Sydney Trains’ Turn Up And Go Frequencies

Posted: December 8, 2018 in Transport
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The 2017 timetable changes to Sydney Trains saw a massive expansion of the all-day 15-minute frequency network, from 88 stations (49% of stations) to 126 stations (71% of stations). This level of service requires a minimum of 4 trains per hour in each direction, spaced evenly throughout that hour. This level of service has been deemed “tun-up-and-go”, where passengers need not worry about a timetable.

Stations with a train every 15 minutes or less all day. (Source: Adapted by author from Sydney Trains.)

However, there are several sections of the network with more than 4 trains per hour all-day: 14 trains per hour in the city and even 10 trains per hour outside of the city on some lines, in many cases with wait times of less than 10 minutes. This post will investigate which portions of these lines enjoy these higher frequencies and identify which lines are approaching an improved turn-up-and-go service. The weekday timetables from roughly midday are used for this, which are slightly different to the weekend timetables.

There are 3 lines whose inner-city sections contain high frequency services, with maximum wait times of 10 minutes between trains: the T4 Line between Bondi Junction and Sydenham, most of the T1 Line between Chatswood and Redfern (excluding Waverton/Wollstonecraft/Artarmon as not all trains stop at these stations), and the T8 Line between Wolli Creek and the City Circle.

EDIT: It has been pointed out that since the closure of the Epping to Chatswood Line for metro conversion, North Shore trains now use Linfield as the turn-back station, rather than Chatswood. Therefore, these higher frequencies extend past Chatswood and up to Roseville/Linfield.

Lines with a train every 10 minutes or less all day. (Source: Adapted by author from Sydney Trains.)

But looking at the maximum wait times can be misleading. As an extreme example, imagine a line with trains every 6 minutes during the first half of each hour, then no trains during the second half of each hour. Even though the maximum wait time in this situation is 30 minutes, a passenger arriving at a random moment during the hour is just as likely to wait a maximum of 6 minutes as they would 30 minutes. By taking the (weighted) average of these two times, that being 18 minutes, we get a more accurate idea of what is known as the expected maximum wait times.

Maximum wait times assume a passenger always arrives just as a train is departing, which is rarely the case. So, dividing the expected maximum wait time in half gives the average wait time, in other words, a passenger arriving at a random moment in a given hour would be just as likely to have a longer wait time as they are to have a shorter wait time.

Based on this calculation, T1 has the shortest average wait time. T1 has an average wait time, depending on the direction of travel, of 3:22 or 3:28 (wait times measured in minutes:seconds). This means that a passenger’s next train is more likely than not to arrive within 3 ½ minutes. Next shortest is T8 with, again depending on direction of travel, of either 3:46 or 3:54. The longest average wait of the 3 lines is T4 at 5:00, regardless of direction of travel.

Lines and stations with a train every 10 minutes or less all day. (Source: Adapted by author from Sydney Trains.)

Many lines maintain high frequencies beyond the 4 per hour required for maximum 15-minute wait times but a mix of express and all stations stopping patterns mean that only a few individual stations have average wait times at or below 5 minutes. Two stations that do this are Strathfield and Newtown, although both do sometimes have a maximum wait time of 11 minutes, which is above the 10 minute cut-off mentioned above. The shortest average wait time of these two is on T1 from Strathfield to Central of 2:58. Next shortest is T2 from Newtown to the City Circle with an average wait time, depending on the direction of travel, of 3:54 or 4:34.

Expanding the turn-up-and-go network

There are several ways to improve services to achieve turn-up-and-go status: even out spacing between services to reduce bunching, increase train frequencies, and extend existing services beyond their terminating station.

The first, even out spacing, should be a low hanging fruit for Sydney Trains as it does not require any additional services being run, only an adjusting of existing services. However, this is not always possible due to conflicts with other trains as several branches join up in the central core of the network.

The second, increase train frequencies, works best when a marginal addition leads to a large reduction in maximum wait times. For example, going from 6 or 7 trains per hour to 8 can reduce gaps in service from 15 minutes down to 8 or 9 minutes.

The third, extend existing services requires sufficient turn-back capacity at stations further down the line. A lack of such facilities can hold up trains, resulting in delays. However, if possible, this is often a cheaper way of increasing frequencies than adding a whole new train service.

Potential lines and stations with a train every 10 minutes or less all day. (Source: Adapted by author from Sydney Trains.)

On example of where this could be achieved is the T2 Southwest and T5 Cumberland Lines, between Leppington and Merrylands, which currently see 6 trains per hour. Adding an additional 2 trains per hour on T5 and adjusting its Leppington bound trains to depart 2 minute earlier would see the maximum wait time drop from 15 minutes to 9 and the average wait time drop from approximately 6 minutes to under 4 minutes. This would be the first high frequency line on the Sydney Trains network not centred around the Sydney CBD; instead this would be centred around the Liverpool CBD.

Another area for investigation could be to extend intercity services from the Central Coast and Blue Mountains out to North Sydney, rather than terminating at Central Station’s Sydney Terminal. This is complicated by the availability of paths due to converging branches of different lines and the 190m long V-Sets that operate on many intercity routes. If these are replaced by OSCARS or the new intercity trains that are set to enter service next year, both 160m long and able to operate in the shorter underground stations of the Sydney CBD, then this may be possible. Doing so could reduce average wait times on T1 stations between Central and North Sydney from the current 3 ½ minutes down to 2 ½ minutes.

