Proposal limits CBD rail access to increase overall capacity

Posted: April 20, 2017 in Transport

Train capacity would be boosted by 10% into Sydney’s CBD and 16% into Central Station by terminating more trains at Central according to plans prepared for the NSW Government in 2014. The plans would seek to increase rail capacity by maximising the use of existing infrastructure rather than building new infrastructure. However, commuters from stations in Sydney’s West such as Penrith would see their trains terminating at Central’s Sydney Terminal, requiring them to change trains if they wish to continue their journey into the CBD.The changes come in the wake of warnings from the Auditor General that Sydney’s rail network requires additional investment to keep up with growing demand. The Sydney Metro CBD and Southwest will be the first increase in heavy rail capacity into the CBD since the 1979 opening of the Eastern Suburbs Line, but is not set to occur until the year 2024.

Performance data published by Sydney Trains indicates that the most crowded lines into the CBD are in order: the T4 Illawarra Line, T1 Northern Line, T1 Western Line, and T3 Bankstown Line. Each line has patronage during the busiest hour of the morning peak equal to between 147% and 158% of total seats. Crowding levels above 135% often result in delays as passengers struggle to enter and exit trains quickly at stations, resulting in fewer trains per hour and thus reducing total line capacity.

The proposed changes would seek to alleviate pressure on each of these four lines.

  • The T4 Illawarra Line would see an increase in TPH (trains per hour) from 18 to 20, the maximum possible under current signalling.
  • The T1 Northern Line would see its capacity boosted via Strathfield from 10TPH to 15 TPH and eventually an increase in capacity via Chatswood when the Sydney Metro is extended to the CBD in 2024.
  • The T1 Western Line would controversially see cuts to services West of St Marys, which would terminate at Central rather than continue on to the CBD, and on the Richmond Line, which would see a reduction in services from 6TPH to 5TPH. This would be offset by an increase in services between Parramatta and Central, from 20TPH to 26TPH, by extending the Inner West Line out to Parramatta. However, there would be no increase in the current 16TPH that continue past Central into the CBD.
  • The T3 Bankstown Line would see a 25% increase in services, rising from 8TPH to 10TPH; further increasing to 15TPH in 2024 with the extension of Sydney Metro to Bankstown (albeit with a reduction in seated capacity).

Other changes include lengthening some intercity trains from 8 carriages to 12 carriages, while a pair of peak hour train departing from Epping that currently run with 4 carriages could be doubled to 8 in order to further increase capacity. Together, the final effect of these changes could see capacity (measured in terms of the number of 8 carriage trains) of all lines during the busiest hour of the morning peak increased by 10.1% into the CBD, from 109 to 120 trains, and by 16.5% into Central Station, from 118 to 137.5 trains.

Commentary: Changes like these are a needed stop gap

Seeking ways to increase Sydney’s existing passenger rail capacity without having to resort to large investments into its infrastructure should be welcomed. This is something this blog has been calling for since 2013. While unlikely to be welcomed by those adversely affected, if implementing these proposed changes results in 16% or even 10% increases in capacity to the network overall then it will do a lot to get Sydney moving.

The opposing perspective would argue that all main suburban lines deserve direct rail access into the CBD during peak hour without requiring passengers to change trains. Demoting parts of the Western Line to the same status as the Cumberland or Olympic Park Line sets a clear precedent. This argument contains valid concerns.

Either way, infrastructure investment is still needed to cope with future increases in demand. The Auditor General’s report mentioned above found patronage had grown by 4.3% each year since 2011. At this rate, even a 16% increase in capacity would be absorbed by less than 4 years of patronage growth.

This is why new infrastructure such as the 2 Sydney Metro Lines currently being touted cannot come soon enough. Unfortunately, the 2024 opening date for the CBD and Southwest stage of the first line is already too late to meet existing demand. This is why recent suggestions that a second metro line could be opened between Parramatta and the CBD in the mid 2020s should also be welcomed.

Finally, it’s important to note is that these plans are both internal and old. Many aspects already appear to be obsolete, such as the North Shore Line only running 18TPH (the current timetable operates 19TPH) or referring to the first Sydney Metro line as T8 (current government publications suggest it will be branded with an M rather than a T). The Transport Minister Andrew Constance himself raised this in an interview with the ABC. So treat this more as a guide than actual concrete plans or promises.

  1. Tandem Train Rider says:

    Said if before and I’ll say it again: the NWRL Metro does more harm than good. The funds would be much better spent upgrading the Chatswood-Parramatta corridor on Sector 3/T1

  2. tjejojyj says:

    That’s a good post. Far better than the ABC coverage.

