Tunnel work set to begin for controversial Australia north-west railway line

Tunnel work set to begin for controversial Australia north-west railway line : About 1000 Olympic swimming pools of crushed rock will be churned through by the four tunnel boring machines that will work on the north-west rail link, after the $1.15 billion contract for the machines was signed.

The contract marks the latest step in the eventual sale of large parts of Sydney’s train network, as the north-west rail link will be built as a separate, privately run entity that is ultimately planned to take over other Sydney lines.

In a news conference at Bella Vista, Premier Barry O’Farrell and Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian said the first boring machine would be in the ground by the end of next year and tunnelling would take until the middle of 2017.

“We have now passed the point of no return,” Mr O’Farrell said.

The tunnel boring contract has been controversial among public transport advocates and some residents of the north-west because it specifies that tunnels will have an internal diameter of six metres, too small to accommodate Sydney’s existing double-deck train fleet.

This means the line, to be run as a public-private partnership, will always remain incompatible with the rest of Sydney’s train network.

It also means if the line is eventually extended south from Chatswood across Sydney Harbour and connected to the Bankstown and Illawarra lines, as the O’Farrell government says it will, these lines too will be able to take only single-deck trains run by the north-west rail link’s private operator.

The tunnel contract was won by a consortium including Thiess, John Holland and Spanish firm Dragados.

The four machines – required to dig 14 kilometres of tunnel between Epping and Rouse Hill – will operate around the clock. They are each 140 metres long, weigh 1000 tonnes, and are capable of carving through 120 metres of rock a week.

Two machines will run from a planned station at Bella Vista to Cherrybrook. Another two will dig from Cherrybrook to Epping.

Opposition transport spokeswoman Penny Sharpe said the decision to bore tunnels too narrow to accommodate double-deck trains would limit the development of the Sydney network.

“This means commuters on the Richmond line never being able to be joined up to the north-west rail link, and the Parramatta to Epping rail link will not be able to be built,” Ms Sharpe said.

Action for Public Transport representative Jim Donovan said the government had not explained how much work would need to be done to make the existing line compatible with the new railway.

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Source : SMH

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