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Some rail and airport users in Sydney are making an interesting discovery if they need to cross south-western Sydney to access their flights. Sydney Trains is running some of those services non-stop between Holsworthy and Wolli Creek (the station where the airport trains surface on the western side of the airport.)
It takes only 15 minutes to traverse much of the western Sydney sprawl between those stops, which is what it will take you to drive aimlessly around the domestic terminal car parks, once you overcome the traffic shambles to get there, just looking for a vacant spot.
So much for the idea of building an incredibly costly high speed rail link from the Sydney CBD to the airport due to open at Badgerys Creek in 2025. It just shows that provided you have the conventional track capacity to do it (which is true of the western reach of the airport line) a bog standard suburban duplex train can save a huge amount of time and money and probably do that route via the East Hills and Airport Lines in 40 minutes.
Sydney Rail doesn’t identify these trains as Airport Expresses on its City Rail timetable site. But they are called by that name in the station announcements. Having ridden such trains a few times in recent weeks, they aren’t even being run at full capability, and could probably cut a few minutes off the times shown on the timetable site.
They could also connect the existing and future Sydney airports via a handful of intermediate stops in around half an hour or less, if the SW Rail link to Leppington is extended to Badgerys Creek, the site of the new airport. That’s an interval that drivers can spend in frustration within the boundaries of the existing main Kingsford Smith airport, should such a connection really be needed for what should be two independent airports serving different halves of the Sydney sprawl. (Much of the current delays for Sydney Airport users can be accounted for by the distances that often have to be walked from cars to terminal counters.)
This below-the-radar use of an ‘airport express’ today in western Sydney coincides with more frothing at the mouth in Melbourne over whether the station box so thoughtfully included in the original Melbourne Tullamarine Airport plans when it opened in 1970 ought be be revived and linked to its current and future metropolitan network, including the new north-south Metro.
It’s important to recognise that the present Sydney Airport link was mostly about improving the general suburban network rather than pandering to air travellers. But 16 years later the proportion of airport rail users among air travellers is surging because even with a costly gate fee, it has become a low hassle way to getting into and out of the terminals.
Many of these rail users aren’t travelling from the CBD but more than 150 suburban stations that connect to trains stopping at the two airport stations. Driving across Sydney to the airport from just about anywhere in its metropolitan sprawl is the pits, as it also seems to be when trying to access Melbourne Airport via the Tullarmarine freeway.
What Sydney Trains seems to be proving with the ‘airport express’ scheduling is showing how non-airport connections can be speeded up for rail travellers by using the existing infrastructure more efficiently. Airport trains can be useful tools for improving overall networks, particularly if private capital can be lured into paying for them and ultimately losing big dollars in the process.
This article first appeared on blogs.crikey.com.au
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