The Epping to Chatswood Rail Line (ECRL) (originally a part of the Parramatta Rail Link) is a railway line under construction in the northern suburbs of Sydney, Australia, scheduled to open in late 2008. Upon completion, the line will connect the suburbs of Epping on the Northern line to Chatswood on the North Shore line.
The line is completely underground and includes three new intermediate stations: North Ryde (originally called Delhi Road), Macquarie Park and Macquarie University. The junction stations at Epping and Chatswood are both undergoing major redevelopments.
There have been proposals for a railway between Sydney's North Shore and the Main Northern Line since September 1920, when John Bradfield's plans were put forward for a railway between St Leonards and Eastwood. The proposed route was via the present Parklands Avenue in Lane Cove to the head of Burns Bay, across the Lane Cove River near the present-day public school at North Ryde, and terminated about north of Eastwood Station. After political moves, and potential engineering difficulties with hills south of Eastwood station in the 1930s, the terminus was changed to Epping, where the line became known as the "Epping-St Leonards Railway". To this end, the State Government resumed several of the estate houses in Epping around the present-day Brigg and Albuera Roads for a track to loop the line into the main line and terminate the trains at Epping. When voters in neighbouring Eastwood then complained, the line was proposed to link south of Eastwood, use island platforms at Eastwood and then link to Epping.
In 1929, local real estate agents promoted land sales along the railway line at Epping in preparation for the construction of the line. They called the area "Epping Junction", on account of the station being a junction between the Epping-St Leonards Line and the Main Northern Line. A new island platform was also built in preparation for the terminus of the new line. The track was to be in the middle of the two Main Northern Line platforms, and until the 1970s still existed as a terminating line.
The effects of the Great Depression, however, soon meant that the line would not be economically feasible, and despite protests by local residents and the local member, Major Shand, the project was abandoned. In its place, a road was built between St Leonards and Epping, which is the current Epping Road. The land sales were a complete failure, and the lots around the railway were not sold until the 1950s and 1960s.
It was not until the 1990s that plans for the line were resurrected. An original proposal to run from Westmead to St Leonards, via Epping was considered. Then the railway line was intended to run from Chatswood through Epping to Parramatta, partially travelling along the existing Carlingford surface line which would be expanded from single-track to dual-track. However, in August 2003 the NSW Transport Minister, Michael Costa, announced that the Epping-Parramatta section would be postponed indefinitely. The government has since announced the construction of a passing loop on the Carlingford line, allowing a half-hourly frequency all day.
The delaying of the Parramatta-Epping section was justified on the grounds that the expected daily patronage of 15,000 passenger trips did not justify the project's $1.2 billion cost. The government feared that the line would be under-utilised, much as the Airport Link (a public-private project) has been. There also had been community protest against the routing of the line through Parramatta Park (one of three possible routes supplied by the government).
Construction of the 13 km Epping-to-Chatswood section commenced in November 2002, and is expected to be completed by end of 2008. Thiess is delivering this project in joint venture with Hochtief. It includes designing and constructing of driven railway and four fully mined stations. The tunnel has been constructed using a tunnel boring machine, with a section underneath the Lane Cove River being constructed by the cut and cover method (next to where Delhi Road crosses the River).
Originally, there was to be a bridge over the Lane Cove River, instead of a tunnel beneath it, but the government adopted the tunnel option due to community and environmentalist pressure. This required the elimination of the planned station at the University of Technology, Sydney, Kuring-gai Campus; the required increased depth of the tunnel to go under the river made a station at that point impractical, due to the required depth of the escalator shafts. In December 2007 it was announced that Tangara trains will not be running on the line due to steepness of the tunnel. The line owner RailCorp has denied that this is an engineering bungle saying "The Tangara trains, because they are not ideally suited to that steep gradient, will not be allocated to that line even though they can operate." In March 2008 it was revealed that mats, connected to the rail tracks and concrete slabs to reduce noise have separated and needed to be replaced, with 14km of tracks to be re-laid.
Several associated works are also being completed to coincide with the opening of the new line. These include the rebuilt Chatswood interchange, the new concourse & upgrade at Epping, an upgrade of North Sydney station, the Hornsby turnback Rail Clearways project, and new substations at Waverton & Beecroft.
After the new CityRail timetable is introduced in 2009, there will be three additional trains to provide a 15-minute frequency between Hornsby, Epping, Chatswood, the City, and back to Epping via Strathfield. Direct rail services from the Central Coast to Central will become available by diverting some peak Main North services via the new route.