Driving the future of Australia’s infrastructure: Sydney Metro
Peter Hynd, Acting Project Director at Sydney Metro Northwest explains how the successful opening of the new North West Metro will influence the next generation of infrastructure projects in Australia.
In May 2019, Sydney’s new North West Metro opened its doors for the first time; on time, under budget, operating to plan and to the obvious delight of the travelling public.
This project had been proposed over multiple forms and over many decades,” explains Peter Hynd, Acting Project Director, Sydney Metro Northwest. “We knew the demand was there, the question was, what was the best way to deliver it?”
As the first turn up and go metro line in the city, Hynd points out that a lot of thought went into the concept design, not just to create an effective and efficient new automated railway, but crucially, to integrate the metro stations, the transport interchanges and the roads that sit alongside it and feed the metro with passengers.
Establishing success measures
The delivery and operation of Sydney Metro Northwest comprised of three main contract packages awarded between 2012 and 2014. An AUS$1.15bn contract awarded to CPB John Holland Dragados, for the tunnels and stations civil works, an AUS$340m contract was awarded to the Impregilo-Salini joint venture for the surface and viaduct civil works.
But at the heart of the project’s success was the government’s decision early on to deliver the operations, trains and systems contract via an AUS$3.7bn, 15-year public private partnership (PPP) contract awarded to the Northwest Rapid Transit consortia. This contract included delivering eight new stations, a train maintenance facility, 4,000 commuter car parking spaces, the new metro trains and upgrading the existing rail line between Chatswood and Epping.
As one the biggest PPPs ever awarded in Australia, bringing the operator on board early to help establish the right measures for success was critical to making the entire project work.
We were very focused on customer service outcomes; reliability, availability and the customer touchpoints in terms of how the stations are designed.
“Outcomes are structured around our customers and the outcomes that they would like. Our design decisions were highly influenced by the operator – and recommendations were taken on board in the light of their experience.”
“We also spent a lot of time looking at accessibility. We did testing of station and train prototypes with different user groups. The final design was well received, with feedback such as “manoeuvring through most transport feels like you are stepping onto a ladder, this project is like walking into a lift”.
Connecting communities and customers
The North West Metro is described as "the spine for the region’s growth for generations to come, connecting communities and customers with a fast, easy and reliable metro system".
As a turn up and go service, this is the first stage of a future metro network for Sydney that aims to relieve pressure on the existing transport network and will ultimately provide connections to western Sydney and the new Western Sydney Airport.
Over the coming decades, some 200,000 extra people are expected to move into Sydney’s North West region, taking its population above 600,000, and ramping up demand for transport into and around the city. The new 36-kilometre railway has 13 stations with trains arriving every four minutes at peak service times.
It is a truly integrated transport solution that includes car parks, buses and everything needed to support existing transport systems.
“We will learn from the line’s operation, but the challenge for us is to ensure that Sydney people start to love the metro,” Hind says.
Success certainly breeds confidence. The lessons from this project will now be taken forward to the next stages as the line is extended south with the Sydney Metro City & Southwest project – expected to open in 2024 – and then further, with the Sydney Metro West and Greater West projects following on afterwards.
To achieve success, Hynd explains that the client team spent time scoping and defining the project at the start and drew on experiences and expertise from around the world. This work led to the project being designed with very clear priorities and, with just three main work packages, structured in a very simple fashion.
Two key objectives, says Hynd, were enshrined into his business plan:
- The operator must be successful
- The PPP contracting model must be validated
Sydney Metro and its partners met these objectives by delivering the project on time, on budget and in a safe manner. To achieve this the project team adopted different and innovative approaches to project management and governance.
Managing budgets and risk
For all the talk of collaboration, teamwork and shared objectives across the world of infrastructure planning and construction today, the reality for major projects around the world is still that many are over budget and not on time.
Not so at Sydney Metro, where this project, with its 15-kilometre twin tunnels between Bella Vista and Epping – the longest railway tunnels ever built in Australia – and four kilometres of elevated railway, has been completed just six years after breaking ground.
“Whatever the form of contract, clients are constantly looking at ways to manage risk, while contractors are constantly looking for ways to maintain profitability,” explains Hynd, pointing out that, as a client he was very much part of the delivery team and spent time working on the way that he wanted to do business with his partners.
“On this project, I have been as interested in our contractors being successful as I have been in ensuring we deliver for our customers,” he adds. “Our approach was to be very honest and open with contractors from the start. We made it very clear that we would always be there to support our partners through the delivery phase.”
Of course, on a project of this scale not everything goes to plan and it meant that effort was constantly needed to work on the relationship. But as a result, while there have been robust conversations – “the civil contracting market in Sydney can be a tough business”, says Hynd.
Robust change control processes were put in place, looking carefully at the cost and impact of each on delivery and the operational phase. It meant having very tight management of budget and holding a number of independent peer reviews across the project to monitor progress as the project evolved.
“We have never been shy of putting a mirror up to ourselves to monitor our performance,” says Hynd, highlighting that, working with its partners, the project did a major resequencing of delivery plans to ensure there were no project delays.
All big projects have their problems and challenges. The key to success was setting up really good frameworks that enabled us to work with our partners to manage change and challenges as they arose.
“Firms like Turner & Townsend have been key to this process, he adds, providing strong advice, leadership and management to the PPP contract and being able to draw on experience and bring resources from all over the world. This breadth of skills, he says, enabled Sydney Metro to always place the best resources they could find.” “Australia has had some unsuccessful PPP projects in the past. To be an informed client, you have to understand the challenge and the drivers of your supply chain,” he says.
“Looking forward, trust and collaborative relationships will certainly be key to our success,” he adds. “After all, we know that the next projects will be even more complex.”