ENE 22 2015   l   The Sydney Morning Herald   l   Eryk Bagshaw
North West rail link: tunnel burrows through to Norwest station
After 25,000 man hours underground smashing through 206,000 tonnes of crushed rock in north-west Sydney, Elizabeth, the state's premier tunnel boring machine, has punched through the walls of Norwest station in Baulkham Hills.

The event is a milestone in the development of Sydney's north-west rail link – up to 35,000 commuters are expected to flood through Norwest station every day when it opens in 2019.

The public-private project is currently Australia's largest public transport development, with a budget estimated at over $8.3 billion.

The first tunnel boring machine breaking through at Norwest
The first tunnel boring machine breaking through at Norwest.

On Wednesday, NSW Premier Mike Baird and Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian announced that the construction of the rail corridor is ahead of schedule and $300 million under budget.

"It was only in September that we first launched this massive machine at Bella Vista," said Mr Baird. "In that time it has tunnelled 2.1 kilometres to reach today's historic breakthrough at Norwest."

When complete in early 2019, the north-west rail link will include eight new stations for single-deck, driverless trains. These will run every four minutes at peak hour between Rouse Hill and Epping, before continuing on an upgraded single-deck line between Epping and Chatswood.

But the tunnels bored by Elizabeth and her 900-tonne "mole" sisters Florence, Isabelle and Maria will never be big enough to carry double-deck trains like the rest of the Sydney rail network.

The decision saved the NSW government $200 million in 2014, but has drawn criticism from some residents.

In 2014, a north-west rail link residents meeting with Epping MP Greg Smith descended into chaos after residents passionately voiced their concerns over single-deck trains. They argued it would limit the efficiency and capacity of the line for generations.

North-west rail link: Workers 1km underground from the Bella Vista entrance. Photo: Nick Moir
North-west rail link: Workers 1km underground from the Bella Vista entrance. Photo: Nick Moir

Ms Berejiklian said the smaller capacity would be made up for with frequency.

When operating at full tilt the trains will be able to carry up to 17,000 people an hour, said the rail link's project director, Rodd Staples.

While Elizabeth may be burrowing into the future, a relic of Sydney's recent transport past, the monorail, has been repurposed at the site.

Up to 30 lengths of monorail track are supporting the road 25 metres above the tunnel as hundreds of trucks roll tonnes of waste out of the Norwest business park.

At the same time, 85 workers will continue to work underground day and night, propelling the enormous steel cutters forward through the sandstone and shale until they reach Rouse Hill and Epping.

Ms Berejiklian paid tribute to the efforts of those who pushed Elizabeth through 35 metres every day.

"After months underground I am sure the team will be as pleased as the community to see that cutter break through at Norwest."

Elizabeth's next stop is Showground station in Castle Hill, where, once again, she will be paraded in front of a public that will have to wait at least another four years before they jump on their first driverless train.

An artist's impression of Kellyville station Photo: Supplied
An artist's impression of Kellyville station Photo: Supplied


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