Posts Tagged ‘CBD and South East light rail’

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 in December 2019. Below is part three of his findings.

In my last two posts, I looked at journey times for a typical city commuter. The first post looked at services into the city in the AM peak. The second looked at outbound trips in the PM peak.

We concluded that the L2 service was an inferior option to most regular bus services in the AM peak, but for many journeys in the PM peak it was a faster option, especially from Central station back to Randwick. However, that’s only half the story.

As we already know, many people make journeys in the opposite direction – needing to travel from the city to Randwick for work or study in the morning (to UNSW or Prince of Wales Hospital), and then back to the city in the evening (often connecting with Sydney Trains services at Central).

So how will the tram help?

Outbound Journeys

The Randwick Health and Education Precinct is an area where tens of thousands of people need to travel for work and study every day. It houses two major employers – firstly, the Prince of Wales Hospital (Public and Private), where over 3,000 staff work, and the main campus of the University of New South Wales, where up to 8,000 staff and almost 60,000 students are enrolled. While not all will be on campus at once, it would be fair to say that during session times, tens of thousands of people are on the campus.

We also know that the tram line goes past two major Sydney event spaces – the Moore Park-SCG-Fox Studios Precinct (L2 and L3), and Randwick Racecourse (L2 only).

So – will the tram get you there faster? Well… in order to answer that we need to consider a few variables.

The Bus Capacity Problem in Randwick and UNSW

For a long time, UNSW has struggled with public transport capacity constraints. Every single day, tens of thousands of students and members of staff try to get from Central to UNSW in the morning.

Special express buses to UNSW have struggled to keep up with demand – you only need to look at the extraordinary 891 bus timetable for evidence. Here are some key facts:

  • Between 7AM and Midday – 154 regular express 891 buses leave central and go to UNSW. That’s a bus every 2-3 minutes.
  • If we assume that all of them are regular sized 70-person buses, that’s a carrying capacity of no less than 10,710 people travelling to UNSW by express bus in the morning.
  • Of those buses, 52 of them run in the AM peak – a total of 3,640 passengers.
  • During the AM peak of 8:15AM-9:30AM, an 891 bus leaves just about every minute.

In addition to the 891, the 393, 395 and M10 also go down the Anzac parade corridor. The 372 and 376 also go to Belmore Road Randwick (although not to UNSW – most students would not use these to get there). In total there are 99 of these buses between 7AM-12PM.

The table below gives a summary of the total outbound bus capacity from Central to Randwick/UNSW in the morning between 7AM-12PM.

So – assuming that we only use standard buses (and assuming we count the 372 and 376 as ways to get to UNSW) in the 5 hours between 7AM-12PM, the total minimum bus capacity to Randwick and UNSW – a precinct where up to 70,000 people work and study – is only 16,940… or 3,388 per hour from Central. (NOTE: there will obviously be more Anzac Parade Buses from Elizabeth street.)

For a precinct that needs tens of thousands of passenger seats from Central, especially in peak hour – that’s not good.

Keep in mind that approximately 1/3rd of this 16,940 capacity comes in the 8AM-9AM period – about 5,500 within that peak hour (or slightly more if they were all bendy buses).

Some have suggested that the sheer volume of potential passengers would have justified the construction of a heavy rail or metro line to Randwick and/or the UNSW precinct. This is an entirely justifiable position based on the patronage numbers – indeed the original Eastern Suburbs line was supposed to do just that.

Putting that to one side, let’s look at what the L2 and L3 lines might actually be able to do.

How Will Light Rail fix the capacity problem?

According to a Sydney Light Rail Factsheet (November 2019), the L2 and L3 lines will deliver the following:

“Current planning would see a combined light rail and bus network deliver citybound morning peak capacity increases of more than 10 per cent from Kingsford and 30 per cent from Randwick, and a doubling of morning peak capacity from the CBD to UNSW and the Randwick hospital precinct”.

Both the L2 and L3 lines will have stops at UNSW – the L2 line at High St, and the L3 Line on Anzac Parade. But will they really double AM peak capacity?

The factsheet claims the following:

“Moore Park and every eight minutes to and from Randwick and Kingsford between 7AM and 7PM. Each vehicle will carry up to 450 people, equivalent to nine standard buses with a capacity of up to 13,500 passengers per hour (up to 6,750 in each direction).”

Let’s unpack that claim a little:

  • The L2 line will run a tram every 8 minutes to Randwick via High St.
  • The L3 line will do the same down Anzac Parade.
  • This means there is an outbound Tram to UNSW from central every 4 minutes – one to UNSW High St, and the other to UNSW Anzac Parade.
  • With 15 trams every hour in the peak, at a maximum capacity of 450 passengers – that gets you to the 6,750 figure claimed by the operator.

This compares very favourably with the minimum 5,500 in the peak that current express and regular services can do (assuming we count the 372 and 376). In order for buses to beat that, you’d have to find a way to run bendy buses every minute – a practical impossibility given road capacity constraints at Central.

So – even if every express and regular bus service to UNSW was removed, the combined L2 and L3 lines would alone indeed represent a large improvement to capacity. That’s not bad. However, for a doubling of capacity, clearly some of the buses will need to be kept. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when the timetable is rewritten, and whether the 891, 893 and 898 buses stay.

It’s important to note that the benefit in the PM will be much more substantial, because there are fewer express 893 and 898 shuttle buses back to Central (these leave every 2-3 minutes). Going back to Central, the tram will offer way more carrying capacity at certain hours of the day.

Interchange and boarding times

If you go to UNSW each day, ask yourself a simple question:

“How long do I usually spend in a bus queue at central or UNSW?”

If the answer is “longer than ten minutes”, then the light rail may very well be a better solution.

This is because one of the most notorious problems with the 891 bus service is the long queues that can sometimes form at Central (and even at UNSW for the return journey).

As the UNSW student newspaper Tharunka recorded in a thorough article:

“Students report that the bus lines – or, rather crowds that are often eight to ten people deep and stretch back for tens or hundreds of metres – fail to move for up to half an hour, especially during peak times.”

This problem has been long standing – even back in 2008, there were complaints in the same newspaper of overcrowding, even with a student cohort closer to 40,000 (rather than today’s 60,000).

There are two reasons for overcrowding – bus boarding and dwell times, and a lack of capacity.

Light rail has three distinct advantages over buses:

  • Firstly – it can carry more people – 450 of them, compared to 115 on a bendy bus or 70 on a standard bus.
  • Secondly – you tap on at the station, meaning that there are no delays when boarding the vehicle (when people are tapping their opal cards).
  • Thirdly – every doubled up LRV has 8 doors that can be entered.

This compares favourably to a long queue of buses that can get stuck behind each other at the roadside, and can only board people by the front door (who also have to tap their opal card while they do, slowing it down even more). Even if you tried to use bendy buses, you wouldn’t necessarily have enough road space when boarding to make it work – and the other two problems would still exist.

The video below from Adelaide shows what can happen when too many buses try to use the same bus stop – when one bus is boarding (or stops for some other reason), another one behind it gets stuck and either can’t leave or can’t get into the stop. This backs up all the traffic behind it on multiple lanes, causing congestion.

For this reason they should also be at a distinct advantage when shuttling people to major events at the SCG or Randwick Racecourse as well – not only will the 8 minute journey time to Moore Park be reasonably quick, but they’ll carry more people at once.

Okay, I get all that. But is it faster than the bus?

In short: when factoring in interchange times at central – possibly yes.

And remember – do the buses run to timetable? Often no.

Here’s the golden rule – If it takes you 10-15 minutes just to get on an 891 bus, but only 4-8 minutes to get on a tram – then when factoring in the interchange time the tram should actually win the race.

It also won’t get stuck in traffic to nearly the same extent because it runs on its own dedicated corridor for parts of its journey.

We don’t know yet what the L3 timetable will look like, but it won’t belong before we find out – the L3 line will open some time in March.

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 (4) 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.

