Posts Tagged ‘Dwell time’

Care has been taken to ensure the figures below are accurate, but mistakes are quite possible, particularly for journey times as these are complicated to calculate and are sometimes subjective in how they are calculated.

Overview

The main winners from the changes are passengers from outer suburban stations like Penrith, Campbelltown, Hornsby, or Sutherland, who will enjoy shorter journeys into the CBD. A number of lines – such as the Inner West, South, Western, and Illawarra Lines – will have their stopping patterns significantly simplified, making them easier to understand and less susceptible to delays or disruptions. The new stopping patterns are more likely to be clockface in nature (e.g. stopping every 10 or 15 minutes, rather than some other erratic or uneven stopping pattern). The Cumberland Line is being reinstated in both directions all day, with half hourly services between Campbelltown and Blacktown. There are 2 additional trains per hour on the East Hills, Northern, and Bankstown Lines, plus 1 additional train per hour on the North Shore Line. 4 express services from Parramatta now continue through to Epping via Macquarie Park rather than terminating somewhere on the North Shore Line, providing additional services for the Epping to Macquarie Line.

Sign outside Kograh Station on 21 May 2013. (Source: Loz Maf)

Sign outside Kograh Station on 21 May 2013. (Source: Loz Maf)

Though the timetable was re-written from the ground up, there are very few losers out of it. Those that do lose out tend to be those stations now skipped to speed up other services, but in most cases this is made up for by more even headways or shorter journey times. So much so, that in some cases, even the stations that would be classified as losers come out ahead. The stations that have the most legitimate qualms are Kograh and Rockdale, which lose half their services. More on this at the bottom of this post.

Overcrowding

Estimated overcrowding levels are shown below based on the additional services being added (Source: Our Performance, Cityrail). The maximum loads figure has been removed, as this is difficult to estimate, and is likely to drop due to better spacing between trains. There are 2 additional trains from Bondi Junction (and a third which starts at Martin Place) which were formerly Sydney Terminal starting South Coast Line services. Meanwhile, the additional Northern Line services are both 4 car trains, which is the equivalent of a single 8 car train. As a result, the number of trains for this line has only been increased from 4 to 5.

2013-05-22 Overcrowding Oct 2013

The very overcrowded Northern Line (143%), Bankstown Line (134%), and Airport & East Hills Line (127%) should all see overcrowding drop to a more manageable 114%, 101%, and 109% respectively. Meanwhile, additional services on the North Shore Line (99%) and Eastern Suburbs Line (61%) will bring overcrowding on these down to 94% and 54% respectively. The loads for the Inner West and South Lines have been merged, given the uncertainty of what the changed stopping patterns on these two lines will achieve.

Overcrowding may also be impacted by indirect effects. For example, faster trains from Hornsby to Central via the North Shore could shift passengers away from the Northern Line and towards the North Shore Line. Some passengers at Strathfield or Homebush may opt to take one of the new Northern Line services and passengers on the Bankstown Line may take a train via Bankstown rather than Lidcombe once direct services via Lidcombe end, thus freeing up space on the Inner West Line, South Line, and/or Western Line.

These could provide much needed relief to the Western Line. However, there does not appear to be any immediate relief available for the Illawarra Line, even though the line currently runs a maximum of 18 trains per hour, which is 2 below the current maximum of 20.

How to read the tables below

  • The AM peak is (roughly) all trains that arrive at Central Station between 8:00AM and 9:00AM each weekday morning. This has sometimes been shifted forward or back if the busiest period for that particular line is slightly different.
  • The 2 exceptions to the above are Macquarie Park bound services from the CBD and Parramatta bound services between Blacktown and Harris Park. In these cases, it’s trains arriving at Macquarie Park and Parramatta Stations between 8:00AM and 9:00AM.
  • Frequency refers to the number of trains that stop at that station during that hour. It indicates the total capacity of the line, in terms of seats and standing room.
  • Headways refers to the time between trains at that station (and not the time between them when they arrive at Central). The important figure is the maximum headways, as it shows how long the wait is to the next train can be if you just missed the train.
  • Journey time indicates whether journeys are longer, shorter, or the same, and by how long. This can sometimes be subjective, so use it as a rough guide.
  • Green means better (e.g. shorter journey times, higher frequency, shorter max headways), yellow means unchanged, red means worse.

Airport and East Hills Line

2013-05-22 Draft SWTT 2013 East Hills AM

Two additional services per hour are added in the morning peak, starting from East Hills, which run a limited stops service to Central via the Airport Line. The additional services have reduced headways for many stations. This, along with the completion of the Kingsgrove to Revesby Quadruplication, has allowed express and limited stop services from Campbelltown to skip more stations and reach the CBD more quickly.

Revesby does lose 2 services per hour, but those that it retains are now faster and more evenly spread out. So overall it’s still a small net gain for Revesby Station users.

Bankstown Line

2013-05-22 Draft SWTT 2013 Bankstown AM

Two additional services per hour via Bankstown are added in the morning peak, replacing the Inner West Line services, which now start and end at Homebush rather than Liverpool. The two additional services are fast express services, which skip a number of stations. All stations (bar Yagoona) benefit from smaller or more predictable headways between trains, and many see an increase of 2 trains per hour, while Marrickville and St Peters are the big winners with a doubling of their services from 4 to 8 trains per hour. Journeys are now faster, particularly for Carramar to Sefton, whose journeys will be up to 5 minutes faster.

The biggest losers here are Berela and Regents Park, who lose direct services to the CBD via Lidcombe. This means either changing train at Lidcombe or going the long way round via Bankstown, which adds an extra 5-10 or 20 minutes respectively to journeys.

