Archive for March, 2014

Monday: NWRL months ahead of schedule, O’Farrell calls double deck trains a mistake

The tunnel boring machines for the North West Rail Link (NWRL) will be in the ground by October, 2 months ahead of the original “end of 2014” deadline. The NSW Government had previously committed to begin construction of the NWRL in its first term of government, which places a deadline of the March 2015 state election.

The tunnels for the new line will be too steep and too narrow for the existing double deck rolling stock to run on, a controversial decision that will save $200m in constructions costs. Opponents have linked this move to the 1855 decision that resulted in different 3 different rail gauges being used in different parts of Australia as it will create completely independent sectors of the rail network. NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell countered by saying that “one of the decisions I think state governments got wrong decades ago was to move to double-decks, instead of matching what’s happening in Paris, in London, where single-deck were retained”, adding that single deck trains “can carry more people, travel more quickly, and disembark those people more quickly without people having to come down those difficult steps that exist on our double-decks and that delay people at railway stations”.

Wednesday: Opal to rollout to entire rail network by April

The Opal electronic ticketing system was rolled out the remainder of the Sydney Trains network on Friday 28 March, with 150,000 Opal cards now registered for use. It is currently scheduled to be rolled out to all NSW TrainLink stations progressively on 4 April and 11 April, which will complete the rollout to ferries and trains. The rollout will then move on to buses, which are scheduled to have Opal readers installed by the end of 2014, and light rail, which are currently scheduled to have Opal readers installed by 2015.

An adult Opal smartcard. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

An adult Opal smartcard. Click to enlarge.
(Source: Transport for NSW.)

The lack of Opal readers or poles to hold readers installed at the new light rail stations suggests that readers will be instead installed directly inside the trams themselves. However, given that the current fleet of trams is being replaced, and that the new trams are not expected to arrive until early 2015, this further suggests that the light rail rollout is unlikely to be completed earlier than 2015 unless the new trams arrive earlier than is currently scheduled.

Thursday: Federal Government links Medibank Private sale to Badgerys Creek infrastructure

The $4bn expected to be raised from the sale of Medibank Private could go towards funding infrastructure, particularly infrastructure required for a Second Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek. Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey has encouraged states to follow this policy of “asset recycling”, where state owned assets are sold off in order to fund the construction of additional assets in the form of infrastructure. The NSW Government has done this, with part of the proceeds of the sale of Port Botany funding the initial stage of WestConnex.

 Thursday: Inner West Light Rail extension to Dulwich Hill opens

The 5.6km extension to Sydney’s sole light rail line opened on Friday 28 March, with trams now running between Dulwich Hill and Lilyfield before continuing on to Central Station via Pyrmont. EcoTransit co-convenor Gavin Gatenby wrote on the history of how the line came to be a reality, while Lachlan Drummond wrote a review of the line itself after riding one of the new trams from Dulwich Hill into Chinatown and back.

Friday: Transurban buys Cross City Tunnel for $475m

Toll road operator Transurban has acquired Sydney’s Cross City Tunnel (CCT), solidifying its ownership of toll roads in Sydney. The CCT had been in voluntary administration since September 2013 for the second time since opening in 2005. It first went into receivership in 2007 and was bought by the Royal Bank of Scotland for $700m, much less than the original construction cost of $1bn. Shortly after returning to receivership in September 2013, the senior debt of the CCT was acquired by Transurban in November 2013 for $475m, effectively making Transurban the new owners of the toll road. Transurban owns a large number of other toll roads in Sydney, including the M2, M7, M5, and Eastern Distributor, as well as the currently under construction M1 to M2 tunnel (formerly known as F3 to M2). Analysts predict that this will allow Transurban to operate the CCT with lower maintenance and operational costs than the previous operators.

 

 

 

Lachlan Drummond took a ride on the Inner West Light Rail line from Dulwich Hill to Chinatown and back on its first day of operation. Below is his account of the extended line plus his take on what was done well and what could have been done better.

PART ONE – My experience in the new line

Dulwich Hill Station

I started my journey at the Dulwich Hill end of the new line.

