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

Poorly.

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.

Summary

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.

Conclusion

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.

Conclusion

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

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: http://www.sydney.com.au)

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)

Timetables

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.

https://t.co/JUW1kGFRQi

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.

https://t.co/JUW1kGFRQi

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.

What happened to Sydney’s Bus Future?

Posted: April 26, 2018 in Transport
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VIDEO: Northern Beaches B-Line Bus Service, Transport for NSW (25 November 2017)

In December 2013, Transport for NSW released Sydney’s Bus Future. It outlined plans to restructure bus services in Sydney, developed as a legacy system of public and private operators, into a clearly branded and structured service hierarchy.

Three service levels would be provided: rapid, suburban, and local. 13 rapid routes, with long stop spacing of 800m to 1km and high all-day frequency of 10 minutes or less, together with 20 suburban routes, with shorter stop spacing of 400m and all-day frequency of 15 minutes of less, formed the core of the new services that would be provided by high capacity articulated or double decker buses capable of carrying over 100 passengers each. Some of these would involve converting existing routes, mainly Metrobus routes, but some new routes would also be introduced.

The first set of new services were expected for 2014/15. However, it was not until late 2017 that the first, the now B-Line branded service to the Northern Beaches, began operation as B1. All buses on B1 are yellow double decker buses with clear B-Line branding and offering services like indicator boards, stop announcements, and USB charging ports under the seats.

Were rapid bus services to be expanded then logically their rollout would also coincide with a rebranding and restructure of the entire bus network. Currently there are a wide range of route numbers, with little sense of a unified system. Express services can sometimes be designated with X, either replacing the first digit (such as the X73) or by adding it to the end (such as the 610X), and sometimes with E (such as the E70); limited stops services are sometimes designated with L (such as the L90) or sometimes not at all (such as the 400); Metrobus services are designated with M (such as the M10); T-Way services are designated with T (such as the T80); and B-Line services are designated with B (such as the B1).

Also problematic is that wayfinding in Sydney has designated B for Sydney Buses, F for Sydney Ferries, T for Sydney Trains, L for Sydney Light Rail, and M for the future Sydney Metro. Yet these final 3 (T/L/M) are currently used for various bus routes in Sydney. This reason, together with the recent rollout of a B branded bus route, gives some suggestion of what may come: the removal of non-express branded routes and the introduction of additional B-Line services to the corridors identified for rapid bus services.

Proposed rapid and suburban bus routes for Sydney. Click to enlarge. (Source: Sydney Bus Future, pp. 18-19)

Of the 13 rapid bus routes, 6 pass through the Sydney CBD. Considering the route numbers that run on each of the corridors of these proposed new routes, there is clockwise from the North East:

  • A line to the Northern Beaches via Military Road and Pittwater Road, a corridor containing bus routes numbered 100-199. B-Line route B1 is currently operating here.
  • A line to Kingsford via Anzac Parade, a corridor containing bus routes 300-399. Sydney Light Rail will begin operating on this corridor in 2020.
  • A line to Bondi Beach via Oxford Street and Bondi Road, a corridor containing bus routes 300-399.
  • A line to Burwood via Parramatta Road, a corridor containing bus routes 400-499.
  • A line to Parramatta via Victoria Road, a corridor containing bus routes 500-599
  • A line to Castle Hill via the M2, a corridor containing bus routes 600-699.

It would therefore be possible to bring in new B-Line routes into these final four corridors that follows the route numbering pattern observed by B1. For example B3 could replace the 333 to Bondi Beach, B4 could be a new service to Burwood, B5 could replace the M52 to Parramatta, and B6 could replace the M60 to Castle Hill.

Despite all of this, 2015 came and went with little evidence of Sydneys Bus Future’s signature improvements of rapid and suburban routes being implemented. Although B-Line was introduced late last year, there was no mention of bus improvements in the Future Transport 2056 strategy released around the same time.

Commentary: Why this matters

The new branding, together with additional metro and light rail services coming online in 2019 and 2020, could provide an easy to navigate network for infrequent passenger or tourists. Such a network already exists in the form of rail, ferry, light rail, and B-Line, which has been seen displayed at Circular Quay (see Tweet below). Adding a few additional B-Line routes to such a map would be a simple and easy exercise, especially considering that the 333 could be converted to B-Line with little more than a rebranding exercise.

Sydney University transport academic David Hensher once lamented that public transport improvements tend to focus on new projects and even then on rail based projects, leaving improvements to the bus network ignored. Children play with toy cars and trains but not buses, he would point out. That is not to say that rail improvements aren’t needed – they most definitely are; but with almost half of all trips in Sydney made by bus and many parts of Sydney set to remain out of reach of rail transport even after the rail network is expanded, improvements to the bus network is a cost effective first step in increasing mobility for many in Sydney. With a plan to do so already in place, all that’s needed is for it to be implemented.

The original plan

The 1998 Action For Transport plan proposed 4 new rail lines to be built in Sydney by 2010. These included the already under construction Airport Line (2000), a short extension of the Eastern Suburbs Line to Bondi Beach (2002), a Parramatta to Chatswood Line via Epping (2006), and an Epping to Castle Hill Line (2010).

Proposed rail lines in the 1998 Action for Transport plan. Click to enlarge. (Source:MrHaper, Wikipedia.)

The final two lines to Parramatta and Castle Hill would provide a new path through to the Lower North Shore from the West and North West without having to travel through the CBD. This would take pressure off the congested Strathfield to City corridor, where trains from the Western and Northern Lines merged, and shift it to the less congested North Shore Line.