Inner West Line

2013-05-22 Draft SWTT 2013 Inner West AM

The Inner West Line goes from 5 to 4 trains per hour, losing one of its peak hour services. The good news is that all Inner West Line services will now start as empty trains from Homebush, rather than Bankstown or Liverpool, which should translate to more available seats for Inner West passengers. The line will enjoy a single stopping pattern (down from the existing 3), which should improve predictability/reliability, simplicity, and results in a more even spread of services. For example, passengers at Lewisham, Petersham, and Macdonaldtown Stations currently wait as long as 20 minutes between some trains, and this will drop to 15 minutes even though fewer trains will now stop at these stations.

With the possible exception of Summer Hill, the combination of extra seats and more evenly spaced services means that all stations on this line are likely to benefit from the new timetable.

South Line

2013-05-22 Draft SWTT 2013 South AM

The South Line gets an additional service, going from 7 to 8 trains per hour. It also sees a reduction in its stopping patterns, falling from 5 to 2 – one all stops and one limited stops. Excluding one fast train, the South Line will also see faster journeys virtually across the board, as well as lower and more even headways thanks to a more harmonised stopping pattern. The biggest improvement on headways is Casula, whose maximum headways drop from 25 minutes to 15 minutes, while Liverpool services will be 2 to 7 minutes faster.

Warwick Farm and Guilford lose out from the new stopping patterns, while Granville also sees fewer trains due to more Western Line services now skipping it. However, while the former 2 also see a deterioration in their maximum headways, Granville will enjoy more evenly spaced out trains.

North Shore Line

2013-05-22 Draft SWTT 2013 North Shore AM

The North Shore Line gains an additional service, starting from Gordon, which brings the number of trains per hour up to 19, just shy of the current maximum of 20. Stopping patterns have been simplified, dropping from 5 to 6, and part of this change means more trains will start from Hornsby. The combination of these two improvements mean drops in maximum headways at almost every station, particularly Asquith, Hornsby, Wollstonecraft (incorrectly spelt above), and Waverton.

Trains on the North Shore Line will now skip more station on the upper North Shore, which will shorten journey lengths for those from the outer suburbs around Hornsby. The biggest winners are passengers from Hornsby, who can now travel to the CBD via Gordon as quickly as they currently can via Strathfield, which should free up capacity on the currently congested Northern Line.

The losers here are the stations that lose some services: Wahroonga, Warawee, Pymble, Turramurra, Roseville, Linfield, Killara. The simplified stopping pattern means that maximum headways remain about the same, but concerns have been raised about whether there remains sufficient capacity given the urban consolidation in the Upper North Shore in recent years.

Northern Line

2013-05-22 Draft SWTT 2013 Northern AM

The Northern Line gains 6 additional services, 2 running limited stops between Epping and Sydney Terminal, aswell as 4 from the CBD to Epping via Macquarie Park. The former will help to ease overcrowding on the Northern Line, while the latter has reduced headways between Chatswood and Epping from the current 15 minutes to a maximum of 10 minutes.

Space for the 2 additional Sydney Terminal terminators has been freed up by having the 3 South Coast Line services continue through to Bondi Junction rather than terminating at Sydney Terminal.

There aren’t really any losers on this line. Previous rumours that trains on the Northern Line would all terminate at Sydney Terminal and require passengers to transfer to another train did not eventuate.

Western Line

2013-05-22 Draft SWTT 2013 Western AM

The Western Line’s stopping patterns have been massively simplified, down from 14 currently to a proposed 8 (and that includes Cumberland trains, which are not counted above as they do not continue into the CBD). The simpler stopping patterns also mean lower maximum headways, such as at Toongabbie, Pendle Hill, and Wentworthville (almost halved, from 19 to 10 minutes) or Seven Hills (down from 16 minutes to 9 minutes).  Trains on the Western Line will now stop at fewer stations, which should result in shorter journeys, as much as 13 minutes shorter for stations between Penrith and Blacktown.

However, station skipping means that Kingswood, Werrington, and Westmead will lose 2 to 3 trains per hour.  Despite this, the simplified stopping patterns means that maximum headways will remain unchanged, and many remaining services will be faster.

Western Line/Cumberland Line (to Parramatta)

2013-05-22 Draft SWTT 2013 Parramatta AM

The return of all day Cumberland Line services between Campbelltown and Blacktown in both directions raised the possibility of improved services to Parramatta for those stations nearby. However, despite the increases in service frequency, maximum headways have remained roughly the same, while journey times are unaffected. This is a lost opportunity.

Illawarra Line

2013-05-22 Draft SWTT 2013 Illawarra AM

Stopping patterns here have been reduced from 8 to 5, which creates a simpler and more reliable timetable. Maximum headways have fallen for most stations, though increased slightly for Como and stations South of Sutherland. Services South of Hustville will now run express to Central after reaching Hurstville, while the number of services starting at Hurstville will be doubled from 3 to 6 and run all stops to the Central. The result is significantly shorter journeys for passengers at a station South of Hurstville, as well as improved services for passengers at stations North of Hurstville other than Kograh and Rockdale.

Kograh and Rockdale lose all their express services and also see a drop in total services from 11 down to 8. These changes are easily the most controversial ones in this new timetable. These two stations are in the top 20 most heavily used out of the 176 suburban stations in the suburban network, with Kograh in particular being both an origin and destination station. Not only that, but it removes direct services to these stations from anywhere South of Hurstville during peak hour.

