Archive for October, 2011

Transport Sydney has a new look. After two and a half months, I thought the old layout was becoming a bit hard to read and so I’ve opted for something a bit better. Hope you like it. Also, from today I’m going to change from one post every 3 days to 3 posts per week: Mondays (History of Cityrail), Wednesdays (news) and Fridays (a new feature called Best of the Rest where I link you to another blog/news post that I found interesting). Being a Monday, let’s get started with some History of Cityrail…

The Richmond Line was built in 1864 and though it has been upgraded multiple times over the years, it remains to be “completed” in the sense that a significant portion of it has yet to be duplicated. The line was actually extended to Kurrajong in the Blue Mountains in 1926 before this extension was closed in 1952.

Following the electrification of the South Line to Campbelltown in 1968, the Richmond Line was one of only two sections of the suburban network to not be electrified (the other, between Loftus and Waterfall, would be electrified in 1980). This was partly remedied in 1975 when the line between Blacktown and Riverstone was electrified. Further electrification and duplication upgrades would be completed in 1991, 2002 and 2011.

Bus drivers go on snap strike

Posted: October 29, 2011 in Transport

Bus drivers from Sydney Buses went on a snap strike on 18 October for a few hours during the afternoon peak due to safety concerns raised by the Rail, Bus and Tram Union. The union, having become aware of a video posted to YouTube which shows one of the Sydney Buses fleet’s natural gas powered vehicles catching fire and then the gas tank exploding (after the vehicle was stopped and emptied, ensuring no one was injured), called on its drivers to refuse to drive any natural gas buses until safety concerns were dealt with. The strike was called off later that evening after the industrial relations commission ordered drivers back to work.

The union claims that the buses were unsafe to drive and that Sydney Buses were not putting the safety of its staff and passengers first, having failed to put sufficient safeguards in place. Sydney Buses, and the government, counter claimed that the matter was being investigated and that all Mercedes OC500LE buses (the model involved in the incident) had been deemed safe to operate after inspections by STA and manufacturer mechanics and that additional weekly checks had been in place since the event. They also point out that despite both the initial event occurring in and the video was uploaded in July, the union did not call the work ban until October, on the day after pay negotiations broke down.

Warren Brown

Cartoonist Warren Brown's take on the exploding bus incident. (Source: Daily Telegraph)

The resulting strike, which came without notice and included school buses (leaving school kids stranded) leaves me siding with the government on this occasion.

Something a little bit different today. Before finishing yesterday’s post, I decided to run all my previous posts though a word cloud generator (I used Wordle). Here’s what I got:

Word Cloud

Back to regular posting in 2 days!

Electrification of the South Line was partly completed in the 1920s, with the line through to Liverpool electrified in 1929. This allowed electric trains to run from the City into Liverpool either via Granville, Regents Park or Bankstown. The East Hills Line, which today connects up to the South Line at Glenfield, terminated at East Hills Station until the two were connected in 1987. Therefore everything South of Liverpool was non-electric Southern Highlands trains only.

Electric trains services came to Southwest Sydney in 1968, when the track between Liverpool and Campbelltown was electrified. Macarthur Station (the next station to the South of Campbelltown) which today designates the end of the suburban network on this line and also the extent of electric train services on it, was not constructed until 1985.

The government is set to get rid of all 600 transit officers that currently patrol Sydney’s trains, replacing them with 300 additional dedicated transit police and 150 additional revenue protection officers. This move will address the current problem of what role they should play. In particular, should they operate based on mode of transport (currently transit officers patrol trains, while revenue protection officers are found exclusively on buses) or based on job role (where revenue protection officers will be found on all modes of transport – checking tickets, and police will be found on all modes of transport – ensuring passenger safety).

If this is part of a plan to continue to unify public transport under one umbrella (i.e. a continuation of myZone, the formation of Transport for NSW and the eventual Opal ticketing system), with staff performing a common role across all modes of transport rather than each mode having its own separate and overlapping staff, then it would be a welcome move. However, a recent Herald report (published prior to the announcement of these cuts) suggests that the reasons for this are that police wages are lower than transit officers and that police are armed with guns while transit officers are not.

(UPDATE: Mataio in the comments below suggests that the starting salary for a transit officer is actually in line with the starting salary for a police officer and that the figures quoted in the article are incorrect. I have not verified either claim, but it would certainly make sense for both starting salaries to be about the same.)

