The first segment of Central Walk opened yesterday on Sunday. Here are a few observations.

The pedestrian tunnel feels more spacious. The ceiling is higher, the walls are further apart, and even the colour is more inviting.

This is a stark contrast when compared to the existing underground pedestrian tunnels.

When complete, it’ll add 4 escalators and 1 elevator to most above ground suburban platforms. However, platforms 22/23 only have enough space for 3 escalators. These suburban platforms currently have 1 elevator and 3 sets of stairs, but no escalators.

Initially just 1 pair of escalators per platform was opened. A future segment will add another pair of escalators and an elevator to each platform. For now, there’s still a lot of fenced off areas on the platform and a closed off parallel walkway underground.

The Chalmers St entrance is still not open. It will provide entry to Central from the Southern end of the adjacent tram stop, which already has an entrance to Central on its Northern end. This will be good for hot or rainy days when passengers want to get undercover quickly.

The Western end of the underground tunnel has a blue carpet. Twitter user Marcus Wong suggests that “Given the temporary hoardings forming the walls, I’m guessing the carpet is hiding bare concrete before the final finishes are applied”, while another Twitter user Baltoria comments that “it’s likely to dampen construction noise”.

The Western end exits out into the North Concourse/Grand Concourse, which itself opened recently and extends the “grand” open space further East than was the case previusly. This will be where the entrance to the metro platforms will be and feels the least complete of the opened sections.

There is also a set of Passenger Information Boards at the Eastern entrance for all platforms, and also at each set of escalators for that individual platform. A small, but important, quality of life design for users looking for the right platform.


In May 2014, the NSW Government announced the purchase of what would end up being 61 new 10-carriage trains, then called the NIF (New Intercity Fleet), to replace the 52 ageing 8-carriage V-Set and OSCAR trains. They would eventually be named D-Set or Mariyung trains and remain set to operate in the intercity rail network, to Newcastle, the Blue Mountains, and South Coast. The first were expected on the network in 2019, with the rollout to be completed by 2024.

In October 2016, a decision was made for the D-Sets to be the same proportions as the existing suburban double deck trains. The V-Sets were 2,928mm wide but suburban trains are 3,034mm wide. As suburban platforms were designed to fit the wider suburban trains, this meant that the V-Sets had wider gaps between the train door and the platform, which the newer D-Sets would not have, making the D-Sets more accessible. However, this would mean enlarging several tunnels in the Blue Mountains that were only large enough for the smaller V-Sets. This became the first controversy of the D-Sets, with the NSW Opposition often arguing that the Government ordered “trains too small big to fit through existing tunnels”.

Following suggetions as early as 2016 that the new trains could be operated by a driver only, in December 2019 the NSW Government would announce plans for D-Sets to be staffed by a driver with no guard onboard. Although the previous Waratah Trains were delievered with no guards compartment in the middle of their 8-carriage sets (guards would instead sit in the other drivers compartment located at the rear of the train) and cameras could possibly allow driver only operation for them, no plans were ever made public to make the Waratahs driver only. Therefore, the D-Sets would mark the first time that passenger trains in NSW would operate as driver only on the Sydney Trains network.

In response to this announcement, the NSW Rail, Tram, and Bus Union (RTBU) demanded modifications to the D-Sets in February 2020 before its members would work on the new trains. Eventually, the Government dropped its plans for driver only operation in March 2021, but refused to carry out the modifications which the RTBU was calling for.

In July 2021, the Independent Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator gave approval for the D-Sets to enter service “as soon as possible”. Then Transport Minister Andrew Constance said that “the train cannot physically move until all the doors are closed”, a sticking point with the RTBU who wanted guards to be able to keep their door opened for safety reasons.

The dispute reached boiling point in February 2022 when the RTBU announced plans for industrial action and Sydney Trains responded by shutting down the network for 24 hours. The confrontation was widely seen as a win for the RTBU, with the Government changing its tune on the RTBU’s desired modifications soon after. Although the Government at one point claimed that these modifications would add an additional $1 billion to the existing $2.8 billion cost, this was later budgeted for $264 million in June 2022.

However, this wasn’t the end of the negotiations, as the RTBU still had their wage claim. The Government was offerring pay increases of 3.0% and 3.5% in each of the next two years, above the previously legislated 2.5% pay cap that has been in place for the last decade. The RTBU wanted an extra 0.5% in each year. The current rate of inflation is 6.1%, for comparison. But with negotiations now moving from safety to pay, the Premier Dominic Perottet decided in August 2022 that no further negotiations would occur. Rail workers would be given the opportunity to vote on the current offer on the table, a process that would likely take 5-6 weeks. If it is voted down, then the Government will seek to terminate the existing enterprise agreement, a process that could take 2-3 months in court.

Commentary: What is this dispute really about?

The industrial dispute on Sydney’s railways is all about pay and conditions. The workers want a pay rise that is commensurate with the current high inflation and want to ensure that automation does not eliminate the guard role on trains. They are entitled to make these claims, particularly in a time of high inflation and elevated cost of living pressures. But the argument that this is about safety is merely a thin smokescreen to achieve these goals of better pay and condition.

The new D-Sets are safe. The national independent regulator has said as much. They are much safer than the old V-Sets they are set to replace. The RTBU claims to be concerned about safety, yet also want guard doors to remain open even while the trains are in motion, potentially allowing guards to fall out of a moving train, They repeatedly refuse to operate any overseas made trains as part of their current industrial action – trains that are newer and safer than the older Australian made ones.

Meanwhile, industrial action by the RTBU in February of this year in which the NSW Government massively overreacted and shut down the entire rail network with only hours’ notice left the Government with egg on their face. The Government tried to argue that it was due to a strike, it was industrial action, and that it left them with no choice but to shut down the network, despite there being the option for reduced services. Even more embarrassing was that the Transport Minister, David Elliot, was absent and sleeping when the decision was made. The RTBU would have felt emboldened by this, rightly so given the poor choice of response by the Government.

Yet since then, virtually all of the safety demands of the RTBU have been agreed to by the Government. They wanted to maintain 2-person operation; the Government allowed it. They wanted the trains modified, at a cost of $260m; the Government agreed to it. They wanted an annual pay rise above the 2.5% cap; the Government provided one (albeit still 0.5% less than the RTBU wanted). Now it’s reached the point where even Opposition Leader Chris Minns is calling on the RTBU to suspend their industrial action.

That is what led to Premier Dominic Perottet’s ultimatum this week on the current Government’s offer: take it or leave it. He has seemingly had enough and must think he has a reasonable chance that enough members of the public might sympathise with his conclusion. Either way, they are likely to cast their judgement at the ballot box next year on this matter.

Sydney traditionally had a radial public transport network. Trains and buses did and still do a pretty good job of carrying passengers from most parts of Sydney into and out of the CBD. The CBD also acts as an interchange point, allowing these passengers to transfer to another mode or vehicle before going on to a non-CBD location. What it hasn’t done well in the past is catering to circumferential journeys, one that may be a short distance but still requires passengers to make the much longer trip into the city and back.

For these sorts of journeys, a grid system works better. Given that Sydney’s transport system radiates outwards, this grid can be thought of like a spider’s web, with the rail network forming the lines radiating outwards (green) and frequent bus routes crisscrossing them (blue), other than where the Harbour acts as a natual barrier.

This style of network multiplies, rather than adds, the number of destinations available to a passenger, as it connects their initial mode of transport to a number of other routes or lines which they can transfer onto and reach their ultimate end point. A network based on transfers is often better than one designed around a single seat journey.

However, to work, this requires three things:

  1. Easy transfer points from one mode/vehicle to another. In most cases this would mean hopping off a bus right in front of a train station or vice versa without the need for a long walk.
  2. Minimal fare penalty when changing from one mode/vehicle to another. Transfer are an inconvenience (though one that can actually improve mobility in this case) which should not be seen as a premium service with a premium fare. The $2 Opal transfer discount has gone a long way to minimise this, but standardising fares from the ground up to either reflect the total distance travelled regardless of mode or adopting a zonal fare system would be even better.
  3. High frequency services with headways of no more than 5-10 minutes. Many lines and routes now enjoy 15 minute frequencies all day including weekends and evenings, but where a transfer is required this often isn’t frequent enough.

Transport for NSW has shown a willingness to move in this direction in recent years, particularly on the final point with their all day high frequency services. Most stations now have a train every 15 minutes and those with a train every 10 minutes have been on the rise. Bus network redesigns in the Eastern Suburbs, North Shore/Northern Beaches, and North West Sydney, have seen a greater focus on a grid-like network of high frequency buses which also act as feeder services to the rail lines that link the various parts of metropolitan Sydney. This is highlighted most clearly by the Eastern Suburbs overnight bus network, comprised primarily of the all day high frequency routes, illustrated below.

However, one part of Sydney that seems perfectly suited for this sort of network but has yet to receive this treatment is the Inner South West. An area roughly bound by the T4, T8, T3, and T1 lines which all broadly parallel each other East-West; from Olympic Park and Burwood in the North through to Hurstville and Rockdale in the South. Some bus routes running perpendicular to them North-South would easily achieve such a network if frequencies were sufficient. An example of what part of this might look like is shown below.

This example above involves 3 bus corridors that would run at 5-10 minute frequency all day (inlcuding evenings and weekends), crisscrossing the rail lines that would also run at similar frequencies:

  • Hurstville to Beverly Hills and then Wiley Park. This might potentially make a detour via the Roselands Shopping Centre and could go via Lakemba instead of Wiley Park. It could then continue North along A3 to Sydney Olympic Park.
  • Carlton to Kingsgrove and then to Belmore. It could then continue North to Belfield and finally Strathfield.
  • Rockdale to Bexley North and then to Campsie. It could then continue North to Burwood and finally the future Burwood North station on Sydney Metro West.

Some of this frequency is already in place or about to be. The final corridor listed above is already covered by the 420 bus route that links Rockdale to Campsie via Bexley North and already runs every 10 minutes all day. Meanwhile, T3 is set to be converted to metro in 2024 and also run at 10 minute frequencies.

In the past, Transport for NSW has generally waited until major rail improvements come online before redesigning the bus networks around them. This happened in the North West following the opening of the North West portion of Sydney Metro and in the Eastern Suburbs following the opening of the L2/L3 lines of Sydney Light Rail. This may suggest that such a redesign could be on its way to the Inner South West in the coming years once Sydney Metro is extended out to Bankstown.

A roughly 80km new metro line could eventually run from Epping to Schofields via Parramatta, Liverpool, the new Western Sydney Airport, and St Marys based on government plans announced as part of last month’s Commonwealth budget. Such a line, if built as suggested, would involve the conversion of the existing T5 Cumberland Line between Leppington and Merrylands to metro, plus extensions at either end from Leppington to the future Sydney Metro Greater Western Sydney at Bradfield in the South and from Merrylands to Epping via Parramatta in the North.

These plans are based on part of the budget which Federal Urban Infrastructure and Cities Minister Paul Fletcher described as the Commonwealth Government providing “$77.5 million for a business case for Stage 2 of the Sydney Metro – WSA line from Bradfield to Glenfield, via Leppington, which will connect the new $5.3 billion Western Sydney International (Nancy-Bird Walton) Airport when it opens”.

An extension from Leppington to Bradfield has been mooted for quite some time. The March 2018 Western Sydney Rail Needs Scoping Study stated “An extension of the existing line from Leppington to the Badgerys Creek Aerotropolis interchange, connecting with the North-South Link and East-West Link, would provide extra connectivity across the south-west. This South West Link from Leppington to the Badgerys Creek Aerotropolis interchange would cost up to $2 billion (2017 dollars)”. This was reinforced by the November 2020 Future Transport Strategy 2056 report, which illustrated (below) a future rail line incorporating the extension to Bradfield (then known as the Aerotropolis Core), but also a Northern extension to Epping via Greater Parramatta.

However, there were no hints at the time as to whether this would be an extension of the Sydney Trains network, or a conversion to Sydney Metro as happened with the Epping to Chatswood or Bankstown Lines.

