Archive for December, 2011

Is tomorrow’s fare increase fair?

Posted: December 31, 2011 in Transport
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Fares for public transport in Sydney tomorrow (1 January 2011) are set to increase by an average of 5.4%. This is more than double the inflation rate of 2.3% (year to September 2011 excluding volatile items, the most recent data available – Source: Reserve Bank of Australia) and so, critics have claimed, the increase is beyond a reasonable increase.


Public transport fares are set to increase by an average of 5.4% on 1 January 2012.

Transport Minister Galdys Berejiklian has defended the increase by pointing out that fares were frozen last year, and so this increase in effect is the combined fare increase for 2011 AND 2012. With inflation for the 12 months to September 2010 of 3.0% added on to the above rate of 2.3%, the 2 year inflation rate of 5.3% is equal to the average fare increase of 5.4%. Ms Berejiklian also pointed out that IPART, the independent pricing body, had recommended a fare increase of 10.6%.

On this occasion, I think the fare increase is reasonable. Real fares, adjusted for inflation, will be no higher on 1 January 2012 than they were on 1 January 2010 (the last time we saw a fare increase). Keep in mind that commuters in Melbourne are facing a 8.6% fare increase on the same day. The best bet, if you are reading this on December 31 and can afford it, is to buy periodical or multi trip tickets today before the fare hike. I’ll be buying a large number of myBus travel tens and effectively getting them at a 5.4% discount to the 2012 price.

Following on from a previous piece on medium speed rail (MSR), Transport Textbook has followed up with a possible case study for Sydney to Canberra MSR. The argument goes that by using existing lines within Sydney rather than a long tunnel into the CBD (significantly reducing the cost) and building a new alignment between the outskirts of Sydney through to central Canberra that can be scaled up to high speed rail (HSR) in future, a MSR link could provide a high speed connection between the two cities at an affordable price tag (the article quotes $3 billion, compared to the $15 billion for HSR, albeit on very rough calculations).

It could also allow for transport between the CBD’s of Sydney and Canberra, but via each city’s airport, thus making the 2 to 2.5 hour point to point trip competitive with air or car travel. There would also be benefits for freight trains travelling between Sydney and Melbourne.

Plans for the Olympic Park Line were begun after Sydney won the rights to host the 2000 Olympic games in 1993. The games were to be held on a former military and industrial site in Homebush Bay, which had an existing freight rail line. This line would be eventually converted into the Olympic Park Line, served by a single station: Olympic Park Station.

Trains to the station today are mainly shuttle services, running every 20 minutes on weekdays and 10 minutes on weekends, stopping at Lidcombe Station (on a dedicated “Sprint Platform”, nominally Platform Zero) and Olympic Park Station. During major events, additional trains will also go to Olympic Park Station from Central. There are also a few interurban trains from the Blue Mountains that go into Central Station which then go to Olympic Park Station before dead running to the Flemington stabling yards to be parked during the off-peak.

Olympic Park Station

A Tangara approaches Olympic Park Station. This train can be services by both platforms 3 and 4, while another train can simultaneously be services by platforms 1 and 2. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source:

Olympic Park Station is unique in that it has 2 platforms for each train, with passengers on the train alighting on one platform and other passengers boarding from the other platform on the other side of the train. This prevents any conflicting movements of passengers getting both on and off at the same time, reducing dwell times and allowing a more efficient movement of passengers. This was particularly useful during the Olympics, during which huge numbers of people had to be moved to and from the Olympic Park all day. However, this function has been rarely used since the Olympics (if all at).

Next week: The Airport Line.

With the chances of a Parramatta to Epping Rail Link (PERL) being built anytime soon fading rapidly (not likely to happen until 2036), Parramatta Council has begun to search for alternatives in order to meet its transport needs. The most recent proposal is a light rail network centred on Parramatta.