Parramatta to Chatswood Rail Link

The Parramatta to Chatswood Rail Link was originally to go from Westmead to St Leonards. Only the Eastern portion, between Epping and Chatswood, was actually constructed in 2009, leaving the Western Parramatta to Epping portion unbuilt. (Source: Historical NSW Railway Timetables)

This was not the first time such a line had been put forward, with a similar line proposed all the way back in John Bradfield’s 1920s rail plan linking St Leonards to Eastwood.

What actually happened

The new line was plagued by delays and cost blowouts. In one instance, community backlash over a proposed bridge over the Lane Cove River forced the line to tunnel under the river instead. The deep tunnelling did not merely increase cost and lengthen duration of construction, but resulted in the abandonment of a station at the UTS Kuring-gai campus leading to its closure in 2015. Additionally, the steep gradients on the tunnel meant that Tangara and Millenium trains were initially not used on the line, despite these being the newest suburban trains on the network at the time. Rather the interurban OSCAR trains normally reserved for long distance train journeys would be used instead when the line eventually opened.

Due to steep gradients, some trains were unable to run on the Epping to Chatswood Line when it opened. As a result, OSCARS were used as a shuttle service instead. Click to enlarge. (Source:Wikipedia.)

In 2003, the NSW Government announced that the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link (PERL) portion of the project had been deferred indefinitely. Low levels of projected patronage was given as the reason. This effectively cancelled that half of the project.

The Epping to Chatswood Line eventually opened in 2009 at a cost of $2.3bn. This compared to an initial projected opening date of 2006 and budget of $1.4bn for the entire Parramatta to Chatswood Line.

The next decade would see the PERL reannounced, cancelled, then reannounced again; most recently in 2017s Future Transport Plan 2056, placing the line on the government’s wish list. However, under the current transport strategy it may not open until the second half of the century.

Future Transport Plan 2056. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Meanwhile, urban development of the Upper North Shore and its associated population increase has since led to a rise in demand for rail travel along the North Shore Line, eating up much of the spare capacity that was previously available. So much so that the government is about to begin construction on an extension of the Epping to Chatswood Line (as part of the new Sydney Metro) South through to the CBD in order to add additional capacity.

How it might have happened

The delays and cost blowouts made building the entire line a challenge for the then NSW Government. After all, this was not a time of huge stamp duty revenue streams and zero government debts. In order for the Parramatta to Epping Line to have been built, this was the main obstacle that needed to be overcome.

Perhaps a bit more planning and greater political strength in facing down the community backlash on issues like the Lane Cove River Bridge may have been enough to achieve this. Had this happened then the UTS Kuring-gai campus would almost certainly have survived. Or the Government may have instead chosen to borrow money to complete the project.

Either of these options would have proven politically unpopular, particularly for a government well into a third term. This at least in part explains their decision to abandon the line.

What this would have meant

Had the PERL opened in full last decade it could have significantly changed the direction of passenger flows in Sydney’s rail network. More passengers from the Parramatta area would travel East via Macquarie Park rather than Strathfield, reducing the pressure on the Western Line but increasing the pressure on the North Shore Line. Perhaps the densification of the Upper North Shore may not have happened, with the Parramatta to Epping corridor seeing this densification instead. Either way, the North Shore Line would now be dealing with trains from the Upper Northern Line and Parramatta in addition to those from the Upper North Shore Line.

Unlike the actual present, there would be less talk of the need for a new rail line linking the CBD to Parramatta (in the form of Sydney Metro West) as such a line would have already been built, albeit less directly, via Macquarie Park. However, like the present, there would still be a focus on building additional capacity into the CBD from the North, given the additional pressure on the North Shore Line and its single pair of tracks into the CBD.

So even though the Parramatta to Chatswood Rail Line was designed in part to avoid the need for it, additional rail capacity into the CBD looks to be the one constant that could not be avoided.

Alignment for the 2008 North West Metro. Click to enlarge. (Source: North West Metro Preliminary Environmental Assessment, p. 1.5)

One response would have been to build the 2008 Northwest Metro (see map above) from Castle Hill, but with a Victoria Road approach into the CBD rather than connecting it up to the existing line via Macquarie Park. This would provide additional capacity and act as a relief on the North Shore Line without requiring a deep tunnel under the Harbour, as the line would cross the Parramatta River further West at Hunters Hill.

Alternatively, the Metropolitan Rail Expansion Plan (see map below) would have seen a new line built between Sydenham and Chatswood, connecting the Epping to Chatswood Line in the North through to the East Hills Line in the South. Surface tracks would be built in the existing alignments from Chatswood to St Leonards in the North and Erskineville to Sydenham in the South, with tunnels required between St Leonards and Erskineville. This would create a completely new line from the North West and South West of Sydney through the CBD.

The 2005 Metropolitan Rail Expansion Plan. Click to enlarge. (Source:‘Fixing’ the trains in Sydney: 1855 revisited.)

In the North, UTS would not have closed down its Kuring-gai campus, given that it would now be served by a heavy rail line. However, train frequencies between Macquarie Park and the CBD would be limited without a new harbour rail crossing, leaving Macquarie Park more dependent on road based transport and constraining its potential growth.

Meanwhile, in the West, the Carlingford Line would now be part of the Parramatta to Epping Line. Therefore, the current plans for a light rail network around Parramatta by converting the Carlingford Line to light rail would not be possible. Perhaps Parramatta light rail would still occur, but as a direct line between Parramatta and Sydney Olympic Park to make up for the lack of a West Metro through those location.