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 CSELR (CBD and South East Light Rail) project recently announced proposed stop names for the new line set to open in 2019. Submissions were sought from the public in response and can be made until 11 September 2017. Below is an edited version of the submission made by this blog’s author that seek to clarify stop names in order to improve wayfinding for users of the new line.

Overall, the stop names are good. However, some could be clarified and standardised so as to cause less confusion to users. In particular, ensuring that places with 2 stops (Central and UNSW) are treated in a consistent manner and ensuring that unique stop names are used that could not be confused with another location (Royal Randwick).


There are 2 pairs of stops that share a landmark, Central Station and UNSW. In each case, an additional identifier has been used to highlight where the stop is located (Grand Concourse and Chalmers St for Central, Anzac Pde and High St for UNSW). However, this is presented in a different manner for each. A more consistent approach could be used in the formatting of these stop names, without changing the actual names themselves. For example, putting the landmark first (as is currently the case) with the additional identifier on the next line and in brackets would provide consistency for all these stops. In the case of Central, that word could remain in bold as it is also a major interchange and light rail terminus. This would make the 4 stops:

Central

(Grand Concourse)

 

Central

(Chalmers Street)

 

UNSW

(Anzac Parade)

 

UNSW

(High Street)

The Royal Randwick stop, on the other hand, suffers from the confusing detail that there is both a Royal Randwick Racecourse as well as a Royal Randwick Shopping Centre. The current bus routes (and the former tramway alignment) passes by both landmarks. To avoid confusion, the name “Royal Randwick Racecourse” or simply just “Randwick Racecourse” would be a clearer descriptor, while keeping the same landmark the stop is named after.

VIDEO: Sydney Metro West, Transport for NSW (13 Nov 2016)

When first proposed by the then State Opposition in 2010, the principal aim of the CSELR (CBD and South East Light Rail) was to reduce congestion by adding additional capacity to the Anzac Parade Corridor. Ironically, one of the major criticisms of the line today, in 2017 a full 2 years before it is due to open, is that it will not provide sufficent additional capacity. Instead, the argument goes, a metro line should have been built from the beginning. The recent decision to defer, in effect abandon, a planned light rail line between Parramatta and Olympic Park in favour of a metro line would appear to reinforce this argument.

(All this puts aside the shortcomings of the arguments against the CSELR from the recent Randwick Council report – click here and go to pages 32-34 for the report itself; that being it assumes express bus services are set to be scrapped and thus total capcity along the corridor will decrease. The express buses into the CBD along the Eastern Distributor are not only to be retained, but expanded. So the main shortcoming of the CSELR is not that it will reduce capacity, but rather that it will not increase capacity sufficiently to handle the projected growth in coming years.)

Route of the CBD and South East Light Rail Line. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

Route of the CBD and South East Light Rail Line. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

In the case of both light rail lines, it appears that they have been a victim of their own success. Local Councils in Randwick and Parramatta pushed for the construction of light rail to improve transport capacity, often in the belief that this was a realistic improvement to lobby for. These were then taken up by the state government and soon began to appear insufficient. In the case of the CSELR, the project has matured so much that it is effectively too late to cancel and start again as a metro. In the case of the Olympic Park project, the change from light rail to metro was possible, but will push back the introduction of rail to that corridor by many years. If these plans are successful, eventually a metro line from Parramatta to Long Bay will provide heavy rail capacity along both of these corridors. Thus providing heavy rail capacity where light rail was first proposed.

Parramatta Light Rail route map. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

Parramatta Light Rail route map. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

This raises a key question: why didn´t this happen from the start? There are two likely answers.

One was that the studies into these corridors began with a transport solution (light rail) for a particular corridor first, then tested whether it would be viable (yes) second. They should have identified a congested corridor first, then identified the ideal transport solution(s) second.

Another reason for this was the lack of sufficient funding. Heavy rail is much more expensive than light rail. As an imperfect comparison, the cost of the CSELR ($2.1bn) is much less than the estimated cost of a metro from Parramatta to the CBD ($11bn). Indeed, a Parramatta to CBD metro has been little more than lines on a map until NSW privatisations brought in more money than was initially expected.

Planned route of the 2008 West Metro, which may be indicative of the future Sydney Metro West. Click to enlarge. (Source: Railway Gazette)

Planned route of the 2008 West Metro, which may be indicative of the future Sydney Metro West. Click to enlarge. (Source: Railway Gazette)

The solution to all of these problems would appear to be simple: let Transport for NSW do its job. Have them identify corridors that need upgrades to transport infrastructure. Then let them decide what the best options are for those corridors, along with the cost for each option. The government of the time can then make decisions based on what they can afford at each moment. The good news is that this already happens. The last Transport Masterplan in 2012 operated in this manner.

The problem arises when politicians or interest groups have their special pet projects. It results in deciding on a mode of transport first and then looking for somewhere to build it. This is an answer in search of a question. It´s backwards and temptations to engage in such actions must be rejected by both decision makers and the pubic at large.

With an updated 5 yearly transport plan due this year, now is the time to go back to letting Transport for NSW do its job.

VIDEO: Ancient river system discovered under Sydney Harbour, 23 September 2015 (Transport for NSW)

This week sees a large number of changes to the Sydney CBD. Though it ended the week with the most significant: the closure of George Street to buses, it began the week with some changes too: the opening and closing of bike paths through the CBD. New bus lanes have been added on Elizabeth Street while another bus lane is soon coming to College Street.

George Street

Construction of the CBD and South East Light Rail will commence on George Street on 23 October, at which point the road will become progressively closed off to all vehicular traffic. It will eventually re-open as a pedestrian only street, with trams on George Street taking passengers from early 2019.

In anticipation of this closure, buses are being removed from George Street as of 4 October. Some will terminate outside of the CBD or on its fringe (including some buses that do not use George Street), while others will be moved to Elizabeth street or are merged with other buses so that they will now through-route in the CBD and come out the other end.

Elizabeth Street

In order to accommodate the additional buses using Elizabeth Street, the bus lanes on it have been moved from kerbside bus lanes to centre bus lanes. This will prevent buses from getting stuck behind other buses waiting at bus stops or getting stuck behind cars waiting to make a left hand turn. These had previously slowed down buses that would otherwise enjoy an exclusive right of way.

Bus lanes on Elizabeth Street have been extended and moved from kerbside bus lanes to centre bus lanes to increase bus capacity on them. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author.)

Bus lanes on Elizabeth Street have been extended and moved from kerbside bus lanes to centre bus lanes to increase bus capacity on them. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author.)

College Street

The College Street bike path is no more. It is to be replaced with a bus lane. This will allow additional Northbound bus capacity now that George Street is no longer available. Additional Southbound bus capacity exists on the Castlereagh Street bus lane, while Elizabeth Street has two way bus lanes.

The bike path on College Street remained open until the Castlereagh Street and Liverpool Street bike paths opened, which now provide North-South access through the CBD. Cyclist groups have protested the removal of the College Street bike path, pointing out that the Castlereagh Street bike path stops at Liverpool Street, which is the same place the College Street bike path starts; also pointing out that the York Street bike path is on opposite side of the CBD to the College Street bike path.

The College Street bike path is now closed and set to be turned into a bus lane. It has been controversially replaced by bike paths on Castlereagh and Liverpool Streets. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author.)

The College Street bike path is now closed and set to be turned into a bus lane. It has been controversially replaced by bike paths on Castlereagh and Liverpool Streets. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author.)

Plans are in place to extend the Castlereagh Street bike path further north; but these plans have been put on hold until 2019, after construction on the light rail has been completed.

Castlereagh Street and Liverpool Street

New bike paths opened on Castlereagh and Liverpool Streets, replacing the College Street bike path. Together with Belmore Park near Central Station and the York Street bike path on the Northern half of the CBD, these now allow bike users to ride from Central Station to the Harbour Bridge entirely segregated from road traffic.

