From its Australian-first innovative rail boot system to its award-winning green track, the Parramatta Light Rail Stage 1 project is leading industry best practice in delivering sustainable public transport infrastructure for the New South Wales community.
The Parramatta Light Rail Stage 1 Infrastructure Works Package won the Outstanding Achievement – Sustainability Leadership Award at the Infrastructure Sustainability Council (ISC) Awards in 2023 – and there’s no secret as to why.
The project has so far reduced overall carbon emissions by around 80,000 tonnes during its enabling works and infrastructure delivery through a bevy of cutting-edge initiatives, some of which were the first time ever tried and tested in Australia.
In 2022, the project’s infrastructure works package achieved a Leading As-Built rating and record-breaking score of 104.35 by the Infrastructure Sustainability Council. The project has been a catalyst for global sustainable design and has welcomed visiting delegates from the United States and Korea.
So, what put Western Sydney’s first light rail project on the map? We spoke with Parramatta Light Rail Stage 1 Project Director, Craig Paterson, to provide some insights.
About Parramatta Light Rail Stage 1
To understand how, and why, the project delivered sustainable benefits to enhance social and environmental community outcomes, one needs to understand the challenges of building in the dense urban environment of Sydney’s second city: Parramatta.
Parramatta Light Rail Stage 1 connects Westmead to Carlingford via the Parramatta CBD and Camellia with a twoway 12km track and 16 light rail stops, and is expected to open to the public in 2024.
The route will link Parramatta’s CBD and train station to the Westmead Health Precinct, Cumberlan Precinct, CommBank Stadium, the Camellia Town Centre, the largest museum inNew South Wales ‘Powerhouse Parramatta’, the private and social housing redevelopment at Telopea, Rosehill Gardens Racecourse and three Western Sydney University campuses.
By 2026, around 28,000 people are expected to use the Parramatta Light Rail every day, with an estimated 130,000 people living within walking distance ofthe 16 light rail stops.
What’s more, the Parramatta Light Rail will reduce the need for people to travel by car around the Greater Parramattaregion; taking the equivalent of 25,000 cars off the road (or 2.4 million t/CO2e) by 2041.
“While building in the heart of existing communities had its challenges, Transport for NSW prioritised innovative sustainable design and global construction practices in the project’s delivery to provide a future-proofed, well-connected and accessible transport system,” Mr Paterson said.
Key sustainability initiatives
Key measures that contributed to the Parramatta Light Rail Stage 1 project’s significant carbon emissions reduction included:
Micro-tunnelling under Parramatta’s CBD
Parramatta’s Church Street is a prominent dining and entertainment hub, with more than 60 eateries in the precinct alone.
Transport for NSW significantly reduced impacts on local businesses and patronage during early and enabling works to construct the Parramatta Light Rail, by using microtunnelling methods as an alternative solution to traditional excavation techniques.
Micro-tunnelling supported the project to limit the number of utility relocations, save energy and water and improve flood resilience.
“Resilience was a key driver when designing the Parramatta Light Rail, with significant challenges faced in Parramatta and Western Sydney, including flooding and extreme heat,” Mr Paterson said.
Award-winning green track
Transport for NSW was faced with the challenge of integrating green space into a densely populated and existingurban environment.
In 2018, Transport for NSW commissioned Western Sydney University to develop feasibility studies for a green track in the Parramatta Light Rail project design, considering urban heat and practical solutions for cooling cities.
The result was the integration of a total of 1.3km of green track in three locations: the heritage-significant Cumberland Precinct, the historic Robin Thomas Reserve and Tramway Avenue in Parramatta. It also uses 80 per cent less concrete than traditional track construction, resulting in improved environmental outcomes.
The project conducted prototype testing over 12 months using different grass species and selected the Zoysia ‘Nara’ native grass for its low maintenance, slow growth and heat resistance to match Parramatta’s urban climate.
The Parramatta Light Rail Stage 1 green track was the first of its kind for New South Wales and contributed to the project being recognised with four national and two state awards since 2022.
“Already having a positive local impact, the green track is delivering urban cooling benefits and improved biodiversity,” Mr Paterson said.
The green track is maintained by an innovative irrigation system that features moisture-sensors in the soil to regulate water use and maximise environmental outcomes.
Unique rail boot system
Australia’s first high-attenuation rubber rail boot system was designed to encapsulate the embedded light rail track to negate the need for a floating track slab, as well as reduce operational noise and vibration from light rail vehicles. “The rubber boot construction was also designed to reduce maintenance by preventing corrosion and increasing the lifespan of the track,” Mr Paterson says.