Over the last 20 years Sydney has seen police, private contractors, transit officers and soon to be police again patrolling its trains. The cynic in me sees this most recent exercise as just re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic and not really achieving any progress. But the optimist in me thinks this actually returns things back to how they should have always been, and is a movement in the right direction. Time will tell which is correct.

Recent discussion to revert to single deck trains on some of Cityrail’s lines as part of a metro proposal (discussed by me here, here and here) are somewhat ironic when you consider that Cityrail spent much of the 70s and 80s upgrading its fleet from single deck trains to double deck ones. The idea behind this was that it would allow Cityrail to increase capacity without increasing the number of carriages per train. The limitation was a number of stations (particularly in the CBD) which were either too short or too difficult to extend. To borrow a saying from urban planning, if you can’t build out, then build up!

The first double deck trains were the Tulloch trailers, introduced in 1964. However, it was not until the roll-out of the L, R and S Sets during the period 1972-80 that a significant portion of the rolling stock was converted to double deck. LRS trains are the steel trains that today form the backbone of the Cityrail network. They were functionally identical, and designated L, R or S based on the number of carriages that they had (3, 6 and 4 respectively). Later in the 1980s came the C and K Sets, which again were the steel trains, with the major difference that they had air conditioning. All LRS Set trains are set to be withdrawn once enough Waratah trains are delivered to replace them (all 78 are currently scheduled to be in operation by 2014), resulting in a fully air-conditioned fleet.

S Set train

An S Set train at Clyde Station. You can see the S49 designation on the target plate on the bottom right hand corner. The blue colour on a suburban train like this one indicates that it operates in Sector 2, which includes all lines passing through the City Circle, as well as the Cumberland, Carlingford and Olympic Park Lines. (Source: Wikipedia)

Despite all this, the Cityrail fleet was not actually fully converted to double deck rolling stock until the introduction of Tangaras, which were rolled out between 1988 and 1996. Towards the end of this period, in 1993, the last of the single deck trains, the Red Rattlers, were pulled from service. I rode on a Red Rattler only once in my life, immediately after arriving in Australia in 1989. Ironically, it broke down, requiring us to change train. I didn’t miss them.

The interurban fleet saw a similar conversion, with single deck U Sets being replaced progressively between 1970 and 1996 by double deck V Sets (and also briefly by Tangaras, before the introduction of the OSCAR allowed all Tangaras to operate exclusively in the suburban network, rather than split between suburban and interurban). Diesel trains, operating in the Hunter, Southern Highlands (both by Cityrail) and further out (by CountryLink) remain single deck.

An announcement by Cityrail states that a new timetable will come into operation later this month on 23 October, adding an additional 63 train services each week. The biggest winners are in Western Sydney, who see 3 new peak hour services plus 1 new off-peak service each weekday on the Western Line and 4 new services each day on weekends for the Blue Mountains Line, which together account for 28 new services. Southwest Sydney miss out, with no new services for Liverpool or Campbelltown.

This is well short of the 135 new services that the current Liberal government promised when they were in opposition (and promised to do so “within months”), which will now cost four times as much as anticipated and even then not happen for another two years while additional staff are trained and the long delayed Waratah trains arrive to boost the available rolling stock available. I do take issue with the argument that rolling stock capacity constraints is put forward as an excuse. While this may be the case during peak hour, when most trains would be in service, there should remain significant free capacity during the off peak periods, and this is also when there is spare infrastructure capacity on the network by way of free slots on the rails to run trains. One example is the Cumberland Line, which the current government promised to run trains on all day while in opposition. Many stations along this line have only 2 off-peak services per hour and running half hourly all stations services along the Cumberland Line would ensure these stations had 15 minute services all day to either Parramatta or the city (and linking them to major interchanges to allow for easy change overs to another train or bus, should that help to speed up their journey). The other issue I take with the government not meeting it’s pledge of 135 services is that those additional 135 services were described at the time as being cautious and conservative, which was meant to differentiate them from the over-promising and under-delivering Labor government.