Parramatta Light Rail

Light rail proposal for Parramatta and its surrounding areas. Stage 1 is in yellow, green and red. Stage two is in black. Existing rail lines in solid gray, proposed Northwest Rail Link is dashed gray. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Parramatta City Council)

Stage 1 of this network is 44km of light rail – consisting of a line from Castle Hill to Bankstown via Parramatta (1a),  a second line from Westmead to Carlingford using the Carlingord heavy rail line (1b), and a third line from Dundas to Macquarie Park (1c). Stage 1 has been estimated to cost $3 billion, based on the cost of the Lilyfield-Dulwich Hill and Gold Coast light rail projects.

Stage 2 involves a further 44km extension of this network along the Northwest and Liverpool T-Ways, as well as a loop between Parramatta and Olympic Park, a link between Castle Hill and Cabramatta via Blacktown, and linking Carlingford through to Epping. Stage 2 would cost an additional $6.5 billion.

Parramatta Council’s strategy, to realise that the writing’s on the wall for the PERL and to push for something else instead, is a good one. But their tactic of pushing for this particular project seems questionable. It’s all about choosing the right mode for each area, and while I think light rail would be very well suited to some of the routes suggested, in other routes it would be like trying to fit a square peg through a round hole.

Recently most new transport infrastructure in Western Sydney has been Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in the form of T-Ways between Parramatta and Liverpool, Parramatta and Rouse Hill and Blacktown and Parklea (linking up to the Rouse Hill T-Way). There is also a significant BRT route on the M2 between Windsor Road and Epping, including 2 bus stations. The advantage of BRT is that it is cheaper than light rail (the T-Ways cost less than half per km than this proposed light rail network) and more flexible (buses aren’t locked in by where the rails go, so they can divert into suburban areas or overtake other vehicles). Where BRT falls down is on capacity and operating costs, light rail can carry more people at a lower ongoing cost. There are other benefits to light rail, people seem more willing to ride light rail than buses and they like the certainty of knowing that they go where the rails take them or that a tram will eventually come by when they see rails.

But the key thing here about BRT is that when built as a fully segregated busway, as the T-Ways are, BRT is also quite easy to upgrade to light rail in future. It’s no surprise, therefore, to see the Parramatta Council proposal suggest doing just this. And it makes sense, these T-Ways should be upgraded to light rail when they start to run into capacity constraints.

However, the proposal only includes this conversion in stage two. Stage one is basically two major connections: Westmead to Macquarie Park and Castle Hill to Bankstown. The former has a much better case for light rail than the latter.

Westmead to Macquarie Park uses an existing rail line on its Western end, which is fully segregated, and has a reservation between Eastwood and Macquarie Park on its Eastern end, which would also be fully segregated. This would leave some on-road running, but this would usually involve replacing bus lanes, resulting in no net loss of road space for private vehicles. Buses would then be re-routed to act as feeder buses to connect commuters to the light rail or heavy rail lines.

Castle Hill to Bankstown has very little of this. Most of it is along 4 lane roads which would involve either reducing them to 2 lanes of private vehicle traffic or sharing tram and car lanes. Bus lanes are limited, so are not an option as was the case with the previous route. There are few options to build light rail on new land without expensive land acquisitions as there are no reservations left along this alignment.

My knowledge of the route between Parramatta and Bankstown is sketchy, but there is does seem like the roads are less congested and that light rail could feasibly be run on-road shared with private vehicles.

So personally, I think a better option for stage one would be to merge the three lines into one line that goes from Bankstown to Parramatta and then goes through to Macquarie Park. The connections through to Carlingford and Westmead could also be built, but are not central to the core part of the line. This could then be followed up by converting the T-Ways to light rail and linking them to the existing system.

Here are two videos from Flink Labs, the same people who designed a phone app that shows you a map of where buses are which proved so popular that it crashed the server (see the end of this post). One is of Sydney Buses (i.e. no private bus routes, so it is almost exclusively the inner city and Northern Beach routes, plus the Parramatta to Liverpool T-Way) and the other of Melbourne’s trains.

Each uses GPS data and lights up the map each time a bus or train travels through a certain area. I love these sorts of maps, they make it so easy to instantly see how a system currently operates.


