Posts Tagged ‘Sectorisation’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The opening of the South West Rail Link (SWRL) connecting Leppington to Glenfield will result in the biggest change to the Sydney Trains timetable since the just implemented 2013 timetable came into effect in October (all figures below are based on this newly introduced timetable). The major question over how it will be integrated into the network revolves around the need for rolling stock.

The government has recently passed up the opportunity to increase its fleet of Waratah trains by an additional 8 to 12 above the currently planned 78 trains. These additional trains would allow the network to operate entirely with air conditioned trains, and without them it will instead have to operate some of the older S-Set trains (which are currently being phased out for lacking air conditioning). The government is retaining about 24 of the S-Set trains for this.

The non-air conditioned trains may not necessarily operate on the SWRL, and which ever line they do end up on will probably only use them during peak hour when the need for trains is at its highest.

Map of the SWRL. Click to enlarge. (Source: Glenfield Transport Interchange Review of Environmental Factors, page 2)

Map of the SWRL. Click to enlarge. (Source: Glenfield Transport Interchange Review of Environmental Factors, page 2)

The amount of rolling stock requires will depend on which line the SWRL will be connected to. One option involves running the SWRL via the East Hills and Airport Line. In the morning peak there are currently 2 East Hills Line trains per hour starting from East Hills, running limited stops to the CBD via the Airport, which could be doubled to 4 and then extended to Glenfield to link up to the SWRL. This has the advantage of being fast (42 minutes from Glenfield to Central), being relatively uncrowded (the East Hills and Airport Line could have approximately 109 passengers per 100 seats after the October 2013 timetable is implemented), and having spare capacity for adding 2 more trains per hour – which would reduce this overcrowding. However, this would require additional rolling stock, both through the doubling of existing peak hour services from East Hills from 2 to 4 trains per hour and their extension to Glenfield (where the SWRL begins).

The alternative is for the SWRL to operate as an extension of the South Line. During the morning peak hour there are currently 4 South Line trains per hour starting from Glenfield, running limited stops to the CBD via Granville. This has the advantage of not needing to add additional services or extend them, as 4 trains per hour already start at Glenfield. However, this route would result in a much longer journey (61 minutes from Glenfield to Central), is relatively crowded (the South Line could have approximately 114 passengers per 100 seats after the October 2013 timetable is implemented), and has no spare capacity for running additional trains without altering the way in which South Line and Inner West Line trains operate. This is because South Line trains run express from Strathfield while Inner West Line trains run all stops, but the lack of overtaking tracks reduces the maximum hourly capacity from 20 trains per hour down to 12.

Once the Bankstown Line is linked up to a Second Harbour Crossing and its trains removed from the City Circle, an additional 4 trains per hour can be added to the East Hills Line during the AM peak. However, the South Line will retain the same constraints previously mentioned. Additionally, should an airport ever be built at Badgerys Creek then an extension of the SWRL and East Hills Line could connect the new airport to Kingsford-Smith Airport with a continuous rail line.

Despite this, in both cases it would be possible to run all SWRL trains via the South Line and still maintain a quick and easy cross platform transfer at Glenfield. By sending all South and Cumberland Line trains through the SWRL, it would also allow independent operation of the lines to Leppington and Macarthur from Glenfield. This would prevent delays on one section of the line from immediately flowing on to the other section. This “sectorisation”, as it is known, would be even more pronounced once single deck metro trains run on the Bankstown Line and it is truncated to Cabramatta.

The SWRL currently under construction, passing underneath the Hume Highway. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

The SWRL currently under construction, passing underneath the Hume Highway. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

A similar challenge exists during the off-peak. Here are 3 possible options:

  1. The South Line currently operates at half hour frequencies, and these 2 trains an hour can be re-routed to the SWRL. This removes two services per hour from Campbelltown, albeit trains so slow that passengers can reach the CBD faster by waiting for the next East Hills train and catching that instead.
  2. Two trains an hour on the East Hills Line (one each starting from/terminating at Kingsgrove and Campbelltown) could each be re-routed to the SWRL. This removes one service per hour from Campbelltown, bringing it back down to half hourly services all day. Though some clever timetabling of the Cumberland Line could allow passengers South of Glenfield a quick transfer at Glenfield for a fast SWRL train into the CBD, reducing the 30 minute wait between trains.
  3. The Cumberland Line is re-routed to the SWRL. This removed a direct link to Parramatta for anyone South of Glenfield and a direct link to the CBD for anyone on the SWRL. This makes it an unlikely choice, if passengers are required to make transfers then it should be for those with non-CBD destinations.

