Archive for February, 2014

Over a year ago this blog discussed the proposal to turn the old monorail tracks into an elevated walkway, in the context of comparing it to New York’s famous High Line. The argument was made that the former metropolitan goods line, or at least the remaining portion of it between Central Station and the light rail line, was a better comparison. This is being converted into a pedestrian space, providing both a means of travelling around the city on foot as well as being a destination in its own right.

High Line 2/2

The New York High Line. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author.)

But there is one place in the Sydney CBD that is similar to the High Line: an uncompleted portion of the Western Distributor at the Southern edge of Barangaroo. Much how the High Line in New York was a disused freight line that was later converted into public space, this never completed section of the Western Distributor lays dormant and unused.

The story behind it goes back to the 1960s, when the Western Distributor was first being built (documented in great detail at the highly recommended Ozroads website). The Harbour Bridge, whose construction was concluded in the early 1930s and not extended further due to Depression and war, had been extended further East via the Cahill Expressway as part of a post-War expansion of the roads network with plans for a continuous freeway all the way through to the current Syd Enfield Drive at Bondi Junction. The Western Distributor was to be the first part of a freeway linking the Southern end of the Harbour Bridge West to the M4 at Concord and South to St Peters. To this end, it was designed as a two level viaduct. The then Department of Main Roads provided this description: “The top level will consist of a divided six-lane expressway…between the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Ultimo Interchange…The lower level will be mainly a collector-distributor road with a number of connections to the city streets” (Source: Ozroads).

The first stage, from the Harbour Bridge to the Pyrmont Bridge (now fully pedestrianised, but back then still open to vehicle traffic) was completed in 1972. However, by 1977 the government dumped plans for a freeway all the way to Concord and St Peters, making the two level viaduct plan unnecessary. The Western Distributor was therefore only built as, and today remains, a single level viaduct.

But there is one section of the lower level that was built, at the Southern end of Barangaroo, around where the currently under construction Wynyard Walk (designed to allow pedestrians to travel between Barangaroo and Wynyard Station) comes out from underground at the Barangaroo end. With a bit of work, there is no reason why this cannot be linked up to the Wynyard Walk and converted into public space. It won’t be the size of the New York High Line, not by any means. But given its location, it certainly has the potential to be an iconic piece of the public domain in its own right.

Images below are from the author of this blog. Click to enlarge.




Opal readers have been confirmed as installed at all stations on the Illawarra and most stations on the East Hills Line, leaving only the Bankstown and Airport Lines to complete the Sydney Trains network. Train stations out to Casula and Carlingford began accepting Opal cards last Friday, and this is set to be extended out to Emu Plains and Richmond by the end of this month. This is in addition to stations out to Wyong and Bondi Junction, which already accept Opal cards.

Progressive Opal rollout as of February 2014. Most stations on the Sydney Trains network have Opal readers installed, though not all have an announced date for when they come online. (Source: Cityrail map, Robert McKinlay, author.)

Progressive Opal rollout as of February 2014. Most stations on the Sydney Trains network have Opal readers installed, though not all have an announced date for when they come online. Click to enlarge. (Sources: Cityrail map, Robert McKinlay, author.)

The state government has made no announcements about the next stage of the rollout, in particular whether it will occur line by line or to the entire network. The staged rollout to Wyong (31 January), Carlingford/Casula (14 February), and Emu Plains/Richmond (28 February) suggest that it will continue to be rolled out line by line. However, the rapid pace of installation of readers at stations means the entire Sydney Trains network could be switched on to accept Opal cards in one go. At the current pace, this could be as early as March.

Opal is currently also accepted at all ferry wharves and 2 bus routes (594/594H and 333). It’s set to be rolled out to all train stations and buses by the end of the year, and to light rail (including the Dulwich Hill extension) by 2015.

Sydney maps: real and fictional

Posted: February 12, 2014 in Transport
Tags: ,

Maps have the power to shape the way we look at places. The London Underground map famously took on its iconic form that resembled an electrical circuit in the 1930s. It did away with a geographically accurate representation, opting instead for one with more evenly spaced stations and lines that all ran horizontally, vertically, or at 45 degree angles.