The full CBD bike path network will include an extension of the Castlereagh Street bike path to King Street, which would also see its existing bike path extended from where it currently ends at Clarence Street. However, work on this portion of the bike path network, as well as other extensions such as a bike path North along Pitt Street to Circular Quay or a bike path West along Liverpool Street to Darling Harbour, has been put on hold until 2019 to minimise disruptions  while construction on the light rail on George Street occurs.

Sydney's planned bike path network. Some has been completed, the rest is on hold until 2019 when light rail construction is completed. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, Sydney City Centre Access Strategy, p. 45)

Sydney’s planned bike path network. Some has been completed, the rest is on hold until 2019 when light rail construction is completed. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, Sydney City Centre Access Strategy, p. 45)

There have also been concerns raised about potential plans for loading zones on these bike paths, turning them into what has been called “part time” bike paths. The new bike paths have also drawn criticism for ending one block short of two way traffic on Liverpool Street, requiring East bound bike riders on Liverpool Street to dismount or take alternative routes along Bathurst or Campbell Streets.

Note: For the second time this year, this blog has taken an unannounced hiatus for a number of months due to the pressures of real life. This post was written up at the end of June but never properly finished and thus not posted. It will probably be the final monthly round up, at least for the foreseeable future. This blog will not be ending, posts will still continue. But instead, the focus will be on specific issues or events as they occur with no set frequency of posts. For now, please enjoy the breaking news from 3 months ago…

VIDEO: Urban Taskforce Research- Who Lives in Apartments (31 May 2015)

2 June: $50m cost blowout for NWRL

The budget for constructing the skytrain portion of the North West Rail Link, an elevated viaduct between Bella Vista and Rouse Hill, has blown out from $340m to $390m. Despite the cost blowout, a project spokesperson said that there has been no change to the completion date for the skytrain, while the Transport Minister Andrew Constance stated that variations in cost had been factored into the full $8.3bn budget and that the overall budget remained unchanged.

The skytrain portion of Sydney Metro, shown at the proposed Rouse Hill Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The skytrain portion of North West Rail Link, shown at the proposed Rouse Hill Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

 4 June: Sydney Rapid Transit renamed Sydney Metro

Sydney’s single deck train network will be known as Sydney Metro, replacing the previous name Sydney Rapid Transit. This follows the passage of legislation authorising the privatisation of state owned electricity assets, which passed both chambers of Parliament the previous day.

4 June: NSW Opposition dumps support for light rail because of Infrastructure NSW Report

The new Shadow Transport Minister Ryan Park, who together with the Opposition Leader Luke Foley recently withdrew their support for light rail down George Street, announced that the change of heart on light rail came after reading the 2012 Infrastructure NSW Report that opposed George Street light rail. The alternative bus tunnel option suggested by the report was criticised by Transport for NSW, with Infrastructure NSW later supporting George Street light rail.

A very early proposed map for the CBD BRT would see a tunnel between Wynyard and Town Hall, removing many buses from the surface streets. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: First Things First, Infrastructure NSW, page 99.)

A very early proposed map for the CBD BRT would see a tunnel between Wynyard and Town Hall, removing many buses from the surface streets. Click to enlarge. (Source: First Things First, Infrastructure NSW, page 99.)

6 June: Transport corridors in Western Sydney to be reserved

Work to reserve transport corridors in Sydney’s West for an Outer Sydney Orbital motorway, Bells Line of Road to Castlereagh Connection, and South West Rail Link extension is moving into the public consultation phase. The NSW Roads Minister Duncay Gay said that work on the 2 roads was not expected to begin for decades; with the SWRL corridor set to be identified by late 2016.

8 June: Olympic Park becomes preferred light rail option

A light rail line connecting Parramatta to Olympic Park has firmed as the favourite option for a new light rail line in Sydney’s West. The line could extend out to Wesmead in the West and Strathfield in the East. It gained favour after a campaign by businesses and developers who touted the possibility for development of the corridor and the potential for value capture from that development to fund the cost of building the new line. However, local councils have labelled the line a white elephant and are calling for the Government to build a line to Epping instead.

11 June: Opal only gates installed at Wynyard Station

New Opal only gates have been installed as part of the Wynyard Station upgrade. Opal only gates have recently been installed at Olympic Park Station. No date has been set for the full phase out of ticket gates that accept magnetic stripe paper ticket.

12 June: SWRL connection to CBD via Granville?

Transport blogger Nick Stylianou suggests that Leppington trains may be connected up to the T2 South Line, travelling to the CBD via Granville. This may happen as soon as the end of this year, with Campbelltown to city services running exclusively on the T2 Airport Line.

12 June: 65 new transport officers

Sydney’s existing 150 transport officers is set to increase to 215, with an additional 65 transport officers to be hired.

15 June: Trial of backdoor boarding on CBD buses

The Government is set to trial boarding of buses via the back door for 2 weeks. The trial will be restricted to Opal card users between 4PM and 7PM at 7 bus stops in the CBD. Marshals will be present to ensure boarding occurs safely. It is hoped that the trial will see lower dwell times for buses by allowing customers to board more quickly.

VIDEO: Seven News Sydney – Trial of back door loading on buses (15/6/2015)

19 June: Reduction in minimum parking requirements

The NSW Government has announced a watered down version of a minimum parking requirement policy that it announced last year. The new policy allows new apartment blocks in areas well serviced by public transport to have fewer off-street parking spots than is currently mandated by local government regulations. The previously announced policy would have eliminated the requirement for off-street parking entirely and has not been adopted. Supporters of the move argue that it will help to keep construction costs down and help with housing affordability. Opponents of the move claim that it will cause cars to spill over into existing streets where parking is already scarce.

23 June: Barangaroo Station confirmed

A Station at Barangaroo has been confirmed in the Sydney Metro City and Southwest. Stations still to be determined are Artarmon, St Leonards/Crows Nest and either Sydney University or Waterloo.

VIDEO: Sydney Metro Barangaroo Station

Open Drum – The Daily Commute

ABC Open is taking contributions on the topic of “the daily commute”. The deadline for contributions is midday Tuesday 9 June.

“Tell us about your daily commute. What are the joys and challenges? How does it impact your life or your family? Would improved public transport, affordable accommodation near workplaces or better roads help? Whatever happened to telecommuting? Do you have a survival tip or utopian vision for policy makers? Share your story and opinions in 350-700 words.”

1 May: Rail line to Badgerys Creek downplayed

Suggestions for a fast rail service between Badgerys Creek and Sydney CBD in time for the opening of a future Western Sydney Airport were dismissed by the Federal Transport Minister Warren Truss. “A rail line connected to the metropolitan area of Sydney is not essential in that [early] phase” said Mr Truss. The NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance was more open to the idea, stating that he was “putting all things on the table”, including a possible extension of Sydney Rapid Transit out to Badgerys Creek via the existing Kingsford Smith Airport at Mascot. Proposals exist to extend the recently opened South West Rail Link to Badgerys Creek, but there are no current plans or funding to do so.

The proposed corridors for an extension of the SWRL through to Badgerys Creek and beyond. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The proposed corridors for an extension of the SWRL through to Badgerys Creek and beyond. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

4 May: Opal-only ticket gates

New ticket gates that accept only Opal cards are to be trialed at Olympic Park Station. Existing ticket barriers that accept both Opal and paper tickets will continue to be in use.

7 May: Mousetrap to catch graffiti vandals

A new technology is being trialed which detects either spray paint or permanent marker on trains, so far leading to the arrest of 30 individuals. Known as “Mousetrap”, it uses an electronic chemical sensor which detects the vapour of both spray paint and marker pens.  Live CCTV records and provides images directly to Sydney Trains staff. Removing graffiti from the Sydney Trains network cost $34 million last financial year, up from $30 million the year before.

10 May: Epping to Chatswood Line will be disconnected for almost a year

The Epping to Chatswood Line, set to be shut down for 7 months during which it will be converted and connected to the North West Rail Link in order to create the first stage of Sydney Rapid Transit, will be disconnected from the T1 Northern and North Shore Lines prior to its shut down. A recently approved government proposal will see the line operate as a shuttle service between Epping and Chatswood for 4 months prior to this conversion, most likely in 2018.

