Archive for the ‘Transport’ Category

Lachlan Drummond is a past guest contributor to this blog (you can read some of his other posts here and here). He has investigated the current bus network and timetables, comparing them to the new L2 light rail line that opened this past weekend. Below is part two of his findings.

In an earlier post, I compared the L2 line journey times in the AM peak inbound. I found that the L2 line compared unfavourably with most AM peak hour buses, including to Central – although for some journeys (including Chinatown and Town Hall), the L2 was superior.

But that’s only half the story. To complete the picture of whether the L2 will be useful as a commuter service, lets have a look at the journey home to Randwick.

Get ready for a surprise.

The comparison

Like last time, we are comparing the journey time to the same spot. The closest bus stop outbound to the L2 Randwick station is called “Belmore Rd at Avoca St” – look it up on Google Maps. All of these comparisons will compare the L2 light rail travelling to Randwick with buses travelling to this stop.

Firstly, let’s get the obvious one out of the way:

373 vs L2 from Circular Quay
Mode Circular Quay to Randwick – PM Peak
373/377 29mins
L2 45-51mins

As has been well documented – the full journey from Circular Quay to Randwick is much faster on paper than the 373 bus in the morning – and it remains so for the evening.

This is because the 373 (and its express service, the X73) does a fundamentally different job – its role is to get people in and out of the Elizabeth St corridor north of Hyde Park as quickly as possible.

Realistically, nobody near Circular Quay, Macquarie St, St James, or Museum is ever going to prefer the L2 as a transport mode to the 373 all the way back to Randwick. They’d have to walk back into the city to George St (5-10 minutes) to get a slower journey (by 15 minutes).

This is not going to happen.

This reinforces my strongly held view that the 373 should not become a casualty of the L2 in any subsequent changes to the bus network.

Verdict: If you currently get the 373, you should probably stick with it.

L2 vs M50 from Town Hall

Secondly, lets look at the Town Hall journey.

Remember – in the morning peak, the L2 was about 4 minutes quicker than the M50 – but by getting a 373 to Elizabeth St and walking the remainder, the journey was a tad faster. We nonetheless concluded that the L2 to Town Hall was superior, especially for destinations west of George St, because it dropped you closer to your final destination.

So, does the same thing hold for the PM peak?

Mode Town Hall to Randwick – PM Peak
M50 35mins
L2 32-34mins

 

In my view, yes. The T2 is still faster from Town hall.

Keep in mind two things:

  • The M50 leaves the city via Central and Cleveland St, a notorious spot for traffic jams in the evening – something I’ll talk about in a moment.
  • A tram will come every 8 minutes. The 373 and 377 are a tad more regular, but remember – if you walk 6 minutes back to Elizabeth St and then stand around waiting for 5 minutes at a bus stop, your 11 minutes might have been better spent on the tram if it had turned up straight away.

The “373 Town Hall hack” might work going into the city, but the outbound journey less so.

Verdict: The L2 is likely a superior way to get home from Town Hall, or origins west of George St.

L2 vs 372/376/M50 from Central  

And now, for the big one – the trip from Central back to Randwick.

What’s the result?

Drumroll please….

Mode Central to Randwick – PM Peak
372 28mins (leaving Central at 17:15)
376 25mins (leaving Central at 17:25)
M50 22mins (leaving Central 17:20)
L2 22-24mins (leaving Central Chalmers)

Verdict: The L2 is superior from Central to Randwick.

Why is light rail faster than Central buses in the evening, but not the morning?

Well… here’s the thing. It isn’t faster. It runs the same – 22 minutes or so to Randwick from Chalmers St.

But in the evening peak, the buses take much longer to “get out of the city”. This is due to something I call “The Moore Park problem”.

To illustrate this, here is the AM peak journey into Central from Moore Park, showing how some of the buses beat the L2:

Inbound – AM Peak Moore Park to Central Tram Station/Bus Stop
372via Anzac Pde & Cleveland St 11mins Anzac Pde before Cleveland St
374/376 via Moore Park busway & Foveaux St 6mins Moore Park busway at Lang Rd
M50 via Anzac Pde & Cleveland St 9mins Anzac Pde before Cleveland St, Moore Park
L2 via Tunnel/Devonshire St 8mins Moore Park Station

You can see in the morning how the bus that uses the busway and goes down Foveaux St wins… at least according to the timetable.