The SWRL was recently announced to be running 12 months ahead of schedule and $100m under budget. However, the revised mid-2015 completion date is still 3 years behind the initial 2012 completion date, with the revised $2.0bn budget well above the $688m it was originally expected to cost (Source: Daily Telegraph).

A draft copy of the October 2013 timetable was leaked to the Sydney Morning Herald last Friday, all 800 pages of it. This is not the final timetable, though any changes are expected to be minor tweaks rather than dramatic overhauls.

Previous expectations that this timetable would see a complete revamp of the network, removing direct CBD access for some stations, have been misplaced. Instead, this timetable would add around 700 new weekly services (which helps to bring Cityrail closer to its pre-2005 service levels, when 1,350 weekly services were cut in order to get the trains to run on time). Not only does it add new services, but it also increases speeds, generally by the creation of additional express services that skip more stations. For certain outer suburban stations, this could mean a one way trip that is 10 minutes shorter.

The other significant change is a simplification of the network and stopping patterns. This has meant taking out some of the flexibility that the current timetable has, so some journeys that can currently be made on a single train will necessitate at least one change of train. (The most elaborate is probably for a trip from Sefton to Homebush, a journey that can currently be accomplished on 1 train but will require up to 4 under the new timetable.) This may help to spread crowds out across different trains during peak hour, reducing the amount of delays caused by increased dwell times in the CBD as passengers take longer to board and disembark packed trains. Despite some minor inconveniences (which affect very few trips), these changes will improve reliability, as complexity makes it more likely for things to go wrong.

One specific improvement is more harmonised stopping patterns, which will be more likely to follow clock face patterns. For example, the Illawarra Line will have only 5 stopping patterns, compared to the 8 stopping patterns it currently has. Meanwhile, trains will arrive at Arncliffe Station at the evenly spaced out times of 7:53AM, 8:03AM, 8:13AM, 8:23AM, etc, whereas they currently do so at the erratic times of 7:51AM, 8:07AM, 8:22AM, 8:35AM. The former (harmonised stopping patterns) makes the latter possible, and together they will make the rail network more of a turn up and go style system, rather than one in which the timetable needs to be checked before making a trip. This will also apply during the off-peak.

What Sydney's rail network could look like once the October 2013 timetable comes into effect. The Inner West Line will terminate at Homebush, rather than Liverpool. The Bankstown Line will terminate at Lidcombe, with trains no longer continuing on along the Inner West Line. Some trains on the Western Line will continue through to Epping via Macquarie Park during the morning peak hour. Campbelltown express trains will be able to travel more quickly starting from Revesby due to the completion of a pair of overtaking tracks. (Source: Cityrail.)

What Sydney’s rail network could look like once the October 2013 timetable comes into effect. The Inner West Line will terminate at Homebush, rather than Liverpool. The Bankstown Line will terminate at Lidcombe, with trains no longer continuing on along the Inner West Line. Some trains on the Western Line will continue through to Epping via Macquarie Park during the morning peak hour, and in the other direction in the evening peak. Campbelltown express trains will be able to travel more quickly starting from Revesby due to the completion of a pair of overtaking tracks. (Source: Cityrail)

Other changes include:

  • An all day Cumberland Line, with trains running every half hour between Campbelltown and Blacktown.
  • The removal of Bankstown and Inner West Line trains between Lidcombe and Homebush now that turnback platforms at these stations are complete. This will ease the strain on the rail corridor between these stations, which is fed by 6 tracks on either side despite only having 4 tracks between Lidcombe and Homebush.
  • Incorporation of the Kingsgrove to Revesby Quadruplication into the timetable, allowing more trains from Southwest Sydney to run express into the CBD and overtake all stop services between Revesby and Wolli Creek.
  • Additional trains from the CBD running to Macquarie Park during the AM peak (and then in the other direction in the PM peak), reducing the gaps between services from the current 15 minutes down to a more reasonable 5-10 minutes.
  • Additional services during the AM peak on the Northern and Bankstown Lines, which suffer from the worst overcrowding problems across the network.
  • Additional services in the off-peak for the Western and Northern Lines, allowing many of the stations on these lines to provide frequencies of 15 minutes, compared to the existing 30 minute frequencies.

