How might the NWRL work?

Posted: October 16, 2013 in Transport
Tags: , , ,

The decision to make the North West Rail Link (NWRL) an independently operated single deck line that incorporates the existing Epping to Chatswood Rail Link poses a number of operational challenges.

In the short term, the line will terminate at Chatswood, forcing the 2/3rds of passengers headed further South on the North Shore and into the CBD to change to another train. Some (very rough) estimates by Transport Sydney suggest that this will lead to increased crowding on the North Shore Line, but still less crowded than the Western or Illawarra Lines.

In the longer term, a Second Harbour Rail Crossing will allow both a reduction in crowding levels and for these passengers to continue through into the CBD. However, such a project will not be completed until some time in the next decade or perhaps even later.

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. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Transport for NSW)

A report in the Sydney Morning Herald from a few months ago claimed to have obtained internal Transport for NSW documents detailing how the government plans to deal with these problems. With some additional speculation to fill in the gaps, this is what it’s approach might be.

Having enough trains on the North Shore Line

There are currently 18 trains per hour on the North Shore Line during the busiest hour in the AM peak, carrying 15,494 passengers (measured at St Leonards). 4 of these trains come from Hornsby via Macquarie Park, 14 come from Hornsby via Gordon. 8 of these 18 trains can be rerouted via Strathfield – the 4 via Macquarie Park trains as well as 4 via Gordon trains which come in from the Central Coast. South of Epping, the previously via Macquarie Park trains will become the existing all stations trains that start at Epping and continue through the CBD and across the Harbour Bridge. Meanwhile, the previously via Gordon trains will replace the 2 new trains which start at Epping and run a limited stops service to Sydney Terminal at Central as well as the other 2 other slots available for such trains.

This may require some adjustments to stopping patterns on the Northern Line in order to allow the faster trains to overtake the slower trains on the section of the line which has 2 pairs of tracks, as a large section of the line currently only has 1 pair of tracks. It is also possible due to intercity trains from the South Coast now continuing through to Bondi Junction during the peak rather than running into Sydney Terminal, thus freeing up capacity at Sydney Terminal for additional trains from the Northern Line.

Assuming passenger loadings are evenly spread out, this should result in a reduction in passenger numbers on the North Shore Line equal to 8 train loads, or about 6,886 passengers.

The government expects 19 million passengers to shift over to the NWRL from other lines each year, which with some very rough guessing (see end of post) is equivalent to 6,800 passengers transferring from the NWRL to the North Shore Line at Chatswood.

The government also expects to reduce the number of buses from Sydney’s North West by 160 during the AM peak, changing them to operate as feeder buses for the NWRL. This equates to about 103 buses during the busiest hour of the AM peak, which is approximately 5,000 passengers (assuming 50 passengers per bus).

So adjusting the current patronage by these amounts gives: 15,494 – 6,886 + 6,800 +5,000 = 20,408 passengers per hour.  The government has committed to running 20 trains per hour on the North Shore Line once the NWRL is operational, which means 1,020 passengers per train, or 113% loading (assuming 900 seats per train). This is above the current 99% average loading on the North Shore Line and also the 94% that it could drop to when the number of trains per hour is increased to 19 as part of the 2013 timetable. But it is well below the 135% crush capacity, above which long dwell time begin to result in delays. It is also below the current loading of the 2 most patronised lines on the Sydney Trains network: the Western Line (119%) and the Illawarra Line (123%).

It should be reinforced that these are not official Transport for NSW or Sydney Trains figures, but rough estimates made by Transport Sydney.

Timing the transfers at Chatswood

During the morning peak, the North Shore Line would run at 3 minute intervals, with the NWRL running at 5 minute intervals. Some North Shore trains commence at Hornsby or Berowra, and these tend to be more full than those starting at Gordon given that they have stopped at more stations and picked up more passengers. By scheduling trains that start at Gordon (plus also possibly Lindfield) to arrive at Chatswood shortly after a train from the NWRL does, then this should maximise the amount of space available on the trains NWRL passengers are transferring to, plus minimise waiting time on the platform for a train that can take as many waiting passengers as possible. Network limitations mean it is unlikely that more than 4 trains per hour can be started at Gordon, and another 4 at Linfield. By having these trains arrive at Chatswood at alternating 6 and 9 minute intervals (e.g. arriving at 8:06AM, 8:15AM, 8:21AM, 8:30AM, etc), they approximate the 5 minute intervals of the NWRL (e.g. 8:04AM, 8:09AM, 8:14AM, 8:19AM, 8:24AM, 8:29AM, etc). Thus, passengers on 8 out of every 12 NWRL trains during peak hour could quite easily just board the next train into the CBD after a 1-2 minute wait. The trouble is that 4 of the 12 NWRL trains per hour are unlikely to benefit from these relatively empty Gordon/Linfield starters, and pose the biggest threat of passengers having to wait for multiple trains before being able to board.

The installation of screen doors are likely to increase the total available space on platforms, by making available the space currently beyond the yellow line that passengers are always told not to cross. However, this would not appear to be a significant amount of space.