    Isn’t the real solution here to try to move more jobs to Parramatta, near the centre of the network? Also to try to extend the peak beyond 8am to 9am? Couldn’t some jobs could start at 8:00 or 9:30?

    Are there enough platforms at Parramatta to terminate the T2 Inner-West services there? The diagram shows 20 tph through running + 6 tph terminating. (Will the T5 Cumberland line really terminate at Parramatta as well?)

    With crush loads like those given, the ability to keep to the timetable will surely become more difficult. Every platform will be “fast loading” like 16 to 19 at Central.

    I’m surprised the Inner West is only 135% peak load. I’ve seen passengers “rejected” at both Newtown and Macdonaldtown because they couldn’t get on; perhaps once every three months. Once a fortnight it seems really crammed between Stanmore and Redfern, with large numbers getting on at Newtown.

  3. Greg says:

    Good post.

    TTR – there is no doubt that the staging of Sydney Metro would have been better if the stages were reversed (CBD first, NWRL and Bankstown conversion to follow) but politics dictated that the NWRL had to come first and so we get a few years of pressure on the existing network that unfortunately corresponds with higher than expected patronage growth.

    There is relief in sight before 2024 with the pilot implementation of ETCS L2 moving block signalling system planned between Strathfield and North Sydney targeted for 2021/2022. You can read about the signalling strategy here:

    Click to access PL-S-44000-Signalling-and-Control-Systems-Strategy.pdf

    “A pilot deployment of ETCS L2 is anticipated to be operational by 2022 with a long term goal of an implementation of ETCS L2 with Automatic Train Operation by 2026.” (page 29)

    tjejojyj – all through trains at Parramatta will operate through platforms 1 and 2, and platforms 3 and 4 will be dedicated to terminating services. After the Parramatta turnback project there are now crossovers in both directions both east and west of platforms 3 and 4 as well as bi-directional signalling, allowing platforms 3 and 4 to operate much in the same way as Bondi Junction terminus (i.e. they have the option of either terminating the services and turning back at either platform, or terminating on platform 4, running past the station and reversing to platform 3.)

    You can take a look at the new track layout for Parramatta here:




    If operated in this way then full operational separation between T1 and T2 has finally been achieved.

  4. I think the crunch points in the CBD are Town Hall and Wynyard. To that extent, removing some of the long distance Western Line trains by terminating at the otherwise insufficiently used terminal platforms at Central is a good idea. There is no reason, once the intercity XPTs have arrived and departed, that platforms 1, 2 and 3 cannot be used for 12 car trains from the western lines. From Google maps it appears that at least platforms 4 to 9 could be extended to cope with 12 car trains.

    There are problems – very few of the outer suburban platforms can now cope with 12 car trains. But all stations from St Marys to Parramatta could be extended, if needed, to take 12 car trains (246 m) although this may be difficult at Westmead. Most of the platforms at Strathfield could be extended for 12 car trains. So at one of the outer stations on this line, an extra four car set could be added – which should add no more than 1 minute to journey time. St Marys is an obvious candidate for this as the pointwork is already suitable for this, and the four car sets waiting to join inbound trains, or off outbound trains, could be parked on the remnant Ropes Creek Branch. In future, the four car set could continue on to Badgerys Creek Airport, to provide the local link between the Airport and Parramatta (the high speed link to Central being via the East Hills line).

    So having terminated 12 car trains at Central – what then? The answer is same as it was in days gone by, catch a tram from the Colonnade down to the Quay. The only difference is that this time the trams will travel via George Street. As they will stop more frequently, they will give better coverage of the CBD than just three stations, Town Hall, Wynyard and Circular Quay. It is plausible that for a large proportion of travellers the shortened walking distances from the tram stop to destination will make up for the time lost in walking down the length of the platform at Central and changing to the tram.

  5. Tandem Train Rider says:

    @Greg, thanks for this. Shows how out of touch I am that I had no idea the Parra Turnback project was even on the cards.

    > There is relief in sight before 2024 with the pilot implementation of ETCS L2 moving block signalling
    > system planned between Strathfield and North Sydney targeted for 2021/2022. You can read about
    > the signalling strategy here:

    AFAIK, ETCS L2 is *not* moving block, that requires ETCS Level 3 which – last time I checked a couple of years ago – was still vapourware. If ETCS L3 emerges as a viable option, they’ll be able to run 24tph between Nth Sydney and Strathfield, as it’s essentially a software upgrade from L2.