The timetable has not separated the Western and South Lines between Granville and Homebush, and these two lines still share track between these stations. In addition, the re-introduction of all day Cumberland Line services means trains between Sector 2 (South/Cumberland Line) and Sector 3 (Western Line) will share even more track than before, albeit on outer suburban portions of the network where this is less likely to cause disruptions to spillover onto other lines. Despite this, the removal of Inner West and Bankstown Line services between Lidcombe and Homebush should see these two sectors run more independently, despite the fact that they continue to share track.

Stay tuned for more specifics over the coming days, split out into AM peak, off-peak, and PM peak.

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

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

Overcrowding

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

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

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

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

Spare capacity

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

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

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

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

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

Changes in the 2013 Timetable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Improvements and remaining problems

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

Estimated overcrowding by line for October 2013.

Estimated overcrowding by line for October 2013.

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

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

Future developments

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

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

Sources

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

Transport Master Plan, Transport for NSW (December 2012)

Cityrail suffered it’s 12th major disruption since February today, that’s 12 disruptions in roughly 12 weeks. While the current government has performed well in other areas, the reliability of the rail network is by far it’s biggest failure in the transport network.

Causes of major disruptions on the Cityrail network since February 2013. (Sources: Penny Sharpe, Fare Free Day?)

Causes of major disruptions on the Cityrail network since February 2013. (Sources: Penny Sharpe, Fare free day?)

Many of these disruptions might have been prevented via improved maintenance. In fact, 10 of the 12 disruptions were caused at least in part due to problems with overhead wiring, signal breakdowns, or train breakdowns. Opposition Leader John Robertson has blamed this on the government’s decision to cut the state’s 4,700 rail maintenance staff by 450 positions, announced in Novermber of last year.

Mr Robertson is absolutely right to be concerned about insufficient maintenance, particularly if improved maintenance proves to be an effective way of preventing many of the disruptions on the rail network. But he is wrong to put the blame on the cuts, given that as of 22 April the process was only at the consultation phase and no actual staff cuts have yet occurred.

The government has argued that its changes are a result of consolidating the number of maintenance depots from 130 to 8, and that the cuts are only the elimination of any duplication of services and updating of out-dated work practices, rather than a reduction in capacity. If the poor reliability is due to current maintenance practices, then these changes might provide the improvements that are needed, given the current system has not prevented the numerous disruptions. Or they may not. Only time will tell.

Also of concern is the decision to turn efficiencies into cost savings rather than increased maintenance capacity. If reliability is down because of maintenance, then surely one solutions could be to increase resourcing to maintenance.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that not all disruptions are preventable. When prevention isn’t possible, then all which can be done is to minimise the impact. Further sectorisation would achieve this.

Right now, the lines which use the Eastern Suburbs Line (known as Sector 1), those which use the City Circle (known as Sector 2), and those which cross the Harbour Bridge (known as Sector 3) are mostly segregated from each other, which means a delay or disruption on one does not spill over onto the other. But Sectors 2 and 3 share a portion of track between Granville and Homebush, and so are not entirely separated. This has meant that in 4 of the 12 major disruptions listed above, delays on Sector 3 have spilled over onto Sector 2, or vice versa.

Trains from different lines use the same track between Granville and Strathfield, meaning that delays on one line lead to delays on other lines. (Source: Cityrail)

Trains from different lines use the same track between Granville and Homebush, meaning that delays on one line lead to delays on other lines. (Source: Cityrail)

Fixing this would probably require all city bound trains from Parramatta to run express between Granville and Strathfield during peak hour, but would provide tangible improvements to reliability. This could happen as soon as October, when a new timetable that has been written from scratch comes into operation. A draft of this timetable appears to have already been completed, though not yet released or leaked to the public.

If there ever was an annus horribilis for Cityrail, then 2013 is certainly how it would start. The network has seen an average of one major incident each week in the last 2 months, each involving a temporary suspension of services on a portion of the service.

The most recent occurred yesterday on the Northern Line due to a pantograph (train equipment used to draw power from the overhead wires) ripping up a 5km stretch of overhead wiring. But unlike previous suspensions so far this year, it took so long to fix that it was the only one to impact both the morning and evening commutes that day.

Opposition Leader John Robertson has blamed the incidents on insufficient maintenance staff to carry out essential work on the network, further citing the sacking of 450 maintenance staff. The government has countered that these maintenance positions have yet to be cut, and that since all trains were checked in recent weeks, pantographs included, and that this part of the network was reviewed following a previous incident earlier this year that it believes that sabotage is at fault, citing a missing set of keys used to access that part of the track.

