Surprisingly classy: the new Qantas inflight safety video

The new Qantas inflight safety video

This week, I’ve been a little bit obsessed with the new Qantas inflight safety demonstration video. It is, in a word, beautiful. For me, Qantas’ new inflight video is more than just a safety demonstration, or even a clever tourism campaign.

Frequent readers of this page will know that I’m not a huge fan of the country in which I was born. The cultural trajectory of Australia in my lifetime seems to have swerved in a direction that I don’t identify with; one where the unquestioningly patriotic, mindlessly crass, drunk alpha male is held up as the quintessential “Aussie larrikin” – and therefore something to aspire to.

(Image: David Jackmanson, Wikimedia Commons)

(Image: David Jackmanson, Wikimedia Commons)

And occasionally Australia gets it right, and when they do, it’s incredible. One excellent example of this, in my opinion, was the opening ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Love or hate the Olympics, the opening ceremony was culturally rich and for the times, spectacular beyond words. It didn’t shy away from “iconic Australia”, while glossing over the parochial stuff that we could really do without. Those crap inflatable kangaroos from the Atlanta Olympics closing ceremony only made a brief, self-deprecating appearance in 2000 – long enough to be endearingly laughable, but not too long to make us cringe.

It is arguably one of the best showcases of what can be contributed to the canon of “Australian culture”, a notion that so many people used to (and still do) snigger at. Qantas’ new inflight safety video, I believe, falls into the same category. If you haven’t seen it yet, here it is;

A multiethnic cast of otherwise “ordinary” Australians going about their daily lives, creative reimaginings of otherwise banal safety procedures, a modern-yet-classic-sounding backing track and the stunning natural beauty of Australia on show for the world. This is a refreshing approach to the vision of Australian identity; varied, warm and articulate, with no Lara Bingle, racist redneck or drunken yobbo in sight. The idea is not completely new, as it’s actually an upgrade to the Qantas inflight safety video from last year which had a similar theme. There’s something about the new video however which, in my opinion, takes it to another level – I just can’t quite put my finger on what it is.

Creative, warm, diverse, refined but free-spirited. Isn’t this another (potential) narrative of Australian culture?

What do you think of the new video? Do you like it? Comment below!

Australia: is anti-social behaviour the norm?

Australia: is anti-social behaviour the norm?

This post is not anti-Australian, and nor is it seeking to lay blame. It is simply wondering out loud about the direction of society after a horrific incident which terrorised the nation’s second largest city on Friday afternoon.

Melbourne car incident Jimmy Gargasoulas

I had finished work and was walking home when I was stopped at the intersection of Flinders and Swanston Streets by a crazed man doing burnouts in his car. It was clear that he was not in his senses – whether he was high on drugs or mentally disturbed was not clear, although we would later find out it was probably both. Groups of thugs roamed around the intersection, some in the roadway, some among the crowds, goading both the driver and the police for fun. At least one woman was apprehended at the scene for obstructing the police operation – standing in the middle of the street screaming at the police, and then finally telling a police officer to “suck my cock”. The woman in question can be seen cavorting in the intersection in a blue top at the 0.43 mark of the video below.

The crowd which had gathered wondered aloud if it was a drug deal that had gone wrong, but then mostly began to go back about their regular business. Later, we would find out that the deranged driver had ploughed his car into Bourke Street Mall, the city’s premier pedestrian street, killing three and maiming many more. Two more would die in hospital.

The front pages of Melbourne's most popular newspapers the day after the attack. (Source: Twitter)

The front pages of Melbourne’s most popular newspapers the day after the attack. (Source: Twitter)

Then it emerged that the massacre was the culmination of a string of anti-social and violent behaviour that had begun almost a week earlier. The perpetrator had been released on bail the previous Saturday after being charged with violent offences. In the week that followed he;

It appears that only after the stabbing incident did the police begin to pursue him again. My question in all of this is; is so much of what else happened considered normal? Consider that until he began driving over people in the mall;

  • the assault and car theft was thought of as a routine crime incident
  • smashing the tables of patrons at a bar was the typical “loutish” behaviour you might see at pubs
  • displays of erratic behaviour by the perpetrator on live television was written off as the normal idiotic stuff you might see whenever a news camera is rolling;
  • anti-social behaviour by bystanders at Flinders Street Station, baiting both the perpetrator and police and interfering with the ongoing police operation was “the usual stuff you see going on in that part of the city” and
  • the rest of the crowd at Flinders Street Station largely went back to their usual business, thinking that they had just seen “a drug deal gone wrong”.

