North West Rail Link – policy or politics?

Posted: June 11, 2013 in Transport
Tags: , , , , , , ,

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The North West Rail Link (NWRL) as currently planned, will require many passengers to get out and change trains at Chatswood. Based on government estimates, two thirds of passengers from The Hills in Sydney’s North West would have to do this in order to reach their final destination on the Lower North Shore or CBD. This would continue until a Second Harbour Rail Crossing is built, something which currently lacks a start date, end date, or funding.

The Northwest Rail Link will include a new railway from Epping to Rouse Hill, plus a retrofitted Epping to Chatswood Line. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: NWRL EIS - Introduction, page 1-3.)

The Northwest Rail Link will include a new railway from Epping to Rouse Hill, plus a retrofitted Epping to Chatswood Line. (Source: Transport for NSW)

One alternative would be to build additional capacity through the CBD first, and then extend that capacity into the outer suburbs second. In other words, build the Second Harbour Rail Crossing now, and the NWRL and South West Rail Links some time next decade. From a purely engineering perspective, this makes perfect sense – there’s no point in building new lines in the outer suburbs, if all they are going to do is dump passengers in the inner city once they reach a bottleneck.

Melbourne is doing exactly this. It’s current proposal is the Melbourne Metro, a new underground line through the CBD. And it is building this despite calls to build lines to places like the airport or to Doncaster (the latter has similar transport challenges to Sydney’s North West). Not only that, but this has put the Melbourne Metro at the top of Infrastructure Australia’s priority list, resulting in the Federal Government committing $3bn in funding to its overall $9bn cost.

A strong case can be made that the Victorian Government has got the policy right, while the NSW Government has not. But what could be argued is that the NSW Government has got the politics right. This is for a number of reasons.

Building a Second Harbour Rail Crossing will not guarantee that the NWRL will be built, but building the NWRL will force a future government to build a Second Harbour Rail Crossing. In a world where political realities make long term planning a dream rather than a reality, and where transport projects are announced, cancelled, changed, re-announced, and then cancelled again, this is not necessarily a bad thing.

The narrower and steeper tunnels, which force the new line into being run completely independently from the rest of the network, will also allow the government to trial new methods of service delivery, such as franchising or driverless operations on trains. The former has allowed for Sydneys bus network to see improvements to services, lower fares paid by passengers, and reductions in operating subsidy paid by the government to provide them. The latter would reduce the marginal cost of each train service, allowing the government to increase services without as large an increase in operating costs. Neither of these could work effectively if the NWRL was integrated into the rest of the network.

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)

These sorts of changes are possible on an existing line, and the Eastern Suburbs & Illawarra Line has often been touted due to it operating virtually independently from the rest of the network. But it is much harder to convert an existing line compared to a new one. Unions are likely to resist change, and existing passengers may have fears of the unknown. Both of these fears would be eased by seeing such changes in operation first, and if they work then they can be rolled out to the rest of the network.

Of course, for those who consider a Second Harbour Rail Crossing an expensive and unecessary expense, then there is little reason to support what the government is doing. The same goes for those who oppose one man or driverless operation. For everyone else, while this may not be smart policy, it certainly looks like smart politics.

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Comments
  1. Joni says:

    Bambul – As an obviously intelligent mind, what would you say to the prospect that a downsized NWRL could be cancelled… or was never plausible?

    The implausible things seem:

    1. Tunnel size too small and incompatible with future NW area expansion
    2. Rail grades too steep for current fleet
    3. New metro fleet would demonstrably mean smaller capacity per train
    4. New metro fleet would require a large independent maintenance facility
    4. Single deck, mainly standing room, does not really make sense for an outer urban train service
    5. Rewiring the Epping to Chatswood for Metro will impact around 10000 Macquarie UNI Students & other workers using that Epping-Chatswood line – no service for how long?
    6. Transiting at Chatswood is not really practicable to loaded north shore trains;
    7. Transiting between NWRL and interurban/suburban services is more likely at Epping
    9. Post NWRL, all northern line suburban train services are to terminate at Central –passengers have to transit there to suburban line services?
    Your advice would be appreciated.

  2. shiggyshiggy says:

    Dear Joni

    Please read this excerpt from the above article:

    “The narrower and steeper tunnels, which force the new line into being run completely independently from the rest of the network, will also allow the government to trial new methods of service delivery, such as franchising or driverless operations on trains. The former has allowed for Sydneys bus network to see improvements to services, lower fares paid by passengers, and reductions in operating subsidy paid by the government to provide them. The latter would reduce the marginal cost of each train service, allowing the government to increase services without as large an increase in operating costs. Neither of these could work effectively if the NWRL was integrated into the rest of the network.”

    CityRail is bloated. It is a black-hole money pit. Money goes in, and bugger all comes out. Already this is a massively expensive project, but then to hand it over to CityRail to run and staff it? That would only lead to more exorbitant cost rises making any FUTURE rail roll-out even less attractive than it is now to treasury. CityRail is not world class in any way(except for spending).