Whether the delays yesterday and others over the last 2 months were due to mismanagement, sabotage, or just accidents, it remains a reality that the network is currently set up in a way that encourages the spread of such delays across the network. In yesterday’s case, though the incident occurred on the Northern Line, delays soon spread to virtually all other lines.

I’ve written about the reasons for this before: it’s due to lines sharing sections of track, the most troublesome part being the track between Granville and Homebush Stations. Even if Cityrail cannot prevent such incidents from occurring  they most certainly can stop them from spreading by changing line operations to be more independent of each other. This process, known as sectorisation, may require some commuters to make an additional transfer from one train to another, but it will result in a big increase in reliability on the network, as well as simplify it from both a planning and commuter perspective.

Trains from different lines use the same track between Granville and Strathfield, meaning that delays on one line lead to delays on other lines. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Cityrail)

Trains from different lines use the same track between Granville and Strathfield, meaning that delays on one line lead to delays on other lines. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Cityrail)

Recent opposition to such changes on the North West Rail Link (which will require many commuters to change at Chatswood) is something that would have to be overcome. But if it means limiting network wide delays like those which occurred on Friday, then I think most commuters will support such a move.

But so long as such changes are not introduced, commuters will be afraid of the unknown. Therefore, the government should make a brave move in October and further sectorise the Cityrail network when it revamps the timetable. This could mean terminating Northern Line trains at Central and/or sending Richmond Line trains to Liverpool on the Cumberland Line rather than the CBD. This may prove unpopular in the short term, but commuters will support the changes if they see improvements.

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

Late trains press release

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

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

Overcrowding press release

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

EcoTransit recently produced a video attacking the government’s plans for the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL). It’s a well produced video that provides some good background and makes some good points. But it’s also a bit off the mark in some instances, which are discussed below, following the video itself. The video makes two main arguments about the NWRL: that it should be double deck and that it should be publicly operated.

The video gives some background on how metro systems developed around the world, where typically you have a long distance commuter rail system (often but not always double deck) combined with a short distance metro rail system primarily within a roughly 10km radius of the CBD. Commuters from the suburbs would catch a commuter rail train into a central station, where they would change for a metro train to travel within the CBD itself. Residents of the inner city could catch a metro train directly. Commuter rail is designed around peak hour travel, and off peak will often only have hourly services, while metro rail is all day and frequent.

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.)

The beauty of Sydney’s system, the video correctly points out, is that rather than having 2 separate systems, it combined the two. And so Cityrail trains from the suburbs arrive at Central Station, but rather than terminating there, they continue through an underground CBD subway. This has many advantages, primarily allowing a seamless journey into the CBD, and avoids the need for large amounts of scarce CBD space that would be required for a commuter rail to metro rail interchange. But it also has its disadvantages, such as infrequent trains outside of peak hour and unreliable services during peak hour, which the video does not address.

The video also criticises the previous Labor government’s various metro proposals, the Northwest Metro (which would travel under Victoria Road) and the CBD Metro (a shortened version of the previous proposal). The problem with these metros is that they seemed to be designed as a way of building metros almost for the sake of building metros. They were the wrong solution for Sydney, not because they were metros but because they were the wrong metros. Luckily, they were eventually dumped, but not before the government spent $500m on the project.

Single deck metro systems are designed for short distances to dense city centers with stations spaced about 1km apart. The Northwest Rail Link does none of these, and is inappropriate for a metro system.

A metro would definitely be inappropriate for making a long distance trip to a single employment center, these are trips where passengers get on at suburban stations and then all get off when they reach the CBD. While most of Sydney is low density suburbia, the NWRL alignment is a dense corridor very similar in nature to the CBD. It is full of employment and residential centers, resulting in a constant turnover of passengers both getting on and getting off at many stations along the way. Single deck trains, which lack the bottlenecks that double deck trains’ stairs have, ensure that dwell times will remain low at these stations. In fact, the proposed NWRL’s 47km alignment from Cudegong Rd to the city, which passes through the “global economic arc” of Macquarie Park, Chatswood, St Leonards, North Sydney, and the CBD, is probably the only possible long distance (significantly over 10km-20km) rail line in the Sydney basin that suits metro style operations.

Cityrail doesn’t need to convert to metro to increase the existing frequency from 20 trains per hour to 30 trains per hour. RER has 2 minute headways with double deck trains, so Sydney could get higher frequencies without shifting to single deck.