Sadly there is no cross-platform access from the Sydney Trains station. If you want to go from heavy rail to light rail, you have to exit the station, walk around the corner, and back down some stairs. Annoyingly, there is no footpath along the side of the road, so you have to walk down the street to get to the entrance. It’s a ridiculous situation and the council should act to fix this as soon as possible.

However, once I was on the platform, the station was well lit and covered. An electronic sign informs us when the next tram will arrive.

I didn’t have to wait long for a tram, because they come every fifteen minutes, even in the off-peak. Luckily for me, one of the brand new trams from Spain arrived right on time at 1:05PM, so I got to have a look.

The New Trams

As you can see from the video above, the new trams are very spacious. They have much fewer seats than the existing trams on the network, which means there is a larger amount of standing capacity. These Trams will be great for high capacity in peak hour.

Interestingly, the new trams have buttons on the outside of the doors, and you can actually press them to open the door from the outside.

Interior of one of the new Urbos 2 trams. Click to enlage. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

Interior of one of the new Urbos 2 trams. Click to enlage. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

The ride was very smooth on the new track. There were almost no bumps anywhere. You shouldn’t have a problem standing the whole way, it’s a very pleasant ride indeed. The drivers and the tickt inspectors were all friendly and efficient.

Seeing The Sights

From an urban geography point of view, the line is picturesque and quite interesting. It winds through cuttings, road bridges, parks, old Industrial sites (some of which have been gentrified), and over some major roads. Particularly spectacular are the old mills near the Lewisham West and Waratah Mills stations, and the huge cutting and Tunnel between Leichhardt North and Lilyfield.

In between these the train goes past back fences, parks and some very quiet suburban streets.

Unlike the Sydney Trains network, where towns and shops sprung up next to train stations, this line barely hides its origin as an old goods line. Many of the stations look like they have been put at the end of a tiny suburban street, or next to someone’s back fence. Importantly, however, the Tram does go past several potential Greenfields development sites, so this will help with patronage and other infrastructure.

(Note: If you want to “see the sights” on the new line, you will get a much better view on one of the “older” trams, because they have full floor to ceiling windows. The newer trams have smaller windows).

Stations

The new stations are bright, well lit, covered, and all of them have electronic signs that show when the next train is coming.

Some stations are very nicely decorated with pictures overlaid into the metalwork. At one of the stations (either Marion or Taverner’s Hill from memory) there’s a picture of the last tram that ran in the area in 1958, which is a nice touch. At Leichhardt North, some beautiful orange art works have been painted onto the walls.

Sydney's light rail will be extended to Dulwich Hill and feature new trams in red livery. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Dulwich Grove Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Importantly, all light rail stations on the new line are Wheelchair accessible. This includes both the new Dulwich Hill light rail station (which has an elevator) and the Lewisham West station. The heavy rail stations in these areas do not yet have disabled access, so if you need to get a train to the city, head to the tram stop.

Journey Times

From Dulwich Hill station it didn’t take very long at all before I was at some of the stations near Leichhardt. It only took ten minutes to get to Taverners Hill, and thirteen minutes to get to Leichhardt North.

After Leichhardt North, the tram snakes through a tunnel, then a spectacular old cutting, and underneath the City Westlink to Lilyfield. A new stabling facility has been built there.

Interestingly, enough space seems to have been left next to the renovated Lilyfield station for another light rail line to go down towards White Bay and Balmain. This will no doubt please many local activists and politicians.

From Dulwich Hill to John Street Square and The Star is about 25 minutes. When we pulled in to the front door at Paddy’s Markets at Haymarket, at 1:39PM, I had counted 34 minutes.

I spent a short time shopping before getting on the tram again at 2:28PM at Capitol Square station (just after Central – the one next to George Street). I arrived back at Dulwich Hill at 3:03PM.

Patronage

While the majority of people on both trips seemed to be Joyriders like me who got off at Dulwich Hill, many people did seem to be already using the line for the purpose in which it was made, which is a big positive.

