Archive for June, 2012

Cadbury Joyville steam train

Posted: June 29, 2012 in Personal, Transport

One of the highlights of passing through a train station or transport interchange on a regular basis is passing by people handing out free samples. Yesterday at Central Station there were not only people from Cadbury handing out free chocolate, but there was also a 1913 era steam train (a 2705 steam locomotive), restored in the purple Cadbury colours as part of its Joyville marketing campaign.

2705 steam engine

I was tipped off about it a few days beforehand via a cryptic tweet and allowed to ride in one of the carriages on the train between Central and Sydenham, with a stop at Redfern Station, before it returned to Central Station.

Cryptic tweet

There were a few other rail enthusiasts on board, some of whom had gotten up at 5AM to get in early for some photos of the steam train arriving. The train did 3 runs: 10AM, 12PM and 4PM. We were on the midday one.

Also present was a band that played music. I didn’t get a very good shot of them at Redfern or Sydenham as we mostly had to stay inside the train, but I was able to film them for a little bit at Central. At Redfern there was a purple mat that they stood on, and luckily a train stopped on the other side of the platform and dropped off a bunch of passengers who were able to see them play and grab some chocolate, as it was only at Redfern and Sydenham for a few minutes in order to fit in with the train timetable.

In between stations I managed to have a bit of a walk inside the train. This is the first time I’d been on a steam train, and it was quite luxurious. Clearly rail was the chosen mode of travel by those able to afford it 99 years ago, with big seats and tables for everyone. There were even framed photos on the walls as decorations.

And of course there was the reason all of this was here – the free chocolate!

Free chocolate


Duplication of the Richmond Line began in 2002, when it was duplicated through to Quakers Hills. Plans to extend the duplication were then announced in 2003 as part of the Clearways Project, which sought to increase capacity on the existing network by removing bottlenecks rather than by building new lines. This extension was split into 2 parts: the first between Quakers Hill and Schofields, the second between Schofields and Vineyard. While the second part was deferred, and now appears to have been scrapped entirely, the first was completed in 2011.

This was not without its controversy. The duplication required the demolition of the old station, which had only a single platform, and the construction of a new station located 800 South of the existing one. The long term plan is to develop the area around the new station with shops and housing, however at the time of opening there was little more than a few houses and an empty paddock on each side of the station (see images below).

Schofields houses

View from Schofields Station, looking East. (Source: author)

Schofields padock

View from a citybound train leaving Schofields station, looking West. (Source: author)

This has left the old town centre isolated from the new train station. It has also moved the station a 10 minute walk away from where it used to be, which for many locals would have been literally on their doorstep. Probably because of this, there was little celebration when the new station opened, with the government not even acknowledging the opening of a new piece of transport infrastructure. Keep in mind that this is a government that has made transport infrastructure its number one issue and that there will be no new transport infrastructure projects opened until the Dulwich Hill light rail extension is completed in 2014, not long before the next state election.

Schofields Town Centre

The old Schofields town centre. (Source: author)

Going forward, it is possible that the Northwest Rail Link may also be extended through and past Schofields, making this station an interchange between the Northwest’s 2 major rail lines.

The announcement of a stand alone Northwest Rail Link, followed up with a Second Harbour Crossing, has been criticised as a broken promise by the O’Farrell Government. What has received less attention is the unanswered questions that this announcement leaves. It’s important to remember that the main reason why Infrastructure Australia refused to back funding for the NWRL was a number of unanswered questions in the submission by the NSW government.