Comparing the headways of Parisian double deck trains to those of Sydney single deck trains is comparing apples with oranges. Paris has a far more advanced signalling system that allows trains to safely run closer to each other. The point is that single deck trains will, all else equal, always be able to run more frequently than double deck trains. This is due to single deck trains having shorter dwell times from quicker boarding/exits by passengers. You need no more evidence of this than to see that while Paris’ RER system has 120 second headways, the Paris metro’s headways are even shorter at 85 seconds.

NOTE: Dwell times are important, as long dwell times lead to delays. These delays then limit the number of trains that can pass through a given station each hour. Once you limit the number of trains per hour, you are reducing the overall passenger capacity of that line. It is not uncommon for 17 Northbound trains to cross the Harbour Bridge during the busiest hour in the morning when 19 are actually timetabled. So ensuring low dwell times can actually increase passenger capacity.

Paris is replacing its single deck trains with double deck trains. Having converted all Cityrail trains to double deck, going back to single deck would be a step backwards.

This is true of the RER system, which is their commuter rail network, and something that Sydney did many decades ago. But they are not converting their metro system to double deck. A metro needs to be able to handle high passenger turnover, and this is the achiles heel of the double deck train. They provide lots of seats for a comfortable long distance journey, but they do this at the expense of allowing high numbers of passengers to get on and off quickly.

Double deck trains have 50% more floor space, meaning 50% more capacity.

The former is true, and the latter is also true if the configuration of seating is the same. However, it is not. Single deck trains will have fewer seats, allowing more space for standing passengers. Double deck trains cannot achieve this without a blowout in dwell times as the stairs into the vestibules are only wide enough for one person at a time. Single deck trains have no such constraint and so you are able to remove seats in order to increase capacity without longer dwell times.

A metro’s lack of seating will result in passengers from the Northwest to stand if making a 40 minute journey into the CBD via the NWRL.

Unlike other lines in the Cityrail network, the NWRL is not one where passengers continue to baord the train as it approaches the CBD, then spill out in the city. They will continually board and exit the trains as it passes through job rich areas like Macquarie Park or the North Shore. This constant turnover of passengers means seats will often become available during the journey. Only about half of all commuters predicted to use the NWRL are expected to be travelling to the CBD, with almost half getting off before crossing the Harbour. Additionally, those making the long journeys, say from Rouse Hill to the CBD, will be boarding an almost empty train, thus be almost guaranteed a seat the whole way (a similar mirrored scenario will exist for the return journey in the afternoon, where high passenger turnover will provide many opportunities for a seat if the train is full when it leaves the city).

Large number of passenger will have to change trains at Chatswood, which could lead to many passengers getting stuck on the platforms, particularly if a CBD bound train is cancelled.

This is absolutely true, and one of the biggests risks that the NWRL poses. However, the fault of this is not that the NWRL is being operated as a completely different system to the Cityrail network, but that there is only so much capacity across the Harbour. If NWRL trains were sent directly into the CBD, then it would limit the number of North Shore trains that would be able to do the same. The only real solution here is to build in more capacity. In the short term this means a quadruplication of the track between Chatswood and St Leonards, allowing NWRL trains to continue through to St Leonards, and in the long term it means building a Second Harbour Crossing.

The Transport Minister, Gladys Berejiklian, promised the NWRL would be integrated with the Cityrail network and only made these changes to get the support of Infrastructure NSW Chairman, Nick Greiner, given that Mr Greiner is a big proponent of privatisation.

It’s true that Ms Berejiklian broke her promises on the NWRL. She promised it would be operated with double deck trains and that trains from the Northwest would travel directly through to the CBD. Both of these will not be the case. (Incidentally, the government has also promised that the NWRL trains will not be driverless, which hopefully will be another broken promise given the benefits that driverless trains would bring.)

However, it’s not clear that this was done to appease Mr Greiner. It would appear more likely that Infrastructure NSW was told that the NWRL was government policy and not negotiable, given the government’s desire to not be seen to back away from a transport infrastructure project like the previous government had with its metro proposals. Nor did the government seek Mr Greiner’s approval on other projects (other than WestConnex), as every time the Transport Plan and Infrastructure Plans disagreed, the government opted to take the advice of Transport for NSW’s report.