Of course, all of this is hypothetical. The Parramatta to Epping Rail Line was never built as originally planned and we will never know what would have happened if it did. If you have your own take on what might have happened, feel free to leave a comment below explaining what you think would have happened or why you think things went the way they did.

VIDEO: Sydney Metro Means: This Engineering Life, Transport for NSW (2 November 2017)

It was a simple plan: create a new government agency to oversee a top down plan for Sydney’s future infrastructure needs as a city, bringing together various departments that had previously operated in isolated silos. To give it legitimacy, appoint someone with good political connections and relevant government experience. Though this might sound a lot like Lucy Turnbull and the Greater Sydney Commission (GSC), it’s actually a description of Nick Greiner and Infrastructure NSW (iNSW).

However, iNSW’s fate seems to have been isolation and subservience given that its 2012 infrastructure plan famously clashed with the Transport for NSW (TfNSW) transport plan. Ultimately, this ended with the then state government opting for the TfNSW plan and Mr Greiner stepping down. Despite this, the GSC appears to be faring much better.

It does raise the question of if adding a 2nd agency to manage Sydney’s infrastructure was unsuccessful, whether adding a 3rd is a step in the right direction. So far, the GSC’s tendency to cooperate with existing departments at the state and federal level could explain its success and provide support for retaining it going forward. Indeed, the Greater Sydney Commission’s plan, the Metropolis of Three Cities, was released in late 2017 and does not differ much from Transport for NSW’s plan, the recently released Future Transport 2056.

Metropolis of Three Cities. Click to enlarge. (Source: Greater Sydney Commission.)

As the Greater Sydney Commission’s plan has been in the public domain for longer, the remainder of this post will focus more on that plan, but in the context of the recently released Transport for NSW plan.

The Greater Sydney Commission plan curiously looks to the past, revisiting the concept of a polycentric city from the 2005 City of Cities Metropolitan Plan. This concept simultaneously rejects the idea of continuing to centralise solely in the Sydney CBD or to continue to decentralise out into the suburbs. Instead, it is a hybrid solution of focusing on Sydney’s various activity centres. The main three, the Sydney CBD; Parramatta; and future aerotropolis at Badgerys Creek, are the most prominent and form the basis of the 3 cities proposal. But it also includes many suburban centres such as Bondi Junction, Castle Hill, or Liverpool.

The release of the Future Transport 2056 plan earlier this week appears to further reinforce this idea of looking backwards, with train lines from Bondi Junction to Bondi Beach or from Parramatta to Epping that had been abandoned for years making their way out of their graves, almost zombie-like, back into an official Government transport policy document. Whether these are serious considerations, a desire to regularly revisit old ideas in the hope that the facts on the ground have changed sufficiently to make them viable, or merely a cynical exercise at promising new infrastructure so far out into the future that few will even remember it when it doesn’t end up happening won’t be known for quite some time.

Future Transport Plan 2056. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

 

However, the Greater Sydney Commission plan looks to the future through the addition of that extra major centre: the aerotropolis at Badgerys Creek. Prior plans for Sydney included a major urban centre in the Sydney CBD and a secondary centre at Parramatta. The Western Sydney aerotropolis will likely mirror Parramatta in size, though both will continue to be dwarfed by the Sydney CBD.

This focus on 3 cities, each with their own major urban centre at their heart, is reflected by how transport would be organised around it. Unlike other transport plans from the previous 2 decades, this new plan includes an expansion of the high capacity rail network to create orbital rather than radial lines. In other words, new rail lines that do not reach the Sydney CBD but rather work to create a grid or mesh of lines that allow easy travel from a disperse range of origins and destinations through the use of quick and easy transfers.

But a closer look at this plan shows that these orbital lines are in fact radial lines for the two new centres. For example, a North-South rail line from St Marys to Campbelltown via Badgerys Creek or an Epping to Kogarah rail line via Parramatta. Even light rail lines such currently planned in Western Sydney linking Westmead, Carlingford, and Sydney Olympic Park all radiate out from Parramatta.

There is merit to these sorts of proposals. Up until now, all high capacity transport lines (be they rail or road based) have been based on carrying passengers to or from Sydney’s CBD. This radial network works great if travel to or from the CBD is the main aim, but does little to provide mobility for those hoping to travel from other origins and destinations unless they both happen to be on one of these radial connections to or from the CBD. In fact, when the now head of Transport for NSW, Rod Staples, was asked what he thought the priorities should be following the completion of the current set of public transport projects (see video at the beginning of this post), his answer was the creation of a grid rail network, such as by building a North South railway line between Hurstville and Macquarie Park via Bankstown and Sydney Olympic Park. However, as this line does not pass through one of the 3 identified cities, the current apparent key criteria, such a line would seem unlikely to receive approval under the current regime.

 

One other issue of note that should be commended is the ongoing emphasis on promoting transport corridors for improvement that do not immediately indicate the mode of transport. These are corridors where additional capacity needs have been identified first, and where improvements to them is to be investigated. Once that is done, the mode (e.g. heavy rail, metro, light rail, bus, etc) is to be determined. This method, where the problem is identified first and then a solution proposed, is far superior to the alternative: proposing a solution in the form of a mode of transport (often a pet project of a particular minister or lobby group) and then looking for a corridor in which to install it. Indeed, at least some of the problems of the CBD and South East Light rail could be put down to this sort of thinking when it was proposed.

With this comes uncertainty. And it is this uncertainty that is one of the main weaknesses of the current plan. Projects currently under construction seem pretty certain to be completed. Then there are a few other projects that are set to begin soon, such as the Sydney Metro West. But beyond that there is little sense as to which of the myriad of proposals are likely to actually get built and which will end up being deferred indefinitely yet again, code for cancelling a project.