The thinking behind the decision seems to be due to crowd distribution, as passengers at Kograh and Rockdale board already full express services rather than relatively empty all stations services. This generally saves passengers around 3 minutes, but increases dwell times at CBD stations, which then leads to delays which affect all trains on that line. If this causes a delay of 3 minutes or more, then it wipes out the time saving for Rockdale and Kograh passengers, while delaying all others on that line.

It would appear that those who drafted the timetable have decided that preventing such delays would lead to a better network, and that means putting the interests of all the passengers who do not use these two stations ahead of those who do.

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The 2013 October timetable re-write is the O’Farrell Government’s greatest opportunity to fix the trains, as Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian often chants, during its first term. The Cityrail system is currently plagued by poor reliability and rising levels of overcrowding. The latter has been caused by insufficient capacity and has become so much of a problem, that it has led to longer dwell times at stations which in turn further reduces reliability and also the maximum number of trains that can pass through those stations during peak hour. This, ironically, further reduces total capacity, which makes the problem even worse.

I’ve previously looked at how the rail system can be improved via simplifying the network. In this post I’m going to look into how to do it by increasing capacity. In particular, what has been confirmed for the 2013 timetable, and what is rumoured to be likely.

Overcrowding

Cityrail measures overcrowding twice a year in terms of passenger loads – the proportion of passengers to seats on each train (each 8 carriage train has about 900 seats). If each seat is taken, then it has a 100% load. If there are 35 standing passengers for every 100 seated passengers, then it has a 135% load. It is once you go above a load of 135% that dwell times begin to become problematic.

Actual overcrowding by line in September 2012. (Source: Cityrail)

Actual overcrowding by line in September 2012. (Source: Cityrail)

Based average loads during the AM peak, the most overcrowded lines are the Bankstown Line (134%) and Northern Line (143%). Also high are the Airport & East Hills Line (127%), Illawarra Line (123%), Western Line (119%), and South Line (119%). These are just average loads, however, and it can be higher or lower for each individual train. So when looking at maximum loads, only 2 of the 9 suburban lines have all their trains below the 135% load – those being the Eastern Suburbs Line (which consists of only 3 stations before reaching the CBD) and the North Shore Line (which at 128% is only just below the 135% cut-off).

Spare capacity

The CBD subway portion of the rail network has 3 lines (Sectors) – the Eastern Suburbs Line (Sector 1), the City Circle (Sector 2), the Harbour Bridge (Sector 3). Each of these can handle 20 trains per hour in each direction. Sydney Terminal at Central Station also provides some capacity, and currently handles 12 trains per hour during the AM peak (4 Blue Mountains, 4 Central Coast, 3 South Coast, 1 Schofields). Each of these has some spare capacity (subject to rolling stock availability).

The Harbour Bridge (Sector 1). 16 Western Line and 4 Northern Line trains enter the CBD from the South, meaning this approach is already at capacity (though the one Schofields train that terminates at Central could be extended to cross the Bridge). 18 trains from the North Shore Line enter the CBD from the North, meaning 2 additional trains can be added here.

The City Circle (Sector 2). 15 trains pass through the City Circle in both the clockwise and anti-clockwise directions. The breakdown is 7 South Line, 5 Inner West Line, and 3 Bankstown trains enter the CBD via Town Hall, while 12 East Hills & Airport Line, and 3 Bankstown Line trains enter the CBD via Museum. Trains from Bankstown can enter from either direction, providing a large amount of flexibility in how the spare capacity of 10 trains per hour is assigned.

The Eastern Suburbs Line (Sector 3). 15 Illawarra Line trains enter the CBD from the South and 15 Eastern Suburbs Line trains enter the CBD from the East. However, there are also 3 South Coast Line trains that terminate at Central which share the same track as the 15 other trains South of Central, and so there is only really an additional capacity of 2 trains per hour in each direction here.

Sydney Terminal. If the 3 South Coast Line trains are extended to Bondi Junction while the Schofields train continues across the Harbour Bridge, as mentioned earlier, then this can create additional capacity at Sydney Terminal for 4 trains an hour.

Changes in the 2013 Timetable

The Eastern Suburbs Line (including the South Coast Line) will see its capacity increased from 18 trains per hour to the maximum 20 trains per hour. Whether this is in both directions, or just from the Illawarra Line side is uncertain. The latter is likely given that trains from Bondi Junction are the least crowded in the network and probably don’t need additional services.

“two additional services [on the Eastern Suburbs Line] to be provided in the peak” – Source: Sydney’s Rail Future, p. 19

Additional services will be added to the Bankstown Line, though no figure is mentioned. However, 2 more trains per hour, increasing the current 6 to 8, seems reasonable.

“The Bankstown line will receive new services in peak times from 2013” – Source: Sydney’s Rail Future, p. 18

On the Airport & East Hills Line’s maximum capacity will be increased to 20 trains per hour, compared to the current 12 (4 express via Sydenham and 8 all stops via the Airport). However, for the 2013 timetable, it appears only an additional 4 services are being added, raising the number of services via the airport from 8 to 12, while maintaining the 4 Sydenham express services

“Sydney’s south west will see an increase in train services with the commencement of the 2013 timetable…Upgrades to the power supply and safety aspects of the Airport line will allow for services from Holsworthy, Glenfield and the South West to be doubled from the current eight to up to 16 services per hour…With the addition of Revesby services, this will allow a total of 20 services per hour through the Airport line” – Source: Sydney’s Rail Future, p. 19

“increase peak hour services to the Airport from eight to 12 per hour” – Source: Transport Master Plan, p. 313

This uses up 6 of the available 10 “slots” on the City Circle (discussed above in spare capacity), leaving 4 unused. This leaves enough spare capacity for when the South West Rail Link comes online in 2016 and Sydney Trains has another major timetable re-write.