Instead, this raises the questions over whether privatisation is inherently a bad thing. If privatisation is implemented like the Airport Line was, were a private company owns the stations and charges a station access fee, then it will not work as part of an integrated transport system. However, if it is implemented like the Sydney bus network or Sydney ferries, where the government pays private operators to run the vehicles, but the government sets and collects fares from commuters, then it can be a way of reducing costs while ensuring services are maintained at a contractually set level. All indications are that the latter is true in this case, particularly given that the government has seen Cityrail’s costs spiral out of control. So if introducing private operators is one way of cutting costs, then it can allow for more services with the same transport budget.

Building the NWRL with smaller tunnels will forever shut out the rest of the Cityrail network from using those tracks as well as a future Second Harbour Crossing.

This is unfortunate. It does not even seem that the savings from smaller tunnels will result in a significant cost saving either. In fact, the cost savings will be less than the additional costs that will be incurred in converting the Chatswood to Epping Line to be metro compatible. The separation of NWRL services itself will provide an added benefit of improved reliability through additional sectorisation, the line does not have to be built so as to permanently shut out all double deck trains.

Monday’s breakdown on the North Shore Line disrupted some 50,000 passengers going to work that morning. Trains did not run between North Sydney and Chatswood until 10:30AM, and there were no trains between Wynyard and North Sydney until 8AM. Buses lack the capacity of heavy rail at the best of time, let alone when a section of the rail system shuts down unexpectadly, and buses struggled to deal with the huge numbers of passengers getting off trains.

However, the disruptions were not limited to the North Shore. Trains on the Western and Northern Lines that normally pass through the North Shore Line saw delays throughout the morning. And it was these delays that saw flow-on effects to other parts of the network, to the South, Inner West, Bankstown, Airport/East Hills, and Newcastle/Central Coast Lines. This is because trains on these lines run on the same tracks at various points in the network. The Illawarra/Eastern Suburbs Line, which operates on completely different track to the previously mentioned lines, was not affected.

This separation of lines, operating on separate tracks to prevent delays on one line from spilling over to another line, is known as sectorisation. Cityrail has 3 sectors: Sector One (the Eastern Suburbs/Illawarra Line), Sector Two (all lines using the City Circle), and Sector Three (all lines using the Harbour Bridge). The problem is that trains on sectors two and three share track between Granville and Strathfield. This is despite there being 2 pairs of track along this section of the network, meaning that sector two trains and sector three trains could easily run on completely separate tracks. Word on the street is that the timetable update later this year will do exactly that (more on this next week).

Trains from different lines use the same track between Granville and Strathfield, meaning that delays on one line lead to delays on other lines. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Cityrail)

Trains from different lines use the same track between Granville and Strathfield, meaning that delays on one line lead to delays on other lines. (Source: Cityrail)

Doing so would not have prevented the faulty wiring that shut down the North Shore Line and led to delays on Monday. But it would have quarantined these delays, preventing them from flowing on to lines that run into the City Circle.

Three different alignments have been proposed for the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) over the years: via Strathfield, via Chatswood, and via Parramatta.

The Options

The first (via Strathfield) involved the line from Castle Hill linking up with the Northern Line around Cheltenham on the surface, allowing trains to travel into the CBD either via Strathfield or Chatswood. This was abandoned due to the requirement that the line be quadruplicating between Epping and Cheltenham in order to prevent that portion of dual track from becoming a bottleneck. Local opposition and a cost so high that tunnelling was a cheaper option led to this alignment being abandoned in favour of the second option.

NWRL via Strathfield: The alignment goes from Castle Hill to Cheltenham and then Epping via a surface route, allowing it to get to the CBD via both Strathfield and Chatswood. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Wikipedia.)

The second (via Chatswood) is the currently planned alignment. It involves connecting the rail tunnels directly to the underground station at Epping, which means all NWRL trains must continue on to Chatswood and cannot divert to Strathfield. This reduces flexibility, but Cityrail’s Clearways program of sectorising the rail network into independent lines meant that flexibility wasn’t something Cityrail was looking for anyway.

NWRL via Chatswood: The alignment goes from Castle Hill to Epping via an underground tunnel, continuing to Chatswood via Macquarie Park. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The third (via Parramatta) was floated by Parramatta Council as a way of getting the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link (PERL) built. It involved building the NWRL through to Castle Hill, then sending it South to Parramatta, before going to Epping and continuing through to Chatswood and then St Leonards (avoiding the need for an expensive Second Harbour Crossing). Passengers heading into the CBD could change at Parramatta for express services. However, it also meant a longer trip for anyone heading to Macquarie Park or the North Shore.

