In just five years, Sydney will be home to a new state of the art, environmentally conscious, Dubai style airport. It’s just one part of a “once in a lifetime” infrastructure project initiative set in motion by the Gladys Berejiklian government. Just over 70 per cent of the proposed A$107 billion proposed infrastructure spend will be utilised on transport projects. The majority of the proposed spend will be focused on Sydney’s new metro rail project with the aim to better connect Sydney’s fast-growing inner west and western suburbs. This includes the development of the proposed A$11 billion Western Sydney Airport metro line.

Sydney Northwest metro rail line Tallawong Rouse Hill Chatswood Norwest Castle Hill
The first leg of Sydney’s metro project between Tallawong and Chatswood opened successfully on May 26th 2019. It has since allowed better commute times between the city and North West Sydney, notably the Hills District. Photo: Transport for NSW

Sydney’s Major Metro Overhaul

In what is slated as Australia’s largest public transport project, Sydney’s metro rail system is set to bring new life to a congested and dated heavy rail network. The project is split into four main subsections, with further subsections being discussed. Part one of the metro rail project reached completion and opened to the public in May 2019. The Northwest line resulted in eight new stations and thirteen new stops between Chatswood and Rouse Hill. With an estimated cost of A$8.3 billion, the Northwest rail project was completed a billion dollars below original estimates.

The route has not come without its criticisms, with many questioning why a link between the westernmost metro station Tallawong and the T1 North Shore and Western line was never established. Given that Schofield heavy rail station is less than four kilometres from Tallawong, the opportunity to connect the Hills District with Greater Western Sydney via the poorly connected industrial area of Marsden Park would have major financial benefits. However, despite original talks concerning extra stations between Tallawong and Schofield back in 2011, nothing came to fruition.

Castle Hill Metro Station Northwest metro rail project complete 2019 designed by Hassell
Castle Hill metro station, a major station along the Northwest metro rail line connecting Chatswood at the T1 North Shore and Western Line to Rouse Hill. The Northwest line stations were designed by Sydney based Hassell. Photo: Sydney Metro

With the successful opening of the Northwest metro line, stage two and three are expected to cost just under A$27 billion. Construction on the City and Southwest line is well underway and on target to open to the public in 2024. Construction on the Metro West line connecting Parramatta to the CBD via Hunter Street in less than 20 minutes is earmarked for 2030. However, due to extra stations being added, the project may not be ready for use until 2033, 3 years later than what the government originally stated.

Western Sydney Airport Metro Line Controversy

While many agree Sydney has long required a metro system, some suggest the costs of certain lines far outweigh their benefits. One of those lines in question is the proposed Western Sydney Airport line. Many argue that the line would be under-utilised without a direct connection to Sydney’s Central Business District and put people off from travelling to and from the airport. However, this is a flawed argument assuming that everyone travelling to and from Western Sydney Airport is travelling to and from Sydney’s CBD and popular eastern beaches.

NSW Liberal party proposed future metro plans between Western Sydney Airport and Macarthur region and Parramatta
Proposed future metro projects could prevent areas of Greater Western Sydney from being cut off. Proposed routes between Western Sydney Airport and Macarthur region and Parramatta will link the airport to Sydney’s CBD and Southwest. Photo: Liberal Party NSW

Western Sydney is rapidly becoming an economic powerhouse in its own right. It’s the fastest developing area in Australia, with a prediction that over three million people will call the west home in coming years. Alternatively, it is fair to question the airport’s accessibility to much of Greater Western Sydney with just the singular metro line currently planned. Despite the airport having an expected catchment of over three million people, making it the third-largest catchment of any airport in Australia at the time of opening, several western residents will still be left with hours of travel. Campbelltown and the Macarthur region is only around 28km from the current Western Sydney Airport site, but residents could still expect a 2-hour journey via public transport in 2026. This is particularly concerning when the T8 Airport line connects the Macarthur region to Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport in less than three-quarters of an hour.

The current Western Sydney Airport metro project is estimated to cost around A$11 billion. However, if further suggestions of connecting Leppington and the Macarthur region came to fruition, the project could end up costing in excess of A$20 billion.

Airlines yet to commit to Sydney’s new Heathrow-sized 24-hour airport

After major earthworks passed the halfway mark back in March this year, many are questioning just who will be utilising the airport. Australia’s busiest airport in 2019, Sydney Kingsford-Smith Airport, moved 44.4 million passengers. The airport is bound by a strict curfew due to its proximity to residential areas. However, Western Sydney Airport will not be bound by a curfew due to its currently rural location making it Sydney’s first 24-hour airport.

Also referred to as the Nancy-Bird Walton Airport, the airport will be able to handle 10 million passengers annually on the day of opening. This will increase to 82 million people annually by 2060. Although, questions around the need for a large second airport have been raised. With the potential to grow to the size of large international airports such as London Heathrow and New York John F Kennedy, will Western Sydney see enough passenger traffic to justify its size? Simon Hickey, the chief executive officer of Western Sydney Airport, addressed these questions at the FTA/APEX Summit last week, citing oversizing as a way to prepare Greater Western Sydney for the future.

This is about developing a new future for people living in Western Sydney and Sydney and connecting us with a 24/7 airport to the world. Western Sydney is home to one in ten Australians. It is the third-largest economy after Sydney and Melbourne. It is one of Australia’s fastest-growing area in terms of population, and it will have the third-largest catchment of any Australian airport on day one of operation. – Mr Hickey

Badgerys Creek earthworks
Earthworks half-completed on March 12th, 2021. It has taken 260 earthmovers, the equivalent of 1.5 million hours, to move over 5000 Olympic sized swimming pools worth of earth in Australia’s largest earthmoving project. Photo: Acciona

With five years left until Western Sydney Airport opens, it’s relatively normal that no airline has committed to operating flights from the new western base. Mr Hickey suggested that he is initially targeting cargo and leisure airlines. Memorandums of understanding have been signed with 12 cargo operators, including FedEx, DHL and Qantas Freight.

Several airlines have expressed interest over the last few years, including the likes of Jetstar Airways and Virgin Australia. It’s still unclear whether Qantas will make its presence felt in Western Sydney. Although, Alan Joyce, CEO of Qantas, has expressed his support for the development citing the important role it will play in the future of Australian aviation.

Jetstar Airways (VH-VKG) Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner
Will Qantas follow if Jetstar operates commercial flights to and from Western Sydney Airport. Photo: Bidgee

There’s no denying the potential waiting to be unlocked in Western Sydney. Thousands of people are moving west in droves for affordable housing, new amenities and access to a rapidly growing employment market. Given the rapid expense of Parramatta’s CBD in the last decade, business is booming in the west, which could silence those who believe a large western airport will be rendered useless by Kingsford-Smith.

Do you think Western Sydney Airport is a worthwhile investment or an unnecessary overspend? Let us know in the comments.

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