  • Will the NWRL use driverless trains?
This question was raised earlier and hosed down by Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian, who said she planned for trains on the NWRL “to have drivers”. But given the recent back flips this question deserves to be asked again, particularly considering the NSW Auditor General recently found drivers spend only one third of their time actually driving trains. Perhaps the government only intends to introduce ATO (Automatic Train Operation) and ATP (Automatic Train Protection), then running trains on “auto-pilot” but with a staffed train so that someone can take over if need be (as is the case on all commercial airlines these day). This could allow one person to act as driver and guard, as is the case in London or Singapore (which have automatically operated trains, but maintain someone on board to open/close doors and take over for manual operation if needed).
  • Will the NWRL tunnels be big enough for double deck trains, or only big enough for single deck trains?
Smaller tunnels would probably end up being cheaper, but would also further isolate the new metro portion of the network by preventing double deck trains from using it.
  • What happened to the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link?
Previous reports suggested that this had been deferred to 2036, but would still eventually be built. This new announcement makes no mention of the PERL. Perhaps it has been abandoned altogether due to the high price of a Second Harbour Crossing (costed at $10bn by industry experts). If it has, then will there be an alternative transport connection built to connect Parramatta to Macquarie Park (such as light rail or bus rapid transit).
  • Why isn’t the Inner West Line being included in the future metro network South of the Harbour?
Previous incarnations of this plan (here and here) did include the Inner West Line as a metro line. The high density housing along this line, along with stations spaced quite close to each other and the potential to separate this line from the rest of the network made it a good candidate for conversion to metro.
  • How will the Northern Line operate?
It is clear that trains will no longer go from Hornsby to the City via Macquarie Park anymore, and there have also been reports that Northern Line trains will go to Sydney Terminal at Central Station rather than going through the City and then across the Harbour. But the Northern Line is mostly dual track, meaning express trains have trouble overtaking slower local trains that stop all stations. This makes it difficult to increase services on the Northern Line. Yet increasing capacity on this line would alleviate much of the pressure from passengers on the NWRL, who would then have the option of changing either at Epping or Chatswood for CBD journeys.
  • Will there be a reduction in M2 buses before a Second Harbour Crossing is built?
The government had previously planned for a 66% reduction in M2 buses from the Northwest into the CBD once the NWRL opened, but that was when the NWRL would connect directly into the CBD itself. This seems to boil down to a question of where to put the congestion: trains from the North Shore into the City (which are at 110% of capacity) or buses from the M2 in the Sydney CBD (which is currently overflowing with buses coming across the Harbour Bridge).
  • Will the Richmond Line be attached to the Cumberland Line?
This has also been raised in the media as a possibility, yet speculation was not confirmed nor denied in the government’s recent announcement. Will trains from Richmond now run South towards Liverpool rather than East into the City?
  • Will quadruplication of track between St Leonards and Chatswood be fast tracked?

Of the proposed link between Chatswood and the CBD, this portion is the quickest, cheapest and easiest to complete given that it is short, above ground and requires little or no land acquisitions. It also connects directly to the terminus of the proposed metro line, extending it to St Leonards, which should also go some way to reducing the strain on capacity that will be caused on city bound North Shore Line trains.

Gladys fixing the trains

Unanswered questions remain for the Transport Minister. (Source: Sydney Morning Herald)

None of this takes into account the Second Harbour Crossing. Ms Berejiklian has refused to discuss details on that, saying that not enough work has been done on it to comment on the timetable or cost. Yet one thing that does seem to be clear is that this crossing will be under the Harbour, and thus result in a very expensive crossing. So there is one more question that must be asked:
  • Will all options for a Second Harbour Crossing be explored?

New track could be hung underneath the Bridge. Alternatively, the Easternmost lanes on the Bridge could be converted to rail, as they were when the Sydney Harbour Bridge opened, and a new road tunnel built under the Harbour (more cheaply than a rail one) to maintain roadspace for private vehicles. A new underground rail tunnel is surely not the only option, although it probably is the most expensive one and therefore most likely to either be cancelled/deferred or to suck the oxygen out for many other infrastructure projects.

The announcement on the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) and how it will fit in with the rest of the rail network contained a number of broken promises. Promises to use double deck trains rather than a single deck metro, to not privatise rail, and to run the NWRL directly into the CBD.

