By the late 1980s, the Mitchell Freeway along with major arterial routes servicing the northern corridor were constantly clogged during peak hour, with the community at large dissatisfied with the bus services provided for the region.
The government of the day, after a strong political push, introduced a project for the delivery of a rail service, to known as the Northern Suburbs Rapid Transit System. It was aimed at restructuring the bus network for the northern corridor, while going some way to reduce the dependence on automobiles currently being suffered by the city.
The focus groups convened consisted of two sub-groups of participants, one consisting of users residing within established suburbs who used public transport, and the other of public transport users from newer and developing suburbs. Combined within these sub-groups were subsets of both regular and irregular users, with regular users being defined as those using public transport at least once per week.
The participants from both sub-groups all held similar views in relation to the public transport, that of bus overcrowding, poor connections, poor timing, and poor route design impacted negatively on their perceptions and opinions of public transport. Over 43% of the participants described the public transport system as it currently stood as either poor or very poor.
Completed in September 1998, the study titled Public Transport for Perth’s Northern Suburbs was delivered by consulting firms Travers Morgan, Pack Poy and Kneebone, Blackwell and Associated, and Uloth and Associates. The study evaluated a number of rapid transport options for Perth’s northern corridor as well as garnering public feedback on the options.
Amongst the methods used to collect data for the report were surveys sent to residents of Beldon, Duncraig, Balga, and Karrinyup, along with previous respondents to a survey initiated through local papers in December 1987.
It was also at the time members of the then Liberal-National Coalition in opposition and local community groups rallied against what they claimed was the lack of the then government's commitment to transport in the northern corridor.
Opposition Leader Mr Barry MacKinnon called upon the then state government to place plans to construct a new northern suburbs highway on hold, and instead redirect funds to the upgrading an extension of the Mitchell Freeway.
It is almost beyond belief that the Government would contemplate spending $41 million on another new arterial route in the northern suburbs when the Mitchell Freeway is clearly inadequate to serve peak-hour needs of the northern suburbs residents.|||Opposition Leader Mr Barry MacKinnon to The Australian
He also commented that northern suburbs residents faced road journeys of up to 1hr to reach the Perth CBD.
This was a view also supported by the then president of the Greenwood, Kingsley, Warwick, and Woodvale Citizens' Association, Mrs Cheryl Edwardes (later the Liberal Member for Kingsley and Environment Minister during the Court Government).
Roads and public transport are the two biggest single concerns represented to our association and this new $41 million highway will do nothing to resolve any of these concerns|||Mrs Cheryl Edwardes to The Australian
Preliminary studies evaluated a number of possible options including:
The majority of these options were rejected on the basis that introducing another mode of public transport to the city would serve little to no purpose, considering the existing modes of bus and rail proved that they functioned effectively.
A number of routes were examined for use as part of the eventual system, which included:
During the study, various surveys were undertaken to better understand public attitudes towards the transport options that were being considered. In order of preference they selected electric railway (41%), bus expressway (34.4%), guided busway (19.3%). The most important factors of selection were faster journeys, and lower capital costs. However, from those who preferred the electric railway option cited greater comfort, less crowding, and less pollution as important factors in their preference. In addition, quite a number of respondents liked the railway idea due to it being forward thinking.
In his report, then Minister for Transport Bob Pearce noted the recommendation by consultants for the implementation of a bus based system using an exclusive route located within in the Mitchell Freeway median. However, he noted that further detailed evaluation of a rail-based option was still being carried out. The report noted that while its preference was to construct a bus expressway, the extension of such a busway beyond Warwick would provide little to no benefits in terms of speed, time, and economics.
During the public debate and discussion over the future of public transportation in the northern corridor, Transportation Minister Bob Pearce claimed that the NSTS would never be built under a Liberal coalition government. In response to the claim, Opposition Leader Barry MacKinnon stated that charge was “totally untrue”.
Locations considered for possible station sites in this study included:
At the time, a possible deviation of the rail alignment was considered to directly service the suburb of Innaloo. However, this idea was rejected by both the project and the public at large due to the significant cost, lack of identifiable benefits, and environmental impact grounds.
At the time, the study predicted that by 2001, the line would achieve 13,000 passenger boardings during peak hour. Over 12,000 of these passengers were predicted to board the services prior to reaching the maximum load point, defined by the report as Scarborough Beach Road.
The project was estimated to cost $220 Million AUD (1989), including $130 Million AUD (1989) for infrastructure including earthworks, bridges, and stations. A further $90 Million AUD (1989) would be spent on the purchase of an 22 additional two-car electric trains, now known as the A-series train. The remaining cost of the trains was to be funded from a financing package being drafted by the government.
The proposed rail line would run along the centre of the Mitchell Freeway, and designed to closely link the new rail infrastructure with bus services through the construction of several interchange stations along the route.
The proposed project initially included:
Relevant to the project was the realignment of the Mitchell Freeway between Loftus and McDonald Streets. At the time, the northbound and southbound carriages of the freeway in this section were constructed next to each other, with remaining road reserve being located on the outside shoulder. In order to enable the continuous running of the rail corridor down the middle of the freeway, this section of road required realignment. While necessary bridges and some associated works for the realignment were included as part of the project cost, the rebuilding of the section of road in the realigned section was funded separately from the project, using regular road funding sources.