Instead, it now appears as though this could initially be a metro line from St Marys to Glenfield, possibly within the next two decades. An extension from St Marys to Schofields via Marsden Park has been mooted for a number of years already. Meanwhile, conversion of the T5 Cumberland Line and extension to Epping requires some speculation.

One possible scenario could involve extending the current metro line from Bankstown to Liverpool then a short underground extension from Merrylands to Parramatta. This would provide interchange options for passengers at Glenfield, Liverpool, and Parramatta (as well as St Marys and Schofields). A simultaneous construction of an additional track between Cabramatta and Liverpool would allow T3 trains from Lidcombe to also continue through to Liverpool. The Parramatta terminus could then be extended further to Epping to complete the line. Were this to happen, then Sydney Metro West could feasibly also be extended from Bradfield South to Macarthur, originally planned as the Southern extension for the metro from St Marys to Bradfield.

An 80km metro line from Epping to Schofields would be long, but roughly the same distance as a currently planned metro line from Schofields to Liverpool (approximately 75km). It would also be a similar distance to a metro line from Macarthur to La Perouse (approximately 80km), which could be on the cards if such plans do become a reality.

However as stated earlier, at this stage this is purely speculation based on a single government announcement providing funding for a business case. In addition, with state and federal elections set to occur in the next 12 months and two changes of government being a real possibility, there remains the strong chance that this business case gets thrown in the bin, like many before it.

VIDEO: Bankstown Station Upgrade (Transport Vlog)

Sydney’s public transport network was traditionally a point to point network focussed on the Sydney CBD and a few other major activity centres. The past decade and a half has seen that network begin to evolve into one based on frequency and transfers where a user can potentially get from anywhere to anywhere. This has been driven by an improvement in service frequencies, initially to 15 minutes but more recently every 10 minutes, and by reforming the fare system to remove or at least reduce the financial penalty for making a transfer.

Towards the end of the 00s, an umbrella group known as the Sydney Alliance showed how much of Sydney had public transport service every 15 minutes. It showed that while public transport services reach all parts of Sydney, only a small portion of the city benefited from 15 minute frequencies and these were concentrated around the inner suburbs.

The first widescale use of an all-day high frequency public transport network came in 2008 with the rollout of Metrobus, red-branded buses along trunk corridors like Anzac Parade or Parramatta Rd. They would operate every 10 minutes during peak hour and every 15 minutes in the off peak, then every 20 minutes in the late evening and on weekends. A total of 13 routes were created, but no new routes were added following the 2011 change of government and all routes have since been withdrawn, replaced, or renumbered.

The rail network began seeing all-day high frequency in the 2013 timetable change. Prior to the 2013 changes, 82 of the 176 stations on the network had a train service every 15 minutes all day. After the 2013 changes, this rose to 113 of the 176 stations.

Stations with a train every 15 minutes: 82 blue stations pre-2013, 31 green stations added post 2013.

The 2017 timetable changes saw this increase further, to 126 of the 176 stations, while also extending these service levels to the weekend; before this, weekend frequencies often remained half hourly at many of these stations. Today, outside of the Richmond Line and T4 South of Wolli Creek, it’s hard to find a station without 15 minute frequencies. Those that do lack 15 minute frequencies often tend to have some of the lowest patronage on the network.

Lines with a train every 15 minutes or less all day in 2017. (Source: Adapted by author from Sydney Trains.)

Separately, in 2016, Opal fares were reformed to provide a $2 transfer discount. In many cases, this eliminated most or all of the penalty for changing from one mode to another. The Opal card had already eliminated the fare penalty from changing from one bus to another. These were important changes, as they enabled the public transport network to evolve from a point to point system, to one involving transfers at key nodes. But this would require a level of frequency greater than a service every 15 minutes.

And so in recent years the term “all day high frequency” service emerged to mean a service every 10 minutes, generally all day 7 days a week.

A few train stations had this level of service: the City Circle saw many branching lines converge and funnel large numbers of trains into it, while the T4 Eastern Suburbs Line and its evenly spaced 6 trains an hour also had a train every 10 minutes. The 2013 timetable brought the T8 Airport Line up to 8 trains an hour, with 6 and 9 minute gaps between each one ensuring no one had to wait more than 10 minutes for their next train. Finally in 2019 the opening of Sydney Metro, which has all day frequencies of 10 minutes, necessitated increasing frequencies on the T1 North Shore Line so that it also had connecting trains every 10 minutes or better.

Stations in Sydney with a train every 10 minutes all day. Some stations have 11 or 12 minute gaps or do not have 10 minute services on weekends.

Today, a few other parts of the rail network also have 10 minute frequencies or similar. Stations like Newtown, Ashfield, and Strathfield as well as a few stations on the Western Line between Parramatta and Blacktown enjoy enough frequency of trains to have roughly 10 minute frequencies. Although in some cases there can be 11 or 12 minute gaps due to different stopping patterns. All three light rail lines normally run trams at 10 minute or better frequencies.

Eastern Suburbs all day high frequency bus network shown in dark blue.

But it is the bus network that has seen the most progress when it comes to an all day high frequency network. Though these routes can be found all across Sydney, such as the T80 between Parramatta and Liverpool in South West Sydney or the 610 between QVB and Castle Hill in North West Sydney, they are most commonly found in the Eastern Suburbs region and the North Shore/Northern Beaches region following a network redesign of each of these two areas.

North Shore and Northern Beaches all day high frequency buses shown in dark blue, plus B-Line in orange.

A network redesign like this is not a new idea. Former Sydney based transport planner Jarrett Walker suggested a potential redesign for Sydney’s inner suburbs back in 2010, during the Metrobus era. What has changed since then is the Opal fare structure now allows such a network to exist without financially penalising users for making a transfer.

With the expansion of Sydney Metro in the West and South West of the city, and the potential for additional bus network redesigns, there remains a lot of untapped potential in increasing mobility for public transport users across Sydney beyond the simple point to point network previously offered.

VIDEO: Things I Love About… | Transit in Sydney (RM Transit)

Foreign made trains, trams, and ferries have been in the spotlight lately. Trains have been unable to enter service until modification are made to some lines, trams have been taken out of service due to cracking, and ferries have been unable to operate at night. These failures have been blamed on them being foreign made. The reality is more complicated, and while there is a case for domestic manufacturing, the arguments for this are different to the ones just outlined.

Some historical context

Trains and trams in NSW used to be made in Australia. The Millennium Trains, which entered service during 2002 to 2005, as well as the OSCARS, and entered service during 2006 to 2012, were both manufactured in Newcastle. Meanwhile, the Variotrams, which entered service in 1997, were manufactured in Melbourne.

Variotrams, formerly used on L1, were manufactured in Melbourne. Source: Author.

Overseas sourcing of trains and trams began with the Waratah Trains, which were pre-built in China and assembled in Newcastle. Originally ordered in 2006, entering service in two tranches: the A-Sets from 2011 to 2014 and then the B-Sets from 2020 to 2021, by then Labor Transport Minister Michael Costa. The Private-Public Partnership that built these trains was plagued with financial troubles, particularly due to the impact of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, and required a government bailout to be completed.

This was followed by Spanish built Urbos 3 trams that operate on L1, which entered service in 2014, but were all taken offline in November 2021 for a period of up to 18 months when cracks were found. Spanish and French built Citadis trams that operate on L2/L3, which entered service in 2019, were incompatible with L1 due to platform heights, while Urbos 3 trams cannot operate on George St due to the wire free section. Indian built driverless metro trains, which entered service in 2019, were criticised on opening day for overshooting platforms. Indonesian built ferries, the first of which entered service in 2021, are unable to pass under two bridges while passengers occupy seats on their roof, were found to contain asbestos, and cannot currently operate at night due to reflection issues. Korean built Mariyung trains, which are yet to enter service, required tunnels in the Blue Mountains to be enlarged as they were not large enough for these new trains.

Citadis 305 trams, currently used on L1, were manufactured in Spain and France. Source: Author.

The Labor Opposition has been quick to point out these shortcomings. Their solution: build trains and trams in Australia. This solution was initially rejected by the LNP Government in September 2020, with then Premier Gladys Berejiklian arguing that NSW is “not good at building trains” and then Transport Minister Andrew Constance claiming that buying Australian made would cost 25% more.

But the pressure clearly made an impact, with Constance making a high profile visit that same month to a local manufacturer that produces components such as CCTV cameras and help points for the passenger rail network. More recently, Premier Dominic Perrottet highlighted the importance of manufacturing and announced the creation of a Commissioner for Modern Manufacturing in his Bradfield oration, in which he stated:

“Every economic powerhouse has a strong manufacturing base. NSW cannot just be a service economy. We have to keep making things.”

Is Australian made the solution?

Simply put, domestic manufacturing is not a silver bullet to the issues raised earlier. Most of those issues are not caused by location of manufacture but rather due to design issues. The Mariyung trains were not “too big for the tunnels” because they were imported, they were designed that way so as to reduce the gap between train and platform. The ferries were not too tall for the bridges, they were designed that way as there is little demand for ferries towards Parramatta and so the roof seating can be easily closed.

It’s also worth remembering that the Millennium Trains, the last set of trains manufactured domestically for Sydney Trains, were plagued with issues. Not only were they delayed, arriving long after the turn of the Millennium for which they were named, but they could not operate on every line due to their high usage of electricity overwhelming the power generated at the time.

Millennium Trains, which were delivered late and could not run on all lines, were manufactured in Newcastle. Source: Author.

Melbourne manufactures its own trains and trams, but often using the specifications provided by the overseas based firm that designed it. In a parallel universe where these trams were manufactured in Australia it is quite possible that these same cracks would have emerged.

So should we forget about Australian made?

Domestic manufacturing of trains and trams has its merits. Principally it creates more ongoing domestic jobs if, and only if, there is an ongoing pipeline for new rolling stock. If there isn’t, then any factory would shut down as soon as a project wraps up.

Maintaining constant production is easier with scale. Buses are manufactured in NSW because there is a large fleet of buses that is constantly being replaced. Trams are manufactured in Victoria where they have a large tram network, also providing for that scale.

For Australia, the most viable option available is coordination between the states. This could provide a consistent pipeline of manufacturing and ideally would be led by the Federal Government through the National Cabinet process.

It may well happen.

But what needs to end is the idea that this would stop all the design specification issues that have so often hit the headlines. Domestic manufacturing does not address this.

VIDEO: Driver’s view fasters run L2 Randwick to Circular Quay, Sydney (tressteleg1)

Earlier this week, the timetabled end to end journey on Sydney Light Rail’s L2 and L3 lines fell to 31 minutes. Timetable data, released by real time transport app NextThere, shows how journey times have progressively sped up on L2, from 46 minutes in the first quarter of 2020, 40 minutes in the second quarter of 2020, 38 minutes in the second half of 2020, and 34 minutes in the first half of 2021; before its most recent final drop to 31 minutes. Similar journey times exist for L3, which opened in April 2020.


At the time, Transport Minister Andrew Constance explained that long journey times should be expected in the first 6 months of operation, but that these would drop to around 40 minutes after those 6 months.

The slow speed and long journey time on opening day and subsequent months was a common criticism of the L2 line following its opening in December 2019. This blog wrote about why this was the case and how to speed up trams in December 2019 as did transport engineer Greg Sutherland in a SMH article. Reasons given for the slow speeds at the time included:

  • long dwell times at stations
  • traffic delays at intersections
  • flow on effects of slow trams holding back other trams behind them
  • low speed limits
  • reliance on engineers with heavy rail, rather than light rail, experience
  • provision for slow braking

Some of these have since been addressed. For example, trams no longer dwell at stations for 40 seconds. Halving this to 20 seconds would immediately cut 4 minutes from total journey time. Traffic light priority for trams has increased, which not only reduces time stopped at traffic lights but keeps tram momentum going by eliminating the need to brake to a complete stop and then accelerate again. However, speed limits do not appear to have been increased. Trams are currently limited to 50km/hour along roads where the speed limit for general traffic is 60km/hour and is only permitted to travel at 20km/hour in the pedestrianised section of George St.