  1. Alex says:

    Thanks for the post; I also went back read some of your earlier ones on train frequency. While I think that increasing all-day frequencies to four trains an hour is a great improvement, I struggle with the proposition that this represents a “turn-up-and-go” service, especially for lines servicing inner suburban areas.

    I agree with what seemed to be a consensus both in the articles you referenced in your previous posts and the comments you received in response that six trains an hour with an average – and consistent – 10-minute interval is an absolute minimum. In fact I think “real” turn-up-and-go” is 10-12 tph – and the metro will have around 15 tph.

  2. I am always struggling with so many T1 lines. Hornsby – Strathfield- CBD – Hornsby. Then there is a T1 going to Richmond. And another T1 to Penrith. Starting from where? What a naming chaos. In Europe this would be unacceptable as there are so many international travelers who would get totally confused with at least 3 T1 lines on the map. Who will finally bite the bullet and rectify this?

  3. Ray says:

    I know this might be putting it too simplistically, but I believe an aspirational goal for off-peak rail services to the outer branches should be 6tph (one train every 10 minutes). Obviously, as the branches converge towards the CBD the frequency becomes greater. During the peak, supplementary services should start from and terminate at intermediate stations on a branch, much as they do now.

    I can’t see how it wouldn’t be too difficult to plan for a consistent frequency, starting from the inner city core for each line sector and spreading outwards to the branches. Using this as a basic template, there would have to be further infrastructure upgrades to accommodate peak hour frequency through the core with an ultimate goal of 24tph once ATO is introduced (every two and a half minutes).

    It’s difficult at present to suggest potential operational scenarios when there is a pending State election with a possible change in government. If the Labor Party wins, then there is some uncertainty whether they will actually cancel the Bankstown Line metro conversion and other consequent changes to services arising from that decision, such as reinstating Liverpool via Regents Park services. Labor has also undertaken to extend the South West Rail Link to Badgerys Creek Airport, rather than the current government’s preferred option of a new metro link from the airport to St Marys. A change in government will have major ramifications for the future direction of Sydney’s rail network.

    I agree with Crude Oil Peak, that the designation of lines such as T1, with its multiple branches, is confusing for interstate and international travellers, or even occasional local commuters, who are unfamiliar with the local rail network. Taking T1 as an example, it would be far more user friendly if each branch had a separate designation, such as Line A1 for the loop from Berowra to Hornsby via the North Shore and Northern Lines; Line A2 from either Gordon, Lindfield or North Sydney to Penrith/Emu Plains and Line A3 from the aforementioned stations to Richmond. Alternatively, base the line designation starting from Central, such as the North Shore Line from Central to Berowra being Line A1; the Northern Line to Hornsby being Line A2; the Western Line to Penrith/Emu Plains being Line A3 and the Richmond Line being Line A4.

  4. Untangled says:

    On 10min or less high-frequency stations. Would Ashfield also be a candidate? Burwood? Lidcombe? Other stations with potential high frequency are probably between Granville and Homebush (especially Granville, Auburn and Flemington) and this could be achieved by extending Homebush off-peak services to Parramatta. They could probably do some more off-peak skip-stop services as well on that line.

  5. Ray says:

    Most likely all of those stations. As far as I’m aware, some T2 services already extend from Homebush to Parramatta. Rather than off-peak skip-stop services on that line, I’d rather see it become a single all stations operating pattern, with limited stop services transferred to a new track pair as part of sextuplication of the Western Line between Homebush and Granville. In the short to medium term, greater use should be made of the Western Main for limited stop express services in peak hours, complementing the Suburban Lines, and terminating at Central for the Western, Northern and South Lines. In the longer term, the extra track pair should be extended as an express tunnel to the CBD linking up with the previously proposed City Relief Line. This would provide additional capacity on the Western Line corridor for many years to come. Contrary to the government’s spin, the Metro West proposal won’t reduce congestion on the Western Line, but it will be a useful addition to Sydney’s rail network by servicing a new corridor.

  6. Tandem Train Rider says:

    > Most likely all of those stations. As far as I’m aware, some T2 services already extend from
    > Homebush to Parramatta. Rather than off-peak skip-stop services on that line, I’d rather see it
    > become a single all stations operating pattern, with limited stop services transferred to a new
    > track pair as part of sextuplication of the Western Line between Homebush and Granville

    As I understand it in the latest timetable, T2 now operates largely all stops along the inner west to Granville and the either Parramatta or Liverpool/Leppington.

    There are also less stops on the Main West at places like Lidcombe.

    The Liverpool – Bankstown – City services are now significantly faster than Liverpool – Granville – City, whereas they used to take the same time.

    On another note, Macdonaldtown has almost had a defacto closure, with most trains skip-stopping there bar 4 per hour during peak.

    But essentially, increased in frequency at the expense of total journey time.

  7. JC says:

    Crudeoilpeak and Ray are right about line numbering. Part of a successful comprehensive public transport system is the abilityof businesses to flag transport accessibility in addresses, advertising etc. However re-dreating line identification yet again can only be couter productive. A solution would be for the lines to stay as T1, T2 etc, and for the services to have subsidiary numbers e.g. T1a, T1b… or (as in German S-bahns) T1, T11, T12.

  8. JC says:

    This is all based on continuing to have a system fully and only focused on the CBD. 15 minute frequencies is only turn-up-and-ride if you don’t need to change trains and/or modes. If you have to use 2 or 3 or 4 trains/buses/trams/ferries to reach your destination and have to wait 15 minutes for each of them, public transport quickly becomes unsustainable. A system that allows easy and convenient pubic transport to from home to work and other destinations wherever they are in the Sydney region needs frequencies much greater than 4 tph.

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