    I’d like to take up this point of yours:

    “Single deck, mainly standing room, does not really make sense for an outer urban train service”

    Sydney will be 7-8 million strong by 2050. This will not be outer suburbia for very much longer. In fact the government has already signalled that medium to high density development will be rolled out along this metro route. That is the poison chalice the local residents have been offered. You want rail, you get more development. Deal with it.

    We are trying to run a commuter rail/metro hybrid already here in Sydney. It is no longer feasible for this to continue. There has to be a complete change, and this is the first step. As Bambul has continuously pointed out, a significant amount of users that will be using this new line will have a North Shore destination. And as they should. It is no longer feasible to have people living in Castle Hill and working, at say, the air-port. Or living in Macarthur and working in Macquarie Park. Already Sydney-siders are making the decision to live near about’s to where they work. I have no sympathy for people who continue to live a life-style that involves transiting across huge urban distances and then expecting the rest of us to somehow support their life-style choices. It was once feasible due to the cheapness of fuel, but that era is over. PT will not be able to do what the car did, nor is it a feasible option in a city of 7 million. People will have to recalibrate their lives to this new reality.

    Further, it is my understanding that the current Epping to Chatswood line is ALREADY too steep for some of the current fleet to use it effectively.

  3. mich says:

    ” will also allow the government to trial new methods of service delivery, such as franchising or driverless operations on trains. The former has allowed for Sydneys bus network to see improvements to services, lower fares paid by passengers, and reductions in operating subsidy paid by the government to provide them.”

    Any actual evidence for these claims about the bus network ?

    For historical reasons, parts of Sydney were serviced by government buses and parts by private companies. No significant part of the government-operated network has been handed over to private companies, in fact the opposite has occured.

    The reduction in number and rationalisation in operational areas of most of the private operators has led to some logical improvements. It hasn’t led to lower fares. The more recent system has transfered the financial risk of low passenger numbers from the private operators to the government, this reduces the private sector risk and incentivation. Where have there been lower fares for bus passengers ?

    The lower fares for some bus passengers arise for only some subgroups of users. The myzone system makes bus fares cheaper for people who use buses AND trains, and who are weekly commuters. This is no use at all to the occasional user.

    Is there any evidence that the operating subsidy for buses has reduced, anywhere ?

  4. mich says:

    ” As Bambul has continuously pointed out, a significant amount of users that will be using this new line will have a North Shore destination.”

    He can point it out, over and over again, until he is blue in the face, the fact is that there is very little evidence for this proposition.

    There is 150 buses every day taking commuters from Castle Hill to the Sydney CBD. There are how many, taking commuters from Castle Hill to Macquarie Park, or Chatswood, or North Sydney ? There was a few, and most of them cancelled for lack of patronage.

  5. Joni says:

    Most people on the Northern Line use the train to get to Macquarie Park, Mac Uni, North Ryde, Chatswood, North Sydney and Wynyard so they will all need to change at Epping – the worst ever place to try and change trains with several banks of steep, extensive escalators (and then again at Chatswood if needed). They paid and sacrificed a lot to make a conscious decision to live on a direct route close to work and the anger out here is the worst I’ve ever seen. Many people that use the trains who are not working are elderly and not as mobile or have no licence due to advanced age or are parents of small children.How is this progress???

  6. D. says:

    Mich, I would like to ask whether you live in the Hills or not? As a Hills resident, I would like to point out to you that 612 Kellyville/Castle Hill – Milsons Point service has existed since the conceptualisation of M2 bus services. Moreover it has seen it’s frequency increased to the point that it currently departs Castle Hill every 5 minutes. Moreover, the introduction of the 602 has been very successful, departing Rouse Hilll every 15 – 20 mins. Now try telling me these North Shore services has been cancelled due low patronage. Likewise the 611, while originating from Blacktown, runs along the M2 to Macquarie Park has had its frequency upgraded to every 10 mins, supplementing the 619 running every 15 mins. With the imminent extension of the 619 from Castle Hill to Rouse Hill, I have no doubt that patronage is to further increase from the Hills to Macquarie Park. It looks to me that none of these services have been cancelled due to low patronage as you seem to say.

    With regards to lower bus fares, this occurred in 2004 when the new bus contracts were signed.

  7. Joni –

    I’d say the NWRL, as currently planned, is not so much implausible as it is controversial. While I see some (small) chance of the Second Harbour Rail Crossing not getting built, there’s virtually no one who has that view of the NWRL.

    For more detail, Shiggyshiggy made some good points in favour of the current NWRL plan in his comments above, while I’ve found Sandy Thomas makes the best counter argument[1]. I think the most objective commentary on it was by Sydney Olympics timetable manager Dick Day[2] – it’s long but a good read if you’re after some detailed background.

