Archive for January, 2012

Jarrett Walker at Human Transit likes to point out that “frequency is freedom”. This is the idea that, at some point, public transport is so frequent that you can throw away the timetable and just “turn up and go”. Frequency like this is even more important in an integrated network where connections are common, as commuters are waiting for not just one bus/train/tram/ferry but two or more.

But how frequent is this exactly? Is it every 5-7 minutes? Is it every 10 minutes? Is 15 minutes enough? It appears that transport experts agree it is somewhere in this range (between 5 to 15 minutes), any less frequent and people start relying on their timetables, any more frequent and the time saving of a few minutes no longer makes a difference.

For a good discussion on the topic, check out Jarrett Walker’s blog post on the topic: How frequent is freedom? Make sure to read the comments section!!

And for more on frequency in a Sydney context, take a look at my previous post on transport frequency in Sydney.

The short answer is no. Unless you consider 2036 to be soon.

The Parramatta to Epping Rail Link (PERL) was planned to be built by the previous Keneally Labor government and had obtained a $2.1 billion funding commitment from the Commonwealth Labor government to get it built. This was promised during the 2010 federal election campaign and seen as a porkbarelling exercise to get more Labor MPs elected from Western Sydney, which would benefit from this new line. The state Liberal opposition, under Barry O’Farrell, instead promised to build the Northwest Rail Link (PERL) and to defer the PERL.

O’Farrell beat Keneally, and this resulted in a deadlock between the NSW and Commonwealth governments, each having promised to fund or build one line and not the other. O’Farrell argues that the NWRL is more critical and wants the $2.1 billion of funding transferred from the PERL to the NWRL, but has declared that he will build it whether he gets the money or not. If no agreement is reached, then everyone loses.

Personally, I think the only was to get a solution here is to form some sort of compromise. Something that links Parramatta to Macquarie Park (which is what the PERL is designed to do) would do this, thus allowing the Commonwealth Government to be satisfied that its election promise has been satisfied, albeit with a non-heavy rail solution, while allowing the NSW government to focus on the NWRL.

BusNSW have put forward one option that would do this – a bus only transitway (like the current T-Ways between Parramatta and Rouse Hill/Liverpool) between Parramatta and Macquarie Park. The advantage of this option is the low cost: $250 milion, compared to a revised $4.4 billion cost of the PERL. Note: News story in video below starts at 0:20 seconds.

Parramatta Council have also offered proposals. Their first was a re-routing of the NWRL via Parramatta and then along the PERL alignment. This proposal was unworkable as it would delay trips between the Northwest and Macquarie Park/Chatswood/St Leonards/North Sydney, while also relying on an already strained Parramatta-CBD rail corridor to transport commuters into the city. As there was also good transport links between Parramatta and the Northwest via the existing T-Way, the NSW government rejected this proposal. I personally agree with the state government in this case.

More recently, Parramatta Council proposed building light rail instead of heavy rail in order to connect Parramatta to major centres in Western Sydney, including Macquarie Park.

Ultimately, I am not as fussed about the mode of transport chosen as much as I am about the willingness of the different parties to negotiate and come to an agreement on this issue. On that basis, I think Parramatta Council is onto a winner with its strategy. The same cannot be said of the NSW or Commonwealth governments, who up until now have not budged from their positions and have not showed any hints of accepting a compromise outcome.


The Richmond Line goes North-West through the middle of the North West Growth Centre (the dark green area on the left). The Northwest Rail Link can be seen in blue and purple. Note: There is a more current version of this map with up to date station locations for the NWRL. Click on image for link for higher resolution. (Source:

The NSW government has a history of duplicating the Richmond piece by piece. The first piece was a duplication through to Quakers Hill. This has allowed additional trains to run between Quakers Hill and Blacktown. So whereas the rest of the line through to Richmond is limited to a frequency of 2 trains per hour (TPH), Quakers Hill manages 6TPH during an hour in the morning peak and 4TPH during an hour in the evening peak.

Plans are currently in place to duplicate the line through to Vineyard. This will result in the 4 stations in proximity to the Northwest Growth Centre (NWGC) – Quakers Hill, Schofields, Riverstone and Vineyard – having a complete track pair running through them. There are an additional 70,000 dwellings planned for the NWGC over the next 25-30 years, which will see an additional 200,000 people reside in the area. Duplication of the Richmond Line is one strategy the government has to provide additional transport infrastructure for the area (as clearly a single track of heavy rail will be insufficient).

Interestingly, the Northwest Rail Link as currently planned only barely penetrates the NWGC (see map). However there is significant scope in place to extend it through to Schofields Station, Marsden Park and then the Western Line, probably at Mount Druitt, thus linking it up with both the Richmond and Western Lines. This remains idle speculation at this point, and is little more than a “long term corridor” to be considered post-2040.

Two new lines were constructed in preparation for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The first one to open was the Olympic Park Line to the main Olympics site, and opened many years prior to the games. The second, a line to Sydney’s Kingsford-Smith airport, did not open until the year 2000 itself.  Constructed in conjunction with the private sector, this would be the first rail Private Public Partnership (PPP) in NSW and was considered such a failure that no future rail projects since (other than the Waratah trains) have made use of PPPs.

Green Square Station

The 4 underground stations on the Airport Line all have a modern subway look. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Bambul Shakibaei)

The line consisted of 5 new stations, one South of Tempe (Wolli Creek) and 4 underground stations between Wolli Creek and Central (Domestic and International Airport stations, Mascot and Green Square).