Northern Line capacity

As mentioned earlier, capacity increases to the North Shore Line involve moving 8 trains per hour onto the Northern Line. The 4 trains per hour that currently travel from Hornsby to Chatswood via Epping can be rerouted via Strathfield, effectively becoming the 4 trains per hour from Epping to the City via Strathfield. This reverts to the pre-2009 operating patterns before the Epping to Chatswood Rail Link opened. The 4 Central Coast trains moved from the North Shore to the Northern Line will have to terminate at Sydney Terminal, given that all slots through Town Hall, Wynyard, and the Harbour Bridge are being used by existing Western Line and Northern Line trains. This will also mean the end of the 2 additional trains planned for the 2013 timetable, which go from Epping to Sydney Terminal each morning peak.

These changes pose problems of their own. First, it replaces existing trains that start empty at either Hornsby or Epping with trains that began their journey earlier (at the Central Coast and Hornsby respectively) and have picked up passengers, thus removing spare capacity from the line. So while it will see Northern Line frequencies raised from the current 8 trains per hour to 12 trains per hour, the additional trains will be more crowded on average. Second, many parts of the Northern Line have only 1 pair of tracks, and thus lack an overtaking track for faster express trains to pass slower all stops trains.

The first problem is somewhat alleviated by passengers choosing to change at either Hornsby or Epping and travelling towards Macquarie Park/the North Shore, thus freeing up space on Northern Line trains.

The second can be alleviated by building additional track between West Ryde and Rhodes. This will result in 2 pairs of tracks between Epping and Rhodes, thus allowing the faster Central Coast trains to overtake all stations trains.

Extending the NWRL to St Leonards

Of all the possible improvements mentioned in the Herald article, it makes special mention of this one. It would allow passengers on the NWRL travelling to St Leonards to avoid having to transfer to a North Shore Line train. In doing so it would also reduce overcrowding, which as mentioned earlier could be very close to crush loads.

Fast tracking this project to be ready by the time the NWRL begins operating in 2019 would be the single best way to ease the stress caused on the network until a Second Harbour Crossing is built.

Improved signalling

Upgrading signalling in order to boost the maximum capacity of the Sydney Trains network from 20 trains per hour to 24 trains per hour would add an additional 20% capacity to the network. Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian had previously talked about train frequencies of 24 per hour on the North Shore, but has since restrained herself to talking about 20 trains per hour. This suggests that such an upgrade is not likely to happen any time soon, probably due to the high cost of doing so.

The cost

The Herald report claims that the cost of these improvements, plus others listed in the internal document (such as new rolling stock), come to $4bn or almost half of the NWRL’s $8.3bn price tag. However, when asked about these costs during budget estimates hearings last year, Transport for NSW head Les Wielinga dismissed them as amounts that were already budgeted for. This suggests that the required track amplifications on the Northern and North Shore Lines will occur, despite no word on the timing. The Chatswood to St Leonards portion in particular would actually form the beginning of the promised Second Harbour Crossing, and therefore represents a bringing forward of future capital spending, rather than new spending.

Implementing all of these would not eliminate all the problems caused by the NWRL as planned. Upper Northern Line Stations would still lose direct access to Macquarie Park, and be forced to choose between longer journey times or making a transfer in order to reach the lower North Shore. NWRL users would still have to wait until some time next decade before getting a direct link into the CBD, and Chatswood (or St Leonards) could be strained to handle the number of passengers transferring there until that happens.

But it would be significantly better than the “do nothing but build the NWRL as currently planned” option.


19,000,000 passengers per year diverted to NWRL from other lines

19,000,000 / 52 = 365,385 passengers per week

365,385 / 6 = 60,897 passengers per day (assuming 50% usage on Saturdays and Sundays compared to weekdays)

60,897 / 3 = 20,299 passengers per morning peak (assuming rule of thumb that patronage is one third AM peak, one third off peak, one third PM peak)

20,299 / 2 = 10,150 passengers per hour in busiest hour of AM peak (assuming half of all passengers during the 6AM-9AM peak travel during 8AM-9AM)

10,150 x 67% = 6,800 passengers per hour past Chatswood (assuming one third of passengers get off by Chatswood)

  1. mich says:

    That mostly makes sense. But the 60,000 passengers a day, looks a bit odd when you compare it to the current number of buses. At 60 passengers a bus, that would be 1000 bus loads a day, and I don’t think there are that many.

    It has been suggested this line will attract some existing patronage from the western or richmond line. That is, people from Kellyville or wherever, who currently drive to seven hills and catch a train there. Frankly, if that was me, I’d stick with that, it’s not as if the new train is going to be very attractive to travel on for the user, if chinese metros are any guide. Trains which make only about 5 stops from Seven Hills to the CBD always going to be faster than trains via NWRL and North Shore which are all stops.

    And really, how does that 60,000 passengers a day compare with patronage from the Illawarra or Campbelltown or North Shore lines ? Remember, a relatively small proportion of Hills residents actually work in the CBD, thats why they chose to live there.

    Improving signalling is by far the cheapest way of improving capacity, I don’t know why it has turned into such an expensive boondoggle for someone.

