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.

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.

The evening peak is very similar to the morning peak. Frequencies are slightly lower, as patronage is more spread out in the evening than it is in the morning. However, this also means there is more scope to increase frequencies in the evening, whereas in the morning there are some lines which are already at the maximum 20 trains per hour limit.

As with the morning peak, the main winners are stations further out (particularly those further out from Hurstville, Gordon, and Revesby), while services are now more harmonised, simpler and more evenly spread out. More services follow clockface stopping patterns, with a particular stopping pattern generally occurring once every 15 minutes. Extra services have also been added, increasing the number of trains passing through Central in the busiest hour of the evening peak from 96 to 109. This is a much larger increase than in the morning, where the equivalent figures are 109 to 117 (or 118 if you count the two 4 carriage trains as two trains, rather than the equivalent of a single 8 carriage train). This should significantly reduce overcrowding issues.

Some stations lose out from fewer services (though generally those remaining services will have extra available seats), and a very minor few will see longer journeys, but these are kept to a minimum. Standouts here are Kograh, Rockdale, Beverly Hills, and Kingsgrove.


A net 13 additional services have been added during the busiest hour of the evening peak. This includes an extra 15 services: 5 on the Eastern Suburbs Line, 2 on the Illawarra Line, 1 on the Airport & East Hills Line, 2 on the Bankstown Line, 2 on the South Line, 2 on the North Shore Line, and 1 on the Western Line, while 2 services have been removed: 1 from the South Coast Line and 1 on the Inner West Line. As a result, 3 of the 4 busiest lines will see their average load drop under 100%. This means that, assuming passengers loads are evenly spread between and within trains, every passenger will be able to sit down in these cases where loadings are under 100%.

The one line that remains over 100% is the Western Line, which has no spare capacity to increase services any more than is currently the case. Additional demand here must be satisfied from passengers going to other lines or taking the train at times other than peak hour.

2013-06-05 PM Overcrowding Oct 2013

More harmonised stopping patterns on many lines should also result in a more even spread of crowds between trains, which should reduce the spiking of loads on some trains.

This is important, as overcrowding is one cause of delays and disruptions that have so negatively affected Cityrail in recent months. So this will be an interesting measure to look at once the new timetable is introduced in October.

How to read the tables below

  • The PM peak is (roughly) all trains that depart from Central Station between 5:00PM and 6:00PM each weekday evening. 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 departing from Macquarie Park and Parramatta Stations between 5:00PM and 6:00PM.
  • 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 Central Station (and not the time between them when they arrive at their destination station). 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 & East Hills Line

2013-06-04 Draft SWTT 2013 East Hills PM

An extra express service is added during the evening peak hour, raising the total number from 11 to 12. This allows for 3 different stopping patterns, each with 4 trains per hour at 15 minute intervals, down from a far more complex 7 stopping patterns that currently exist. More trains run express, skipping stations East of Revesby, resulting in significantly shorter journeys for outer suburban stations but fewer services for stations such as Kingsgrove and Beverly Hills, which lose their express services.

Bankstown Line

2013-06-04 Draft SWTT 2013 Bankstown PM

An extra 2 services are being added during the evening peak hour, raising the total number from 6 to 8. Many outer suburban stations will see significantly shorter travel times, particularly to Cabramatta, Warwick Farm, and Liverpool. In particular, Bankstown Line trains will arrive at Liverpool only 5 minutes after the trains on the South Line do. This may encourage some passengers going to Liverpool to travel via Bankstown instead of via Lidcombe (particularly those on the Eastern part of the CBD who travel from Museum or St James stations), thus taking some pressure off the congested trains on the Inner West and South Lines. This is more evident during the PM peak, when South and Bankstown Line trains depart from different stations, whereas in the AM peak they would all depart from Liverpool.

Meanwhile, the truncation of Inner West Line services to Homebush means all trains to stations on the extremities of the Bankstown Line will now be serviced exclusively by the Bankstown Line. The loss of Inner West Line services will require passengers seeking a direct service onto the lower frequencies and longer journey times for Bankstown Line services to Wiley Park, Yagoona, Berala, or Regents Park. For those willing to make a transfer at Lidcombe, the higher frequencies and faster journeys on other lines could actually translate into a shorter overall journey.

Stopping patterns have been simplified, falling from 4 types of stopping patterns down to 2.

Inner West Line

2013-06-04 Draft SWTT 2013 Inner West PM

One fast service (stopping at Newtown, Petersham, Summer Hill, Ashfield, Croydon, Homebush) has been removed. This alone accounts for the majority of longer journey lengths in the table above.

Despite the loss of some services, maximum headways have not increased, and have actually dropped in some cases, eliminating the sometimes 18 minute long waits for the next service. This is due to the harmonisation of stopping patterns, with 1 stopping pattern for the 4 Inner West Line trains per hour, running at 15 minute frequencies, and 2 stopping patterns for the 8 South Line trains per hour, also running at 15 minute frequencies each.

The main winner here is Newtown, which will now have 8 services in the evening peak hour, up from 5, also reducing maximum headways down to 9 minutes.

South Line

2013-06-04 Draft SWTT 2013 South PM

Many stations on the South Line will have the number of services to them cut, but more harmonised stopping patterns have cut the maximum headways, which is a net benefit for most stations. Where maximum headways are up, it is generally by only 1 minute, whereas the majority will see them fall by 2 to 3 minutes. The big winners are the outer suburban stations South of Granville, which have a significant drop in travel times, as well as Flemington, where the maximum headways from from 22 minutes to 15 minutes. The main loser is Auburn, which loses its fast services from Central.

North Shore Line

2013-06-04 Draft SWTT 2013 North Shore PM

Two additional services has been added, increasing the total number from 13 to 15 in the busiest hour of the evening peak. Stopping patterns are now predominantly skip stop rather than express and all stops, making direct travel from one suburban station to another not possible. This has reduced the number of stopping patterns from 5 to 4, allowed a more even and harmonised spread of services, and reduced travel times to outer suburban stations North of Gordon. Maximum headways are down for most stations, even for those with no additional services.

The main losers are Pymble, Asquith, and Berowra, which see their maximum headways increase. Although it is only 3 minutes in the case of the first, and up to 4 of the 5 minutes in the latter 2 are made up for in shorter journey lengths.

Northern Line

2013-06-04 Draft SWTT 2013 Northern PM

This section of the network is mostly unchanged. Better timing of slots used by trains appears to have allowed services headed North of Epping via Chatswood to do so more quickly, presumably because the current timetable requires them to wait for a fast train from Strathfield to first pass before it can proceed. The other main change is the addition of additional CBD bound services from Epping via Macquarie Park. These run every 15 minutes between 3:30PM and 5:45PM, which increases the frequency between 5PM and 6PM, up from the current 4 services to 7. Maximum headways during this period drop to 9 minutes, but as the extra services end before the evening peak hour is over, the maximum headway remains 15 minutes.

Western Line

2013-06-04 Draft SWTT 2013 Western PM

Note: Cityrail claims that there are 19 trains per hour to Parramatta during the busiest hour in the evening peak, but I’ve only been able to find 18. The figures in the table above assume 18 trains, whereas the table at the beginning of this post assume 19 trains.

The Western Line has a number of long distance services where a fast train will leave Central after a slow train, then overtake the slow train and arrive at its destination earlier. These slow trains have been excluded in the above figures. In the case of Penrith, 4 services have been added due to them being slower services that still arrive at their destination before a faster service due to better timetabling.

The main improvement on the Western Line comes from more harmonised stopping patterns, leading to lower maximum headways. Some outer suburban stations, Schofields, Quakers Hill, Marayong, and Penrith in particular, have a significant decrease in journey times.

Some stations will see a slight deterioration in service, but only very minor.

Western Line/Cumberland Line (from Parramatta)

2013-06-04 Draft SWTT 2013 Cumberland PM

The addition of all day half hourly Cumberland Line services had the potential to improve access between Parramatta and nearby stations (rather than direct services from the CBD). However, as with the AM Peak, this does not appear to have occurred. Some stations will see a slight improvement, but some will see a slight deterioration.