21 May: Light rail predicted to kill someone each year

A report prepared for the government predicts that 1.14 people will be killed by the new CBD and South East Light Rail line every year on average. Between 2010 and 2014, there have been 3 fatalities involving pedestrians and buses in the Sydney CBD. The report also predicts 1 fatality every 5 years for the existing light rail line to Dulwich Hill, although no deaths have occurred on this line since it opened in 1997.

22 May: Opal card user information handed over to government agencies

57 requests for Opal card data, which include the card user’s address and travel patterns, have been granted by Transport for NSW to government agencies since December 2014. A total of 181 requests were made, with no court approval required in order for information to be handed over. By comparison, information from Queensland’s Go Card had been accessed almost 11,000 times between 2006 and 2014.

26 May: NWRL tunneling 40% complete

Tunnel boring machines on the North West Rail Link have reached Showground Station. 12km of the 30km of tunneling, representing over a third of the total length, is now complete.

26 May: Long Bay Prison sale under consideration

The Government is considering the possibility of selling off Long Bay Prison, possibly raising a estimated $400m. The sale, which would see the site redeveloped, has been linked to a possible extension of the light rail line currently under construction. The CBD and South East Light Rail is set to open in 2019, initially reaching Kingsford. However, an extension as far as La Perouse has been raised as a possibility.

Potential extensions to the CBD and South East Light Rail to Maroubra, Malabar, or La Perouse. Click to enlarge. (Source: Infrastructure NSW, State Infrastructure Strategy Update 2014, p. 40.)

Potential extensions to the CBD and South East Light Rail to Maroubra, Malabar, or La Perouse. Click to enlarge. (Source: Infrastructure NSW, State Infrastructure Strategy Update 2014, p. 40.)

26 May: Congestion will be worse after WestConnex

Internal government reports show that traffic levels on inner city roads around the planned WestConnex tunnels are predicted to be higher in 2026 than in 2011, despite the planned completion of WestConnex by 2023. A spokeswoman for the WestConnex Delivery Authority commented that “[traffic on] the inner south will improve with WestConnex as opposed to a do nothing scenario”.

28 May: Light rail construction schedule announced

VIDEO: Ten Eyewitness News Sydney – Government admits public transport system “broken” (27/5/2015)

A construction schedule for the CBD and South East Light Rail was released to the public. George St is set to see three and a half years of construction, with the new CBD and South East Light Rail set to be built between September 2015 and April 2018. The line is currently scheduled to open in early 2019, following testing of the line.

The Opposition Leader Luke Foley, who recently declared his opposition to light rail on George St, compared the project to the Berlin Wall and declared that it would lead to chaos and confusion.

The Government released video (above) of a bus and pedestrian walking down George Street during the evening peak hour showing the pedestrian being faster than the bus. Pedestrianising George St, resulting in the replacement of cars and buses with trams, has been put forward as a way to reduce congestion for public transport users which currently exists in many parts of the city.

The announcement also included plans to defer construction on the Northern portion of the Castlereagh St bike path until construction on the light rail line is completed. The Roads Minister Duncan Gay had previously proposed including loading zones along portions of Castlereagh St, which would have the effect of making it a “part-time” bike path. Deferring its construction pushes back the need to make a decision on this issue. However, the existing bike path on College St is set to be converted into a bus lane. This will help to handle bus movements once George St becomes closed off to vehicles, but removes a North-South bike path in the CBD for a number of years.

28 May: mX axed

Newscorp is set to discontinue mX, its free commuter newspaper. mX is currently distributed each weekday afternoon in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane; it began in each of these cities in 2001, 2005, and 2007 respectively.

29 May: Electricity privatisation passes lower house

Legislation to allow the 99 year lease of 49% of the NSW electricity distribution network has passed the NSW Legislative Assembly. It now goes to the Legislative Council, where a combination of the Liberal, National, and Christian Democratic Parties that have committed to supporting the legislation have enough votes to ensure its passage through the upper house of Parliament.

VIDEO: Sydney Light Rail Flythrough – May 2015

The announcement on Thursday of the construction schedule for the CBD and South East Light Rail has seen the debate over the line re-open. Construction of the George St portion, set to occur between October 2015 and May 2017, will last over a year and a half. Closure of streets during this time will hurt businesses operating in the area. Meanwhile, changes to bus routes and timetables, set to change in October to co-incide with the start of construction, remain a secret to the public.

VIDEO: Sydney Light Rail Construction Schedule – May 2015

Earlier in the week, the Opposition Leader Luke Foley had declared his opposition to light rail down George Street, while supporting light rail from Central to Randwick and Kingsford. When the construction schedule was announced, Mr Foley said “the Liberals will deliver a Berlin Wall down the central spine of Sydney, dividing the CBD into east and west…Sydney needs light rail – but not down George Street. The Liberals should listen to the experts and terminate light rail at Central Station”. Mr Foley supported the full light rail project prior to the last election, committing to build it in full if elected Premier.

The Premier Mike Baird defended the decision to go ahead with construction, stating that despite the disruption “if we say we’re going to build it, we’ll build it”. The Transport Minister Andrew Constance reinforced this view, saying that “we’re not in the business of cancelling contracts”.

The former Premier Barry O’Farrell, who was Premier when the current project received approval, also criticised Mr Foley for relying on Nick Greiner’s opposition to George St light rail in order to make his case. Mr O’Farrell has previously distanced himself from Mr Greiner, a previous Chairman of Infrastructure NSW, arguing that Mr Greiner may oppose rail based public transport but Mr O’Farrell and his government support it.

Route of the CBD and South East Light Rail Line. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

Route of the CBD and South East Light Rail Line. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

Commentary: Just build it

Sydney is set to continue to grow and that growth needs an increase in transport capacity. For dense areas like the inner city, that means public transport should be prioritised ahead of private motor vehicles; while for the CBD, that means rail needs to be prioritised. When it comes to high capacity, almost nothing beats rail. Right now, that means light rail down George Street and Sydney Rapid Transit under the CBD. That is current government policy.

But not if Mr Foley had his way. In his world you not only see light rail terminate at the outskirts of the CBD but also no new funding for SRT under the CBD, effectively killing the project. Meanwhile, Mr Foley went to the last election commiting to extend the M4 all the way into the CBD. He would expand road based transport for the CBD, but not rail based transport. He has it the wrong way round.

Compare this to the government’s plans for WestConnex, bypassing the CBD and connecting the M4 and M5; with future plans for a Western Harbour road tunnel to connect Rozelle to North Sydney, further bypassing the CBD. Add this to the previously mentioned 2 major rail projects for the CBD and you get the right solution: cars out, trains and trams in.

VIDEO: Public Transport, Malcolm Turnbull (May 2007)

Monday: Light rail to Olympic Park could pay for itself

A new light rail line from Parramatta to Sydney Olympic Park could be paid for by raising $2.9bn in voluntary developer levies along the “Olympic Corridor”. The proposal has been raised by the WestLine Partnership, an alliance of business and local government groups representing interests between Parramatta and Sydney Olympic Park. Both the NSW Government and Opposition have committed to building at least one of four short listed light rail lines from Parramatta if they are elected to office. Though a line from Parramatta to Macquarie Park was initially seen as the most likely, a line from Parramatta to Olympic Park is now firming up as the favourite. It was mentioned specifically by Opposition Leader Luke Foley, and has also received the backing of Western Sydney Business Chamber Director David Borger.

Parramatta City Council's proposed 4 light rail lines. Click to enlarge. (Source: Western Sydney Light Rail Network: Part 2 Feasibility Report, p. 6)

Parramatta City Council’s proposed 4 light rail lines. Click to enlarge. (Source: Western Sydney Light Rail Network: Part 2 Feasibility Report, p. 6)

Monday: Light rail gets planning approval

Planning approval has been given to modifications proposed to the CBD and South East Light Rail Line. Changes include the removal of one stop along George St in the CBD and the relocation of the light rail line to the Northern side of Alison Road, opposite the Randwick Racecourse. The Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian said “The green light from planning means we can roll out longer light rail vehicles with more seats for customers and 50 per cent more capacity, allowing us to move up to 13,500 passengers every hour”. Construction will begin later this year, and is expected to be completed in 2018, with the line opening in early 2019.