Sydney Buses:

Melbourne Trains:

Completed in 1996, with funding from the federal government’s Building Better Cities program, the Cumberland Line was really in effect just a few extra kms of track and a flyover. However, its effect was to allow trains on the Western Line coming from Parramatta to travel directly through to Liverpool on the South Line.

It remains the only true radial line in the Cityrail network (not counting the Carlingford Line), as it never actually passed through the CBD. Instead, it connects a number of centres in Western Sydney, including Blacktown, Parramatta, Liverpool and Campbelltown. As far as train lines go, the Cumberland Line is as small as you get, as it uses existing track for most of its length, and was created through the construction of a Y-link.

The Cumberland Line originally had a total of 70 half hourly services in each direction all day. These were slowly reduced until the 2005 timetable changes, with its need for additional rolling stock to deal with longer journey times, resulted in only 2 services to Parramatta in the morning and 3 services to Campbelltown in the evening. It is more heavily used when trackworks or network disruptions occur, allowing trains to be re-routed to the Cumberland Line rather than terminating.

Today the Cumberland Line is one of the biggest examples of spare capacity on the Cityrail network. In recent years there have been proposals from both major parties to resume half hourly services on the Cumberland Line, but despite this it remains at 5 services per day.

Next week: Olympic Park Line.

An internal memo by Railcorp CEO Rob Mason and obtained by transport lobby group Hills Transport Working Group (part of the Western Sydney Public Transport Users umbrella group) states that:

“a private sector entity will design, construct, commission, operate and maintain the North West rail link including rail and tunnel systems, track, structures and stations for a period of 20 to 30 years” under an “access model”

In light of this, Barry O’Farrell has again denied that the cost of travelling on the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) will be higher than on the rest of the Cityrail network, like with the two airport stations which currently charge an access fee of $11.80 on a single ticket. (Twitter feed image below is from the NSW politics blog A State of Mind. Click on the image for a link to the site.)

Mason has also been clarifying his statement, and last night told the Daily Telegraph (emphasis mine):

“The message to RailCorp staff this week may have created an incorrect impression that all operations and maintenance of North West Rail Link would be the responsibility of a private sector entity”

His statement suggests that the line will not be entirely run by the private sector, but will still be partly run by a private company. The Herald’s report suggests that the model will be one in which the government pays the operator, rather than for commuters to pay an additional charge.

There are two potential models for a government paid access fee. The first is to pay a fixed fee for access, which is similar how buses operate, where the government pays the operator for the distance traveled (regardless of the number of passengers) and the government collects all the fares. The other is to pay a fee for each passenger who uses the stations, which is the system currently used at Mascot and Green Square stations on the airport line, where the government pays the operator directly for the access fee that was previously paid for by passengers.

Whether or not this is a good idea depends entirely on whether you think privatisation is a good policy option or not. Detractors will argue that it is cheaper for the government to build and operate transport infrastructure, and that by getting the private sector to build and/or operate it inflates prices due to higher borrowing costs and by requiring the company to make profits. Supporters will argue that a private company has more incentives to be efficient, which will result in lower costs in the long run, and that it removes risk from public hands.

The NSW government yesterday announced the final route for the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL). This follows many months of community consultation, feedback and design changes. (For part one, go here.)


Alignment of the Northwest Rail Link and location of stations. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Key changes include:

An additional two stations. This was hinted at earlier this year. The two stations will be at Cudgegong Road and Kellyville. The Kellyville Station is actually the previously proposed Samantha Riley Drive Station, with the previously touted Kellyville Station moved further South and renamed Bella Vista. The Bella Vista Station is on the Western end of Norwest Business Park, doubling the number of stations at Norwest. Two stations at Norwest was also hinted at earlier this year, and I spoke in its favour. Despite some calls for it, the line will not be extended through Schofields and into Marsden Park, at least not yet.

A “skytrain” (viaduct). The line between Bella Vista and Rouse Hill will be on a 4km long elevated viaduct, which has been dubbed a skytrain by Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian. This was previously to be party in an open air cutting underground and partly in a viaduct above ground. Either opens would allow roads to cross the rail line without the need for level crossings. The viaduct option was cheaper, but has seen some criticism for being more of an eyesore than a cutting.

