Reliability on the Cityrail network, as measured by on time running, last year reached its worst point since 2008. The state opposition has criticised the current government’s failure to get the trains to run on time, this being one area that has deteriorated since the change of government from Labor to Liberal.
This was then followed by a large number of disruptions to the network in February 2013, which also reduced reliability on the network.[tweet 307369371121106944 align=’center’]
But these disruptions happened after reliability began to fall, so are not the cause of it. Instead, the reduction in reliability is more likely to have been caused by increased overcrowding issues, which have also deteriorated since the O’Farrell government took over in 2011.
This is because overcrowding on trains means it takes longer for commuters to get on or off their train, which can increase dwell times at stations and thus lead to delays on the network. A quick look at the overcrowding (Source: IPART, Review of fares for CityRail’s services from January 2013, page 91) and on time running (Source: Cityrail, Our Performance) data for the 5 years from July 2007 to June 2012 shows a clear relationship.
Overcrowding, measured twice yearly in March and September as the percentage of trains between 7AM and 10AM with over 135% as many passengers as there are seats, hit 13%-16% during 2007-08, before falling progressively from 2009 onwards until it reached 5% in late 2011. Then in March 2012 it rose again to 11%, the highest since 2008.
On time running, measured monthly as the proportion of trains arriving in the CBD between 6AM-9AM and departing the CBD between 4PM-6PM more than 5 minutes after the timetabled time, is almost the inverse of overcrowding. On time running was low during 2007-08, usually running at 92%-95%. Following this, on time running improved, generally ranging between 94%-97%, during 2009-11. Then in 2012 it once again dropped to 92%.
The overcrowding is itself caused by a failure to keep up with demand for rail travel. The monthly patronage data (Source: Bureau of Transport Statistics, Rail Patronage Data – July 2000 to September 2012) shows that patronage saw a constant growth during 2007-08 and 2011-12, but flat lined during 2009-10. This in turn was likely due to job losses associated with the Global Financial Crisis, which hit industries that tend to employ workers in the CBD, which is the primary destination for most train users in Sydney.
Therefore, had it not been for the GFC, the poor on time running of 2012 would likely have occurred earlier. How much earlier is open to debate, as the opening of the Epping to Chatswood Line in 2009 resulted in an increase in capacity that would have pushed back the moment that overcrowding would again become a problem.
However, this does not represent a get out of jail free card for the government. Though it had no control over the transport system it inherited, it does have full control over where it takes it. Therefore, it needs to find a way to increase capacity in order to reduce overcrowding and improve on time running. Building more rail lines are needed for this, but will take years or decades to build. In the short term, sectorisation is the only option available to the government that will result in a significant increase to capacity. It should further implement this as part of the 2013 timetable.