Posts Tagged ‘Track amplification’

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 expands to Forest Coach Lines routes in Northern Sydney

Around 100 buses operated by Forest Coach Lines in Northern Sydney have been Opal enabled. Opal is now available on 47 bus routes around Sydney, with 300,000 Opal cards currently in circulation.

Tuesday: Second Harbour Crossing and WestConnex extensions announced

An under the Harbour rail crossing and Northern plus Southern extension to WestConnex would be the major infrastructure projects funded by selling a 49% stake in the NSW electricity distribution network, often referred to as the “poles and wires”. The new rail crossing would form the spine of a future Sydney Rapid Transit network, featuring single deck trains running from Rouse Hill in Sydney’s North West to Bankstown in Sydney’s South West via the Sydney CBD. Funding would also be included for improvements to the T1 Western Line; including improved signalling, track amplifications, and additional stabling.

Proposed Sydney Rapid Transit network. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, Sydney Rapid Transit, p. 1)

Proposed Sydney Rapid Transit network. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, Sydney Rapid Transit, p. 1)

Friday: Almost 500 pedestrians fined for jaywalking

495 fines were handed out by police in Sydney and Parramatta for jaywalking during as 12 hour period. The blitz was an attempt to reduce risky pedestrian behaviour. 29 pedestrians have been killed so far this year.

The decision to make the North West Rail Link (NWRL) an independently operated single deck line that incorporates the existing Epping to Chatswood Rail Link poses a number of operational challenges.

In the short term, the line will terminate at Chatswood, forcing the 2/3rds of passengers headed further South on the North Shore and into the CBD to change to another train. Some (very rough) estimates by Transport Sydney suggest that this will lead to increased crowding on the North Shore Line, but still less crowded than the Western or Illawarra Lines.

In the longer term, a Second Harbour Rail Crossing will allow both a reduction in crowding levels and for these passengers to continue through into the CBD. However, such a project will not be completed until some time in the next decade or perhaps even later.

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

The Northwest Rail Link will include a new railway from Epping to Rouse Hill, plus a retrofitted Epping to Chatswood Line. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Transport for NSW)

A report in the Sydney Morning Herald from a few months ago claimed to have obtained internal Transport for NSW documents detailing how the government plans to deal with these problems. With some additional speculation to fill in the gaps, this is what it’s approach might be.

Having enough trains on the North Shore Line

There are currently 18 trains per hour on the North Shore Line during the busiest hour in the AM peak, carrying 15,494 passengers (measured at St Leonards). 4 of these trains come from Hornsby via Macquarie Park, 14 come from Hornsby via Gordon. 8 of these 18 trains can be rerouted via Strathfield – the 4 via Macquarie Park trains as well as 4 via Gordon trains which come in from the Central Coast. South of Epping, the previously via Macquarie Park trains will become the existing all stations trains that start at Epping and continue through the CBD and across the Harbour Bridge. Meanwhile, the previously via Gordon trains will replace the 2 new trains which start at Epping and run a limited stops service to Sydney Terminal at Central as well as the other 2 other slots available for such trains.

This may require some adjustments to stopping patterns on the Northern Line in order to allow the faster trains to overtake the slower trains on the section of the line which has 2 pairs of tracks, as a large section of the line currently only has 1 pair of tracks. It is also possible due to intercity trains from the South Coast now continuing through to Bondi Junction during the peak rather than running into Sydney Terminal, thus freeing up capacity at Sydney Terminal for additional trains from the Northern Line.

Assuming passenger loadings are evenly spread out, this should result in a reduction in passenger numbers on the North Shore Line equal to 8 train loads, or about 6,886 passengers.

The government expects 19 million passengers to shift over to the NWRL from other lines each year, which with some very rough guessing (see end of post) is equivalent to 6,800 passengers transferring from the NWRL to the North Shore Line at Chatswood.