“new rail timetables planned for 2013 and 2016” – Source: Transport Master Plan, p. 135

This means that no additional capacity is available for the South Line or Inner West Line in the short to medium term. However, on overcrowding, the problem with these lines appears to be less their average loads (109% and 119%) which are on the low end for Cityrail as a whole, but more their maximum loads (153% and 164%) which are near the top of the list for all the lines. Here the solution seems to be to more evenly spread out services, rather than have long waits between successive trains – which causes overcrowding of some trains even if the average load is quite reasonable. This would certainly be an improvement, though is still less than ideal.

“Following the opening of the Homebush turnback and the introduction of new trains, the Inner West line will see the introduction of a reliable timetable offering higher frequency services. These measures will eliminate the 20 minute service gaps that can occur at some stations during peak periods” – Source: Sydney’s Rail Future, p. 19

A lot of rumours exist about the Western Line and Northern Line, but few things have been officially confirmed. It initially appeared that the government was considering removing direct services for the Richmond Line, sending its trains to Campbelltown via the Cumberland Line, and also for Northern Line trains from Epping via Strathfield, which would terminate at Central Station. However, a draft copy of the 2013 timetable, circulated to Railcorp employees recently, appears to show no stations on these lines will lose direct services to the CBD. Instead, some Western Line trains will continue through to Hornsby via Macquarie Park rather than along the North Shore Line as they do now. This may provide an increase in capacity to the upper Northern Line at the expense of the upper North Shore Line – though this could also be done by trains that terminate shortly after Chatswood, and so see little change in services for the Upper North Shore.

What is more certain is the addition of 2 more trains per hour on the Northern Line starting at Rhodes, a station that has seen its patronage grow strongly in recent years due to surrounding developments. These trains would probably terminate at Central.

“Two additional trains to service the busy North Strathfield to Rhodes corridor will be introduced in the shorter term” – Source: Sydney’s Rail Future, p. 19

The government has also spoken of increasing frequencies on the North Shore Line from 18 to 20 per hour. However, it has not said when it plans to do this, other than it will happen by the time the North West Rail Link (NWRL) opens in 2019. Given the relatively low average loads on the North Shore Line compared to other lines, this makes additional services in 2013 look unlikely.

“Peak period services [on the North Shore Line] will increase from the current 18 trains per hour to 20 trains per hour prior to the new Harbour Crossing” – Source: Sydney’s Rail Future, p. 17

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Finally, the Cumberland Line, which provides a direct link between Parramatta and Liverpool, will return to all day service. The draft timetable suggests it will be half hourly services from 7AM till 7PM.

“Parramatta will be better connected to Liverpool and the south west, with all-day, frequent and reliable Cumberland services” – Source: Sydney’s Rail Future, p. 19

Improvements and remaining problems

If the new timetable does look like this, then it will provide significant improvements to overcrowding on a number of lines. Assuming similar patronage numbers, overcrowding as measured by average loads could drop on the Illawarra Line (123% down to 109%), the Northern Line (143% down to 95%), and the East Hills & Airport Line (127% down to 95%). Sending Western Line trains to Epping via Chatswood could also further alleviate overcrowding on the Northern Line.

Estimated overcrowding by line for October 2013.

Estimated overcrowding by line for October 2013.

Where it does not directly deal with overcrowding is on the Inner West Line, South Line, and Western Line. This may be partly mitigated by some passengers opting to take trains on other lines that have seen increased services, or perhaps via a more even distribution of crowds on trains on the South and Inner West Lines due to shorter headways between trains (as discussed above in Changes in the 2013 Timetable).

Some additional relief could be provided by running some trains into Sydney Terminal at Central Station, or by improvements in signalling allowing more trains to operate per hour. However, the former provides only limited improvements while the latter is both expensive and may take many years to roll out.

Future developments

The NWRL is currently scheduled to begin operation in either 2019 or 2020. Preliminary estimates show this will divert around 19 million passengers per year to it from other lines, presumably mostly from the Western Line. This translates to around 6,000 passengers per hour during the AM peak (using some quick back of the envelope calculations), compared the the current 16,000 passengers that use the Western Line’s 16 suburban trains during the busiest hour in the AM peak. This will have the effect of providing additional capacity on the Western Line (Sector 3) by shifting passengers away from it, rather than expanding its actual capacity.

Once a Second Harbour Rail Crossing is built around 2030 it will link up the NWRL to the Bankstown Line as well as the Illawarra Line through to Hurstville. This will free up space on the City Circle (Sector 2) previously used by Bankstown Line trains as well as space on the Eastern Suburbs Line (Sector 1) previously used by Hurstville trains that will now use the new Harbour Crossing route instead.

Sources

Sydney’s Rail Future, Transport for NSW (June 2012)

Transport Master Plan, Transport for NSW (December 2012)

Reliability on the Cityrail network, as measured by on time running, last year reached its worst point since 2008. The state opposition has criticised the current government’s failure to get the trains to run on time, this being one area that has deteriorated since the change of government from Labor to Liberal.

Late trains press release

This was then followed by a large number of disruptions to the network in February 2013, which also reduced reliability on the network.

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But these disruptions happened after reliability began to fall, so are not the cause of it. Instead, the reduction in reliability is more likely to have been caused by increased overcrowding issues, which have also deteriorated since the O’Farrell government took over in 2011.

