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.
Nine News Sydney (@9NewsSyd) April 05, 2013
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.
Pascal Grosvenor (@pascalg15) April 04, 2013
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.
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.