On the way in, one gentleman got on the Tram with his bicycle in Dulwich Hill, and got off at Lilyfield. On the way back, several people got off the tram at the new stations. Marion station in particular seemed to be popular.

Conclusion

Overall I was pretty impressed with the service. Notwithstanding some missed opportunities (see PART TWO below), the service overall it was efficient and useful. I believe that people from the Leichhardt and Haberfield areas in particular will find the new service very useful.

Perhaps most poignantly, a lot of elderly people who got on for a joyride seemed genuinely excited that Trams had finally returned to the Inner West after 55 years. Many of them would have seen the last trams leave the area in the late 1950s.

The real test will be whether they, and others, use this line every day. I hope so, because light rail has a lot of potential to solve some of Sydney’s trickiest transport problems.  In the next part below, I’ll deal with the question of whether it’s worth your time to use the new line.

PART TWO: Who is the line useful for?

Perhaps the biggest question facing the new Light Rail extension is to see how many people use it.

The O’Farrell government has been saying that it takes 40 minutes on the new line between Dulwich Hill and Central, and about 30 minutes from Lewisham West.

It was obvious from my journey that most people won’t use the line in this way, especially not in peak hour.

It takes less than twenty minutes to get to Central on the heavy rail line from Dulwich Hill. Light rail can’t beat that. Nor does light rail currently go further into the city (though that will change when the CBD – South East line is built).

However, if your destination is closer to one of the several light rail stops around Haymarket, Darling Harbour and Pyrmont, you will certainly save time when you consider walking time from Central.

Trips The Light Rail Will Be Very Useful For

1. If you live in the Leichhardt/Haberfield area, and need to travel to Pyrmont, Haymarket, South George Street or Central Station.

The light rail won’t get stuck in traffic, but the peak hour buses might (even though on paper the 438 bus is a few minutes quicker to Railway Square from the corner of Marion Street and Norton Street).

Secondly – if you live or work really close to a light rail station, you might to do a lot less walking.

2. If you need to make a north-south trip between Dulwich Hill and Leichhardt/Lilyfield, or to go further down to The Fish Markets, Pyrmont, The Star Casino or Haymarket.

There’s really no contest on these trips, in my view. The light rail takes between 10-13 minutes to go from Dulwich Hill to the Leichhardt stops. It comes every ten minutes during the peak, and every fifteen minutes during the middle of the day, which is more frequently than most of the buses (including the 412). It’s a clear winner, and if they build a spur line to Balmain and White Bay, it will be a big boon to the nightlife of that area.

If you need to go from Dulwich Hill to The Star Casino or Pyrmont (or Vice versa) the Light rail will drop you at the door in 25 minutes. From Leichhardt it’s only 15 minutes.

If you want to go to Chinatown, the light rail will drop you right next to the front door of Paddy’s Markets in 35 minutes from Dulwich Hill, or about 20-25 mins from Marion, Hawthorne or Leichhardt North.

Missed Opportunities

On the flipside, I see two main missed opportunities on the new line.

1. This line has great potential as an interchange service, but it hasn’t been fully utilised.

Given that it only takes about 15 minutes to travel to Lewisham or Dulwich Hill stations from Central on the heavy rail, many people could potentially interchange to the light rail to complete their journey to stops like Dulwich Grove, Arlington, Waratah Mills, Taverner’s Hill or Marion. This would be particularly handy for people who get the heavy rail from the city circle stations.

However without integrated fares, or direct platform to platform interchanges, this is more difficult than it should be.

To go from Lewisham Heavy rail to Lewisham West Light Rail is apparently a 500 meter walk. On ABC702 radio yesterday, a transport planner revealed that a developer had proposed to place a shopping mall nearby which would have cut the journey to a mere 200 meters. This would have made interchanges much easier.

The Dulwich Hill tram and train stations are not designed for an easy interchange from one to the other. Click to enlarge. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

The Dulwich Hill tram and train stations (tram station shown in above image) are not designed for an easy interchange from one to the other. Click to enlarge. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

In the case of Dulwich Hill, they should have redesigned the stations so that a platform to platform interchange was possible. At the moment you have to walk out of one station, around the corner, and into the other. Yet I’d fancy myself to throw a tennis ball onto the platform of the Dulwich Hill heavy rail station from the light rail platform – that’s how close it is.