But by contrast, here is the timetabled outbound journey in PM peak:

Outbound – PM Peak Central to Moore Park Tram Station/Bus Stop
372Cleveland St 17mins Anzac Pde, after Lang Rd
374/376Albion St 14 Mins Moore Park busway, after Lang Rd
M50Cleveland St 13mins Anzac Pde, after Lang Rd
L2Devonshire St/Tunnel 8mins Moore Park Station

As you can see- the L2 zooms down the tunnel, while the buses get stuck in traffic. The light rail ends up getting to Lang Rd 5-8 minutes faster… assuming the buses run to timetable. And anyone who gets these buses knows that this can be a heroic assumption.

Why the “Moore Park Problem” slows down the buses

In the afternoon, traffic from three “feeder” roads – Oxford St, Albion St, and Cleveland St – are all trying to make a right turn to get onto the same road – Anzac Pde (or its extension, Flinders St).

It causes a big congestion problem, and as a result – timetabled journey times can double, and on-time reliability goes down.

The 374 and 376 have to go up Albion St (because Foveaux St is one way inbound), and then turn right onto Flinders St for a short section, before reaching the Moore Park busway. This takes 14 mins on the timetable to Lang Rd. Services coming from Oxford St, like the 373, also run into this traffic and get slowed down.

The 372 and M50 fare little better. They get clogged at two notoriously bad intersections –

  • Cleveland St and South Dowling St, where there are only two traffic lanes (one of which turns right and backs up the traffic)
  • The terrible right turn intersection on Cleveland St at Anzac Pde, where Southbound traffic on Anzac Pde gets the majority of the traffic light priority.

As a result, their journey times blow out too, by over 50% on the timetable. And as anyone who ever catches them knows – their service reliability goes to trash.

The L2 suffers from none of these problems for one simple reason – it never has to make that right turn at Anzac Pde. It runs under Anzac Parade in a tunnel and ends up on the other side. When I rode it on Sunday, it was given traffic light priority all the way, and it took only 8 minutes to “leave the city”. Even if the light rail was delayed by two minutes, it would still beat every other bus (except for the M50 if it ran exactly to time).

To put this in perspective, by the time the L2 makes it to Wansey Rd Station, the 372 has only just turned the corner at Anzac Pde… if the 372 runs to its timetable. And that’s a big if.

While the buses do eventually crawl some of that time back, the tram is so far ahead that only the M50 has a chance of beating the L2 to its terminus… if it doesn’t get stuck on Cleveland St, that is.

The Verdict – In the evening, L2 is faster than the bus from Central and Town Hall

So the verdict is in – if you’re going back to Randwick from Central or Town Hall in the PM Peak – get on the tram.

On the timetable it’s already faster, and when considering the on-time running challenges faced by existing bus services, it could cut your regular journey time significantly.

Or, to use an expression commonly heard at Randwick Racecourse – The L2 wins by a length, followed by the M50, with the 376 and 372 bringing up the rear.

In my third and final post – we’ll look at how the L2 might fix journeys to UNSW and major events at the SCG. Stay tuned.

Lachlan Drummond is a past guest contributor to this blog (you can read some of his other posts here and here). He has investigated the current bus network and timetables, comparing them to the new L2 light rail line that opened this past weekend. Below is part one of his findings.

So now that the L2 is open and the fireworks are flying in the media, it is a good time to sit down and actually analyse whether the whole thing was worth it.

Here’s a simple question: Is the tram better than the bus? The government and light rail advocates will say yes. If you believe the Daily Telegraph and the Labor opposition – the answer is no.

The best way to make a judgement is to ignore the hype and just look at the timetables. Lets’ break it down, bit by bit, starting with journeys at the AM peak. Some of these answers might surprise you.

The comparison

For these comparisons, I have decided to compare the light rail at the Randwick High St terminus with an equivalent bus service from the nearest bus stop on Belmore Rd Randwick (which for those wondering, is called “Belmore Rd opp Randwick Shopping Centre” on the timetable – it’s near the corner or Arthur St).

We are going to compare the L2’s current speeds as recorded by Bambul (this blog’s regular author) and myself this past weekend with times from equivalent bus timetables that will go into force from the 19th of December this year.

To factor in possible variations for peak hour, and the fact the tram timetable won’t be finalised for six months, I am going to give a “range” of possible tram speeds.

We will then compare the tram to the bus on three journeys – from Randwick to Central, Randwick to Town Hall, and Randwick to Circular Quay.