Illawarra Line

2013-06-04 Draft SWTT 2013 Illawarra PM

As with the AM Peak, the main winners here are stations South of Hurstville, which will see journey times cut significantly. Most stations will see big decreased in maximum headways, in many cases down from 17 minutes to 10 minutes. The more simplified stopping patterns should also decrease the number of disruptions and delays.

Meanwhile, services to Rockdale and Kograh have been cut, and journey times increased by a few minutes. Those services that these 2 stations do keep will terminate at Hurstville, which should mean passengers heading to these stations will have more seats.

As before, this is all based on the current draft of the timetable, and may change.

The new timetable adds some additional services outside of peak hour. An extra 2 trains per hour (TPH) have been added to the Northern, Western, Airport, and Cumberland Lines. Meanwhile, stopping patterns have been simplified, resulting in a more even spread of trains. For example, though Croydon retains 4 trains per hour, the gap between trains (known as headways) drops from a maximum of 20 minutes to 15 minutes, while for city-bound trains from Liverpool maximum headways will fall from 27 to 19 minutes.

Most importantly, spacings have been managed well enough so that passengers taking a train within the CBD will now never have to wait longer than 11 minutes for their next train, down from the current 15 minute maximum. This maximum wait figure is as low as 6 minutes for anyone taking the City Circle via Town Hall.

High frequency services will also last longer into the night on both the Bankstown and Eastern Suburbs Lines.

Cityrail stations with a train every 15 minutes or so into Central Station during the middle of the day. Blue stations (82) currently do, green stations (31) will from October, orange stations (63) will not. (Source: Cityrail)

Cityrail stations with a train every 15 minutes or so into Central Station during the middle of the day. Blue stations (82) currently do, green stations (31) will from October, orange stations (63) will not. (Source: Cityrail)

Currently, of the 176 stations on the Cityrail suburban network, only 47%  of them (82 stations) have 15 minute frequencies between the peaks. However, with the previously mentioned improvements, that figures rises to 64% of the network (113 stations). This improvement is biggest on the Western and Northern Lines, though improvements may also occur on the Airport, Bankstown, and Eastern Suburbs Lines.

Note: Headways of 17 minutes have been counted as being the same as 15 minutes, while those of 19 minutes have not.

How to read the tables below

The off peak is (roughly) all trains that arrive at Central Station between 12:00PM and 1:00PM each weekday afternoon.

The exception to the above is Parramatta bound services between Blacktown and Harris Park. In these cases, it’s trains arriving at Parramatta Station between 12:00PM and 1:00PM.

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. Different stopping patterns can mean headways differ at origin and destination, and commentary has been provided for some of these instances.

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.

Sydney CBD

2013-05-28 Draft SWTT 2013 CBD OP

Stations within the CBD (as well as out to Bondi Junction and Chatswood), on which passengers sometimes have to wait 12 or 15 minutes for the next train if they just miss one, will now have maximum headways of 11 minutes, and as low as 6 minutes on one line through the city. This will help to allow people to use the rail network for trips within the CBD and parts of the inner city without having to refer to a timetable. Thus allowing more spontaneous trips. This is not as feasible when missing a train can add an extra 15 minutes to your journey.

The changes to the City Circle are a bit technical, so feel free to skip the next 2 paragraphs.

Currently there are 10 trains per hour that enter the City Circle via Town Hall – 2 from the South Line, 4 from the Inner West Line, and 4 from the Macdonaldtown stabling yard. Meanwhile, another 10 trains per hour enter the City Circle via Town Hall – 6 from the Airport Line and 4 from the Bankstown Line. These 10 trains feed back into each other (so a South Line train might come out the other end as an Airport Line train, while a Bankstown Line train might come out the other end into the Macdonaldtown stabling).

Under the proposed changes, 2 extra Airport Line services are being added, but Bankstown Line trains now enter the City Circle via Town Hall and feedback into the Bankstown Line from Museum (i.e. it becomes a self contained loop). That reduces the number of trains entering via Museum from 10 to 8. Meanwhile, the number of Macdonaldtown stabling yard trains is reduced from 4 to 2, which when combined with the increase of 4 trains from the Bankstown Line results in 12 trains per hour entering the City Circle via Town Hall – 2 from the South Line, 2 from the Macdonaldtown Stabling, 4 from the Inner West Line, and 4 from the Bankstown Line.

Trains through the City Circle are then spaced out more evenly, so that the maximum headways on it drops to 6 minutes for anyone travelling clockwise around it, and 9 minutes for anyone travelling anti-clockwise around it. Both are an improvement on the current maximum of 12 minutes.

For the 2 lines that use the Harbour Bridge, an increase in the number of services from 6 to 8 per hour means that the maximum wait between trains drops from the current 15 minutes, to 9 minutes heading South from Chatswood and 11 minutes heading North from Redfern. All of these services now stop at Waverton and Wollstonecraft, meaning these 2 stations see their frequencies double from 4 to 8 trains per hour and maximum headways drop from 15 minutes to 9 or 11 minutes (depending on direction).

Headways for the Eastern Suburbs Line remain unchanged at 10 minutes. However, this 6 trains per hour frequency currently ends at around 9:00PM, after which it reverts to a 4 trains per hour frequency with 15 minute headways. The 10 minute headways will instead continue right up to 11:00PM.

Airport & East Hills Line

2013-05-28 Draft SWTT 2013 East Hills OP

An additional 2 hourly services are added to the Airport Line, one reaches Kingsgrove and the other reaches Campbelltown. Though Kingsgrove gains one new services, it loses 2 existing services, which now skip Kingsgrove in order to reduce travel times for those in outer suburban stations. This makes Kingsgrove the only loser on this line.

Stations between Campbelltown and Holsworthy, other than Macquarie Fields, see a big decrease in travel times and gain an additional hourly service. Maximum headways remain half hourly. The other main winners are stations on the Airport Line, who see maximum headways drop from 15 minutes to 9 minutes thanks to the increase from 6 to 8 trains per hour.

Bankstown Line

2013-05-28 Draft SWTT 2013 Bankstown OP

The main change here is an extension of 15 minute frequencies from Central to Bankstown, which currently revert to half hourly frequencies after 8:30PM. The 15 minute frequencies will instead continue until 9:30PM.

Inner West Line

2013-05-28 Draft SWTT 2013 Inner West OP

Services on the Inner West Line follow a more regular clockface timetable, meaning a more regular 15 minute gap between services, rather than gaps as long as 20 minutes at Croydon despite it having 4 trains per hour. Homebush sees a doubling in its frequency.

South Line

2013-05-28 Draft SWTT 2013 South OP

Liverpool, Warwick Farm, and Cabramatta are probably the only winners on the South Line, which thanks to more even service spacing and fewer stops made by its trains will see shorter maximum headways and quicker journeys into the CBD.

Most stations are unchanged, and retain their half hourly services during the middle of the day.

The main losers are Granville and Flemington, which both see reduced frequencies and longer maximum headways, while Granville also loses its fast trains to the city. Meanwhile, Auburn and Lidcombe have their maximum headways increased, but only by 1 minute.

Not included in the table above are the new Cumberland Line services. These increase train frequencies to 4 per hour between Campbelltown and Merrylands for anyone going to Liverpool or to Campbelltown. But with maximum headways of 25 minutes, it is not much of an improvement of the current 30 minute headways, and is a lost opportunity for a frequent non-CBD rail service. Compare this to the Cumberland Lines’ impact between Blacktown and Harris Park, where it has reduced maximum headways for Parramatta bound trains from 30 to 17 minutes.

North Shore Line

No major changes. It retains its even 15 minute headways.

Western Line

2013-05-28 Draft SWTT 2013 Western OP

The big winners here are stations from Doonside to Penrith, thanks to an additional 2 trains per hour. This provides stations between Doonside and Penrith with 4 trains per hour, which translates to maximum headways of 17 minutes, while also greatly reducing travel times from these stations into Central. Seven Hills, Blacktown, and Parramatta also see a significant drop in travel times. It is now possible to get a train any time of the day at either Parramatta or Central every 15 minutes and be at the other station in 27 minutes.