VIDEO: Santiago Metro Line 6 opening day, Bambul Shakibaei (3 Nov 2017)

This post will consider how to convert the T8 Airport Line between Revesby and Central as well as the T4 Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra Line between Bondi Junction and Hurstville on the Sydney Trains network to single deck metro operation without the level of disruption planned for the Epping to Chatswood or Bankstown Lines. It will not seek to analyse the merits of whether these lines are better suited to single or double deck operations, just how such a conversion would be possible.

In both cases, the lines would need to be separated from the rest of the network.

For the T8 Airport Line, Trains would begin at the Revesby turn back platform and travel to platforms 22 and 23 at Central Station via the airport. Construction of an additional turnback platform at Revesby would help to maintain a high frequency of service. (CORRECTION: As karan points out in the comments, Revesby already has 4 platforms and therefore does not require construction of an additional turnback platform.) T8 South Line trains would all run express from Revesby and be rerouted via Sydenham, made possible by the removal of T3 Bankstown Line trains once Sydney Metro City and Southwest is completed in 2024. A new set of platforms could also be built at Wolli Creek to allow T8 South Line trains to stop there and maintain a point of easy transfer between lines for passengers before continuing North via Sydenham.

In the case of the T4 Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra Line, any trains South of Hurstville would be rerouted to the City Circle (or Sydney Terminal in the case of South Coast Line trains). This would be possible due to the removal of T3 Bankstown Line and T8 Airport Line trains from the City Circle, thus creating enough spare capacity for T4 Illawarra Line and South Coast Line trains displaced from the T4 Eastern Suburbs Line.

From that point T2 Inner West and T8 South trains would enter the City Circle via Town Hall while T4 Illawarra Line trains (from Cronulla and Waterfall) would enter the City Circle via Museum. T4 Illawarra trains that begin and end at Hurstville would continue through to Bondi Junction as they currently do. This would provide much needed additional capacity to all parts of T4 South of the city, the second most used line in the network after the T1 Western Line.

If the aim is merely further sectorisation of the network, the process can end here. But to achieve metro conversion requires two additional steps: installation of platform screen doors and introduction of driverless trains.

Platform screen doors would come first. This would require trains on each of these lines to be replaced with single deck trains, each having the same configuration of doors as the new driverless trains. However, these trains would continue to have drivers. As both of these new lines would have spare capacity, this changeover could now be achieved by initially adding extra trains, rather than merely replacing existing trains 1 for 1. This means the changeover could occur with little to no loss of seated capacity.

Artists impression of the trains to run on the NWRL at Kellyville Station. Click to enlarge. (Source:Transport for NSW.)

Once all trains on the line are replaced, screen doors could be progressively installed during weekends or overnight. Some individual stations may need to be closed while screen doors are installed, but the line itself will continue to operate.

With screen doors in place, a new set of driverless trains could be rolled out.If this is done exclusively on one line first, these same trains could then be redeployed on the second line to complete the process on both lines with fewer trains.

The driver’s cabs could then be removed and the trains converted to driverless.

None of this would likely be possible before 2030 as it requires the T3 Bankstown Line to be converted to metro in 2024 and would be difficult to implement until the T8 Airport Line reverts to government ownership in 2030. But doing so could convert the T8 Airport Line between Revesby and Central as well as the T4 Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra Line between Bondi Junction and Hurstville to metro style operation.

Transport for a London has recently begun a trial of carriage passenger utilisation at one station on the London Overground. The idea being that if passengers at the station know which carriages are crowded and which aren’t, they will opt to enter the carriages with fewer spaces. The more even distribution of passengers would then reduce dwell times at stations, improving on time running and journey times.

Train enthusiast Geoff Marshall tried it out in the video at the top of this post and Diamond Geezer explains some technical background as to how the system works here.

The results of the trial were mixed, but it raises the question of whether such a system would be possible in Sydney.

It is understood that all Waratah trains, which comprise about half of the Sydney Trains fleet, have weight sensors similar to those used in the London Overground trial. This means it would be technically feasible.

However, when asked about it in 2014 while state’s Transport Minister, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian replied that it was not something the government was planning. She did mention that Opal data could be used to achieve a similar result. The same year, Sydney Trains CEO Howard Collins echoed that view; but suggested that train carriage weight, rather than Opal data, could provide passengers with information on which carriages have more available space.

To the Government’s credit, Sydney’s real time transport apps now do provide information on how crowded each bus is, allowing passengers to opt for a less crowded bus.

Real time data showing how full each bus is estimated to be. Click to enlarge. (Source: Next There.)

The difficulties encountered by the London trial suggest that providing this information may not be worth the benefits. For example, it uses a combination of expected loading based on historical data to estimate how full each carriage will be. That is because the weight sensors will not be accurate until the train leaves the station prior to the one where passengers are. This could give passengers as little as 2 minutes to move to the ideal spot along the platform, which in the case of an 8 carriage train is 160m.

So if the estimate is not accurate and passengers aren’t checking for updated information, it could be of limited benefit to its users.

Despite the risks, Sydney Trains and the NSW Government should pay attention to the London Overground trial. The potential to squeeze a little more juice out of a network that is straining under no new CBD capacity until 2024 is well worth investigation.

VIDEO: Sydney Metro bids thanks and farewell to the Sydney Monorail, Transport for NSW (31 Aug 2017)

This is an updated version of a previous post from March 2016.