L2 vs 373/377 to Circular Quay

First, let’s start with the one that the opposition has been screaming about – the trip to Circular Quay.

Mode Randwick to Circular Quay – AM Peak
373/377 30mins (to Philip St, Museum of Sydney)
L2 45-51mins

The opposition has been saying that a trip from Penrith to Central on heavy rail takes as long as the current trip from Randwick to Circular Quay. They aren’t wrong. At the moment, the tram takes 51 minutes to travel its full length – although this is expected to fall closer to 45 minutes as service reliability is improved.

Let’s get one thing out of the way – if you need to go to Circular Quay from Randwick – the L2 is not faster. Not even close. By why is this?

Well – it’s simple. The L2 was never intended to replace the 373. The 373 does a very different job – it bypasses Central and goes to Circular Quay via Anzac Parade, Oxford St and Elizabeth St. This makes it 8-15 minutes faster than any bus that goes to Circular Quay via Central.

Some opposition politicians and light rail skeptics point to the 373 timetable and use it as proof that the L2 line was a waste of money, or that light rail is naturally slower than buses.

That isn’t the full story.

L2 vs 374 vs T2/T3 Between Central and Circular Quay

Here’s a question. Are buses quicker than trams on CBD streets?

To judge this, we have to compare apples with apples. And the 373 isn’t an apple, it’s an orange.

Currently, only two buses from Randwick stop at Central before continuing further into the city. One of those is the 374, and the other is the M50.

The 374 doesn’t go down Belmore Rd at Randwick, so to be clear – we aren’t comparing the 374 from Randwick, because it services a different part of Randwick.

But by looking at the 374 timetable, we can compare whether or not buses are faster than trams on a similar CBD corridor – a Northbound journey on surface roads deeper into the city.

The 374 stops on Foveaux St near the corner of Elizabeth St in the morning. It then turns right and goes up Elizabeth St, re-joining the 373 route at Hyde Park, and terminating at Philip St, just one block from Circular Quay. This is somewhat similar to what the L2 does. It arrives at Central, goes down Eddy Avenue, turns right on George St and then heads up to Circular Quay.

So what’s faster?

Mode Central to Circular Quay – AM Peak Central to Circular Quay – AM Off Peak
374 23mins (to Philip St, Museum of Sydney) 15mins (to Philip St, Museum of Sydney)
L2 20-25mins 20-25mins
City Circle Line Train 8mins 8mins

 This table illustrates the problem facing buses in the CBD very well.

During the off-peak, when the CBD roads are clearer, the 374 northbound does beat the L2 to Circular Quay (or rather Philip St, which is one block away).

But… during the AM peak, congestion through the CBD (caused partly by too many buses going down Elizabeth St) slows the bus journey between Central and Philip St to 23 minutes – an 8 minute delay.

When you take into account that it’s a few minutes walk from Philip St to Circular Quay, but the L2 goes all the way – the L2 is likely faster from Central than the 374 in peak hour, despite having to cross the city to go up George St.

This is a perfect illustration of what transport planners already know. You can add more bus services in the suburbs, but as soon as they hit the city at once, the city streets can’t handle them all, they get stuck, and the journey times blow out.

L2 vs M50 to Central and Town Hall

Here’s another example. The M50 bus goes first to Central via Cleveland St, then up Elizabeth St to Hyde Park, before it turns left to go across to Town Hall, and finally exiting the city out the other end to Drummoyne. Unlike other bus routes, at Randwick it avoids Cook and Cowper St and turns left from Belmore Rd, going straight down Alison Rd. This does shave a minute or two off the journey to Central.

So does it beat the tram in the morning peak?

AM Peak Randwick to Central Central to Town Hall Randwick to Town Hall
M50 21mins 15mins 36mins
L2 22-24mins 10mins 32-34mins

 To Central? Yes… just.

To Town Hall? The L2 wins.

And that’s right now – before we even see any service speed improvements.

One caveat needs to be made here – in the AM peak the 373 gets to the stop at Elizabeth St Hyde Park from Randwick in roughly 23 minutes, and then a walk across to Town Hall takes about 6 minutes – so the 373 might actually be faster than both of them in the AM peak.

However, lets think about this. Would you be prepared to have a 2 minute slower journey to be dropped right at the doorstep, instead of having to get off a bus and walk for 6 minutes? My guess – a lot of people, especially those with mobility issues – would happily take that deal.

L2 vs 372/376 to Central

And now, for the all important Randwick-Central route.

