Posts Tagged ‘Frequency’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Expanding the turn-up-and-go network

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

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: 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: Sydney’s new train unveiled as part of NWRL, Transport for NSW

Trains on the North West Rail Link (NWRL), the first part of a future Sydney Rapid Transit network, will run every 4 minutes during peak hour as part of the $3.7bn operations contract signed by the government. This is more frequent than the originally promised 5 minute frequencies previously committed to by the government, while off peak frequencies will remain at 10 minutes.

Artists impression of the trains to run on the NWRL at Kellyville Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Artists impression of the trains to run on the NWRL at Kellyville Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Trains on the $8.3bn railway will initially have 6 cars, though platforms will be built to handle 8 car trains. Maximum capacity on the line is 30 trains per hour, twice the planned 15 trains an hour required for 4 minute frequencies. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that 15 trains per hour will allow for 17,280 passengers per hour, with 5,500 to 6,000 of those seated. Assuming that the maximum of 30 trains per hour is reached, this is two thirds the seated capacity of Sydney’s current double deck trains (which are too large to fit through the tunnels being built for the NWRL) but almost one and a half times the total overall capacity of double deck trains. This will partly be achieved by having less seating, with both longitudinal and transverse seating shown on artists impressions. Unlike most of the Sydney Trains rolling stock, the transverse seating shown is not reversible.

Trains will be driverless, the first in Australia to do so. This removes the need to reserve the front and back of the train for drivers and/or guards, allowing passengers to view straight ahead or behind for the first time. They will also benefit from level boarding with no gaps between platform and train, as well as make use of screen doors at platforms. Space will be available on trains for pram, luggage, and bicycle storage.

Trains will run every 4 minutes during peak hour, every 10 minutes off peak. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Tunneling on the new rail line began last week, 4 months ahead of schedule. The line is expected to open in 2019, initially terminating at Chatswood. An under the Harbour rail crossing would form the second phase of the Sydney Rapid Transit network, connecting it to the CBD, while a third phase would convert the Bankstown Line to single deck metro operation and extend the network further to Bankstown. The second phase is conditional on the money raised from the 49% sale of the state’s “poles and wires” electricity distribution network.

A report a few months ago claiming that the CBD and South East Light Rail Line would be full almost as soon as it opens at the end of the decade raised questions about whether the $1.6bn being spent on the new line was money well spent. Perhaps it would have been better to spend a bit more and build an underground metro or extend the Eastern Suburbs Line from Bondi Junction instead.

One branch of the line from Kingsford is expected to have patronage peak at 2,968 passenger during the busiest hour of the morning peak, only 32 spots short of the inital capacity of 3,000 passengers per hour. That works out to 3 passengers per tram. But, to quote Obi Wan Kenobi from Return of the Jedi:,“What I told you was true, from a certain point of view”.

If patronage is that high, then it is possible to double the number of trams operating on that branch. In reality, light rail will provide an effective 75% increase on existing capacity.

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

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

So what is the current capacity, and how much will light rail increase capacity?

The status quo

In 2010, the busiest hour during the AM peak sees 135 all stop bus services and 62 express bus services using the Anzac Parade corridor to reach the CBD, with these services having an average loading of 55 and 36 passengers per bus respectively. The all stop services tend to use Cleveland St, Foveaux St, and Oxford St to reach the CBD, while the express services tend to use the Eastern Distributor and then return along Elizabeth St in the opposite direction of peak hour traffic (the X39 is the only exception). All up, these buses carry 8,270 passengers but have a theoretical maximum capacity of 11,820 if all buses carried a full loading of 60 passengers each. (Source: CSELR EIS Volume 2, p. 40)

If the loadings for all stop services were as high as the express services then it could allow for fewer buses to carry the same level of patronage. Instead, there are more buses on the road than there need to be, leading to greater levels of congestion from the so called conga line of buses that often inhabit the CBD during peak hour. This also means that achieving the maximum capacity of 11,820 would mean maintaining the current delays this corridor suffers. In fact, delays would probably worsen.

Changes to the bus network

A redesigned bus network would see almost all of these all stop services cease travelling into the CBD, with passengers instead transferring to a tram at either Kingsford or Randwick to complete their journey. (Anyone travelling to the Northern end of the CBD could continue to take one of the express buses, which are set to be retained during peak hour.) By moving passengers from half empty buses onto high capacity and frequent trams, the vehicles used to transport passengers can be more efficiently utilised. This should minimise delays, allowing the actual journey duration to more accurately reflect the timetabled journey duration. That is the primary reason why adding a forced transfer for many passengers will actually lead to shorter journeys in practice, if not in theory.