    6800 people an hour off the NWRL trying to get onto 20 north shore line trains at Chatswood, thats 340 people trying to get onto each train, 16 doors, about 22 people at each door assuming they spread themselves out properly, its a fairly big ask with the dwell times they will be hoping to maintain.

    Ramping up use of Gordon and Lindfield turnbacks runs contra to the trend of the past 20 years, but it does make sense. It means a lot of the earlier trains from the west can make another peak run to the CBD. It does make the system more prone to various bad effects of minor delays though.

    There is quite a lot of scope for creative stopping patterns on the Northern Line, speed the whole thing up, including some trains starting from Epping, if the northern line runs faster, some people from NWRL bound for central and town hall have incentive to change at epping instead, reduces platform burden at Chatswood.

  2. mich says:

    It’s also interesting to speculate what you do with the Wyong trains. Keep them on the north shore, or send them back to the northern line ?

    One idea that occured to me, was to run the Wyong trains via the northern line in the morning, to simplify the operation of the north shore line for peak throughput. People from the central coast are quite capable of changing to a north shore line train at hornsby, and a seat ex hornsby is guaranteed.

    Running the wyong trains via epping improves access to macquarie from the central coast, you’d still have to change at Epping but that is much shorter than changing from Chatswood. And when people have gotten off those trains at Hornsby and Epping, that is more express capacity for pax from NWRL to the CBD from Epping.

    But you could still run some of the PM wyong trains via the north shore if you wanted to, where the whole chatswood problem works differently, and gives the central coast pax from Wynyard and North Sydney a one-seat ride home.

    The point is, the afternoon doesn’t have to work exactly the same way as the morning does.

    The argument that people from Thornleigh, or Gosford for that matter, will lose direct access to Macquarie Park, is really a non-argument when there is 5 minute frequency on the NWRL and it is a cost-penalty-free transfer at Epping.

    And here is one final suggestion, if you are having trouble pacing trains on the northern line: Turn back the northern line trains at Thornleigh, not Hornsby. And service Normanhurst and Thornleigh with the Wyong trains, which will have spare capacity when people get off at Hornsby to use the north shore line. If an all-stops-to-Burwood-then-CBD train leaves Thornleigh right after the wyong train, it has a head-start on staying out of the way of the next Newcastle train, compared to starting out of Hornsby.
    That’s my darg.

  3. Tony Galloway says:

    Remember the clause in the original M2 contract that prohibited public transport ”competition” for 45 years?

    This kiddie-ride ”metro” is the same thing done different – deliberate sabotage of the NWRL to protect the commercial interests of TransUrban, by imposing a stupid and impractical operation at vast cost that will suck money out of worthwhile projects – just like the hideous Westconnex farce.

    It’s what the liberal party does – in Victoria the Napthine government has cancelled the option for 100 extra trams to waste the money on their stupid and unnecessary East-west tollroad, and the new federal government’s vandal attitude to urban public transport is the same.

  4. Rails says:

    People get too hung up on the “Metro” description. The trains on the NWRL are really Single Deck Heavy Rail. The original MW Metro ran small 5 car trains with longitudinal seating, that’s what most people think of as Metro and seem to think this line is. From the details i’ve seen the current NWRL trains are only slightly smaller than Cityrail Double Decker trains with 8 cars and 2 + 2 seating. The number of seats will match what is available under the “integrated” cityrail network plan and exceed the initial number of predicted passengers per hour on the NWRL section of the line. More growth means more trains (from 12 up to 20 tph). These Single Deck trains will sure as hell be more comfortable than the buses NW folks are used to catching to the CBD. They will also have the benefit of much more standing room for passengers on the ECRL/ Lower North Shore, more doors for easier movement of passengers and less dwell time which make sense considering the many employment destinations along this line (more than any other line). The better frequency is more suitable considering the line will be interchanging all those NW buses and are meeting a more turn up and go market.Makes sense to me, its not like a lot of other Sydney lines where the majority of passengers get on at an outer suburban station and only travel for a long journey to a single employment destination. Double Deckers aren’t the best solution for this line even if they are for many others in Sydney.

  5. TandemTrainRider says:

    > 8 of these 18 trains can be rerouted via Strathfield
    > 15,494 – 6,886 + 6,800 +5,000 = 20,408 passengers per hour.
    @bambul, I don’t think this part of your analysis is quite right.

    The most recent stats show it’s ~3000 Ex Central Coast PAX travelling via the Nth Shore, and approx 1500 of these (that number is from the from the Compendium, not plucked out of the air) are bound for the Nth Shore or the ECL anyway. There are ~1500 suburban PAX from Berrowa, Mt Kuringai & Asquith too. So I think the scope to move PAX from the Nth Shore to the main North is between 2000 and 3000 in the peak hour.

    Even so, on average that leaves a theoretical capacity of up to 8K/hr for the NWRL, but as you correctly point out, that’s only on average. With the proposed frequencies 9 of the 12 Ex Hornsby trains arriving at Chatswood already (at least) half full will be greeted with ~800 (attempted) boardings.