In July 2020, this blog investigated why and how journey times might have dropped down to their then 38-minute duration. It found that it was reasonable to expect that a 31-minute journey time was achievable. Greg Sutherland’s SMH article points out that the 1950s tram network achieved a 26 minute journey time with more stops and less traffic light/street priority, albeit along a more direct route.

It may be possible to shorten journey times further, though it’s likely to be only marginal. What’s more important is that the tram is now more competitive with buses in terms of timetabled journey time. A journey to and from Central Station is now faster on a tram than a bus. The bus is a few minutes faster into the core of the CBD than the tram. However, here light rail benefits from greater reliability and higher capacity, as well as connecting passengers to more destinations along George St rather than having to walk over from the Elizabeth St bus corridor.

Eastern Distributor express buses are clearly better for CBD workers in the North of the CBD compared to the light rail, as they were in the past compared to regular buses that the light rail has replaced. These should remain to complement, rather than compete with, L2 and L3.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle faced by L2 and L3 is the permanence of initial perceptions of being a slow service. People will remember the long journey times of the opening weekend and first few months, not realising that journey times have sped up. That makes the change of timetable this week, with no fanfare, seem quite unusual.

VIDEO: Sydney Metro (Luddenham Station) | Transport for NSW

3 separate rail lines would connect passengers to St Marys, Schofields, Macarthur, Parramatta, Glenfield, and Liverpool as part of a planned rail interchange station at the Western Sydney Aerotropolis Core according to government plans released earlier this week. A map (seen below) shows a completed Metro Western Sydney Airport extending to Schofields in the North and Macarthur in the South. Meanwhile, the soon to be under construction Metro West would be extended from Westmead out to the Nancy-Bird Walton Airport and then on to the Aerotropolis Core. Finally, the South West Rail Line would be extended from the current terminus at Leppington through to the Aerotropolis Core.

A detailed map of Western Sydney rail lines depicts the Aerotropolis Core connecting 3 separate lines and the current Sydney Metro line being extended from Tallawong to Schofields.

Another map (below), showing all of Greater Sydney, is the first to show the Eastern extension of Metro West from the Sydney CBD to La Perouse and a new metro line connecting Randwick to Kogarah via the Kingsford Smith Airport at Mascot. Together with an extension of both ends of Sydney existing single metro line from Tallawong to Schofields and from Bankstown to Liverpool, this represents a total of 4 metro lines, built over a total of 11 stages.

What a future rail network could look like for Sydney with 4 metro lines.

Of these stages, Metro North West has been completed and opened (2019), Metro City and South West is currently under construction (set to open in 2024), and two stages will begin construction later this year – Metro Western Sydney Airport (set to open in 2026) and Metro West (set to open in 2030). Indicative timelines have been given for two other stages, with an extension of Metro West out to La Perouse (potentially opening in 2041) and a new metro from Randwick to Kogarah (potentially opening in 2056). There is no indication of when the remaining five stages will be built: one from Westmead to the Aerotroplis Core, one on each end of Metro Western Sydney Airport, and one on each end of the current line at Tallawong in the North and Bankstown in the South. Nor is there any indication on timing for an extension of the Sydney Trains South West Line from Leppington to the Aerotropolis Core.

The new Metro Western Sydney Airport will feature shorter trains: initially 3 carriage trains which will eventually lengthen to 4 carriages. This compares to the standard 8 carriage trains across the Sydney Trains network and 6 (later to be extended to 8) carriage trains on Sydney Metro. However, the station designs released as part of the Environmental Impact Study show station platforms of approximately 200m, enough for an 8 carriage train. While this would be logical within the Aerotropolis section, which will share stations with the longer 8 carriage trains of Sydney Metro and Sydney Trains, this remains the case in other stations which only run Metro Western Sydney Airport trains, such as St Marys Station shown below.

The new metro’s station platforms are depicted as being of a similar length to existing platforms on the Sydney rail network, suggesting they will have the capacity for 8 carriage trains, longer than the 4 carriages mentioned in the EIS.

Trains on this new metro line would initially operate at a frequency of 12 per hour during the peak, but could eventually be scaled up to 20 per hour. The journey from St Marys to the Aerotropolis Core would take 20 minutes, while a journey from St Marys to the Airport Terminal would take 15 minutes.

The Aerotropolis Core Station itself would end up functioning as a major interchange point. Much like Epping, Chatswood, Strathfield, or Wolli Creek function now.

The Aerotropolis Core will function as a major interchange station if the current plans are followed through on.

The EIS is on exhibition at the NSW Planning website. Members of the public are able to make submissions until 2 December 2020.

Commentary: The rise of Western Sydney’s new CBD

The Western Parkland City is still unnamed and, with the exception of an under construction airport that is still half a decade away from opening, remains mostly a collection of paddocks and rural properties. However, it is set to get the transport infrastructure it needs to begin building the next CBD in Sydney’s West. This new metro line is needed, not to service the new airport and its passengers, but for the new city that will pop up around the airport.

That key point is often missed.

Few passengers will want to take a 15 minute train to St Marys and then change for a long 50 minute train journey into the Sydney CBD. Eventually, once the airport is big enough, the metro out to Westmead can be further extended to the Nancy-Bird Walton Airport and the Aerotropolis Core. Extending the South West Line to provide a rail connection to Glenfield and Liverpool is a quick and easy addition that will cement this new city as a major transport interchange.

But with this location currently vacant, now is the time to think big. A decade ago the Australian Government released its High Speed Rail study that found that a HSR line from Melbourne to Brisbane via Sydney would cost upwards of $100bn and that a third of this cost would be tunnelling through built up cities. The portion of the line running through Sydney, in particular, was responsible for heavily inflating this price tag.

Whether or not a HSR line is built on Australia’s East Coast, this new major interchange presents a rare opportunity for the Government: it should reserve a corridor to and from the Aerotropolis Core and space for a station box next to this interchange. Doing so now is cheap, and if it means avoiding tens of billions of dollars in tunnelling costs by allowing passengers to continue into the Sydney CBD on an express metro via Parramatta, then it may prove to be a even bigger financial boon. For those travelling to other parts of the city, direct connections will also be available in other directions.

And if it doesn’t end up needing the land, it can always be sold off in future for a tidy profit. But the time to act is now.

Sydney Metro could expand to 6 independent lines by the year 2056 and a rail link from Parramatta to Epping may have been quietly dropped, according to an August 2020 report released last week by Transport for NSW. These 6 lines would include a line from Parramatta to La Perouse; a line between Randwick and Miranda; two North/South lines connecting Norwest to Kogarah and Macquarie Park to Hurstville/Kogarah; Sydney Metro Western Sydney Airport; plus a line from Rouse Hill to Bankstown.

The report, titled “South East Sydney Transport Strategy”, focuses on the South Eastern suburbs of Sydney and provides most detail on the preferred transport options for that region. The Sydney Metro West line, currently slated to open in 2030, would be extended Eastwards to La Perouse by 2041, with six metro station locations identified: Zetland, Randwick, Maroubra Junction, Maroubra, Malabar, and La Perouse. A new metro line from Randwick to Kogarah via Kingsford Smith Airport and onwards to Miranda would then be built by 2056, with six metro station locations identified: Randwick, Eastlands, two stations at Sydney Airport, and Kograh. This preferred option was most similar to what was dubbed the “Compact City” scenario (map below), with a few adjustments. The compact city scenario saw a station at Kensington rather than Randwick and no station at the International Airport Terminal, whereas the preferred option saw the UNSW station moved East to Randwick and two stations at the airport rather than one.

An alternate plan, dubbed the “Mass Transit Nodes” scenario (map below), suggests what an expansion of metro lines in Eastern Sydney could look like. It contained an extension of the line from Randwick out to Bondi Beach via Bondi Junction, a line that was last proposed by the NSW Government in 1999 as an extension of the T4 Eastern Suburbs Line from the current terminus at Bondi Junction. It also shows stations at Kensington and Zetland, plus a third metro line for the region connecting Coogee to the Bays Precinct.

Although this option was not selected, it does provide context to the planning behind Transport for NSW’s final choice. This would be in preparation for a future Sydney where rail would focus more on a grid like network that would allow passengers the ability to travel to a dispersed range of destinations with one or more transfers, rather than the current radial system based around getting as many passengers into a central business district as quickly as possible.

Two additional North/South metro lines are also mentioned in the report, in very fine print next to Kogarah Station (map below). The first is a line from Kogarah to Norwest via Parramatta, with a proposed completion date of 2041. The second is a line from Kogarah to Macquarie Park, with a proposed completion date of 2056. Though past reports have listed a line from Hurstville to Macquarie Park, page 204 of the 2018 Greater Sydney Services And Infrastructure Plan does list “a potential mass transit/train link from Hurstville (or Kogarah) to Burwood and Strathfield and then potentially on to Rhodes and Macquarie Park” as a 20+ year visionary transport link. Therefore, this suggests Kogarah could be firming up as a significant transport interchange, with 4 train lines passing through this station.

Absent is any mention of a rail link from Parramatta to Epping. The current plans appears to prefer to avoid branching, with two lines connecting at Randwick, so it would be a logical extension of this to assume that any line from Kogarah to Norwest would be a single line rather than one that branches at Parramatta to link both Norwest and Epping.

Commentary: This is the rail network Sydney needs, but can we afford it?

Sydney has had a very radial rail network. With the exception of a few lines with low frequency and low patronage, such as the T5 Cumberland Line or T7 Olympic Park Line, all of its rail lines are designed to funnel passengers into the Sydney CBD. Planned future lines continue this radial system, but still to just 3 main centres: the Sydney CBD, Parramatta, and the Western Sydney Aerotropolis.

The South East Sydney Transport Strategy is the first time that multiple lines are proposed which act in a circumferential, rather than radial, manner. That is, they help to connect the many radial lines that already do or will soon exist. They will allow passengers to reach a larger number of destinations more quickly than if they have to first travel somewhere like the Sydney CBD to make a transfer. Many successful European and Asian cities operate with this system of nodes and transfers, with rapid and high frequency transport links inbetween.

Indeed, back in 2017 when Rodd Staples, then head of Sydney Metro and now head of Transport for NSW, was asked what mass transit project Sydney needed the most he suggested rail lines that would create a grid like network. He specifically listed a line connecting Hurstville to Bankstown to Olympic Park to Macquarie Park. Though this exact line does not exist in last week’s report, a very similar one from Kogarah to Macquarie Park does. Other lines, such as one from Miranda to Bondi Beach or Coogee to the Bays Precinct, also do not pass through any of Greater Sydney’s major CBDs, yet show up as potential lines under consideration.

By mid century, Sydney is projected to have a population the size of London’s, a city with 10 metro lines. Sydney’s current commuter network has the equivalent of 4 lines (3 centred around Sydney and 1 around Parramatta). So the additional 6 lines mooted in this report, bringing Sydney up to 10, are just what is needed to keep up with population growth. Yet with single stages of new lines, let alone a whole line, costing $10bn to $20bn; this is set to be an expensive expansion of Sydney’s infrastructure, likely to cost hundred of billions of dollars. This is more than the total cost of the NBN or Job Keeper, both national programs.

But there is no alternative to building it, Sydney’s population will inevitably grow and it will need the infrastructure to support it. COVID may give a false sense of tranquility in terms of population growth, but it’s worth remembering that past population growth projections have always been exceeded in recent decades, so even a conservative outlook could mean current projections will merely be met. The question for Sydney residents therefore is not whether to build it, rather how the government of NSW can pay for it; how the people of Sydney will pay for it. This may mean further privatisations, higher taxes, or increased government debt. None are popular, but the alternative is worse; so now is the time to start deciding how, not if.


VIDEO: Sydney Metro | Demystified (RMTransit)

Sydney’s L2 light rail line has quietly been sped up since it launched in late 2019, with an end to end trip between Randwick and Circular Quay falling from 51 minutes to 38 minutes. Interestingly, much of the improvement occurred prior to lockdown restrictions, which would be expected to reduce delays on the line; trip durations on the line were timetabled to take 40 minutes as far back as mid March 2020. The improved speed appears to be due to shorter dwell times at stations and better use of traffic light priority, but there remains padding in the timetable that provides some potential for additional speeding up of the new line.

