier Mike Baird during the announcement of the proposal for Parramatta’s light rail in December. Photo: Steven Siewert
Nanjing Night Net

The cost of Mike Baird’s signature public transport promise for western Sydney has ballooned to more than $3.5 billion – $2.5 billion above what has been budgeted, secret government documents show.

The Parramatta light rail project is the centrepiece of the government’s plans to cement Parramatta as Sydney’s second central business district, as well as its proposal this week to build thousands of apartments around Sydney Olympic Park.

But only $1 billion has been allocated for a project which, according to a preliminary business case obtained by Fairfax Media, is costed at more than $3.5 billion.

The business case also shows the light rail project is not expected to generate as much benefit as it costs.

The revelations follow a tumultuous week for the Baird government, in which the Premier has attempted to re-assert control over a number of difficult issues.

After insisting for months he would not back down, Mr Baird dramatically reversed his support for a ban on greyhound racing on Tuesday. He later backed down on his previous refusal to install shark nets on the NSW North Coast.

A “cabinet in confidence” costs assessment of the Parramatta light rail project dated January 2016 and prepared by consultancy Turner & Townsend puts a $3.51 billion price-tag on the light rail routes the government has said it would build around Parramatta.

These are tram lines from Westmead through Parramatta to Carlingford on the existing Carlingford rail line and to Strathfield via Sydney Olympic Park.

Separate documents, meanwhile, show the project will deliver questionable benefits. If a project’s benefit cost ratio is less than one, a project is expected to deliver less benefit than cost.

A business case dated May 2015 shows a maximum benefit cost ratio for light rail lines around Parramatta of 0.73.

An addendum dated July 2015 reports range benefit cost ratios from 0.66 if only transport benefits are included, potentially rising to 1.06 if “wider economic benefits” are included.

While the Parramatta light rail project will not be the scale of the $8.3 billion Sydney Metro NorthWest, the tram lines are scheduled to be the only major public transport initiative in western Sydney begun in this term of government. Transport for NSW has said it wants to start construction in 2018.

“The light rail spine through Greater Parramatta will provide a new and convenient link for customers travelling between Parramatta CBD, Westmead, North Parramatta and Camellia providing enhanced connections to, through and within Sydney’s Second CBD,” the business case documents say.

“These customers will include hospital workers, university students, CBD based employees and customers seeking recreation and retail,” they say.

The line is expected to run services every 10 minutes during the day, and carry around 10,000 passengers in a morning peak hour by 2036.

There will, however, be engineering and traffic challenges involved in the construction of the line. The project would require removing multiple lanes of traffic from major routes around Parramatta.

Fairfax Media has previously revealed the government is considering cutting back the length of the light rail project, or at least building it in stages, partly because it is considering an alternative metro rail line through the area.

However if the government cut back the line to a shuttle between the Westmead hospital precinct and Camellia, where major property development is planned, this would contradict the advice of the business case.

“Westmead-Camellia would not be a viable staging option on its own given the short length and lack of connectivity between trip origins and destinations,” the July 2015 addendum to the business case says.

Not running the line through Sydney Olympic Park would also undermine the government’s desire to promote high-rise residential in that area.

The government has said it wants to raise money from property developers to help cover the cost of the line, but these funds are unlikely to cover the $2.5 billion shortfall.

A spokeswoman for Transport for NSW said “early construction” of the project was still scheduled to begin in 2018.

“Transport for NSW is continuing to conduct detailed route design of the preferred Parramatta Light Rail project, which is anticipated for release for public feedback in 2017,” the spokeswoman said.

“Work is also ongoing on a final business case and assessment of the preferred network which will determine the final project cost,” she said.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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