When did such disturbed, anti-social behaviour become so normalised? Why was all of this not just normal, but common enough not to raise the attention of society? Indeed, when I saw the burnouts at Flinders Street Station I figured the situation was a notch above, but not completely out-of-character for that part of the city; I witness drunken violence, street side intimidation and/or public assaults on an almost daily basis, and life goes on because, well, what else are you supposed to do?

And it’s not just Melbourne. I’ve been assaulted twice in Sydney, and both times the general reaction from the police and wider society was more casual than I would have liked – “getting rolled” is not unusual, I was told. I don’t know what the solution to this is, because clearly alcohol, other drug use, psychological issues and family violence are so deeply ingrained in the national culture that Australia is clearly never going to become Japan or Singapore (where these people might be a danger to themselves, but social mores mostly keep their troubles from being played out in public – and that’s certainly not to downplay the tragedy of suicide and other mental issues). Nor is Australia about to become Iran or Saudi Arabia, where the law prohibits the consumption of alcohol and drugs such that anti-social behaviour would raise the eyebrows of not just passersby, but also the law.

Whether it should or shouldn’t, Australia will never become one of those countries, because it is Australia – that’s what makes it what it is. So the question how to fix a society which considers domestic violence, and loutish, anti-social behaviour normal.

News reports are retrospectively calling Dimitrious ‘Jimmy’ Gargasoulas’ actions before the carnage as “ominous” and “chilling”. These actions didn’t make news before the attack, and there are many more people out there who continue to behave in exactly the same way today. Should we be concerned about them too?

Postscript: an article published a few hours after this piece went online describes the “failure of mental health services” as responsible for the Bourke Street carnage. As it is in a similar vein to my article, I have decided to include a link to it here.

For the love of the beach…

For the love of the beach…

The beach has always been a part of my life, and living in other cities and countries has made me realise just how much of my heart it holds. It’s not that I’ve ever really been a “beach bum”, or even particularly taken by “beach culture“, the gamut of everything from bleached surfer hairstyles to distressed-wood home decor that seems to sweep Australian society from decade to decade. But it has just always been there, in summer, in winter, with friends or alone. One of my favourite bloggers, Renuka from Voyager for Life, recently wrote about why a beach holiday is always a winner – and she’s right! People go to the beach to swim, sunbake, hang out with friends, have a picnic, do exercise, swim at ocean baths (in some places), play cricket or volleyball, or simply bliss out on the sand and listen to their favourite RnB tunes while forgetting that the rest of the world exists. Or is that just me?

A typical day at the beach for me...

What my ideal summer afternoon looks like…

As I sit in Melbourne and write this on a 38 degree summers day, contemplating whether to go to the beach instead of simply writing about it, it dawns on me that I was lucky to have grown up in Sydney where beaches are beautiful and accessible. Beaches in Melbourne have recently been closed due to “unacceptably high levels of bacteria” as a result of storm water draining out into Port Phillip Bay. In plain words, shit – both proverbial and the real stuff (and most concerningly, the human variety) has been not floating, but actually dissolved into the water that beachgoers so look forward to. Gross.

Sunset over one of Melbourne's beaches. See, they're not always that bad!

Sunset over one of Melbourne’s beaches. See, they’re not always that bad!

It’s not just that the water at Melbourne’s beaches can be a bit dirty, it’s that they’re just not that inviting when compared to Sydney’s stunning golden crescents of sand. And perhaps as a result, most of the Melburnians I have met simply don’t get as excited (or even remotely as interested) as Sydneysiders do about going to the beach on a hot day – in fact most Melburnians I know start moaning about how prohibitively hot the weather is as soon as the mercury climbs over 25 degrees. It’s as if there’s no joy to be had in the warm weather!

It's easy to see why Sydney is in love with its beaches - look at Whale Beach!

It’s easy to see why Sydney is in love with its beaches – look at Whale Beach!

