Are connections good or bad for transport?

Posted: April 12, 2013 in Transport
Tags: , ,

I have advocated a more “sectorised” rail network, one in which rail lines operate more independently of each other, untangling what is currently an overly complex system. One of the downsides of this is that it will require some commuters to make a transfer from one train to another in order to complete their journey, where currently they do not have to do so. For example, someone going from Schofields to Central would have to take two trains instead of one as they currently can, as would someone going from Rhodes to Town Hall.

Ray made the following observation in the comments section (reposted in full):

“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.”Ray (8 April 2013)

He rightly outlines the reasons against such changes, particularly the fear that many people will refuse to transfer from one train to another. This is, all other things equal, a much worse outcome than a direct service. But it is the assumption that all else remains equal which is not correct here, and this is where I disagree with Ray’s assessment.

The current system is designed on the basis of direct trips, one train or one bus from your origin to your destination, and this means having services from everywhere to everywhere else. In reality, this is not possible, so what we have instead is services from some places to some other places, but still so many routes and lines that frequencies are often as low as every 15 minutes in the peak and every 30 or 60 minutes in the off-peak (if at all). This makes transfers difficult. Even on the rail network, only 49% of stations on the Cityrail network have a train to the CBD every 15 minutes or less all day (and this is being generous with some stations).

NOTE: When a network is not designed to use connections, then you need to focus on frequencies of the direct journeys. A network designed around connections facilitates transfers in a way that a network designed around direct services does not, which is why this frequency map excludes stations on the Upper Northern and Epping to Chatswood Lines, which have 15 minute frequencies, but with every second train terminating at Chatswood. If frequencies from Chatswood to the CBD were higher, then it would allow for easy transfers, and effective mobility for users of these stations.

Of the 176 stations on the suburban Cityrail network, only 86 (blue) have a train every 15 minutes all day. The remaining 90 (orange) do not. This represents about half of the stations on the network. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Cityrail network map)

Of the 176 stations on the suburban Cityrail network, only 86 (blue) have a train every 15 minutes all day. The remaining 90 (orange) do not. This represents about half of the stations on the network. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Cityrail network map)

A network based on connections, on the other hand, purposely limits the routes and lines available to you. But in doing so it is able to run more frequent services directly to an interchange, where you can then take another service to your destination. It is both predictable and reliable. Unlike the previous model, it is far more likely to provide an everywhere to everywhere service. The diagram below shows a generic example, taken from a Brisbane Government transport policy document.

How increased frequencies can allow a transport network based on transfers to operate better than one based on direct services. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Queensland Government)

How increased frequencies can allow a transport network based on transfers to operate better than one based on direct services. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Queensland Government)

In this example, the average trip is cut from 15 minutes to 9 minutes. This is due to 3 factors:

  1. Higher frequencies for local services, meaning a shorter initial wait time. Here the local service has gone from 30 minute to 10 minute frequencies, meaning an average wait time of 15 and 5 minutes respectively. While it’s true that you can use the timetable to minimise that wait time, it is still possible for you to be delayed, for your service to arrive early, or for that service to be cancelled. In each of those cases, you must now wait the full period (i.e. 30 minutes or 10 minutes). That is why the average wait time is still important.
  2. The main trunk service (red in the example above) can be converted into a high capacity, high frequency, and (optionally) high speed service. This again means less waiting time, which is important for the reasons mentioned above.
  3. The transfer must be simple, preferably cross platform where possible, minimising the additional total travel time.

Taken together, these result in a reduction in total travel time. The key here is higher frequencies, which allow transport based on connections to occur.

Using the proposed changes to the Richmond Line shows the actual improvements possible there:

Right now, there are 6 trains per hour on the Richmond Line (from Schofields onwards) in the AM peak – although there is a maximum 15 minute gap between trains. This would be increased to 8 trains per hour, but shifted to the Cumberland Line, and so no longer continue through to Central. In the off peak, there are currently 2 trains an hour, which would be raised to 4. The Western Line would also see 20 express trains per hour to Central in the peak, and 8 trains per hour in the off-peak. Travel times are 55 minutes from Schofields to Central in the peak, 62 minutes from Schofields to Central in the off-peak, 26 minutes from Schofields to Westmead, and 31 minutes from Westmead to Central.

Implementing these changes would result in an average time saving of 1 minute (maximum of 5 minutes) during the morning peak, and an average of 12 minutes (maximum of 15 minutes) during the off peak.

Richmond Line time savings

This would not be possible to do effectively by just adding more trains with the existing network. In the AM peak there just aren’t the additional slots available into the city centre, and creating them would make the network even more vulnerable to delays and cancellations than is already the case. In the off-peak, adding more trains is possible, but they would either have to be all stations in order to maintain a high coverage or be express and give a low level of coverage. Either way, neither option provides the frequencies necessary to allow for easy connections that allow the sorts of time savings provided by the proposed changes.