However, differing stopping patterns for trains to and from Penrith mean that they both arrive and depart from Central with 3 and 27 minute headways. So for off peak return journeys from the CBD, there remains an almost half hour wait for the next train between most services.

Western Line/Cumberland Line (to Parramatta)

2013-05-28 Draft SWTT 2013 Cumberland OP

The return of the Cumberland Line has boosted frequencies on stations near Parramatta from 2 to 4 trains per hour. In the case of Toongabbie, Pendle Hill, Wentworthville, and Harris Park, this means maximum headways of 17 minutes. Its extension onto the Richmond Line as far as Schofields has reduced headways there down to 21 minutes. In both cases, it also allows passengers to board a Cumberland Line train and then disembark and walk across the platform at somewhere like Seven Hills or Westmead for a fast train into the CBD, which remains a faster alternative than waiting for the next direct train.

Northern Line

2013-05-28 Draft SWTT 2013 Northern OP

The addition of 2 extra trains per hour through to the CBD makes the Northern Line the other big winner during the off peak. All stations North of Strathfield see an increase in their frequencies, and a drop in maximum headways – in most cases from 30 minutes to 15 minutes. In addition, a better arrangement of trains at Strathfield and Burwood stations means that passengers are less likely to skip a train because a subsequent train will arrive at Central first. This effectively increases frequencies by 2 trains per hour at Strathfield and Burwood, while Strathfield also benefits from an extra 4 trains per hour added to the timetable (2 from Epping and 2 from Penrith).

Illawarra Line

2013-05-28 Draft SWTT 2013 Illawarra OP

Jannali, Oatley, Allawah, and Carlton benefit from shorter journey times, generally 3-4 minutes shorter, while all but Jannali also see a doubling of their frequencies from 2 to 4 trains per hour, reducing maximum headways to 16 minutes. Mortdale is the main loser, dropping from 6 to 4 trains per hour and adding up to 2 minutes to journeys, but with maximum headways only increasing slightly from 15 to 16 minutes.

Kograh and Rockdale, which lost direct access to stations South of Hurstville and express services to Central, retain both during the off peak.

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.


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.


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.

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.


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

[tweet 304804527931002880 align=’center’]

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.


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

Transport Master Plan, Transport for NSW (December 2012)

I have advocated a more “sectorised” rail network, one in which rail lines operate more independently of each other, untangling what is currently an overly complex system. One of the downsides of this is that it will require some commuters to make a transfer from one train to another in order to complete their journey, where currently they do not have to do so. For example, someone going from Schofields to Central would have to take two trains instead of one as they currently can, as would someone going from Rhodes to Town Hall.

Ray made the following observation in the comments section (reposted in full):

“I don’t think Northern or Richmond Line commuters would ever accept being denied direct access to CBD stations. Why should they be singled out while every other line maintains direct access to CBD stations beyond Central? Why can’t some Western Line services also be terminated at Central? In the case of the Northern Line, which north of the Parramatta River is Liberal heartland territory, there would be hell pay for the local members of Parliament, for their inability to stand up in support of their constituents. There may be acceptance for some Northern Line services to terminate at Central, so long as the option of direct services through the CBD to North Sydney is maintained. Epping and Eastwood, which are both interchange stations, already have the benefit of express services from Newcastle and the Central Coast to Central terminus.

Whilst the transport bureaucrats might push for further sectorisation along the lines previously canvassed, the political reality is that ALL lines must have direct access to the CBD via either the link to the North Shore or the City Circle and they have to find a way to accommodate this operating pattern.”Ray (8 April 2013)

He rightly outlines the reasons against such changes, particularly the fear that many people will refuse to transfer from one train to another. This is, all other things equal, a much worse outcome than a direct service. But it is the assumption that all else remains equal which is not correct here, and this is where I disagree with Ray’s assessment.

The current system is designed on the basis of direct trips, one train or one bus from your origin to your destination, and this means having services from everywhere to everywhere else. In reality, this is not possible, so what we have instead is services from some places to some other places, but still so many routes and lines that frequencies are often as low as every 15 minutes in the peak and every 30 or 60 minutes in the off-peak (if at all). This makes transfers difficult. Even on the rail network, only 49% of stations on the Cityrail network have a train to the CBD every 15 minutes or less all day (and this is being generous with some stations).

NOTE: When a network is not designed to use connections, then you need to focus on frequencies of the direct journeys. A network designed around connections facilitates transfers in a way that a network designed around direct services does not, which is why this frequency map excludes stations on the Upper Northern and Epping to Chatswood Lines, which have 15 minute frequencies, but with every second train terminating at Chatswood. If frequencies from Chatswood to the CBD were higher, then it would allow for easy transfers, and effective mobility for users of these stations.

Of the 176 stations on the suburban Cityrail network, only 86 (blue) have a train every 15 minutes all day. The remaining 90 (orange) do not. This represents about half of the stations on the network. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Cityrail network map)

Of the 176 stations on the suburban Cityrail network, only 86 (blue) have a train every 15 minutes all day. The remaining 90 (orange) do not. This represents about half of the stations on the network. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Cityrail network map)

A network based on connections, on the other hand, purposely limits the routes and lines available to you. But in doing so it is able to run more frequent services directly to an interchange, where you can then take another service to your destination. It is both predictable and reliable. Unlike the previous model, it is far more likely to provide an everywhere to everywhere service. The diagram below shows a generic example, taken from a Brisbane Government transport policy document.

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)

In this example, the average trip is cut from 15 minutes to 9 minutes. This is due to 3 factors:

  1. Higher frequencies for local services, meaning a shorter initial wait time. Here the local service has gone from 30 minute to 10 minute frequencies, meaning an average wait time of 15 and 5 minutes respectively. While it’s true that you can use the timetable to minimise that wait time, it is still possible for you to be delayed, for your service to arrive early, or for that service to be cancelled. In each of those cases, you must now wait the full period (i.e. 30 minutes or 10 minutes). That is why the average wait time is still important.
  2. The main trunk service (red in the example above) can be converted into a high capacity, high frequency, and (optionally) high speed service. This again means less waiting time, which is important for the reasons mentioned above.
  3. The transfer must be simple, preferably cross platform where possible, minimising the additional total travel time.

Taken together, these result in a reduction in total travel time. The key here is higher frequencies, which allow transport based on connections to occur.

Using the proposed changes to the Richmond Line shows the actual improvements possible there:

Right now, there are 6 trains per hour on the Richmond Line (from Schofields onwards) in the AM peak – although there is a maximum 15 minute gap between trains. This would be increased to 8 trains per hour, but shifted to the Cumberland Line, and so no longer continue through to Central. In the off peak, there are currently 2 trains an hour, which would be raised to 4. The Western Line would also see 20 express trains per hour to Central in the peak, and 8 trains per hour in the off-peak. Travel times are 55 minutes from Schofields to Central in the peak, 62 minutes from Schofields to Central in the off-peak, 26 minutes from Schofields to Westmead, and 31 minutes from Westmead to Central.

Implementing these changes would result in an average time saving of 1 minute (maximum of 5 minutes) during the morning peak, and an average of 12 minutes (maximum of 15 minutes) during the off peak.

Richmond Line time savings

This would not be possible to do effectively by just adding more trains with the existing network. In the AM peak there just aren’t the additional slots available into the city centre, and creating them would make the network even more vulnerable to delays and cancellations than is already the case. In the off-peak, adding more trains is possible, but they would either have to be all stations in order to maintain a high coverage or be express and give a low level of coverage. Either way, neither option provides the frequencies necessary to allow for easy connections that allow the sorts of time savings provided by the proposed changes.

The lesson to take from this is that connections are not something that we should be afraid of. Not only will they provide faster overall journeys, but more reliable ones. And when they occur entirely within the rail network, they happen without the sorts of financial penalties that currently exist when you transfer from a bus to a train or from one bus to another bus because fares are not integrated.