When I moved to Lahore, this was taken a step further; an entire city (if not country) that craves winter and the cold weather! It took me a while to really appreciate Lahore’s obsession with thanda mausum (chilly weather), but it’s all encompassing – people even have particular diets which they follow in a kind of celebration of the cold weather! Conversely, most Lahoris dislike the summer intensely – because they say you “can’t do anything in the summer”. Having lived in Melbourne already I began to understand this, but in Lahore it’s taken a step further because of the problem of loadshedding; rolling blackouts caused by a shortage in the power supply. Oh, and the nearest beach is at least 1,200 kilometres away. Apart from mangoes, what kind of joy could summer bring?

With chotta bhai at a Lahore tube well (good) and at Sunhera Beach (better!)

With chotta bhai at a Lahore tube well (good) and at Sunhera Beach (better!)

Of course, not all happiness is derived from the beach – but it was only in Melbourne and Lahore that I realised my love of summer, my whole idea of a “sunny summer disposition” – is so inextricably linked to having beautiful, tree-fringed lines of sand and refreshing, crystal clear ocean at close proximity. My chotta bhai (little bro) in Lahore thought it was simply hilarious that I actually looked forward to summer and the hot weather, despite subsisting with tube wells while in Lahore. A few months ago we travelled to Karachi, and took a trip out to Charna Island, cooling off from the intense heat of the Pakistani coastline in the turquoise waters of the Arabian Sea. We got out of the water, lay back on the boat’s deck and let the sun’s warm rays soak into our skin; it was almost energy-giving. “Ok, now I get it…” he said, turning to me with his eyes closed, temporarily blinded by the beautiful sun, sand and salt, “and we’re coming back again next summer.”

Do you love the beach? What do you do there? Comment below!

Nocturn: The Prisma Collection

Nocturn: The Prisma Collection

Nocturn Prisma ad

Over the past year I have been posting my favourite shots of my cities at night; Chennai, Melbourne, Sydney and finally Lahore. I’m quite proud of how the pictures turned out – I captured light trails, curious customs and spectacular scenes after sunset to show a side of these places that people often miss.

But what’s better than these photographs is turning them into works of art by running them through the Prisma app. Prisma is a phone application that allows you to turn regular photographs into artworks in the style of Van Gogh, Picasso and many more.

See the best of Chennai, Melbourne, Sydney and Lahore after dark, and as works of art, with the Nocturn: The Prisma Collection.

Pak Traveller banners final

Have you used the Prisma app before? What do you think of it? Comment below!

Building Sydney; opportunities of the moment

Building Sydney

Building Sydney logo

Sydney is currently undergoing a huge transformation, with George Street currently dug up to build the city’s new tram line, and the South West Rail Link being slowly incorporated into the wider rail network.

Also in the pipeline are at least two major road projects, NorthConnex and WestConnex. The former has begun construction since I wrote about it 2 years ago. Crucially, it is being built along the ‘purple’ alignment which I pointed out will benefit only certain drivers along Pennant Hills Road, while neglecting the increasingly-congested Pacific Highway. Will the future increase in demand along the North Shore’s only true arterial road necessitate another motorway development? Or will the rise in demand finally force the provision of better public transit options?

NorthConnex's indirect route to the city (Image: Sydney Morning Herald)

NorthConnex’s indirect route to the city (Image: Sydney Morning Herald)

WestConnex is also under construction, covering a corridor with a different traffic profile. The motorway tunnel to complement Parramatta Road is unfortunately not to be built in line with public transport solutions, missing a huge opportunity to revitalise Sydney’s inner west, and repeating the same mistakes of the already-full M5 East.

(Image: WestConnex)

(Image: WestConnex)

Part of the said solution for Sydney’s inner west could easily be the development of the Sydney Metro. While this scheme no doubt has the best intentions, it seems odd that metro-style carriages would be utilised on long-distance suburban routes rather than inner city hops (which they’re ideal for). As I highlighted in my article about the under-construction Metro, this new system could be a godsend for parts of the inner city, no so much for the outer suburbs.

Proposed Sydney Metro (Image: strata8)

Proposed Sydney Metro (Image: strata8)

Public transport is also at the heart of my concerns about the Western Sydney Airport development. The new airfield is still set to open in the mid-2020s without a train link, much less a dedicated train service useful for transferring between Badgery’s Creek and Kingsford Smith airports. What has occurred, however, in a retreat to typically antipodean parochialism, is the suggestion that the new airport should close overnight – much like TV stations used to in the 80s, and replicating one of the main issues with the existing Kingsford Smith facility.

