This tale of two cities truly illustrates Australia's infrastructure crisis

While London nurtures its world-class Underground, Sydney's rail network is stuck in the 1930s.

We keep saying it, but it never seems to sink into our policy making: Australia’s population is growing faster than we are building infrastructure.

At face value, it seems we are reacting to growth rather than predicting it. And for the most part our politicians continue to invest in improving roads over public transport and rail.

The government has already committed to using all the money it raises from unfreezing the petrol excise (or in layman's terms, resuming the annual increases in the tax on petrol) to reinforce our road network. 

The government’s new-found revenue uptick will likely incentivise it to spend even more money on roads rather than on other forms of transport infrastructure. After all, you can’t make money on petrol if people aren’t driving.

But when it comes to transport infrastructure, Australia is truly falling behind the rest of the developed world. Below are a couple of unconventional graphics to demonstrate why. 

First off, we have some maps, four of them. Two contrast Sydney’s rail service in 1939 and 2013, while the other two compare London’s largely underground rail network over the same period.

Sydney was chosen because it has the highest population of any capital city in Australia. It also receives the most federal support for its major projects. London was chosen because of an interesting phenomenon with its total population numbers. More on that further down.

Can you spot the difference? It’s pretty easy to see the huge expansion undertaken in London's transport infrastructure, but Sydney's hardly changed at all.

Graph for This tale of two cities truly illustrates Australia's infrastructure crisis

Design: Swiftly

Population totals are often used to justify investment in huge infrastructure projects, like rail. And yes, London does indeed have a much higher population than Sydney.

According to the latest World Bank stats, Sydney’s total population sits at around 4.3 million and London’s comes in at around 8.6 million. But what about population growth?

Over the past 40 years, London’s total population has flatlined, while Sydney’s has been booming.


Graph for This tale of two cities truly illustrates Australia's infrastructure crisis

So what does this mean? London has been investing in its rail network despite its population remaining broadly stagnant, while Sydney has done little to improve its network despite its booming population. Sure, Sydney’s rail system isn’t bad, but as any Sydneysider will tell you it doesn’t service the entire city.

There are a few projects in the pipeline for both cities. In Sydney, two new rail lines are due to open over the next couple of years; one in Sydney’s south West and another in the North West. There are also a number of light rail (tram) projects going on across the city.  

Meanwhile, London is improving its existing network. In addition to the construction of a new Crossrail line, it’s planning to run 24-hour trains across five of its lines in 2015 and is aiming to run one train every 100 seconds during peak hours on its popular Jubilee line.

Of course, rail projects are a state government issue. But given the current federal government’s enthusiasm for infrastructure, perhaps they should be talking about it more too? Or at least not reducing spending on it.

Graph for This tale of two cities truly illustrates Australia's infrastructure crisis

Source: Federal Budget 2014-2015

What do you think about Australia’s current level of infrastructure? Contact the reporter @HarrisonPolites on Twitter or let us know in the comments below. 

Clarification: This story previously stated the London was only focused on improving its existing network. It is in fact also building a new Crossrail line under the city. This story has been edited after publication to reflect this. 

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