Back in December 2019, this blog timed an end to end trip and found it to take 51 minutes, equal to the timetabled trip duration for the opening weekend. A breakdown of the time for the trip found that the main contributors to long trip durations appeared to be:

  • long dwell times at stations
  • traffic lights at intersections
  • waiting for the track to clear
  • low speed limits, particularly on George St

In that blog post, it was suggested that addressing these issues could result in an estimated time saving of 13 minutes, coincidentally the exact drop in trip time from 51 minutes to 38 minutes. To dive deeper, this blog once again took a trip on L2 from Randwick to Circular Quay at midday on Wednesday 8 July.

The trip was timetabled to depart Randwick at 12:16PM and arrive at Circular Quay at 12:54PM, 38 minutes all up. The final trip duration was 39 minutes 36 seconds. Of that, 26 minutes was spent in motion (65% of the total trip duration, compared to 55% on opening weekend) and 14 minutes stopped (of which 8 minutes were stopped at stations and 6 minutes stopped between stations). Unlike the opening weekend, which saw dwell times of around 40 seconds at each station, the standard dwell time was now around 25 seconds. With 12 intermediate stations, that suggests 5 minutes of planned dwell time. Adding this to the 26 minutes of time in motion gives 31 minutes, which would appear to be the theoretical quickest time if there are no delays. That leaves 7 minutes of planned delays, which can be seen as “padding”.

The actual travel time of just under 40 minutes was not dissimilar to the timetabled travel time of 38 minutes. Indeed, the tram was itself delayed due to a late running tram ahead blocking the track. This would not seem to be a common occurrence, as will be explained later. However, given that it was midday while passenger movements remain suppressed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it should be expected that travel times should be quite close to the timetable.

Dwell Times

Some dwell times were longer when it appeared that the tram was running ahead of schedule at the Wansey Road Station and Royal Randwick Station; accounting for 1 minute 23 seconds of additional dwell time, beyond the standard 25 seconds. However, some stations saw shorter dwell times, presumably to make up for lost time when the tram was running late; including the Moore Park Station (19 seconds), Surry Hills Station (18 seconds), Chinatown Station (20 seconds), and Town Hall Station (21 seconds), which all up accounted for 22 seconds less dwell time. In addition, while at Wynyard Station the tram waited for the track to clear due to the tram ahead itself still dwelling at the Bridge Street Station; accounting for 1 minute 29 seconds of additional dwell time.

All up, dwell time at stations now accounts for 20% of total trip time, down from 27% on opening weekend. Much of this could likely be attributed to the shorter standard dwell time of 25 seconds, down from 40 seconds, which does appear to have shaved about 3 minutes from the total trip duration.

Traffic Lights

The tram stopped at traffic lights at least 6 times, causing a total delay of 4 minutes 46 seconds. The longest of these were 2 sets of traffic lights on Anzac Parade causing a combined delay of 3 minutes 13 seconds between the Royal Randwick Station and Moore Park Station, particularly the first of these traffic lights which saw 2 trams from the L3 line cross, while also allowing phasing for buses to move from the tram/bus shared road and the busway, causing a delay of 2 minutes 34 seconds. The next most significant red light occurred between Central Station and Haymarket Station, causing a delay of 1 minute 4 seconds.

However, most intersections saw quite good traffic light priority, with the tram not stopping at 7 of the 12 sections between stations. Indeed, it would appear that the tram driver showed little hesitation in calling for a green light when approaching a quiet intersection, preferring to run ahead of schedule and spend additional dwell time at stations than to risk running late due to a red traffic light. Though in some cases it also appeared like trams tried to coordinate so that trams in both directions crossed an intersection at the same time, which would have the effect of minimising the impact on cross traffic, or merely waiting when approaching busy intersections where calling for traffic light priority would cause more disruption to road vehicle movements.

All up, waiting at traffic lights now accounts for 12% of the total trip time, down from 14% on opening weekend.

Waiting For Track To Clear

Tram bunching caused a significant amount of delays on this trip. Already mentioned earlier was the additional dwell time at Wynyard Station of 1 minute 29 seconds as well as the traffic light delay from that same L3 tram crossing over from the median of Anzac Parade to the parallel tram road, which caused about half of the 3 minute 13 second red traffic light delay. This L3 tram then caused further delays when approaching the Circular Quay Station of 1 minute 21 seconds. All of these delays are due to tram bunching, and likely added a combined 4 to 5 minutes of travel time on this trip.

All up, waiting for track to clear now accounts for 11% of the total trip time, up from 10% on opening weekend.


The reduced dwell times and more assertive calling of traffic light priority are welcome changes, and both appear to have contributed to the shorter journey times. Indeed, it would appear that calling for traffic light priority at quiet intersections is an effective yet pragmatic use of traffic light priority that minimises impact on road vehicles while maximising on time running for trams. In addition, private cars and pedestrians appear to be getting used to trams and do not block their paths as much as they used to.

What remains disappointing is the delays caused by waiting for track to clear. Without these, the trip could have been completed in as little as 35 minutes. However, this may have been the exception, given that tram frequencies along George Street that day showed most trams running 3 to 4 minutes apart. This is close enough to provide a good high frequency service that allows passengers to turn up and go. Even after diverging, a tram every 7 to 8 minutes on the L2 and L3 branches is a decent frequency for those corridors. Importantly, however, the 3 to 4 minute frequency at the core gives trams enough space to not bunch up. After all, the conga line of buses on George Street that brought that public transport corridor to a snails pace was one of the reasons for replacing it with a high capacity rail based transport solution.

But tram bunching does present a serious limit on line capacity. In particular certain choke points remain in places like Anzac Parade where L2 and L3 branch off, the intersection between Rawson Place and George Street near the Haymarket Station, and the intersection between Alfred Street and George Street near the Circular Quay Station. These are all difficult to address, as they already involve complex traffic light phasing that mixes trams with thing like private cars, buses converging/diverging with their own busway, pedestrian crossings, etc. Retrofitting a solution would likely require a shut down of parts of the line for significant periods of time to rebuild these pinch points.

Despite this, it should be investigated. One possible improvement would be to make George Street one way Northbound between Essex Street and Argyle Street, near the Circular Quay Station, thus allowing trams to move between George Street and Alfred Street without needing to stop at the intersection’s traffic lights. Delays here are often compounded by trams having to change track at the terminus, which adds additional conflicts to movements on the line.

Removal of some padding on the timetable could also be investigated. Even without an increase to speed limits, a tram should be able to complete its journey in 31 minutes. So cutting the timetable from 38 minutes down to around 35, maintaining some padding, could be an option. After all, this is a line with its own exclusive right of way, and so should be seen to be a rapid transport service.

VIDEO: Transport for NSW COVID-19 Response: Essential Service (23 March 2020)

Social distancing has seen the movement of people in Sydney drop by about 90% in recent weeks. The Citymapper Mobility Index shows mobility beggining to slow on the weekend of Saturday 14 March, shortly after the government announced its first set of restrictions, but before those restrictions came into effect on the following Monday. Transport agencies have since responded in order to enable the safe movement of people around the city, whether that be by car, by foot, or by public transport.

In terms of road traffic, a comprehensive ABC article uses Google Maps traffic data to show that “peak-hour gridlock has virtually vanished”, with the same article using TomTom Traffic Index data to show a trip that typically takes 30 minutes would now take 26 minutes. The same TomTom Traffic Index shows the biggest drop occurring during peak-hour, with only a minor drop in off-peak road travel. Transurban, which owns most of Sydney’s toll roads, has reported a 36% drop in traffic volumes on its toll roads in the final week of March.

Push buttons in CBD pedestrian crossings have been automated since Monday 23 March, to prevent these normally high touch surfaces from becoming transmission zones for COVID-19. This is a limited time change and was restricted to the Sydney CBD.

Public transport usage has likewise seen a dramatic drop. Occupancy data published by NextThere for the 4 weeks to Sunday 22 March show demand for real time planning journeys began falling on Tuesday 10 March and was down to about half their regular volumes by the end of that 4 week period. Meanwhile, during that time peak-hour trains on the T1 Western Line went from over three quarters being standing room only to none being standing room only (see image below, Source: NextThere). Bus occupancy levels appear to have also fallen in the same time period, with the proportion of peak-hour buses passing through Neutral Bay Junction on the North Shore’s Military Road corridor with a majority of their seats available rising from about one in three buses to almost all buses.

Other than minor changes to the L1 light rail line, the government has yet to cut back on service levels; which combined with the fall in patronage has enabled members of the public who must travel on public transport to better observe social distancing when they do so. Additional changes include regular deep cleaning of public transport vehicles, a suspension on the sale of single use Opal tickets from buses, and closure of Opal readers and seats near bus drivers.

Despite this, there are actions that have been taken elsewhere which have not happened in Sydney. The most extreme of these responses occurred in the Chinese city of Wuhan, believed to be the epicentre of COVID-19, which suspended its public transport network in late January. Brisbane has moved to rear door boarding on its buses, with the front door only available for passengers requiring assistance and to maintain disability access. Advocacy group Walk Sydney is calling for the automation of push buttons to be extended to all of Greater Sydney. So far the automation is being extended out to crossings near many of Sydney’s hospitals, but not the entire city.

Lachlan Drummond is a past guest contributor to this blog (you can read some of his other posts here and here). He has investigated the current bus network and timetables, comparing them to the new L2 light rail line that opened in December 2019. Below is part three of his findings.

In my last two posts, I looked at journey times for a typical city commuter. The first post looked at services into the city in the AM peak. The second looked at outbound trips in the PM peak.

We concluded that the L2 service was an inferior option to most regular bus services in the AM peak, but for many journeys in the PM peak it was a faster option, especially from Central station back to Randwick. However, that’s only half the story.

As we already know, many people make journeys in the opposite direction – needing to travel from the city to Randwick for work or study in the morning (to UNSW or Prince of Wales Hospital), and then back to the city in the evening (often connecting with Sydney Trains services at Central).

So how will the tram help?

Outbound Journeys

The Randwick Health and Education Precinct is an area where tens of thousands of people need to travel for work and study every day. It houses two major employers – firstly, the Prince of Wales Hospital (Public and Private), where over 3,000 staff work, and the main campus of the University of New South Wales, where up to 8,000 staff and almost 60,000 students are enrolled. While not all will be on campus at once, it would be fair to say that during session times, tens of thousands of people are on the campus.

We also know that the tram line goes past two major Sydney event spaces – the Moore Park-SCG-Fox Studios Precinct (L2 and L3), and Randwick Racecourse (L2 only).

So – will the tram get you there faster? Well… in order to answer that we need to consider a few variables.

The Bus Capacity Problem in Randwick and UNSW

For a long time, UNSW has struggled with public transport capacity constraints. Every single day, tens of thousands of students and members of staff try to get from Central to UNSW in the morning.

Special express buses to UNSW have struggled to keep up with demand – you only need to look at the extraordinary 891 bus timetable for evidence. Here are some key facts:

  • Between 7AM and Midday – 154 regular express 891 buses leave central and go to UNSW. That’s a bus every 2-3 minutes.
  • If we assume that all of them are regular sized 70-person buses, that’s a carrying capacity of no less than 10,710 people travelling to UNSW by express bus in the morning.
  • Of those buses, 52 of them run in the AM peak – a total of 3,640 passengers.
  • During the AM peak of 8:15AM-9:30AM, an 891 bus leaves just about every minute.

In addition to the 891, the 393, 395 and M10 also go down the Anzac parade corridor. The 372 and 376 also go to Belmore Road Randwick (although not to UNSW – most students would not use these to get there). In total there are 99 of these buses between 7AM-12PM.

The table below gives a summary of the total outbound bus capacity from Central to Randwick/UNSW in the morning between 7AM-12PM.

So – assuming that we only use standard buses (and assuming we count the 372 and 376 as ways to get to UNSW) in the 5 hours between 7AM-12PM, the total minimum bus capacity to Randwick and UNSW – a precinct where up to 70,000 people work and study – is only 16,940… or 3,388 per hour from Central. (NOTE: there will obviously be more Anzac Parade Buses from Elizabeth street.)

