The city section of Sydney’s new metro rail line is set to open in August, with the driverless trains racing through a new harbour tunnel at speeds of 100km/h, with passengers to feel like they’re “flying”, the premier says.

The Minns government announced on Monday that the private operator of the line had begun testing a full-service timetable. If it receives regulatory approval, the nine-station section from Chatswood through the central business district to Sydenham will open to the public on a weekend in August.

Work on the rest of the planned metro rail line, to run from Bankstown to Sydenham, will close the popular T3 line for a year for conversion. Commuters will have to take buses to Sydenham to access the metro.

The Bankstown to Sydenham closure will begin only once there is “a high level of reliability” on the newly-opened city section of the line, the New South Wales transport minister, Jo Haylen, said on Monday.

Network tests of the driverless trains and stations have been running since April 2023 and have included 9,800 hours of the total of 11,000 hours of required testing along the 51.5km line.

They replicate emergency exercises to test responses to unplanned situations, and involve about 1,000 people in simulated scenarios such as trains stopped in tunnels, passenger evacuations and drills involving emergency services.

The government says once the project is complete metro passengers will get from Martin Place to Waterloo in six minutes, from Sydenham to Macquarie University in 33 minutes, and from Chatswood to Central in 15 minutes.

The premier, Chris Minns, travelled from Martin Place station to Crows Nest for a press conference on Monday morning with Haylen. The trip – with officials and reporters – took just over eight minutes.

Minns said he expected commuters to enjoy the new speeds – particularly in the tunnel under the harbour where trains have clocked 100km/h in testing.

“We were flying,” Minns said. “It’s safe, but it’s quick, and that means you can move from North Sydney to the heart of the city in … three minutes,” he said.

“[It’s a] very, very quick trip. Far, far faster than braving the car or walking in or using a bike, so we expect a lot of people to be using this transport. It’s a game changer.”

Minns said the new metro stations would allow more housing in existing suburbs.

“These metro lines are part of a city-shaping public transport project that will support more housing for a generation of young people who have been locked out of homes for too long,” he said.

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“If we are going to address the housing crisis, we have to build homes near public transport like this and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

The Sydney Metro chief executive, Peter Regan, said the line would have capacity for up to 40,000 passengers an hour. “The speed of the trains is going to be quite a surprise to people and how quickly you can move between stations,” Regan said.

Minns said the new stations – which don’t have extra parking – would “act as a magnet” attracting commuters.

Haylen said there were no plans to establish new bus routes to metro stations in the suburbs for residents living nearby but not within walking distance.

Instead, existing bus routes will be tweaked “to make sure we are providing as many services as possible for people to be able to access these new metro services”.

The government also announced that tunnelling on the new 23km metro line at the new Western Sydney airport has been competed – with work now beginning on tracklaying and the construction of six new stations. The line is due to open in 2026.

The testing of a full timetable comes a month after the Waterloo station was handed over to Metro Trains Sydney, a private consortium led by Hong Kong’s MTR Corporation, which will operate the line.

Six other new stations are to be handed over including Martin Place, Gadigal and Victoria Cross.

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