NWRL via Parramatta: The alignment goes from Castle Hill to Parramatta and then Epping. The dotted line shows the via Strathfield alignment. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Channel Ten News.)

All three options see capacity constraints for CBD trips: with the Western, Northern, and North Shore Lines all highly congested and near capacity.

Where do people from The Hills want to go?

The locations that Hills residents desire to travel to is ultimately what should determine which of the 3 options should be taken. For the purpose of determining this, work commutes will be taken into account (as data is most easily available for these, though the most recent data I was able to obtain was from 2001). I’ll be using Bus Contract Region 4 (see map below) as a proxy for The Hills, however this also includes areas further South such as Westmead, Northmead, Carlingford, etc. Calculations are included at the end.

Bus contract regions map. (Source: Transport for NSW)

Most Hills residents (57% [1]) work outside of large centres. The widespread nature of where their work is located means that public transport is unlikely to compete with the private vehicle for their work commutes. Nor should it, as these are the sorts of trips which require the flexibility of a car, rather than the capacity of public transport. The remaining 43% work in large centres [A], primarily in Parramatta/Westmead – 9.9% [A], the Global Economic Arc (Macquarie Park, Chatswood, St Leonards/Crows Nest, and North Sydney) – 7.7% [B], the Sydney CBD – 7.3% [1], Castle Hill – 4.7% [A], and various other centres – 12.6% [1]. These are respectively shown in green, blue, yellow, grey, and brown in the chart below.

Note: The above diagram shows North Sydney as having a 42% jobs share. That is a typo. It should read 2.3%

Given the southern half of Region 4 includes suburbs between Parramatta and The Hills, which are likely to over represent the number of people who work in Parramatta/Westmead, the proportion of Hills residents who work in Parramatta/Westmead is likely to be less than 9.9%. That would make each of the 3 major employment zones (Parramatta/Westmead, the Global Economic Arc, and the Sydney CBD) are roughly equal in size, with Castle Hill close behind them.

How the different alignments stack up

All three options have the same alignment up to Castle Hill, at which point they begin to diverge. So it is the other 3 employment zones which differentiate the alignments.

The via Parramatta alignment is the only one that provides access to Parramatta/Westmead (the latter via a change of train at Parramatta). It also provides access to both the CBD (with a change of train at Parramatta) and the Global Economic Arc (by continuing on via the Parramatta to Epping Line). However, the former is capacity constrained and the latter would be delayed by having to travel to Parramatta before continuing to Epping.

The via Strathfield alignment gives no access to Parramatta/Westmead. By allowing some trains to go to the CBD via Strathfield and some via Chatswood, capacity constraints are limited. However, it also limits access to the Global Economic Arc. Eventually, construction of a Second Harbour Crossing can allow all trains to travel via Chatswood, providing good access to both the CBD and Global Economic Arc.

The via Chatswood alignment gives no access to Parramatta/Westmead. It gives the best access to the Global Economic Arc, initially with direct trains to Macquarie Park and Chatswood, but easily extended to St Leonards by quadruplicating the track between Chatswood and St Leonards. Eventually, construction of a Second Harbour Crossing can allow all trains to travel directly to the CBD, providing good access to both the CBD as well as the Global Economic Arc.

The via Parramatta option provides benefits if a Second Harbour Crossing does not happen, and is partly designed to defer the need for one. It also highlights why the government has committed to a Second Harbour Crossing – it unlocks much of the potential of the NWRL. This makes the via Parramatta option a viable one, but also one that suffers from short sighted vision, as a Second Harbour Crossing will eventually be needed, but will be less useful if there is no NWRL for it to connect to.

The via Strathfield and via Chatswood options seem roughly neck and neck, especially considering either can be upgraded with a Second Harbour Crossing to run trains directly to the CBD via Chatswood, providing good connections to both the Global Economic Arc and CBD. But there are 2 things that make the via Chatswood option superior. First, it avoids the problems of building the surface route between Epping and Cheltenham to avoid capacity constraints on that portion of track – including high cost of land acquisition, delays due to the need to start planning again from scratch on that portion of the line, and strong local opposition. Second, it goes against the concept of sectorisation, mixing different trains on the same lines – in particular this would prevent an effective private sector operation of the new line and the associated cost benefits that could come from it.

Conclusion

Each alignment has advantages and disadvantages, and there is no clear superior option. However, the NWRL via Chatswood alignment does appear to have a slight edge over the other options, on the assumption that a Second Harbour Crossing is built right after the NWRL is completed (as is current government policy).