For a precinct that needs tens of thousands of passenger seats from Central, especially in peak hour – that’s not good.

Keep in mind that approximately 1/3rd of this 16,940 capacity comes in the 8AM-9AM period – about 5,500 within that peak hour (or slightly more if they were all bendy buses).

Some have suggested that the sheer volume of potential passengers would have justified the construction of a heavy rail or metro line to Randwick and/or the UNSW precinct. This is an entirely justifiable position based on the patronage numbers – indeed the original Eastern Suburbs line was supposed to do just that.

Putting that to one side, let’s look at what the L2 and L3 lines might actually be able to do.

How Will Light Rail fix the capacity problem?

According to a Sydney Light Rail Factsheet (November 2019), the L2 and L3 lines will deliver the following:

“Current planning would see a combined light rail and bus network deliver citybound morning peak capacity increases of more than 10 per cent from Kingsford and 30 per cent from Randwick, and a doubling of morning peak capacity from the CBD to UNSW and the Randwick hospital precinct”.

Both the L2 and L3 lines will have stops at UNSW – the L2 line at High St, and the L3 Line on Anzac Parade. But will they really double AM peak capacity?

The factsheet claims the following:

“Moore Park and every eight minutes to and from Randwick and Kingsford between 7AM and 7PM. Each vehicle will carry up to 450 people, equivalent to nine standard buses with a capacity of up to 13,500 passengers per hour (up to 6,750 in each direction).”

Let’s unpack that claim a little:

  • The L2 line will run a tram every 8 minutes to Randwick via High St.
  • The L3 line will do the same down Anzac Parade.
  • This means there is an outbound Tram to UNSW from central every 4 minutes – one to UNSW High St, and the other to UNSW Anzac Parade.
  • With 15 trams every hour in the peak, at a maximum capacity of 450 passengers – that gets you to the 6,750 figure claimed by the operator.

This compares very favourably with the minimum 5,500 in the peak that current express and regular services can do (assuming we count the 372 and 376). In order for buses to beat that, you’d have to find a way to run bendy buses every minute – a practical impossibility given road capacity constraints at Central.

So – even if every express and regular bus service to UNSW was removed, the combined L2 and L3 lines would alone indeed represent a large improvement to capacity. That’s not bad. However, for a doubling of capacity, clearly some of the buses will need to be kept. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when the timetable is rewritten, and whether the 891, 893 and 898 buses stay.

It’s important to note that the benefit in the PM will be much more substantial, because there are fewer express 893 and 898 shuttle buses back to Central (these leave every 2-3 minutes). Going back to Central, the tram will offer way more carrying capacity at certain hours of the day.

Interchange and boarding times

If you go to UNSW each day, ask yourself a simple question:

“How long do I usually spend in a bus queue at central or UNSW?”

If the answer is “longer than ten minutes”, then the light rail may very well be a better solution.

This is because one of the most notorious problems with the 891 bus service is the long queues that can sometimes form at Central (and even at UNSW for the return journey).

As the UNSW student newspaper Tharunka recorded in a thorough article:

“Students report that the bus lines – or, rather crowds that are often eight to ten people deep and stretch back for tens or hundreds of metres – fail to move for up to half an hour, especially during peak times.”

This problem has been long standing – even back in 2008, there were complaints in the same newspaper of overcrowding, even with a student cohort closer to 40,000 (rather than today’s 60,000).

There are two reasons for overcrowding – bus boarding and dwell times, and a lack of capacity.

Light rail has three distinct advantages over buses:

  • Firstly – it can carry more people – 450 of them, compared to 115 on a bendy bus or 70 on a standard bus.
  • Secondly – you tap on at the station, meaning that there are no delays when boarding the vehicle (when people are tapping their opal cards).
  • Thirdly – every doubled up LRV has 8 doors that can be entered.

This compares favourably to a long queue of buses that can get stuck behind each other at the roadside, and can only board people by the front door (who also have to tap their opal card while they do, slowing it down even more). Even if you tried to use bendy buses, you wouldn’t necessarily have enough road space when boarding to make it work – and the other two problems would still exist.

The video below from Adelaide shows what can happen when too many buses try to use the same bus stop – when one bus is boarding (or stops for some other reason), another one behind it gets stuck and either can’t leave or can’t get into the stop. This backs up all the traffic behind it on multiple lanes, causing congestion.

For this reason they should also be at a distinct advantage when shuttling people to major events at the SCG or Randwick Racecourse as well – not only will the 8 minute journey time to Moore Park be reasonably quick, but they’ll carry more people at once.

Okay, I get all that. But is it faster than the bus?

In short: when factoring in interchange times at central – possibly yes.

And remember – do the buses run to timetable? Often no.

Here’s the golden rule – If it takes you 10-15 minutes just to get on an 891 bus, but only 4-8 minutes to get on a tram – then when factoring in the interchange time the tram should actually win the race.

It also won’t get stuck in traffic to nearly the same extent because it runs on its own dedicated corridor for parts of its journey.

We don’t know yet what the L3 timetable will look like, but it won’t belong before we find out – the L3 line will open some time in March.

Lachlan Drummond is a past guest contributor to this blog (you can read some of his other posts here and here). He has investigated the current bus network and timetables, comparing them to the new L2 light rail line that opened this past weekend. Below is part two of his findings.

In an earlier post, I compared the L2 line journey times in the AM peak inbound. I found that the L2 line compared unfavourably with most AM peak hour buses, including to Central – although for some journeys (including Chinatown and Town Hall), the L2 was superior.

But that’s only half the story. To complete the picture of whether the L2 will be useful as a commuter service, lets have a look at the journey home to Randwick.

Get ready for a surprise.

The comparison

Like last time, we are comparing the journey time to the same spot. The closest bus stop outbound to the L2 Randwick station is called “Belmore Rd at Avoca St” – look it up on Google Maps. All of these comparisons will compare the L2 light rail travelling to Randwick with buses travelling to this stop.

Firstly, let’s get the obvious one out of the way:

373 vs L2 from Circular Quay
Mode Circular Quay to Randwick – PM Peak
373/377 29mins
L2 45-51mins

As has been well documented – the full journey from Circular Quay to Randwick is much faster on paper than the 373 bus in the morning – and it remains so for the evening.

This is because the 373 (and its express service, the X73) does a fundamentally different job – its role is to get people in and out of the Elizabeth St corridor north of Hyde Park as quickly as possible.

Realistically, nobody near Circular Quay, Macquarie St, St James, or Museum is ever going to prefer the L2 as a transport mode to the 373 all the way back to Randwick. They’d have to walk back into the city to George St (5-10 minutes) to get a slower journey (by 15 minutes).

This is not going to happen.

This reinforces my strongly held view that the 373 should not become a casualty of the L2 in any subsequent changes to the bus network.

Verdict: If you currently get the 373, you should probably stick with it.

L2 vs M50 from Town Hall

Secondly, lets look at the Town Hall journey.

Remember – in the morning peak, the L2 was about 4 minutes quicker than the M50 – but by getting a 373 to Elizabeth St and walking the remainder, the journey was a tad faster. We nonetheless concluded that the L2 to Town Hall was superior, especially for destinations west of George St, because it dropped you closer to your final destination.

So, does the same thing hold for the PM peak?

Mode Town Hall to Randwick – PM Peak
M50 35mins
L2 32-34mins


In my view, yes. The T2 is still faster from Town hall.

Keep in mind two things:

  • The M50 leaves the city via Central and Cleveland St, a notorious spot for traffic jams in the evening – something I’ll talk about in a moment.
  • A tram will come every 8 minutes. The 373 and 377 are a tad more regular, but remember – if you walk 6 minutes back to Elizabeth St and then stand around waiting for 5 minutes at a bus stop, your 11 minutes might have been better spent on the tram if it had turned up straight away.

The “373 Town Hall hack” might work going into the city, but the outbound journey less so.

Verdict: The L2 is likely a superior way to get home from Town Hall, or origins west of George St.

L2 vs 372/376/M50 from Central  

And now, for the big one – the trip from Central back to Randwick.

What’s the result?

Drumroll please….

Mode Central to Randwick – PM Peak
372 28mins (leaving Central at 17:15)
376 25mins (leaving Central at 17:25)
M50 22mins (leaving Central 17:20)
L2 22-24mins (leaving Central Chalmers)

Verdict: The L2 is superior from Central to Randwick.

Why is light rail faster than Central buses in the evening, but not the morning?

Well… here’s the thing. It isn’t faster. It runs the same – 22 minutes or so to Randwick from Chalmers St.

But in the evening peak, the buses take much longer to “get out of the city”. This is due to something I call “The Moore Park problem”.

To illustrate this, here is the AM peak journey into Central from Moore Park, showing how some of the buses beat the L2:

Inbound – AM Peak Moore Park to Central Tram Station/Bus Stop
372via Anzac Pde & Cleveland St 11mins Anzac Pde before Cleveland St
374/376 via Moore Park busway & Foveaux St 6mins Moore Park busway at Lang Rd
M50 via Anzac Pde & Cleveland St 9mins Anzac Pde before Cleveland St, Moore Park
L2 via Tunnel/Devonshire St 8mins Moore Park Station

You can see in the morning how the bus that uses the busway and goes down Foveaux St wins… at least according to the timetable.

But by contrast, here is the timetabled outbound journey in PM peak:

Outbound – PM Peak Central to Moore Park Tram Station/Bus Stop
372Cleveland St 17mins Anzac Pde, after Lang Rd
374/376Albion St 14 Mins Moore Park busway, after Lang Rd
M50Cleveland St 13mins Anzac Pde, after Lang Rd
L2Devonshire St/Tunnel 8mins Moore Park Station

As you can see- the L2 zooms down the tunnel, while the buses get stuck in traffic. The light rail ends up getting to Lang Rd 5-8 minutes faster… assuming the buses run to timetable. And anyone who gets these buses knows that this can be a heroic assumption.

Why the “Moore Park Problem” slows down the buses

In the afternoon, traffic from three “feeder” roads – Oxford St, Albion St, and Cleveland St – are all trying to make a right turn to get onto the same road – Anzac Pde (or its extension, Flinders St).

It causes a big congestion problem, and as a result – timetabled journey times can double, and on-time reliability goes down.

The 374 and 376 have to go up Albion St (because Foveaux St is one way inbound), and then turn right onto Flinders St for a short section, before reaching the Moore Park busway. This takes 14 mins on the timetable to Lang Rd. Services coming from Oxford St, like the 373, also run into this traffic and get slowed down.

The 372 and M50 fare little better. They get clogged at two notoriously bad intersections –

  • Cleveland St and South Dowling St, where there are only two traffic lanes (one of which turns right and backs up the traffic)
  • The terrible right turn intersection on Cleveland St at Anzac Pde, where Southbound traffic on Anzac Pde gets the majority of the traffic light priority.

As a result, their journey times blow out too, by over 50% on the timetable. And as anyone who ever catches them knows – their service reliability goes to trash.

The L2 suffers from none of these problems for one simple reason – it never has to make that right turn at Anzac Pde. It runs under Anzac Parade in a tunnel and ends up on the other side. When I rode it on Sunday, it was given traffic light priority all the way, and it took only 8 minutes to “leave the city”. Even if the light rail was delayed by two minutes, it would still beat every other bus (except for the M50 if it ran exactly to time).

To put this in perspective, by the time the L2 makes it to Wansey Rd Station, the 372 has only just turned the corner at Anzac Pde… if the 372 runs to its timetable. And that’s a big if.

While the buses do eventually crawl some of that time back, the tram is so far ahead that only the M50 has a chance of beating the L2 to its terminus… if it doesn’t get stuck on Cleveland St, that is.

The Verdict – In the evening, L2 is faster than the bus from Central and Town Hall

So the verdict is in – if you’re going back to Randwick from Central or Town Hall in the PM Peak – get on the tram.

On the timetable it’s already faster, and when considering the on-time running challenges faced by existing bus services, it could cut your regular journey time significantly.

Or, to use an expression commonly heard at Randwick Racecourse – The L2 wins by a length, followed by the M50, with the 376 and 372 bringing up the rear.