The 372 goes from Randwick Belmore Rd, via Cowper St, and then up Cleveland St to the City.

The 376 does the same to Moore Park, but then follows the 374 and enters Central via Foveaux St.

How does the tram compare?

Inbound AM Peak
372 – Central via Cleveland St 22mins
376 – Central via Foveaux St 17mins
L2 – Central via Devonshire St 22-24mins

Poorly.

The 376 beats the 372, the L2, and the aforementioned M50 from Belmore Rd to Central by at least 5 minutes.

The 372 runs five minutes slower than the 376 – which is an indication that Cleveland St is a substantially more congested option to get to Central.

Sadly, the tram, despite going down a dedicated corridor, runs no more quickly than the 372 bus at the moment. If the government wants to truncate the 372 bus at Randwick, and force a mode change, they must demonstrate that this will save commuters time. At the moment, it doesn’t.

In fact, if 372 commuters could pull off an interchange to the 376 bus in under 5 minutes, they’d still beat the tram.

So if the tram is slower on some journeys in the morning, why didn’t they just put on more buses?

Simple – more buses equals CBD traffic jams, and slower journey times.

The tram is not faster on a lot of the journeys on paper. But remember – the L2 tram carries way more people – 450 people on dedicated lanes. A typical Sydney bus can only carry 70 down the street.

To put this in perspective, one L2 tram coming every 8 minutes does the same job as a bus coming every minute. A tram every 4 minutes, which is what will happen when the L3 line opens, does the same job as a bus coming every 30 seconds.

A bus every 30-60 seconds, weaving in and out of lanes, will completely stuff up CBD traffic.

Go back and look at the 374 comparison above for proof. During non-peak times, it takes 15 minutes from Central to Circular Quay. During the 8am peak, when hundreds of buses (from both Randwick and Bondi) and other vehicles are trying to use Elizabeth St at the same time, it blows out to 23 minutes… and that’s assuming it runs on time.

The 376, 374, and 373 buses are clearly fantastic, and in my view we should resist any attempts to privatise or remove them. But they don’t come every minute from Randwick to the city…. and they never could. If you double the amount of half-empty buses using Elizabeth St, you would double the gridlock, and blow out the journey times.

So the idea that you can build a “30 minute city” with buses alone is complete nonsense.

Cities don’t just put in Light Rail because they think the journey times will be faster. Very often they aren’t. But if that’s the only way we measure success, then we are missing half the story.

Trams are not about speed, they’re about higher capacity and reducing congestion.

Cities will put light rail in when they conclude that the city streets are incapable of taking any more buses without causing a great big traffic jam… which is exactly what George St used to be like before 2015.

Summary

So, with that little rant aside, is the L2 worth taking instead of your regular bus service from Randwick?

In some cases, yes.

Here is where we see the tram being superior in the AM Peak:
  1. Journeys from Randwick Terminus to Chinatown and Haymarket

No Randwick buses currently go directly to Chinatown, and the Tram will drop you closer than any bus stop, which will be at least a 5-10 minute walk away. The Tram only takes a few minutes to get there from Chalmers St – it’ll be faster and save you the walk.

  1. Journeys from Randwick terminus to Town Hall

The L2 beats the M50 to Town Hall by about 5 minutes. A 373 journey to Elizabeth St, plus a walk to Town Hall, will technically beat the Tram by a couple of minutes, but the fact the tram drops you directly at the door is certainly a mode advantage.

  1. A journey from Randwick, to somewhere west of George St

The tram is mostly better because it drops you closer. You’ll have a shorter walk from the L2 station to your workplace than getting a 373 to Elizabeth St. One caveat might be the M50, to destinations near Druitt St west of town hall, so check the timetables.

  1. A journey from UNSW or Wansey St to Central

I will cover the reasons why in a future post, but in short – if you live closer to the UNSW light rail stop or Wansey St stop than you do to a bus stop on Belmore Rd or Cook St – the L2 will take 18-20 minutes to central and might be slightly quicker than your current bus to Central. Maybe.

And here is where the tram is a disappointment in the AM Peak:
  • Journeys from Belmore Rd to Central station are currently no quicker than the bus in the AM peak – in fact some of the buses, especially the 376 – are faster.
  • To Circular Quay, the 373 bus reigns supreme.

For the L2 to be fully utilised as an AM peak time service, I believe the L2 line must run quicker to Central in the morning – ideally 20 minutes. It has already been stated in a previous post on this site that traffic light priority needs to improve for this to occur.

