How to do future metro conversions in Sydney

Posted: November 29, 2017 in Transport
Tags: ,

VIDEO: Santiago Metro Line 6 opening day, Bambul Shakibaei (3 Nov 2017)

This post will consider how to convert the T8 Airport Line between Revesby and Central as well as the T4 Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra Line between Bondi Junction and Hurstville on the Sydney Trains network to single deck metro operation without the level of disruption planned for the Epping to Chatswood or Bankstown Lines. It will not seek to analyse the merits of whether these lines are better suited to single or double deck operations, just how such a conversion would be possible.

In both cases, the lines would need to be separated from the rest of the network.

For the T8 Airport Line, Trains would begin at the Revesby turn back platform and travel to platforms 22 and 23 at Central Station via the airport. Construction of an additional turnback platform at Revesby would help to maintain a high frequency of service. (CORRECTION: As karan points out in the comments, Revesby already has 4 platforms and therefore does not require construction of an additional turnback platform.) T8 South Line trains would all run express from Revesby and be rerouted via Sydenham, made possible by the removal of T3 Bankstown Line trains once Sydney Metro City and Southwest is completed in 2024. A new set of platforms could also be built at Wolli Creek to allow T8 South Line trains to stop there and maintain a point of easy transfer between lines for passengers before continuing North via Sydenham.

In the case of the T4 Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra Line, any trains South of Hurstville would be rerouted to the City Circle (or Sydney Terminal in the case of South Coast Line trains). This would be possible due to the removal of T3 Bankstown Line and T8 Airport Line trains from the City Circle, thus creating enough spare capacity for T4 Illawarra Line and South Coast Line trains displaced from the T4 Eastern Suburbs Line.

From that point T2 Inner West and T8 South trains would enter the City Circle via Town Hall while T4 Illawarra Line trains (from Cronulla and Waterfall) would enter the City Circle via Museum. T4 Illawarra trains that begin and end at Hurstville would continue through to Bondi Junction as they currently do. This would provide much needed additional capacity to all parts of T4 South of the city, the second most used line in the network after the T1 Western Line.

If the aim is merely further sectorisation of the network, the process can end here. But to achieve metro conversion requires two additional steps: installation of platform screen doors and introduction of driverless trains.

Platform screen doors would come first. This would require trains on each of these lines to be replaced with single deck trains, each having the same configuration of doors as the new driverless trains. However, these trains would continue to have drivers. As both of these new lines would have spare capacity, this changeover could now be achieved by initially adding extra trains, rather than merely replacing existing trains 1 for 1. This means the changeover could occur with little to no loss of seated capacity.

Artists impression of the trains to run on the NWRL at Kellyville Station. Click to enlarge. (Source:Transport for NSW.)

Once all trains on the line are replaced, screen doors could be progressively installed during weekends or overnight. Some individual stations may need to be closed while screen doors are installed, but the line itself will continue to operate.

With screen doors in place, a new set of driverless trains could be rolled out.If this is done exclusively on one line first, these same trains could then be redeployed on the second line to complete the process on both lines with fewer trains.

The driver’s cabs could then be removed and the trains converted to driverless.

None of this would likely be possible before 2030 as it requires the T3 Bankstown Line to be converted to metro in 2024 and would be difficult to implement until the T8 Airport Line reverts to government ownership in 2030. But doing so could convert the T8 Airport Line between Revesby and Central as well as the T4 Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra Line between Bondi Junction and Hurstville to metro style operation.

  1. Matthew Geier says:

    I’ve been on two railways ran unattended ATO WITHOUT PLATFORM DOORS. I think one was built new that way, the other converted to unattended ATO train by train, running computer driven and human-driven trains on the SAME tracks and WITHOUT platform doors. It wasn’t a bloodbath.

    Stations with lower levels of crowding, platform doors are just an extra capital and maintenance cost.

    Town Hall, on the other hand, needs em now.

    And if the objective is a more efficient operation without needing drivers, why not unattended ATO ‘deckers?