However, this does not increase capacity on between the Hills to Parramatta, so improvements here should also be considered, particularly on the key Windsor Rd and Old Windsor Rd corridors. The former has a proposal for light rail linking Parramatta to Castle Hill currently undergoing a feasibility study, while the latter already has a T-Way where increased bus frequencies would easily achieve improved mobility.

Sources

[1]: Contract Region 4 (page 15)

[2]: Contract Region 7 (page 6)

[3]: Employment and Commuting in Sydney’s Centres, 1996 – 2006 (page 8)

Calculations

[A]: “Of the workforce living in Region 4 approximately 43% work in major centres. Of those employed in centres, most were employed in…the centres of Parramatta (16%), Castle Hill (11%) and Westmead (7%)” [1]

Castle Hill: 11% x 43% = 4.7%

Parramatta: 16% x 43% = 6.9%

Westmead: 7% x 43% = 3.0%

Parramatta/Westmead: 6.9% + 3.0% = 9.9%

[B] 13.2% of Region 4 workers are employed in Region 7, which includes all 4 centres of the Global Economic Arc [1]

Region 7 employs 206,500 workers in total [2]

Each of the centres in the Global Economic Arc employ the following number of workers: Macquarie Park (26,814), Chatswood (19,842), St Leonards/Crows Nest (36,514), North Sydney (36,597) [3]

Macquarie Park: 13.2% x ( 26,814 / 206,500 ) = 1.7%

Chatswood: 13.2% x (19,842 / 206,500 ) = 1.3%

St Leonards/Crows Nest: 13.2% x (36,514 / 206,500 ) = 2.3%

North Sydney: 13.2% x (36,597 / 206,500 ) = 2.3%

Global Economic Arc = 1.7% + 1.3% + 2.3% + 2.3% = 7.7%

The NSW government yesterday announced its biggest change to Sydney’s train network. I will put up some more about this tomorrow. Today I’m just going to outline the changes. The Northwest Rail Link will be connected up to the Epping to Chatswood Rail Link and operated privately. This new line will run as a shuttle and use single deck metro trains running every 5 minutes in a high frequency turn up and go manner. This is what we can expect trains and stations on the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) to look like: As the new line will be separate to the rest of the network, this means they will not be connected to the CBD. The government had previously promised direct services into the city, and so this represents a broken election promise. This was reiterated by Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian herself in 12 December of last year:

Jacob Saulwick Twitter 20 June 2012

Instead, the government will fast track a Second Harbour Crossing, linking Chatswood to Redfern. The NWRL will then connect up to the Bankstown Line and also continue through to Hurstville, all on frequent, rapid, single deck trains. This is what the Sydney Trains network will build up to: Eventually it will be separated into 3 tiers: NSW Trains (blue), Sydney Trains (yellow) and a future single deck metro system (red):

Sydney 3 tier train network

This proposal would split Sydney up into 3 tiers for long, medium and short trips. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Sydney’s Rail Future, Transport for NSW)

These sorts of trains (single deck metros) are best suited for where there is a high turnover of passengers, with lots of people getting both on and off, which is why it is being introduced in the Global Economic Arc of Sydney CBD-North Sydney-St Leonards-Chatswood-Macquarie Park-Norwest. Premier Barry O’Farrell and Ms Berejiklian were quick to begin selling the new plan, which would include:

  • An increase in CBD capacity by 60%, equivalent to 100,000 passengers per hour.
  • Frequent and rapid services on a new single deck metro line.
  • A privately operated line with timetables and fares set by the government, in line with the rest of the network.
  • A simplification of the rest of the network, continuing to split it off into separate sectors so that problems in one sector do not spill over into others.

Opposition Leader John Robertson and Shadow Transport Minister Penny Sharpe criticised the announcement, pointing out that:

  • The promised CBD link is not there and passengers will need to change onto North Shore or Northern Line trains which average peak hour use of 110% and 150% of capacity respectively.
  • The NWRL will be privately operated, despite Mr O’Farrell having said he “went to the election with a platform of promises and rail privatisation was not one of those policies”, further pointing out that the other privately run line (the Airport Line) charges a premium of up to $11 to use its stations and so “there is every chance that passengers will be forced to pay higher fares”.

Media reports

Sydney transport shake-up: plan for single deck metro-style trains and second harbour crossing, Sydney Morning Herald

NW rail line won’t reach Sydney CBD, ABC News