New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet recently outlined his vision for the future of Sydney in three words “liveable, workable, beautiful.”
This vision will see the original metropolis of three cities expand to a city region of six cities. Joining the Eastern Harbour City, Central River City and Western Parkland City to form a broader city region is Wollongong, the Central Coast and Newcastle.
Graham Pointer, WSP’s Technical Executive – Geography, says thinking about Sydney as a six city region allows a significant step forward for Sydney and New South Wales to compete with other large city regions in the Asia Pacific and globally.
“All you need to do is look at London, Seoul or Paris and how these cities have developed to allow for ease of transport, industry, diversity of housing and access to health, education and jobs to understand the vision and the potential of unlocking broader agglomeration benefits.”
“Investing in mass transit is a big part of this plan. If you have ease of access across the region, it unlocks a workable city where there is access to a greater range of skills, education opportunities and has a range of places where people want to live.”
“The current three cities of Sydney will be more competitive through greater access to skills and unlocking sub-regional benefits such as emerging ties between the Illawarra and the Western Parkland City.”
“It also presents an excellent opportunity to maximise the benefits of investments in modern manufacturing and the tertiary sector that are underpinning aspirations for the growth of Newcastle and Wollongong. Through improving connectivity across the cities there will be greater access to skilled workers to support the exciting focus on green steel and green hydrogen in addition to more and better jobs for local people.”
The Fast Rail opportunity
Mark Xerri, Associate Rail Engineer, believes Fast Rail is the key to making the city region of six cities more liveable and connected.
He says, “A high capacity, high-frequency mass transit link like Fast Rail can reinforce the north-south axis between Newcastle, the Central Coast, Greater Sydney and Wollongong, to reduce car dependence, increase city region mobility and shrink the distance between the cities.”
“The opportunity for the Central Coast is positive, and it is an area already targeting strong population growth. Improved connectivity north and south has the potential for young professionals to choose to continue to live locally rather than move away for job opportunities.”
What will success look like
The scale of connecting the regions with Fast Rail is a generation-defining project.
“This is Sydney Harbour Bridge or Snowy Hydro-sized infrastructure,” Mark says. “It’s an example of NSW being bold and shaping a vision for the state that will redefine how we live and work well into the future.”
Projects of this size require years of lead time looking at many future scenarios through the designing process.
“We need to keep in mind societal changes such as changing settlement patterns for these areas, hotter and drier climates including bushfire risks, coastal risks such as rising sea levels and flooding,” Mark says.
Key design considerations such as the frequency, travel time and where they connect is vital for the relationship between the cities. The success of the rail connection will also come down to how interconnected the transport system is to the community through other multimodal networks.
“Human-centred design and adapting to changing needs of communities is essential for connecting people and places,” adds Mark. “The benefit of the infrastructure should be spread across demographics throughout the community. It shouldn’t just be designed as commuter rail operating in the peaks. Having a frequent service throughout the day means that the same product can have multiple uses for different customers, meaning our investment is much more sustainable and future-proofed.
“You don’t want to plop a rail line on the outskirts of a town or suburb and people need to drive to get to it. It should be a fully realised mobility hub that incorporates high-frequency transport like light rail and bus networks as well as light mobility like e-bikes and scooters.
“Fast Rail has the potential to become a defining piece of infrastructure that enables people greater access to opportunities and making a more active, healthy and sustainable community.”
The net zero imperative
With New South Wales committing to halving emissions by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2050, being mindful of the project’s carbon footprint is also a key consideration.
“What materials you build infrastructure with, and how it is operated needs to be thought about from the very beginning,” Graham says.
“Are we using green steel? Can it be manufactured within the state at a reasonable cost? How will the infrastructure be powered when it is running? These are challenging questions to answer on a project-by-project basis. Governments have an important role in getting the long-term planning in place and preserving land for future fast rail connections so that industry can see a certain and transparent pipeline of infrastructure projects. If this is achieved then industry will have the confidence to invest locally and scale up, bringing more local jobs and better climate outcomes.”
Ultimately, a critical factor in the success of the Six Cities plan will come down to quickly getting to each of the cities.
Mark concludes, “Fast Rail allows each city to reach their full economic potential by attracting new industries and businesses to invest. This translates to greater economic opportunity and security through more diverse, innovative and resilient industries, making it more livable, workable and beautiful.”