  2. Matthew Chan says:

    But Bambul Shakibaei, that implies a need to reconnect Bankstown on surface heavy rail to Revesby, a need for interim heavy rail turn-back system at Revesby and that conversion to rapid metro for Eastern suburbs line be restricted to between Bondi Junction and Redfern underground.


  3. Tandem Train Rider says:

    Interesting ideas @bambul, but I don’t think the numbers quite add up.

    I just checked the latest TT and Hurstville Starters on Sector 1/T4 are 1/3rd of trains peak, and 0% of trains off-peak. On T8 there are 2 Cambo patterns and 1 Revesby pattern peak, and one Cambo and one Revesby pattern off peak. There is (sort of) provision for more services from extensions of the SWRL if and when these ever eventuate.

    In short, one track pair isn’t enough capacity for the current combined distance operations beyond Revesby/Hurstville.

    To me, this idea userlines the problems we have in Sydney. The core problem is inadequate terminal facilities. This necessitates low frequency, high capacity services with simultaneously too many (sharing the same terminal facilities, so infrequent services) and too few (trains have to make too many stops and hence have very long transit times) stopping patterns.

    The requirement is/remains/and always has been – HR needs 5 sectors instead of 3. *Then*, changes to the form factor and operating practices can be implemented, if they are still considered appropriate.

    BTW @Bambul, the Airport line could operate as an independent line now, unmodified – if you are prepared to accept a 10min peak frequency (which is all that is currently achieved in peak). No need for platforms 24&25. There is a facing crossover just inside the tunnel portal at Cleveland St. The line could operate from Revesby in and out of redundant surface Platform 23 completely sectorised, the limit being how quickly trains can be turned at Central. A fully automated system could turn trains like a regular stop, so 6 min frequency would be possible.

    The ESR can run independently, unmodified too: Central to BJ. But again, to do this you have to sacrifice the line’s other role as Sector 1/T4’s terminal facility.

  4. Tony Galloway says:

    Driverless metro – a worthless exercise in job destroying, union busting and a Trojan Horse for absurd, corruption driven slum building – nothing else.

  5. The function of metros and heavy rail is different. Heavy rail stops every 2.5 km or so and metros stop every 1,000 m, requiring a high density environment as we know from European cities. Example of Frankfurt – although much smaller in size.

    Metros usually perform a feeder role to heavy rail and/or create connectivity between heavy rail lines having been built in radial patterns during the steam age. Converting heavy rail to metro trains does not make these lines metro lines.

    Because of this fundamental design flaw Sydney’s metro project will fail. when the housing boom crashes. We see all these high rises being built around stations.

    These are to replace the low density surrounds. Therefore, this metro does not solve the oil dependency problem of Sydney’s motorists. It caters for immigrants yet to arrive and who are used to apartment living in Hong Kong, Shanghai or Seoul. I call Gladys Metro therefore an immigration metro. Narural population growth is modest.

    In the next oil shock when motorists will be forced to switch to rail they will find the trains already full

    I personally have nothing against single deck heavy rail stock but minimum condition is they have the same width of 3.04 m and the same door height as the double deckers. After all the red rattlers had them running side by side.

    The North West metro uses 2.9 m wide cars, yet another incompatibility problem.

    Wait for next year’s stupid Epping – Chatswood rail tunnel closure. It is childish to think buses can take the load of double deckers in peak hour. Epping 8 am

    Sydney mismanages transition to driver-less single deck trains (part 2)

    Attach flaps to narrow body metro trains and run together with double deckers

    Watch here:

  6. karan says:

    Revesby wouldn’t require additional turn-back platforms – there’s 4 platforms already, and the outer ones are aligned with the express via Sydenham tracks already.

    The stopping pattern for most services on T8 now is relatively well aligned with this, given that trains from Campbeltown are running express between Revesby & Wolli Creek. The need for an additional changeover platform at Wolli Creek is also dubious if you’ve already got Revesby as a crossover point, as well as Sydenham for the T4 line.