Conclusion

So that’s the AM inbound peak… and that’s only half the story.

Are outbound journeys better? Is the PM peak different? And does the L2 do better than the 891 University bus to UNSW?

I’ll give you a hint – the L2 is substantially more useful as an outbound service than an inbound one – including in the PM Peak.

I’ll explain why in a future post.

VIDEO: Heads up! Play it safe around Sydney’s new light rail (Transport for NSW)

Sydney’s new light rail line, L2 between Randwick and Circular Quay, opened this weekend. The line saw fare free days on both Saturday and Sunday, with 80,000 trips taken on the first day. For comparison, first day patronage figures for other rail lines opened in NSW/ACT during 2019 were 76,000 for Sydney Metro, 17,000 for Canberra Light Rail, and 4,000 for Newcastle Light Rail.

A major complaint about the new line has been the long journey duration, with an end to end trip lasting about 50 minutes. Meanwhile, a direct 373 bus from Randwick to Circular Quay can complete a similar trip from Randwick to Circular Quay in a little over 20 minutes. The Transport Minister, Andrew Constance, has explained that the long journey durations should only be expected in the first 6 months or so and to expect those times to shorten down to the 40 minutes initially promised.

The author of this blog rode the light rail three times: on Saturday from Randwick to Circular Quay, on Sunday from Randwick to Circular Quay, and on Sunday from Circular Quay to Central. Trip times were measured on the two Sunday journeys to gain a better understanding of what is currently contributing to the long durations. The first Sunday trip (from Randwick to Circular Quay) took 51 minutes end to end while the second Sunday trip (between Circular Quay and Central) took 21 minutes. A breakdown of the second Sunday trip is included in the table below, showing that the tram spent 11 minutes in motion (55% of the total trip time), 6 minutes stopped at stations (27%), and 4 minutes stopped due to traffic delays (17%).

The main contributors to long trip durations would appear to be: (1) long dwell times at stations, (2) traffic delays at intersections, (3) flow on effects of slow trams holding back other trams behind them, and (w4) low speed limits, particularly on George St.

Dwell times

Trams currently look to be dwelling for 40 seconds at each station to drop off and pick up passengers. Some stations had shorter dwell times (such as Chinatown Station with 24 seconds), but more often than not the time spent at stations was at least 40 seconds. For comparison, Sydney Metro has dwell times of 20 seconds. With 12 intermediate stations between Randwick and Circular Quay, even a 10 second reduction of dwell times down to 30 seconds would represent a time saving of 2 minutes.

Traffic delays

A lack of traffic light priority, where signals change to allow trams to pass through intersections either without having to wait or with short wait periods, does not currently appear to be in place. The documented trip from Circular Quay to Central was delayed by 3 minutes 35 seconds due to traffic delays, primarily having to stop at red lights. Anecdotal evidence suggests this was on the lower end of traffic delays on the line. Introducing traffic light priority just on this section could reduce travel times by over 3 minutes.

Flow on effects

High frequency services heighten the problem of a slow or delayed tram impacting trams behind it. This was particularly the case at Central Station, where this blog’s author noted dwell times of 3 minutes and 5 minutes while the track ahead was cleared by the previous tram. However, there was also a delay of over 1 minute at the QVB Station, during which the tram ahead could be seen to be dwelling at the Town Hall Station. These are no doubt deepened by the dwell time and traffic delay issues mentioned earlier. Fixing those would aid in providing consistency, reducing the instance of flow on effects. Had this been the case, each trip measured would have been at least 4 to 5 minutes shorter.

Speed limits

George St currently imposes speed limits as slow as 10km per hour. This would seem to be attributed to pedestrians having gotten used to a pedestrianised George St and not yet used to trams . A higher speed limit of 30km per hour, still in line with a pedestrianised zone, would reduce trip durations in the critical Central to Circular Quay section of the line. A hypothetical increase in average speeds in this section, for example from 10km per hour to 15km per hour, could result in a time saving of 4 minutes.

Conclusion

Taking the sum of the observations above gives a total time saving of at least 13 minutes. This could achieve the government’s stated goal of reducing the total trip time from 50 minutes to 40 minutes. Therefore, this goal does appear to be a realistic one.