Overcrowding press release

This is because overcrowding on trains means it takes longer for commuters to get on or off their train, which can increase dwell times at stations and thus lead to delays on the network. A quick look at the overcrowding (Source: IPART, Review of fares for CityRail’s services from January 2013, page 91) and on time running (Source: Cityrail, Our Performance) data for the 5 years from July 2007 to June 2012 shows a clear relationship.

Overcrowding, measured twice yearly in March and September as the percentage of trains between 7AM and 10AM with over 135% as many passengers as there are seats, hit 13%-16% during 2007-08, before falling progressively from 2009 onwards until it reached 5% in late 2011. Then in March 2012 it rose again to 11%, the highest since 2008.

On time running, measured monthly as the proportion of trains arriving in the CBD between 6AM-9AM and departing the CBD between 4PM-6PM more than 5 minutes after the timetabled time, is almost the inverse of overcrowding. On time running was low during 2007-08, usually running at 92%-95%. Following this, on time running improved, generally ranging between 94%-97%, during 2009-11. Then in 2012 it once again dropped to 92%.

Click on image for higher resolution. (Sources: XXX.)

Click on image for higher resolution. (Sources: IPART, Cityrail.)

The overcrowding is itself caused by a failure to keep up with demand for rail travel. The monthly patronage data (Source: Bureau of Transport Statistics, Rail Patronage Data – July 2000 to September 2012) shows that patronage saw a constant growth during 2007-08 and 2011-12, but flat lined during 2009-10. This in turn was likely due to job losses associated with the Global Financial Crisis, which hit industries that tend to employ workers in the CBD, which is the primary destination for most train users in Sydney.

Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Bureau of Transport Statistics.)

Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Bureau of Transport Statistics.)

Therefore, had it not been for the GFC, the poor on time running of 2012 would likely have occurred earlier. How much earlier is open to debate, as the opening of the Epping to Chatswood Line in 2009 resulted in an increase in capacity that would have pushed back the moment that overcrowding would again become a problem.

However, this does not represent a get out of jail free card for the government. Though it had no control over the transport system it inherited, it does have full control over where it takes it. Therefore, it needs to find a way to increase capacity in order to reduce overcrowding and improve on time running. Building more rail lines are needed for this, but will take years or decades to build. In the short term, sectorisation is the only option available to the government that will result in a significant increase to capacity. It should further implement this as part of the 2013 timetable.

Friday’s post on whether the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) should be a metro generated a large volume of comments, sufficient enough to warrant a new post to present some highlights and respond to the points raised in them. It’s worth reading the original post for some context if you have not already done so.

The NWRL alignment. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The NWRL alignment. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Signaling

“People have commented that the dwell time at Town Hall, the most densely used station is rarely more than one minute, loading and unloading takes less and trains wait for their timetable departure – this means that 2 minute headways through the existing City Tunnels are feasible. Halving the existing signal spacing on the North Shore Line and the Bridge would enable trains to run closer together.” – Dudley Horscroft

“If headways could be reduced to 2 minutes with improved signalling I believe that double decker stock will move more people per hour than single deck.” – moonetau

The argument here is that signalling will allow double deck trains to achieve the same frequency that moving to single deck would provide. The problem with that argument is that the same signalling would also improve the frequency of single deck trains, so single deck would still achieve greater frequency and lower headways than double deck. That is why the single deck Paris metro can run 40 trains per hour, while its double deck RER system runs 30 trains per hour.

Smaller tunnels

“Certainly building the tunnels so that double deck trains will not be able to use the NWRL is crazy. It means that in the future someone will have to design future double deck trains to fit into the smaller diameter tunnels! Reports indicate that the reduction will be only 400 mm.” – Dudley Horscroft

Smaller tunnels remains the least defensible part of the NWRL as proposed. Concerns like this are justified.

NWRL decisions are political

“It is easy to criticise the NWRL given many of the decisions have been made for political rather than operational reasons. The desire to separate it from Cityrail is to weaken the role transport unions will have in running it. Rightly or wrongly the current government believes all the problems with Cityrail are down to the staff.” – Jim

“I would include the entire decision to build the line as one being made for political rather than operational reasons.” – Simon

The decision to build the NWRL as an independent line, to be operated privately, does appear to be an ideological one based on the belief that the transport union is at least partly to blame for Cityrail’s high operating costs. Jeff Kennett’s Liberal government in Victoria took such an approach when it eliminated guards from its trains in the 1990s. However, while these decisions were political, they most definitely do have operational impacts, ones which in the Victorian case resulted in an improvement rather than deterioration to the transport system. This is not necessarily a bad thing.

Widening the stairs and/or doors

“There is no reason that stairs should restrict the access to and from the decks – the trains are about 3 metres wide, and half this could be stairs from top deck with the other half stairs from the lower deck.” – Dudley Horscroft

The problem with widening the stairs, is that it doesn’t eliminate the bottleneck, it only shifts it deeper into the train carriage. The space between seats in the saloons upstairs and downstairs is only wide enough for 1 passenger at a time to approach the stairs, so even if the stairs are wide enough to handle 2 passengers, only 1 will reach it at a time. Removing seats can allow more passengers to reach the stairs, but by getting rid of seats you are eliminating the primary advantage of double deck trains over single deck ones – higher seated capacity.

“Introduction of carriages with 3 wide doors per carriage like the MI09 on the Paris RER line A will significantly reduce dwell times. – moonetau

Double deck trains on the Parisian RER system do achieve lower dwell times, allowing them to have headways as low as 2 minutes (compared to Cityrail’s 3 minutes). However, it remains a fact that Paris’ single deck metro trains still have lower headways at 85 seconds.