  7. Ray says:

    I’m not a fan of converting any further parts of the existing Sydney Trains’ network to metro operation. I don’t even support the conversion of the Bankstown Line, but that’s history now. What’s the point of it? The money would be better spent on new independent metro lines to areas of the inner city, say within a 20-25km radius of the CBD, not currently serviced by rail.

    It would still be possible to achieve the independent operation of various lines as you’ve suggested, with some track amplifications, without the need to convert to metro and without the disruption and complex operation during the conversion phase. Dare I say it, you could also have compatible SD trains on the all stations inner city lines. I don’t subscribe to the view that a “metro” conversion is the magic bullet. It’s not necessary.

  8. JC says:

    Lots of detail here of interest only to those concerned about playing trainsets with the Sydney system… but some important general points:

    1. You can deliver the benefits of metro or near-metro conversion in parts, over time (unless you are obsessed with the ownership/union busting aspects) and…
    2. You don’t have to close the lines to do it.

    I found this in an old blog about the conversion of the major Paris metro lines from steel wheels/steel rails to rubber tyres:

    “The whole thing was designed to facilitate a gradual transition during the changeover phase on the tracks, when conventional trains continue to run until all is complete, and then afterwards as well (eg works trains). The lines which were converted, as opposed to new lines like the 14, all took some years each to convert, working at night. There is a certain progression to the works; firstly the outer guideways have to be installed and made electrically live, then the old 3rd rail is removed, then the roadways are laid. Given that the Paris Metro was originally built with smaller trains and the tracks deliberately laid close together, to stop the main line railways with full sized trains getting running powers over it, it’s surprising there is space for it all.”

    This suggest that complete re-engineering of the entire lines was done without closing them. If anyone has more information on the process it would be interesting to see. A serious lesson for the muppets who run NSW engineering capital works

  9. JC says:

    And now to play trainsets… What possible use would a metro line from Revesby to Central via the airport be? Continuing the through-the-looking-glass topsy-turvy world of NSW transport planning where you catch a metro for the the outer-suburban low density bit of the journey and transfer to heavy rail suburban trains to finish your journey into the CBD and other high density bits of the city.

  10. spamusdet says:

    @JC: I think it’s possible, just very much more expensive to do this properly. For example, you can install old and new signalling systems side by side but this takes quite a long time and requires complex interfacing between the two systems.

    @mushalik: ignore the fancy marketing name, it’s single deck heavy rail (as shown at top right of your picture). Where is this document saying the train width will be different? Your bit about door height is absolutely false as it will need to have cross platform interchange at Chatswood.

  11. @karan:

    You are correct about Revesby already having 4 platforms. I must have been getting it confused with East Hills station and its 3 platforms. I’ve put in a correction. Thanks for noticing and pointing out the error.

  12. JC says:

    @spamusdet: “Very much more expensive” for who? Closing down a railway for several months imposes considerable costs on hundreds of thousands of people, if you multiply this through it is much greater than the cost of contractors having to work night shifts. If you are replacing the signalling – you have a choice. You can either take the old ones out before you put the new ones in (and close the line for months) or put the new ones in before you take the old ones out – and go live over a weekend. As Bambul points out, the new trains can start without the platform doors – and they could be done one station at a time – so disruption to travellers is only to have to walk/drive/bus a few extra km to the station etc etc.

  13. spamusdet says:

    Of course I’m referring to the government, not overall costs to society which is a totally different thing for the politicians ;)

    “Going live” over a weekend sounds easy, but really isn’t so. It usually takes years before you’re ready to “switch it over” because they need to find additional time to test this outside of service hours, but they can’t run tests while they’re doing actual track maintenance. An example of these issues was the London Underground Jubilee Line upgrade which ended up taking more than 5 years.

    As you say, platform screen doors are not as much of an issue if the platform itself is suitable for installation. If not, that will require a further set of strengthening works and modifications to allow for PSD mounting.