VIDEO: Sydney Metro: West project update, October 2019 (Transport for NSW)

The locations of 6 stations on the Sydney Metro West between Westmead and the Sydney CBD have been confirmed. Two locations of potential stations currently under investigation at Rydalmere and Pyrmont as well as the Sydney CBD station are still unconfirmed. When complete, the government boasts the line will connect the Sydney CBD to Parramatta in 20 minutes and the Sydney CBD to Sydney Olympic Park in 14 minutes.

The line is set to open in 2030, according a Sydney Morning Herald report. Future extensions are also under consideration, both West to the future Nancy Bird Walton Airport and the nearby Aerotropolis as well as East along the Anzac Parade corridor.

Station Locations

The new Westmead Station (left) will be located immediately South of the existing Westmead Station. The new Parramatta Station (centre) will be located North of the existing Parramatta Station, largely under what is currently a multi-storey car park on Macquarie St. The new Sydney Olympic Park Station (right) will be located immediately East of the existing Sydney Olympic Park Station.

The new North Strathfield Station (left) will be located immediately East of the existing North Strathfield Station. The new Burwood North Station (centre) will be located about 1km North of the existing Burwood Station, on the corner of Parramatta Rd and Burwood Rd. The new Five Dock Station (right) will serve a new catchment not currently served by rail and be located about 600m North of Parramatta Rd along the on the Great North Rd.

The new Bays Precinct Station will be located somewhere between Glebe Island and the White Bay Power Station. The new Sydney CBD Station is rumoured to be likely located between Wynyard and Martin Place Stations along Hunter St. Rydalmere and Pyrmont Stations are not yet confirmed nor are there public details on exact locations.

Commentary: Journey Speed vs Coverage

The government’s deal breaker on this new line has for a long time been a single number: 20 minutes. This new line must provide a 20 minute journey from the Sydney CBD to Parramatta. This appears to be more important a goal than providing rail transport to dense or growing parts of Sydney that currently lack access to rail transport. It also appears to be a more important goal than providing opportunities for urban renewal.

The result is long distances between some stations. Potentially as long as 7km between Parramatta and Sydney Olympic Park or 5km between Five Dock and the Bays Precinct. Most stations are 2km apart, meaning that anyone along the line’s route is no more than 10-15 minutes walking distance to the nearest station, roughly the distance that most people are willing to walk to a train station.

The soon to be fully completed metro line from Tallawong to Bankstown followed a similar pattern, which sees large distances between many stations: 6km between Cherrybrook and Epping, 4km between Chatswood and Crows Nest, or 4km between Waterloo and Sydenham.

For a metro style line that provides high frequency services under dense or growing precincts, there are three likely reasons: to cut down on cost, the increase journey speeds, or to avoid local opposition from so called “NIMBY” (not in my backyard) groups fearful that a metro station brings change to urban fabrix of their neighbourhood. In this particular case, the government has been as clear as it can that the reason is the second one, it is all about fast journeys. The irony of this is that at the same time they are considering a dog-leg detour out to Rydalmere for a potential station, which would increase travel times far more than including a station along a more direct route.

And yet the lack of stations remains a missed opportunity. So one potential solution would be to build in spaces for future stations. Two future stations between Pattamatta and Sydney Olympic Park, one between Five Dock and the Bays Precint, as well as the proposed station at Pyrmont would achieve this goal. By not building a station at Rydalmere, which itself will be served by light rail direct to Parramatta starting in 2023, the cost savings could be used to create empty station boxes at these locations. A hypothetical example of this was published by Fantasy Sydney Rail (see below). This also avoids all 3 potential challenges: cost blowouts, long journey times, and opposition by local residents.

It then falls on a future government to take the small step of building these stations once the network matures. By making these “missing links” with a cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars each, compared to billions or tens of billions for a new rail line, it increases the chances of these locations getting improved rail transport in the future as they begin to develop higher densities.

It may well be one way for the government to get both journey speed and coverage.

Over 100,000 people used Sydney Metro today on its first day open to the public, with no fare charged for those travelling between Chatswood and Tallawong. It was the first time in Australia that a driverless train line operated with passengers, but was not without teething issues and delays.

The trains, which travel at a maximum speed of 100km per hour, had a noticeably quick acceleration and deceleration, and complete the journey from end to end in 37 minutes. Platform screen doors are in use and the gap between platform and train is minimal. The stations themselves were modern and fully accessible.

Indicators above each train door show where the train is along the line, as well as showing how far the train has progressed towards the next station. Lights above each set of doors flash red when doors are opening or closing, light up solid green when the doors are open, and light up solid white when the doors are closed.