Some bus routes will continue to operate into the CBD (Source: CSELR EIS Volume 2, pp. 39, 130-131), these include the 339, 343, 373, 395, and 396. (The 372 will only reach Central before turning left and heading West along Parramatta Road, while the 343/395/396 routes are set to be merged.) Based on current service levels, that’s about 25 all stop services. Meanwhile, an additional 4 express services per hour are expected to be added (Source: Sydney’s Light Rail Future, p. 18).

Proposed changes to the bus network in SE Sydney once light rail begins operating in 2020. Click to enlarge. (Source: CSELR EIS Volume 2, p. 130)

Proposed changes to the bus network in SE Sydney once light rail begins operating in 2020. Click to enlarge. (Source: CSELR EIS Volume 2, p. 130)

Assuming current loadings, that gives an expected patronage for all bus services of 4,530 with a maximum capacity of 5,460.

Light rail capacity

The CSELR is initially expected to operate 20 trams per hour during peak hour, splitting 10 trams along each of the two branches to Kingsford and Randwick. With a vehicle capacity of 300, that means an initial hourly capacity in each direction of 6,000 in total and 3,000 per branch. In the year 2021, right before the two branch lines merge at Anzac Parade and Alison Road, they are expected to carry 2,968 and 2,330 passengers per hour respectively. After they merge, more passengers are expected to board until loadings peak right before Central Station with 5,366 passengers per hour. (Source: CSELR EIS Volume 2, p. 117)

As mentioned previously, that the Kingsford branch is expected to reach 98.9% of its maximum hourly capacity is concerning, but easily rectified so long as additional services can be quickly added to the timetable. A full compliment of 30 services per hour gives a maximum capacity of 9,000 passengers in each direction.

2014-01-16 CSELR current and future patronage and capacity table

With 80 seats per tram, there will only be 800 seats per hour for each of the 2 branches. Given that the first tram stop on each branch is expected to have 826 passengers at Randwick and 1,456 passenger at Kingsford (see graph below), no seats will be available after the first stop until passengers start getting off from Central Station onwards. The net reduction in seats is one of the major losses from the change, but possible given the smoother ride of a tram makes passengers more willing to stand. Having more standing space also increases the total capacity.

Expected boarding levels in 2021. The scale on the left hand side is incorrect. Use the figures above each bar to determine loading levels. Click to enlarge. (Source: CSELR EIS Volume 2, p.  117)

Expected boarding levels in 2021. The scale on the left hand side is incorrect. Use the figures above each bar to determine loading levels. Click to enlarge. (Source: CSELR EIS Volume 2, p. 117)

Current vs future capacity

The Anzac Parade corridor’s patronage currently stands at about 8,270 during the busiest hour of the morning peak. With greater loadings on all stop services, this could theoretically be increased to 11,820. However, this would only further add to existing delays via higher dwell as more passengers boarded buses at each stop. Therefore, it could be argued that the current patronage of 8,270 is already above the maximum hourly capacity that does not result in delays and longer journey times.

A large scale reduction in bus volumes when light rail is introduced could potentially allow the remaining buses to operate without the previously mentioned delays. The remaining bus services, fully loaded, could carry 5,460 passengers per hour (comprised of 1,500 from all stop services and 3,960 from express services). Meanwhile, light rail is capable of carrying up to 9,000 passengers per hour. This provides a total maximum capacity of 14,460 passengers per hour.

2014-01-16 CSELR current and future patronage and capacity graph

This increase in capacity over the existing patronage, from 8,270 to 14,460, represents a 75% improvement. If it were attempted with buses alone then it would be accompanied by worsening delays and longer journey lengths. A greater increase in capacity could have been achieved via the construction of an underground metro or an an extension of the Eastern Suburbs Line, but the higher cost would be disproportionately larger than the improved capacity it would provide.

The main challenge in ensuring that this is a seamless process is that transfers are made as easy as possible, both in a physical and financial sense. Transfers must be physically easy, requiring simple cross platform transfers from bus to tram and vice versa. Transfers must also not impose a financial penalty, requiring some sort of multi-modal fare. While the former is part of the current proposal, the latter requires cabinet approval and no decision has been made on it yet.

Coogee and all suburbs South of Maroubra would lose direct bus access to the CBD outside of peak hour if the bus network redesign proposed as part of the CDB and South East Light Rail (CSELR) Environmental Impact Study (EIS) were implemented. The new network would instead operate with feeder buses to light rail interchanges at Kingsford and Randwick where passengers would make a cross platform transfer to a tram in order to continue their journey into the CBD.