UPDATE (25 March 2012): I was probably a bit too harsh on the state government, so I’ve retracted one piece. It turns out they really promised only to introduce 6 new services per day “within months” and managed 4. Not technically fulfilling their promise, but close enough. From what I hear the next major timetable overhaul will come in 2014 when the Kingsgrove to Revesby quadruplication is complete and the maximum capacity of the City Circle will be lifted from 12 or 14 trains per hour up to 20. That will be the time to pass judgement on their promise.

Even when the full 135 services are introduced, it will still mean many fewer services in place than was the case before the 2005 timetable changes that axed hundreds of services and slowed the trains to get them to run on time. It should be pointed out, that this change in 2005 was a necessary one. It did get the trains running on time, where previously service cancellations and 20 minute delays were common and expected. Governing transport is not easy, as a number of ministers from the previous Labor government have outlined. John Watkins, a former Transport Minister under NSW Premier Bob Carr, recently outlined some of the practical difficulties of running the transport department, including an attack on the state Treasury. David Borger, a former Roads Minister under NSW Premier Kristina Keneally, also spoke of the challenges in managing transport from a government perspective, in his case his criticism was aimed at the now defunct Roads and Traffic Authority.

Nightride map

Nightride services are being extended to Richmond and Carlingford on weekends as part of the timetable changes. (Source: Cityrail)

Also included in the timetable changes are an additional 25 Parramatta and 140 North Shore ferry services and 91 new nightride buses, including services to Richmond and Carlingford for the first time.  However, it should be pointed out that these new services to Richmond and Carlingford are on weekends only (defined as Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights through to the following morning) and in the case of Richmond, the timetable shows services from the city terminating one station early at East Richmond! (The timetable shows citybound services departing from Richmond, so I’m hoping this is just a typo.) My experiences with catching nightride buses, which replace trains roughly between the hours of midnight and 5AM, are that they tend to be quite packed, and that these additional services will help to improve both capacity and frequency, which often is as low as hourly (or half hourly on weekends).

The Carlingford Line had been partly electrified up to Rosehill in 1936, with the rest of the line through to Carlingford Station being converted to electric in 1959. The line between Rosehill and Carlingford consisted of a single track with no passing loops and also includes a station for the UWS Parramatta campus. As a result of having only one track, services on the line remain extremely limited, with only a single 3 carriage service per hour operating as a shuttle between Clyde and Carlingford.

A number of proposals have been made over the years involving this line:

1. The line would form the bulk of a future Parramatta to Epping Rail Link, with underground portions linking Epping to Carlingford and Parramatta to Camellia. The line would be upgraded to dual track as part of this proposal. This idea has been seriously floated as far back as the Carr Labor government’s 1998 Action for Transport plan and most recently by the Keneally Labor government’s 2010 Metropolitan Transport Plan that would complete the Parramatta to Chatswood connection originally proposed in the 1998 plan. The election of the O’Farrell Liberal government in 2011 put this plan on ice, choosing to focus instead on the Northwest Rail Link.

Cityrail Map 2000

A map of the Cityrail network from the year 2000. The proposed Parramatta to Chatswood Rail Link can be seen, and is shown as an extension of the Carlingford Line. (Source: Historical NSW Railway Timetables)

2. The construction of a passing loop was initially included as part of the Cityrail Clearways program to increase capacity on existing lines, before being quietly dropped. Such a passing loop would probably double the capacity of the line to 2 services per hour, but without the expensive exercise of building double track the whole way along the line.

3. UTS academic Garry Glazebrook has suggested converting the line to light rail and for the Southern end to link up to Parramatta rather than Clyde. Given the low capacity nature of this line, it would allow for frequent services along this line that would take commits directly to Parramatta, forming the base of a future Western Sydney light rail network. Doing so would require any Parramatta to Epping Rail Link to go entirely underground, probably following an alignment along Pennant Hills Road.

I’ve already spoken about the proposal to convert part of the Cityrail network to metro which is being considered by the government as well as what sort of metro system is appropriate for Sydney. My opinion is that Sydney does need metros, but not this one. The metro proposal seems to be less about operation efficiency and more about transferring the rail system away from Cityrail and the Rail, Tram and Bus Union that have been holding the system back.

However, given that the capacity constraints problem that this proposal seeks to remedy is a valid one, you can’t just oppose a proposal to increase capacity without putting forward an alternative. So here are some alternatives to ease capacity on the Cityrail network. (Images come from the Herald’s Public Transport Inquiry.)