Thursday: Nile adds conditions to asset sale

The Christian Democratic Party’s leader Fred Nile has added conditions to supporting the 99 year lease of the state’s electricity distribution assets. Mr Nile has demanded that workers rights be protected, seeking that “There would be no sackings for five years [and] their existing conditions and superannuation arrangements must be guaranteed”. The Coalition, which is seeking to lease the assets in order to go ahead with its $20bn infrastructure plans, is not expected to gain an absolute majority in the NSW Upper House and will likely need the support of the CDP in order to do so.

Saturday: WestConnex gets approval from Infrastructure Australia

Infrastructure Australia has given WestConnex, the proposed 33km surface and tunnel freeway connecting the M4 and M5 freeways in Sydney’s West via Sydney’s Inner West, the green light. IA found that WestConnex would provide $1.80 in benefits for every $1.00 spent, although this is less than the $2.55 that the NSW Government claimed it would provide in a 2013 report.

However, the report is based on the assumption that no additional car trips will occur as a result of the road’s construction. These “induced” trips were partly responsible for Melbourne’s East West Link receiving a benefit cost ratio of 0.45, compared to WestConnex’s 1.8. The report also does not take as conservative an approach to potential cost blowouts as IA normally takes, potentially understating the cost and thus overstating the benefit cost ratio.

Despite this, IA believes that the benefit cost ratio would still be above 1 (indicating benefits outweigh the costs), even if these two anomolies were taken into account.

A NSW Labor Government will build all transport projects currently under or about to commence construction plus a second Harbour rail crossing as part of its infrastructure policy released yesterday. It would also drop plans for a 99 year lease of the electricity distribution network, obtaining its $10bn funding by not cutting $5bn worth of business taxes and using $5bn of unallocated funding in the government’s Restart NSW infrastructure fund.

Under Labor, projects already under construction, such as the North West Rail Link and CBD and South East Light Rail, would be completed. Projects about to commence construction, such as the M4 East; M5 East duplication; and NorthConnex, would also be completed. In addition, Labor has also committed to the $1bn upgrade to the Western Sydney rail network, which will include improved signalling and longer platforms for trains that are 10 carriages long rather than the existing 8 carriages.

Labor will committ to completing the NWRL and has given qualified support for a second Harbour rail crossing to connect it to the CBD. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Labor will committ to completing the NWRL and has given qualified support for a second Harbour rail crossing to connect it to the CBD. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The plan would see both WestConnex and a second Harbour rail crossing modified. WestConnex’s M4 East would link up directly to the CBD along a yet undefined path, while the M5 East duplication would be redirected to the airport and seaport at Botany. Meanwhile, the Inner West bypass linking the M4 and M5 would be dropped entirely. Any construction on a second Harbour rail crossing would begin 5 years later than currently planned, in 2022 rather than 2017, and also be subject to a “rigorous cost-benefit analysis and business case”. In addition, no committment was made for a Western Sydney Harbour road tunnel or Western Sydney light rail.

Commentary: The wrong priorities

Labor’s refusal to consider privatisation, despite being supported by former Labor Premier Morris Iemma and Prime Minister Paul Keating, has limited its ability to promise an infrastructure plan as large as the Coalition’s. The Sydney Morning Herald’s transport reporter Jacob Saulwick put it best when he described it as “less of the same” in comparing it to the Coalition plan. In fact, other than the changes to WestConnex, this is largely a copy of the Coalition plan with some elements dropped and others deferred.

One positive to come from this report is an M5 East duplication that links up to Botany rather than St Peters. One of the main benefits of WestConnex will come from taking freight trucks off local roads, and having a direct connection will achieve this while also adding capacity to a growing port.

Labor should also be commended on committing to a second Harbour rail crossing. But deferring its construction for 5 years and adding conditions to that construction puts question marks over whether it is serious about building it. Yesterday’s policy document even quotes Nick Greiner, notorious for opposing rail projects and supporting tollroads, to make this case. In doing so, it reveals the real problem with this plan – it shifts priorities away from rail and towards roads.

Most disappointing is that this plan makes a clear committment to building a new freeway right into the CBD, while maybe building a new rail line into the CBD at a later point in the future. These are the wrong way around. Roads, which have their place, should provide travel opportunities from low density origins and/or destinations, acting as a bypass of dense areas like the CBD. Rail, on the other hand, works best at transporting large numbers of people from high density origins and/or destinations. So to build a road into the CBD but not rail is highly perverse.

WestConnex and the proposed Western Harbour road tunnel, both of which are plagued with problems like property acquisitions or of inducing demand for car travel, enjoyed the major advantage that they would remove cars from places like the Sydney CBD or Newtown’s congested King St. In the CBD, it would also see roadspace on the surface taken away from cars on George St and Elizabeth St as part of the CBD light rail line as the former is pedestrianised and the latter is converted to a bus road.

It is here, and not Labor’s inability to accelerate infrastructure construction due to it committment to maintain public ownership of state owned assets, that is most concerning. Labor prioritised roads rather than rail, and those are the wrong priorities.

Infrastructure NSW released an update to its infrastructure plan in November 2014. Unlike the 2012 report, this one puts a greater emphasis on rail. Here is a (belated) overview of the main recommendations for the rail network.

Sydney Trains/NSW TrainLink (p. 34)

Major upgrades will focus on the T1 Lines, which are expected to see stronger growth in demand than other lines. These include lengthening of platforms, to allow longer trains to stop at certain stations; amplification of track, akin to adding more lanes to a road; and improved signalling, which allows more frequent train services without compromising safety.

The longer platforms will primarily benefit intercity train services, with new intercity trains to be 12 cars in length compared to the current 8 car trains. Meanwhile, the business case for improved signalling is expected to be completed over the next 18 months.

No specific details are given on where track amplifications will occur. A commonly touted corridor is on the Northern Line between Rhodes and West Ryde, which would upgrade the entire Strathfield to Epping corridor up to 4 tracks. This would allow service frequencies to be increased along this corridor while still maintaining a mix of all stops and express services. Such capacity improvements are necessary for Upper Northern Line trains that currently reach the city via Chatswood to instead be diverted via Strathfield when the Epping to Chatswood Line is closed down for upgrades as part of the North West Rail Link project in 2018.

Sydney Rapid Transit (pp.37-38)

Construction on a Second Harbour Rail Crossing is to begin in 2019, with completion in 2024-25. It has a BCR (Benefit to Cost Ratio) of 1.3 to 1.8, meaning that every $1 spent on the project will produce benefits of $1.30 to $1.80. The total cost will be approximately $10.4bn, with $7bn to come from privatisation of state electricity assets and $3.4bn from existing funding already committed. Additional stations will be considered at Artarmon, Barangaroo, and either Waterloo or Sydney University; which the report recommends partly being funded by beneficiaries of the new stations, a concept known as “value capture” (p. 146). The current plan has the line connecting to Sydenham Station via tunnel, rather than utilising the existing corridor between Erskineville and Sydenham which has been reserved for an additional pair of tracks.

Proposed new stations include Artarmon (not shown), Barangaroo, and either Sydney University or Waterloo. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Proposed new stations include Artarmon (not shown), Barangaroo, and either Sydney University or Waterloo. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Improving efficiency (p. 35)

Transport for NSW will further investigate the effectiveness of off-peak pricing and improved shoulder peak services on spreading demand. The report notes that, following the October 2013 timetable changes, improved frequencies during the shoulder peak periods (the time immediately before and after peak hour) saw 5% of peak hour journeys shift from peak hour to the shoulder. Transport for NSW notes that this represents “more than two years of patronage growth”, adding however that “this option is not ‘cost free’: additional rolling stock may be required to provide these services on some lines”. Despite these concerns, it is likely that improved efficiency can at the very least defer the need for more expensive capital expenditure to expand the rail network.