2. Not building the Greenway and cycle path was silly.

There is great potential for cyclists to use the line both to and from work, or for other journeys. Bringing your bicycle on the bus is usually impractical, and many heavy rail trains into the inner west are too crammed in the peak. But there is plenty of room on the new trams. Hawthorne station in particular is right next to the park and would be ideal for cyclists from the Haberfield area.

Monday: Town Hall Station gets an upgrade

Town Hall Station is to be the first of 19 stations across the network to get a major $8m facelift with new tiles, better lighting, and upgraded staircases. It forms part of a $20m “refresh” program for stations across the network including Parramatta, Bondi Junction, St Leonards, and Hurstville.

Artists impression of the upgrades for Town Hall Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Artists impression of the upgrades for Town Hall Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Wednesday: Badgery’s Creek airport needs an express rail line

Peter Thornton, one of the authors of the report calling for an airport at Badgery’s Creek, has called for express trains to run on any future rail line out to a potential airport on the site. Mr Thornton argues that running all stop services would cause unacceptably long journey times for passengers travelling from Badgery’s Creek to either Kingsford Smith Airport or the Sydney CBD, both of which could potentially be on the same line that links up to Badgery’s Creek.

It has been previously pointed out that building a rail line after the airport is complete would require billions of additional dollars in tunnelling costs, compared to the much cheaper option of cut and cover before any runways are built.

Thursday: Opal rollout to Sydney Trains as well as Southern Highlands and South Coast Lines

The Opal smartcard will be rolled out to the entire Sydney Trains network on Friday 28 March. This will be followed a week later with the South Coast Line down to both Port Kembla and Bombaderry as well as the Southern Highlands Line down to Goulbourn coming online on Friday 4 April.

This leaves the Blue Mountains and Hunter regions as the only two that will still not be Opal enabled. Opal readers have been installed at some, but not all stations in these two remaining regions. The Opal rollout will likely move on to complete the bus rollout, which so far includes only the 594/594H and 333 bus routes.

Friday: Inner West Light Rail extension to open

Sydney’s sole light rail line is set to double in length. Currently operating between Central Station and Lilifield, from Thursday 27 March it will be extended out to Dulwich Hill. The line will also feature four new look red trams, which will soon be the sole vehicle type running on the line. Frequencies will also be improved, with trams running every 10 minutes between 7AM-10AM and 3PM-6PM, with 15 minute frequencies at other times. Opal cards are not expected to be rolled out to trams until 2015.

Sydney's light rail will be extended to Dulwich Hill and feature new trams in red livery. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Sydney’s light rail will be extended to Dulwich Hill and feature new trams in red livery. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Planned changes to the CBD and South East Light Rail (CSELR) project between Circular Quay and Randwick will result in additional on street parking for some residents along its route, but falls short of requests by Randwick Council for a stop directly next to the Prince of Wales Hospital which would allow the full retention of High Cross Park in Randwick. The Randwick light rail interchange is currently set to be built in High Cross Park, which would lose about half of its grass surface to the interchange.

The revised Randwick light rail interchange features 3 times as much green space as originally proposed, but this is still half as much as is currently there. Click to enlarge. (Source: CSELR Submissions Report, p. 6-65)

The revised Randwick light rail interchange features 3 times as much green space as originally proposed, but this is still half as much as it currently contains. Click to enlarge. (Source: CSELR Submissions Report, p. 6-65.)

The changes are part of Transport for NSW’s responses to the 487 submissions to the project’s Environmental Impact Statement. Additional parking on Wansey Road in Randwick, which was to have its parking spaces removed in the original project design, would instead become a one way street in order to retain an unspecified number of on street parking spots. Current plans would see almost 900 on street parking spaces lost along the full 12km alignment in order to accommodate light rail. Both light rail stops along Wansey Road will also be shifted off Wansey Road, onto Alison Road and High Street. Meanwhile, 5 parking spaces would be removed adjacent to High Cross Park in order to maintain additional green space in the park, which will now keep about half of its green space, three times as much as originally proposed.