Some problems did occur. Mechanical failures with trains occurred in both the early afternoon and during the evening, leading to delays of roughly 45 minutes and 15 minutes respectively. With Sydney Metro controlling the number of people who could enter stations to reduce overcrowding, this led to a blowout in queues. Chatswood Station saw a conga line emerge starting from 1:30PM. Many of those in the queue had travelled to Chatswood from the Northwest earlier and were now returning home.

Inside the trains, the air conditioning seemed set to maximum and in-train indicators began having problems from early in the day and were soon turned off. As a result, there was little indication that doors were closing, besides the silent flashing lights that went unnoticed by most. This, together with shorter than normal dwell times, led some passengers to get caught by the doors (including some with prams) or unable to enter/exit in time. The dwell times were noticeably longer as the day progressed, with doors remaining open for 30 to 60 seconds at stations. This would no doubt lengthen journey durations if allowed to continue. However, the in-train indicators appeared to be working again by late Sunday evening and dwell times were back down to a reasonable length.

Trains also routinely overshot their platforms early in the day. This blog’s author counted roughly one in every two trains would stop past its platform screen doors in the early afternoon, requiring the train to reverse before opening its doors. However, this problem did not persist into the late afternoon, by when it was no longer occurring.

All in all it was not a perfect first day, but a few inconveniences should not eclipse the significance of the first complete new train line in Sydney in 40 years. Many of these teething issues, such as the overshooting and in-train indicators, appear to have been fixed by the end of the first day. Tomorrow’s morning peak hour will be a big test for the new line. If all goes well, most of today’s problems will be soon forgotten.

NSW voters will on Saturday decide who will govern the state for the next 4 years. Both major parties have put forward plans for how they will provide for the transport needs for the residents of Sydney. This blog post will delve into those plans, as well as some recent history.

The NSW Government has spent much of the past 8 years planning and building 3 major transport projects: Sydney Metro, Westconnex, and the CBD and South East Light Rail. Other than a widened M4, none has yet been completed in time for the 2019 election. It has also seen the introduction of the Opal Card and a significant increase in public transport service frequencies.

Sydney Metro

Sydney Metro was born as the North West Rail Link and suffered much initial criticism for the decision to build it as a single deck, driverless system that would terminate at Chatswood with no concrete plans for a CBD extension. That extension was eventually locked in thanks to the privatisation of government electricity businesses, a tough sell to the public that the government received a mandate for in the 2015 election. By 2024 Sydney will have a Metro running from Rouse Hill in the North West to Bankstown in the South West via the Sydney CBD.

Many of the initial criticisms have dried up and today Sydney Metro is the government’s proudest public transport project, set to open in May of this year $1 billion under budget. It is also set to supplement this first line with two additional lines in the second half of the 2020s: an East-West Line from Parramatta to the Sydney CBD and a North-South Line from St Marys to Badgerys Creek.

Sydney Metro. (Source: Transport for NSW)

WestConnex

WestConnex, an amalgamation of the long planned M4 East and M5 East together with an Inner West Bypass to connect the two, has had more consistent controversy. Private car travel is best when it connects disperse origins to disperse destinations, so orbital “ring roads” are the ideal sort of motorways and highways. Travel into dense centres like the Sydney CBD or Parramatta, requiring high capacity transport options, is best left for public transport which does high capacity well rather than roads which do not.

By being a combination of a radial road (the M4 and M5 extensions towards the Sydney CBD) and an orbital road (the Inner West Bypass), WestConnex was an imperfect project from the start. The re-introduction of tolling, public distrust of privatisation, and opposition from inner city residents have led to loud community opposition. Unlike Sydney Metro, opposition to WestConnex has remained strong and was largely responsible for the election of Greens MP Jenny Leong to the inner-city seat of Newtown in 2015 on a commitment to stop WestConnex.

WestConnex. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Light Rail

The CBD and South East Light Rail is the smallest of the three major projects based on its budget, but probably the most high profile one given the disruption from construction along George St. Originally set to open in early 2019, the troubled project will now open in two stages: Randwick in 2019 and Kingsford in 2020. Unlike Sydney Metro, which had very limited surface disruptions during construction, is on time, and is under budget; the light rail project is running a year behind schedule, has had its cost blown out by half a billion dollars, and has fed into a broader narrative of a government that has hampered Sydney’s entertainment and night life by discouraging Sydneysiders from going out into the George St retail and nightclub precinct.