    Once the NWRL comes online, I’d imagine that the Northern Line would revert to how it operated 4 years ago, prior to the opening of the Epping to Chatswood Rail Link, where trains from Hornsby to Epping continue via Strathfield to Central and then through the CBD. Thus, anyone North of Epping could take a direct train to Wynyard or stay on through to Chatswood if they wanted a single seat journey. For a faster journey, a change at Epping is possible. This would obviously mean a longer journey for anyone headed to the North Shore (though shorter if headed to the CBD) or require 1-2 transfers. Direct services to Macquarie Park would be lost.

    There is rumour of work on a quadruplication of the line from Chatswood to St Leonards[3], which can’t come quickly enough. Eventually the NWRL will be extended across the Harbour, but this might take a decade. So it’s important that the government fast track that relatively easy portion of the extension.

    SOURCES
    Note [1]: https://transportsydney.wordpress.com/2013/03/05/rail-expert-claims-infighting-led-to-decision-to-build-metros/
    Note [2]: http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/railroaded-metro-rail-alternatives-for-western-sydney-20120629-216nc.html
    Note [3]: http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/extra-4b-needed-to-upgrade-rail-network-to-cope-with-link-20121002-26xdz.html

  8. Mich –

    Bus fares were reduced in 2005 when the Unsworth Review was implemented. It contracted out bus services across Sydney to private operators, while the state government took over control of determining routes aswell as setting and collecting fares. This co-incided with a reduction in bus fares. The government then recently re-negotiated these contracts to save $18m per year in payments to the private operators[1], which is effectively the cut in the subsidy which you requested evidence for. Additionally, the Parramatta to Liverpool T-Way, previously operated by the STA (the government operator) have now been contracted out to private operators.

    If you want evidence that many Hills residents commute to destinations on the North Shore, then I’m happy to provide it. An estimated one third of Hills residents will get off their NWRL train by Chatswood[2], while 42% are going to a destination North of the Harbour (I’ve lost track of the source for this one). Those are projections, but even current travel data shows that more Hills residents work in North Sydney/St Leonards/Chatswood/Macquarie Park than in the CBD[3].

    While current bus services into the CBD are good, those into the North Shore are often slow (e.g. to North Sydney) or non-existant (e.g. to Chatswood). I used to live in Baulkham Hills and commuted to the CBD, North Sydney, and Chatswood for work, and can confirm this from personal experience. So a line linking up the North West to the North Shore would be a big improvement. It will eventually be an improvement once it links up to the CBD because large numbers of buses along the M2 clog up York St entering into the CBD, which significantly increase travel times as the Harbour Bridge turns into a car park. At that point, the NWRL will be a faster option, due to the ability of rail to handle a higher level of passenger capacity than buses without resulting in congestion and longer travel times.

    SOURCES
    Note [1]: http://www.transport.nsw.gov.au/media-releases/new-bus-contract-tenders-drive-improvements
    Note [2]: http://northwestrail.com.au/document/show/72
    Note [3]: https://transportsydney.wordpress.com/2012/11/14/which-is-the-best-alignment-for-the-northwest-rail-link/

  9. mich says:

    ” It contracted out bus services across Sydney to private operators, while the state government took over control of determining routes aswell as setting and collecting fares. ”

    No bus services changed from “government” to “private” control at that time. In fact, the opposite occured. The government took control of all of the existing private bus services, and then contracted them out on the opposite basis to that which had previously been the case, the government determined the routes and becomes entitled to the revenue while paying the private operators to operate the route. This transfers almost all of the operational risks to the government and results in much higher subsidies than before.

    And as for the usual claimed benefit of privatisation , that private operators are more efficient ( subtitle: more strict with unions ), there was really no change there, because there was no change in the regions of sydney serviced by government vs “private” bus operators.

  10. mich says:

    “They paid and sacrificed a lot to make a conscious decision to live on a direct route close to work and the anger out here is the worst I’ve ever seen. ”

    joni, only people who moved to Thornleigh/Normanhurst in the last five years “paid for” the ability to go directly to Macquarie or Chatswood. Before that, they managed quite well with the old northern line. And before that, they were quite happy to pay house prices 25% less than Turramurra, which more than compensates for the less direct route. And if you hate Epping so much, nothing to stop you from going to Hornsby instead.

  11. Mich –

    You asked for evidence of fares being reduced, of government operated buses being contracted out to the private sector, and of government subsidy to bus operators being cut. I provided all 3 in my previous comment. I’m not going to continue arguing this point with you.

    You are of course entitled to your own opinion, and I’m happy for you to voice that opinion in the comments section of this blog. But you are not entitled to your own facts. And the facts are that all 3 things I mentioned at the start of this comment have occurred.

