Update (11:27AM, 16 Jan 2014): Confirmation has come through that Thornleigh station now has Opal readers installed. That means the entire Northern portion of the T1 lines are ready for Opal use.
Opal readers have been installed in all but one station on the Inner West, Northern, North Shore, and Central Coast rail lines; suggesting that Opal cards will soon be usable on this sector of Sydney’s rail network. The current schedule has Opal being rolled out to these lines by the end of March, though the rollout has recently been running 1-4 months ahead of schedule. Following this, Opal is set to be rolled out to the Western Line, also with a March deadline.
A map of locations with Opal readers installed, created by Robert McKinlay, shows that only Thornleigh station currently lacks Opal readers. All past expansions of Opal’s coverage have occurred on a Friday, so the next expansion of its coverage could potentially occur as soon as Friday next week or even tomorrow.
Though Opal’s rollout has proceeded without any major technical issues, it has come under criticism for its fare structure. The lack of travel ten tickets, periodical fares, or multi-modal fares, along with off-peak train fares that no longer allow train users to return during the afternoon peak as long as they obtain their ticket after the morning peak will mean that some passengers will be worse off under Opal compared to existing paper tickets. Those using monthly/quarterly/yearly tickets, occasional bus or ferry users, or passengers making journeys involving more than one mode (e.g. bus plus train) are those most likely to be worse off.
However, Opal also provide a number of potential benefits. These include calculating trip distances as the crow flies rather than as actually traveled, which reduces trip length and thus the fare; free transfers within a single mode such as bus to bus or ferry to ferry; off-peak rail fares on weekends; a $2.50 fare cap on Sundays; cheaper fares compared to a standard non-Opal ticket; and removing the need to obtain the correct ticket before traveling.