The transit system was designed to provide for a very rapid service, allowing rail cars using the line to operate at speeds of 110 km/h. This would enable a journey from Perth to Joondalup to be completed in approximately 20 min.
The first stage of the project was expected to be operation by the end of 1992.
The second stage of the project was expected to be in operation by the middle of 1993.
One of the ideas for this purpose was the construction of what would have been known as the Fitzgerald Street Bus Bridge. Estimated to cost $2.88 Million AUD (1991), it was designed as a flyover from Roe Street, it would accommodate two bus lanes, and a shared use path for pedestrian and cycle movements. To construct the bridge, a significant portion of land occupied by the then Perth City Council (Currently an on-grade public car park) and a number of buildings owned private landholders would have to have been compulsorily acquired and demolished. From there, the southbound carriage of Fitzgerald Street from James Street would have been moved some 100 m to the east to enable the construction of the flyover approach.
The planned bridge was later abandoned, in favour of moving the existing level crossing some 250 m to the west of its old position underneath the Hamilton Interchange approaches.
In the end, options for the financing of the purchase came down to two companies, Westpac and Allco Leasing. One of the more interesting notes to the Allco proposal was the nature of the financing arrangements it was proposing. At the time of the proposed financing deal, interest rates within Australia were hovering around 16-17%, placing significant burden on companies of the day in their business dealings. To work around this, Allco proposed a financing structure that involved a cross-boarder financing arrangement in Japan. It also required the establishment of a special purposes lessor company, incorporated in the Cayman Islands in order to minimise withholding tax liabilities from the Japanese and Australian taxation agencies. Allco refused to release specific information on the proposed structure, due to its own internal policies prohibiting the release of specific details of this financing arrangement until it had secured a mandate for their services.
After much deliberation, then Minister for Transport Pam Beggs made a recommendation to State Cabinet on April 29, 1991 that the financing package offered by Westpac be accepted. Her recommendation was subsequently approved by Cabinet on May 20, 1991. The final financial facility provided by Westpac was valued at over $160 m AUD (1991), to be paid off over a period of 20yrs.
However, the setup and establishment of the funding facility was not without significant incident. Substantial argument between the Western Australian Government and Westpac ensued, in respect of liability if Westrail defaulted on payments. Of concern was the recourse Westpac would have against the Western Australian Government Consolidated Revenue Fund, particularly when placed in the context of the Crown Suits Act of 1889 and 1947 if such a default event occurred as perceived by lawyers acting for Westpac, Clayton Utz.
The legal issues and positions being put forward by Westpac's lawyers was in direct conflict with the position of the Government’s legal advisors on the project, Mallesons Stephen Jaques. The Government's lawyers were of the opinion that Westpac would have reasonable recourse against the Government and its Consolidated Revenue Fund in the event that a default occurred. One solution proposed by Clayton Utz was to enjoin the Minister for Transport as a party to the financing facility contract. However, after further significant problems arose with proposed changes by Westpac in respect of the funding arrangements, their contract for the finance facility was terminated in August 1992.
Estimated at $81 Million AUD (2000), the report called for the undertaking of the following works necessary to complete the project:
The plan also recommended the delaying of construction for Greenwood Station, which the report felt could not be adequately serviced until additional rollingstock was delivered.
The cost of the project was to be funded from government borrowings over four years from 2001 to 2004.
The supply of additional rollingstock was critical to the completion of this project particularly when placed in the context of the future planned rail needs for Perth. At the time, existing rollingstock was being utilised to maximum capacity, and based on future projections that included the operation of a fifth railway line and passenger numbers modelling, the size of the existing fleet would simply not be able to cope.
The committee took these issues into account when delivering its final report, and noted that the relocation was seen as having major environmental and social benefits improved frequency, journey speed, and reliability would be more significant factors than an additional 60 m walk. The report noted that this viewpoint was supported by the fact that Warwick and Whitfords were at the time the busiest stations on NSTS, attracting a combined 18,000 passenger movements on weekdays. 60% of these passengers neither arrive or depart by bus and instead arrive by car or walking some 55 m across the Mitchell Freeway carriageways. Passenger modelling found that the relocation to the station would have no effect on project passenger boardings if the relocation were to proceed.
Further to this, the relocation would help retain consistency with rest of the line and the future SWMR, further supported in surveys and opinion polls undertaken with residents from Glen Iris, South Lakes and Atwell and commercial business as part of SWMR planning processes.
If the railway station and subsequent rail reserve been allowed to remain on the western side of the freeway, there would have been significant impacts to the cost of the project through increased expenditure on noise reduction and engineering works.
Some of the groundwork for this portion of works was laid in the previous Clarkson to Currambine extension, with the rail surface necessary for access to the Nowergup railway depot already constructed as a two track reserve. This is in addition to the planning for the prior section recognising the need to further extend the railway beyond the depot to areas further north.
The state government is at this time seeking to acquire further land necessary for the construction of this extension.