The 4 underground stations have a very modern subway feel to them, much like the Eastern Suburbs Line before it or the Epping to Chatswood Line after it. These 4 stations are also privately owned and operated, with the track and trains publicly owned and operated. What this means is that the private operator charges a station access fee to anyone wanting to get on or off at one of these stations (though not to anyone merely passing through them) and requires Cityrail to run a minimum number of trains each hour through these stations.

This access fee was relatively low ($2.60) for Green Square and Mascot, which are suburban stations, but much higher at ($11.80) at the two airport stations. As this was on top of any regular fare, it meant a single adult fare from Central to Domestic Airport Station cost $15.00 in 2011. Given a large proportion of people using the airport stations are not residents of Sydney (or even Australia) and that the cost of transport from the city to the airport is similar in Melbourne ($16 on the Skybus), I actually think this is an appropriate price and to subsidise it would mean subsidising foreign tourists as well as locals.

This thinking was probably part of the reason why in 2011 the NSW government decided to eliminate the station access fee for the 2 suburban stations, but not the 2 airport station. (It did this by agreeing to pay the access fee directly to the private operator, rather than requiring passengers to do it). This proved to be hugely successful, and 3 months later patronage had surged by 70% (compared to 20% growth that the line has seen in previous years). Talk later emerged of a possibility of extending this to the airport stations, perhaps as a 50% subsidy rather than full elimination of the access fee, but nothing subsequently materialised.

Wolli Creek station is worth mentioning. It was built on the Illawarra Line just South of where the East Hills Line separates from it and goes West toward Campbelltown. The new Airport Line runs perpendicular to the Illawarra Line, connecting up with the East Hills Line in its Westward direction. This new line runs physically underneath Wolli Creek and has an additional 2 platforms along with the 2 platforms for the Illawarra Line trains, allowing passengers to transfer from Airport Line trains to Illawarra/Eastern Suburbs Line trains or vice versa.

Airport Line

Express trains to/from Campbelltown still go via Sydenham, as seen by the dashed line. All other East Hills Line trains now go via the Airport Line. Click on image for full network map. (Source: Cityrail)

The Airport Line had a major benefit of helping to untangle the Cityrail network. Most trains on the East Hills Line (and all during the off-peak) now travel to and from the city via the Airport Line rather than via Sydenham (which is now used almost exclusively for Illawarra and Bankstown trains). This increased the capacity into the city from the South from 2 track pairs to 3 track pairs. However the real benefit comes from untangling the complex web of lines that make up the Cityrail network. What it now means is that any delays between Tempe and Redfern will often not flow on to East Hills Line trains, as (other than a few express trains during peak hour) they do not use that part of the network anymore.

It is looking more and more likely that Sydney’s troubled monorail will be removed from CBD. Sydney City Council has wanted the monorail removed to make way for light rail, with Lord Mayor Clover Moore having opposed the monorail ever since it was first built back in the late 80s when she was the local state MP (see video below). Now it appears that the state government is also shifting to a position to tear down the monorail, having told the redevelopers of the Entertainment Centre (through which the monorail passes through) “don’t let the monorail constrain your thinking”.

The history of the monorail dates back to the 80s, when redevelopment of Darling Harbour (along with neighbouring Pyrmont and Ultimo) was a major urban renewal project designed to co-incide with bicentenary celebrations planned for 1988. Part of this urban renewal included plans for a new transport link into the area. The choice came down to light rail or a monorail. The decision to ultimately go with the monorail appears to have been a political one, motivated by the minister responsible Laurie Brereton, who took responsibility for the project out of the committee and into his own hands. A detailed SMH article explaining the behind the scenes events that led up to this was published in 1988 notes that the light rail option was described as the “best long-term solution” but that the monorail was chosen because Mr Brereton personally supported it, as did Premier Neville Wran.

Pitt Street

Pitt Street is currently a one way street with 2 traffic lanes and 2 parking lanes (one on each side). The monorail pylons prevent the lane on the left from being turned back into a traffic lane. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Google Maps)

A light rail line would eventually be built in 1997 between Central and Lilyfield which is now being extended through to Dulwich Hill. The current O’Farrell state government has also pledged to extend this further through the CBD (most likely down George Street), to Sydney University and to UNSW. However, putting the light rail on George Street would mean re-diverting some traffic down other streets (potentially removing all private vehicle traffic altogether from portions of George Street) and one option is to make Pitt Street a two way street again by removing the monorail’s pylons from the ground and thus allowing a constant flow of traffic along what is now a parking lane only (see image).

I had previously supported the idea of keeping the monorail, it’s already been built and runs at no expense to tax payers. But if removing it in order to replace it with a more effective and more efficient light rail system would improve transport options, then I think it’s a good move.

The state government recently officially declared that George Street is now the favoured route for a CBD light rail extension, with trams likely to soon travel from Central to Circular Quay via George Street, before continuing along Hickson Road to Barangaroo. Sydney Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, has been pushing for such a route for a few years now, and hopes that light rail will transform George Street. Part of this transformation will be to pedestrianise a large part of George Street, banishing cars (and probably buses too), leaving only light rail, bicycles and pedestrians.

Melbourne has recently decided to take such an approach with Swanston Street, its main tram route through the city. Swanston Street has been car free during certain times of the day for many years now, but will soon be entirely free of vehicle traffic – currently one block has been completed, with a tram super stop installed.

Daniel Bowen wrote a piece about the new tram super stop shortly after it opened last month. If Clover gets her way, Swanston Street would give us a good idea of what a future George Street might look like.