It isn’t the only option for a non-geographically accurate map. Max Roberts created maps in different styles for a number of different cities, large print copies of which are available for purchase from his website. A circular map for Sydney’s Cityrail network was one of them. It places Central Station in the middle and then has all lines radiating outwards. Though some design choices were made for asthetic rather than informative reasons, it also does show where Sydney has orbital lines, which connect outer parts of Sydney to each other rather than directly to Central. The Cumberland Line joining Blacktown to Liverpool, the Northern Line joining Hornsby to Strathfield, the Carlingford Line joining Clyde to Carlingford, and the Bankstown Link joining Lidcombe to Bankstown are all orbital lines. With an actual map that has most lines running horizontally (East-West) away from Central, these lines are ordinarily shown vertically (North-South).

Click to enlarge. (Source: Tube Map Central)

Click to enlarge. (Source: Tube Map Central)

More recently, the creation of Sydney Trains to replace Cityrail has meant a new rail map for metropolitan Sydney. The new Sydney Trains map lacks much of the detail of the previous Cityrail map, such as locations of transport interchanges, accessible stations, park and ride facilities, etc, opting to go for a more streamlined map. Even putting aside the decision for how much information to convey, this new map suffers from a number of shortcomings, demonstrated by a “fixed” version of this map posted on the Transit Maps blog.

But what about opting for something in the opposite direction? The following map, created by Bernie Ng, shows what the Sydney public transport network may look like by 2020. The North West and South West Rail Links are shown as completed (though the NWRL is shown as connecting up to the Sydney Trains network, rather than operating as an independent shuttle as is planned), along with both the extension of the existing Inner West Light Rail to Dulwich Hill and completion of the CBD and South East Light Rail. In addition, major bus routes, such as metrobuses and the 2 T-Ways radiating out from Parramatta are also displayed.

The rail network shows not only all the different lines that formed part of the old Cityrail network, but shows separate lines for different stopping patterns. The Illawarra Line out to Cronulla, for example, shows 2 lines, one for all stop services and another for express services. This is possible following the revised 2013 timetable, with its harmonised stopping patterns. It also uses a clockface icon to denote any stations with frequent all day services, and also whether this is 7 days a week or just on weekdays. The other major change is the creation of a “Destination Wheel”, with letters instead of numbers for all the different lines.

This map shows the Sydney network as proposed for 2020, with new rail lines in the outer suburbs and new light rail in the inner city. It also displays major bus routes. Click to enlarge. (Source: Bernie Ng.)

This map shows the Sydney network as proposed for 2020, with new rail lines in the outer suburbs and new light rail in the inner city. It also displays major bus routes. Click to enlarge. (Source: Bernie Ng.)

Some maps take the existing layout and leave it unchanged, merely altering the labelling. The Icy Trail map does exactly this, Icy Trail being an anagram of City Rail. Every label on the map, from station names, to line descriptions, to usage instructions, are anagrams. This leads to some very interesting place names like Inverse Acquarium City (Macquarie University), Scream Qualified (Macquarie Fields), Thy Nerdy Son (North Sydney), and Civic (Civic).

Click to enlarge. (Source: CharonX)

Click to enlarge. (Source: CharonX)

The labels on a map can even be changed to match those of a different map. For example, the following map takes the map of Metro Trains in Melbourne and replaces the labels with ones more familiar to a Sydney audience. Here, the station close to the MCG, home of the Melbourne Olympic Games, has been renamed “1956 Olympic Park”, while the City Loop is now called “City Circle”. Even the arrow meant to indicate the Northern orientation has been changed to point towards “Sydney” instead. There are many other examples in here, many of which only someone familiar with both the Sydney and Melbourne rail networks would notice.