    24 trains an hour is perfectly possible in the existing format even with the current Bradfield signalling. Indeed it was regularly achieved from the 1930s to the 1970s without a single major safety incident, albeit with shorter dwell times. The main issue with achieving tighter headways are the current work practicies of expressing working timetables in whole minutes. 30tph with 2min headways is not possible, so 3min headways at 20tph is the only other possible “option”.

    In a post NWRL world, the main impediment to 24tph will be the NWRL itself and the dwell time blowouts caued by whole train interchanges.

    There are only two ways I can see this is likely to be at all workable, even with significantly less than (the very modest) 8kph NWRL patonage: to synchronise the CityRail and NWRL timetables. That would mean 10tph & 6min headways on the NWRL connecting with every second Nth Shore train turned at Gordorn or Lindfield. Ultimately though I think the NWRL will require a dedicated double track south facing turnback at Chatswood.

    There is a very simple and much much cheaper solution to this problem: and that’s not to build the Chatswood interchange at all, and instead run trains on the NWRL directly into the city.

  6. mich says:

    I don’t think you can have 24 trains per hour now. Politically correct door operation will see to that. I am old enough to remember when jumping on and off moving trains was commonplace.

  7. Joni says:

    Living on the Main Northern Line, I am very, very concerned about the loss of a direct service into the city for us ( not Central ) and the loss of a public asset via the gifting of the Epping to Chatswood link into private hands. The crowding at Epping and Chatswood while we all wait for multiple trains will be dangerous and cost us a lot of extra stress and travel time.

  8. mich says:

    Is it proposed that all Northern Line trains terminate at Central ? I am not sure if that is the plan, or not. You should still have “direct service into the city”, just from the opposite direction, the same as you had before 2009.

  9. mich says:

    On your map there, I am quite bamboozled by the road you are showing, which runs between a location near Normanhurst, and Dural. There is no such road…. Where did you get that map from ? It’s not very good.

  10. Mich –

    The source is Transport for NSW, and is cited underneath the image. There’s a link there you can click on. This is an older version of the map, though the new one is only marginally different. Both show the “phantom road” you mentioned.

  11. Joni says:

    It’s pretty certain that the services for the main Northern Line will terminate at Central once the NWRL goes through.

    The planners of the NWRL might be clueless about the local areas affected by the NWRL — during community consultations their maps were out and inaccurate and when my friend pointed out that the N W S and E were even wrong, they looked at her blankly!

  12. mich says:

    “It’s pretty certain that the services for the main Northern Line will terminate at Central once the NWRL goes through. ”

    I don’t know why you would just automatically assume that. Neither the traditional northern line route, nor the current one, terminated at central.

    If ( hypothetically ) it is necessary to exclude northern line services from the tracks between Central and North Sydney, limited to 20 ( or 24 ) trains an hour, that necessity arises from the need to have 20 ( or 24 ) trains from the Western line running through there. Its not intrinsically related to the NWRL. It would be perhaps be better to run at least 4 northern line services through town hall, and terminate some of the western line services at central instead. There are pros and cons either way.

    It could be worse ! Northern line services could terminate at Strathfield, and you could change to a western line service. That’s what a lot of the “interchanging is good for you” morons would advocate.

    Anyway, to some extent, you have to take the good with the bad. From the Northern Line, you have choices. You have a choice of going via Strathfield or Chatswood, whatever suits you best. That’s not a choice people on other lines have. You also have speedy two-stop express services from Epping and Eastwood. That’s a huge benefit. Nobody from Gordon or Turramurra ever gets that. You also have big cost benefits. MyZone 1 goes all the way to Epping, which is a lot further from the CBD than Roseville, which is in Zone 2.

  13. mich says:

    ” Both show the “phantom road” you mentioned.”

    ” during community consultations their maps were out and inaccurate and when my friend pointed out that the N W S and E were even wrong, they looked at her blankly!”

    Consultants are rubbish. Who’d a’ thought it ?

    They can’t even spell “Tallawang” properly.

  14. Ray says:

    You’re right mich, there is no such road from Dural to Thornleigh/Normanhurst. Unless there is a plan which no one is aware of to extend Quarry Rd from Old Northern Rd at Dural across Berowra Creek through Westleigh to Pennant Hills Rd. I’d say unlikely.

    With regard to Northern Line services post NWRL, as I have said before , the most logical operating pattern is for the Hornsby via Macquarie Park services to take over the paths of the current Epping to CBD via Strathfield services, which would continue to provide a through service to the North Shore. This would be even more sensible in the off-peak, reverting to what it was before the ECRL opened. I don’t think there would be any great disadvantage to upper Northern Line commuters as anecdotal evidence suggests that the majority would be travelling to the CBD or other destinations, not to the Macquarie Park area and the Lower North Shore. IMO the majority of commuters to the Macquarie Park area would drive there, as parking is plentiful. In any event, travel times to CBD stations via Strathfield, with the exception of Wynyard, are equal to or faster than via Macquarie Park anyway. They were even faster to all CBD stations before the limited stop express peak hour services on the Northern Line were diverted to the ECRL. That is one reason why the Lower Northern Line is now one of the most congested on the Sydney Trains network, effectively halving the services from two of the busiest stations at Eastwood and West Ryde.