Of these broken promises, the first hasn’t caused much angst other than a perceived reduction in seats, but as Premier Barry O’Farrell has pointed out: services every 5 minutes means there will actually be more seats available than with services running every 15 minutes. The second broken promise is a grey area, and comparisons have been made to the Airport Line, with its privately owned stations and $11 access fee ontop of the regular fare. While the NWRL will be privately operated, the government will still own the infrastructure: stations and rolling stock, as it does with ferries, all non STA-buses and the light rail (all of which are also privately operated). This means that fears of additional access fees, as happens on the Airport Line, will probably not happen, especially given the government knows how unpopular such a decision would be.

However, it’s the final broken promise that will probably get traction: no direct services into the CBD. It’s understandable why people are angry about this. If passengers have to get off at Chatswood, and North Shore trains already run at an average of 110% capacity, then how will they handle all the passengers from the NWRL unloading off a train every 5 minutes? The problem with this thinking is that it assumes that one variable will change (number of trains from the NWRL) while another remains static (number of trains from the North Shore Line). The reality is that these changes would allow for an additional 6 trains per hour to run on the North Shore Line (4 that now turn around at Chatswood rather than continuing into the CBD and 2 from existing spare capacity), an increase in capacity of over 40% for the North Shore Line. Signalling upgrades could increase this further to almost a 70% increase. The simplified timetable (which reduces the number of lines using that track from 2 to 1) also means fewer disruptions.

The problem with this promise is really that it should never have been made in the first place, as it took the best option off the table (as dictated by the the lack of CBD capacity). The bigger mistake here would be to follow through on a bad promise, rather to bite the bullet and make the unpopular but right decision.

Sidenote: I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with me on this. But I’ve never been a fan of oppositions making promises of what they will do in government before they know all the facts. I have a lot of respect for governments that do go back on their promises when they realise those were a mistake. Though I would have preferred that they not make a hollow promise in the first place.

Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian’s comments seem to reflect this thinking:

“I assumed when I became Transport Minister that double decks were the way to go but expert advice, community input, industry input, demostrates to me and also looking at what happens around the world, the best way to go for the north-west rail line is single deck” – Gladys Berejiklian, Transport Minister (20 June 2012)

And I think she’s right. This is all part of a process to simplify Sydney’s rail network, so that each line is completely separate, with its own stopping pattern and own rolling stock. The mixed system currently means dropping to the lowest common denominator: a delay in one part of the network spills over to the rest of the network, express trains cannot overtake local trains, passengers wait for their specific train on overcrowded platforms rather than catching the next one causing long dwell times at stations, etc.

Sydney metro network

The proposed future Sydney metro network. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Sydney’s Rail Future, Transport for NSW)

Despite my personal misgivings towards a metro in the past, I’ve recently become a supporter of such an idea. A single deck metro system is off the shelf, meaning Sydney could just buy trains designed for the rest of the world rather than expensive custom made trains. If they are driverless, or atleast combine the role of driver and guard thanks to automation, then high frequencies can be maintained all day. And by moving to a private operator, this will also side step the bureaucracy and poor customer service of Railcorp and the resistant trade unions that value their working conditions above a good transport network.

Tomorrow I’ll put up my third and final post on this topic. It will be about unanswered questions arising out of this announcement.

The NSW government yesterday announced its biggest change to Sydney’s train network. I will put up some more about this tomorrow. Today I’m just going to outline the changes. The Northwest Rail Link will be connected up to the Epping to Chatswood Rail Link and operated privately. This new line will run as a shuttle and use single deck metro trains running every 5 minutes in a high frequency turn up and go manner. This is what we can expect trains and stations on the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) to look like: As the new line will be separate to the rest of the network, this means they will not be connected to the CBD. The government had previously promised direct services into the city, and so this represents a broken election promise. This was reiterated by Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian herself in 12 December of last year:

Jacob Saulwick Twitter 20 June 2012

Instead, the government will fast track a Second Harbour Crossing, linking Chatswood to Redfern. The NWRL will then connect up to the Bankstown Line and also continue through to Hurstville, all on frequent, rapid, single deck trains. This is what the Sydney Trains network will build up to: Eventually it will be separated into 3 tiers: NSW Trains (blue), Sydney Trains (yellow) and a future single deck metro system (red):