    But ultimately, I think they’ll need to build a(nother) proper turnback facility at Chatswood

  6. mich says:

    Its a bit pathetic that a supposed increase from 8 to 15 peak hour trains on the Bankstown line actually results in a reduction of capacity. Being jostled for 70 minutes a day in a stinking moshpit, so I can’t read my book or even play with my phone, seems a very poor tradeoff for a reduction of maybe 2 minutes in station waiting time and 1 minute of journey time.

  7. mich says:

    ” The answer is same as it was in days gone by, catch a tram from the Colonnade down to the Quay. The only difference is that this time the trams will travel via George Street. As they will stop more frequently, they will give better coverage of the CBD than just three stations, Town Hall, Wynyard and Circular Quay. It is plausible that for a large proportion of travellers the shortened walking distances from the tram stop to destination will make up for the time lost in walking down the length of the platform at Central and changing to the tram.”

    Problems with this.

    (a) Indirect and slow pedestrian access from Central to trams
    (b) Really slow trams
    (c) Poorly located tram stations. There are three near central, two next to town hall, two next to Wynyard. No trams shops actually midway between train stations. No tram stop near King Street which is the longest east-west street. No tram stop near Liverpool street which is the second-longest east-west street and has the most direct access to Darling Harbour.
    (d) Tram stops near Wynyard on George st are further away from large office precinct west of York Street, than Wynyard station is.

  8. Greg says:

    mich – That’s not really true though. The 6 car trains will have 384 seats and the 8 car trains will have 500 seats, so at 15tph that will be 5760 – 7500 seats an hour, which is 80% – 105% of the number is seats that the Bankstown line currently gets with 8 x DD trains.

    And the travel time of 26 minutes from Bankstown is 5-10 minutes quicker than the 31-36 minute travel time currently.

  9. Ray says:

    @greg, that’s not quite correct. It’s proposed to increase the frequency on the Bankstown Line to 10tph, which would increase the seating capacity for DD to approximately 9,000 per hour. Considering that the metro will be an all stations service, I don’t think there will be much difference in travel time compared with the existing limited stop service from Bankstown to the CBD, especially when you take into account the slack in the current timetable.

  10. Ray says:

    The revelation by the Auditor-General that there will be a capacity shortfall after 2019, reinforces the absurdity of focussing all of the Government’s resources on expansion of the metro network at the expense of upgrading the existing network.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against having an independent metro system, I’m just against the priority it is given over the need for a more immediate upgrading of the existing network, which will remain the dominant system for many years to come.

    The chickens have now come home to roost. The Liberals preoccupation for ideological reasons to expand the metro system has caught up with them, when they should have been allocating more funding for upgrading the current network. Allocating a paltry $1 billion for this work compared with what they’re spending on the metro is an insult.

  11. Simon says:

    Reading this post was 5 minutes of my life that I’ll never get back. What a load of nonsense! The metro actually reduces the effective capacity by requiring more northern line users to go around via Strathfield and then spends money on a corridor with significant excess capacity (harbour crossing).

  12. Sunny Yan says:

    I’m not sure about Sydney Metro Southwest. The Bankstown line is actually not that full compared to other lines. It is only at St Peters & Erskineville that the loading gets to >135%. Before that is <120%, which is completely normal for a peak hour train service. I think there should be more shuttle services added to service St Peters and Erskineville. The current service for the Bankstown line is almost sufficient.

  13. @Sunny –
    Thanks for your comment.

    The T3 Bankstown Line is certainly not at the top of the list of lines that need additional capacity. That would be the T1 Western Line and T4 Illawarra Line, which consistently hit 135% loading but are also have little capacity to run extra trains. The T1 Northern Line and T3 Bankstown Lines are also at 135% loading, but it’s possible to add additional train services on those lines more than on the previous two.

    That said, there are a few things to consider:
    1. Loading above 135% matter most at the point where trains reach the CBD as this leads to longer dwell times at CBD stations. This in turn leads to delays, which reduces the number of trains passing through per hour, which reduces capacity. This also leads to higher loading as the same number of passengers cram into fewer train services. So 135% loading is still an issue, even if it does not eventuate until closer to the CBD.
    2. The increased capacity along the Bankstown Line is accompanied by urban development along its corridor. So that extra capacity will likely get used up.
    3. Ultimately I think the Bankstown Line was chosen because it was the easiest option for metro conversion. It has spare capacity, does not share track with other lines, and is cheaper than building a completely new line. In an ideal world without budgetary constraints the government would have extended the NWRL via Anzac Parade or Parramatta Rd. Perhaps if there is significant community backlash with the current lot of metro conversions then we will never see anymore conversions in our lifetimes. Time will tell.

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