Double deck trains with 6 doors per carriage

The current Cityrail rolling stock is made up of double deck trains with 4 doors per carriage (one pair on each side). Single deck trains, with their 8 doors per carriage, are therefore able to get passengers on and off more quickly and thus have lower dwell times at stations. One possible compromise to this would be to retain double deck trains, but increase the number of doors to 6. The suburban rail network in Paris (RER) uses such trains, and its network is roughly the same size as the Cityrail suburban network (as opposed to Paris’ metro network, which services the CBD and inner city areas). There would be a slight reduction in the number of seats per train, but still significantly more than would be the case with single deck trains.

RER Double Deck Train

A double deck train from the Paris suburban rail network (RER). Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Public Transport Inquiry, page 236)

Like the metro proposal, this would require new rolling stock. However, unlike the metro proposal, it would not cause a large transition problem in switching over from double deck to single deck trains whereby you would be forced to run trains at the lower frequency AND lower capacity of both single and double deck due to having to run both types of trains on the same line (until sufficient single deck rolling stock were acquired to run them exclusively).

Articulated trains

Hong Kong Metro

An example of an articulated train. There are no doors between carriages, providing additional space for passengers. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Public Transport Inquiry, page 234)

Cityrail trains were once made up of individual carriages which were combined together to form 3, 4, 6 or 8 car trains. They would be coupled and decoupled in order to form the right number of cars. From Tangaras onward, they would come only in 4 car sets, with two of these joined together to form an 8 car set. The Waratah train comes exclusively as an 8 car set. Despite this, they retain the connection between each carriage in which passengers cannot travel. This is some 6 square metres of wasted space between each carriage, or 42 square metres per 8 car train. At 4 passengers per square metre, this represents an unused capacity of 168 passengers per train, equivalent to almost 20% of the seating capacity of each train.

As above, this would also require new rolling stock, but would also not cause any transitional problems that the metro solution causes.

Upgrading of city platforms

There are a few stations which currently act as choke points, Town Hall and Wynyard in particular. These stations were designed for a much lower number of passengers than they get today. There are two factors that cause this: they are too short and they are too narrow.

Town Hall vs Hong Kong

Town Hall Station (top) and a station in the Hong Kong Metro (bottom). Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Public Transport Inquiry, page 238)

Short platforms restrict the maximum length of trains that can stop at them. For example, the V-Set interurban trains that come in from the Blue Mountains and Central Coast are too long for the city platforms, and all terminate at Central. The short length of these platforms also prevents 10 car trains from operating on them (an improvement that would instantly yield a 25% boost to maximum capacity).

The width of platforms is also an issue, particularly in Town Hall (see photos on the left for comparison). The underground CBD stations are ones which not only see a lot of passenger traffic getting on and off trains, but also in changing over from one train to another. As the platforms aren’t very wide, this process can take a long time and also prove uncomfortable for passengers as they try to navigate through the narrow space available.

Widening of platforms is quite difficult, almost nigh on impossible. The one thing you could do is to have platforms on both sides of the train and for both doors to open. One platform could be designated for boarding while the other for alighting. This is the system in place at Olympic Park station, which has to deal with tens of thousands of people coming in for big events.

Upgraded signalling

This was mentioned as one of the requirements for the metro proposal in order to allow for an increase in the number of trains per hour on each track. However, an improvement to the signalling system should also theoretically allow additional double deck trains per hour too, albeit not as big an improvement as for single deck trains. However, if you could increase the current maximum of 20 up to 24 trains per hour (compared to the 28 trains per hour touted in the metro proposal), then that is still a 20% increase in capacity. Together with the RER style double deck trains mentioned above and the lower station dwell times that they would allow, I can’t see why upgrading the signalling system couldn’t lead to some sort of an improvement on the current ceiling of 20 trains per hour.

A second Harbour crossing

The point of the metro proposal was to avoid the expensive cost of a second Harbour crossing. However, a metro wouldn’t eliminate the need for a second Harbour crossing, only postpone it. There are many options for such a crossing, either on the Harbour Bridge (hanging off the underdeck or on the 2 Eastern Lanes in conjunction with a second Harbour Tunnel for motorists) or alternatively one that follows the Victoria Road alignment (which could quite easily be in the form of a metro). The Herald’s Public Transport Inquiry offered up the proposal to hang the new crossing under the Harbour Bridge, something which it claims can be done mostly within the existing structure. Before and after images are included, and if they are accurate, then I certainly can’t tell the difference.

