Archive for the ‘Transport’ Category

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.

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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.

Train frequencies will be boosted, with hourly train capacity increasing from the current 20 trains per hour to 24 trains per hour, under a recently announced NSW Government plan to spend $880m on a new digital signalling system. This would mean a train every 2.5 minutes, compared to the current maximum frequency of 3 minutes, and future proof the network to allow a train every 90 seconds in the future.

The new technology will be rolled out on the T4 and T8 Lines first, with additional capacity likely to come online by 2022. The NSW Government points out that these lines require additional capacity due to the surge in demand on them in recent years, with the number of trips on stations on these lines increasing by as much as 94% in the 3 years to 2017. It will then be expanded to the remainder of the network throughout the rest of the 2020s. Capacity at Central Station’s Sydney Terminal will also be boosted to allow more outer suburban and intercity trains to terminate there.

https://t.co/JUW1kGFRQi

Source: More Trains, More Services, NSW Government (page 5)

South Line trains from Campbelltown and Northern Line trains from Epping and Hornsby could now terminate at Sydney Terminal rather than continuing through the City Circle and Harbour Bridge.

Meanwhile, the T2 Inner West Line looks set to be extended from Parramatta out to Richmond, with the Richmond Line moving from T1 to T2. This would sectorise the T1 and T2/T5 Lines, which run from Sydney’s West into the Harbour Bridge and City Circle respectively.

What this means is that trains on each of these lines would no longer share tracks, as they currently do between Blacktown and Strathfield. Thus, a disruption on one of these lines would not spillover into the other. The T4 Line has been operating on a separate sector for decades, quarantining it from any disruptions on other lines.

https://t.co/JUW1kGFRQi

Source: More Trains, More Services, NSW Government (page 7)

Additional trains for these additional services are also set to come online in the coming years, with the arrival of the new B-Set Waratah trains and repurposed OSCARS as well as the transfer of the Epping to Chatswood and Bankstown Lines to Sydney Metro coinciding with the installation of the new digital signalling. Although the Waratah trains are likely to simply replace the ageing unairconditioned S-Sets, the OSCARS (which themselves are being freed up due to a new intercity fleet of trains) could provide the additional capacity required.

At the same time, the new signalling system could provide the opportunity to simplify train operation from 2 staff per train to 1 staff per train. Together with the introduction of driverless trains on the new Sydney Metro Line, this could provide a pool of drivers and guards who could be trained to operate the new services. This would be critical if the Government wishes to avoid a similar network meltdown like the one that occurred on the network in early 2018 when insufficient drivers caused an emergency timetable rewrite.

Previous proposals to send all Richmond Line trains to Liverpool on the T5 Cumberland Line look to have been abandoned in favour of maintaining direct Sydney CBD access for all stations, albeit with a much longer journey time for those wanting a one seat journey. Passengers on the Richmond Line wanting a faster journey would have the option of changing to an express train on T1, or to a Sydney Metro service at Parramatta or Schofield if and when metro lines are built to those stations. However, it will have the benefit of extending direct services from Sydney’s Inner West further out than Parramatta as is currently the case.

This plan compares favourably to a 2014 plan presented to the NSW Government that could increase train capacity without waiting for new rail lines come online in the mid 2020s, but do so by terminating more trains at Sydney Terminal. This was a necessary compromise given that multiple line branches merge into a central core with a maximum capacity of 20 trains per hour, which itself is almost exhausted. Instead, by increasing that capacity by 20%, from 20 to 24, those additional services will continue to be able to enter the Sydney CBD. Thus achieving a medium term step up in capacity at the cost of an $880m signalling upgrade while waiting for new lines to be built that will provide long term increases in capacity.

What happened to Sydney’s Bus Future?

Posted: April 26, 2018 in Transport
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VIDEO: Northern Beaches B-Line Bus Service, Transport for NSW (25 November 2017)

In December 2013, Transport for NSW released Sydney’s Bus Future. It outlined plans to restructure bus services in Sydney, developed as a legacy system of public and private operators, into a clearly branded and structured service hierarchy.

Three service levels would be provided: rapid, suburban, and local. 13 rapid routes, with long stop spacing of 800m to 1km and high all-day frequency of 10 minutes or less, together with 20 suburban routes, with shorter stop spacing of 400m and all-day frequency of 15 minutes of less, formed the core of the new services that would be provided by high capacity articulated or double decker buses capable of carrying over 100 passengers each. Some of these would involve converting existing routes, mainly Metrobus routes, but some new routes would also be introduced.

The first set of new services were expected for 2014/15. However, it was not until late 2017 that the first, the now B-Line branded service to the Northern Beaches, began operation as B1. All buses on B1 are yellow double decker buses with clear B-Line branding and offering services like indicator boards, stop announcements, and USB charging ports under the seats.