  12. mich says:

    I’d like to take up this point of yours:

    “Single deck, mainly standing room, does not really make sense for an outer urban train service”

    “Sydney will be 7-8 million strong by 2050. This will not be outer suburbia for very much longer. In fact the government has already signalled that medium to high density development will be rolled out along this metro route. That is the poison chalice the local residents have been offered. You want rail, you get more development. Deal with it. ”

    These sorts of gungho remarks are not actually an answer to the objection that people do not want to spend 160 minutes a day standing on a lurching, uncomfortable, third-world train. People do not commute over an hour in those conditions in London or Paris.

    “This will not be outer suburbia for very much longer.” This is a cretinous statement. Rouse Hill will ALWAYS be an outer suburb. Increasing the population of Riverstone and Vineyard from 10,000 to 110,000 will not change this fact. It will not suddenly make Rouse Hill an inner suburb or even a middle suburb. Even when suburbia marches all the way to Agnes Banks, Rouse Hill will be an outer suburb.

    The projected 60% increase in Sydney population will not be accompanied by a 60% increase in surface area. Density will increase, at various places. Campbelltown and Engadine and Berowra will still be “outer suburbs” in 50 years time, because there is nowhere else for the sprawl to go.

    All cities are constrained by their historical development of their land use and their transport networks. If you want a clean slate, play Sim City. If you want to demolish the whole central district between Bondi and Ashfield and start again building it as dense as Beijing, well why not, but good luck with that.

    If you want to increase housing places for the worker drones, by having 50,000 people within walking distance of each station, then why not do this at Stanmore instead of Rouse Hill ?

    What kind of development model are you proposing for the Castle Hill/Rouse Hill area ? Another Macquarie Park ? Sydney is already quite polycentric compared to Melbourne or Brisbane. For polycentrism to work, you have to have connections between the centres. By all means, propose “transit-oriented development”, high density residential within walking distance of the stations, but realise the limitations of this. This is still mostly a dormitory/suburban/commuter paradigm, for which commutes over an hour are quite unattractive, particularly if standing all the way. And without a dense and two dimensional network of services, you are not looking at an attractive car-less living environment. Maybe one car instead of two, but deeply unattractive for zero-car owners.

    Now if you are talking about a new polycentric hub in the north west ( knock down Norwest and rebuilt it all 5 times higher, like what happened at Macquarie Park when the original developments of the 1970’s were mostly redeveloped around 15 years ago ), thats a different story. But nobody seems to be telling that story. And with that story, you are still better off connecting to Parramatta.

    This sort of “poisoned chalice” argument is a furphy. Draw a circle one kilometre around each of the proposed stations on the NWRL. Put high density there, by all means. It does not affect 90% of the existing or soon-proposed suburban area there ( except for traffic congestion ). If you plan to cover the entire north-west with appartments, well, why not do this at Stanmore instead ? Or Kensington ?

    The fact is that most of the people living in the NW chose to live there. If they were keen on trains, most of them could have afforded to live in Thornleigh or Eastwood instead. Then, they’d be griping like Joni , but at least their trains would have seats in them.

  13. mich says:

    I’d like to take up this point of yours:

    We are trying to run a commuter rail/metro hybrid already here in Sydney.

    >> I’m not really interested in the efforts of the classificationists to shoehorn everything into some pigeonhole in their model, but, whatever. It is what it is. Every rail system is a product of its own history and topographical issues. In my opinion, Sydney’s system is quite successful at what it does. We have a very compact, walkable, high-rise downtown compared to many world cities ( for several reasons ), and Cityrail serves that prime economic market quite well.

    It is no longer feasible for this to continue.
    >> Why not ?

    There has to be a complete change, and this is the first step.
    >> Another gungho remark. Why ? Do we need different kinds of train, just because London has them ? Do we also need 8 mainline stations, are three and four and fives miles apart, with no easy way to get between them ? Do we need to service a “downtown” area which has only twice as many workers as downtown Sydney, but spread out over twelve times the land area of downtown Sydney ?

    >> And here’s a tip. Cities with different rail services, have the metro’s in the centre, and the suburban services in the suburbs. So, OF COURSE, it is the logical step here to build a “metro” in the outer suburbs.

    As Bambul has continuously pointed out, a significant amount of users that will be using this new line will have a North Shore destination.
    >> I remain unconvinced. And why don’t they live on the north shore, then ?

    And as they should. It is no longer feasible to have people living in Castle Hill and working, at say, the air-port. Or living in Macarthur and working in Macquarie Park. Already Sydney-siders are making the decision to live near about’s to where they work.
    >> Until they change jobs. Stamp duty, and the committments of family members, make it impossible for most people to move every time their employment location changes.

    I have no sympathy for people who continue to live a life-style that involves transiting across huge urban distances and then expecting the rest of us to somehow support their life-style choices.
    >> An interesting remark, when Gladys keeps saying we should have faster and cheaper trains. Now living by the seaside, that’s a real lifestyle choice !

    It was once feasible due to the cheapness of fuel, but that era is over. PT will not be able to do what the car did, nor is it a feasible option in a city of 7 million. People will have to recalibrate their lives to this new reality.