Qantas A380 at Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport

Qantas A380 at Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport

While much of this seems unchangeable now, it is important to remember than the solutions are still very much viable; in each case, public transport stands to improve the livelihood of Sydneysiders and enhance the liveability of the city. What is required at this point is politicians at federal and local, but primarily the state level, to possess the foresight and courage to break Sydney’s cycle of fixing then repeating infrastructure mistakes.

What do you think Sydney really needs for the future? Comment below!

Sydney Metro: suitable for Australia’s biggest city?

Sydney Metro

This is part three of Building Sydney; an ongoing series on UrbanDuniya about major infrastructure projects in Australia’s largest metropolis.

Building Sydney logo

Anyone who has travelled to the major cities of Europe or Asia would be familiar with the excellent rapid transit systems that efficiently transport hundreds of thousands, or even millions of people daily. Sydney’s existing double-decker train system, while somewhat effective, cannot be considered a true mass rapid transit system due to the operating constraints of large carriages, relatively low frequency, and antiquated network that was built according to topography, not demography (the North Shore Line’s scenic but useless detour via Wollstonecraft and Waverton being a case in point).

Wollstonecraft Railway station (Image: Abesty)

Wollstonecraft Railway station (Image: Abesty)

It is perhaps inevitable that Sydney would eventually build a metro system like that of Singapore or Delhi, that accurately serves population centres where its needed, and provides fast rapid connections between suburbs (notably, not just to the city centre). The beauty of a metro system is that it to the local populace, it becomes a more attractive option than taking the car for short hops, or even longer ones across the congested heart of the city. Connections are easy – you’re never too far from a station above ground, nor too far from a interchange below ground, meaning that you don’t always need to “change at Central” to get from one part of the city to another.

Paris Metro Map. Note how the lines intersect and overlap, creating multiple possibilities to commute, rather than converging on one "Central Station" (Image: Metropolitan)

Paris Metro Map. Note how the lines intersect and overlap, creating multiple possibilities to commute, rather than converging on one “Central Station” (Image: Metropolitan)

The current proposal for the Sydney Metro is initially a line from Cudgegong Road in Rouse Hill, 50 kilometres north west of the CBD, to Epping and then along the existing Macquarie Park line terminating at Chatswood, where passengers could transfer to the North Shore line. Long term, the line would be extended below Crows Nest, under the harbour, past Central station, then joining a refitted train line to Bankstown.

Proposed Sydney Metro (Image: strata8)

Proposed Sydney Metro (Image: strata8)

Certainly a worthy project, but one that seems to be heavily integrated into the existing rail network; one hopes that measures are being taken to prepare the North Shore, Inner West and Western lines for the influx of passengers transferring from/to the new Sydney Metro.

Metro lines are successful in cities like Singapore and Paris because the urban footprint that they cover is not as large. Metro trains are high capacity, fast, frequent, and feature few seats because they’re not designed to be comfortable; they’re designed to move huge numbers of people quickly and with no fuss – standing room only, step on and step off.

Dubai's new metro trains. Limited seating means high capacity (standing passengers take up less space than seated ones), ideal for fast, short inner city trips (Image: Robert Schediwy, Wikimedia Commons)

Dubai’s new metro trains. Limited seating means high capacity (standing passengers take up less space than seated ones), ideal for fast, short inner city trips (Image: Robert Schediwy, Wikimedia Commons)

Metro trains therefore are a great idea for short trips – ones which really don’t require a car, but are too long to do on foot. A developed network also offers opportunities to transfer between lines and even modes of transport, so no-one is standing in one place on the carriage for too long. So is the 50 kilometre trip from Cudgegong Road to the CBD one that many commuters would like to undertake standing in a high-capacity carriage? (Considering that the only real opportunity to interchange would be with the Northern Line at Epping). Rather than stepping on and off, the carriage would continue to fill throughout the journey.

Sydney Metro Northwest (Image: Mqst north)

Sydney Metro Northwest (Image: Mqst north)

Surely, the frequent Sydney Metro system would make much more sense on the high-patronage Chatswood – Sydenham corridor, with the double-decker “Sydney Trains” carrying passengers out towards the more distant Cudgegong Road? (Much in the way the more cushy long-distance Sydney Trains are equipped to carry passengers to Newcastle and the Blue Mountains.)