Below is a list of all the railways that Sydney might expect in the near future. It only includes heavy rail (i.e. Sydney Trains or Sydney Metro, but not light rail) and includes both new lines or extensions to existing lines. Railways must have been proposed by the state or federal government, so any railways proposed only by local councils or lobby groups are not included nor any railways mentioned exclusively in internal government documents not intended for public release. Also excluded are railways previously announced but since cancelled.

Under construction: Sydney Metro Northwest

The current incarnation of this line was announced in 2010, with construction commencing in 2014. It is scheduled to open in 2019. This line consists of 23km of new track between Epping and Cudgegong Rd near Rouse Hill as well as the conversion of the existing 13km Epping to Chatswood Line (opened in 2009) to metro operation.

A line with a similar alignment was originally announced in 1998 (connecting to the Northern Line at Eastwood rather than Epping), but cancelled in 2008 in favour of a metro line that was itself also cancelled. It has previously been known as the North West Rail Link and Sydney Rapid Transit.

2015-02-20 NWRL

Alignment of the Sydney Metro Northwest from Cudgegong Rd to Chatswood. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Under construction: Sydney Metro City and Southwest

This line was announced in 2014, with construction commencing in 2017. It is scheduled to open in 2024. This line consists of 13km of new track between Chatswood and Sydenham as well as the conversion of the existing 17km Bankstown Line between Sydenham and Bankstown to metro operation.

Sydney Metro City and Southwest Alignment 2016

Sydney Metro City and Southwest alignment. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Announced: Sydney Metro West

This line was announced in 2016, with no date currently set for construction to commence. It is scheduled to open in the second half of the 2020s, though the government is understood to be keen to fast track a 2026 opening date. Stations have been confirmed for Parramatta, Sydney Olympic Park, the bays precinct, and the Sydney CBD.

Four options are currently being considered, with a Metro Rapid option firming as the favourite providing the highest benefit-cost ratio. This option involves a 20 minute journey between Parramatta and the Sydney CBD, with trains travelling between 10 stations at up to 130km/hour, with a benefit-cost ratio of 2.5.

UPDATE: However, the favoured option appears to be the Metro Local South. This option involves a 25 minute journey between Parramatta and the Sydney CBD, with trains travelling between 12 stations at up to 100km/hour, with a benefit-cost ratio of 2.3 when the sale of air rights to development above stations is taken into account.

2016-10-18-west-metro-and-cbd-metro-alignment

Planned route of the 2008 West Metro, which may be indicative of the future Sydney Metro West. Click to enlarge. (Source: Railway Gazette)

Announced: Leppington to St Marys extension

Technically not yet announced, the government is understood to be about to announce an extension of the existing T2 Line from Leppington to the T1 Line at St Marys via a new Western Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek. Previous investigations into an extension of the South West Rail Link from Leppington also included a Southern extension to Narellan. This extension provides the greatest potential for a freight rail connection to the new airport, whereas a metro connection would be unlikely to provide the opportunity for freight trains to reach the new airport.

2014-05-04 swrl-extension-corridor-map

The proposed corridors for an extension of the SWRL through to Badgerys Creek and beyond. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has indicated her preference is for a rail connection after the airport opens and further commented that “Some major airports around the world take up to 10 years to build a rail line”. With a 2026 scheduled opening date for a Western Sydney Airport, this would suggest a 2026-36 opening date for an airport railway.

Meanwhile, Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten announced his support in April 2017 for a North-South rail connection, but went further in calling for it to be completed in time for the opening of a Western Sydney Airport in 2026. So although there is a difference in opinion on timing, there is now bipartisanship support for a rail line connecting the airport to Leppington and St Marys.

Proposed: Cudgegong Rd to Marsden Park extension

Work on preserving a corridor to extend the Sydney Metro Northwest began before construction on the line had even begun. Two options were considered: a Northern extension to Riverstone and a Western extension to Marsden Park via Schofields. The latter option was chosen with the potential to extend it further to the Mount Druitt area, although the corridor is to be reserved with mode neutrality. In other words, it could be both as an extension of Sydney Metro, but it could also be built as even bus rapid transit/light rail or even heavy rail with double deck trains from the T1 Western Line at Mount Druitt or St Marys.

NWRL Extension Corridor Options

Two options exist for linking the NWRL to the Richmond Line. One goes North West to Vineyard, the other continues west through Schofields and towards Marsden Park. Click to enlarge. (Source: http://northwestoptions.com.au)

Proposed: Bankstown to Liverpool extension

This proposal would see the Sydney Metro extended from the currently planned terminus at Bankstown out to Liverpool.

Such a line could link both Bankstown and Liverpool to Bankstown Airport, allowing for potential redevelopment of the current airport site. That would be in line with the Government´s pattern of building new transport infrastructure in places that enable new developments, including Waterloo, Sydney Olympic Park, the Bays Precinct, or the proposed redevelopment of Long Bay Prison. It would also provide connections between Liverpool and the Sydney CBD via Bankstown that are set to be lost once the Bankstown Line is converted to Metro services by 2024.

VIDEO: Sydney Metro: Future Options – Bankstown to Liverpool (Transport for NSW)

Proposed: Parramatta to Western Sydney Airport extension

A Western extension to the Sydney Metro West, this line would link up Parramatta with a Western Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek. With the airport and metro line each scheduled to open in 2026 or later, much of

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has called for a rail link to the airport to be built by the year 2046, but not necessarily ready to open simultaneously with a Western Sydney Airport. However, this was before the NSW Government opted for a North-South rail link from Leppington to St Marys, which is set to be announced jointly with the federal government.