    >> So you are saying what ? Perhaps create employment venues for all the Hills people in the Hills, so they never need to leave ?
    >> The price of fuel hasn’t increased all that much, in real terms. And if you are taking the gloomy view of the future fuel situation and the viability of electric cars, then intensively developing areas like Rouse Hill, as anything other than true satellite cities, is doomed anyway.
    >> Your “new reality” is what ? Never going anyway ? Or making it so unattractive to go anywhere, that nobody will want to go ? People from the Hills are not going to happy when they discover that their buses are cheaper, and faster, and have more seats, and are easier to get to, than the trains will be. Why even build a train ?

  14. MrV says:

    The seating issue is a bit of a furphy.
    Even if you had single deck trains with seating running along each side, yes more people will have to stand, but have you seen the average arse size of commuters these days? It actually is impeding loading times of the double deck trains IMO.
    Time to put a flat deck wagon in the middle of the train perhaps? (joke).
    Either that or maybe try to modify the city stations, Town Hall/Wynard for spanish solution platform layout.
    Jiggling off a few extra calories standing up is not going to do any harm for the population, and if you are elderly, disabled etc there will still be seating for your needs.
    Besides one thing I’ve noticed with the 3+2 layout in the double deck trains is the middle seat on the (3) side is quite often empty (or used for handbags), even in trains with crowded vestibles. Is this some sort of social code?
    Maybe the Tangaras that are being retrofitted should just have a 2+2 layout, with more allocated for standing?

  15. Northern Line says:

    I have severe autoimmune rheumatoid arthritis and look perfectly healthy, normal and fit but standing for long periods is painful and extremely tiring. As I would not look old or disabled I would miss out on a seat. The double decker trains have more seating and would be better suited to our ageing population. The change at Epping will be terrible for people like me and the elderly.

  16. RichardU says:

    @shiggyshiggy

    “CityRail is bloated. It is a black-hole money pit. Money goes in, and bugger all comes out.”

    So it’s beyond the wit of man to fix that rather than let it carry on because NWRL is “fixed”?

    “This will not be outer suburbia for very much longer”

    So why is the government mandating more residential at Epping and reducing the commercial zoning instead of more commercial with limited parking? Is anything happening about car park requirements for new developments at Macquarie Park? Optus still runs its bus to Epping station.

    None of the planning or transport propaganda I have read mentions the NBN.

  17. RichardU says:

    @Bambul

    “Eventually the NWRL will be extended across the Harbour, but this might take a decade”

    Is there time to announce the project three times and cancel it twice in a decade? Those rituals have to be observed first.

  18. Simon says:

    Without checking, I’m fairly sure that the fares were changed far more for long distance commuters in the MyZone changes in 2010 than the fare harmonisation policy around 2004. That would be reversed for shorter distance commuters who aren’t connecting though.

  19. MrV says:

    The more I look at it, the old Sydney Metro proposal, makes much more sense than current NWRL – which does have hallmarks of a comittee designing an elephant.
    Not only did the metro proposal avoid the whole “do we convert some of the existing system debate”, it creates a whole new line, that could be single deck, purpose built metro and open up a suite of new stations in areas that can increase in population density over time.

    The only issue was where to go once you got to the city, West or South-East? Also the original idea to only build CBD-Rozelle initially was crazy. You’d be better to build it Rouse Hill to Epping, get that open while constructing the rest of it.

  20. MrV –

    The North West Metro had a number of problems, which in part led to its eventual abandonment. These included:

    1. It was significantly more expensive. Unlike the NWRL, it did not use existing track between Epping and Chatswood, nor could it make use of the surface reservation between Chatswood and St Leonards. Additionally, it would require 4 Harbour Crossings, compared to just 1 for the NWRL.
    2. It did not provide a direct link to Macquarie Park, Chatswood, St Leonards, or North Sydney. The NWRL provides a direct connection to some of these immediately, and then eventually to all (plus the CBD) once a Second Harbour Crossing is built. The North West Metro would require a transfer to a line with a relatively high 15 minute frequencies to do this, whereas the NWRL will initially require a transfer to a line with 3 minute frequencies, then eventually no transfer will be required.
    3. It used up both the Metro Pitt and Metro West reservations through the CBD, seriously hampering the ability of any further lines being built through the CBD.

  21. MrV says:

    1. Undoubtedly it would be more expensive, but you are getting an extra link to the CBD (and possibly South-East or West) for those dollars and yes there would be harbour engineering challenges.
    2. Yes there would be a change at Epping for either Chatswood (then city) or City via Strathfield. But at the same time this also provides options for commuters via the network effect. Once the 2nd Harbour crossing is built you can increase frequency on the Epping-Chatswood line accordingly.
    At somepoint the subject of having to change trains to reach ones final destination is going to need to be broached.
    3. Yes I do remember the claim and counter-claim about using up CBD corridors, but as I see it there appears to be two corridors available, it would be highly unlikely for there to be two additional North-South harbour crossings built (at least in the Rocks area), so not sure why the Western one could not be used for a metro approaching from the West. Alternatively what are the options for a West-East crossing underneath existing lines in CBD (ie a new corridor)?