Light rail (p. 40)

Two light rail projects are discussed, the first being and extension to the existing Inner West Line out to White Bay where significant urban development is planned; which the second is an extension of the proposed CBD and South East Line to either Maroubra (1.9km), Malabar (5.1km), or La Perouse (8.2km). Neither of these extensions have funding attached to them.

Potential extensions to the CBD and South East Light Rail to Maroubra, Malabar, or La Perouse. Click to enlarge. (Source: Infrastructure NSW, State Infrastructure Strategy Update 2014, p. 40.)

Potential extensions to the CBD and South East Light Rail to Maroubra, Malabar, or La Perouse. Click to enlarge. (Source: Infrastructure NSW, State Infrastructure Strategy Update 2014, p. 40.)

Freight (pp. 62-63, 65)

A Western Sydney Freight Line is mentioned, as is a Maldon to Dombarton Railway and associated improvements to the Southern Sydney Freight Line (SSFL). The latter would link up Port Kembla to the SSFL in South West Sydney, thus removing freight trains from the T4 Line in Southern Sydney. Such a move is likely a prerequisite for increase passenger frequencies on the T4 Illawarra Line as well as extending Rapid Transit Services from Sydenham to Hurstville at some point in the future.

The Maldon to Dombarton Railway would allow freight trains to travel between Sydney and Port Kembla without using the T4 Line through Hurstville and Sutherland. Click to enlarge. (Source: Infrastructure NSW, State Infrastructure Strategy Update 2014, p. 65.)

The Maldon to Dombarton Railway would allow freight trains to travel between Sydney and Port Kembla without using the T4 Line through Hurstville and Sutherland. Click to enlarge. (Source: Infrastructure NSW, State Infrastructure Strategy Update 2014, p. 65.)

Commentary: What’s missing and what’s next?

No mention is made of a rail line to the Northern Beaches, the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link, an extension to the T4 Eastern Suburbs Line, or a CBD bus tunnel. The last 2 of these projects were proposed by Infrastructure NSW in its original 2012 report, designed to eliminate the need for light rail through the CBD. With the NSW Government opting to go ahead with the surface light rail option, both of these projects appear to have been dropped by Infrastructure NSW.

Infrastructure NSW’s combatative approach also appears to have been dropped replaced with a more cooperative approach to transport planning with Transport for NSW. Whereas in 2012 the Infrastructure NSW report was seen as an alternative to the Transport for NSW Transport Master Plan, and an alternative that focussed more on road based transport rather than rail based transport; this 2014 update reinforces, rather than contradicts Transport for NSW. It’s difficult to look past the departure of Infrastructure NSW’s inaugural Chairman and CEO, Nick Greiner and Paul Broad (both strong advocates for roads and road based transport), when looking for a reason why this may have happened.

Looking towards the future, the $20bn privatisation of 49% of the electricity distribution network in 2016 will provide funding for a decade – in particular to fund the construction of the Second Harbour Crossing, $7bn from privatization money is to be added to the existing $3.4bn allocated to it, with construction to begin in 2019 and the project completed by 2024-25. If the Premier Mike Baird has his way then construction will begin in 2017, potentially fast tracking this project to 2023. This would be 4 years after the opening of the NWRL, a welcome change to delays and deferrals that NSW has become used to.

Additional expansions of the transport network that come after that are currently unfunded and uncommitted. These include any extension to the North West and South West Rail Links, light rail to Maroubra and White Bay, and the Outer Western Orbital Freeway.

One option is that the remaining 51% could be sold off to pay for it. Alternatively, these projects could be funded out of consolidated revenue, built at a slower pace than would otherwise be the case. Following the coming decade of strong additions to Sydney’s stock of infrastructure, this may be an acceptable option. Either way, the 2015 election will not settle the debate over privatisation. This will be an issue that will remain on the table for decades to come.

Monday: Massive CBD delays caused by road closures and accidents

Long delays were felt by people travelling into and within the CBD on Monday morning, particularly by bus passengers on the Harbour Bridge, following a number of simultaneous incidents. A number of roads were closed during 27 December to 12 January as part of the CBD and South East Light Rail project. A cable that manages traffic signals was hit by work crews at the corner of Bridge and Grosvenor streets, preventing traffic light phasing from being changed and causing further delays. A breakdown during peak hour in the southbound lane of the Sydney Harbour Tunnel diverted more cross-harbour traffic on to the bridge. In addition there was a crash at 8:15AM approaching the Sydney Harbour Bridge and a motorcycle breakdown that blocked the bus lane at 9:00AM for a short period.

Transport for NSW issued a statement apologising for the delays, later announcing changes to prevent similar delays further into the week. These changes included opening one lane in each direction on Grosvenor and Bridge streets every day between 6am to 10am and 3pm to 8pm, while also rerouting buses on the Harbour Bridge via the Cahill Expressway or Western Distributor,

Wednesday: Bus network changes still not finalised

Changes to the CBD bus network, required due to the imminent closure of George St to allow for construction of the CBD and South East Light Rail, have not yet been finalised according to a report by the Sydney Morning Herald. Construction is to begin shortly after the Centenary of Anzac Day in April of this year. George St is also set to be pedestrianised, meaning that buses will not be able to travel along George St even after construction is completed.

Thursday: Construction to begin on Castlereagh St and Liverpool St bike paths

Work is to begin this month on separated bike paths on Castlereagh St and Liverpool St in the Sydney CBD. Separated bike paths already exist on Kent St and York St, while a third bike path on College St is set to be removed once the Castlereagh St bike path is complete. Previous plans to make the Castlereagh St bike path a “part-time” bike path by allowing loading zones on them at certain times of the day appear to have been dropped following opposition to the proposed plans.

Sydney Strategic Cycle network, much of which is currently being planned or under construction. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, Sydney City Access Strategy, p. 45.)

Sydney Strategic Cycle network, much of which is currently being planned or under construction. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, Sydney City Access Strategy, p. 45.)

Sunday: Salmon for the South West

The South West Rail Link will be represented by the salmon on the rail map. Passenger indicator boards installed at Liverpool Station in preparation for the 8 February opening of the line display the colour salmon, with trains stopping at Glenfield, Edmondson Park, and Leppington. Trains will initially run as a shuttle service between Liverpool and Leppington.

Monday: Opal rollout complete

Opal Card readers have been installed and activated across all of NSW; trains, buses, ferries, and trams are all now Opal enabled. The Opal rollout began in December 2012 and was set to be completed in early 2015. Over 1.4 million Opal Cards have been ordered or issued.

Concession Opal Cards, the only type still not available, will be available early in 2015 for university students. Opal Cards for children and pensioners became available earlier this year.

Tuesday: Sydney light rail to have 67m long trams, amongst world’s longest

Modifications to the CBD and South East Light Rail (CSELR) will see two trams coupled to form 67m long vehicles, while 3rd rail technology will be utilised within the CBD to allow for catenary wire free operation. Previous plans had 45m long single vehicle trams utilising batteries to operate within the CBD. “The proposal offers services that from day one carry up to 15 per cent more light rail passengers in peak hours, and 33 per cent more seats across the day” according to the Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian.

Example of third rail technology used by the Bordeaux tram system. Click to enlarge. (Source: CBD and South East Light Rail Modification Report 2014, p. 67)

Example of third rail technology used by the Bordeaux tram system. Click to enlarge. (Source: CBD and South East Light Rail Modification Report 2014, p. 67)

Changes will also see the World Square stop scrapped, an underground access tunnel will be introduced for the Moore Park stop rather than a two storey design, while the Randwick Racecourse stop will be shifted to the North of Alison Road. Changes to the Racecourse stop will require customers to cross Alison Road to reach Randwick Racecourse and may interfere with the recently built bike path along Alison Road.