The Chalmers Street stop adjacent to Central Station is now planned to also be a pedestrianised zone. Click to enlarge. (Source: CSELR Submissions Report, p. 6-18.)

The Chalmers Street stop adjacent to Central Station is now planned to also be a pedestrianised zone. Click to enlarge. (Source: CSELR Submissions Report, p. 6-18.)

Other changes include a movement of the Moore Park stop South to be adjacent to Sydney Boys and Sydney Girls High Schools as well as a pedestrian bridge to link the stop to the schools across Anzac Parade. It will also see the overhead wire free zone restricted to the pedestrian only portion of George St, meaning that overhead wires will be imposed between Wynyard and Circular Quay. Special event platforms at Central and Moore Park will be removed, with turnbacks near each stop deemed sufficient to turn trams around at each stop during special events, while the Central Station stop at Chalmers Street will be pedestrianised, with no vehicles allowed between Eddy Avenue and Devonshire Street. The UNSW stop, which was previously proposed to be on UNSW property, will now be located in the median of Anzac Parade, requiring students to cross half the road, but reducing traffic impacts.

The Moore Park stop will now feature a pedestrian bridge to replace the current signalised pedestrian crossing. Click to enlarge. (Source: CSELR Submissions Report, p. 6-40.)

The Moore Park stop will now feature a pedestrian bridge to replace the current signalised pedestrian crossing. Click to enlarge. (Source: CSELR Submissions Report, p. 6-40.)

The biggest point of contention appears to be with High Cross Park. Murray Matson, a Greens Councillor on Randwick City Council, opposes a stop on High Cross Park, saying that “while I supported the light rail project in general I could not see how the loss of any of the park area could be justified while High Street is an option”. Geoff Stevenson, a Labor Councillor, went as far as to suggest a completely new alignment through Randwick Racecourse terminating at Prince of Wales Hospital that would replace the current branch structure that splits out to both Randwick and Kingsford.

Mini Metro (alpha) review

Posted: March 6, 2014 in Transport
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Mini Metro is a game in development for PC and tablet by Dinosaur Polo Club (run by New Zealand developer Peter Curry) where players must build a transport network and keep passengers moving in a city. Three lines and two tunnels (used for crossing rivers) are initially allowed to connect up 3 stations. The city then grows, with additional stations being added over time, requiring the player to expand the transport network. Over time, additional resources are provided, including extra lines or tunnels as well as additional carriages or faster vehicles. The game ends when too many passengers have been waiting at one stop for too long.

2014-03-05 Mini Metro 4

The game is currently in the alpha phase, and can be played at the developer’s website. It can be supported by visiting its Steam Greenlight page and voting for it. This is free, but requires a Steam account.

The game is similar to other smartphone/tablet games like Flight Control, requiring the player to last as long as possible as the game environment being managed becomes more and more complicated over time. Stations are each given a different shape, the most common being triangles and circles, with each station producing passengers destined for a different shaped station. There is no peak vs off peak travel times and only 1 vehicle is allowed per line, though two lines can run side by side – effectively doubling frequency. It is also possible to upgrade vehicles later on to increase their capacity or increase their speeds.

2014-03-05 Mini Metro

Quite interestingly, although the game refers to stops as “stations”, and will make the occasional mention of terms like “subway” or (quite rarely) “train”, it is quite a generic interpretation of a transport network. The lines could just as easily be bus rapid transit or light rail as much as underground heavy rail or metro trains. In fact, the ease at which a line can be re-routed or completely removed and replaced with another line is more a feature of bus based rather than rail based transport.

It’s therefore quite fascinating to see a game demonstrate transport as a question of mobility and geometry, rather than a question of what sort of vehicle a passenger takes. This is a concept that Jarrett Walker has mentioned many times on his transport blog, and is worth a read for those who have not.