1,000 extra parking spaces, bringing the total number of park and ride spaces to 4,000.

To give you some context, there are 47,000 residents within a 1km catchment area of the 8 new stations and the government expects this to take 160 city bound M2 buses off the road, a 67% reduction or 2.5km if they were lined up on the road. 29 million people are predicted to use the NWRL per year within 5 years of its opening. The Northwest Growth Centre, which the NWRL partly travels through, is expected to see 200,000 additional residents in the next 30 years.

The cost has increased from $7 billion up to between $7.5 billion and $8.5 billion. This appears to be due to the addition of 2 stations, one of which will require the demolition of a shopping centre, and 1,000 parking spaces. Construction is expected to begin in 2014 and take 5 to 6 years, suggesting a completion date of 2019 or 2020.

Interestingly, the NSW government’s submission to Infrastructure Australia for the NWRL included only the original 6 stations and not Cudgegong or Bella Vista, nor the revised Kellyville Station. Don’t be surprised if the federal government rejects the submission on a technicality as it differs from the final version, just as they ruled out providing funding for the NWRL earlier because no submission had been lodged.

The government has not ruled out a privately built and run line, so long as there are no additional ticket costs like at the airport stations, that the line be integrated with the Cityrail network and be run with double deck trains.

I’ll have more on this tomorrow. But for now, here are the television news reports from ABC, Ten and Sevens News on the government’s Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) announcement. For more, check out the government website at and my posts on the NWRL.

The Richmond Line had been partly electrified through to Riverstone in 1975, and was finally electrified all the way to the terminus at Richmond in 1991. This completed the electrification of the suburban Cityrail network that had begun when Bradfield built the underground city subways in the 1920s and the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the 1930s. The opening of the newly electrified line was covered by Nine News on the day, video ois included below.


Despite being electrified, the line remained single track. Back in 1991 it shared this dubious claim with the Carlingford and Cronulla Lines. Since then the Cronulla Line has been fully duplicated and the Richmond Line partly duplicated (through to Schofields as of 2011). Riverstone, Mulgrave and Richmond Stations have 2 platforms, which act as passing loops to allow trains to travel in both directions despite there being only a single track. However, the large amount of single track remaining on the line means that the Richmond Line remains limited to only 2 trains per hour through to the Richmond Station terminus.

Why off-peak matters

Posted: December 9, 2011 in Transport
Tags: , ,

The challenges of providing good public transport is actually quite a different approach depending on whether it is for the peak or off-peak period. Most of the focus tends to be on the peak period, during which services tend to be relatively frequent but often run into capacity constraints. The result is things like not enough road space for buses to come into the city and drop people off or overcrowding on trains. Essentially, supply just can’t seem to keep up with demand. On the other hand, capacity is rarely a problem during the off-peak, where instead it’s a lack of commuter demand that leads to lower frequencies, often as low as half hourly or hourly services and sometimes not at all on weekends.

There’s no hard definition of peak hour, it depends on where you are, what form of transport you are taking and where you are headed, but broadly it is 6:00AM through to 9:30AM for the morning peak and 3:00PM to 6:30PM for the afternoon peak. The morning peak is more compressed, with very large numbers of people going to work or to school in the 60 minutes before 9AM. The afternoon peak, on the other hand, is more spread out. I’m guessing this is primarily due to school ending 2 hours before most workplaces, but also from people not always leaving work on time or things like staying behind for a drink with the workmates before returning home. Off-peak is the rest of the day, as well as weekends.

As a rough rule of thumb, one third of all public transport trips occur during the morning peak, one third during the afternoon peak and one third during off-peak (with most of this occurring between the peaks – i.e. 9:30AM to 3:00PM). Not only does peak hour account for the majority of patronage (about 2 out of every 3 trips), but it’s also much more suited to public transport as it’s primarily work travel. About a third of all jobs are clustered around major centres, which in Sydney are places like the CBD, North Sydney, Parramatta, Liverpool, but also business parks like Macquarie, Norwest, Rhodes or Olumpic Park.

