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NSW Transport Minster Andrew Constance says building a new multi-billion-dollar metro train line from central Sydney to Parramatta is the "highest priority for the city", raising questions over when the new airport at Badgerys Creek will be linked by rail.
His remarks raise the likelihood that a so-called "north-south" rail line from Rouse Hill in Sydney's north to Campbelltown via Western Sydney Airport will not be built until some time after the metro line is opened late next decade.
The Turnbull government favours a north-south rail line because of its "city-shaping impact", rather than a line from the $5 billion-plus airport eastwards to Parramatta.
Mr Constance said the proposed metro rail line from the CBD to Parramatta had to be a priority because patronage forecasts showed that by 2031 "we physically cannot get people onto trains from western Sydney into the city" on the T1 Western Line.
"It's important we get rail connectivity right to Western Sydney Airport ... but from my perspective this [metro line] is the No.1 project for the city over the next 10 years," he said at a conference on Wednesday.
The state government has committed to start building Sydney Metro West within the next four years, and for it to be operating in the second half of the next decade.
However, it is yet to reveal the exact route of the line and the number of stations, other than say it will have stops at the Bays Precinct at Rozelle in the inner west and Olympic Park at Homebush.
Parramatta City Council chief executive Greg Dwyer said councils and developers "need the certainty now" about the metro line's alignment and stations.
"They need to understand where the station boxes are going," he told the Boomtown Transport and Infrastructure Summit.
Mr Dwyer said "we're in build mode right now" and it was "dangerous" for construction to be under way on sites developers expected stations to be built on.
The proposed Sydney Metro West will be in addition to a $8.3 billion metro line, which is under construction from Rouse Hill to Chatswood and is due to open in the first half of 2019.
The latter is the first stage of a line that will carry driverless single deck trains and extend onto the CBD, Sydenham and Bankstown. The second stage will cost the government up to $12.5 billion.
Transport for NSW project director Ivan Glavinic said Sydney West Metro would provide a different service to the existing T1 Western Line, which could focus on Penrith, Blacktown and other outlying areas of Sydney.
The state government's focus on the metro line raises questions about the timing of construction of a rail link to the new airport at Badgerys Creek, which the Turnbull government has said it wants "rail ready" when it opens in 2026.
Federal Urban Infrastructure Minister Paul Fletcher would not be drawn on whether a rail link to the airport would be built after Sydney West Metro.
But he said the outcome of a joint state and federal study into rail in western Sydney, "which goes to what the right route [to the airport] should be" and the sequencing of rail projects, would be released in the coming months.
Mr Fletcher said the argument in favour of a north-south rail link via the airport, instead of an east-west route, was stronger because of the greater "city-shaping impact".
The airport's focus in the first 15 years after its opening was also likely to be on the two million people living in the western Sydney catchment area, rather than those further afield, he said.
This article first appeared on www.smh.com.au
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