    The new timetable provides for two new morning limited stop peak hour services from Epping to Central via Strathfield (four cars only) and this could potentially be extended to four services. From Epping, it will stop at Eastwood, West Ryde, Meadowbank, Rhodes, Strathfield, Redfern and terminate at Central. It would just keep ahead of the following Intercity service with only a two minute headway by the time they reached Central. I don’t think Bambul’s suggestion that these services be taken over by the Central Coast services diverted from the North Shore Line would be practicable. To stop at the same number of stations on the Lower Northern Line would I’m sure antagonize Central Coast commuters.

    The only hope to improve Lower Northern Line services is for the next stage of the Northern Sydney Freight Corridor Program to be brought forward. This would involve completing the quad between West Ryde and Rhodes, which would then provide complete quadruplication between Epping and Strathfield, allowing greater flexibility for mixing all stations, express and freight services. I can’t see how this would be astronomically expensive, as it is only over a distance of a few kilometres with the extra track corridors already existing and the John Whitton Bridge crossing the Parramatta River having the bridge piers in place to accommodate the additional two tracks.

  15. Joni says:

    The majority of people on our station seem to be catching the train to North Ryde, Mac Park, Mac Uni, St Leonards and North Sydney and return. They don’t drive there as Epping Rd can get jammed and then 5 km can take 1/2 an hour where the train all the way to work can take 11 minutes without associated parking issues.

    So the NWRL will disadvantage us.

  16. Rails says:

    I mentioned in a previous thread that I am pretty sure that the Government plans to have the whole Northern line as a separate sector into Central, its what I read into their document “Sydney’s Rail Future”. At the very least you may have 4 tph running from Epping to the North Shore line via Strathfield in peak but I think that is not what they have in mind. Will be a number of years away though.

  17. mich says:

    I’m not sure that you can continue running the Wyong services down the North Shore line, and at the same time create enough consistent capacity for the NWRL passengers to board at Chatswood. At least, not if there are as many NWRL passengers as they say. I suspect the NWRL will not be as popular as they predict. These predictions come from the same clowns who predicted the patronage of the Lane Cove tunnel. And the cross city tunnel. And the eastlink toll road in melbourne. And the clem7 tunnel in Brisbane. And the brisbane airport tunnel. I will believe that there are 6800 passengers an hour changing trains at chatswood, when I see them. I don’t expect to see them, frankly.

    The problem you run into the with the north shore line, is that you cannot effectively operate a two-tier or three tier service, such as which operates on the illawarra or east hills or western lines, because they have 4 tracks. Over the years, the number of limited stops services on the north shore line decreased to the point where all services went to all stops. This is consistent, but slow.

    There is no point trying to run “expresss” services from Wyong along the north shore line, if they can only run 4 minutes faster than the other trains. They can skip stops, but crawl along between stops, instead. The presence of these trains has caused some problems with consistency of trains, particularly in the PM – a problem which will be slightly improved next week.

    The problem is worse, on the northern line. There has always been a problem coordinating the suburban and interrurban services there. The curent scheme allows a suburban train to leave Hornsby after an interrurban, and then go down the hole at Epping before the next interrurban catches up to it. Another one can then leave Epping behind it, and get to Burwood before the next one catches up. Running a suburban train all the way from Hornsby to Burwood, is harder without blocking the interrurban behind it.

  18. Simon says:

    The only sensible option is for the upper northern line trains to run into Central (i). If the lower Northern Line trains run into Central (i) that would only have logic if the Blue Mountains trains run through Town Hall, which an 8 car V set cannot do (it isn’t long enough AIUI). These are also less crowded than the lower northern line trains so there would be more interchanging from sending the lower Northern line trains to Central (i).

    Running all stops from Hornsby to Strathfield at 8tph or even 4tph wouldn’t really allow Central Coast trains through at all, except at a very slow speed. I think we’ll see a return to the previous stopping patterns, or similar.

  19. Joni says:

    The O’Farrell government has plans for Sydney’s rail system that would eventually see it split up and privatised, the ramifications of which are still being worked through.

    Read more:

  20. Ray says:

    Joni, I can’t agree with your assertion that the majority of passengers from the Upper Northern Line would be travelling to Macquarie Park and the Lower North Shore. Employment in the Sydney CBD dwarfs that in Macquarie Park and the Lower North Shore and it is not unreasonable to suggest that most passengers would be travelling to the CBD. Before the opening of the ECRL, and that was only a few years ago, I don’t recall an avalanche of passengers interchanging to buses at Epping to travel to Macquarie Park and North Sydney (even though they bypassed Chatswood), although there is an indirect bus route (545 & 550) from Eastwood to Chatswood.