Though longer vehicles will see higher overall capacity added, it will also see a slight reduction to frequencies during peak hour, from a tram every 3 minutes to a tram every 4 minutes in the CBD (trams in each of the Randwick/Kingsford branches will be half as frequent as in the core CBD section). However, frequencies will be improved during the late night and early morning hours, from a tram every 10 minutes to a tram every 6 minutes in the CBD. This will ensure 12 minute frequencies in each of the 2 branches, rather than 20 minute frequencies. The modification report stated that “20 minute headways…were not consistent with Transport for NSW customer service obligations”.

Proposed service frequencies. Click to enlarge. (Source: CBD and South East Light Rail Modification Report 2014, p. 27.)

Proposed service frequencies. Click to enlarge. (Source: CBD and South East Light Rail Modification Report 2014, p. 27.)

UPDATE (9:57PM, 7 December 2014): Tandemtrainrider99 points out in the comments that, though 67m long trams would be amongst the world’s longest, Sydney would not actually have the world’s longest trams. He points to the San Diego Trolley, with its 3 vehicles coupled together at 72m in length. This is slightly longer than Sydney’s proposed 2 vehicles coupled together at 67m in length. A few of these can be seen in the video below and might give an insight into what George St may look like in a few years.

VIDEO: Saving Wolli Creek – Part 1: From Mussolini to the County of Cumberland Plan

Thursday: Light rail will carry more people earlier, but cost more

The CBD and South East Light Rail’s maximum capacity will be 50% higher than the originally predicted 9,000 passengers per hour in each direction according to the Connecting Sydney consortium that has been selected to build the line. It also plans to complete the George St construction earlier than was initially planned. “The preferred bidder has responded to this challenge with a proposal that ultimately has the potential to carry over 50 per cent more than the 9,000 passengers per hour in each direction previously announced by the government” said Transport Mininster Gladys Berejiklian. She also said that “the proposal offers services that from day one carry up to 15 per cent more light rail passengers in peak hours, and 33 per cent more seats across the day”.

Route of the CBD and South East Light Rail Line. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

Route of the CBD and South East Light Rail Line. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

However, it will also see an increase in the cost to build by an as yet undisclosed amount. The line has previously been budgeted to cost $1.6bn and was scheduled to open in 2019 or 2020. Construction is set to begin on the George St section after the centenary of Anzac Day in April 2015.

Friday: Opal bus rollout 86% complete

4,300 buses are now Opal enabled, with 1.1 million Opal cards in circulation. The bus rollout is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year, with 5,000 buses in NSW. Opal is operating on all trains and ferried, with Opal to be rolled out to light rail by early 2015. Pensioner Opal cards will be available by the end of the year, however there is no date set for concession Opal cards yet.

Tuesday: Opal Man cost $100,000 to design

The NSW Government paid $100,000 to design Opal Man, according to documents obtained by Shadow Transport Minister Penny Sharpe. This has been followed by a multimillion dollar advertising campaign, including $2.3m to develop TV ads and a further $4.7m in buying spots on the media. In addition, $2.9m is being spent on information and sales staff at stations.

Wednesday: Randwick Council signs agreement with NSW Government over light rail

Hundreds of parking spaces are to be retained or replaced in Kensington and Kingsford along Anzac Parade when light rail is built along that road as part of a Development Agreement between Randwick Council and Transport for NSW. The agreement, which follows a lengthy and politically disputed period of many months, will return 100-120 parking spots on Anzac Parade during off-peak hours. Previous plans were to have turned Anzac Parade into a 24 hour clearway with no parking. The agreement will also see the sale of land near the Kingsford interchange to Randwick Council, which the council plans to turn into a car park to offset the loss of parking spaces from the construction of the Kingsford interchange over the existing parking lot adjacent to South’s Juniors.

The revised Randwick light rail interchange features 3 times as much green space as originally proposed, but this is still half as much as is currently there. Click to enlarge. (Source: CSELR Submissions Report, p. 6-65)

The revised Randwick light rail interchange features 3 times as much green space as originally proposed, but this is still half as much as is currently there. Click to enlarge. (Source: CSELR Submissions Report, p. 6-65)

The agreement also requires Transport for NSW to consider alternative options for the Randwick interchange planned at High Cross Park, though stops short of requiring Transport for NSW to modify it should no alternative be found to be feasible. It also requires an independent arborist to be consulted if the removal of any trees is disputed.

The purpose of this post is to provide some information on the history of the Opal rollout in Sydney since its introduction and to speculate on its future over the coming 12 months. It does not cover anything before Opal was introduced in December of 2012, but for those who are interested then the post Comparing Opal to Myki and TCard is well worth a read. For the purpose of clarity, some things have been simplified, for example only the rollout within Sydney is covered and when Opal was extended to multiple lines/routes in a short period of time they have been lumped together. Rollout information was gathered from Transport for NSW Media releases.

Opal’s Past

Ferries

Opal was introduced on 7 December 2012 on the Neutral Bay Ferry, with 200 people signing up for the initial trial. By 25 March 2013, 550 Opal cards had been registered. It was later expanded to include the Manly Ferry on 8 April 2013, and finally all ferries by the 30 August 2013.

Trains

However, take-up of Opal cards did not begin to gain traction until the rail network begun to be Opal enabled. The City Circle and T4 Line to Bondi Junction were the first to become Opal enabled on 14 June 2013. This was later expanded to Chatswood on 30 September 2013; then along T1 to the Central Coast via Strathfield, Macquarie Park, and Gordon on 31 January 2014; to Emu Plains a month later on 28 February 2014; and finally the entire Sydney Trains network the subsequent month on 28 March 2014. This was the moment that Opal take-up rates began to take off. In its first full year (2013), about 38,000 Opal cards had been registered. By 28 March 2014, just 3 months later, this had risen to 150,000 and by 23 June 2014 it had more than doubled to 340,000.

Opal card take-up and number of trips made - both total trips and free trips after daily/weekly travel cap reached. Logarithmic scale used. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author, data obtained from Transport for NSW media releases.)

Opal card take-up and number of trips made – both total trips and free trips after daily/weekly travel cap reached. Chart goes through to 23 June and does not include 30 June Hillbus rollout. Logarithmic scale used. Click to enlarge. (Sources: Author, data obtained from Transport for NSW media releases.)

However, this was slower than Transport for NSW had projected, with leaked documents showing that it had expected to reach the 150,000 figure by mid-February, at which point the actual figure was only 80,195.

Buses

The first bus route to be Opal enabled was the 594/594H route on 30 September 2013. This is a long route that goes into the Sydney CBD, but is also quite lightly patronised, making it a good first choice to test out Opal. It was soon joined by the more heavily patronised 333 route on 2 December 2013, then by routes serviced by buses from the Kuring-gai depot (14 April 2014), Waverly depot (28 April 2014), Forest Coach Lines (10 June 2014), and Hillsbus (30 June 2014).

Buses are the first mode of transport to have mobile Opal readers installed. Trains and ferries have Opal readers installed at stations and wharves which have fixed line connections, whereas the readers on buses are on the actual vehicles and transmit travel information via the mobile network. This means information is updated quite promptly compared to other smartcards, such as Melbourne’s Myki where Myki readers on trams and buses do not transmit their information until they reach a wifi spot back at the depot.

Fares

In 2011, Sydney had 443,000 bus users, 366,000 train users, and 27,000 ferry users each day (Source: Bureau of Transport Statistics, Public Transport Users in Sydney, p. 1). Opal has now been rolled out to the entire train and ferry network, and only a small part of the bus network, which suggests a captive market of just under 400,000 daily users. As of June 2014, the take-up of Opal cards reached 300,000. Not all holders of Opal cards would be daily users of the transport network, which suggests that there are over 100,000 users that have not yet taken up an Opal card.

This is likely due to a combination of a lack of awareness, concession holders and seniors whose Opal card have yet to be released, and a fare system that makes some users worse off under Opal compared to traditional magnetic stripe tickets. The issue of awareness is likely to take some time to flow through the system while concession and senior Opal cards is discussed at the end of this post.

The stumbling block in terms of fares for the take up of Opal is that there are 3 users who were worse off under Opal: ferry passengers, periodical ticket holders, and multimodal travellers.