2016-03-12 Parramatta Fast Rail Route

Potential alignments for a fast rail connection from Parramatta to a Western Sydney Airport at Badgeries Creek and the Sydney CBD. Click to enlarge. (Source: Parramatta City Council, Western Sydney Airport Fast Train – Discussion Paper, page 12.)

Proposed: City to Long Bay extension

An Eastern extension of the Sydney Metro West, this line would link up the Sydney CBD to the South East along a former tram reservation on Anzac Parade. To this date, there is no official government proposal for this line, only an unsolicited proposal from 2016.

However, Infrastructure NSW has been investigating the Anzac Parade corridor since 2014. The plans would involve the sale of the Long Bay Prison for redevelopment, which itself would help to fund the construction costs of a rail line down that corridor. This is in line with similar plans for Waterloo, the Bays Precinct and Sydney Olympic Park where new metro lines would support redevelopment that would in turn be enabled by the new metro line.

So far, this corridor has been investigated for an extension of the currently under construction light rail line out to Kingsford. Despite this, the close correlation between the unsolicited proposal and line actually being planned at the moment are close enough that an extension to La Perouse via Long Bay appears like a good proxy for official government policy.

2017 timetable (part 2): Off peak

Posted: September 4, 2017 in Transport
Tags: ,

VIDEO: More than 1,500 extra weekly services for train customers, Transport for NSW (28 August 2017)

See also: 2017 timetable (part 1): Morning peak

The number of stations with a train service every 15 minutes is set to rise from 88 to 126 (representing 71% of the networks 178 stations), an increase of 43%, thanks to the addition of 1,500 additional weekly services as part of a timetable revamp set to be introduced in November. This has been achieved by adding additional services in some parts of the network and by re-scheduling services to be evenly spaced where there are already 4TPH (Trains Per Hour) on that part of the network. These 15 minute frequencies will last most of the day, 7 days a week. The government has touted the benefits of this as allowing users to ignore the timetable and instead just turn up and go.

To visualise what this means, compare the Sydney Trains map shown above to the one shown below. The map above is the normal network map, showing all the stations. The map below (the regular map, modified by this blog´s author) only shows the stations that currently receive 15 minute frequencies all day. Lines with turn up and go frequencies can be seen in Inner Sydney as well and Nothern Sydney: the T1 North Shore Line, T1 Northern Line, T1 Epping Line, T2 Inner West Line, T3 Bankstown Line, T4 Eastern Suburbs Line, and T8 Airport Line.

The map shown below also includes the stations that are set to get 15 minute frequencies in November. These new stations are mostly in Sydney´s West: the T1 Western Line, T2 Leppington Line, and T8 South Line. The main lines still missing a regular all day 15 minute frequency are the T1 Richmond Line, T4 Cronulla Line, and the T4 Illawarra Line. The T1 Richmond and T4 Illawarra Line are hampered by being branch lines that service sparsely populated areas, meanwhile the T4 Cronulla Line does have 4 trains per hour, but enter the city on 10/20 minute frequencies due to varied stopping patterns.

Additionally, where branch lines with 15 minute frequencies merge in the inner portions of the network it results in even higher frequencies. Most of these stations thus provide all day frequencies of a train every 10 minutes or less, with a few providing frequency levels of a train every 11 minutes or less (often in one direction rather than both directions). The highest frequencies are seen on the City Circle, where trains travelling through in a clockwise direction pass through stations every 6 minutes or less all day.

There are 3 areas in particular, accounting for 27 stations, where this occurs:

  1. The T4 Cronulla Line and T4 Illawarra Line merge at Sydenham to provide 6TPH, resulting in even 10 minute frequencies between Sydenham and Bondi Junction.
  2. The T8 Airport Line and T8 South Line merge at Wolli Creek to provide 8TPH, resulting in 6/9 minute frequencies between Wolli Creek and Central via the airport stations in both directions. Services through the City Circle, entering via Museum and travelling counter-clockwise, continue this 6/9 minute frequency.
  3. The T2 Leppington Line, T2 Inner West Line, and T3 Bankstown Line merge at Redfern to provide 12TPH, resulting in 3/6 minute frequencies through the City Circle, entering via Town Hall and travelling clockwise, though to Central.
  4. The T2 Leppington Line and T2 Inner West Line merge at Ashfield to provide 8TPH, resulting in either 7/8 minute or 4/11 minute frequencies into the City Circle for Ashfield and Newtown Stations. Frequency levels depend on direction of travel and whether it is a weekday or weekend. However, Newtown´s 15 minute frequencies remain on weekends.
  5. The T1 Western Line and T1 Epping Line merge at Strathfield to provide 8TPH, resulting in 6/9 minute or 4/11 minute frequencies into the City and through to Chatswood for Strathfield Station. Frequency levels depend on direction of travel.

The stations affected can be seen in the map below.

Commentary: Why frequency matters

This blog has argued the merits of high frequency networks before (see: here, here, here). A network of high frequency public transport services, buses as well as trains, with easy interchanges between them, allow for a much greater level of mobility for its users.

The big increase in the 15 minute turn up and go network is to be commended. This will go a long way to improving access to the Sydney CBD. But for users wanting to make a transfer at an interchange, be it catching a bus to their local station or changing trains at an outer suburban station, a 15 minute frequency is just too long.

That´s why identifying where services are more frequent than a train every 15 minute is so important. As it turns out, 27 stations in and near the city currently do; reaching Chatswood, Bondi Junction, Wolli Creek, and Strathfield. Most of these have gaps between train services of no more than 10 minutes, with the best service levels seen on the City Circle for anyone travelling through it on a clockwise direction of a train every 6 minutes or less all day.