“Moonetau is right re “Current two door per side double deck rolling stock is half of the problem.” Three doors would be better, but inserting an extra door in the middle of a car would be rather difficult to say the least. Better to add an extra wide door at each end of the car where there would be less of a problem, the floor is already at platform height. This would give 32 doors per 4 car set, 30 if it is not possible to fit in an extra door adjacent to the driver’s compartment. Together with improved internal stairs this should markedly reduce dwell time.” – Dudley Horscroft

Similarly as with stairs, widening doors would not decrease dwell times as they are not the bottleneck. Wider doors with single deck trains, however, would see a drop in dwell times.

Global economic arc

“What bothers me about running this line as a metro is that is it connecting the least densely populated suburbs of Sydney with the ‘global arc’.

It is servicing semi-rural suburban areas and ignoring the most densely populated suburbs. That’s what metros should be doing; servicing high density areas and doing so quickly.” – Thought

“The fact that that there may be significant numbers alighting /boarding at global arc stations does not really matter as they will never reach the number of transfers TH and Wynyard (must be nearly 40,000 per hour in the am peak) and will not influence dwell times.” – moonetau

There is much uncertainty about this. Take, for example, the fact that more resident of North West Sydney work in the Global Economic Arc (7.7%) than in the CBD (7.3%), or that places like Macquarie Park are forecast to see a high rate of jobs growth in coming decades. While Northwest Sydney is mostly low density suburbia, the areas around the corridor of the NWRL are not, and will only get more dense once the line is up and running.

It might be that these stations North of the Harbour do not get the sort of passenger turnover that the CBD does. But they will certainly have a similar or higher level of turnover as other inner-city stations on the network. Given single deck metros are more suited to high turnover style patronage, that is why the NWRL would still work as a metro despite it’s long distance.

Non-CBD connections

“How would one from Parramatta or Burwood or Mascot get to Macquarie Park easily? They can’t.

A similar proportion of residents in the Hills work in Parramatta as they do in Sydney for example. Who has encountered the traffic streaming down Windsor and Old Windsor Roads?” – Thought

“We are still basing transport planning on getting in and out of the city when the majority of journeys are across the suburban area. Many people from the Hills area work in Parramatta to Penrith and many people who work in the Hills come from the western suburbs. They are ignored by the city centric planners.” – Jim

These are valid concerns, but have little or nothing to do with the type of line that the NWRL should be. Whether it is single deck or double deck, it still will not serve the sorts of connections listed above.

However, in the defence of the NWRL, traffic on the M2 is much worse than the Old Windsor or Windsor Rd in my experience. So if tackling congestion is the top criteria, then a Hills to Macquarie Park link is more important than a Hills to Parramatta link (which does currently exist in the form of the Northwest T-Way). Additionally, the NWRL appears to have been criticised simultaneously in parts for both not connecting to the CBD (despite connecting North Shore trains set to arrive every 3 minutes in peak hour) and for being CBD centric (despite linking up the Northwest with the Global Economic Arc, which employs more residents of Northwest Sydney than the CBD does).

The State government recently announced a 4 week trial of marshals on Town Hall’s platform 3 (which handles all Northbound trains that cross the Harbour Bridge), treating each morning peak “as a major event”. The aim is maintain dwell times to a minimum by preventing passengers from boarding the train either while others are still disembarking or if the train is about to leave. The Herald reports that some commuters were annoyed to be prevented from boarding the train as it was about to leave, resulting in a wait of up to 15 minutes for the next train. Otherwise, the new system does appear to be an improvement (albeit a labour intensive and band aid solution), which the maximum capacity of 20 trains per hour to move through Town Hall’s platform 3.

The Marshal’s can be seen in action in the video below taken by byupyu on the first day of the trial (Monday 19 November). For additional details, it’s worth reading the additional notes below the video on YouTube itself.

The completed second Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) was released yesterday, and it has some further details on the project.

The Northwest Rail Link will include a new railway from Epping to Rouse Hill (green), plus a retrofitted Epping to Chatswood Line (blue). Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: NWRL EIS – Introduction, page 1-3.)

NWRL Details

The new rail line is expected to remove 14 million cars off the road each year in 2021, rising to 20 million by 2036. This 14 million cars figure compares to an earlier figure of 9 million new passengers per year in 2021, prepared by NSW Treasury in July of last year, which suggests that the patronage forecast has been increased following the addition of 2 more stations to the line (Bella Vista and Cudgegong Road) and from higher frequency, higher speed services provided by single deck compared to double deck trains.

The estimated completion date remains 2019, with tunneling to begin in 2014, then trackwork and station construction to occur between 2016 and 2018.

Construction timeline. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: NWRL Environmental Impact Statement – Executive Summary, page 8.)

The new line will commence from the existing stub tunnels at Epping that were designed as the beginning of the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link (PERL). New stub tunnels will be built on the new line to allow for a future PERL to still be built as originally planned. This means that a future PERL will also be a single deck metro system.

No specific operating times are given, other than “early morning until late at night”, which suggests similar operating hours as the existing Cityrail network, rather than a 24/7 operation. The trains themselves are listed as having a capacity of 1,300 passengers (presumably including standing passengers), compared to the existing double deck train “crush” capacity of approximately 1,200.

The line will see an increase in maximum speeds, from the existing 80km/hour to 100km/hour, and have frequencies of 12 trains per hour during the peak and 6 trains per hour at other times, with the potential to increase frequencies to 20 trains per hour if demanded. Commuters continuing past Chatswood will need to change there for a connecting train, with peak hour frequencies increased to 20 trains an hour on the North Shore line. This means that during peak hour there will be a train every 5 minutes on the NWRL, and every 3 minutes on the North Shore Line.