In my third and final post – we’ll look at how the L2 might fix journeys to UNSW and major events at the SCG. Stay tuned.

Lachlan Drummond is a past guest contributor to this blog (you can read some of his other posts here and here). He has investigated the current bus network and timetables, comparing them to the new L2 light rail line that opened this past weekend. Below is part one of his findings.

So now that the L2 is open and the fireworks are flying in the media, it is a good time to sit down and actually analyse whether the whole thing was worth it.

Here’s a simple question: Is the tram better than the bus? The government and light rail advocates will say yes. If you believe the Daily Telegraph and the Labor opposition – the answer is no.

The best way to make a judgement is to ignore the hype and just look at the timetables. Lets’ break it down, bit by bit, starting with journeys at the AM peak. Some of these answers might surprise you.

The comparison

For these comparisons, I have decided to compare the light rail at the Randwick High St terminus with an equivalent bus service from the nearest bus stop on Belmore Rd Randwick (which for those wondering, is called “Belmore Rd opp Randwick Shopping Centre” on the timetable – it’s near the corner or Arthur St).

We are going to compare the L2’s current speeds as recorded by Bambul (this blog’s regular author) and myself this past weekend with times from equivalent bus timetables that will go into force from the 19th of December this year.

To factor in possible variations for peak hour, and the fact the tram timetable won’t be finalised for six months, I am going to give a “range” of possible tram speeds.

We will then compare the tram to the bus on three journeys – from Randwick to Central, Randwick to Town Hall, and Randwick to Circular Quay.

L2 vs 373/377 to Circular Quay

First, let’s start with the one that the opposition has been screaming about – the trip to Circular Quay.

Mode Randwick to Circular Quay – AM Peak
373/377 30mins (to Philip St, Museum of Sydney)
L2 45-51mins

The opposition has been saying that a trip from Penrith to Central on heavy rail takes as long as the current trip from Randwick to Circular Quay. They aren’t wrong. At the moment, the tram takes 51 minutes to travel its full length – although this is expected to fall closer to 45 minutes as service reliability is improved.

Let’s get one thing out of the way – if you need to go to Circular Quay from Randwick – the L2 is not faster. Not even close. By why is this?

Well – it’s simple. The L2 was never intended to replace the 373. The 373 does a very different job – it bypasses Central and goes to Circular Quay via Anzac Parade, Oxford St and Elizabeth St. This makes it 8-15 minutes faster than any bus that goes to Circular Quay via Central.

Some opposition politicians and light rail skeptics point to the 373 timetable and use it as proof that the L2 line was a waste of money, or that light rail is naturally slower than buses.

That isn’t the full story.

L2 vs 374 vs T2/T3 Between Central and Circular Quay

Here’s a question. Are buses quicker than trams on CBD streets?

To judge this, we have to compare apples with apples. And the 373 isn’t an apple, it’s an orange.

Currently, only two buses from Randwick stop at Central before continuing further into the city. One of those is the 374, and the other is the M50.

The 374 doesn’t go down Belmore Rd at Randwick, so to be clear – we aren’t comparing the 374 from Randwick, because it services a different part of Randwick.

But by looking at the 374 timetable, we can compare whether or not buses are faster than trams on a similar CBD corridor – a Northbound journey on surface roads deeper into the city.

The 374 stops on Foveaux St near the corner of Elizabeth St in the morning. It then turns right and goes up Elizabeth St, re-joining the 373 route at Hyde Park, and terminating at Philip St, just one block from Circular Quay. This is somewhat similar to what the L2 does. It arrives at Central, goes down Eddy Avenue, turns right on George St and then heads up to Circular Quay.

So what’s faster?

Mode Central to Circular Quay – AM Peak Central to Circular Quay – AM Off Peak
374 23mins (to Philip St, Museum of Sydney) 15mins (to Philip St, Museum of Sydney)
L2 20-25mins 20-25mins
City Circle Line Train 8mins 8mins

 This table illustrates the problem facing buses in the CBD very well.

During the off-peak, when the CBD roads are clearer, the 374 northbound does beat the L2 to Circular Quay (or rather Philip St, which is one block away).

But… during the AM peak, congestion through the CBD (caused partly by too many buses going down Elizabeth St) slows the bus journey between Central and Philip St to 23 minutes – an 8 minute delay.

When you take into account that it’s a few minutes walk from Philip St to Circular Quay, but the L2 goes all the way – the L2 is likely faster from Central than the 374 in peak hour, despite having to cross the city to go up George St.

This is a perfect illustration of what transport planners already know. You can add more bus services in the suburbs, but as soon as they hit the city at once, the city streets can’t handle them all, they get stuck, and the journey times blow out.

L2 vs M50 to Central and Town Hall

Here’s another example. The M50 bus goes first to Central via Cleveland St, then up Elizabeth St to Hyde Park, before it turns left to go across to Town Hall, and finally exiting the city out the other end to Drummoyne. Unlike other bus routes, at Randwick it avoids Cook and Cowper St and turns left from Belmore Rd, going straight down Alison Rd. This does shave a minute or two off the journey to Central.

So does it beat the tram in the morning peak?

AM Peak Randwick to Central Central to Town Hall Randwick to Town Hall
M50 21mins 15mins 36mins
L2 22-24mins 10mins 32-34mins

 To Central? Yes… just.

To Town Hall? The L2 wins.

And that’s right now – before we even see any service speed improvements.

One caveat needs to be made here – in the AM peak the 373 gets to the stop at Elizabeth St Hyde Park from Randwick in roughly 23 minutes, and then a walk across to Town Hall takes about 6 minutes – so the 373 might actually be faster than both of them in the AM peak.

However, lets think about this. Would you be prepared to have a 2 minute slower journey to be dropped right at the doorstep, instead of having to get off a bus and walk for 6 minutes? My guess – a lot of people, especially those with mobility issues – would happily take that deal.

L2 vs 372/376 to Central

And now, for the all important Randwick-Central route.

The 372 goes from Randwick Belmore Rd, via Cowper St, and then up Cleveland St to the City.

The 376 does the same to Moore Park, but then follows the 374 and enters Central via Foveaux St.

How does the tram compare?

Inbound AM Peak
372 – Central via Cleveland St 22mins
376 – Central via Foveaux St 17mins
L2 – Central via Devonshire St 22-24mins


The 376 beats the 372, the L2, and the aforementioned M50 from Belmore Rd to Central by at least 5 minutes.

The 372 runs five minutes slower than the 376 – which is an indication that Cleveland St is a substantially more congested option to get to Central.

Sadly, the tram, despite going down a dedicated corridor, runs no more quickly than the 372 bus at the moment. If the government wants to truncate the 372 bus at Randwick, and force a mode change, they must demonstrate that this will save commuters time. At the moment, it doesn’t.

In fact, if 372 commuters could pull off an interchange to the 376 bus in under 5 minutes, they’d still beat the tram.

So if the tram is slower on some journeys in the morning, why didn’t they just put on more buses?

Simple – more buses equals CBD traffic jams, and slower journey times.

The tram is not faster on a lot of the journeys on paper. But remember – the L2 tram carries way more people – 450 people on dedicated lanes. A typical Sydney bus can only carry 70 down the street.

To put this in perspective, one L2 tram coming every 8 minutes does the same job as a bus coming every minute. A tram every 4 minutes, which is what will happen when the L3 line opens, does the same job as a bus coming every 30 seconds.

A bus every 30-60 seconds, weaving in and out of lanes, will completely stuff up CBD traffic.

Go back and look at the 374 comparison above for proof. During non-peak times, it takes 15 minutes from Central to Circular Quay. During the 8am peak, when hundreds of buses (from both Randwick and Bondi) and other vehicles are trying to use Elizabeth St at the same time, it blows out to 23 minutes… and that’s assuming it runs on time.

The 376, 374, and 373 buses are clearly fantastic, and in my view we should resist any attempts to privatise or remove them. But they don’t come every minute from Randwick to the city…. and they never could. If you double the amount of half-empty buses using Elizabeth St, you would double the gridlock, and blow out the journey times.

So the idea that you can build a “30 minute city” with buses alone is complete nonsense.

Cities don’t just put in Light Rail because they think the journey times will be faster. Very often they aren’t. But if that’s the only way we measure success, then we are missing half the story.

Trams are not about speed, they’re about higher capacity and reducing congestion.

Cities will put light rail in when they conclude that the city streets are incapable of taking any more buses without causing a great big traffic jam… which is exactly what George St used to be like before 2015.


So, with that little rant aside, is the L2 worth taking instead of your regular bus service from Randwick?

In some cases, yes.

Here is where we see the tram being superior in the AM Peak:
  1. Journeys from Randwick Terminus to Chinatown and Haymarket

No Randwick buses currently go directly to Chinatown, and the Tram will drop you closer than any bus stop, which will be at least a 5-10 minute walk away. The Tram only takes a few minutes to get there from Chalmers St – it’ll be faster and save you the walk.

  1. Journeys from Randwick terminus to Town Hall

The L2 beats the M50 to Town Hall by about 5 minutes. A 373 journey to Elizabeth St, plus a walk to Town Hall, will technically beat the Tram by a couple of minutes, but the fact the tram drops you directly at the door is certainly a mode advantage.

  1. A journey from Randwick, to somewhere west of George St

The tram is mostly better because it drops you closer. You’ll have a shorter walk from the L2 station to your workplace than getting a 373 to Elizabeth St. One caveat might be the M50, to destinations near Druitt St west of town hall, so check the timetables.

  1. A journey from UNSW or Wansey St to Central

I will cover the reasons why in a future post, but in short – if you live closer to the UNSW light rail stop or Wansey St stop than you do to a bus stop on Belmore Rd or Cook St – the L2 will take 18-20 minutes to central and might be slightly quicker than your current bus to Central. Maybe.

And here is where the tram is a disappointment in the AM Peak:
  • Journeys from Belmore Rd to Central station are currently no quicker than the bus in the AM peak – in fact some of the buses, especially the 376 – are faster.
  • To Circular Quay, the 373 bus reigns supreme.

For the L2 to be fully utilised as an AM peak time service, I believe the L2 line must run quicker to Central in the morning – ideally 20 minutes. It has already been stated in a previous post on this site that traffic light priority needs to improve for this to occur.


So that’s the AM inbound peak… and that’s only half the story.

Are outbound journeys better? Is the PM peak different? And does the L2 do better than the 891 University bus to UNSW?

I’ll give you a hint – the L2 is substantially more useful as an outbound service than an inbound one – including in the PM Peak.

I’ll explain why in a future post.

VIDEO: Heads up! Play it safe around Sydney’s new light rail (Transport for NSW)

Sydney’s new light rail line, L2 between Randwick and Circular Quay, opened this weekend. The line saw fare free days on both Saturday and Sunday, with 80,000 trips taken on the first day. For comparison, first day patronage figures for other rail lines opened in NSW/ACT during 2019 were 76,000 for Sydney Metro, 17,000 for Canberra Light Rail, and 4,000 for Newcastle Light Rail.

A major complaint about the new line has been the long journey duration, with an end to end trip lasting about 50 minutes. Meanwhile, a direct 373 bus from Randwick to Circular Quay can complete a similar trip from Randwick to Circular Quay in a little over 20 minutes. The Transport Minister, Andrew Constance, has explained that the long journey durations should only be expected in the first 6 months or so and to expect those times to shorten down to the 40 minutes initially promised.

The author of this blog rode the light rail three times: on Saturday from Randwick to Circular Quay, on Sunday from Randwick to Circular Quay, and on Sunday from Circular Quay to Central. Trip times were measured on the two Sunday journeys to gain a better understanding of what is currently contributing to the long durations. The first Sunday trip (from Randwick to Circular Quay) took 51 minutes end to end while the second Sunday trip (between Circular Quay and Central) took 21 minutes. A breakdown of the second Sunday trip is included in the table below, showing that the tram spent 11 minutes in motion (55% of the total trip time), 6 minutes stopped at stations (27%), and 4 minutes stopped due to traffic delays (17%).

