A Sydney Trains Waratah EMU on a T3 Bankstown service arrives at Sydenham, which is being remodelled as part of the metro project.

AUSTRALIA: The New South Wales government has committed to completing the conversion of Sydney’s T3 Bankstown Line from a suburban railway to an automated metro, as the final section of the City & Southwest Metro project.

When the current state government was elected in March, it commissioned an independent review of the Sydney Metro programme. This initially focused on the City & Southwest project because of its ‘advanced stage of delivery and budget challenges’.

An interim report from the review recommended that conversion of the Bankstown Line should continue, as this would deliver significant benefits across the transport network.

Sydney map

Work has been underway for some time to upgrade the stations and infrastructure along a 13 km section of the route, which is due to be disconnected from the suburban network and linked to the metro at Sydenham. Test running on the 15·5 km cross-harbour extension from Chatswood to Sydenham began in April, and this section is expected to open in early 2024.

Responding to the recommendation, the state government confirmed on August 1 that it would ‘salvage’ the project by committing a further A$1·1bn to begin the ‘difficult process’ of conversion which will require heavy rail services to be suspended. Conversion of the Sydenham – Bankstown section is now expected to start at some point between July and October 2024, with metro services to be introduced from late 2025 following a period of testing and commissioning.

Transport Minister Jo Haylen said ‘some stations on the Bankstown Line receive 4 trains/h in the peak. When this section of the metro is completed, they will receive a train every 4 min. That’s a massive increase in services. And while the conversion won’t be easy, we’ve come up with a solution that will get it done in up to 12 months instead of the original timeline of 15 to 18 months.’

Commenting on the government’s decision, Sydney Metro Chief Executive Peter Regan said it was ‘an important reset of the project. While we understand this disruption will be difficult for passengers and the community, significant work has been done to minimise the level of disruption while we deliver this transformational new service.’

Transport for NSW and Sydney Metro are currently developing a temporary transport plan for the closure period, including the provision of rail-replacement express bus services. The outer section of T3 between Bankstown and Lidcombe will also provide an alternative route for passengers to reach the Sydney CBD.

Independent review

The interim report from the independent review said Sydney Metro was ‘led by a highly experienced, engaged, and very capable senior leadership team’, but faced ‘significant challenges in delivering high quality, value-for-money, well-integrated outcomes due to a variety of factors’.

These included poorly co-ordinated planning by government agencies, ambiguity in decision-making authority, past decisions on contract packages, unavoidable issues related to the coronavirus pandemic and market volatility, and avoidable matters relating to complex governance arrangements.

The next phase of the review will include analysis of forecast final costs for all of the region’s metro projects, an assessment of the impacts of the current infrastructure market, capacity priorities for future extensions and the value for money of the existing project scope for Sydney Metro West.

Final findings and recommendations are expected to be submitted to the cabinet by the end of 2023.