    The State Government, over the last couple of decades, has considered options to terminate all Northern Line Trains at Central, but it was never considered practicable, both from a political and operational perspective. Why should the Northern Line be disadvantaged in relation to all other lines by being denied direct access through the CBD? The Lower Northern Line from Epping to Strathfield is already one of the most congested sectors of the network (if not the most congested). With major urban redevelopment now underway or planned in Eastwood, West Ryde, Meadowbank and Rhodes there has been an exponential growth in patronage which the current limited service of 4 trains per hour, particularly in the peak, is unable to cope with. I don’t see this happening on the Upper Northern Line (apart from Hornsby of course).

    I don’t think diverting the Central Coast trains via the North Shore Line to the Northern Line via Strathfield is a viable option as it would only compromise local services, particularly on the Lower Northern Line.

    As for the operational pattern on the Northern Line after the NWRL is opened, as I mentioned in my earlier post, it would be logical for the services from Hornsby via Macquarie Park to revert to the previous pattern via Strathfield, taking over the paths of the current Epping to CBD services throughout the day. Despite what simon suggests, the additional peak hour services from Epping should terminate at Central (because of the lack of paths through the CBD), which is what is proposed under the new timetable (2 tph initially). This pattern would at least provide direct access through the CBD to the North Shore for ALL Northern Line stations (4 tph) and despite the difficulty in accommodating the mix of suburban, Intercity and freight traffic on the existing infrastructure, it is nonetheless the goal that should be pursued.

    However, this problem could be overcome if the next stage of the Northern Sydney Freight Corridor Program was brought forward, ie, completing the quad between West Ryde and Rhodes. There is no reason why this couldn’t be achieved, with co-operation from the Federal Government, by the time the NWRL is due to open in 2019.

  21. TandemTrainRider says:

    For what it’s worth, I think all Northern Line trains operating in and out of Central(i) *exclusively* is an inevitable corrollory of the decision to build the NWRL as a small format metro.

    Quite ironic really, but the push for a 3 tier service at tier 1 is going to impose a more homogenious service on the 2nd and 3rd tiers.

  22. Simon says:

    Ray, that doesn’t make any sense. It is a fact that the lower Northern line trains are the busiest on the network. If you say 4tph all stops Hornsby to Strathfield (or Burwood) proceeding to Town Hall then you can only envisage greater passenger loading on the most overcrowded services on the network. Perhaps that will be supplemented by 4tph to Epping, but it still requires overtaking moves to allow the Central Coast trains through.

    It just won’t work and you haven’t explained how it will. I’m getting tired of saying so actually.

    And the NSFC won’t help pax in peak hour when there are no freight trains anyway.

  23. MrV says:

    Like anything perception is key.

    If by the time the NWRL is completed (to Chatswood) the public can see that the method of the second harbour crossing has been decided (tunnel/bridge) and the locations of new city stations agreed, with planning well advanced and a construction start imminent, people will put up with the short term inconvenience.

    If on the other hand it is put into the never-never category with no decisions made the reaction will be different.

  24. mich says:

    The lower northern line trains are not, by and large, particularly crowded. They do have a problem in the actual peak period, but the rest of the time, their loading is light. They have managed with 2 trains per hour off peak without being crowded and delayed. A lot of the other lines are quite busy all day long.

  25. Ray says:

    Simon, I acknowledge your concerns about overcrowding on the Lower Northern Line, but even with the current infrastructure, it is feasible for a through service for all Northern Line Stations to the North Shore via Strathfield in the am peak after the NWRL is opened.

    Based on the new timetable, it would require the suburban service from Hornsby to the city via Strathfield (post NWRL) to depart 3 mins earlier (3 mins after the preceding Intercity service and 12 mins before the following Intercity service). By the time they reach Epping, the headway would be reduced to 7 mins. From Epping to Strathfield the journey time for the suburban all stations service is 19 mins against the Intercity express service of 13 mins. The headway is reduced to 1 min at Strathfield which is quite feasible considering that the suburban service would diverge at the North Strathfield Junction to Platform 5 via the flyover and the Intercity service would proceed direct to either Platforms 1 or 2. So no overtaking would be required. The additional limited stop services in the am peak from Epping to Sydney Terminal would also have to depart 3 mins earlier to co-ordinate with the through suburban and Intercity services. Off-peak services should not be a problem.

    I haven’t looked at the pm service, but it could also be similarly configured to provide additional services for the Northern Line.

    As an interim measure, an option that should be considered prior to full quadruplication from Epping to Strathfield is to make the middle road at West Ryde (Platform 2) to become bi-directional, similar to that at Epping, which would provide greater flexibility in the pm peak.

    The point I am trying to make here is that after the opening of the NWRL, all Northern Line stations should have the option of direct access to all CBD stations without the need to change trains. This is not an unreasonable aspiration.

    An all stations service from Hornsby to the CBD via Strathfield in peak hours would obviously be heavily patronised, but the additional services from Epping to Central would in the am peak (and also potentially in reverse in the pm peak) alleviate the congestion. Although this is not an ideal situation, this is the best scenario that can be contemplated in the immediate future.

    A limited stop service from Epping to Central in the am peak is at best a stop gap measure to address the congestion on the Lower Northern Line, but it will be only fully resolved when the Northern and Western Lines are directly connected to a new CBD and cross harbor rail link.