Ron Christie Proposals for Sydney's railway lines (Image: JPG)

Ron Christie Proposals for Sydney’s railway lines (Image: JPG)

In fact, a complex network criss-crossing Sydney’s inner city, with several lines aiding short trips between existing corridors, would alleviate much congestion, both on the roads and at existing interchanges like Central station. Why not metro lines between the inner west and the eastern suburbs, bypassing the CBD? Lewisham to Marrickville without having to change at Central station? Leichhardt to Crows Nest, but not via the CBD? Some of these ideas were mooted and then dismissed as part of a 2002 report into Sydney transport needs, known as “the Christie proposals“.

Sydney Metro's Bella Vista station, under construction (Image: Mqst north)

Sydney Metro’s Bella Vista station, under construction (Image: Mqst north)

There’s a reason why Paris’ and London’s metro systems are world renowned, and that’s because they effectively serve their inner cities and have appropriate connections to the outer suburbs. They comprehensively cover an area which in Sydney would perhaps be bounded by Hurtsville in the south, Bankstown and Parramatta in the west, and Epping and Chatswood in the north. They don’t require people to stand in sardine-like conditions for 50 kilometres or more, emulating trips in metropolitan Singapore when they’re actually careering through the expanses of the Cumberland plain.

Sydney Metro Northwest is currently under construction and is expected to be operational in 2019. For more information, go to

What do you think of the Sydney Metro? Is it needed? Comment below!

Walking in Sydney; Spit Bridge to Manly Walk

Spit Bridge to Manly Walk

One of the greatest things about living in Sydney is the city exceptional natural setting. Few cities are as blessed to have such environmentally spectacular surroundings – Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town and Malé come to mind as competitors.

A cove on Sydney's Middle Harbour

A cove on Sydney’s Middle Harbour

Taking advantage of the natural setting is a popular pastime of many Sydneysiders, and the harbour is lined with parks, pools and walking trails offering incredible views of Australia’s largest city. One of my favourite walks is the Spit Bridge to Manly walk, starting in the exclusive districts on Sydney’s Middle Harbour and ending at the beachside area of Manly.

Sydney Heads from Dobroyd Head

Sydney Heads from Dobroyd Head

The walk is about 10 kilometres long, and takes about 4 hours if you stop to rest and take in the view a few times. A lot of it is unpaved, through the naturally scrubby bushland which lines much of the harbour, although some of it is sealed, and parts even veer on to main streets for a short while.

Walking along Dobroyd Head

Walking along Dobroyd Head

It’s not an overall difficult walk, although there are sections which could be described as moderately strenuous – part of Sydney’s beauty is the hilly topography. There are a lot of steps and 4 hours is a long time to be on your feet, so a moderate level of fitness is required. Don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes, and pack some snacks and water – you’ll appreciate them!

Steps lead away from a cove and up over the hill on Sydney's Spit Bridge to Manly walk

Steps lead away from a cove and up over the hill on Sydney’s Spit Bridge to Manly walk

The walk attracts visitors for different reasons; some come to pass the time and discover their city staycation-style, some are exercising and walking their dogs, others photograph, there are tourists, students studying the local flora and fauna, and some even use it as an alternative way to get between the Spit Bridge and Manly, a great place to stop for lunch. Don’t forget to check out some of the beautiful homes along the way – this is some of Australia’s prime real estate!

Beach on Middle Harbour, Sydney

Beach on Middle Harbour, Sydney

Lizard on a rock

To get to the Spit Bridge (which, by the way, is referring to a sandy isthmus, not the act of projecting saliva!), take a bus from Wynyard or Town Hall Stations in Sydney city. Several buses ply this route, so use the Transport NSW trip planner to find the next one available, but routes 169, 178, 179 and 180 seem to be the most frequent. From the city centre, the Spit Bridge is about 35 minutes by bus, and costs about $3.50.

A quiet moment on Sydney's Spit Bridge to Manly walk

A quiet moment on Sydney’s Spit Bridge to Manly walk

To return (after having fish and chips on Manly Beach), catch the Manly Ferry ($7.20, 35 minutes) or the Manly Fast Ferry (up to $8.60, 25 minutes) to Circular Quay in the city.