Public transport is quite successful during peak hour. You can measure this by looking at journeys to work (JTW), which measure the proportion of trips to work based on the primary mode of transport. The 2006 census found that in Greater Sydney, public transport had a 26.3% JTW share (source), and this gets as high as 70.0% in the CBD (source). Meanwhile, the Household Travel Survey from 2007 finds that for ALL trips (including work and non-work trips), public transport’s share of trips falls to 10.8% (source). This latter figure is a bit misleading, as about 18% of all trips are on foot, so stripping out this figure gives a public transport share of non-walking trips of about 13%. And remember that this isn’t just for non-work trips but rather for ALL trips, so we can expect non-work trips (a proxy for off-peak) to be even less than that.

So the off-peak has fewer services and lower patronage. This leads to a bit of a chicken vs egg debate. Did the service levels get cut because demand wasn’t there, or is demand low because the service levels are insufficient? It’s probably a bit of both, and I’m not going to try to argue that if you had peak hour level frequencies then you’d get peak hour level patronage. But I do think that off-peak services do matter.

And here’s why:

  1. During the off-peak, it’s very important for transport to offer everywhere to everywhere services. This is because travel during the off-peak is much less likely to be of the suburb to major centre type that peak hour transport is. But this doesn’t mean having bus routes that pass right in front of your house that can take you anywhere else in Sydney. What it means is having frequent services that take you to an interchange, where you can get another service that takes you where you want.
  2. Peak hour is very well patronised, and probably breaks even or runs at a profit. But off-peak is not, and as a result public transport only recovers 25 to 50 cents in fares out of every dollar it costs to run. In order to increase the cost recovery, patronage needs to be improved during the off-peak.
  3. Increasing public transport use means more voters are using the public transport system. Almost all voters are regular drivers, but only a minority are regular public transport users. In order to build strong political support for improvements to public transport, an increase in the number of users is needed.
  4. Few capacity constraints exist during the off-peak, with the system designed to take on the much busier peak periods. The track, trains, buses and stations are there and paid for whether they are fully utilised or not.

To quote Jarret Walker of Human Transit: frequency is freedom. The PTUA in Melbourne has been running a 10 minutes to everywhere campaign for a few years now, where all trains, trams and major buses would run at 10 minute frequencies all day. This is important because it makes walk up and go transport possible, which is necessary in order to convince casual public transport users to catch a bus or train rather than drive.  The Sydney Alliance is pushing for, amongst other things, all day 15 minute frequencies in Sydney.

So what is the right frequency? 10 minutes? 15 minutes? Again, there’s no correct answer. But as far as frequencies go, I personally am a huge fan of the metrobus network in Sydney. All metrobuses run at 10 minute frequencies during the peaks, every 15 minutes during the day between the peaks, and every 20 minutes during evenings and weekends. It’s KISS – keep it simple stupid. That way you know that no matter where you go in Sydney where metrobuses run, you will know that they run everyday without having to worry about the timetable.

Liverpool T-Way patronage

Patronage on the T-80, a high frequency all day bus route, rose steadily from 60,000 per month when it first began, to 230,000 per month in 2011. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: STA Annual Report, page 51.)

It is here where the chicken and egg issue comes back. Build a good, frequent, all day service and people will use it. The M10, the first metrobus service to be introduced, today has 187,000 passengers per month, Meanwhile, the T80, which runs all day with better than metrobus frequencies along a dedicated bus only transit way between Parramatta and Liverpool via industrial and low density housing areas, has 230,000 passengers per month (source).

There’s also plenty of low hanging fruit remaining. For example, almost all trains stations West and South of Parramatta do not have 15 minute frequencies all day. Often this is because of half hourly frequencies for a few hours in the middle of the day.

For more on frequencies, check out my other post this week on Transport frequency in Sydney.