  26. Ray says:

    mich, the Lower Northern Line is one of the most congested in peak periods. Yes, you are correct that in the off-peak there is no problem. It is now 4 tph. But the problem is during peak hours when services were halved from 8 to 4 tph for the busiest stations at Eastwood and West Ryde after the opening of the ECRL. The urban consolidation at Meadowbank and Rhodes has exacerbated the situation.

  27. Joni says:

    Cutting train services was one of the reasons for a huge wing to Labor this weekend. I’m not a fan of Labor but can see people here doing the same thing…

    ‘‘People feel like they have been ignored. That is part of the reason I stood,’’ said Mr Collier, who defeated Liberal candidate Brett Thomas.
    He said the major issues for local voters were overdevelopment in the Sutherland Shire, the frequent closure of fire stations, cuts to TAFE, and poor transport services at the Jannali and Kogarah train stations.
    Shadow treasurer Michael Daley said early counting showed the massive swing against the Liberals. ‘‘This is what happens when you have a talented local candidate and a government that stands for nothing and delivers nothing but cuts. Communities hate cuts.’’

    Read more:

  28. Simon says:

    Interesting POV Ray. Not too sure about your suggestion that going to a different platform at Strathfield allows a 1 minute headway, might as well say that coming from a different platform at Hornsby allows a 1 minute headway, but even if 2 minutes of fat were added, I guess that wouldn’t be the end of the world.

    I’m still not sure why you’re so keen on the idea. These 15 minute frequency trains would be catastrophically overloaded for a start.

  29. Ray says:

    Well, I agree Simon, that a 1 min headway at Strathfield is a bit tight, even if to different platforms, but not unachievable. The new am peak services from Epping to Central have a headway of 2 mins with the following Intercity services by the time they reach Sydney Terminal, and that is over a relatively short distance through Sydney Yard until they reach their respective platforms. The distance from North Strathfield Junction, where the Northern Line Up track diverges to Strathfield Station via the flyover, I think is a bit longer. It may nonetheless be possible to squeeze out another 1 or 2 mins between them, so it is still a strategy worth pursuing.

    What I haven’t mentioned is the impact of the North Strathfield Underpass as part of the Northern Sydney Freight Corridor Program. This will be completed in 2016, well before the NWRL becomes operational. This involves an extension of the Up Relief Line, just south of Rhodes Station in the vicinity of the Homebush Bay Drive overpass, to the existing disused Up Relief Line south of Concord West Station and rehabilitation of the existing Up Relief Line to north of North Strathfield Station. From there a new track would diverge to the rail underpass to link up with the existing Flemington freight loop.

    I’m not sure if the extended track would be made available for passenger services, but at relatively little expense, the rehabilitation of the remaining short section of the disused Up Relief Line from north of North Strathfield Station and extending it past the junction to the flyover to Strathfield could potentially provide greater flexibility for overtaking opportunities for express services, completely separating suburban and Intercity trains. Preferably, the relief line should be extended to Platform 1 at Strathfield. Ultimately, the full quad from Epping to Strathfield will provide greater flexibility for all modes.

    My reason for supporting the idea of an all stations peak hour service from Hornsby to the CBD via Strathfield (post NWRL), as I stated in my earlier post, is to ensure that all Northern Line stations continue to have the option of an uninterrupted service through the CBD to the North Shore. This would be easily achievable in the off-peak, effectively reverting to the previous operating pattern prior to the opening of the ECRL.

    However in the peak, and I’m just referring to the am peak, these services would be supplemented by the Epping to Central services, currently 2 tph but with the potential to double that to 4 tph. Although these new services are only 4 cars, they could easily be increased to 8 cars if the patronage warranted it. The services from Epping to Central would be attractive to those passengers only travelling as far as Central (which would be a substantial number), possibly being less crowded and with more seats available. The busiest stations at Eastwood and West Ryde, would have their peak hour services restored in part from 4 to 8 tph and if the limited stop service from Epping to Central was to be continued, then Meadowbank and Rhodes would also benefit with increased services. This would take pressure off the all stations services from Hornsby and I can’t see how they would be overloaded.

  30. Joni says:

    I don’t agree that the majority of Northern Line passengers are going to Central or the CBD and would like to see statistics supporting this or otherwise. Has anybody done this research?

  31. Simon says:


    Have a look at the detailed by service capacity stats. I think Ray should look at them too.

    Barring some sort of parallel universe where those entering stations from Chatswood to Milsons Point only get on upper Northern line trains, it shows that the Northern line trains are still reasonably well used departing Milsons Point in the AM peak.

    Some other stats are at

  32. Joni says:

    Thanks Simon. Is there a way for me to see the stats specific to the upper Northern Line from Normanhurst to Cheltenham and where those commuters are headed each day?

  33. TandemTrainRider says:

    In more detail:

    This suggests about 3000PAX per peak hour, to go withthe 6000 per peak hour from the lower northern.

  34. TandemTrainRider says:

    This is from 2009 and there is no distinction between upper and lower northern, but the trend across the whole network – including the northern line – is 80-85% of PAX are City Bound.