Melbourne for Sydney train users. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author withheld)

Melbourne for Sydney train users. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author withheld)

And though completely unrelated to rail maps, the following set of maps, first published as the front page of the UNSW student newspaper Tharunka back in 2011, shows show people from different parts of Sydney view people in the rest of Sydney.

Sydney from the perspective of different parts of Sydney. Front cover of Tharunka, the UNSW student newspaper. Click to enlarge. (Source: Unknown)

Sydney from the perspective of different parts of Sydney. Front cover of Tharunka, the UNSW student newspaper. Click to enlarge. (Source: Tharunka)

A report a few months ago claiming that the CBD and South East Light Rail Line would be full almost as soon as it opens at the end of the decade raised questions about whether the $1.6bn being spent on the new line was money well spent. Perhaps it would have been better to spend a bit more and build an underground metro or extend the Eastern Suburbs Line from Bondi Junction instead.

One branch of the line from Kingsford is expected to have patronage peak at 2,968 passenger during the busiest hour of the morning peak, only 32 spots short of the inital capacity of 3,000 passengers per hour. That works out to 3 passengers per tram. But, to quote Obi Wan Kenobi from Return of the Jedi:,“What I told you was true, from a certain point of view”.

If patronage is that high, then it is possible to double the number of trams operating on that branch. In reality, light rail will provide an effective 75% increase on existing capacity.

Route of the CBD and South East Light Rail Line. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

Route of the George Street and South East Light Rail Line. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

So what is the current capacity, and how much will light rail increase capacity?

The status quo

In 2010, the busiest hour during the AM peak sees 135 all stop bus services and 62 express bus services using the Anzac Parade corridor to reach the CBD, with these services having an average loading of 55 and 36 passengers per bus respectively. The all stop services tend to use Cleveland St, Foveaux St, and Oxford St to reach the CBD, while the express services tend to use the Eastern Distributor and then return along Elizabeth St in the opposite direction of peak hour traffic (the X39 is the only exception). All up, these buses carry 8,270 passengers but have a theoretical maximum capacity of 11,820 if all buses carried a full loading of 60 passengers each. (Source: CSELR EIS Volume 2, p. 40)

If the loadings for all stop services were as high as the express services then it could allow for fewer buses to carry the same level of patronage. Instead, there are more buses on the road than there need to be, leading to greater levels of congestion from the so called conga line of buses that often inhabit the CBD during peak hour. This also means that achieving the maximum capacity of 11,820 would mean maintaining the current delays this corridor suffers. In fact, delays would probably worsen.

Changes to the bus network

A redesigned bus network would see almost all of these all stop services cease travelling into the CBD, with passengers instead transferring to a tram at either Kingsford or Randwick to complete their journey. (Anyone travelling to the Northern end of the CBD could continue to take one of the express buses, which are set to be retained during peak hour.) By moving passengers from half empty buses onto high capacity and frequent trams, the vehicles used to transport passengers can be more efficiently utilised. This should minimise delays, allowing the actual journey duration to more accurately reflect the timetabled journey duration. That is the primary reason why adding a forced transfer for many passengers will actually lead to shorter journeys in practice, if not in theory.

Some bus routes will continue to operate into the CBD (Source: CSELR EIS Volume 2, pp. 39, 130-131), these include the 339, 343, 373, 395, and 396. (The 372 will only reach Central before turning left and heading West along Parramatta Road, while the 343/395/396 routes are set to be merged.) Based on current service levels, that’s about 25 all stop services. Meanwhile, an additional 4 express services per hour are expected to be added (Source: Sydney’s Light Rail Future, p. 18).

Proposed changes to the bus network in SE Sydney once light rail begins operating in 2020. Click to enlarge. (Source: CSELR EIS Volume 2, p. 130)

Proposed changes to the bus network in SE Sydney once light rail begins operating in 2020. Click to enlarge. (Source: CSELR EIS Volume 2, p. 130)

Assuming current loadings, that gives an expected patronage for all bus services of 4,530 with a maximum capacity of 5,460.