Sydney 3 tier train network

This proposal would split Sydney up into 3 tiers for long, medium and short trips. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Sydney’s Rail Future, Transport for NSW)

These sorts of trains (single deck metros) are best suited for where there is a high turnover of passengers, with lots of people getting both on and off, which is why it is being introduced in the Global Economic Arc of Sydney CBD-North Sydney-St Leonards-Chatswood-Macquarie Park-Norwest. Premier Barry O’Farrell and Ms Berejiklian were quick to begin selling the new plan, which would include:

  • An increase in CBD capacity by 60%, equivalent to 100,000 passengers per hour.
  • Frequent and rapid services on a new single deck metro line.
  • A privately operated line with timetables and fares set by the government, in line with the rest of the network.
  • A simplification of the rest of the network, continuing to split it off into separate sectors so that problems in one sector do not spill over into others.

Opposition Leader John Robertson and Shadow Transport Minister Penny Sharpe criticised the announcement, pointing out that:

  • The promised CBD link is not there and passengers will need to change onto North Shore or Northern Line trains which average peak hour use of 110% and 150% of capacity respectively.
  • The NWRL will be privately operated, despite Mr O’Farrell having said he “went to the election with a platform of promises and rail privatisation was not one of those policies”, further pointing out that the other privately run line (the Airport Line) charges a premium of up to $11 to use its stations and so “there is every chance that passengers will be forced to pay higher fares”.

Media reports

Sydney transport shake-up: plan for single deck metro-style trains and second harbour crossing, Sydney Morning Herald

NW rail line won’t reach Sydney CBD, ABC News

Some of the smaller transport stories from the last 2 months. In chronological order:

Moorebank intermodal freight terminal (23 April)

The Federal government is to build a $1.6bn freight terminal in Moorbank in Sydney’s Southwest. The site will connect to a freight rail line with a direct link to the Port Botany, Chullora and Enfield industrial areas as well as the Southern Sydney Freight and Northern Sydney Freight Lines currently being constructed. The end result will be an estimated 3,300 truck trips taken off roads and onto rail each day.

Moorebank Intermodal

The proposed Moorebank Intermodal freight terminal will be located in Southwest Sydney, with rail access to take trucks off the road. (Source: Department of Infrastructure and Transport)

The decision to go ahead with this project has been criticised by Qube Logistics, a group headed up by Chris Corrigan, which wanted to build and operate such a site itself. The advantage of Qube’s proposed terminal would be that it could be built at no cost to the taxpayer. However, the government site is both larger and closer to the freight rail line and it would also avoid the problem of a player in the logistics industry (Qube Logistics) owning a key piece of infrastructure and thereby being able to deny access to its competitors.

Crowding on trains is increasing (3 May)

Morning peak hour trains have an average of 1.23 passengers per available seat, an increase on 1.19 in the last year. According to the Cityrail report, the most crowded trains are on the Bankstown Line and the Western Line carries the most passengers, with only trains from the Eastern Suburbs and Blue Mountains having spare seats on average.

Train patronage March 2012

Train patronage March 2012. (Source: Cityrail)

Sydney Ferries will be privately operated starting July (3 May)

Veolia Transdev and Transfield Services will take over operation of Sydney Ferries as soon as next month. Ownership and planning of ferries, as well as the setting and collection of fares, will remain with the government and the Sydney Ferries brand will remain unchanged. Making ferries operate under a franchising model will bring them into line with the system used for the private bus network aswell as the light rail line, both of which are (mostly) publicly owned but privately operated. If this change results in a reduction in the cost to the government of operating the ferry network then expect speculation on whether the government will look to expand franchising to Sydney Buses and the rail network (particularly CountryLink).