  22. MrV –

    1. It wouldn’t provide an extra link to the CBD. Both proposals provide one new line to the CBD, or two if you count the Southern approach.

    2. Construction of the North West Metro would further defer the need for a Second Harbour Crossing, while the NWRL makes it more likely to be sooner rather than later. I totally agree on the need to have a network based on connections, but connections need high frequency and you should try to have direct services to high trip generator locations (like the CBD and North Sydney/St Leonards/Chatswood/Macquarie Park). The NWRL does these both far better than the North West Metro (as the latter relies on relatively infrequent trains to Macquarie Park and the North Shore).

    3. I doubt a Third Harbour Crossing will be built in my lifetime. But another underground CBD line might be (perhaps heavy rail, metro, light rail, maybe even for buses). This is part of long term planning to make sure that in 30-50 years time Sydney’s transport system can be expanded easily. Government’s don’t plan long term as well as they should, the last thing they need is for us to encourage them not to.

  23. Northern Line –

    Your concern about a potential lack of seats is legitimate. But I can assure you that it is unfounded, so it should not concern you.

    The original plan for the NWRL was to have 8 double deck trains per hour during the peak. With single deck trains, it is 12 trains per hour. Double decks do have 50% more seats than a single deck train, but by running 50% more trains, you still have the same number of seats per hour, which is what matters.

    During off peak there is normally enough seats for everyone. But if not, then there will still be 50% more trains, so the number of seats remains unchanged.

  24. Joni says:

    Once the privatised line comes into operation and is not making the money they thought they’d make, the fares will rise and the frequency will drop. We DO NOT WANT ANOTHER Airport Line…

  25. Joni –

    The new line won’t be privatised, it will be privately operated. The government will pay the operator a fixed fee to provide a set level of service. The government will keep all fares, which will be consistent with the rest of the network.

    If fares are increased, then the private operator will see no benefit so they have no incentive to do so. Nor will they be able to decrease frequencies (or cut service levels in general) because those will be contractually set.

    The Airport Line model was a failure and the government has learned from it. Nick Greiner may not have, but he is on the way out next week.

  26. Joni says:

    Thanks Bambul. i still feel very worried about all the broken promises…

  27. RichardU says:

    It’s all very well saying there will be more trains per hour and therefore the same number of seats. The people who are the backbone of CityRail’s regulars spend decades catching the (same) train that best gets them to work at the opening of business. And vice versa. Without a greater staggering of business hours, that will not change. Commuters were promised a better service, instead…

    When technology permits commuters’ work places to be more varied, perhaps their commuting times will become more flexible.

  28. MrV says:

    Bambul,

    1) What I mean is NWRL provides a link to Chatswood and you have to use the existing Harbour Bridge link to city, whereas the metro proposal was a completely new CBD link.

    2) The more I think about it the Second Harbour bridge link should be built before or at minimum in tandem with the NWRL. It’s pretty clear a second link will provide more benefit to the overall network (and thus more people than just the NWRL). Also you could potentially run a temporary high frequency MExpress service into Epping station from the NW if the second crossing was built before the NWRL. The second harbour link obviously giving the potential to greatly increase the number of trains per hour at Epping, so the bus interchange would not be too painful. However you would need integrated ticketing!

  29. MrV says:

    @RichardU

    Isn;t that part of the problem that the frequency of some services is still so low that “regulars” need to plan their lives around a cityfail timetable (which trains may or may not actually be running to anyway), rather than show up at the station and know there will be a train every 3 or 5 minutes?

  30. MrV –

    Again, the current metro proposal includes a NWRL (stage 1) and Second Harbour Crossing (stage 2), which I’ve continually repeated. So I repeat, both proposals include a new CBD link.

    And as I described in the original post, you are correct about which order the two should be built from an engineering perspective. But the argument I made was that the right choice politically is to do it the other way, because building the Harbour Crossing first doesn’t guarantee a NWRL, but building the NWRL first does guarantee a Harbour Crossing. The roads lobby worked this out, and built the roads it could get, even if it left gaps, knowing that the gaps would get built (e.g. the Lane Cove Tunnel). The rail lobby has not, and this is one reason why we get more roads and not enough rail.

    In the mean time, the North Shore approach into the CBD is second only to the Eastern Suburbs Line in terms of spare capacity. Plus about half of passengers are destined for a station North of the Harbour. Which further supports the decision to building the order chosen.

  31. RichardU says:

    @MrV

    It is more likely commuters plan their lives around business hours where they work. Since these tend to be uniform across businesses and, in particular, businesses in which the players interact with similar businesses, there is a rush to cross the harbour at substantially the same time, hence the need for more capacity.