Second Harbour Crossing

Before and after images of what a second Harbour rail crossing could look like if hung under the Harbour Bridge, and a cross section of how it would work. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Public Transport Inquiry, pages 258-259)


If increasing capacity is the aim, there are better ways to achieve this outcome than through the expensive and risky metro proposal. It would therefore appear to me that the real motive behind this proposal is an attack on Cityrail and the train union. Whilst I am sympathetic to this view, and think it would lead to better processes within the rail system, I personally think a better approach here would be to finish improving the heavy rail system in Sydney’s under serviced outer suburbs, then eliminate the bottlenecks in Sydney’s CBD, then begin creating an entirely new metro system (separate to Cityrail) from the ground up.

Following on from news that the government is considering converting part of the Cityrail network to metro, it’s appropriate to question whether metros actually have a place in Sydney. The short answer appears to be: yes.

Even the Herald’s 2010 Public Transport Inquiry, which supported the dumping of the CBD-Rozelle Metro proposal that the government had previously pushed for, believes that there is a case to be made for metros in Sydney. However, it argued that the number 1 priority was to complete essential improvements to Cityrail’s existing heavy rail network (in particular the Southwest and Northwest Rail Links, City Relief Line and a Second Harbour Crossing) before any work begins on constructing a metro network. Such a metro network should be centered on the CBD (or Parramatta) and not extend far beyond the inner city suburbs surrounding it. Sandy Thomas, one of the people behind the work of the Inquiry, described some of the problems of conversion to metros following the publication of its details earlier this week. This suggests that the Inquiry’s conclusions remain applicable today as much as they did 18 months ago.

Here is what the Inquiry had to say on page 200 (emphasis theirs):

The Inquiry does, however, believe “metro” rail services will be needed in Sydney in the longer term, as first publicly recognised and argued for in the 2001 “Christie Report” into long-term rail options for Sydney, Long- Term Strategic Plan for Rail, Greater Sydney Metropolitan Region, which suggested relatively high seating capacity forms of metros, reflecting the trip distances involved.

The highest priority will probably be a “West Metro” between Westmead and Barangaroo, as proposed by the Inquiry under the “European” scenario.

The development of metros should be the result of a clear public conversation, through the Public Transport Network Plan’s cyclical development and finalisation processes described in section 2 of this report, about the desired shape of Sydney and the best public transport solutions, recognising that:

  • Metros have a fundamentally different relationship to urban density than Sydney’s existing and future heavy rail, bus and light rail modes, and
  • Sydney’s challenging geography and the small size but tight development of its CBD mean a poorly conceived metro can easily cripple opportunities for essential improvements to the heavy rail network, and vice versa.

In addition to overcoming the deficiencies of the government’s original “metro” concepts, the technologies ultimately selected for a Sydney “metro” system should seek to maximise—rather than deliberately minimise, as was proposed for the CBD Metro—the system’s compatibility with Sydney’s existing and future heavy rail systems.

The aim should be to ensure that crucial and expensive pieces of infrastructure, such as harbour crossings, can be used with maximum flexibility and efficiency. The last thing we need is a 21st century version of different gauges.

2001 proposed metro plan

The possible metro routes suggested in Ron Christie's 2001 report to the state government. Click on image for higher resolution version. (Source: Public Transport Inquiry, page 200)

This philosophy of “build the heavy rail network first and metros second” can be seen in the 2001 report by Ron Christie, then the Coordinator General of Rail, later the head of the Herald’s Transport Inquiry, to the state government. In it, he recommended a number of potential metro routes, but warned that they should be built only after the heavy rail system was extended out to the Northwest, Southwest and another line crossing the Harbour. Even then, you can see (on the above map) that the metro routes radiate out of the CBD and Parramatta, but only for 15km-20km. The proposal to convert portions of the Cityrail network to metro would include a 40km route from the CBD to Rouse Hill and 30km from the CBD to Cabramatta.