  35. TandemTrainRider says:

  36. Simon says:

    No Joni. That data wouldn’t be possible to get completely accurately. Once we have Opal it would be a possibility. There is no way of telling what train someone who does a station entry at Epping actually gets on, for example.

    You can get entries at Normanhurst (or any other station) and draw inferences from that, but that’s the best you could do.

    The link I posted above has a link to a detailed pdf down the bottom which provides as accurate measurement of each service at a number of points as is available. Should be good enough for most purposes.

  37. Joni says:

    OK thank you Simon and TandemTrainRider

  38. Simon says:

    BTS have released a new tool:

    Shows even more clearly how laughable Rails’ arguments are. In particular the inferred argument people that live in the NW work in Macquarie Park. BTS say that in 2011 there were 4209 people who lived in the Baulkham Hills SA3 and worked in the Ryde – Hunters Hill SA3 and 3145 of them were vehicle drivers. Hardly any! There would need to be staggering growth for this argument to hold.

  39. @Simon

    Great tool. I hadn’t seen it before. If considering the impact of the NWRL, then I would probably also add in those who work in Rouse Hill-McGraths Hill (725), Epping-Pennant Hills (1,198), and Chatswood-Lane Cove (2,381) to Ryde-Hunters Hill (4,256). That gives a total of 8,560, which is more than how many work in Sydney Inner City (8,787).

    In the future you can add in North Sydney-Mosman (1,712) to that, and it soon becomes clear why about half of workers who reside in NW Sydney and who will get the NWRL are going to the Global Arc destinations North of the Harbour rather than the CBD, and why this corridor is better suited to single deck trains that allow a higher turnover of passengers without a blowout in dwell times.

  40. Simon says:

    Not sure how you count Epping-Pennant Hills? Unless Epping is your local station, you are actually going backwards with the NWRL and those near Epping station are just staying the same except for the frequency improvement and only if they aren’t going beyond Chatswood. Perhaps you might get the odd person going backwards to the Franklin Rd station but I can’t imagine too many.

    I’ll agree with Rouse Hill…

    Including those heading to Chatswood-Lane Cove would include a lot of St Leonards workers which is a bit unfair, but you might possibly include half of them.

  41. That’s residents of Baulkham Hills who work in Epping-Pennant Hills. It’s all the locations along the NWRL as destinations, with the origin being Baulkham Hills

  42. Ray says:

    Find it hard to believe. Most commuters to Macquarie Park drive there. Can’t see how there would be more commuters to North Shore destinations rather than the Sydney CBD. If you believe that, you are deceiving yourself. The new rail timetable actually increases services from the city to Macquarie Park in the am peak and the reverse in the pm peak. So much for demand from the North and North West.

  43. Simon says:

    I guess Bambul. But most of those will continue to drive.

    You aren’t seriously saying you expect a significant mode shift from Hills residents working in Pennant Hills-Epping, I’m sure.

  44. TandemTrainRider says:

    @Rails, IFAIK the reason for the increased AM frequencies via Mac Park was to stop people having to hang around the network’s choak point on Town Hall platform 3 waiting up to 15 min for their connection the ECL. It was never about line capacity.

  45. Frank says:

    Can anyone explain the advantage of running NWRL through to Chatswood? It means the existing “link” from Chatswood to Epping can never be used by other trains – it will literally be cut off from the network. It means this existing line will be closed for some time during construction of the NWRL. The existing connections at Epping and Chatswood will be scrapped.

  46. Joni says:

    RAY SAID -Most commuters to Macquarie Park drive there. I don’t think you live in the Northern Line area because every train user I know around here goes to Mac Uni, Mac Park, North Ryde, Chatswood, St Leonards,North Sydney, Mislon’s Point or Wynyard to work.

    Frank – There is an enormous amount of new high rise units going up at Carlingford, I think the NWRL should go via the Carlingford Line and revitalise that line at the same time.

  47. Ray says:

    Joni, I live in Epping, and I have lived in the Northern Districts since 1949 (most of my life in Eastwood), so I think I have a fair idea of how the transport links have developed in the area.

    Macquarie Park is a widely dispersed business park precinct which is predominantly focused on car access with abundant parking. The ECRL obviously provides an enhanced access regime for commuters, but it is by no means the dominant form of transport and is never likely to be.

    You obviously don’t speak to the right people if you think they all commute to Macquarie Park and the North Shore via the ECRL, as earlier posts show that Upper Northern Line commuters overwhelmingly travel to the Sydney CBD.

    Frank has a point too. The conversion of the ECRL to rapid transit will make the connections with the Sydney Trains network at Epping and Chatswood redundant.

  48. Joni says:

    Hi Ray, I meant you need to live in the area UP from Epping e.g. Cheltenham to Normanhurst station areas because the many. many people I know who catch trains from there need to keep going along to Mac Uni, Mac Park, North Ryde, Chatswood, St Leonards,North Sydney, Milsons Point or Wynyard to work.The comments on the petition support this – see

    I do speak to the “right” people, Read the comments on the petition closely and you will see.

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