Artist’s impression of the new Kellyville Station. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: NWRL EIS – Chapter 6, p. 6-53)

4,000 new park and ride spaces will be built on selected stations, while all stations on the line (including the existing Epping to Chatswood portion) will have kiss and ride, bike storage, taxi ranks and bus interchanges. Once completed, the bus network will be redesigned to have shorter distance but frequent feeder buses into the new rail line rather than long distance buses connecting directly to the CBD or North Sydney. This had already been announced previously, and no additional specific details are available are included on what the bus network changes will be.

The new line also includes a stabling yard on the Cudgegong Road end of the line.

Unanswered Questions

The new single deck metro line from Chatswood to Rouse Hill will require a conversion of the existing line between Chatswood and Epping to be compatible with the new rolling stock. Yet missing from the EIS (or hidden away in a hard to find place) is any mention of a timetable for when this will happen. The line will presumably have to be shut down while this occurs, and this would likely happen right before the full line opens, causing a not insignificant level of disruption. So the question remains: how long will the Epping to Chatswood Line be closed?

The EIS also contains information on peak hour frequencies on the North Shore Line of 20 trains per hour. This had already been hinted at, so it is a confirmation of an open secret rather than new information. What is missing is details of what sort of off peak frequencies will exist on the North Shore Line, and how they will be organised to interface with the 6 trains per hour on the NWRL that start and end at Chatswood.

Additionally, what will happen on the Northern Line? It only has 1 track pair, yet operates both local (all stops) and express services. The inability of the express services to overtake the local services means the capacity is capped at 8 trains per hour (4 local, 4 express). In order to increase this, either the express trains must be scrapped or the tracks must be quadruplicated to allow express trains to overtake local trains. The latter is preferable, though will incur a price tag of hundreds of millions of dollars, given that the Northern Line currently shares the title of highest level of overcrowding (average passenger levels equal to 150% of seats, above the recommended maximum “crush capacity” of 135%) with the Bankstown Line. Recent reports in the Herald suggest that this option is being considered by Transport for NSW, and this was further reinforced by comments made at recent Budget Estimates hearings where it was argued that these, and other costs, have already been budgeted for.

The maximum frequency for the NWRL is quoted as being 20 trains per hour, and not 28 or 30 trains per hour as had been previously suggested in media reports. One of the purported benefits of single deck over double deck trains was the higher frequencies possible given the shorter dwell times and higher acceleration/deceleration rates of single deck trains. In fact, the Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian has even pointed out that improved signaling technology is expected to raise the frequency of double deck trains to 24 trains per hour.

Finally, there is still no answer to the question of whether the NWRL will be a driverless system. The government’s line thus far is that they “are planning for the trains on this important rail link to have drivers”. This new phrase: “no plans” has become the new weasel word, as Sean Nichol’s explained so well in last weekend’s Herald. That is not to say that driverless trains are a bad thing, quite the contrary. But the government knows that it would face a backlash from the union were it to publically declare it was seriously considering the option. And rather than have to wait a long 7 years to demonstrate the benefits of a driverless metro, it seems to have chosen to hold off until as late into the process as it can in order to minimise union clashes.

Media reports

Bus services to go when rail link opens, Sydney Morning Herald

New rail line to slash car trips, Daily Telegraph

Noise annoys along North West Rail Link link, Daily Telegraph

North West Rail Link: Have your say, Northern District Times

North West rail station designs released, Hills Shire Times

There were a lot of things in Infrastructure NSW’s First Things First report that I didn’t like. Whereas the Transport for NSW Transport Master Plan tried to look at each transport corridor objectively, considered how it fit into the bigger picture, and then suggested the best possible solution for it, Infrastructure NSW almost seemed like it just wanted to build more roads and approached each transport corridor with that vision in every case.

CBD Bus Rapid Transit Tunnel

This idea needs to die an unholy death. I almost hate that I need to explain why this is such a bad idea, but here goes.

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.)

The idea behind the underground bus tunnel is that light rail on George Street between Central and Circular Quay is flawed, and that a better option would be to link up buses that normally travel through the city and send them under the CBD instead. Light rail, the report argues on pages 97 and 98, would be incompatible with a pedestrian boulevard on George Street, and the presence of large numbers of pedestrians on the relatively narrow stretch of road would require light rail to run at slow speeds. Light rail would also require people to interchange from buses to light rail to travel through the city, and make trips that originate and end outside the city but are on buses that travel through the city require 2 interchanges (one at each end of the city). The report also argues that the bus tunnel would have a maximum capacity of 20,000 passengers per hour, compared to only 9,000 for light rail.

While the report generally does a good job of prioritising projects based on cost, this is the one exception where it has opted for a $2bn bus tunnel, rather than a $1bn surface light rail. To put that into perspective, for $2bn you could build light rail along George Street, extend the Northwest Rail Link to St Leonards to reduce interchanging problems at Chatswood Station, and build the Northern Beaches BRT through to Mona Vale.

This plan also eliminates one major benefit that buses currently have, which is frequent bus stops that connect passengers with the streetscape. Instead, they will be required to get off at one of two super interchanges, then struggle to find a way to their ultimate destination.