For a better idea of the sort of area that a metro would cover, the NSW Business Chamber recently commissioned a review of the Cityrail network (which I’ll probably cover in more depth later on) in which it contained a number of maps of Sydney overlayed with major metro systems from around the world. The green circle is 15km from the CBD and the orange circle is 20km from the CBD. As you can see, a metro out to Cabramatta or Rouse Hill would be far beyond the maximum distance used by most other metro systems.


Singapore. Click on image for higher resolution version. (Source: NSW Business Chamber)

Hong Kong

Hong Kong. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: NSW Business Chamber)


Paris. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: NSW Business Chamber)


Berlin. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: NSW Business Chamber)


Madrid. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: NSW Business Chamber)

Jacob Saulwick reports in today’s Sydney Morning Herald that consideration is being given to converting a third of the Cityrail network to a single deck metro style system. This proposal is one of seven being prepared for the update to Sydney’s transport plan due for completion next year, and is reportedly the one being pushed by Transport Department bureaucrats.

2011 proposed metro plan

The proposed metro would cover the Bankstown Line (truncated to from Liverpool to Cabramatta), Inner West Line, part of the Illawarra Line to Hurstville, the North Shore Line and the Northwest Rail Link (via Macquarie). Existing Double Deck trains would be replaced with more frequent Single Deck trains, to improve frequency and capacity without having to build a costly second Harbour Crossing. (Source: Sydney Morning Herald)

The plan is not new, and an almost identical version was published in the Herald’s Public Transport Inquiry earlier last year, which also suggested a conversion to single deck trains (which I will now refer to as “metro”). The inquiry attacked the proposal for being costly and that similar benefits could be obtained much more cheaply by maintaining the existing double deck trains (which I will now on refer to as “heavy rail”). More on this later under “Disadvantages of the proposed metro solution”.

2010 proposed metro plan

The metro plan as proposed in 2010. Click on the image to zoom in and read the details. (Source: Public Transport Inquiry, page 207)

Were this change to go ahead, there would need to be a few requirements to be met:

  1. Many single deck trains must be acquired. This is likely to take a number of years, based on the Waratah train rollout, and these trains could only be used during the off-peak until a critical mass are acquired to run them exclusively on certain lines. Using them during peak hour would reduce capacity without any improvement to frequency or speed.
  2. Changes to signaling in order to increase the number of trains per hour from the existing 20 to 30 required by a metro system.
  3. New dives and flyovers to shift trains from Bankstown and Hurstville onto the tracks that cross the Harbour Bridge (currently used by Western/Northern/North Shore Line trains).
  4. Construction of the City Relief Line, to allow Western Line and Northern Line trains from Parramatta and Epping respectively to continue through into the city.
Advantages of the proposed metro solution
  1. Shorter dwell times – Metros are able to have 4 doors each side per carriage, compared to the 2 doors that the current heavy rail trains have. This means passengers are able to board and alight the train more quickly, reducing the amount of time trains must spend waiting at each station. This is a particular problem at the moment at many CBD stations (Town Hall being particularly bad), where large numbers of passengers both board and alight from trains. Shorter dwell times also translate into faster journeys, as more time is spent moving between stations, rather than waiting at stations.
  2. Shorter headways – Lighter metro trains are able to accelerate/brake more quickly, meaning that you don’t need as much space between two trains (known as “headways”). Current headways of 3 minutes per train mean the system is limited to 20 trains per hour on each track. If this could be reduced to 2 minutes, then it means you could run 30 trains per hour, a 50% increase.
  3. Cheaper than a second Harbour Crossing – This plan aims to increase capacity through the highly constrained existing crossing over the Harbour Bridge, but without having to either build a new tunnel under the Harbour (estimated to cost $3bn to $4bn) or converting 2 traffic lanes to rail (which would be hugely unpopular with motorists). Transport for NSW points out that with the Southwest Rail Link and Northwest Rail Link soaking up construction resources until 2019, an alternative to large scale infrastructure construction is needed to increase the cross-Harbour capacity before then.
  4. Cheaper rolling stock – Few other countries use double deck trains like Sydney does. By using single deck rolling stock, trains could be purchased off the shelf for a much cheaper price, rather than the over-engineered cost blowouts that we are used to (see the Waratah train as a case in point).
  5. No net loss of seats – While metro trains have fewer seats than heavy rail (about 600 vs 900), the increased frequency means that there is no net loss of seats. Based on the current 18 trains an hour that cross the Harbour and proposed 28 per hour under the metro proposal, there would actually be an increase in total seats per hour of 600 (from 15,200 to 15,800), while standing capacity would double from 5,400 to 10,800 per hour. All up this is an increase of 6,000 passengers per hour, or 29% of the current capacity.
  6. Reduced operational costs – A new metro system would avoid the legacy labour costs of the current Cityrail system under Railcorp. Things like requiring both a driver AND a guard to operate each train. We no longer have drivers and conductors on buses (even Melbourne did away with conductors on its trams in the 90s). The Waratah trains are designed so that one person can operate both the driver and guard function, and there’s few reasons why they couldn’t, short of a strong union presence insisting guards be maintained. Ideally, it would be completely driverless, like in Vancouver. Those concerned about safety should remember that the incident at Waterfall was caused by the driver having a heart attack while the guard was asleep, and that the incident at Glenbrook occurred due to informal communication and not obeying rules. In other words, both tragedies (which resulted in a combined 14 deaths) may have been avoided had they been automated.
  7. Allows privatisation of metro system – Depending on your views, this is either an advantage or disadvantage. The current Liberal government would see this as an easy way to privatise a portion of the Cityrail network (likely by shifting operational responsibility to a private operator, as is done in Melbourne, rather than to sell the actual assets). A private operator, motivated by higher profits and without having the pressure of the electorate, would take a harder line against unions, achieving the previous advantage – reduced operational costs.
Vancouver SkyTrain

