How to fix Cityrail’s ongoing delays

Posted: April 6, 2013 in Transport
Tags: , , ,

If there ever was an annus horribilis for Cityrail, then 2013 is certainly how it would start. The network has seen an average of one major incident each week in the last 2 months, each involving a temporary suspension of services on a portion of the service.

The most recent occurred yesterday on the Northern Line due to a pantograph (train equipment used to draw power from the overhead wires) ripping up a 5km stretch of overhead wiring. But unlike previous suspensions so far this year, it took so long to fix that it was the only one to impact both the morning and evening commutes that day.

Opposition Leader John Robertson has blamed the incidents on insufficient maintenance staff to carry out essential work on the network, further citing the sacking of 450 maintenance staff. The government has countered that these maintenance positions have yet to be cut, and that since all trains were checked in recent weeks, pantographs included, and that this part of the network was reviewed following a previous incident earlier this year that it believes that sabotage is at fault, citing a missing set of keys used to access that part of the track.

Whether the delays yesterday and others over the last 2 months were due to mismanagement, sabotage, or just accidents, it remains a reality that the network is currently set up in a way that encourages the spread of such delays across the network. In yesterday’s case, though the incident occurred on the Northern Line, delays soon spread to virtually all other lines.

I’ve written about the reasons for this before: it’s due to lines sharing sections of track, the most troublesome part being the track between Granville and Homebush Stations. Even if Cityrail cannot prevent such incidents from occurring  they most certainly can stop them from spreading by changing line operations to be more independent of each other. This process, known as sectorisation, may require some commuters to make an additional transfer from one train to another, but it will result in a big increase in reliability on the network, as well as simplify it from both a planning and commuter perspective.

Trains from different lines use the same track between Granville and Strathfield, meaning that delays on one line lead to delays on other lines. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Cityrail)

Trains from different lines use the same track between Granville and Strathfield, meaning that delays on one line lead to delays on other lines. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Cityrail)

Recent opposition to such changes on the North West Rail Link (which will require many commuters to change at Chatswood) is something that would have to be overcome. But if it means limiting network wide delays like those which occurred on Friday, then I think most commuters will support such a move.

But so long as such changes are not introduced, commuters will be afraid of the unknown. Therefore, the government should make a brave move in October and further sectorise the Cityrail network when it revamps the timetable. This could mean terminating Northern Line trains at Central and/or sending Richmond Line trains to Liverpool on the Cumberland Line rather than the CBD. This may prove unpopular in the short term, but commuters will support the changes if they see improvements.

  1. Ray says:

    I don’t think Northern or Richmond Line commuters would ever accept being denied direct access to CBD stations. Why should they be singled out while every other line maintains direct access to CBD stations beyond Central? Why can’t some Western Line services also be terminated at Central? In the case of the Northern Line, which north of the Parramatta River is Liberal heartland territory, there would be hell pay for the local members of Parliament, for their inability to stand up in support of their constituents. There may be acceptance for some Northern Line services to terminate at Central, so long as the option of direct services through the CBD to North Sydney is maintained. Epping and Eastwood, which are both interchange stations, already have the benefit of express services from Newcastle and the Central Coast to Central terminus.

    Whilst the transport bureaucrats might push for further sectorisation along the lines previously canvassed, the political reality is that ALL lines must have direct access to the CBD via either the link to the North Shore or the City Circle and they have to find a way to accommodate this operating pattern.

  2. It’s a choice between direct access but infrequent services with poor reliability, or having to make a transfer but gain higher frequency and improved reliability.

    In the case of Richmond (to limit my examples to just 1 line), these changes would see a big drop in wait times between trains (in both peak and off peak) on the Richmond Line, plus a cross platform change at Westmead to a train every 3 minutes express to the CBD. That means less total travel time and less average wait time, with a very easy transfer inbetween – no more than 3 minutes and a few metres. I consider that a vast improvement on the status quo.

    Here are the changes in diagrammatic form, using an example from Brisbane:

  3. Ray says:

    It all sounds good in theory Bambul, but the political reality is that Richmond and Northern Line commuters won’t take too kindly to being denied direct access to CBD stations beyond Central and in the case of the Richmond Line, beyond Parramatta. Let’s not forget that a century ago, the push to build the city underground, was to avoid the need for suburban commuters to change at Central to continue their journeys by tram into the CBD. I don’t think attitudes would have changed since, especially as Northern Line commuters have enjoyed that privilege since the 1920’s and Richmond Line commuters since electrification of that line. In any event, there needs to be community consultation about such a radical change and not an edict pronounced from upon high.

    As I mentioned in my previous post, why can’t some Western Line services also be terminated at Central so that the Richmond and Northern Lines could still retain some direct services into the CBD? Considering the fact some Western Line services already use the Main Line tracks in peak hours between Homebush and Eveleigh Junction, it wouldn’t be such a major change for some, if not all of those services to continue through to Central Terminal.

    The current transport bureaucrats, whom I wouldn’t give tuppence for, are determined to see their agenda implemented regardless of public opinion. It only emphasises the urgency of constructing a new CBD Rail Link and second harbor crossing sooner rather than later. Although it’s unlikely to happen, the new CBD Rail Link/second harbor crossing should take precedence over the North West Rail Link.

  4. Basing transport policy on what attitudes were like 100 years ago doesn’t sound like the most ideal system. I’ve taken your comments and incorporated them into a new post, so I’ll reserve my responses until then.

    Though I will add something on whether a CBD line or NWRL should be built first. If we are talking purely from an engineering perspective, then I’m with you 100% – build where the bottleneck is first and the outer suburban extension second. Rail projects have usually been rolled out like this, whereas roads have been built in a more ad hoc manner (consider the M4 stopping short at Starthfield or the M2 not linking up with Gore Hill). The result for roads has been that these “missing links” did get built, whereas the rail projects got deferred.

    I think we can learn a lot from the more effective roads lobby in that regard, which means that building the NWRL guarantees a new Harbour Crossing will get built, but doing it the other way round does not. I think Gladys got it right, and ensures that her successor will be forced to build a new Harbour Crossing, rather than be tempted to just put off that decision indefinitely.

  5. MrV says:

    I think they could improve operations simply by limiting the “Doors closing please stand clear message” to a single announcement, then close the damn doors!

    How many times do we hear this played (i think 5 times is the record I have heard)? It’s amazing how easy it is for the train to depart on time if you close the doors, nothing motivates people to get on efficiently than actually closing the doors, but apaprently this is too hard for Cityfail.

  6. Ana says:

    Hey, what are the statistics and rates of the delays in 2013? This is ridiculous – the design should be improved! Can you please link me to the sources of where you obtained this information from? I would love to read more. Thanks

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