The main contributors to long trip durations would appear to be: (1) long dwell times at stations, (2) traffic delays at intersections, (3) flow on effects of slow trams holding back other trams behind them, and (4) low speed limits, particularly on George St.

Dwell times

Trams currently look to be dwelling for 40 seconds at each station to drop off and pick up passengers. Some stations had shorter dwell times (such as Chinatown Station with 24 seconds), but more often than not the time spent at stations was at least 40 seconds. For comparison, Sydney Metro has dwell times of 20 seconds. With 12 intermediate stations between Randwick and Circular Quay, even a 10 second reduction of dwell times down to 30 seconds would represent a time saving of 2 minutes.

Traffic delays

A lack of traffic light priority, where signals change to allow trams to pass through intersections either without having to wait or with short wait periods, does not currently appear to be in place. The documented trip from Circular Quay to Central was delayed by 3 minutes 35 seconds due to traffic delays, primarily having to stop at red lights. Anecdotal evidence suggests this was on the lower end of traffic delays on the line. Introducing traffic light priority just on this section could reduce travel times by over 3 minutes.

Flow on effects

High frequency services heighten the problem of a slow or delayed tram impacting trams behind it. This was particularly the case at Central Station, where this blog’s author noted dwell times of 3 minutes and 5 minutes while the track ahead was cleared by the previous tram. However, there was also a delay of over 1 minute at the QVB Station, during which the tram ahead could be seen to be dwelling at the Town Hall Station. These are no doubt deepened by the dwell time and traffic delay issues mentioned earlier. Fixing those would aid in providing consistency, reducing the instance of flow on effects. Had this been the case, each trip measured would have been at least 4 to 5 minutes shorter.

Speed limits

George St currently imposes speed limits as slow as 10km per hour. This would seem to be attributed to pedestrians having gotten used to a pedestrianised George St and not yet used to trams . A higher speed limit of 30km per hour, still in line with a pedestrianised zone, would reduce trip durations in the critical Central to Circular Quay section of the line. A hypothetical increase in average speeds in this section, for example from 10km per hour to 15km per hour, could result in a time saving of 4 minutes.


Taking the sum of the observations above gives a total time saving of at least 13 minutes. This could achieve the government’s stated goal of reducing the total trip time from 50 minutes to 40 minutes. Therefore, this goal does appear to be a realistic one.

VIDEO: Sydney Metro: West project update, October 2019 (Transport for NSW)

The locations of 6 stations on the Sydney Metro West between Westmead and the Sydney CBD have been confirmed. Two locations of potential stations currently under investigation at Rydalmere and Pyrmont as well as the Sydney CBD station are still unconfirmed. When complete, the government boasts the line will connect the Sydney CBD to Parramatta in 20 minutes and the Sydney CBD to Sydney Olympic Park in 14 minutes.

The line is set to open in 2030, according a Sydney Morning Herald report. Future extensions are also under consideration, both West to the future Nancy Bird Walton Airport and the nearby Aerotropolis as well as East along the Anzac Parade corridor.

Station Locations

The new Westmead Station (left) will be located immediately South of the existing Westmead Station. The new Parramatta Station (centre) will be located North of the existing Parramatta Station, largely under what is currently a multi-storey car park on Macquarie St. The new Sydney Olympic Park Station (right) will be located immediately East of the existing Sydney Olympic Park Station.

The new North Strathfield Station (left) will be located immediately East of the existing North Strathfield Station. The new Burwood North Station (centre) will be located about 1km North of the existing Burwood Station, on the corner of Parramatta Rd and Burwood Rd. The new Five Dock Station (right) will serve a new catchment not currently served by rail and be located about 600m North of Parramatta Rd along the on the Great North Rd.

The new Bays Precinct Station will be located somewhere between Glebe Island and the White Bay Power Station. The new Sydney CBD Station is rumoured to be likely located between Wynyard and Martin Place Stations along Hunter St. Rydalmere and Pyrmont Stations are not yet confirmed nor are there public details on exact locations.

Commentary: Journey Speed vs Coverage

The government’s deal breaker on this new line has for a long time been a single number: 20 minutes. This new line must provide a 20 minute journey from the Sydney CBD to Parramatta. This appears to be more important a goal than providing rail transport to dense or growing parts of Sydney that currently lack access to rail transport. It also appears to be a more important goal than providing opportunities for urban renewal.

The result is long distances between some stations. Potentially as long as 7km between Parramatta and Sydney Olympic Park or 5km between Five Dock and the Bays Precinct. Most stations are 2km apart, meaning that anyone along the line’s route is no more than 10-15 minutes walking distance to the nearest station, roughly the distance that most people are willing to walk to a train station.

The soon to be fully completed metro line from Tallawong to Bankstown followed a similar pattern, which sees large distances between many stations: 6km between Cherrybrook and Epping, 4km between Chatswood and Crows Nest, or 4km between Waterloo and Sydenham.

For a metro style line that provides high frequency services under dense or growing precincts, there are three likely reasons: to cut down on cost, the increase journey speeds, or to avoid local opposition from so called “NIMBY” (not in my backyard) groups fearful that a metro station brings change to urban fabrix of their neighbourhood. In this particular case, the government has been as clear as it can that the reason is the second one, it is all about fast journeys. The irony of this is that at the same time they are considering a dog-leg detour out to Rydalmere for a potential station, which would increase travel times far more than including a station along a more direct route.

And yet the lack of stations remains a missed opportunity. So one potential solution would be to build in spaces for future stations. Two future stations between Pattamatta and Sydney Olympic Park, one between Five Dock and the Bays Precint, as well as the proposed station at Pyrmont would achieve this goal. By not building a station at Rydalmere, which itself will be served by light rail direct to Parramatta starting in 2023, the cost savings could be used to create empty station boxes at these locations. A hypothetical example of this was published by Fantasy Sydney Rail (see below). This also avoids all 3 potential challenges: cost blowouts, long journey times, and opposition by local residents.

It then falls on a future government to take the small step of building these stations once the network matures. By making these “missing links” with a cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars each, compared to billions or tens of billions for a new rail line, it increases the chances of these locations getting improved rail transport in the future as they begin to develop higher densities.

It may well be one way for the government to get both journey speed and coverage.

Over 100,000 people used Sydney Metro today on its first day open to the public, with no fare charged for those travelling between Chatswood and Tallawong. It was the first time in Australia that a driverless train line operated with passengers, but was not without teething issues and delays.

The trains, which travel at a maximum speed of 100km per hour, had a noticeably quick acceleration and deceleration, and complete the journey from end to end in 37 minutes. Platform screen doors are in use and the gap between platform and train is minimal. The stations themselves were modern and fully accessible.

Indicators above each train door show where the train is along the line, as well as showing how far the train has progressed towards the next station. Lights above each set of doors flash red when doors are opening or closing, light up solid green when the doors are open, and light up solid white when the doors are closed.

Some problems did occur. Mechanical failures with trains occurred in both the early afternoon and during the evening, leading to delays of roughly 45 minutes and 15 minutes respectively. With Sydney Metro controlling the number of people who could enter stations to reduce overcrowding, this led to a blowout in queues. Chatswood Station saw a conga line emerge starting from 1:30PM. Many of those in the queue had travelled to Chatswood from the Northwest earlier and were now returning home.

Inside the trains, the air conditioning seemed set to maximum and in-train indicators began having problems from early in the day and were soon turned off. As a result, there was little indication that doors were closing, besides the silent flashing lights that went unnoticed by most. This, together with shorter than normal dwell times, led some passengers to get caught by the doors (including some with prams) or unable to enter/exit in time. The dwell times were noticeably longer as the day progressed, with doors remaining open for 30 to 60 seconds at stations. This would no doubt lengthen journey durations if allowed to continue. However, the in-train indicators appeared to be working again by late Sunday evening and dwell times were back down to a reasonable length.

Trains also routinely overshot their platforms early in the day. This blog’s author counted roughly one in every two trains would stop past its platform screen doors in the early afternoon, requiring the train to reverse before opening its doors. However, this problem did not persist into the late afternoon, by when it was no longer occurring.

All in all it was not a perfect first day, but a few inconveniences should not eclipse the significance of the first complete new train line in Sydney in 40 years. Many of these teething issues, such as the overshooting and in-train indicators, appear to have been fixed by the end of the first day. Tomorrow’s morning peak hour will be a big test for the new line. If all goes well, most of today’s problems will be soon forgotten.

NSW voters will on Saturday decide who will govern the state for the next 4 years. Both major parties have put forward plans for how they will provide for the transport needs for the residents of Sydney. This blog post will delve into those plans, as well as some recent history.

The NSW Government has spent much of the past 8 years planning and building 3 major transport projects: Sydney Metro, Westconnex, and the CBD and South East Light Rail. Other than a widened M4, none has yet been completed in time for the 2019 election. It has also seen the introduction of the Opal Card and a significant increase in public transport service frequencies.

Sydney Metro

Sydney Metro was born as the North West Rail Link and suffered much initial criticism for the decision to build it as a single deck, driverless system that would terminate at Chatswood with no concrete plans for a CBD extension. That extension was eventually locked in thanks to the privatisation of government electricity businesses, a tough sell to the public that the government received a mandate for in the 2015 election. By 2024 Sydney will have a Metro running from Rouse Hill in the North West to Bankstown in the South West via the Sydney CBD.

Many of the initial criticisms have dried up and today Sydney Metro is the government’s proudest public transport project, set to open in May of this year $1 billion under budget. It is also set to supplement this first line with two additional lines in the second half of the 2020s: an East-West Line from Parramatta to the Sydney CBD and a North-South Line from St Marys to Badgerys Creek.

Sydney Metro. (Source: Transport for NSW)


WestConnex, an amalgamation of the long planned M4 East and M5 East together with an Inner West Bypass to connect the two, has had more consistent controversy. Private car travel is best when it connects disperse origins to disperse destinations, so orbital “ring roads” are the ideal sort of motorways and highways. Travel into dense centres like the Sydney CBD or Parramatta, requiring high capacity transport options, is best left for public transport which does high capacity well rather than roads which do not.

By being a combination of a radial road (the M4 and M5 extensions towards the Sydney CBD) and an orbital road (the Inner West Bypass), WestConnex was an imperfect project from the start. The re-introduction of tolling, public distrust of privatisation, and opposition from inner city residents have led to loud community opposition. Unlike Sydney Metro, opposition to WestConnex has remained strong and was largely responsible for the election of Greens MP Jenny Leong to the inner-city seat of Newtown in 2015 on a commitment to stop WestConnex.

WestConnex. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Light Rail

The CBD and South East Light Rail is the smallest of the three major projects based on its budget, but probably the most high profile one given the disruption from construction along George St. Originally set to open in early 2019, the troubled project will now open in two stages: Randwick in 2019 and Kingsford in 2020. Unlike Sydney Metro, which had very limited surface disruptions during construction, is on time, and is under budget; the light rail project is running a year behind schedule, has had its cost blown out by half a billion dollars, and has fed into a broader narrative of a government that has hampered Sydney’s entertainment and night life by discouraging Sydneysiders from going out into the George St retail and nightclub precinct.

Despite this, the benefits of a pedestrianised zone on George St are already beginning to be felt. And if the Gold Coast light rail project is anything to go by, a project that had similar problems during construction that Sydney has, then soon after opening there will be calls to extend the line out to Maroubra or further.

Sydney Light Rail. (Source:

Opal Card

An electronic ticketing system was first promised for the 2000 Olympic Games. The delayed TCard project was eventually scrapped in 2007. It was eventually replaced with Opal, which began its rollout in 2012, with all non-Opal tickets phased out by 2016.

Considering the difficult history of rolling out electronic ticketing, not just in Sydney but also in Melbourne with Myki, Opal saw a relatively painless introduction. There were concerns, principally privacy and the loss of periodical tickets such as weeklies and monthlies. Though mostly the concerns were surrounding the fare structure rather than the technology and hardware.

It should also be noted that a $2 transfer discount was introduced in 2016 and contactless payment with credit or debit cards is now available on all modes of government transport in Sydney bar buses, which will receive their rollout in the near future.