  14. karan says:

    Suspect the use would be to run more frequent services with lower dwell times at stations, resulting in more useful services, and better service to the airport.

  15. Ray says:

    @karan. It could also be achieved with compatible SD rolling stock without the need to convert to metro, not that I think it would be warranted anyway. DD trains, if allowed to operate to their specified performance levels and at greater frequency, could more than adequately fulfill the role. The perceived problem of dwell times with DD on this sector are overstated in my view.

  16. Tony Galloway says:

    Let me state this clearly so everyone understands – nothing this government has done with public transport is to “improve” public transport. Everything has been done as a Trojan Horse for property developers to inflict overcrowding and slum building, and to break down the system into sectors so it can be parcelled off to privatised franchise holders. The northwest metro, the conversion of the Bankstown line, and the proposed west metro all parallel tollroads, and in my opinion are intended to restrict public transport capacity to keep high levels of traffic on the tollroads, while, as I stated above, giving the metro promoter – the Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway Co., a property and real estate developer – open slather to build high rise slums.

    It is driven by corruption, is a rort, and a criminal enterprise intended to inflict maximum damage on areas of Sydney, particularly Sydenham-Bankstown, that will never vote for the liberal party. In the northwest, this bogus undersized metro is intended to keep traffic on the M2 pouring revenue into liberal party donor Transurban, while at the same time opening the gate for massive overdevelopment of high rise..

    Even the one good project they have done, the CSELR, is burdened with massively excessive costs – track costs five times much per kilometre as Melbourne, Adelaide or Gold Coast track – and stupid vanity features such as the APS (Amazingly Pricey System) ground level power that will fail when the first heavy rain event floods the track. And, like everything else, is intended to force overdevelopment. That it won’t force “enough” to satisfy developer greed is shown by plans to build another bogus, fraudulent metro to Maroubra Junction.

    Back in 2011 when this regime of spivs was elected the first response to the extension of light rail to Dulwich Hill from members of the regime such as Duncan Gay was to try and stop it as the road lobby had long coveted that route from Rozelle to Dulwich Hill for a truck road. That move was frustrated, but everything done since with tollroads, metro and slum building has been a malignant blight driven by corruption, greed and ideological contempt for the environment.

  17. spamusdet says:

    In Hong Kong, MTR earns back their investment in railway lines by reselling land near these lines the government has sold to them earlier.

    In Sydney, they do *not* own the land. The government leases the railway for them to run it for 15 years and they don’t get any property development rights. The government reserves the rights for over-station development and they are the ones who will earn the money from them, not HK MTR or any of the Northwest Rapid Transit consortium members.

    What they do get are contractual performance incentives, where they’ll make a profit if they do run things reliably and to time, while they will be hit with penalties if they do not.

    This is unlike what happens for motorway projects, which are quite corrupt indeed ;)

    If you actually did some study in railway operations, you would understand that sectorisation improves capacity and reliability. Yes, this is at the expense of some one seat journeys, but I don’t think trains continually being late and cascading delays are evidence of a well run operation.

    Whether they are SD or DD is a different matter. Working out which one is better has to be done on an individual basis as it can be complicated and depends on a lot of factors.

  18. Robert says:

    If all-stops to Revesby is converted to a high frequency SD service then Revesby WOULD certainly need a turnback. It already needs it now to allow cross-platform interchange. Here’s why. In the new weekend and night timetable the current operations format fails. The all-stops services to Revesby on the T8 leave Central 11 minutes before the following express. They run on separate tracks once they are out of the airport tunnel and are timetabled to connect at the same minute at Revesby. Makes sense on paper given the expresses no longer call at any station between Wolli Creek and Revesby. The express continues its down journey as an all-stops south of Revesby, so interchange is important. But here’s the catch….it mostly doesn’t work. The results are often slapstick comical. The expresses from the airport arrive on platform 4; the all-stops alternate arrivals between platforms 2 and 3. Unless the all-stops is running early you have no hope of changing platforms from platform 2 in time to get to platform 4 to continue your journey. Even if you score the all-stops that is scheduled to arrive on platform 3 the connection often fails by seconds and the expresses continue their journey just as the all-stops pulls in. On-time running aside, the turnback would mean the all-stops would always arrive on platform 3 and would always return to the city from platform 2 to allow for cross-platform interchange in both directions.

