by Rodd Staples, Program Director, Sydney Metro
A century ago, Rodd Staples’ grandfather helped build the Sydney Harbour Bridge. As Program Director of the $20 billion Sydney Metro mega project, Rodd is now delivering metro rail to Australia, including new twin railway tunnels under Sydney Harbour. An engineer who grew up in Sydney’s south surrounded by major infrastructure construction, Rodd has worked in the fields of transport and infrastructure planning for two decades across Australia and in both the public and private sectors. Here he outlines the world-class and world-scale innovation that Sydney Metro brings to public transport infrastructure in Australia.
Whether it’s 58m underground in Australia’s longest railway tunnels or 13m in the air on the skytrain, Sydney Metro – Australia’s biggest public transport project – is rapidly taking shape.
Stage 1 – the $8.3 billion Sydney Metro Northwest project – opens in just two years, delivering metro rail for the first time to Australia with a host of innovation and a level of customer service simply never before seen here.
Sydney’s north west will get a new fully-air conditioned metro train every four minutes in the peak – with plenty of room to grow.
The region has the highest level of private car ownership in Australia and, over coming decades, will be twice the size of Canberra with a population reaching 600,000.
That’s why we’re acting now to deliver the first stage of Sydney Metro to this booming area; 13 metro stations and 4,000 commuter car parking spaces open in 2019, running 36km from Rouse Hill to Chatswood.
From here, Stage 2 of Sydney Metro – the Sydney Metro City and Southwest project – will extend metro rail under Sydney Harbour, through new CBD stations and beyond to the south west. Services are expected to start in 2024 with an ultimate capacity of a new metro train every two minutes in each direction under the Sydney CBD.
Altogether, Sydney Metro will deliver 31 metro stations and 66km of new metro rail, integrating with existing public transport and giving customers new connections and better opportunities for work, education and recreation.
Innovation has been a hallmark of Sydney Metro.
We’re bringing technology like fully-automated trains to Australia for the first time. And platform screen doors, which keep people and objects like prams away from the tracks and allow trains to get in and out of stations much faster.
These are common features of rail networks right around the world but new to Australia – yet they’re integral to delivering a 21st century railway network for a city growing to a population of more than six million in the next 20 years.
The skytrain is another such innovation – and at 4km in length from Bella Vista to Rouse Hill, it’s also the most visible legacy of Sydney Metro Northwest. Almost all of the rest of the project is deep underground in twin 15km tunnels, Australia’s longest rail tunnels.
Historically, railway corridors and embankments have often cut communities in two. At an average height of 9m, the skytrain keeps communities connected – people will be free to move around underneath it, including the seven roads it crosses.
We spent a lot of time early in the design process getting the skytrain right; ensuring it would fit in as much as possible with the community it will serve well into the future.
Width and depth ratios, edge design and pier supports were scrutinised, peer reviewed and refined to ensure proportions blended in. Community feedback was taken on-board, resulting in improvements like widening a major local road and realigning it to deliver a better integrated outcome for all.
A joint effort of Australian and international designers, urban design took centre stage on the skytrain to ensure its integration with local surroundings and to minimise construction and environmental impacts.
Essentially Australia’s longest bridge, it is a series of 115 independent spans linked together.
Fresh from their previous job building roads in Dubai and delivered to Sydney in 3,800 pieces in 130 shipping containers, two state-of-the art 600-tonne horizontal gantry cranes lifted and joined together most of the 1,200 concrete segments which form the 11m-wide skytrain deck.
Adding to the complexity, the skytrain is being delivered above a community and next to a major road that carries more than 50,000 vehicles a day, with skytrain builders Salini Impregilo working hard to minimise impacts. This included major lifting activities over roads in the middle of the night with the added time pressure of getting out of the road corridor in time for the morning peak.
The skytrain also includes a new cable-stayed bridge over Windsor Road at Rouse Hill, similar in design to Sydney’s iconic Anzac Bridge.
Its 40m-high steel towers – filled with reinforced concrete – make it a bridge unlike any other in Australia: it has the unique characteristics of being a rail bridge, supported by cables and built on a curve.
Like other mega projects, the skytrain has brought challenges. A span damaged during construction in September 2016 was a significant and disappointing incident; however, our focus was to learn the lessons from it and to put actions in place to stop it occurring again.
Yet undoubtedly it also brings rewards: a 21st century railway network, the first of its kind in Australia, which will revolutionise how we get around the nation’s only global city.