Despite this, the benefits of a pedestrianised zone on George St are already beginning to be felt. And if the Gold Coast light rail project is anything to go by, a project that had similar problems during construction that Sydney has, then soon after opening there will be calls to extend the line out to Maroubra or further.

Sydney Light Rail. (Source: http://www.sydney.com.au)

Opal Card

An electronic ticketing system was first promised for the 2000 Olympic Games. The delayed TCard project was eventually scrapped in 2007. It was eventually replaced with Opal, which began its rollout in 2012, with all non-Opal tickets phased out by 2016.

Considering the difficult history of rolling out electronic ticketing, not just in Sydney but also in Melbourne with Myki, Opal saw a relatively painless introduction. There were concerns, principally privacy and the loss of periodical tickets such as weeklies and monthlies. Though mostly the concerns were surrounding the fare structure rather than the technology and hardware.

It should also be noted that a $2 transfer discount was introduced in 2016 and contactless payment with credit or debit cards is now available on all modes of government transport in Sydney bar buses, which will receive their rollout in the near future.

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

Timetables

Service levels have seen a significant increase in the last 8 years, particularly in the Sydney Trains network where most stations now enjoy a train every 15 minutes all day. This has been combined with a large expansion of rolling stock, allowing older train sets to be retired, with all trains soon set to be air conditioned.

This has not been without problems. A simplification of stopping patterns that came with the new timetables has been opposed by residents along stations they feel have lost out, particularly on the extremes of the T3 Bankstown Line. Meanwhile, a lack of train drivers led to a “meltdown” of the train network at the start of 2018, with insufficient staff to man the increased service levels. This required some paring back of services later that year.

Despite this, increased service levels to provide frequencies approaching a “turn up and go” service is commendable and should be further encouraged, albeit managed better to avoid previous hiccups.

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

Government vs Opposition Plans

The common theme running through the Coalition Government’s transport projects is imperfection. All their major transport infrastructure projects have their issues, but transport infrastructure is being built. In some cases, unpopular moves like privatisation had to occur to provide the funds to build that infrastructure. It is in light of this that comparison can be made to the Labor Opposition, which has had fewer issues with imperfect projects but instead consistently promised and delivered less of it.

This can be seen most starkly in the 2015 election, where the Sydney Morning Herald described the ALP’s transport plan as “less of the same”. Now in 2019, the Opposition has promised to abandon Sydney Metro South West, WestConnext Stage 3 (the Inner West Bypass and the only portion of WestConnex that acts as an orbital ring road), the Western Harbour Tunnel, the Beaches Link, and the F6 extension. Were it not already so close to completion, the CBD and South East Light Rail would probably also be on the chopping block.

This parallel’s Labor’s last period in office, during which the Epping to Chatswood Rail Link, Airport Line, and Olympic Park Rail Lines were built. It was also responsible for delivery of the M2, Eastern Distributor, Lane Cove Tunnel, and Cross City Tunnel. However, many more projects, particularly public transport projects were cancelled. A rail line from Parramatta to Epping was announced, cancelled, announced, cancelled, then announced again in what was seen as an attempt to throw money at marginal electorates to try to win re-election. A Northwest Metro was similarly announced, cancelled, re-announced as a CBD Metro, then cancelled after spending half a billion dollars. Most of the planned T-Ways, networks of bus only roads, were never built.

The Opposition would argue that it is better to cancel a bad project and redirect resources to a good project. Specifically, it has committed to spending the billion dollars saved from not converting the Bankstown Line to metro on speeding up construction on Sydney Metro West. Their argument has merit, particularly given poor planning seems to have caused many of the headaches from the CBD and South East Light Rail.

The Government would argue that the choice is between the projects as proposed (i.e. imperfect) or nothing at all. They point to the cancelling of projects between 2005 and 2010, during which half a decade of expansion of public transport infrastructure expansion was lost because the choice there wasn’t between an imperfect project or a better one, but an imperfect project and nothing. This argument also has merit given that it’s not hypothetical, it’s recent history.

What this all means

This blog believes that the perfect should not be the enemy of the good. Sydney is going through a huge increase in population and infrastructure needs to keep up. We cannot afford to stop building if doing so risks doing nothing. Cancelling projects, even imperfect ones, is not what Sydney needs right now. That means giving the current government a mandate for another four years and spending those four years pressuring them to improve the imperfect rather than electing a government that will merely cancel them.

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.