    (There is a timetable tweak available to reduce the number of current fails. The service which is waiting to collect transferring passengers at Revesby in either direction needs to be given an extra 1 minute of flex. That will solve most of the current misses. There isn’t a easy tweak available to connect trains that are running late btw so we shouldn’t try).

    A turnback is a must to interlace an express and all-stops transfer properly.

    Incidentally, in this same timetable cross-platform interchange between T8 and T2 and Leppington now works well and every time…although the trains are often sitting too long…up to 3-4 minutes. Therein lies some flex for the Revesby dwell time.

  19. Taylor says:

    The issue with converting the T4 to Metro is that the depot for Tangara trains is currently between Mortdale and Oatley – it is a HUGE centre of large areas, and it is hard to find another place in Sydney to move, there are no other entry to the depot for the Tangaras, other than the T4 line.

    If this problem is solved, then the whole T4 line from Bondi to Cronulla can be on the Metro.
    South coast passengers can change to the double deck at Sutherland (or even waterfall), for their journey. But then where can you service the double deckers ?

    Or they can axe the double deckers for south coast services altogether, and served by another version of the metro, with more seats.

    So the solution is
    1. Convert the whole T4 shire and south coast service to metro
    2. change the mortdale depot for metro
    3. make a more seat version of the train, just for south coast passengers.

  20. Daniel says:

    Would it be possible to combine the T4 line between Bondi and Central, with the airport line between Central and Wolli Creek? This creates an airport line running only between Wolli Creek and Bondi. The rest of the T4 line from Redfern to Waterfall/Cronulla will terminate at Central or have the option to use the City Circle that was previously used by the Airport line. The same goes with the rest of the Airport line from Wolli Creek to MacArthur (though only one line- either T4 or T8 should use City Circle otherwise this will add to the congestion). This plan allows a 3rd metro line in Sydney, converted using much of the existing infrastructure with the line being completely underground (which is characteristic of metro systems). It is roughly 14km between Wolli Creek and Bondi, currently with 11 stations (if it gets converted). In the future, additional stations could be built at Alexandria, with 2 more stations built using underground pedestrian tunnels to link the airport line at Redfern and the future Waterloo Metro station. This results in 14 stations on a 14km line. The advantage of this idea:

    1. Creates an airport line that will ideally have airport specific metro trains running between Wolli Creek and Bondi. This eliminates having to share the crowded train carriage with commuters on the rest of the T8 line, which is quite strange and awkward.

    2. Generates another metro line in Sydney, with a new busy metro interchange at Martin Place, to change for currently under construction Metro City and Southwest. Currently, there are no concrete plans for a metro specific interchange which is unheard of (having metro lines independent of each other).

    3. A better definition of what a metro should be. The purpose of Metro rail is in its name- to serve the metropolitan population with frequent services and with stations in relative proximity with each other. This line satisfies this with 11 stations/14km and potential to build 3 more. This line is also completely underground which is typically characteristic of a metro system.

    4. Frees up the congested City Circle line. Without the T8 or T4 line running through the City Circle will significantly relieve congestion, and gives the T8 line from Waterfall/Cronulla and the T4 line from MacArthur (or other termini such as Revesby, Turrella, etc) to either terminate at central or continue on into the City Circle (possibly during peak hours).

    5. Cost-efficient. By using existing infrastructure and potentially building 3 more stations on existing track, this plan will allow another metro line to be added to the metro system whilst still keeping costs low.

    Let me know what you think of this, provide any feedback or let me know about anything I’ve missed.


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