The last point appears to be the most dubious, the figures just look fudged. Brisbane’s extensive busways network (one of the largest BRT networks in the world) and underground CBD bus stations are cited almost as inspiration for this bus tunnel, yet the peak load for Brisbane is 9,000 passengers per hour (source: Harkness, 2003, page 4). Meanwhile, Melbourne’s tram network (one of the largest light rail networks in the world) sees 1 tram per minute travel along Swanston St during the peak hour (source: City of Melbourne, 2009, page 19), which at 300 passengers per tram (the same figure used in the report) gives 18,000 passengers per hour. That’s twice the capacity of BRT. In practice, the gap in the realistic capacity of BRT vs light rail is likely to be narrower, but the idea that BRT has a higher passenger carrying capacity than light rail in practice is fanciful.

Now in theory, buses have an hourly capacity of close to 100,000 passengers, assuming one full bus every 3 seconds. This works on a freeway with no traffic impediments, but runs into trouble as soon as you start to need enormous amounts of kerbside space for passengers to get on and off the bus. This problem currently exists, particularly along York Street in the morning, where 600 buses enter the CBD via the Harbour Bridge each morning peak. The lack of kerbside space dedicated to bus stops (it’s about 200m at Wynyard and Town Hall) means you get a conga line of buses waiting for their turn to turn into the kerb and open their doors. That is the biggest capacity contraint at the moment, and is one reason why the government is trialling double decker buses (which have longer dwell times, but use up less kerbside space than the longer bendy buses). Yet somehow the bus tunnel plan would handle this better with 2 platforms, each 55m in length at each of Town Hall and Wynyard. In other words, it would halve the kerbside space available at the moment. This will not end well.

The one good part of this proposal is the overhaul of Town Hall and Wynyard Stations that it also recommends. This part of the proposal should definitely happen, whatever ends up happening to the rest of it.

Roads, Roads, Roads

The report provides a lot of statistics about transport use, and then uses these to support its conclusion that more roads are the answer. But we all know the old saying: “lies, damned lies, and statistics”. Here is an example of 2 statistics that paint starkly different pictures

  1. 93% of all motorised transport each day is on roads.
  2. 81% of all CBD journeys to work each day are made on modes other than cars.

The first makes it look like everyone drives everywhere. But motorised trips excludes active modes of transport like cycling (2% of trips) and walking (18% of trips), while also counting bus trips (6% of total) as road trips. The second, on the other hand, looks only at peak hour into the very dense core of the city, the part of Sydney with the best public transport links at the time of day when they are most plentiful.

A better question would be, what is the problem we have with transport? The top two answers to that would be:

  1. there is too much congestion, which is slowing down my journeys, and
  2. there is no public transport (or it is infrequent) to where I need to go so it is easier to drive

The first occurs mainly during the peaks, and mainly heading into dense activity centres. In these cases, the best way to reduce congestion, is to get more people out of cars and into high capacity transport. This is where public transport shines – predictable, twice daily large scale migrations of people to and from dense activity centres. You would need 10 lanes of road traffic for every track of rail to move the same number of people, so it just doesn’t make sense to make more roads the answer to this problem.

The second occurs mainly during the off peak and for journey that start and end in low density suburban areas. Both of these tend to occur in areas and road corridors that have spare capacity, so not only is congestion less of an issue, but additional road capacity is not needed.

Unfortunately, the Infrastructure NSW report does not make this nuanced differentiation, and instead lumps it all together, sees that there is congestion in the peak to dense activity centres on one hand and that car trips dominate travel in the off peak and to non-activity centre locations, then suggests that the answer is more roads. But in reality, in many cases, more roads are not the answer.

The pro roads agenda can be seen best when any mention of public transport is almost immediately assumed to be buses. The report sees little to no role for rail to play in Sydney’s transport future. This should not be a road vs rail debate, each mode has its place and people who constantly argue for a metro or light rail even where a road based transport solution is a better fit are as much of a problem as those who advocate for roads.

No Second Harbour Crossing

Had the O’Farrell Government not made the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) its signature infrastructure project, then this report would probably have told the government not to build it. In fact, the NWRL barely even rated a mention in the report, potentially because it was originally only mentioned in the context that it should not go ahead, and when you got rid of all of that then there was nothing left to say. But what the report was able to say was that a Second Harbour Crossing is not needed, and won’t be needed for a number of decades. This puts is directly at odds with the Transport Minister Galdys Berejiklian and Transport for NSW, which argue that a Second Harbour Crossing should be the next project to commence once the NWRL is complete.

The report points to the cost of a Second Harbour Crossing, which is estimated at $10bn, and argues that improved efficiency can increase the capacity of the existing crossing sufficiently to warrant deferring a second one. Strangely, it cites the large number of buses crossing the Habour Bridge (so many that more passengers cross the bridge by bus than do by train) as a success for buses, when the same fact could be used to argue that the rail bridge crossing is currently capacity constrained and that lack of capacity is flowing over onto buses, which have now also reached saturation point (as discussed earlier).

This is a more complicated issue that it initially seems. For example, about half of the passengers who will use the NWRL are expected to travel to a destination North of the Harbour (i.e. North Sydney, St Leonards, Chatswood, Macquarie Park, Norwest). This does lessen the apparent need for a Second Harbour Crossing, and is why the government is able to build the NWRL first and the Second Harbour Crossing second, rather than the other way around. At the same time, that still leaves half of the passengers staying on through to the city. A Second harbour Crossing also has the benefit of increasing capacity into the CBD not just from the North, but from the South.

A new rail line has been built through the CBD roughly every 25 years: the Harbour Bridge (1932), Circular Quay (1956), the Eastern Suburbs Line (1979). It’s now been 33 years since the last expansion of CBD heavy rail capacity, and probably another 2 decades before another one can be built.

Postscript: It’s getting late and this post is getting quite long. There are other areas that probably deserve mention, but they are not as important, so in the interest of not turning this into a novel and I’m going to leave it here for now.