Light rail capacity

The CSELR is initially expected to operate 20 trams per hour during peak hour, splitting 10 trams along each of the two branches to Kingsford and Randwick. With a vehicle capacity of 300, that means an initial hourly capacity in each direction of 6,000 in total and 3,000 per branch. In the year 2021, right before the two branch lines merge at Anzac Parade and Alison Road, they are expected to carry 2,968 and 2,330 passengers per hour respectively. After they merge, more passengers are expected to board until loadings peak right before Central Station with 5,366 passengers per hour. (Source: CSELR EIS Volume 2, p. 117)

As mentioned previously, that the Kingsford branch is expected to reach 98.9% of its maximum hourly capacity is concerning, but easily rectified so long as additional services can be quickly added to the timetable. A full compliment of 30 services per hour gives a maximum capacity of 9,000 passengers in each direction.

2014-01-16 CSELR current and future patronage and capacity table

With 80 seats per tram, there will only be 800 seats per hour for each of the 2 branches. Given that the first tram stop on each branch is expected to have 826 passengers at Randwick and 1,456 passenger at Kingsford (see graph below), no seats will be available after the first stop until passengers start getting off from Central Station onwards. The net reduction in seats is one of the major losses from the change, but possible given the smoother ride of a tram makes passengers more willing to stand. Having more standing space also increases the total capacity.

Expected boarding levels in 2021. The scale on the left hand side is incorrect. Use the figures above each bar to determine loading levels. Click to enlarge. (Source: CSELR EIS Volume 2, p.  117)

Expected boarding levels in 2021. The scale on the left hand side is incorrect. Use the figures above each bar to determine loading levels. Click to enlarge. (Source: CSELR EIS Volume 2, p. 117)

Current vs future capacity

The Anzac Parade corridor’s patronage currently stands at about 8,270 during the busiest hour of the morning peak. With greater loadings on all stop services, this could theoretically be increased to 11,820. However, this would only further add to existing delays via higher dwell as more passengers boarded buses at each stop. Therefore, it could be argued that the current patronage of 8,270 is already above the maximum hourly capacity that does not result in delays and longer journey times.

A large scale reduction in bus volumes when light rail is introduced could potentially allow the remaining buses to operate without the previously mentioned delays. The remaining bus services, fully loaded, could carry 5,460 passengers per hour (comprised of 1,500 from all stop services and 3,960 from express services). Meanwhile, light rail is capable of carrying up to 9,000 passengers per hour. This provides a total maximum capacity of 14,460 passengers per hour.

2014-01-16 CSELR current and future patronage and capacity graph

This increase in capacity over the existing patronage, from 8,270 to 14,460, represents a 75% improvement. If it were attempted with buses alone then it would be accompanied by worsening delays and longer journey lengths. A greater increase in capacity could have been achieved via the construction of an underground metro or an an extension of the Eastern Suburbs Line, but the higher cost would be disproportionately larger than the improved capacity it would provide.

The main challenge in ensuring that this is a seamless process is that transfers are made as easy as possible, both in a physical and financial sense. Transfers must be physically easy, requiring simple cross platform transfers from bus to tram and vice versa. Transfers must also not impose a financial penalty, requiring some sort of multi-modal fare. While the former is part of the current proposal, the latter requires cabinet approval and no decision has been made on it yet.

The NSW government has decided to push ahead with tunnels on the NWRL (North West Rail Link) too steep to accommodate double deck trains, despite internal documents showing it would not result in any savings when it comes to building a future Harbour rail crossing. The same documents also show that when the Federal Government offered funding for a line between Parramatta and Epping such a line was so far off transport planners’ radars that they did not expect it to be built until after 2036, suggesting it was less of a priority than 3 or 4 other lines that would have been built first, one of which may be a long mooted rail line to the Northern Beaches.

The Options

Documents uncovered as part of a Sydney Morning Herald investigation into the NWRL shed some light on the process by which the new line’s design was decided upon. A report dated 24th May 2012 proposes 3 options for integrating the NWRL into Sydney’s rail network, named “Suburban”, “Rebuild”, and “Growth”. All options involve first building the SWRL (South West Rail Link), followed by the NWRL.