Two years since the last state election and two years until the next one, it’s time to evaluate how the O’Farrell government has performed on the issue of transport. Given the scale of time it takes to implement changes and additions to such a large system (a new rail line take almost a decade from inception to opening), it would not be fair to judge the government on things it has not yet had a chance to reform. At the same time, 2 years is enough to take advantage of low hanging fruit, make operational improvements, and begin the process of changing the direction of the heavy ship that is Sydney’s transport system.

This is a long post, so here is the summarised version:

  • The good: The government has committed to a Second Harbour Crossing, Gladys Berejikliian is a good Transport Minister, the rollout of integrated ticketing (Opal) is on track, there will be a big increase in train services later this year, the South West Rail Link is running 6 months ahead of schedule, the creation of an integrated transport authority (Transport for NSW) will allow an integrated transport network, the government has prioritised public transport ahead of roads, the government learned from the PPP mistakes of the past, and new transport apps are making getting around easier.
  • The bad: Overcrowding on Cityrail is up, on time running on Cityrail is down, no congestion charging, and no committment to a second Sydney airport.
  • The uncertain: Integrated fares, sectorisation of the rail network to untangle it, and driverless trains??

The most important parts at this point in time, in my opinion, are a Second Harbour Crossing (good), integrated fares (uncertain), sectorisation (uncertain), creation of Transport for NSW (good), Opal (good), overcrowding (bad), on time running (bad), Transport Minister (good). our good, two uncertain, two bad. The two bad points could be improved with the October 2013 timetable changes, if some hard decisions are made, whereas the two uncertain points will require a decision some time this year. It will be worth revisiting this in 12 months time to see if the government delivers on those four points, but until then I would rate the government as a B overall (on a scale of A to F). This is giving them some benefit of the doubt, based on a good overall performance in other areas. Without the benefit of the doubt, bump that down to a C.

This is obviously quite subjective, so I welcome your thoughts and feedback in the comments section below.

Capacity improvements

The best way to improve capacity into dense employment centres, like the CBD, Parramatta, or Macquarie Park, is with rail, preferably heavy rail. It is pleasing to see, therefore, that the government has committed to a Second Harbour Crossing, a new light rail line down the CBD through to Randwick, and the North West Rail Link (NWRL), in addition to the South West Rail Link (SWRL) and Inner West Light Rail extension, both commenced under the previous government. The Second Harbour Crossing in particular, expensive and opposed by some as necessary given the cost, will result in a 33% increase in capacity across the network by adding a fourth path through the CBD.

The decision to dump the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link (PERL) is unfortunate, but was the right call as the priority right now is with the projects listed above. Similarly, the decision to build the NWRL with smaller and steeper tunnels, thus preventing existing double deck trains from using them, could be seen as short sighted. However, it also guarantees that the line will remain separate from the Cityrail network, opening up the possible benefits of a new operating model that has a lower cost to operate and therefore can provide more frequent services (see: Private sector involvement). It also has the benefit of lower construction costs, which would be very beneficial should the Second Harbour Crossing go under the Harbour, as seems likely.

  • Conclusion: A committment to expand the rail network, a Second Harbour Crossing in particular, will improve capacity by 33%. The decision  to make the NWRL tunnels narrower and steeper remains controversial.
  • Grade: B

Service quality

The Cityrail network, which forms the backbone of transport in Sydney, is under a lot of pressure at the moment. Overcrowing is up, while on time running is down. February was one of the worst months in Cityrail’s history, with 5 major disruptions during peak hour causing a suspension of services, which often spilled over onto other lines in the network. You have to go back 4 years to find operational figures this bad. It urgently needs additional train services to ease overcrowding and a more simplified network to improve reliability.

Interior of a Sydney tram. Overcrowding is up on the Cityrail network. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author)

Interior of a Sydney tram. Overcrowding is up on the Cityrail network. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author)

Part of the cause of these problems is the network that the government inherited. But 2 years in, it is now incumbent on the government to fix it. So far, this has meant 63 new services per week in 2011, and then 44 new services per week in 2012, for a total of 107 new services per week. This is a good start, but baby steps at best. What is really needed is an increase on the scale of the 2005 timetable, which cut 1,350 weekly services. Previously there have not been enough train drivers or rolling stock to do this, and it remains uncertain whether it’s possible now. Older, non-airconditioned trains may need to be used if the government does not order more Waratah trains to increase capacity.

Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian has continually pointed to October of this year as the moment that a new timetable, re-written from the ground up, will be introduced that features a streamlined network with additional services. But few details have been officially released, though some proposed changes have been leaked. Once that is implemented, it would be worth revisiting this issue. Service is also still better than the horror years of 2003-05. These two factors give the government a slightly more favourable rating than would have otherwise been the case.

There have been some minor improvements that are worth mentioning in passing. Quiet carriages have been introduced and phone reception is now available in the CBD’s underground rail tunnels.

  • Conclusion: Overcrowding and reliability are at 4 year lows in the rail network, though there have been minor improvements such as quiet carriages and phone reception. Overall, it’s a poor result.
  • Grade: D

Ticketing and fares

The major issues here are the Opal rollout and integrated fares.

The implementation of Opal appears to be on track, with the new smartcard set to expand to the Manly Ferry on April 8, and then to the Eastern Suburbs and City Circle stations in the second half of 2013. Up to now it appears to have proceeded without any major hiccups, and has gotten further in the rollout than the T-Card did.

There remains little detail on integrated fares other than that cabinet will consider fares at some point in early 2013. This is a potential game changer, and it seems likely that it could be implemented once Opal is fully rolled out.

The government has made a committment to not increase fares beyond CPI unless service levels improve, and has also incorporated the light rail into myZone. Both are positive, though the former is problematic in that it will erode the ability of fares to recover operating costs, as fares only account for about a quarter of the cost to operate Sydney’s transport network.

  • Conclusion: Good progress on Opal, but not on integrated fares. Limiting fare increases and putting the light rail on myZone are also some good minor improvements.
  • Grade: C

Transport Minister

Gladys Berejiklian has been a good Transport Minister for 2 reasons: she supports public transport and she is a strong advocate of it.

She strikes the right balance between public transport (trains, buses, ferries, trams) and private transport (cars, roads). It’s worth pointing out that, despite numerous claims that this government is pro-car and anti-rail, the current government spends more than half of its transport capital works budget on public transport. It’s also worth remembering that private motor vehicle trips will continue to play a key role in providing mobility to Sydney residents, and therefore the road network should still be expanded. But the focus should be on public transport, as it currently is.

As an aside, this support for public transport is unusual for a politician from the conservative side of politics. But both Ms Berejiklian and the Premier Barry O’Farrell are not your traditional hard conservatives, both more accurately described as moderate pragmatists. They both seem to recognise that congestion is costing the NSW economy money and the best way to improve the situation is to focus on public transport.

The Victorian Liberal Government’s top transport project is a road tunnel under the CBD, while the recently elected WA Liberal Government rejected the opposition’s 75km expansion of the rail network in favour of a short airport rail link and light rail for the inner city with a greater focus on improving the road network. Across the Tasman, the Auckland Transport Blog speaks favourably of conservatives in Australia (though really it’s more a comment on NSW, because as seen this is not a view necessarily shared by Liberal Parties in other states):

“I guess this is what happens when you have a centre-right government that isn’t completely insane in its ideological dislike of public transport…I do wonder why centre-right politicians in Australia don’t seem to have the same ideological dislike of public transport as seems to be the case in New Zealand.”Mr Anderson, Auckland Transport Blog (23 December 2012)

The other, and arguably more important, reason why Ms Berejiklian is a good Transport Minister is her strong advocacy. It’s not enough to support something if the cabinet or Premier overrule you. And Ms Berejiklian has demonstrated an ability to get her agenda through the cabinet where it’s been needed. She got cabinet to support an expensive Second Harbour Crossing, despite opposition from Infrastructure NSW Chairman Nick Greiner and took the light rail issue to cabinet 3 times until it accepted her preferred option of George St light rail over the CBD bus tunnel. These two major items, along with numerous other minor ones, were not a fait accompli, and are a testament to Ms Berejiklian’s influence.

