Most Influential Projects 2020

26 Sydney Metro


For transforming transportation in Australia’s largest city

For the first time in its history, Sydney, Australia last year began providing a train service that doesn’t require riders to consult a timetable. Instead, they now can simply show up and hop on one of the city’s first driverless trains.

Australia’s biggest public transport project, Sydney Metro is a AU$40 billion-plus investment in a new, high-frequency, driverless, fully accessible rail network that will transform how people move around the city. By 2024, it will span 31 metro railway stations and 66 kilometers (41 miles) of new, fully automated railway, as well as signaling and infrastructure upgrades across the existing suburban railway. A metro train will travel in every direction every two minutes.

The first phase, the Sydney Metro North West Line, opened in May 2019. Ten months later, tunneling was completed under Sydney Harbor for the phase-two City & Southwest line. Soon after, the pandemic closed down much of Sydney—which gave the team an unanticipated opportunity to accelerate its schedules. The team could work on some sites for longer hours and even shut down some roads in the city center. All this while observing new safety requirements for more than 5,000 workers, from social distancing and limited in-person meetings to a stringent hygiene protocol and having up to 50 percent of the team work from home at any one time.

“COVID-19 has disrupted our normal way of life,” says Hugh Lawson, project director, Sydney Metro City & Southwest. “The challenges of working remotely and physical distancing have been difficult, but we’ve also seen greater collaboration and creativity. It’s allowed us to do things differently to ensure continuity and maintain our delivery schedule.”

There are still plenty of challenges ahead. In February, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the City & Southwest line was AU$3 billion over budget. The team might need to apply some of the cost-saving measures it used during the project’s first phase, the Metro North West Line—which it finished on time and AU$1 billion under its AU$8.3 billion budget. U.S. engineering firm AECOM, which served as a technical adviser, provided one key strategy: reconfiguring a section of the line from underground tunnel to above ground. The change cut costs while enabling the team to build two additional stations.

Before the North West Line made its grand debut—to rave reviews—it went through an extensive QA process. During testing, trains traveled more than 180,000 kilometers (111,847 miles) on the new tracks, roughly equal to going around the world four times. As the City & Southwest line presses to replicate that success, the next daunting step looms: Phase three of the Sydney Metro project is slated to begin construction later this year.

Related Sponsors and Organizations

  • Government of New South Wales, Australia