2014-02-02 NWRL Options

Summary of the 3 options available for integrating the NWRL into Sydney’s rail network. Click to enlarge. (Source: CBD Rail Capacity Programs Rail Futures Investigations, pp. 8-11)

The Suburban option (cost: $9.8bn) is virtually a carbon copy of the Metropolitan Rail Expansion Plan (MREP) of 2005 that would see the building of the NWRL, SWRL, and a Second Harbour Rail Crossing that would fill the missing section to link the two via Macquarie Park and the Airport with a maximum capacity of 24 double deck TPH (trains per hour), though capacity constraints on the Airport Line tunnel would appear to initially cap this at 20TPH. This option would continue to use double deck trains and could retain direct services into the CBD from the NWRL’s opening in 2019, though capacity would likely be tight until the completion of a Second Harbour Rail Crossing in 2026 through the “Metro Pitt” alignment roughly underneath Pitt St. Until this occurred, some NWRL trains would terminate at Chatswood and Upper Northern Line trains would be re-routed via the City Circle rather than across the Harbour Bridge. Once the new line was completed, all stop trains from Revesby would operate via Sydenham and continue to feed into the City Circle, allowing 20TPH to operate on the new line to South-West Sydney (from a current capacity of 12TPH).

Map of the Suburban option. Click to enlarge. (Source: CBD Rail Capacity Programs Rail Futures Investigations, p. 15)

Map of the Suburban option. A new Harbour crossing would link the NWRL to the SWRL, running double deck trains. Click to enlarge. (Source: CBD Rail Capacity Programs Rail Futures Investigations, p. 15)

The Rebuild option (cost: $10.6bn-$12.1bn) involved converting the Harbour Bridge to single deck operation, and was championed by Infrastructure NSW. Under this plan, the NWRL would operate with some or all trains terminating at Chatswood with either single or double deck trains. A new CBD line would then be constructed between Redfern and Wynyard (previously referred to as the CBD Relief Line), utilising the “Metro West” alignment roughly underneath Sussex St, to be completed by 2026. This would then be followed by converting the line across the Harbour Bridge to single deck operation, a process that would take 4 years and necessitate the closing of the City Circle between Central and Wynyard. This would allow cross-Harbour capacity to be increased to 28 single deck TPH, up from an existing 20 double deck TPH, by 2031.

Map of the Rebuild option. Click to enlarge. (Source: CBD Rail Capacity Programs Rail Futures Investigations, p. 23)

Map of the Rebuild option. The Harbour Bridge would be upgraded to operate single deck trains, with the NWRL and North Shore Lines linking up with the Inner West and Bankstown Lines as well as Hurstville Station operating single deck trains. Click to enlarge. (Source: CBD Rail Capacity Programs Rail Futures Investigations, p. 23)

The Growth option (cost: $9.9bn), ultimately selected as the preferred option by the NSW Government, involves the creation of a new single deck network via the construction of a new under the Harbour Rail Crossing. Under this option, the NWRL would be built by 2019 for initial operation with either single or double deck trains where some or all would terminate at Chatswood. A Second Harbour Crossing would then be built by 2026, creating a new line which would connect the NWRL to Hurstville and Lidcombe/Cabramatta via Bankstown running single deck trains with a maximum capacity of 30TPH. The line would initially operate at a maximum of only 20TPH due to network constraints at the outer ends of the line. However, the report suggests reaching 30TPH by extending it with a new Northern Beaches Line and by incorporating the all stops portion of the East Hills Line out to Revesby. As with the Suburban option, this would also allow 20TPH to operate to South-West Sydney.