    Like electricity generation, we build the infrastructure to cope with peak demand rather than organise our affairs to spread the load.

    As to MExpress service to Epping. The off ramp to deliver that service was built and no one came. It has just been demolished, so yet more cars and busses can hurtle towards the CBD. You are right. Integrated fares were needed. But, like and rail bridge over the Lane Cove River, it didn’t happen and we continue to pay the cost.

    The Paris RER carries up to 55,000 passengers per hour in double deckers. Are there lessons to be learnt?

  32. RichardU –

    If you want a more even spread of the load, then surely that means supporting an all day high frequency network!

    It’s also important to remember that the majority of trips on Sydney’s rail network are not commuters going to work (see link below, page 3). These are generally off-peak trips, so all day frequency matters as waiting time can end up being as long as the actual in vehicle journey.

    http://www.bts.nsw.gov.au/ArticleDocuments/80/trans2012-12-pt_users.pdf.aspx

  33. RichardU says:

    “If you want a more even spread of the load, then surely that means supporting an all day high frequency network!”

    Being a devil’s advocate, not quite all day. Looking at the morning peak, I’d be interested to see statistics about station exits at quarter hour segments; presumably the evening for entrances would be similar. I expect the drop off after nine in the morning is quite sharp.

    When considering journey times and train frequencies is it assumed people turn up evenly through the gap between trains (adding half the gapt period to the avergage journey time) or do regulars know when their train leaves and arrive at the station accordingly?

    As to figure 6, bear in mind public transport struggles for a 10% market share. That leaves 90% potential customers who travel purposes and departure times are not covered.

  34. RichardU –

    For infrequent services, people do rely on the timetable more, but that still raises numerous problems. What happens if you are late? What happens if your service is early? What happens if your service is cancelled? What happens if you misread the timetable? What happens if you need to make a connection at the beginning or end of that leg of your journey? What if infrequent services means arriving early, wasting your time? All of these have happened to me, I’m sure many have happened to you.

    Frequency is freedom. And with a network that is moving towards more services that pass through transport interchanges, where you can transfer to another service, high frequency is essential. And this is needed all day, not just during the peaks. Doing so will allow you to travel from anywhere to anywhere easily on public transport, rather than almost exclusively CBD centric services. Given your concerns about the current focus on the CBD and the peaks, I’m sure this is something you can get behind.

  35. RichardU says:

    As a somewhat aimless tourist, I have travelled on Tube, Metro and XBahn in London, Paris, Berlin and Munich and commuted for decades on CityRail.

    For tourists and those of irregular habits, it would be great to have the frequency one enjoys in European capitals but those (cross city) journeys were subsidised by the local taxpayers. Having been promised driven trains, we are are now to get driverless trains. My concern about promises of greater frequency is we don’t know what financial and service trade off will be involved. When Sydney becomes less CBD centric than it is now, I’ll get more excited about lobbying for greater frequencies.

    I am also concerned that no consideration is given to thinking laterally about the zoning solutions we are looking at to cope with the population growth being imposed on us. For example, why is Epping to become mega residential with reduced commercial zoning, when the opposite should be happening to attract workers from Gosford, Chatswood, Strathfield, Rouse Hill and beyond with NO need to change trains or burden crossing the harbour or cluttering York Street? Technological developments which affect workplace issues are happening but they don’t seem to be part of the transport debate. I see, for example, call centres are now being transferred from Asia to New Zealand.

    Incidentally for any teachers of media studies, I wish you would unleash the glossy brochures emanating from the Transport bureaucracy to critical study by your students. I’m sure a lively debate would ensue. Notice for example the frequent use of the word “rapid”.

  36. john smith says:

    There’s nothing wrong with a well planned interchange. However there are several things desperately wrong with forcing NWRL passengers to change at Chatswood.

    1. The platforms at Chatswood are not wide enough

    A terminating train unloading say 900 transferring passengers would cover the entire island platform to a density almost as great as the present deplorable evening peak congestion at Wynyard and Town Hall.

    If the next train arrives from the NWRL before the first crowd has cleared (which is very likely – see below), where do the people go?

    2. The trains which NWRL riders are supposed to board will already be almost full

    The issue is not whether the north shore line has spare capacity over the peak hour. The issue is whether there is spare capacity on the next train that our 900 transferring passengers will want to board.

    The most likely scenario is that the 900 will find the next North Shore train is three quarters full. What happens when 900 people try to board a train that has space for 300? Dwell time will increase uncontrollably as people stand with one foot in the door trying to squeeze on. Excessive dwell time will reduce the capacity of the whole line.

    3. Any delay could create a serious risk to public safety from overcrowding

    What happens when the next 900 NWRL riders arrive at the Chatswood platform where 600 people are still waiting? What happens if the next North Shore train is already overcrowded because of a delay further up the line?