Manly Cove

Manly Cove

(All images in this article with thanks to my good friend Gordon Lau)

Which city do you think has the best natural setting? Comment below!

Abort takeoff: Public transport and Sydney’s second airport

Sydney’s second airport

This is part two of an ongoing series about building Sydney; the infrastructure boom that is changing the harbour city’s future. We started in January with a look at This part two of an ongoing series about building Sydney; the infrastructure boom that is changing the harbour city’s future. We started in January with a look at WestConnex, now we continue with the concern that Sydney’s new international airport may not have a rail link when it opens.WestConnex, now we continue with the concern that Sydney’s new international airport may not have a rail link when it opens.

Building Sydney logo

Sydney’s second airport has been given the green light by both state and federal authorities. Decades after the debate began, a large tract of land at Badgery’s Creek has been selected as the location for what is now being called Western Sydney Airport (airport code: SWZ). The airport is to be built in phases; construction is to begin this year, and phase one is to start operations around 2025.

(Image: Mw12310, Wikimedia Commons)

Sydney Kingsford Smith’s international terminal (Image: Mw12310, Wikimedia Commons)

44 kilometres west of Sydney’s city centre, the airport will be linked to the city by a network of roads;

  • a ‘spur’ motorway, linked to the M7 which lies 14 kilometres to the east. This will be known as the M12, or Western Sydney Airport Motorway.
  • an upgraded Northern Road, linking the airport to Narellan in the south, and Penrith to the north. This corridor is eventually to be developed as the M9, or Outer Ring Road, once warranted by Sydney’s suburban development.
(Base image: Google Maps)

(original image: Google Maps)

What is clearly missing from these plans is the rail link that most cities around the world are now rushing to build to their existing airports. Melbourne is talking about it, Delhi and Tokyo have done it, and Athens managed it for the Olympics in 2004.

And this is just the beginning; the world’s largest and busiest airports all have rail connections to the cities which they serve; think London, Paris, New York City and Moscow. Cities who caught up with infrastructure, like Dubai and Tehran, have also built or are building metro rail to the airport.

Moreover, airports which were built later, like Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, Kuala Lumpur International and Hong Kong International were all built with mass public transport in mind.

One of the Dubai Metro's airport stations

One of the Dubai Metro’s airport stations

So why not Sydney? While it’s Sydney’s airport will open in phases, surely there is an argument to support opening the airport with public transport in place to begin with. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has commented that rail should be a part of the development of Sydney’s new airport, touching off a state government study which is ongoing. However the need for a rail link for the airport when it opens is arguably a foregone conclusion – a question of “what” or “how”, rather than “if”.

As has already been identified, an extension on the one year old South West Rail Link would be one possible solution. It currently terminates at Leppington, some 15 kilometres south east of the airport site. An extended South West Rail Link could connect Sydney’s new airport directly to the existing Airport and East Hills Line, allowing travel from Badgery’s Creek to the city in under an hour. But is this sufficient?

South West Rail Link, highlighted as part of Sydney Trains' network. (Original image: Mqst north)

South West Rail Link, highlighted as part of Sydney Trains’ network. (Original image: Mqst north)

  • If you were arriving at Western Sydney Airport, would you want to share the already overcrowded rail network with regular commuters all the way through Liverpool, Revesby, Wolli Creek and into the city?
  • Will the trains on this route be equipped with appropriate luggage stowing areas? (Something sorely lacking from the current trains operating through the Kingsford Smith airport stations).
  • And if you were arriving at Western Sydney Airport and transferring to a flight at Kingsford Smith (or vice versa), could you depend on Sydney Trains in their current state to get your between the two airports in a timely manner?

Surely a dedicated, fast train shuttle service on the route Western Sydney Airport – Kingsford Smith Airport – Sydney City, with the required onboard luggage stowing facilities, would be the ideal solution, and not too difficult to achieve. The train would be fast, reliable, and only make three stops; the two airports (for those transferring) and the CBD. City centre check-in facilities could also be offered, much like what is available in Hong Kong.