Map of the Growth option.Click to enlarge. (Source: CBD Rail Capacity Programs Rail Futures Investigations, p. 30)

Map of the Growth option. A new Harbour crossing would connect the NWRL and a Northern Beaches Line to the Bankstown Line as well as Hurstville and Revesby Stations. The new line would operate single deck trains. Click to enlarge. (Source: CBD Rail Capacity Programs Rail Futures Investigations, p. 30)

 The rebuild option was rejected on the basis that it was the most expensive, provided the smallest increase in capacity, and imposed the greatest disruption of the three. Ironically, this was meant to be the option that avoided the “prohibitively expensive” under the Harbour rail crossing, yet it ended up being the most costly as the CBD Relief Line, with a price tag of $5bn, was not that much cheaper than a new line that continued through to Chatswood, which costs $8bn, but necessitated expensive upgrades elsewhere on the network (costing anywhere from $4.3bn to $5.8bn).

The other two options cost almost the same, and provide similar levels of increases in capacity (single deck trains carry fewer passengers per train, but can operate more trains per hour than double deck trains, so the number of passengers per hour is comparable).

Steep and narrow tunnels

The Growth option included the possibility of building the NWRL with tunnels that were compatible with existing double deck trains, at a cost of $200m. This would allow some trains on the NWRL to continue past Chatswood through to the CBD from the day the NWRL opens. However, currently there is only enough spare capacity into the CBD on the Harbour Bridge to allow 1 train through in the busiest hour of the morning peak without removing services from either the Upper Northern Line and the North Shore Line.

It has previously been speculated that a steeper gradient allowed by single deck trains would allow for a cheaper and easier construction of an under the Harbour rail crossing, with stations closer to the surface at either side of the Harbour. This in turn would be where the real savings would be made, and there is little point in spending $200m to add virtually no new capacity for the few years until the new under the Harbour crossing was completed.

However, this does not appear to be supported by the costings in the leaked report, the cost of building the Harbour crossing for double deck trains is listed as $7,940m whereas for single deck trains it is $8,055m (Source: CBD Rail Capacity Programs Rail Futures Investigations, p. 34). While it does also provide $200m in savings for the NWRL, Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian is on the record as saying that the cost of upgrading the Epping to Chatswood Line for single deck trains is more than $200m. This means single deck trains cost more in both the NWRL and second Harbour crossing stages.

In other words, it would appear that the steeper tunnels not only do not provide any savings, but they actually cost (slightly) more!

That means there must be another reason why the government has opted to go with the Growth option for single deck trains. One possibility could be that it allows for complete ATO (automatic train operation), otherwise known as driverless trains, along with all the benefits that come with it (see: here and here). These require an independent and segregated line to operate on, and only the Growth option initially running shuttles to Chatswood provide that opportunity.

Northern Beaches Rail Line vs Parramatta to Epping Rail Link

Also contained in the report is the assumption that transport planners were operating under for the Growth option that the next line to be built after the Second Harbour Crossing would be to the Northern Beaches. This is mentioned not just in the May 2012 report, but is also included on the maps in the report. The maps are dated 4 May 2010 and show the PERL (Parramatta to Epping Rail Link) as being built at some point after 2036, then operating as an independent shuttle.

Parramatta to Chatswood Rail Link

The Parramatta to Chatswood Rail Link was originally to go from Westmead to St Leonards. Only the Eastern portion, between Epping and Chatswood, was actually constructed in 2009, leaving the Western Parramatta to Epping portion unbuilt. (Source: Historical NSW Railway Timetables)

This means that just 3 months prior to the 11 August 2010 announcement that Federal Labor would fund the PERL, the then NSW Labor government had placed it so low on its list of transport projects it planned to build that it was not only below the NWRL and second Harbour crossing, but also behind a line that has not been seriously talked about since the 1970s.

This should emphasise the importance of putting good planning first, ahead of political considerations, when it comes to creating a good transport network. Unfortunately it appears the Labor Party tends to put its ideals in the right place in supporting public transport (importantly without the rabid anti-roads ideology of The Greens), but then implements it ineffectively by doing so through the prism of politics. As seen with the proposed funding of WestConnex, it’s not a one off occurrence.