  • Conclusion: Gladys Berejiklian is supporter of and effective advocate for public transport
  • Grade: A

Funding, costs and scheduling

Public transport projects in NSW seem to come in over budget and behind schedule all too often. That appears to have been partly continued. The Inner West Light Rail extension has been delayed by 18 months and its cost blown out by $56m, while the cost of the South West Rail Link (SWRL) went from $688m to $2.1bn. However, the SWRL is running ahead of schedule: the new Glenfield Station was completed 4 months ahead of schedule, while the new line is on track to open 6 months early. While this project was started by the previous Labor government, it’s delivery has been overseen by the current Liberal government and that’s what matters. The North West Rail Link has seen some blow outs in costs, but these are tens of millions of dollars in a multi-billion dollar project, so here it’s too early to make any judgement.

On the revenue side, the government has spoken about value capture as a way of funding infrastructure improvement, where property owners whose land values increase because of government built infrastructure contribute to the cost of building it. This is welcome, but no action has yet been taken. It has also openly committed to making users of any new or improved freeways pay tolls to contribute to their construction. This move to a user pays system, where the users of motorways pay for them rather than all taxpayers whether they use them or not, is a welcome one. What is unfortunate, is that the government has refused to introduce congestion charging, as pricing roadspace would allow a more efficient use of it, reducing congestion and the need to build more roads.

  • Conclusion: Cost blowouts and delays remain, though a possible early finish to the SWRL is a welcome surprise. Tolling and funding is a mixed bag, but mostly positive.
  • Grade: C


The two big reforms made by the government in the area of governance are the creation of Transport for NSW, which brought all transport related departments and agencies under the one umbrella, and the splitting of Railcorp into Sydney Trains and NSW Trains.

Transport for NSW’s creation is a game changer. By centralising planning into one department, rather than independent “silos” in separate departments that rarely communicate with each other, it will allow transport in Sydney to be fully integrated as one network, rather than a collection of separate networks. This extends to things like timetables and fares, but also adds roads to the mix – changing a transit department into a true transport department. All of this which will allow commuters to get from A to B much more easily than is currently the case. It will make examples like the following a thing of the past:

“For example, a customer could travel from St Ives to Sydney, via a private bus to Turramurra, a Cityrail train and walking along the city streets… The journey requires 2 separate tickets and therefore revenue streams, which never meet. The two vehicles are owned, maintained and driven by vastly different staff working for different silos.

The station facility is provided by Cityrail. If they’ve thought to accommdate the bus in the design of the facility, it would be the exception rather than the norm. The timetabling, if it is done at all, would be by a third silo in a distant building, remote from the reality of what’s happening.” – Riccardo, Integrated transport planning – what is it really? (11 June, 2011)

The Transport Master Plan put a great deal of emphasis on moving towards an integrated network, one where it would be much more common practice to take a feeder bus to a transport interchange and then take train, tram, or another bus to your final destination, with all coming frequently and all day, in order to maximise mobility. This would be a big improvement on the current network design, which is designed more around a single seat trip to the CBD than on connections to get you from anywhere to everywhere. However, this will be difficult to implement without integrated fares (discussed above), as currently commuters are penalised for making a transfer as though it is a premium service, when really it’s an inconvenience.

Evidence of the benefits of centralised planning can be seen in the recent decision to house metrobuses in separate depots in order to minimise dead running. This was not previously possible, as planning was done at the depot level, and so shifting buses from one depot to another was not feasible.

A Metrobus on George St in the Sydney CBD. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author)

A Metrobus on George St in the Sydney CBD. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author)

The changes to Railcorp are not set to occur until July 1 of this year, so the jury is still out on that.

  • Conclusion: The creation of Transport for NSW, centralising the planning function and creating a true transport department.
  • Grade: A


NSW has had no lack of plans in recent years, if anything it’s had the problem of too many plans but not enough action. When it comes to just planning, the government had 2 competing visions: the Transport Master Plan from Transport for NSW and the State Infrastructure Strategy from Infrastructure NSW.

To its credit, every time the two plans disagreed, the state government sided with the Transport Master Plan every time. That means it has committed to building a Second Harbour Crossing for the rail network and light rail down George Street rather than the ill-fated bus tunnel idea.

It also dogmatically refused to commit to a light rail line to Randwick until a feasibility study was completed, but then got totally behind the project once it was completed and put before cabinet.

That is not to say that there aren’t concerns about the planning process. For example, the government has committed to the Second Harbour Crossing before having done enough work into it to name a cost or set a timetable for its completion. It was this sort of behaviour that contributed to the $500m spent on the aborted Rozelle Metro by the previous government.

  • Conclusion: The government has sided with Transport for NSW, rather than Infrastructure NSW, leading to a greater focus on public transport, rather than private transport. However, it has a mixed history of committing to projects before having done its homework.
  • Grade: B

Private sector involvement

The failure of PPPs like the Airport Line as well as the Cross City and Lane Cove Tunnels mean that government’s should approach private sector involvement with caution. But that does not mean that it should avoid it entirely.

In NSW, the government has opted to adopt the WA model, rather than the Victorian model. In WA, the government plans and owns the network, but puts the operation of various lines or regions out to tender, allowing competitive practice to drive down costs while maintaining a minimum contractual level of service. The government then pays the operator, but keeps all fares, ensuring that the operator can increase profits only by operating more efficiently, rather than by cutting service. The Victorian model sees the operators keep farebox revenue, which is then topped up by a government subsidy. The disadvantage of the Victorian model is that the operator can increase profits by cutting services with low patronage, even if these services are part of an overall network such as feeder buses.

The chosen model has proven successful in NSW, having been used on the bus network for almost a decade. It allowed the government to put some bus contracts out to tender, resulting in $18m of annual savings for the tax payer. It has also recently been expanded, when Sydney Ferries being franchised last year. The NWRL is also planned to be privately operated, while the Sydney light rail line was recently re-purchased by the government but will remain operated by a private company.

Sydney Ferries were franchised in 2012. (Source: Author)

Sydney Ferries were franchised in 2012. (Source: Author)

The decision to turn the NWRL into a completely separate and privately operated line, but one where commuters still pay the same fare as if they were on a Cityrail train, has the potential to finally stem the bleeding in Cityrail’s costs, perhaps through the use of driverless trains that would allow very high all day frequencies.

The recently introduced unsolicited proposal process has also allowed a proposal for an M2-F3 link to be constructed by the private sector at no cost to the taxpayer. While the outcome is uncertain, the process has been shown to work, and is a great way to increase the stock of infrastructure in Sydney. (Setting aside the involvement of this process for another Sydney Casino, which has raised some controversy.)

  • Conclusion: The government has learned from the bad PPPs of the past and appears to be using private sector involvement as a means, rather than as an ends.
  • Grade: A

Second Sydney airport

The current government has not only ruled out the preferred site of Badgerys Creek for a second airport, it has ruled out a second airport altogether, suggesting that a high speed rail line to Canberra airport could be used as a substitute. Not only is this unlikely to happen, given the high costs involved, but it means passing up on the opportunity to bring jobs to Western Sydney and revitalise its economy, which currently has a huge jobs shortfall that is only predicted to increase.

Current and proposed Sydney airports. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Google Maps)

Current and proposed Sydney airports. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Google Maps)

Given the lack of support for a second airport, it is then disappointing that the government has not sought to reduce or elimiate the access fee for users of the airport train stations in order to ease the ground transport congestion around the airport, cited as the biggest constraint on Sydney’s Kingsford-Smith Airport at the moment.

  • Conclusion: The government does not support a second airport, and has not done enough to improve the capacity of the existing airport.
  • Grade: F

Transport apps

The makers of transport apps have seen an increase in the amount of transport data available to them. This has allowed for Google Transit to expand to all forms of public transport (previously it was just light rail and the monorail), and has also now included bike paths (though it seems Google did this on its own, rather than with help from the state government). More recently real time bus data was provided for STA buses, and will hopefully later be extended to all buses and also trains.