But there is still scope for improvement that requires little to no additional spending on operating costs. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Re-schedule trains on T1 between Strathfield and Chatswood to eliminate the 11 minute gaps between some services. This would allow for a train every 9 minutes or less all day without having to add more trains.
  2. Look into making express trains on T2 stop at Newtown during weekends to give that station 8TPH across the full week. Both these changes may be possible without having to add more trains.
  3. Re-route trains on T3 to run through the City Circle via Museum and then terminate at Redfern where they can turn around at the Macdonaldtown turnback and return to Bankstown through the City Circle. This would increase frequencies through the City Circle up to 12TPH in both directions, providing a train every 6 minutes or less all day with only a small increase in cost.
  4. Re-schedule trains through the City Circle to have even spacings. Where there are 12TPH, this would mean a train every 5 minutes rather than 3/6/6 minute gaps in the frequency as is currently the case. It would result in 5/10 minute frequencies in other parts of the network, rather than 6/9 minute frequencies, such as the Airport Line.

In the longer term, the two new Sydney Metro Lines should result in a large increase to the all day high frequency network out to Rouse Hill, Parramatta, and Bankstown. Sydney Metro Northwest is currently slated to run at 10 minute frequencies all day. When it gets extended through to Bankstown increasing its frequencies up to a train every 5 minutes all day would be a big improvement that would achieve the earlier stated goal of providing a true turn up and go network that makes interchanges easy and seamless.

Two thirds of stations on the Sydney Trains network will enjoy a train to the city every 15 minutes during most hours of the day on both weekdays and weekends under a revamp of the train timetable set to be implemented in late November. The plans will also see a boost to peak hour services, with the number of trains entering Sydney´s CBD stations increasing to 114 during the busiest hour of the morning; a 3.6% increase on the existing 110 trains per hour, while Liverpool will see the addition of fast express trains into the city during the morning peak.

The new timetable is accompanied by a new network map (shown above), which was reviewed by the Transit Maps website.

All up, an additional 1,500 services are being added per week. Half of these during the weekend. For comparison, the 2013 timetable changes saw an increase of 700 services per week, with no change to the weekend timetable. The increase in service levels will be supported by a $1.5bn capital investment, the largest part of which will be the purchase of an additional 24 Waratah trains. This will increase the existing fleet of Waratahs trains from 78 to 102.

This post will look at how the changes affect the morning peak hour. A future post will focus at the off-peak.

The Good

The number of trains into the city from Parramatta is set to increase from 20TPH (Trains Per Hour) to 24TPH. If the 4TPH on the Blue Mountains Line which stop at Parramatta but terminate at Central´s Sydney Terminal are included, Parramatta will soon see 28TPH into Central Station during the busiest hour of the morning peak.

It achieves this by extending the T2 Inner West Line to Parramatta, with 4TPH on that line now starting at Parramatta rather than Homebush. This was one of the few ways to increase capacity into the city from Parramatta, as the Western Line is currently at maximum capacity of 20TPH.

The new timetable then resolves the issue of overcrowding on the T2 Line from additional passengers boarding at Parramatta by adding an adding additional capacity on the T2 Leppington Line and T3 Bankstown Line. It is able to do this as these both run into the City Circle, which is the only line with significant spare capacity. The City Circle currently uses 34 out of the 40 paths (that being 20TPH in each direction) available during the busiest hour of the morning peak. The new timetable adds an additional 4TPH into the city, meaning that 38 paths out of a potential 40 will now be used. As a result, the T3 Bankstown Line will see an increase from 8TPH to 10TPH, and the T2 Leppington And Inner West Line will see an increase from 12TPH to 14TPH. This should, in theory, offset the loss of 4TPH to Parramatta.

The Bad

The increase in services through the City Circle now mean that Sydney’s city stations are one step away from being full during peak hour, with 114 of the available 120 paths on the 3 CBD lines being used up. This is 95% of maximum capacity.

With demand on the rail network currently growing at a rate of 10% per year, there is a risk that the network will reach capacity well before additional rail capacity comes online in 7 years when the Sydney Metro is extended through under the CBD in 2024.

The only other viable stop gap would appear to be an increase in services into Sydney Terminal. Internal government plans prepared in 2014 show this could increase capacity into Central Station by 16% during the busy morning peak, but it would cut many direct services between the city and Sydney´s outer suburbs. The current timetable goes part of the way in doing this by rerouting some T1 Richmond Line services through to the T5 Cumberland Line, but for now Richmond retains direct services into the city.

The Ugly

The T2 and T3 lines will now have some very unusual stopping patterns during the morning peak. Some stations on theT3 Bankstown Line will now have a 19 minute gap between services during the morning peak. This seems designed to cater for the new Liverpool express services.

It is unusual because this undoes part of what the 2013 timetable changes aimed to do: simplify the timetable to create regular clockface timetable. Strangely, those same stations still enjoy regular 15-minute clock face frequencies during the off peak hours of the day.

To complicate things even further, there is a possibility that these unusual stopping patterns will not survive past 2024, when the Sydney Metro City and Southwest absorbs the Bankstown Line.

The CSELR (CBD and South East Light Rail) project recently announced proposed stop names for the new line set to open in 2019. Submissions were sought from the public in response and can be made until 11 September 2017. Below is an edited version of the submission made by this blog’s author that seek to clarify stop names in order to improve wayfinding for users of the new line.

Overall, the stop names are good. However, some could be clarified and standardised so as to cause less confusion to users. In particular, ensuring that places with 2 stops (Central and UNSW) are treated in a consistent manner and ensuring that unique stop names are used that could not be confused with another location (Royal Randwick).