    The slightest delay or disruption could create a serious risk to public safety from overcrowding on the platforms at Chatswood. Quite apart from the fact that it’s a terrible quality of service for a multi-billion dollar new line.

  37. Joni says:

    Local passenger comments on change of trains at Chatswood from the 2119 website:

    [MON 3 JUN] “I had a taste of Chatswood station with train changing tonight.. My Epping-bound half-full train had to terminate at platform 3 Chatswood. So we all had to get out and wait for the next Epping train coming in on platform, 4. The platform was packed, and I was at the front door 1st carriage. People had trouble moving because of furniture and stairs on the platform. And we were only waiting 4 minutes on the platform. So I have serious concerns of how the platforms will cope with the Metro in full peak hour.”

  38. john smith says:

    The obvious least cost second harbour rail crossing is:

    – a third and fourth track from Chatswood to North Sydney in the present corridor;
    – four tracks merge to the existing two between North Sydney and Milsons Point, then split again underground north of Wynyard to run up-up-down-down through platforms 1/2 (former tram platforms) and 3/4;
    – new line to the existing never used underground platforms 26-27 at Central, with a new mid city station;
    – extend to join either the Airport-Campbelltown line (preferable to provide direct service from the north shore to the airport) or the Bankstown line (as currently proposed).

    This takes advantage of the fact that line capacity between stations is much higher if platforms are duplicated. Providing there are four North Shore platforms at Wynyard with a new line to points south, capacity on the bridge with existing signalling should be up to 40 per hour each way (certainly at least 30), compared to the present 20.

    Milsons Point station would have to be permanently closed (the extra capacity on two tracks is possible only if there are no intermediate stops). Milsons Point would be compensated with better bus services:

    – southbound, a new stop on the site of the former tram stop/ tollbooths, connecting to the existing station concourse;
    – northbound, a new stop on the Bradfield Highway in the area where the six original traffic lanes spread to make eight, with a connection to Alfred St under the railway. The nearest point where there is enough width to make a layby while maintaining six through lanes is about 100m north of Milsons Point station entrance.

  39. Simon says:

    At least they could extend the NWRL to St Leonards. I don’t see a huge amount of gain from extending beyond there to be honest. Closing Milsons Point seems a bit unreasonable for a well used station.

    I don’t think 900 passengers per train is planned to be unloaded at Chatswood, BTW.

  40. RE: Passengers per train at Chatswood. The figures I’ve seen say two thirds of passengers will be continuing on past Chatswood. From what I’ve heard the trains will have a crush capacity of roughly 1,200 passengers (600 seated, 600 standing).

    So even if the trains fill up (which I doubt, given only 2 of the 12 Cityrail lines currently have an average loading equal to crush capacity), two thirds of 1,200 gives a maximum of 800. So the numbers seem to support Simon on this one.

  41. John Smith says:

    Simon – It’s not just a matter of how well used Milsons Point station is now, it’s also about how good could you make the compensating bus service.

    For commuters from the north to Milsons Point, there would be worse rail access from the north shore line, but better access from an equally big catchment of northern bus routes. No net loss there.

    Rail commuters from the south to Milsons Point would certainly lose out. You may be able to build a new entrance at the south end of North Sydney station to reduce the walk distance to Milsons Point for continuing train users.

    For travel from Milsons Point to city, bus service would be a little slower than train, but would be more frequent, and would have better on street access to more city destinations.

    Think opportunity cost. What if it was the difference between an $8 billion second harbour crossing and and a $2 billion alternative? You could do a lot of good for Sydney’s public transport infrastructure with a $6 billion saving.

  42. Simon says:

    John Smith, yes that is correct. The alternatives at Milson’s Point are pretty lousy heading to the city. In other directions, it’s not so bad. The other problem with closing Milsons Point is that people boarding there heading towards the city in the AM peak do squeeze out some air from when a number of people alighted at North Sydney. This advantage will be lost if the station is closed.

    The best solution to issues caused by the NWRL is to not build the thing in the first place. The whole town has gone crazy with this one.

    None of what I have posted above is likely to happen.

  43. RichardU says:

    Few will forget how, during the Olympics, despite the extra pressures on it, Cityrail performed as we would prefer all the time. This improved service was attributed by many to the reduced number of stops, which reminds us of the award winning hospital with no patients. We also remember how good station design permitted very large numbers of passengers coming at going at the same time at Olympic Park.

    Turning its back on this experience, the government plans to “solve” the dwell time and capacity problems by more frequent smaller trains with many more changes than were expected for most travellers. If passenger loads must be concentrated at Chatswood to handle the limited capacity to the city, perhaps some North Shore trains should terminate there to share the inconvenience with main northern line customers.

    However, it is good to see some lateral thinking on congestion at a few stations with the new trial of changed seating arrangements. http://newcastleonhunter.com/2013/06/at-last-more-standing-room/

    Perhaps more thought should be given to train and station design to solve problems which presently seem more expensive to fix.

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