  • Conclusion: The government has been proactive in improving transport information to commuters by involving third party developers.
  • Grade: A

The NSW Government has ignored Western Sydney and the advice of its independent advisory body, Infrastructure NSW, according to Opposition Leader John Robertson in a speech yesterday to the Rail Future Conference. He also accused the government of mismanaging those projects currently underway, pointing to cost blow-outs, choosing projects with a poor cost-benefit ratio, and lacking either a start or end date for construction.

Mr Robertson defended the previous Labor Government’s record on transport, admitting that while he is “the first to admit that the previous Labor Government made its share of mistakes” that it also had its fair share of achievements.

“The South West Rail Link – planned and construction commenced under Labor, leaving the incoming Government with little but a ribbon to cut. The creation of rail clearways – a first step towards untangling Sydney’s spaghetti of lines. Rolling stock renewal through the acquisition of 35 Millennium trains, 55 Oscars and 78 Waratahs. The Inner West Light Rail Line. The Epping-Chatswood Rail Link. Dozens of commuter car parks and easy access upgrades. The $100 million state-of-the-art bus interchange at Parramatta railway station. And an innovative new system of Metrobuses.”John Robertson, Opposition Leader (28 February 2013)

John Robertson, NSW Opposition Leader (Image: NSW Parliament)

John Robertson, NSW Opposition Leader (Image: NSW Parliament)

Many of these achievements should not be understated. Clearways sought to improve the existing network rather than just add new lines, leading to higher capacity and greater reliability. The new rolling stock listed represents a renewal of about half of Cityrail’s electric trains over a period of about a decade. Metrobuses, which introduced the concept of through-routing and certainty over all day frequency, are a fantastic addition to the Sydney transport system, and one which should be expanded. Mr Robertson failed to mention other improvements, such as the introduction of myZone – which was a (baby) step towards integrated fares, the construction of T-Ways from Parramatta to Rouse Hill and Liverpool – allowing fast and reliable bus services to and from Parramatta, or the Unsworth Review – which brought planning for bus routes under central control but established an effective way for private companies to operate them. All of these are positive, and should be remembered every time Labor’s failures (which were more than its fair share, as Mr Robertson claims) are raised.

Where Mr Robertson’s speech falls short is in providing a positive vision for transport in Sydney, it is instead a critique of the government’s policy, what he doesn’t stand for rather than what he does.

“Taxpayers are forking out $17 million a year on Infrastructure NSW – only for the Government to ignore its advice.” – John Robertson, Opposition Leader (28 February 2013)

His attack on Infrastructure NSW shows a misunderstanding of the purpose of that body. Mr Robertson compares the ignorance of Infrastructure SWN to Infrastructure Australia, who’s advice is used to fund various infrastructure projects around the country. But Infrastructure NSW is not designed to hand out funding, it is designed to attract funding, primarily from the private sector via Public Private Partnerships (PPPs). That is why its board includes members with expertise in PPPs – such as Chairman Nick Greiner or board member Max Moore-Wilton. When it comes to making policy decision on which transport project to fund, the government instead relies on Transport for NSW, as it should.

“We have a Government stubbornly committed to its flagship project, the North West Rail Link. One that has been approved outside the Infrastructure NSW process…that Mr Greiner says has a low cost-benefit ratio and is being built for political reasons.” – John Robertson, Opposition Leader (28 February 2013)

In his introduction, Mr Robertson presents transport in Sydney as a choice between differerring options. One of these options is between the North West Rail Link (NWRL) and the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link (PERL). He then all but endorses the PERL as a preferred option, while attacking the NWRL for its low cost-benefit ratio. Problematic here is that he relies on Mr Greiner’s judgement, someone who would generally prefer private road projects than public rail ones, and so would most likely also attack the PERL for the same reasons. In fact, this is exactly what Infrastructure Australia Chairman Michael Deegan did when he said that “the Parramatta-Epping rail link…is not on Infrastructure Australia’s priority list” (7 May 2012). Criticising a project for being political in nature, only to put forward an alternative that is just as, if not more political, is not convincing from a policy perspective.

“The problem with the O’Farrell Government’s transport priorities is that they’re completely at odds with Western Sydney’s emerging needs…It has ignored Western Sydney’s exponential population growth, its high car dependency and low residential density…And it has provided no new vision for Western Sydney bus routes and transitways.” – John Robertson, Opposition Leader (28 February 2013)

These words presented the best opportunity for Mr Robertson to attack the government and present a viable alternative. It is very true that the current NSW Government has very little in the way of transport improvements for Western Sydney. But instead of using this as the basis for something transformative, Mr Robertson uses it as a soap box to all but call for the construction of the PERL. Yet this falls right into the narrative of an expensive project that sucks out the capital works budget for the entire region, the very criticism aimed at the government on the NWRL, Second Harbour Crossing, WestConnex, and South East Light Rail. Not only would this project be expensive, but it fails to fit into the dispersed and low density urban form that he himself speaks of.

Frequency transport map for Sydney. The left shows all areas within 400m of public transport, while the right shows the same but only for services with 15 minute frequencies. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Sydney Alliance.)

But his words on a new vision on buses is where he really drops the ball. Here he could have easily have made a commitment to raise bus frequencies to 15 minutes or better all day all across Western Sydney. It would help to solve the problem he had just described: “the Sydney Alliance produced maps showing which parts of Sydney are within 400 metres walking distance of public transport…where a service comes at least every 15 minutes across the day…as soon as you start going west from Strathfield, the map looks pretty bleak”. But instead he opted to talk about the PERL, without ever actually committing to it.

This month will be the mid point between the 2011 election and 2015 election. In that time the NSW Labor Party has barely closed the gap in the polls. Mr Robertson’s speech contained some positive vision, but it was drowned out by the negativity. That is not to say that the opposition should not hold the government to account, but if it then fails to present its own vision, an alternative, then it is likely to stay in opposition for quite some time.

NSW Newspoll

Pointing out Labor’s past achievements are a good start. Now how about telling us what you will do in the future, Mr Robertson?

Ask Gladys

Posted: February 23, 2013 in Transport
Tags: , , , ,

MX ran a feature yesterday called #AskGladys in which readers could tweet in questions to the Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian. Those that were forwarded to her were all answered an then posted to Twitter.

The responses give October as the date that the new 2013 timetable will be introduced, which means the date it is made public will be some time before that. They describe the new timetable as having more consistent patterns, which appears to mean a more harmonized stopping pattern. They also state that frequencies on the North Shore Line will be increased to the maximum 20 trains an hour currently possible, up from the current 18 during the morning peak.

Some highlights are included below, with the rest available by searching the hash tag #AskGladys on Twitter.

Note: It might be worth reading part 1 and part 2, which provide some context and outline the problems with the current timetable, if you haven’t yet done so.

Cityrail has been simplifying its network ever since the Clearways project was announced in 2005 around the same time as the major timetable changes were introduced that year. The idea behind Clearways was to increase capacity (via additional “turnback” platforms and/or track amplifications) around the network where pinch points caused bottlenecks and to separate the network into 5 separate sectors (which would then converge into 3 sectors in the CBD). This is known as sectorisation, and involves creating sectors that run as independently from each other as possible. As a result, delays in one sector do not spill over into other sectors.

The Cityrail network currently has 3 sectors:

  • Sector 1 – made up of the Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra Lines

2013-01-20 Cityrail Map Sector 1

  • Sector 2 – made up of all the lines that use the City Circle, plus the Cumberland Line (Note: the Inner West Line between Strathfield and Homebush shows up faded in error.)

2013-01-20 Cityrail Map Sector 2

  • Sector 3 – made up of all the lines that use the Harbour Bridge

2013-01-20 Cityrail Map Sector 3

(In practice, sectors 2 and 3 are not entirely separate, with trains on the Western Line and South Line sharing some track between Granville and Homebush, as well as the Western Line and Cumberland Line between Blacktown and Harris Park.)

A Herald report from 2012 revealed that one plan would involve fully separating Sectors 2 and 3. Currently the 2 track pairs between Blacktown and Homebush are used to separate local (all stops) services from express services. This allows express trains to overtake slower local ones. Separating trains on these tracks by sector rather than by stopping pattern then means that an express service could get stuck behind a slower local service. The solution to this would be to also harmonise stopping patterns – with sector 3 running only express services and sector 2 running only local services.