International Terminal Airport Link Station, Sydney (Image: J Bar)

International Terminal Airport Link Station, Sydney (Image: J Bar, Wikimedia Commons)

These are all important questions to ask as the Western Sydney Airport rail study continues – and it seems I’m not the only one asking these questions. Kingsford Smith Airport has suffered from stop-gap measures since the 1980s to extend its life span (and delay the inevitable). What we ended up with was the expensive, underground and already congested Eastern Distributor, and the privately-owned and strangely underutilised (mismanaged?) Airport Link.

Western Sydney Airport site, Badgery's Creek (Image: Advanstra, Wikimedia Commons)

Western Sydney Airport site, Badgery’s Creek (Image: Advanstra, Wikimedia Commons)

Lack of planning and foresight continues to dog Kingsford Smith airport. Badgery’s Creek is a clean slate – why not try and get this one right?

Does Sydney’s second airport need a rail link already built when it opens? Comment below!

Nocturn: Sydney

Nocturn: Sydney

Sydney nocturn advert

Some of the most amazing and intriguing sights in our cities are only seen at night, when a lot of us are tucked away in bed, fast asleep. Nocturn is a new night photography series on UrbanDuniya, shining the light on the cities we call home, long after most people have fallen asleep.

In November we started with Chennai, and in January we featured Melbourne. Today we continue with Sydney, Australia’s international harbour city.

See Sydney: it’s more fun in the dark.

Sydney’s WestConnex: The Grand Plan?

In the first of the Building Sydney series for 2016, I deliver an impartial analysis of the major infrastructure projects underway in the cities we call home. Today, we begin with WestConnex in Sydney, a 33 kilometre, $15 billion network of motorways in Sydney’s inner west and southwest, due for completion in stages between 2019 and 2023.

Building Sydney logo



Sydney’s WestConnex: The Grand Plan

Ever since its announcement in late 2012, Sydney’s WestConnex motorway has been controversial. As visionary as it is a throwback, WestConnex is in fact the latest name (and probably the one that will stick) given to a network of motorways that have been under consideration to varying degrees since the 1960s.

Sydney's long term road transport plan (Image: Sydney's Long Term Transport Master Plan, NSW Government, December 2012)

Sydney’s long term road transport plan (Image: Sydney’s Long Term Transport Master Plan, NSW Government, December 2012)

WestConnex is mapped out in three stages, but is actually part of a much grander plan for Sydney’s road infrastructure for the future. Dialogue surrounding WestConnex has so far been dominated by anti-road, pro-public transport sentiment, or pro-road and anti-public transport support. What doesn’t seem to have gained much currency is the idea of a dual solution, requiring huge investment, but potentially preparing Sydney with both public transport and efficient roads for a great future.

Parramatta Road near Burwood (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Parramatta Road near Burwood (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

The necessity of a road linkage

In the first stage of the WestConnex plan the existing M4 will feed directly into twin tunnels near Homebush. The tunnels will be 5.5 kilometres long, and known as the M4 East (as they are, effectively, an eastern extension of the M4 which currently terminates at Strathfield). Apart from the existing interchange at Concord Road, there will be no on-ramps or off-ramps between there and the end of it, at City West Link near Ashfield. City West Link is an arterial-road standard road, easily upgraded to motorway standard, which links Ashfield to the Western Distributor near the CBD, and then onwards over the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

M4 East Map (Image: WestConnex)

M4 East Map (Image: WestConnex)

Environmental concerns aside, there is reason to believe that WestConnex will not solve the problem of traffic congestion on east-west roads from Sydney’s CBD in the long term. As with all roads, they are often filled to capacity within years, if not a couple of decades of their construction; as a result, major increases to public transit capacity must be considered alongside the road project, which is due to break ground in the middle of this year.

Sydney Train at Strathfield Station (Image: EurovisionNim, Wikimedia Commons)

Sydney Train at Strathfield Station (Image: EurovisionNim, Wikimedia Commons)

Clearly, a large proportion of commuters travelling on the east-west axis have journeys that originate in the vicinity of Parramatta, which is often touted as the CBD of a future Western Sydney metropolitan area. More commuters still live in regions beyond Parramatta, which would ostensibly become satellite suburbs and towns of the Western Sydney metropolis (places like Penrith, Rouse Hill, Liverpool and Campbelltown). It would therefore make sense for Parramatta, apparent future employment hub of Western Sydney, to also become something of a transport hub, with light rail and bus options radiating out from the centre; indeed, plans for this are already underway.