Were rapid bus services to be expanded then logically their rollout would also coincide with a rebranding and restructure of the entire bus network. Currently there are a wide range of route numbers, with little sense of a unified system. Express services can sometimes be designated with X, either replacing the first digit (such as the X73) or by adding it to the end (such as the 610X), and sometimes with E (such as the E70); limited stops services are sometimes designated with L (such as the L90) or sometimes not at all (such as the 400); Metrobus services are designated with M (such as the M10); T-Way services are designated with T (such as the T80); and B-Line services are designated with B (such as the B1).

Also problematic is that wayfinding in Sydney has designated B for Sydney Buses, F for Sydney Ferries, T for Sydney Trains, L for Sydney Light Rail, and M for the future Sydney Metro. Yet these final 3 (T/L/M) are currently used for various bus routes in Sydney. This reason, together with the recent rollout of a B branded bus route, gives some suggestion of what may come: the removal of non-express branded routes and the introduction of additional B-Line services to the corridors identified for rapid bus services.

Proposed rapid and suburban bus routes for Sydney. Click to enlarge. (Source: Sydney Bus Future, pp. 18-19)

Of the 13 rapid bus routes, 6 pass through the Sydney CBD. Considering the route numbers that run on each of the corridors of these proposed new routes, there is clockwise from the North East:

  • A line to the Northern Beaches via Military Road and Pittwater Road, a corridor containing bus routes numbered 100-199. B-Line route B1 is currently operating here.
  • A line to Kingsford via Anzac Parade, a corridor containing bus routes 300-399. Sydney Light Rail will begin operating on this corridor in 2020.
  • A line to Bondi Beach via Oxford Street and Bondi Road, a corridor containing bus routes 300-399.
  • A line to Burwood via Parramatta Road, a corridor containing bus routes 400-499.
  • A line to Parramatta via Victoria Road, a corridor containing bus routes 500-599
  • A line to Castle Hill via the M2, a corridor containing bus routes 600-699.

It would therefore be possible to bring in new B-Line routes into these final four corridors that follows the route numbering pattern observed by B1. For example B3 could replace the 333 to Bondi Beach, B4 could be a new service to Burwood, B5 could replace the M52 to Parramatta, and B6 could replace the M60 to Castle Hill.

Despite all of this, 2015 came and went with little evidence of Sydneys Bus Future’s signature improvements of rapid and suburban routes being implemented. Although B-Line was introduced late last year, there was no mention of bus improvements in the Future Transport 2056 strategy released around the same time.

Commentary: Why this matters

The new branding, together with additional metro and light rail services coming online in 2019 and 2020, could provide an easy to navigate network for infrequent passenger or tourists. Such a network already exists in the form of rail, ferry, light rail, and B-Line, which has been seen displayed at Circular Quay (see Tweet below). Adding a few additional B-Line routes to such a map would be a simple and easy exercise, especially considering that the 333 could be converted to B-Line with little more than a rebranding exercise.

Sydney University transport academic David Hensher once lamented that public transport improvements tend to focus on new projects and even then on rail based projects, leaving improvements to the bus network ignored. Children play with toy cars and trains but not buses, he would point out. That is not to say that rail improvements aren’t needed – they most definitely are; but with almost half of all trips in Sydney made by bus and many parts of Sydney set to remain out of reach of rail transport even after the rail network is expanded, improvements to the bus network is a cost effective first step in increasing mobility for many in Sydney. With a plan to do so already in place, all that’s needed is for it to be implemented.

The original plan

The 1998 Action For Transport plan proposed 4 new rail lines to be built in Sydney by 2010. These included the already under construction Airport Line (2000), a short extension of the Eastern Suburbs Line to Bondi Beach (2002), a Parramatta to Chatswood Line via Epping (2006), and an Epping to Castle Hill Line (2010).

Proposed rail lines in the 1998 Action for Transport plan. Click to enlarge. (Source:MrHaper, Wikipedia.)

The final two lines to Parramatta and Castle Hill would provide a new path through to the Lower North Shore from the West and North West without having to travel through the CBD. This would take pressure off the congested Strathfield to City corridor, where trains from the Western and Northern Lines merged, and shift it to the less congested North Shore Line.

Parramatta to Chatswood Rail Link

The Parramatta to Chatswood Rail Link was originally to go from Westmead to St Leonards. Only the Eastern portion, between Epping and Chatswood, was actually constructed in 2009, leaving the Western Parramatta to Epping portion unbuilt. (Source: Historical NSW Railway Timetables)

This was not the first time such a line had been put forward, with a similar line proposed all the way back in John Bradfield’s 1920s rail plan linking St Leonards to Eastwood.

What actually happened

The new line was plagued by delays and cost blowouts. In one instance, community backlash over a proposed bridge over the Lane Cove River forced the line to tunnel under the river instead. The deep tunnelling did not merely increase cost and lengthen duration of construction, but resulted in the abandonment of a station at the UTS Kuring-gai campus leading to its closure in 2015. Additionally, the steep gradients on the tunnel meant that Tangara and Millenium trains were initially not used on the line, despite these being the newest suburban trains on the network at the time. Rather the interurban OSCAR trains normally reserved for long distance train journeys would be used instead when the line eventually opened.