Proposed changes to the bus network in SE Sydney once light rail begins operating in 2019. Click to enlarge. (Source: CSELR EIS Technical Paper 1 - Traffic Operations - Part B, p. 130)

Proposed changes to the bus network in SE Sydney once light rail begins operating in 2019. Click to enlarge. (Source: CSELR EIS Technical Paper 1 – Traffic Operations – Part B, p. 130)

Some buses will terminate shortly after these interchanges, but the majority will be re-routed to form cross-city links to destinations like Edgecliff, Sydney University via Redfern/Central, or Sydenham via Mascot. A few bus routes (such as UNSW express buses or the 373) will be elimiated entirely when their proposed routes would overlap entirely with another proposed route, while the M10 and M50 metrobuses will lose the Eastern Suburbs portion of their route.

Peak hour express buses that operate via the Eastern Distributor in the morning and Elizabeth Street in the afternoon will continue as normal, and the bus road along Anzac Parade and Alison Road will be retained to allow them to continue to travel through that portion of their route separated from private car traffic.

How increased frequencies can allow a transport network based on transfers to operate better than one based on direct services. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Queensland Government)

How increased frequencies can allow a transport network based on transfers to operate better than one based on direct services. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Queensland Government)

The new network operates will operate on the basis of connections involving trips on multiple vehicles, rather than direct journeys on a single vehicle, and will be hindered if frequencies are insufficient or if fare penalties remain for transfers for bus to tram or vice versa. However, if these two obstacles are not in place, then it will provide an improvement on the existing network, which provides good connections for anyone travelling to or from the CBD during peak hour, but often falls short for anyone making a cross-city journey or travelling outside of peak hour when frequencies generally drop to half hourly.

When the Southeast light rail line is completed at the end of this decade there will almost certainly be an increase in patronage along the Anzac Parade to CBD corridor. Whoever is transport minister at the time will point out that the number of bus plus tram passengers in the first few months after opening is higher than the number of bus passenger in the equivalent number of months before opening. They will then say that this is due to trams being faster, more reliable, frequent, and having a higher capacity than buses. The newspaper headlines will declare that this correlation has been caused by trams, and the (wo)man on the street will declare his (or her) support for trams as “much better than buses”. Except it’s not quite true.

Patronage will almost certainly be higher, and it will be caused by better speed/reliability/frequency/capacity. But only the last of those 4 (capacity) is an inherent benefit of light rail. Speed is a function of things like stop spacing, on board vs off board fare payments, and top vehicle speed. Reliability is a function of things like exclusive rights of way and grade separation. Frequency is a function of how many vehicles are available and the demand for transport along that particular corridor. All of these are just as applicable to buses as they are to trams. In other words, you don’t need a $1.6bn upgrade to light rail to achieve them.

Source: Sydneys Light Rail Future, page 10

(Source: Sydneys Light Rail Future, page 10)

Take the dot points on the bottom half of this table which the government uses to sell the benefits of trams:

  1. The first point is frequency. Ironically, frequency is actually hindered by tram’s higher capacity, as one tram is able to carry as many passengers as multiple buses, and so the higher number of buses required to carry the same number of passengers will (all else equal) result in higher frequencies for buses than trams.
  2. The second point is reliability. A reliable service can be provided through the use of bus lanes and grade separation at intersections (i.e. a bridge over the intersection or a tunnel underneath it). Both of these are in place in the Northwest T-Way for buses between Parramatta and Rouse Hill.
  3. The third point is speed. Both buses and trams are capable of the 80kn/hour top speed along this route. So the actual determinant of average speed is things like widely spaced stops and off vehicle fare payment. The former can be achieved by buses through express or limited stop services, while the latter has been achieved at busy bus stops through the purchase or validation of a bus ticket before entering the bus, and will soon be universal once Opal is introduced. All door boarding can also increase speed through reduced dwell times, but can be done on buses as well as trams.
  4. Points four through six could just as easily be implemented on buses
  5. The points on improved amenity on the right are all to do with the fact that the light rail vehicles are new. But new buses also share these features, such as low floors, air conditioning, real time information, etc.

All this leaves capacity, which is a real and tangible benefit of light rail over buses. Trams carry more people per vehicle, and as there is only a certain number of vehicles of any type that can run on a particular corridor before that corridor (road or rail) becomes congested and capacity becomes limited, putting trams on a busy corridor can increase its capacity (just as replacing light rail with heavy rail can increase capacity there). Jarrett Walker at Human Transit spoke of this concept as getting causation the wrong way round: high patronage causes the roll-out of trams, rather than the roll-out of trams causing high patronage.

Despite all this, and to undermine the entire argument made so far, the higher capacity of trams does actually allow the government to focus its attention on that particular corridor and implement many of the things mentioned earlier. For example, the new light rail line will have an exclusive right of way for its entire alignment 24/7, something that would not be possible with just buses as they require multiple corridors to achieve the same capacity. For this reason, the move to convert the Anzac Parade bus corridor into a tram corridor will still provide tangible benefits that could not be achieved with buses alone.