Railcorp to be split into 2 entities (15 May)

Railcorp will be split into Sydney Trains (which will run the suburban part of the Cityrail network) and NSW trains (which will run the intercity part of the Cityrail network and the entirety of the CountryLink network). As part of this, 750 back office staff will be offered voluntary redundancies in order to cut costs and responsibility for cleaning will be put into a new subsidiary unit in order to improve cleanliness on trains and at stations. Nationals backbencher Andrew Gee denies that this is a step towards privatising CountryLink/NSW Trains. However, this would not appear to extend to a franchising of NSW Trains, as is being done with Sydney Ferries, particularly if the ferries plan is a success financially.

Quiet carriages made permanent (23 May)

After a trial of so called quiet carriages, they are to be made a permanent feature of Newcastle and Central Coast trains. A trial will now be done on the Blue Mountains and South Coast Lines.

1,200 new park and ride spots (29 May)

An additional 1,200 car parking spaces will be built at stations in order to encourage train use, as well as improvements to transport interchanges such as lifts, kiss and rise zones, and bus interchanges. Big winners are Sutherland (300 spaces), Oak Flats (230 spaces), Lindfield (240 spaces), and Gordon (160 spaces).

I sometimes wonder if park and ride is the most cost effective way of improving train patronage. For example, each new parking spot in Oak Flats costs $25,000, and is quite reasonable. But the cost for the other 3 stations ranges from $123,000 to $275,000 per parking space. (These amounts are inflated as they include the cost of other improvements, but are a good rough guide.) Above a certain price it surely must make sense to re-direct that money towards funding feeder buses rather than parking spaces.

The Cronulla end of the Illawarra Line was one of the last to be electrified, but also one of the first to be electrified through to its terminus. However, despite some duplication of track in the 1980s, it was not until 2010 that the line was fully duplicated all the way between Sutherland and Cronulla Stations. This lifted the cap on the number of trains that could travel along what was previously a single track of rail.

In conjunction with improvements on the city end of the line, including the construction of the Eastern Suburbs Line (which moved Illawarra Line trains from the City Circle and sent them towards Bondi Junction instead) and then the completion of a turnback at the Bondi Junction Station terminus (increasing the capacity at that station from about a dozen trains per hour to 20 trains per hour), this allowed a significant increase in the total peak capacity of the line. As a result, it is now possible to easily run 20 trains per hour on the Eastern Suburbs/Illawarra Line.

NSW Opposition Leader John Robertson has called on the NSW Government to build both the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) and Parramatta to Epping Rail Link (PERL), arguing that it doesn’t have to be one or the other and that federal government funding means it could build the PERL for only $520m while the Commonwealth contributes $2.1bn.


Labor wants both the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link (red) and the Northwest Rail Link (black) to be built. The proposed NWRL alignment has been slightly modified since this map was published last year. (Source: Sydney Morning Herald)

The reality is not quite as simple. Mr Robertson is using outdated figures, as the $2.6bn cost for the PERL has since blown out to $4.4bn. This means that the state government’s contribution wouldn’t be the affordable $520m quoted, but more than 4 times that: $2.3bn. This could just about pay to build all the light rail projects currently being considered by the government. And while the federal government has committed cash to the PERL while denying funding to the NWRL, the head of Infrastructure Australia has pointed out that the NWRL is a higher priority than the PERL.

Based on that, the chances of both rail lines being build together seem slim to nil.

A report in the Australian Financial Review and Ten News yesterday suggests that Transport for NSW wants the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) built with the potential for driverless trains to run on the line. Such a system exists in many parts of the world, such as Vancouver, London or Dubai.

The main advantage of this is the low cost, as you no longer have to pay a driver to operate the train. This benefit would be seen most clearly during the off-peak, where you can maintain frequent services thanks to the lower variable costs (most costs are up front and fixed: track, stations and trains). Jarrett Walker describes how on the Vancouver driverless metro: the SkyTrain (portions of which are driverless) you never have to wait more than 8 minutes for a train, no matter what time of the day or week it is, helping to maintain high patronage all day rather than just during peak hour. The reason it can do this is the efficiency that comes from the low operational cost.