Parramatta CBD (Image: Maksym Kozlenko)

Parramatta CBD (Image: Maksym Kozlenko, Wikimedia Commons)

Heavy rail for the suburbs, metro rail for the ‘inner ring’

Presumably what will be required, then, is high speed, high capacity and high frequency linkages between Sydney’s old CBD and the new one at Parramatta. The existing rail network is able to do this, however currently serves the inner west as well as Parramatta and beyond. What could be done, however, is to utilise Sydney’s forthcoming rolling stock of metro trains on inner west lines, reserving the higher capacity existing trains to serve the outer suburbs. This, in effect, would be an extension of the current plan to replace the Bankstown Line trains with a metro-style fleet. The effect could be enhanced with further light rail options above ground in the inner west and east.

Inner Ring and Outer Hubs Sydney's Transport

(Map: Google Maps)

What this would mean is a shift in thinking from heavy rail being the prime mover of Sydneysiders, to being a long-distance option between major points like Parramatta, Blacktown and Penrith or Bankstown, Liverpool and Campbelltown. Intermediate stops (like Seven Hills, Toongabbie, Mount Druitt or Werrington) would receive services, but the “inner ring” (i.e. – Central to Bankstown, or Central to Parramatta) would be served exclusively by frequent, high capacity metro style trains. This is an emulation of the European, and increasingly the Asian model of infrastructure development, and would buy years of additional value on the soon to be constructed M4 East.

Dubai's new metro trains. Limited seating means high capacity (standing passengers take up less space than seated ones), ideal for fast, short inner city trips (Image: Robert Schediwy, Wikimedia Commons)

Dubai’s new metro trains. Limited seating means high capacity (standing passengers take up less space than seated ones), ideal for fast, short inner city trips (Image: Robert Schediwy, Wikimedia Commons)

It’s worth remembering that the second stage of WestConnex is the duplication of the two M5 East tunnels, opened in 2002, and already filling up with cars, trucks and sundry. As if to acknowledge the deficiencies in the 2002 development, WestConnex Stage 2 has even been given the moniker “The New M5”. The need for a second pair of tunnels (that’s right, four in total) was announced in 2012 with the initial WestConnex proposal; just ten years after the original road opened, and that was before major development of the “South West Growth Corridor” got underway. At that same rate of growth, without being supplemented by a serious investment in public transport, the M4 East could require expensive duplication by 2029.

Overall, an integrated solution of public transport and roads is the kind of grand plan that Sydney often wishes had been implemented 50 to 100 years ago (Cahill Expressway anyone? Town Hall station crowded enough?). It would also dovetail with plans for Western Sydney’s development in conjunction with a new airport, as well as relieve pressure on the next stages of WestConnex, still under investigation.

Traffic on the Sydney Harbour Bridge (Image: Mitch Ames, Wikimedia Commons)

Traffic on the Sydney Harbour Bridge (Image: Mitch Ames, Wikimedia Commons)

The Grand Plan

Stages 2 and 3 of WestConnex are already in the planning stage. Stage 3 envisions an extension of Stage 2 beyond Kingsford Smith Airport and up into the inner city, eventually joining the end of the M4 East. This would be designed to relieve pressure on inner city roads, particularly on the north-south axis between Kingsford Smith Airport and the inner west. It would also, indirectly, relieve pressure on the Eastern Distributor through Moore Park, by providing an alternative route by which to get to the city and beyond.

In the much longer term, the north-south link will be accentuated and extended in the form of the F6 extension (from Waterfall to the airport) and the Western Harbour Tunnel, a second harbour road tunnel to complement the Sydney Harbour Tunnel.

(Image: WestConnex)

(Image: WestConnex)

While the Western Harbour Tunnel and F6 Extension are planned in the longer term (at least a decade or more away), WestConnex’s Stage 3 is not; in fact Stage 2 is due to start construction this year, and will be built to link directly into Stage 3 when it begins construction in 2019.

WestConnex is, if anything, inevitable; the need for additional road transport linkages in Sydney’s inner west (and particularly along Parramatta Road) were identified years ago. However it has taken years to get to this point, where building is being fast-tracked due to necessity, particularly in the case of the New M5. The state and federal governments must supplement the developments with public alternative transport options, and not allow WestConnex (and especially the M4 East), require duplication just over a decade from now.