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Saturday, 2 May 2015

Is a new ferry terminal at Rhodes really a good idea?

At first blush, the State Government’s plan to build a new ferry terminal at the currently wharfless Rhodes sounds like a great plan. The population density is high and growing, the area is an employment hub for over 10,000, and it’s a major destination for shoppers. And it would be just one extra stop on the existing F3 line between Meadowbank and Sydney Olympic Park. 

What could go wrong?
Quite a bit actually, especially if the impact on other passengers using the F3 line is taken into account. 

Rhodes is a peninsular suburb, sandwiched between Homebush Bay to the west and Bray’s Bay to the east. The current plan is to locate the wharf at Mill Park on the northern tip. This is a fair hike from the Rhodes train station (840 metres) and 1.2 km from the entry to the retail centre, Rhodes Waterside.

So why not build the wharf at Bray’s Bay, or on the Homebush Bay side of the peninsular? There could be good connectivity with the train and better access to the commercial area. Unfortunately, neither of these sites are realistic because the water is too shallow. Dredging is not an option because of the cost and toxic waste still remaining from the area’s industrial past.
Even if it was possible to locate a wharf closer to Rhodes station, the need for vessels to divert into the maritime equivalent of a cul de sac would add significantly to transit times for passengers travelling from Sydney Olympic Park, Rydalmere or Parramatta.  
This means a new wharf must be located in the main channel of the Parramatta River.
Okay, why not go with the RMS plan then and position the wharf at Mill Park? The resident population of this Travel Zone will be nearly 6,000 by 2021.  Currently 34% of the working population work in the Sydney CBD, so the commuter peak demand case seems convincing.
Regrettably, there are two significant problems with Mill Park:
  • Mill Park is almost directly opposite the existing Meadowbank wharf. Meadowbank is on the north side of the river, just east of the railway bridge.  Mill Park is just west of the bridge on the south side. The line of approach for vessels between the two points will be very awkward, with consequent safety issues. There will again be the problem of a much extended transit time for passengers up river.
  • Even at Mill Park the river is shallow, so a long ramp is required to position the wharf pontoon on a navigable channel. It could be nearly a third of the width of the river at this point. This will adversely affect rowers and other users of the southern side of the river, who will find the pontoon and its ramp a difficult barrier to navigate around.
The only way Rhodes will become a workable new terminal is if Meadowbank Wharf is relocated further east at Anderson Park to provide a straight line of approach for vessels traversing to and from Mill Park. The Travel Zone surrounding Anderson Park has a rapidly growing population (forecast to reach 5,700 by 2041 or nearly three times the population residing near the current Meadowbank wharf) and access to other public transport is poor.
But this of course doesn’t solve the navigation problems for rowers.
Perhaps there are good reasons why we haven’t had a public ferry wharf at Rhodes before now. It seems those reasons are still valid today. They mean the Sydney Ferry network will probably be better off if Rhodes remains wharfless and the interests of passengers travelling from Sydney Olympic Park and other locations up river are better protected.


  1. Looking at Google Maps, there's a large protrusion into Rhodes Bay near the south end of Rhodes station which appears to extend as far as the deep water.

    If the Parramatta ferry service were to be split in two (which IIRC was officially considered due to the much lower weekday loadings at the Parramatta end) then Rhodes station would be the best terminus by far.

    But even if it remains as a single service, the opportunity to transfer onto the train would save many people enough time to justify the detour.

  2. Do you mean Brays Bay? My RMS map shows that all of Brays Bay is shallower than 2 metres, which makes it unsuitable for ferry navigation.

  3. Yes I do. Where did you get the map?

    Do River ferries really need the water to be that deep?

  4. Here is a link to the map http://www.rms.nsw.gov.au/documents/maritime/usingwaterways/maps/boating-maps/9g-upper-parramatta.pdf Two metre depth at low tide is needed as there can be hidden debris in the river or sediment movement.

  5. Thanks for the link. I notice the map shows parts of the ferry route further upriver are less than 2m deep.

    Surely they can remove the hidden debris even if they can't dredge the bay?

  6. The RiverCats have a draft of 1.4 metres, which means there is only a tolerance of 600 mm where the water is 2 metres deep at low tide. The Parramatta River channel is shallower than 2 metres in some areas up river, which is why the vessels cannot operate there at low tide.

  7. I'm surprised their draft is that much.

    This is the first I've heard of RiverCats not being able to reach Parramatta at low tide. What do they do instead?

  8. I'm in Sydney this week so I went to Rhodes to see what that protrusion into Brays Bay was. It turns out it used to be a shipyard during the war