Macro-synthetic fibres for track slab construction
New South Wales’ first use of macro-synthetic fibres in concrete track slab construction resulted in reduced steel reinforcement by ~2,466 tonnes.
These tiny fibres were used in the construction of track slab and footpaths to increase durability and performance, as well as deliver a more efficient method for undertaking construction. “The fibres also mitigate potential stray currents from light rail operations, providing added safety benefits by minimising impacts to the railway and third-party infrastructure,” Mr Paterson said.
Bidgee Bidgee Bridge construction
Bidgee Bidgee Bridge, located over James Ruse Drive in Rosehill in Sydney’s west, boasts New South Wales’ secondlongest steel arch span. Measuring 64m long and 16m high and weighing 1425t, the bridge was the biggest of the six bridges constructed for the Parramatta Light Rail project.
It stretches across six lanes of traffic on one of Western Sydney’s most heavily used traffic arterial routes, while also featuring part of the new 5.7km shared walking and bike riding path from Carlingford to Parramatta. This provides the community with expansive, never-before-seen views of Western Sydney.
The project used weathered steel for the bridge’s arch construction to minimise future maintenance and associated operational disruption for light rail passengers and sharepath users. “By using Self-Propelled Modular Transporter installation of prefabricated bridge arch over a single night’s work, the project effectively managed traffic impacts on James Ruse Drive,” Mr Paterson said.
Smart LED lighting on shared path
The new 5.7km shared walking and bike riding path (active transport link) from Parramatta to Carlingford was delivered aspart of the Parramatta Light Rail project.
It connects local homes, shops, schools, public transport and amenities, while providing health and environmental benefits, including reduced vehicle use, noise and emissions. The track features motion-sensor LED lighting to support energy efficiency and public safety.
“While work continues on the light rail project, which may impact shared path access from time to time; the shared path was opened ahead of light rail first passenger services to recognise and support the local community’s needs foran alternative travel option in the dedicated Carlingford-toCamellia corridor,” Mr Paterson said.
Small business support
Transport for NSW remains committed to supporting businesses along the Parramatta Light Rail Stage 1 alignment before and during light rail construction, through to operations.
In 2018, Transport for NSW surveyed 85 per cent of street-level businesses (more than 330 businesses) alongthe alignment to better understand their operation and business promotions. A business reference group was established to facilitate consultation and collaboration with business owners and stakeholders, which informed the development of a business activation plan titled Activate Parramatta.
Activate Parramatta has provided plenty of business support to date through initiatives such as events and activations, social media campaigns, and business support advertising in local publications. Transport for NSW’s not-for-profit business partner, Realise Business, provided free one-on-one business support to more than 200 businesses during the project’s major construction.
Key sustainable social outcomes from this engagement with local businesses and stakeholders included how the project modified its construction hours in Parramatta’s key dining district to avoid working during busy meal periods for local businesses.
“A further outcome was achieved during COVID following consultation with the project’s business reference group of stakeholders, where Transport for NSW waived its contractual three-month construction embargo to fast-track major construction in the Parramatta CBD,” Mr Paterson said.
“This led to the project reopening the Church Street dining and entertainment earlier than planned, and this was further promoted by the launch of an extended activation campaign in the revitalised precinct during the busy summer months, providing a welcome boost to local business patronage.”
Best practice initiatives
The project’s initiatives were underpinned by a best-practice approach towards considering sustainable outcomes across the project’s lifecycle.
This included outlining key drivers in the project lifecycle, using national and international benchmarks, implementing key performance incentives to encourage design excellence, engaging with an urban design panel to provide feedback on designs, setting goals, targets and pathways for the project and participating in external workshops to leverage global insights and methodologies.
“We also engaged with our major contractors to develop, and commit to, a joint-climate change risk assessment early in the process, thereby ensuring consistent application across the whole project lifecycle,” Mr Paterson said. Another way the project is committed to sustainability is through its socio-economic targets.
“We engaged with social enterprises, Aboriginal businesses and aimed to develop a diverse workforce from various backgrounds including women in non-traditional roles, refugees, youth and underrepresented groups,” Mr Paterson said. Mr Paterson said the project continues to seek ways to enhance the social, environmental and economic outcomes of the community as it moves towards the start of passenger services in 2024.
One way the project is doing this is through integrated transport options, including the Sydney Metro West, buses, ferries, active transport, as well as the planned Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 which connects Stage 1 and Parramatta’s CBD to Sydney Olympic Park.
“We’re committed to continuing to seize opportunities to deliver a sustainable, world-class public transport system for the people of NSW,” Mr Paterson said.