If implemented to the fullest extent, the Richmond and Northern Lines would be separated from the Western Line. Richmond Line trains would become part of the Cumberland Line, running all stations to Campbelltown. This would eliminate a conflict that currently exists at Granville where a flat junction is used by Western Line and South Line trains (by sending Richmond Line trains on the Cumberland Line’s flyover at Merrylands and sending Western Line trains on the Northern track pair not used by the South Line, thus avoiding the flat junction). Northern Line trains would use a third track pair that begins just before Strathfield at Homebush Station and then ends at Sydney Terminal at Central Station, effectively creating a fourth sector. Inner West Line trains would be truncated to Homebush, which relieves some pressure on the heavily used Lidcombe to Homebush portion of the network, allowing South and Western Line trains to pass through there more easily.

This would allow Western Line trains to run faster (by permanently skipping many stations)  and more frequently (as they are not sharing any track with Richmond, Northern, or South Lines as is currently the case). Passengers at stations like Toongabbie, Pendle Hill, Wentworthville, and Harris Park would need to catch a Cumberland Line train and change to a Western Line train if they are going into the city. While passengers at stations like Clyde, Auburn, Lidcombe, or Flemington could change to a Western Line train for a faster journey, or stay on a slower all stations South Line train for a direct one. On the network map, this is what it could look like (again, this is purely speculation based on rumour at this point).

What the Cityrail network might look like after the 2013 timetable is implemented. Click on image for higher resolution. (Souce: Cityrail.)

What the Cityrail network might look like after the 2013 timetable is implemented. Due to an error, Auburn should be the blue South Line only, not the yellow Western Line. Click on image for higher resolution. (Souce: User created from Cityrail.)

Creating these truly independent sectors would also allow for harmonisation of stopping patterns and rolling stock. With high enough frequencies, this will also mostly do away with the need to worry about delays. After all, if a peak hour train comes every 3 minutes and all the trains on that line have the same stopping patterns, then a 3 minute delay effectively puts everything back to normal.

It also makes many commutes easier – with commuters just taking the next train rather than waiting for their train, which will help to reduce station overcrowding on congested CBD stations (by requiring commuters to transfer to another train once they are out of the CBD). Frequencies will also improve, ensuring that commuter wait times are kept to a minimum and allowing many commuters to travel without having to worry about consulting the timetable first.

Higher off-peak frequencies could also mean shorter trips by way of reduced wait times. Parramatta currently has 5 trains an hour into the CBD during the off-peak, meaning a maximum wait of 15 minutes. Increasing this to 8 trains an hour would mean a maximum 8 minute wait, or 4 minutes on average. Similarly, someone taking the train from Pendle Hill currently has to wait 30 minutes for the next train during the off peak, which often means either arriving much earlier than necessary or taking the risk of missing the train and waiting half an hour for the next one. Either way, this means a longer overall journey time. But having 10-15 minute frequencies, and then transfering to a frequent (and express) Western Line train into the CBD, could result in a faster and more reliable journey, despite the removal of direct services. Someone wishing to make a North/South trip, say from Quakers Hill to Merrylands, will now have easy all day access by rail.

The main downside is that it will force many people to transfer to another train. Many commuters on the Richmond and Northern Lines will need to transfer to another train if travelling into the CBD, as they will no longer have direct access.

There do exist alternatives, Simon blogs at Fixing Sydney Transport about how Parramatta can be made the terminus of the Cumberland Line, thus maintaining the second track pair West of Parramatta free for Richmond Line trains. Doing this would allow Richmond and Epping Line trains to keep their CBD access, while still eliminating a conflicting move (by Western and South Line trains) on the flat junction at Granville that currently exists. It would not allow a complete harmonisation of stopping patterns, but does deliver some benefits of the complete sectorisation without most of the disadvantages it would bring. There are merits to this option, and would be an improvement on the status quo.

Ultimately, the government’s decision to run the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) as a completely independent line (which could become the fifth sector), means that the existing Harbour crossing will need to be run at maximum efficiency during the decade between then NWRL’s completion and when a second Harbour Crossing is built, as this will become one of the biggest bottlenecks on the network. The easiest way to achieve that is to implement the sectorisation outlined above. So if it doesn’t happen in this year’s 2013 timetable, then expect it to happen when the NWRL opens at the end of the decade.

With reliability on the Cityrail network sagging and extra capacity needed to handle the growing transport demand, the solution that the NSW government is seeking has been to reduce network flexibility (see the previous post on the 2013 timetable for an explanation of how reliability, capacity, and flexibility are interrelated).

Greater flexibility, the ability to get a direct train to the CBD from any station on the network, can reduce capacity and hurt reliability for a number of reasons. These include the need to have flexible (i.e. different) stopping patterns on the same track, the need to run separate lines on the same track, and the need to use flat junctions (see below). All of these things mean that increased flexibility also adds complexity to the network. Meanwhile, a simple system would require many passengers to change to a second or even third train in order to reach the CBD. This is a potentially unpopular option and is why Cityrail has opted for flexibility up until now.

Flexible stopping patterns

Some trains are express services, while others are all stations or limited stops services (which will collectively be called local services).

Often there are two pairs of tracks running side by side (such as from Central through to Hurstville or Parramatta), then one is generally designated for express trains and the other for all stops trains. This allows the express services to overtake the slower local services.

In other cases there is only a single track pair (such as much of the Northern Line between Hornsby and Strathfield), meaning that express services can get stuck behind local services. Here you must make a choice between flexibility (i.e. running both express and local services) or capacity (i.e. running just one type of service, generally local, at higher frequencies).

Independent lines

The Cityrail network operates 3 different “sectors”, effectively independent lines. However in some parts of the network (the section between Granville and Homebush in particular) it is necessary for trains from different sectors to mix in order to maintain flexible stopping patterns. This means that delays on one line can often spillover onto another line.

Take the huge delays that occurred 2 weeks ago that originated on the North Shore Line due to overhead wiring issues. This had immediate impact on the North Shore Line, and soon spread to the Northern and Western Lines whose trains feed into the North Shore Line. However, as Western Line trains also share track with the Inner West, South, and Bankstown Lines, these too soon began to suffer delays, which later flowed on further onto the Airport and East Hills Line. Only the Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra Lines, which is the only one of the 3 sectors to be completely separate, did not suffer delays.

Independent lines would not have prevented the delays, but it would have quarantined them and stopped them from flowing onto others.

Flat Junctions

Where two roads intersect at traffic lights the signals alternate so that only traffic on one road can move. For every minute that one road has a green signal, the other road loses a minute of green. This is effectively what happens in the world of railroads when a train crosses from one track to another that are separated by a third track in between them going in the opposite direction. These are referred to as “flat junctions” (see diagram below for an example), and every train that crosses one prevents another train from using the other track at that moment. You can avoid the use of flat junctions through the use of dives and flyovers (the best example of which can be found between Redfern and Central Stations), but these are not always available nor feasible to build.

Flat junctions cause conflicting moves, preventing another train from using the track that is being crossed over. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Sydney Rail Future Report, page 7.)

Flat junctions cause conflicting moves, preventing another train from using the track that is being crossed over. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Sydney Rail Future Report, page 7.)

The diagram above shows a section of rail near Macdonaldtown, right before the Western and Illawarra Lines merge. The maximum capacity of each track is 20 trains per hour, and each train that crosses a track via a flat junction effectively uses up one of those 20 hourly “slots” on the track that it crosses. So the 7 trains that move from the “Up Main” track to the “Up Suburban” track use up 7 slots on the “Down Main” track, restricting that third track to 13 trains per hour rather than the maximum of 20.