An adult Opal card. Click to enlarge.
(Source: Transport for NSW)


Service levels have seen a significant increase in the last 8 years, particularly in the Sydney Trains network where most stations now enjoy a train every 15 minutes all day. This has been combined with a large expansion of rolling stock, allowing older train sets to be retired, with all trains soon set to be air conditioned.

This has not been without problems. A simplification of stopping patterns that came with the new timetables has been opposed by residents along stations they feel have lost out, particularly on the extremes of the T3 Bankstown Line. Meanwhile, a lack of train drivers led to a “meltdown” of the train network at the start of 2018, with insufficient staff to man the increased service levels. This required some paring back of services later that year.

Despite this, increased service levels to provide frequencies approaching a “turn up and go” service is commendable and should be further encouraged, albeit managed better to avoid previous hiccups.

Stations with a train every 15 minutes or less all day. (Source: Adapted by author from Sydney Trains.)

Government vs Opposition Plans

The common theme running through the Coalition Government’s transport projects is imperfection. All their major transport infrastructure projects have their issues, but transport infrastructure is being built. In some cases, unpopular moves like privatisation had to occur to provide the funds to build that infrastructure. It is in light of this that comparison can be made to the Labor Opposition, which has had fewer issues with imperfect projects but instead consistently promised and delivered less of it.

This can be seen most starkly in the 2015 election, where the Sydney Morning Herald described the ALP’s transport plan as “less of the same”. Now in 2019, the Opposition has promised to abandon Sydney Metro South West, WestConnext Stage 3 (the Inner West Bypass and the only portion of WestConnex that acts as an orbital ring road), the Western Harbour Tunnel, the Beaches Link, and the F6 extension. Were it not already so close to completion, the CBD and South East Light Rail would probably also be on the chopping block.

This parallel’s Labor’s last period in office, during which the Epping to Chatswood Rail Link, Airport Line, and Olympic Park Rail Lines were built. It was also responsible for delivery of the M2, Eastern Distributor, Lane Cove Tunnel, and Cross City Tunnel. However, many more projects, particularly public transport projects were cancelled. A rail line from Parramatta to Epping was announced, cancelled, announced, cancelled, then announced again in what was seen as an attempt to throw money at marginal electorates to try to win re-election. A Northwest Metro was similarly announced, cancelled, re-announced as a CBD Metro, then cancelled after spending half a billion dollars. Most of the planned T-Ways, networks of bus only roads, were never built.

The Opposition would argue that it is better to cancel a bad project and redirect resources to a good project. Specifically, it has committed to spending the billion dollars saved from not converting the Bankstown Line to metro on speeding up construction on Sydney Metro West. Their argument has merit, particularly given poor planning seems to have caused many of the headaches from the CBD and South East Light Rail.

The Government would argue that the choice is between the projects as proposed (i.e. imperfect) or nothing at all. They point to the cancelling of projects between 2005 and 2010, during which half a decade of expansion of public transport infrastructure expansion was lost because the choice there wasn’t between an imperfect project or a better one, but an imperfect project and nothing. This argument also has merit given that it’s not hypothetical, it’s recent history.

What this all means

This blog believes that the perfect should not be the enemy of the good. Sydney is going through a huge increase in population and infrastructure needs to keep up. We cannot afford to stop building if doing so risks doing nothing. Cancelling projects, even imperfect ones, is not what Sydney needs right now. That means giving the current government a mandate for another four years and spending those four years pressuring them to improve the imperfect rather than electing a government that will merely cancel them.

The 2017 timetable changes to Sydney Trains saw a massive expansion of the all-day 15-minute frequency network, from 88 stations (49% of stations) to 126 stations (71% of stations). This level of service requires a minimum of 4 trains per hour in each direction, spaced evenly throughout that hour. This level of service has been deemed “tun-up-and-go”, where passengers need not worry about a timetable.

Stations with a train every 15 minutes or less all day. (Source: Adapted by author from Sydney Trains.)

However, there are several sections of the network with more than 4 trains per hour all-day: 14 trains per hour in the city and even 10 trains per hour outside of the city on some lines, in many cases with wait times of less than 10 minutes. This post will investigate which portions of these lines enjoy these higher frequencies and identify which lines are approaching an improved turn-up-and-go service. The weekday timetables from roughly midday are used for this, which are slightly different to the weekend timetables.

There are 3 lines whose inner-city sections contain high frequency services, with maximum wait times of 10 minutes between trains: the T4 Line between Bondi Junction and Sydenham, most of the T1 Line between Chatswood and Redfern (excluding Waverton/Wollstonecraft/Artarmon as not all trains stop at these stations), and the T8 Line between Wolli Creek and the City Circle.

EDIT: It has been pointed out that since the closure of the Epping to Chatswood Line for metro conversion, North Shore trains now use Linfield as the turn-back station, rather than Chatswood. Therefore, these higher frequencies extend past Chatswood and up to Roseville/Linfield.

Lines with a train every 10 minutes or less all day. (Source: Adapted by author from Sydney Trains.)

But looking at the maximum wait times can be misleading. As an extreme example, imagine a line with trains every 6 minutes during the first half of each hour, then no trains during the second half of each hour. Even though the maximum wait time in this situation is 30 minutes, a passenger arriving at a random moment during the hour is just as likely to wait a maximum of 6 minutes as they would 30 minutes. By taking the (weighted) average of these two times, that being 18 minutes, we get a more accurate idea of what is known as the expected maximum wait times.

Maximum wait times assume a passenger always arrives just as a train is departing, which is rarely the case. So, dividing the expected maximum wait time in half gives the average wait time, in other words, a passenger arriving at a random moment in a given hour would be just as likely to have a longer wait time as they are to have a shorter wait time.

Based on this calculation, T1 has the shortest average wait time. T1 has an average wait time, depending on the direction of travel, of 3:22 or 3:28 (wait times measured in minutes:seconds). This means that a passenger’s next train is more likely than not to arrive within 3 ½ minutes. Next shortest is T8 with, again depending on direction of travel, of either 3:46 or 3:54. The longest average wait of the 3 lines is T4 at 5:00, regardless of direction of travel.

Lines and stations with a train every 10 minutes or less all day. (Source: Adapted by author from Sydney Trains.)

Many lines maintain high frequencies beyond the 4 per hour required for maximum 15-minute wait times but a mix of express and all stations stopping patterns mean that only a few individual stations have average wait times at or below 5 minutes. Two stations that do this are Strathfield and Newtown, although both do sometimes have a maximum wait time of 11 minutes, which is above the 10 minute cut-off mentioned above. The shortest average wait time of these two is on T1 from Strathfield to Central of 2:58. Next shortest is T2 from Newtown to the City Circle with an average wait time, depending on the direction of travel, of 3:54 or 4:34.

Expanding the turn-up-and-go network

There are several ways to improve services to achieve turn-up-and-go status: even out spacing between services to reduce bunching, increase train frequencies, and extend existing services beyond their terminating station.

The first, even out spacing, should be a low hanging fruit for Sydney Trains as it does not require any additional services being run, only an adjusting of existing services. However, this is not always possible due to conflicts with other trains as several branches join up in the central core of the network.

The second, increase train frequencies, works best when a marginal addition leads to a large reduction in maximum wait times. For example, going from 6 or 7 trains per hour to 8 can reduce gaps in service from 15 minutes down to 8 or 9 minutes.

The third, extend existing services requires sufficient turn-back capacity at stations further down the line. A lack of such facilities can hold up trains, resulting in delays. However, if possible, this is often a cheaper way of increasing frequencies than adding a whole new train service.

Potential lines and stations with a train every 10 minutes or less all day. (Source: Adapted by author from Sydney Trains.)

On example of where this could be achieved is the T2 Southwest and T5 Cumberland Lines, between Leppington and Merrylands, which currently see 6 trains per hour. Adding an additional 2 trains per hour on T5 and adjusting its Leppington bound trains to depart 2 minute earlier would see the maximum wait time drop from 15 minutes to 9 and the average wait time drop from approximately 6 minutes to under 4 minutes. This would be the first high frequency line on the Sydney Trains network not centred around the Sydney CBD; instead this would be centred around the Liverpool CBD.

Another area for investigation could be to extend intercity services from the Central Coast and Blue Mountains out to North Sydney, rather than terminating at Central Station’s Sydney Terminal. This is complicated by the availability of paths due to converging branches of different lines and the 190m long V-Sets that operate on many intercity routes. If these are replaced by OSCARS or the new intercity trains that are set to enter service next year, both 160m long and able to operate in the shorter underground stations of the Sydney CBD, then this may be possible. Doing so could reduce average wait times on T1 stations between Central and North Sydney from the current 3 ½ minutes down to 2 ½ minutes.

Train frequencies will be boosted, with hourly train capacity increasing from the current 20 trains per hour to 24 trains per hour, under a recently announced NSW Government plan to spend $880m on a new digital signalling system. This would mean a train every 2.5 minutes, compared to the current maximum frequency of 3 minutes, and future proof the network to allow a train every 90 seconds in the future.

The new technology will be rolled out on the T4 and T8 Lines first, with additional capacity likely to come online by 2022. The NSW Government points out that these lines require additional capacity due to the surge in demand on them in recent years, with the number of trips on stations on these lines increasing by as much as 94% in the 3 years to 2017. It will then be expanded to the remainder of the network throughout the rest of the 2020s. Capacity at Central Station’s Sydney Terminal will also be boosted to allow more outer suburban and intercity trains to terminate there.

Source: More Trains, More Services, NSW Government (page 5)

South Line trains from Campbelltown and Northern Line trains from Epping and Hornsby could now terminate at Sydney Terminal rather than continuing through the City Circle and Harbour Bridge.

Meanwhile, the T2 Inner West Line looks set to be extended from Parramatta out to Richmond, with the Richmond Line moving from T1 to T2. This would sectorise the T1 and T2/T5 Lines, which run from Sydney’s West into the Harbour Bridge and City Circle respectively.

What this means is that trains on each of these lines would no longer share tracks, as they currently do between Blacktown and Strathfield. Thus, a disruption on one of these lines would not spillover into the other. The T4 Line has been operating on a separate sector for decades, quarantining it from any disruptions on other lines.

Source: More Trains, More Services, NSW Government (page 7)

Additional trains for these additional services are also set to come online in the coming years, with the arrival of the new B-Set Waratah trains and repurposed OSCARS as well as the transfer of the Epping to Chatswood and Bankstown Lines to Sydney Metro coinciding with the installation of the new digital signalling. Although the Waratah trains are likely to simply replace the ageing unairconditioned S-Sets, the OSCARS (which themselves are being freed up due to a new intercity fleet of trains) could provide the additional capacity required.

At the same time, the new signalling system could provide the opportunity to simplify train operation from 2 staff per train to 1 staff per train. Together with the introduction of driverless trains on the new Sydney Metro Line, this could provide a pool of drivers and guards who could be trained to operate the new services. This would be critical if the Government wishes to avoid a similar network meltdown like the one that occurred on the network in early 2018 when insufficient drivers caused an emergency timetable rewrite.

Previous proposals to send all Richmond Line trains to Liverpool on the T5 Cumberland Line look to have been abandoned in favour of maintaining direct Sydney CBD access for all stations, albeit with a much longer journey time for those wanting a one seat journey. Passengers on the Richmond Line wanting a faster journey would have the option of changing to an express train on T1, or to a Sydney Metro service at Parramatta or Schofield if and when metro lines are built to those stations. However, it will have the benefit of extending direct services from Sydney’s Inner West further out than Parramatta as is currently the case.

This plan compares favourably to a 2014 plan presented to the NSW Government that could increase train capacity without waiting for new rail lines come online in the mid 2020s, but do so by terminating more trains at Sydney Terminal. This was a necessary compromise given that multiple line branches merge into a central core with a maximum capacity of 20 trains per hour, which itself is almost exhausted. Instead, by increasing that capacity by 20%, from 20 to 24, those additional services will continue to be able to enter the Sydney CBD. Thus achieving a medium term step up in capacity at the cost of an $880m signalling upgrade while waiting for new lines to be built that will provide long term increases in capacity.