There are 2 pairs of stops that share a landmark, Central Station and UNSW. In each case, an additional identifier has been used to highlight where the stop is located (Grand Concourse and Chalmers St for Central, Anzac Pde and High St for UNSW). However, this is presented in a different manner for each. A more consistent approach could be used in the formatting of these stop names, without changing the actual names themselves. For example, putting the landmark first (as is currently the case) with the additional identifier on the next line and in brackets would provide consistency for all these stops. In the case of Central, that word could remain in bold as it is also a major interchange and light rail terminus. This would make the 4 stops:

Central

(Grand Concourse)

 

Central

(Chalmers Street)

 

UNSW

(Anzac Parade)

 

UNSW

(High Street)

The Royal Randwick stop, on the other hand, suffers from the confusing detail that there is both a Royal Randwick Racecourse as well as a Royal Randwick Shopping Centre. The current bus routes (and the former tramway alignment) passes by both landmarks. To avoid confusion, the name “Royal Randwick Racecourse” or simply just “Randwick Racecourse” would be a clearer descriptor, while keeping the same landmark the stop is named after.

A Peter Martin article entitled ¨Benefits from a Wollongong-to-Sydney rail upgrade would exceed costs, Cabinet told¨ appeared recently in the Sydney Morning Herald on 13 July 2017. The article suggests that a $5bn upgrade to the rail line from Sydney to Wollongong would potentially provide benefits more than double their cost. It suggests that this is a favourable option to an $18bn extension of the F6 Motorway between Sydney and Wollongong.

The biggest obstacle to upgrading the rail line to Wollongong is that there is actually no business case currently available for the full project. The SMH article claims ¨the total cost of upgrading the Sydney to Wollongong commuter line would be around $5 billion¨, of which a rail tunnel from Thirroul to Waterfall is the largest expense at $2.9bn.

A Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) of 1.5 to 2.4 is provided only for the Maldon to Dombarton freight line, which at $700m-$800m represents no more than 16% of the full project on a cost basis. This line would allow freight trains to travel to Sydney from Wollongong via Campbelltown rather than the current path via Sutherland.

The Maldon to Dombarton Railway would allow freight trains to travel between Sydney and Port Kembla without using the T4 Line through Hurstville and Sutherland. Click to enlarge. (Source: Infrastructure NSW, State Infrastructure Strategy Update 2014, p. 65.)

However, the BCR drops to 0.9 when a discount rate of 7% is used rather than 4.4%. A discount rate of 7% is the standard one used in order to compare all infrastructure projects. Using a lower discount rate inflates the benefits when compared to other projects. The reduction in BCR below 1.0 suggests that the costs of this project outweight the benefits.

Infrastructure Australia also pointed out that the benefits are probably to be overstated for 2 reasons: (1) coal freight tonnage is likely to decline in coming decades and (2) there are no current plans to convert part of the T4 Illawarra Line to metro standard which would subsequently require a new entry path for rail freight from the Illawarra into Sydney.

The full text of Infrastructure Australia´s conclusion is included below.

¨There is significant uncertainty around forecast future freight demand, particularly from 2031 onwards. Freight throughputs were estimated for 2014, 2021 and 2031. Beyond 2031, demand was assumed to remain constant at 2031 levels. The business case assumed coal would represent 58% of projected freight tonnage using the line in 2031. However, a number of coal mines which were projected to use the Maldon-Dombarton Rail Link over the entire 50-year evaluation period are expected to be exhausted within the next 20 years. For example, the Tahmoor coal mine – which was expected to account for around 22% of rail paths on the Maldon-Dombarton Rail Link from 2031 – is expected to close by early 2019. This lost freight demand is unlikely to be replaced, and lower freight demand would lower project benefits.

The base case is not a ‘do-minimum’ base case because it assumes uncommitted future network changes to the Sydney rail system, including the potential introduction of rapid transit services to Hurstville by 2031. This would affect freight rail capacity on the Illawarra line. However, these changes have not been committed or funded, so it is not certain that the related project benefits would be realised.Also important to consider is that the $700m-$800m cost was calculated at P50. In other words, there is a 50% chance that the cost will be higher than that estimate, and a 50% chance that it will be lower. Additionally, the analysis excludes wider economic benefits. These include things like agglomeration economies, improving market competitiveness, or increased tax revenues from labour markets. They are excluded in part because they are indirect and thus hard to measure. But it does mean that a BCR of close to 1.0 could still make a project such as this viable as WEBs would ultimately make the benefits outweigh the costs. However, as previously stated, if the benefits are overstated then it is unlikely that the BCR would be close to 1.0 anyway.¨

So does this mean that an upgrade of the South Coast Line from Wollongong to Sydney does not stack up? The answer is: we actually don´t know.

A section of the partly completed Maldon to Dombarton freight railway. Click to enlarge. (Source: Marcus Wong.)

Remember: this is a $5bn project and the Maldon to Dombarton freight line is just one small part of it. In order to determine if the full project is economically viable, a business case needs to be developed for the full project. Not one part of the project. Not all of the parts separately. The full project. This is because when taken as a whole, individual parts of the full project could provide benefits for another part and vice versa.

What certainly doesn´t help is a government decision to look into a road improvement to connect Sydney to Wollongong, excluding all other options. Instead, the government could have committed itself to evaluating the transport corridor first, then determining which mode provides the best possible outcome.

It remains possible that improved road connections could provide a greater benefit than improved rail connections. However, the higher estimated cost of road ($18bn) compared to rail ($5bn) makes this seem less likely when taken at face value.

But without a study into the business case of both, we won´t know for sure.