Sydney could potentially put in place a driverless metro like the Vancouver SkyTrain. (Source: Wikipedia)

Disadvantages of the proposed metro solution
  1. More trains, staff and stabling required – A metro system would require 50% more trains that the current heavy rail system, and each of those trains need to be staffed by a driver and guard (unless union resistance can be overcome to reduce these) and the extra trains need to be stabled somewhere, necessitating construction of new stabling yards on top of the existing ones in place. This will lead to both additional capital and operational costs.
  2. Increased capacity comes from standing, not seated passengers – This is particularly a problem for long distance passengers (such as on the Northwest/Macquarie Line). For example, Epping to Central via Macquarie is currently a 40 minute trip, and with Northwest Rail Link passengers getting on at Castle Hill or Cherrybrook potentially taking all the seats, this means a 40 minute standing room only commute into the city. Cityrail policy is that no commuter should have to stand for more than 20 minutes, and while this is unlikely to be a problem at the extreme ends of the network (the trains here are empty and seats are plentiful), it makes metro style trains unsuitable for long distance routes.
  3. Significant infrastructure still needed – In order to get Western Line passengers into the city, an additional City Relief Line must be built through the city. This is at considerable cost ($4.5bn at last count). This is in addition to changes to the signaling system and dives/flyovers required to get trains onto the appropriate track.
  4. A second Harbour Crossing would increase capacity more – There are currently 4 tracks approaching Chatswood (from Epping and Gordon) and 4 approaching Central (on the East Hills and Airport Lines) that truncate to 2 tracks. By constructing a new set of 2 tracks through the city (the City Relief Line), across the harbour (a Second Harbour Crossing) and up to Chatswood (the Chatswood to St Leonards Quadruplication) then it would allow an additional 20 trains in each direction across the harbour and through the city. That means an increase in capacity of around 24,000 passengers an hour (most of them seated), compared to only 6,000 under the metro plan (virtually all standing).
  5. Loss of flexibility – Mixing single and double deck trains on the same track will significantly reduce capacity, either due to fewer trains an hour or fewer seats per train. As a result, the metro and heavy rail systems must be entirely segregated during peak hour, leading to a loss of flexibility.
  6. Deferral of the Parramatta to Epping Line – Under the proposal, the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link would be deferred until 2036. And even then, the line would operate only as a shuttle service, running between Parramatta and Epping. Previous proposals had trains going through to St Leonards (with a quadruplicated line between Chatwood and St Leonards), before turning around and returning to Parramatta. This would link the key centres of Parramatta, Macquarie, Chatswood and St Leonards, with existing lines allowing for direct travel into the CBD.
  7. Signaling improvements can apply to heavy rail too – Something often overlooked is that the improvements to signaling required to increase frequency to 30 metro trains per hour could probably also increase heavy rail train frequency too. 24 double decker trains per hour would be a 33% increase in on the current 18 per hour, greater than the 29% mentioned earlier, without most of the other problems associated with a shift to a metro.
For me, it is the last point in disadvantages that decides it for me. If signaling changes (required for the metro proposal) can allow for an increase to 24 trains per hour using the existing rolling stock, then the entire proposal should be junked. Instead, effort should be focused on completing the Northwest and Southwest Rail Links, followed by lines already proposed and waiting for action: Parramatta to Epping and a new connection between Refern and Chatswood (the City Relief Line, a Second Harbour Crossing and Chatswood to St Leonards Quadruplication).
That, along with the mandatory complaint of “another plan?”, makes me hesitant to support the metro proposal. I can only hope one of the other 6 proposals does more to increase capacity, frequency and/or speed on the network than the one seen on the news today.