Ferry passengers: When myZone was introduced in 2010, the new myMulti tickets gave unlimited ferry travel. This meant that a myMulti1 was actually cheaper for a regular ferry user than a myFerry Travel Ten. Opal fares were cheaper than the Travel Ten, but still more expensive than the myMulti, leading to a very low usage of Opal by ferry users (as low as 5% at one point). The Government responded by removing all ferries from the $46 myMulti1, and removing longer distance ferries such as the Manly ferry from the $54 myMulti2. The backlash from commuters led to a discount being offered, where ferry users were given a $52 weekly cap, rather than the normal $60 weekly cap, until 29 June 2014.

Periodical ticket holders: Shortly after the 2011 NSW election, the Government announced a 9% discounts for periodical tickets: monthlies, quarterlies, and yearlies. The purpose was to encourage pre-payment and reduce waiting times to obtain tickets. However, this also meant that these tickets tend to provide a bigger discount than Opal can, and switching to Opal can mean paying more. Even factoring in days lost to time off for holidays/being sick, it is still generally cheaper to go with a periodical ticket rather than Opal largely due to the 9% discount. This appears to be the thinking behind the retirement of periodical tickets from 1 September 2014 – it will force public transport users (train users in particular) to make the switch to Opal by making it the de facto cheapest option.

Multimodal travellers: Arguably the biggest drawback of Opal is its lack of integrated fares. While it is an integrated ticket – the only ticket a public transport user needs, it lacks fully integrated fares – the same fare from Point A to Point B regardless of which or how many modes of transport are used. To it’s credit, Opal has provided integrated fares within modes for the first time – someone catching two buses sequentially will be charged only a single fare rather than two. But continuing to charge a separate fare for each trip made on a different mode means many users will pay extra on Opal compared to a myMulti ticket. The future of this issue is covered further towards the end of this post, and has been covered in quite some detail by David Caldwell at his blog (well worth reading for some detailed background information).

Opal’s Future

Buses

Having to install Opal readers on each bus, generally progressing depot by depot, means the rollout for buses is much less predictable from a user perspective than the ferry or train rollout was. One bus is not necessarily assigned permanently to one specific route, and a bus route is often serviced by multiple depots. So unlike with trains and ferries, where users of particular stations and wharves began to be able to use their Opal cards, in the case of buses an Opal card can be used if that particular bus is Opal enabled (as shown by the ‘Opal Bus’ sticker on the bottom right of the bus). As a result, the weekly NSW Government Gazette often indicates that Opal can be used on more routes than have been announced by Transport for NSW. This is because the former includes all routes on which any bus may be Opal enabled, while the latter includes all routes on which all buses are Opal enabled.

Opal enabled buses can be identified by stickers on the front. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

Opal enabled buses can be identified by stickers on the front. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The bus rollout is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2014.

Light Rail

The rollout of Opal to light rail is currently scheduled for 2015, with the rest of the transport network set to be completed by the end of 2014. This coincided with announcements that new trams would be delivered during 2014 to cater for the Inner West Light Rail extension to Dulwich Hill and the increased demand that it created. It suggested that Opal readers would be installed on the trams themselves and, with the original Variotrams almost 20 years old, speculation was that readers would only be installed on the new trams. This appeared to explain why Opal would not be available on trams until 2015.

However, poles for Opal readers have been spotted at multiple tram stops, which suggests that Opal readers will be installed at the tram stops themselves. This may not preclude them from being installed on the vehicles too, one possibility would be that only the busy stops have Opal readers installed. But it does raise the probability of having off-vehicle Opal readers.

Seniors and Concession Opal Cards

Opal cards for Seniors will arrive later in 2014. Already buses have stopped selling Pensioner Excursion tickets, requiring pensioners to pre-purchase their tickets. Supporters of the move argue that pensioners could just buy 2 tickets, keeping a spare for getting the bus in cases where no retailer is available nearby, and then purchase a replacement ticket for the next day while they are out; particularly given the change was announced months ago. Critics argue that the move is premature, given that Opal cards will become available for Seniors in a few months, and that this change should be delayed until they are made available.

No specific timetable has been made for Concession Opal cards, though they are most likely going to be issued by the relevant educational institution like current concession cards are. Whether institutions are just given a stack of Opal cards to hand out, if they issue dual student card/Opal card hybrids, or something else is unknown. It appears that they will not be rolled out until the entire network is Opal enabled at the start of the next academic year. High school students between the ages of 16-18 will be able to use the Child Opal card.

Fares

The retirement of yearly tickets on 1 September 2014 means that the earliest date for retiring all paper tickets is 1 September 2015. This is the stated end goal. Changes to ferry, train off peak, and periodical fares mean that Opal fares are now the cheaper option for those who currently use those ticket types; this will be a big incentive in pushing these people to adopting Opal.

But there still remains one type of fare that often remains cheaper with paper tickets than with Opal: multimodal fares. This will prove to be the government’s biggest challenge. Transport advocates in Sydney have called for integrated multimodal fares for a long time, but governments have done little more than take baby steps in that direction. It’s not the Opal technology that is preventing this, but political will and a decision on who will bear any economic cost (the government or the travelling public).

So far the government has announced that trams and buses will enjoy integrated fares, with users charged a single fare based on the origin and destination of their journey. This is to prevent fares from increasing on the CBD and South East Light Rail which will force bus users to interchange to complete their journey. The North West Rail Link too will require users to transfer from a bus to a train, with buses from North West Sydney to the CBD to be converted into feeder services for the new rail line. It would appear logical that a similar fare integration would also be extended to heavy rail too, which would then mean that the 97% of public transport journeys not using ferries would enjoy fare integration. Given the similar per km fare cost for bus and train trips at the moment, this would also be relatively easy to do.

Tuesday: Budget includes $60bn for infrastructure

The NSW Budget included funding for $60bn of planned infrastructure spending over the next 4 years. The spending includes new heavy rail lines (North West Rail Link, South West Rail Link), light rail lines (CBD and South East Light Rail, a yet undetermined light rail line from Parramatta), roads (WestConnex, NorthConnex, roads around Badgerys Creek in Western Sydney, Northern Beaches roads and Bus Rapid Transit), and new public transport vehicles (trains and buses).

Major transport infrastructure projects included in the 2014-15 NSW Budget. Click to enlarge. (Sources: NSW Treasury, Transport for NSW, Open Street Map.)

Major transport infrastructure projects included in the 2014-15 NSW Budget. Click to enlarge. (Sources: NSW Treasury, Transport for NSW, Open Street Map.)

Wednesday: NWRL Skytrain construction begins

Construction has begun on the 4km Skytrain viaduct for the North West Rail Link (NWRL). Two stations, Kellyville and Rouse Hill, will be on this portion of the NWRL, elevated above the ground. It will also include a rail bridge crossing Windsor Road.

Video: NWRL Building Skytrain, Transport for NSW (17 June 2014)

Friday: New Rail Operations Centre for Sydney Trains

$11.4m will be spent this year to create a new Rail Operations Centre, which will consolidate the operations and communications functions that are currently geographically dispersed across Sydney. The concentration of these operations will allow for improved communications in responding to incidents on the network.

However, concentration of operations has been criticised in the past. Last year a fire at one of Sydney’s signal boxes (there are 19 in total, with most equipment concentrated in 2 depots) caused a virtual shut down of all trains for 30 minutes on the Sydney Trains network (other than the T4 line). The lack of contingency was blamed for the shut down, with no back up plan available to take over once the signal box was evacuated.

Friday: Transport Police make 5,000 arrests in 2 years

The Public Transport Command (PTC), police responsible for safety on public transport, was established in May 2012 and since then have issued 92,000 infringements, laid 9,000 charges, and made 5,000 arrests. Along with Transport Officers (responsible for checking that tickets are valid) the PTC replaced the old transit officers. Police and Transport Officers now patrol all forms of public transport (Transit Officers were only found aboard trains) but have been criticised for being fewer in number than the old Transit Officers.