The lesson to take from this is that connections are not something that we should be afraid of. Not only will they provide faster overall journeys, but more reliable ones. And when they occur entirely within the rail network, they happen without the sorts of financial penalties that currently exist when you transfer from a bus to a train or from one bus to another bus because fares are not integrated.

  1. Simon says:

    This old chestnut. Connections are a necessary evil. I don’t get why you’d unload overloaded northern line trains at Strathfield for other trains though. Similarly forcing a change from Wentworthville to reach Central. It’s a pretty regressive step. And running 6-8/hr on the Richmond line would not be possible beyond Schofields on present infrastructure. A train every 15 minutes in peak seems too hard.

    By the way, you graphic on 15 minute frequencies is far too generous. Summer Hill-Macdonaldtown doesn’t have better than 30 minutes after about 6pm on Saturday, the Cronulla branch as 18-20 minute gaps depending on direction in spite of receiving a 4/hr service. Not too sure about Eastwood making the grade or stations like Janalli either.

  2. Ray says:

    Eastwood has a 15 minute service or better if you include Newcastle and Central Coast services, which of course terminate at Central. It has a 15 minute service for suburban services for most of the day except for a brief period during early and late morning and on weekends.

  3. There’s some grey are in what counts as 15 minute frequencies. I looked at weekday frequencies at midday, and was sometimes willing to accept a few minutes longer than 15 minutes so long as there were 4 trains per hour. It’s a complex timetable, so breaking it down into one easy to understand “high frequency map” is harder than initially appears. The map in this post is the best I could come up with.

  4. Albert Alcoceba says:

    ll strongly disagree with the transfer system and so will the majority of people. I am quite happy to have a longer total journey time and stay on the one train. Consider :

    1. Getting on and off crowded trains is difficult.
    2. For elderly and disabled people transferring between trains is a major issue. Disabled passengers already have to pre warn boarding and alighting stations to have someone there to assist with wheelchairs. Even then there is sometimes no one there causing delay to traIn . Now they will need to make arrangements at interchange station as well.
    3. It can be were and cold. Changing trains is unpleasant.
    4. Many of us need to work on our laptops while we travel. Packing up laptop for the transfer is messy and interrupts concentration.
    5. People like myself due to health problems cannot stand up for long periods but are not disabled or elderly so no one will give up their seats for us. There is no guarantee of a seat on a connecting service that is already full of passengers. We buy houses in places like Richmond to guarantee a seat into the city.
    6. There are passengers who suffer from intellectual disabilities who would find transfers difficult or impossible.
    7. Late at night stations like Blacktown are not exactly safe. Having to change trains there would put passengers at risk of crime.
    8. Passengers carrying lots of luggage Eg. When travelling to and from the airport would find the extra transfer difficult and inconvenient.
    9. It will push more people onto their cars where they can have one seat door to door. This is already the major reason people drive.
    10. Trains need to operate for the convenience of the passengers not operational convenience.

  5. I would argue that a number of the points raised are actually reasons to support a network based on connections. Consider the following:

    With transfers there is less waiting time at stations. If you are concerned about waiting in the cold or the rain being unpleasant, then waiting for a direct service means waiting longer.

    Transfers means that you are less likely to have to stand for the full journey. If you are worried about having to stand for long periods of time, then being seated on one train and standing on the other is better than standing the whole way. Transfers better spreads the loads and means more seats, so you are also less likely to stand.

    A shorter travel time would encourage more people to take the train. As would the improved connections to other parts of Sydney, which are currently difficult to get to by train.

    The network is currently complicated. Different trains have different stopping patterns. This causes problems for the elderly and disabled who can get confused by the complexity. A network based on connections also means a simpler network that is easier to understand, particularly for casual users, the very people who need to be encouraged away from their cars.

    This is all in addition to the benefits listed earlier.

  6. Ray says:

    Regarding the Eastwood service, I’m not being critical of your methodology, just elaborating on the mix of services. I agree , it is a complex timetable and I think you have summarized it as best one could.

    I think Albert Alcoceba summed up the argument about the pros and cons of having more connecting services quite succinctly in his final comment, “Trains need to operate for the convenience of the passengers no operational convenience”.

  7. RichardU says:

    Allegedly the problem of station dwell times is so bad we must forego the other benefits of double deck carriages so the problem can be “solved”. Requiring more changes to complete journeys will aggravate this pressing problem until all carriages revert to single deck.

  8. mich says:

    So Bambul, standing half the way is better than standing all the way ? It’s obvious you have no clue whatever about the Richmond Line. How would any passenger from the Richmond Line to the city ever be at risk of “standing all the way” ?

  9. johanbotha12 says:

    Truly Eastwood has a 15 minute service or better if you include Newcastle and Central Coast services, which of course terminate at Central.

  10. Alex says:

    I don’t understand my every major line has to go through Central

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