The successor to the aborted T-Card now has a name: Opal. The NSW government selected the name Opal from a list of 665 suggested names following survey results from focus groups. Rejected names included Dingo Force, Dog and Bone, Tap & Go, No Shoes, On Ya, Why Wouldn’t You, XXXXX, Legend and Smoko.

It was pointed out in the comments section of the T-Card post (link in the previous paragraph) that the PeaRL consortium responsible for the now named Opal was the one behind London’s Oyster Card. A pearl is of course a product of an oyster, and there was some speculation that this new electronic ticketing system would be named the Pearl. And while Pearl was one of the suggestions, Opal won out in the end.

Opal seems to fit in nicely, being the state gemstone, thus following the pattern set by the Waratah trains, which are named after the state flower. Much nicer, however, would be if they got a move on and actually got the new system implented, as it is scheduled to begin next year on the ferries. As I’ve mentioned before, actually scoring runs on the board by achieving things rather than just announcing plans for them seems to be a massive challenge in NSW.

The Western Line began as the Sydney to Parramatta railway, opened in 1855. This was extended out to Blacktown in 1860, to Penrith in 1863 and through the Blue Mountains by 1869. The line was electrified between Sydney CBD and Parramatta in 1928, at the same time as many other lines in the Cityrail network. The remainder of the line, between Parramatta and Penrith, would not be electrified until 1955. The Richmond Line, which connected to the Western Line at Blacktown, would not be electrified until 1991, though it was partly electrified in 1975.

There’s not a lot for me to say on this, so I’m going to talk a bit about closed lines on the Western Line (between Parramatta and Penrith, to keep on theme). Historically, there were three lines built that connected to the Western Line that would later be closed.

The first was a freight line between Toongabbie and Prospect which opened in 1902 and closed in 1945.

Another was the Ropes Creek Line, which connected up to St Marys, and was opened in the 1940s during World War 2 to service a weapons factory. The Ropes Creek Line was closed in the 1980s.

Finally is the Rogan’s Hill Line, which began as a steam tramway between Parramatta and Baulkham Hills that was opened in 1902 (later extended to Castle Hill in 1910). The tramway went up Church Street in Parramatta towards Northmead, before taking Windsor Road to Baulkham Hills and then Old Northern Road to Castle Hill. The tramway was converted to heavy rail in 1923, with a new section of the line constructed between Westmead and Northmead, then following the tramway route through to Castle Hill. Like the tramway, the rail line was single track. It was extended to Rogan’s Hill in 1924, giving the line it’s name. This line didn’t last long, and competition from buses caused it to close down in 1931, eventually allowing Windsor Road and Old Northern Roads to be widened. Today, the M60 and 600 bus roughly follows the original tramway route between Parramatta and Castle Hill.

Until the Northwest Rail Link is completed, the Rogan’s Hill Line remains the only instance of rail in Sydney’s Northwest. While the Northwest Rail Link follows a completely different alignment to the Rogan’s Hill Line (really they only intersect at Castle Hill, one is East-West and the other is North-South), there does exist a proposal to build a line that roughly follows the Rogan’s Hill alignment. This would be an underground line from Parramatta to Castle Hill via Northmead and Baulkham Hills (with probable stations at North Parramatta and Winston Hills) and last received a voice from the Parramatta Council when it tried to push for an amended Northwest Rail Link that went via Parramatta. This proposal never got off the ground, for reasons which I will cover in the future.