Vancouver Sky Train

The SkyTrain in Vancouver is a driverless metro with frequencies that mean you never wait more than 8 minutes for a train. (Source: Jeffery Simpson)

The news piece from Ten News presents 2 arguments against driverless trains: cost and safety.

The first is by Shadow Transport Minister Penny Sharpe, who says that this is just a cost cutting exercise. That is correct and is simple economics – the lower the variable cost of running one train, the more trains you can run for the same amount of funding. You could argue that the government should just increase funding to achieve this, but then you could have increased services even more. Either way, lower cost is a good thing, not a bad thing.

The second is by Bob Nanva of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union, who is concerned about the safety of not having a driver on the train. He cites the case of a driverless train on the London Underground that went 6km before it was stopped, almost hitting another passenger train in the process. There are 2 problems with this assertion. First, human error has been responsible for 14 deaths in Sydney in the last 15 years due to the train accidents at Waterfall and Glenbrook, neither of which may have happened with an automated system that takes human error out of the equation. Second, the driverless train was actually an engineering carriage without a driver that was being towed by another train when the coupling between them broke. Despite the towing train having a driver,which under this argument should have detected the incident and dealt with it, this was not noticed until signallers detected it and resolved the potential disaster. In other words, it was the driverless controls in place that prevented any escalation of the situation, not the presence of a driver. I would therefore argue that a driverless system is actually more safe, not less safe, than one with drivers.

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that Premier Barry O’Farrell’s response to questions on this led to him responding that “it’s not a prospect that’s been put to me” and that Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian stated that they “are planning for the trains on this important rail link to have drivers”, suggesting that this is just Transport for NSW making sure that the NWRL is future-proofed for driverless trains should a NSW Government ever choose to go down that path in the future. But it leaves the option open to that, rather than being the start of a process to make it happen.

Realistically, the government would first have to remove guards from trains, arguing that one person should now be capable of performing the duties of driver and guard, before making the move to trains that are no longer staffed on a permanent basis. And this itself would be a huge fight with the union. When and if it does that, then we can start speculating on whether driverless trains might become a reality.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that a previously unreleased feasibility study into light rail through Sydney’s CBD appears to have recommended that bus routes be re-organised around a future light rail line down George Street connecting Central Station to Circular Quay. Rather than coming into and through the city before terminating, buses would instead come into the city and then join up with another bus line heading out of the city. This would eliminate much of the congestion caused by large numbers of buses within the city itself, many of them half or mostly empty. Instead, commuters would have to change onto a tram for travel within the city, resulting in an overall shorter trip.

CBD Bus Routes

This map shows all STA buses that enter the city from the West, most of which continue through the city and terminate at Circular Quay, causing significant congestion on George Street. The same occurs with buses coming into the city from the East and North. (Source:

Under the proposal, it appears that buses currently entering the city via Broadway and then continue down George Street towards Circular Quay would instead link up with buses to the Eastern Suburbs that currently terminate at Railway Square next to Central. Similarly, buses that come into the city from the Eastern Suburbs via Oxford and William Streets would cross the city and link up with buses that come into from the Inner West via Druitt Street, eliminating the need for these buses to use George Street (as well as some parallel streets).

This would be a much welcomed change with many benefits. CDB street space is a highly valued commodity, and wasting it with half empty buses is not the most efficient way of using it. It also improves mobility between inner city suburbs, which generally require commuters to go to the city and change to another vehicle. Changing vehicles is fine within the CBD because services are frequent enough for wait times to be minimal, but can cause long delays when changing to a less frequent suburban service.

This is all well and good, but it’s important to note that this study is not the same as the current government’s feasibility study into light rail, on which it will base its decisions on a future light rail network. In fact, the government has been very tight lipped about any details, preferring to wait until the feasibility study is complete. With this study expected to be released very shortly (potentially within a matter of days or weeks), it will be interesting to see if the recommendations of this previous study have been incorporated into it or not.