Two links today about frequency of transport in Sydney. Both talk about 15 minute frequencies, and routes that maintain that level of frequency all day every day. I’m not sure how the 15 minute frequency was agreed on as the right amount, as opposed to say 10 minutes or 20 minutes (I’ve heard stories of Hong Kong commuters spitting the dummy when they discover that the next train is a whole 4 minutes away, so I guess it’s all relative). But as a rule of thumb, I think 15 minutes is frequent enough that you can afford to turn up to your bus stop or train station without having to worry about a timetable, so long as you’re not in a rush.

Sydney transport frequencies. (Source: Human Transit.)

Sydney transport frequencies. (Source: Human Transit.)

The first is by Jarret Walker from Human Transit, which shows maps of buses, trains, ferries and the light rail in Sydney based on their frequency (60, 30 or 15 minutes). It has a layout much like a transit map, so is not to scale with the actual city, but gives you a good idea of the routes. I noticed a few inaccuracies (in particular in the rail network with some stations on the Western and South Lines which have 15 minute frequencies all day on both weekdays and weekends but are shown as having less than 15 minute frequencies), but overall it’s quite a good visual guide. A number of maps are shown – I’ve included one above.

Transport frequencies in Western Sydney - 60 minutes, 30 minutes and 15 minutes. (Source: WSPTU.)

Transport frequencies in Western Sydney – 60 minutes, 30 minutes and 15 minutes. (Source: WSPTU.)

The other is from the Western Sydney Public Transport Users blog, which shows a map of Western Sydney with transport frequencies. Each map shows 60, 30 and 15 minute frequencies and what area of Western Sydney is within 400m of public transport. Bus routes are seen as long rectangular shapes following the route, while train stations are a radius around the station.

These maps come from a presentation given by the Sydney Alliance, a coalition of churches, trade unions and community groups that is pushing for (amongst other things) improved public transport. Their slogan is for transport that is no more than 400m from your home/work, comes at least every 15 minutes, can be taken with just 1 ticket and is safe, clean, accessible and affordable, which shortens to a catchy 400:15:1:SCA2.

Again, there a few things I might take issue with. One is the exclusion of metro bus routes which, even though they technically don’t meet the criteria, I think are frequent enough (they run at 20 minute intervals on weekends but 10-15 minutes during the week). Another is having a radius of only 400m around train stations, when people are willing to walk further to a train station than a bus stop (and is why 800m is usually used for train stations). However, technically speaking, the maps are correct based on the criteria used, and give a different (but still correct) visual representation of frequency in Sydney.

I only wish I could see a similar map for the Eastern Suburbs or the Inner West, which actually do have quite a few 15 minute frequencies (or often better) all day.

It seems I missed a few events in the East Hills Line between 1932 and 1987, so I’ll start off by covering those.

The East Hills Line was first opened in 1931, consisting of an electrified double track between Tempe and Kingsgrove, then a single non-electrified track between Kingsgrove through to East Hills. The line was fully electrified in 1939 and duplication extended from Kingsgrove through to Riverwood in 1948.

Cityrail network map, prior to the East Hills Line extension. Technically it was called State Rail at the time, not Cityrail. (Source: Historical NSW Railway Timetables)

Cityrail network map, prior to the East Hills Line extension. Technically it was called State Rail at the time, not Cityrail. (Source: Historical NSW Railway Timetables)

The line between Riverwood and East Hills remained single track until 1987, when it would be duplicated as part of the extension of the line to meet up with the South Line at Glenfield. This allowed East Hills Line trains to go all the way between Campbelltown or Macarthur in Sydney’s Southwest through to the Sydney CBD. The new line was opened on December 21, 1987 by then NSW Premier Barrie Unsworth (see video below).


Next week: electrification of the Richmond line.

Two videos of trains which go right through markets today. The first is of  Mae Klong market near Bangkok in Thailand. And by right through, I mean right through, there is virtually no space between where the stalls are and where the train runs through. The second is Juliaca’s Market in Peru, and is filmed from the back of the train. Both are amazing for someone used to Western style suburban or metro train systems.