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).