More importantly, conflicts due to flat junctions hinder reliability. When a train runs late across a flat junction, it delays not just the trains on its line, but also the line that uses the track that it crosses. The 7 trains that used the flat junction above can be timetabled in,  but if one of them runs late and stops following the timetable then the delays flow on to the trains on the “Down Main” track, even though. These delays further constrain capacity, because for every 3 minutes of delay you effectively reduce the maximum capacity on a line by 1 train per hour. The line across the Harbour Bridge is a great example – here you often only see 17 trains crossing the Bridge during the busiest hour of the day even though 19 trains are timetabled, so actual capacity is 10% lower than timetabled.

Note: This post was starting to get a bit long, so I’ve split it up into 3 parts. Here is part 1.

A new Cityrail timetable is released each year, and while usually this means adding a couple of extra services or moving some trains a few minutes either way, this year’s will be the most dramatic change since the 2005 timetable.

“a brand-new rail timetable is being written from scratch, and will be released this year to provide more express trains, quicker travel times and ultimately improve the customer journey”Gladys Berejiklian, Transport Minister (15 January 2013)

Writing a timetable is a balancing act involving trade offs. One way of looking at it is by breaking it down to 3 different variables, and a decision that needs to be made on which of these 3 to prioritise. Given the problem of limited resources, you need to pick two of those three and forget about the third. If you try to get all three, then you might end up with only one. Those variables are:

  1. Capacity – the number of trains that can be run on a particular track of rail line per hour
  2. Flexibility – the ability to get from A to B without having to transfer to another train (generally this means being able to get from anywhere to the CBD, and vice versa, on a single train)
  3. Reliability – how well trains run to timetable (rather than being delayed or cancelled)

Take the 2005 timetable as an example. Cityrail had become notorious for its unreliability. On time running data shows that in 2003, 80%-90% of trains ran within 4 minutes of the timetabled time. But in 2004, this figure had dropped to 50%-60%, and remained that way until mid 2005 when 2 things happened. First, on 1 July 2005, on time running was redefined from being within 4 minutes of the timetable, to within 5 minutes of the timetable. This resulted in an immediate statistical, though not actual, improvement to reliability (from 65% in June, to 77% in July). Then in September a new timetable was introduced, cutting 1,350 weekly services and slowing down the remaining services. The government had decided to cut capacity in order to improve reliability, while maintaining flexibility. And it worked, with on time running improving right away (from 78% in August, to 94% in September). It then stabilised in the low 90% range. While many complained about the longer journeys and lower frequency of trains, the 2005 timetable did finally return Cityrail to a reliable service.

2013-01-17 On time running 2005

Fast forward to today, and on time running is again on the decline. This time it has been caused by overcrowding on trains, leading to higher dwell times on major stations. This overcrowding is in turn due to rising demand for public transport, and also a lack of capacity to deal with the higher demand. Ironically, one of the biggest constraints on capacity was the timetable changes from 2005. Clearly, the 2005 timetable has run its course and needs to be revised again. Whereas last time the government chose flexibility and reliability over capacity, this time it looks to be opting for more capacity at the expense of flexibility in the hope of reverting to improved reliability.

These problems are not exclusive to Sydney. Melbourne has seen similar problems, and has also been tackling it via a more simplified, albeit less flexible, rail network. The video below outlines these problems and the solutions to these problems from Melbourne’s perspective.

Note: You can also get additional capacity by building new infrastructure. But the problem of limited resources and the trade off mentioned earlier still exists. The difference is you now have more resources to allocate between those 3 priorities, but a choice will still need to be made on how to allocate them.

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.)


“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 government released the final version of its Transport Masterplan earlier today, along with the light rail feasibility study (Sydney’s Light Rail Future), in which it announced its final decision on some key transport projects. The uncertainty stemmed from differing reports handed down by both Transport for NSW (the Transport Masterplan) and Infrastructure NSW (First Things First), which the government had to reconcile. Where both reports agreed, the recommendations were adopted, and where they conflicted, Transport for NSW got the final say every time. As a result, a 2nd Harbour Crossing will be happening, the CBD bus tunnel has been rejected, light rail will be built all the way from Circular Quay to Randwick (rather than a truncated version from Central to Randwick), and a second Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek was rejected. I think the last one was the wrong call, but it’s more of an issue for the federal government, so it’s not too concerning.

CBD light rail route

The proposed CBD portion of the light rail line. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Sydney Light Rail Futures, page 14.)

The most high profile debate was between light rail on George St or a bus tunnel through the CBD. While I didn’t agree with everything in the Infrastructure NSW Report, one thing I did appreciate about it was how it prioritised the projects with lower cost to the taxpayer, thus ensuring that more of them could be built. It did this through user pays tollways, finding ways to get more out of the existing infrastructure, looking for ways of obtaining the same outcome for a lower cost, etc. It was therefore quite strange to see this report endorsing the bus tunnel option, which cost $2bn, over light rail through the CBD, the George St portion of which cost $500m. The reason for this appears to be that Infrastructure NSW set out with the goal of finding out how to make sure light rail didn’t happen, rather than finding the best way of maximising mobility for the greatest number of people. As a result, it ended up with this bizarre recommendation.

Transport for NSW tears the bus tunnel to shreds:

It would not be feasible to build an underground tunnel between Wynyard and Town Hall due to existing building basements and tunnels. In addition, ventilation, access and safety are significant viability issues.

To provide the necessary bus capacity, the bus tunnel would need to be four lanes wide and provide wide platforms. This is likely to be physically unfeasible and economically unviable.

Infrastructure NSW has estimated it would cost $2 billion to build a tunnel in the CBD. The city component of the CBD and South East Light Rail project is a quarter of the cost – about $500 million – and will deliver significantly greater benefits for Sydney.

Building connections to the Cross City Tunnel and Sydney Harbour Bridge, redeveloping two major train stations and building a new bus tunnel will present a number of untested construction impacts on the CBD. Building new bus stations would have an impact on the operation of Town Hall and Wynyard Stations, affecting the journey of approximately 140,000 passengers every weekday. – Transport for NSW (13 Dec, 2012), Sydney’s Light Rail Future (page 26)

Ultimately the debate within cabinet appeared to boil down to 2 things: cost and disruption. The cost, at $500m, was not insignificant, but much cheaper than the alternative of the bus tunnel, and though doing nothing would have been cheaper, it was probably not seen as a viable option. Cabinet was also concerned about disruption to the CBD right around the next election in 2015, so work will instead begin on the Randwick to Central Station portion, before starting on the George St portion later on.

Randwick light rail

The currently proposed route for light rail from Circular Quay to Randwick and Kingsford. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Sydney’s Light Rail Future, page 15.)

All up, the new light rail line will cost $1.6bn in total to build, and will not open until 2019 or 2020 when the entire line is completed. When it does, it will be accompanied by a restructure of many of the bus routes through the city. The current bus routes is a spaghetti map of confusing and cris-crossing lines through the CBD. This will change, with buses to travel along one of 4 major corridors: 3 North-South corridors (Elizabeth St, Clarence St/York St, and Sussex St) plus one East-West corridor (Park St/Druitt St). This will allow for a simpler network that relies on high frequencies and interchanges by commuters. Integrated fares are an essential reform required to make sure that this works, allowing commuters to pay the same to get from A to B, regardless of how they get there, rather than the current situation where they are penalised financially for the inconvenience of having to make an interchange. Word is that cabinet will make a decision on fares in the new year, and this simple decision could possibly be the most important one that it makes in regards to transport.

CBD bus routes

Once light rail is operating in the Sydney CBD, buses will be rerouted to one of 4 corridors. This will simplify the existing network, ensuring high frequencies and an easy to understand network for commuters. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Sydney’s Light Rail Future, page 17.)

The report also talks about considering further light rail in the longer term (10 to 20 years or further into the future). These include Victoria Rd, Parramatta Rd, an extension South to Maroubra or Malabar from Kingsford along Anzac Parade, an extension to Barangaroo from Circular Quay along Walsh Bay, and Parramatta Council’s Western Sydney light rail. The draft Transport Masterplan suggests the highest priority will go to light rail on Victoria Rd (though it might potentially end up as Bus Rapid Transit), though I’d give the Western Sydney light rail proposal a wild card chance of happening, particularly if it utilises the Carlingford Line to connect Parramatta to Macquarie Park.