Due to steep gradients, some trains were unable to run on the Epping to Chatswood Line when it opened. As a result, OSCARS were used as a shuttle service instead. Click to enlarge. (Source:Wikipedia.)

In 2003, the NSW Government announced that the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link (PERL) portion of the project had been deferred indefinitely. Low levels of projected patronage was given as the reason. This effectively cancelled that half of the project.

The Epping to Chatswood Line eventually opened in 2009 at a cost of $2.3bn. This compared to an initial projected opening date of 2006 and budget of $1.4bn for the entire Parramatta to Chatswood Line.

The next decade would see the PERL reannounced, cancelled, then reannounced again; most recently in 2017s Future Transport Plan 2056, placing the line on the government’s wish list. However, under the current transport strategy it may not open until the second half of the century.

Future Transport Plan 2056. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Meanwhile, urban development of the Upper North Shore and its associated population increase has since led to a rise in demand for rail travel along the North Shore Line, eating up much of the spare capacity that was previously available. So much so that the government is about to begin construction on an extension of the Epping to Chatswood Line (as part of the new Sydney Metro) South through to the CBD in order to add additional capacity.

How it might have happened

The delays and cost blowouts made building the entire line a challenge for the then NSW Government. After all, this was not a time of huge stamp duty revenue streams and zero government debts. In order for the Parramatta to Epping Line to have been built, this was the main obstacle that needed to be overcome.

Perhaps a bit more planning and greater political strength in facing down the community backlash on issues like the Lane Cove River Bridge may have been enough to achieve this. Had this happened then the UTS Kuring-gai campus would almost certainly have survived. Or the Government may have instead chosen to borrow money to complete the project.

Either of these options would have proven politically unpopular, particularly for a government well into a third term. This at least in part explains their decision to abandon the line.

What this would have meant

Had the PERL opened in full last decade it could have significantly changed the direction of passenger flows in Sydney’s rail network. More passengers from the Parramatta area would travel East via Macquarie Park rather than Strathfield, reducing the pressure on the Western Line but increasing the pressure on the North Shore Line. Perhaps the densification of the Upper North Shore may not have happened, with the Parramatta to Epping corridor seeing this densification instead. Either way, the North Shore Line would now be dealing with trains from the Upper Northern Line and Parramatta in addition to those from the Upper North Shore Line.

Unlike the actual present, there would be less talk of the need for a new rail line linking the CBD to Parramatta (in the form of Sydney Metro West) as such a line would have already been built, albeit less directly, via Macquarie Park. However, like the present, there would still be a focus on building additional capacity into the CBD from the North, given the additional pressure on the North Shore Line and its single pair of tracks into the CBD.

So even though the Parramatta to Chatswood Rail Line was designed in part to avoid the need for it, additional rail capacity into the CBD looks to be the one constant that could not be avoided.

Alignment for the 2008 North West Metro. Click to enlarge. (Source: North West Metro Preliminary Environmental Assessment, p. 1.5)

One response would have been to build the 2008 Northwest Metro (see map above) from Castle Hill, but with a Victoria Road approach into the CBD rather than connecting it up to the existing line via Macquarie Park. This would provide additional capacity and act as a relief on the North Shore Line without requiring a deep tunnel under the Harbour, as the line would cross the Parramatta River further West at Hunters Hill.

Alternatively, the Metropolitan Rail Expansion Plan (see map below) would have seen a new line built between Sydenham and Chatswood, connecting the Epping to Chatswood Line in the North through to the East Hills Line in the South. Surface tracks would be built in the existing alignments from Chatswood to St Leonards in the North and Erskineville to Sydenham in the South, with tunnels required between St Leonards and Erskineville. This would create a completely new line from the North West and South West of Sydney through the CBD.

The 2005 Metropolitan Rail Expansion Plan. Click to enlarge. (Source:‘Fixing’ the trains in Sydney: 1855 revisited.)

In the North, UTS would not have closed down its Kuring-gai campus, given that it would now be served by a heavy rail line. However, train frequencies between Macquarie Park and the CBD would be limited without a new harbour rail crossing, leaving Macquarie Park more dependent on road based transport and constraining its potential growth.

Meanwhile, in the West, the Carlingford Line would now be part of the Parramatta to Epping Line. Therefore, the current plans for a light rail network around Parramatta by converting the Carlingford Line to light rail would not be possible. Perhaps Parramatta light rail would still occur, but as a direct line between Parramatta and Sydney Olympic Park to make up for the lack of a West Metro through those location.

Of course, all of this is hypothetical. The Parramatta to Epping Rail Line was never built as originally planned and we will never know what would have happened if it did. If you have your own take on what might have happened, feel free to leave a comment below explaining what you think would have happened or why you think things went the way they did.