The government also expects to reduce the number of buses from Sydney’s North West by 160 during the AM peak, changing them to operate as feeder buses for the NWRL. This equates to about 103 buses during the busiest hour of the AM peak, which is approximately 5,000 passengers (assuming 50 passengers per bus).

So adjusting the current patronage by these amounts gives: 15,494 – 6,886 + 6,800 +5,000 = 20,408 passengers per hour.  The government has committed to running 20 trains per hour on the North Shore Line once the NWRL is operational, which means 1,020 passengers per train, or 113% loading (assuming 900 seats per train). This is above the current 99% average loading on the North Shore Line and also the 94% that it could drop to when the number of trains per hour is increased to 19 as part of the 2013 timetable. But it is well below the 135% crush capacity, above which long dwell time begin to result in delays. It is also below the current loading of the 2 most patronised lines on the Sydney Trains network: the Western Line (119%) and the Illawarra Line (123%).

It should be reinforced that these are not official Transport for NSW or Sydney Trains figures, but rough estimates made by Transport Sydney.

Timing the transfers at Chatswood

During the morning peak, the North Shore Line would run at 3 minute intervals, with the NWRL running at 5 minute intervals. Some North Shore trains commence at Hornsby or Berowra, and these tend to be more full than those starting at Gordon given that they have stopped at more stations and picked up more passengers. By scheduling trains that start at Gordon (plus also possibly Lindfield) to arrive at Chatswood shortly after a train from the NWRL does, then this should maximise the amount of space available on the trains NWRL passengers are transferring to, plus minimise waiting time on the platform for a train that can take as many waiting passengers as possible. Network limitations mean it is unlikely that more than 4 trains per hour can be started at Gordon, and another 4 at Linfield. By having these trains arrive at Chatswood at alternating 6 and 9 minute intervals (e.g. arriving at 8:06AM, 8:15AM, 8:21AM, 8:30AM, etc), they approximate the 5 minute intervals of the NWRL (e.g. 8:04AM, 8:09AM, 8:14AM, 8:19AM, 8:24AM, 8:29AM, etc). Thus, passengers on 8 out of every 12 NWRL trains during peak hour could quite easily just board the next train into the CBD after a 1-2 minute wait. The trouble is that 4 of the 12 NWRL trains per hour are unlikely to benefit from these relatively empty Gordon/Linfield starters, and pose the biggest threat of passengers having to wait for multiple trains before being able to board.

The installation of screen doors are likely to increase the total available space on platforms, by making available the space currently beyond the yellow line that passengers are always told not to cross. However, this would not appear to be a significant amount of space.

Northern Line capacity

As mentioned earlier, capacity increases to the North Shore Line involve moving 8 trains per hour onto the Northern Line. The 4 trains per hour that currently travel from Hornsby to Chatswood via Epping can be rerouted via Strathfield, effectively becoming the 4 trains per hour from Epping to the City via Strathfield. This reverts to the pre-2009 operating patterns before the Epping to Chatswood Rail Link opened. The 4 Central Coast trains moved from the North Shore to the Northern Line will have to terminate at Sydney Terminal, given that all slots through Town Hall, Wynyard, and the Harbour Bridge are being used by existing Western Line and Northern Line trains. This will also mean the end of the 2 additional trains planned for the 2013 timetable, which go from Epping to Sydney Terminal each morning peak.

These changes pose problems of their own. First, it replaces existing trains that start empty at either Hornsby or Epping with trains that began their journey earlier (at the Central Coast and Hornsby respectively) and have picked up passengers, thus removing spare capacity from the line. So while it will see Northern Line frequencies raised from the current 8 trains per hour to 12 trains per hour, the additional trains will be more crowded on average. Second, many parts of the Northern Line have only 1 pair of tracks, and thus lack an overtaking track for faster express trains to pass slower all stops trains.

The first problem is somewhat alleviated by passengers choosing to change at either Hornsby or Epping and travelling towards Macquarie Park/the North Shore, thus freeing up space on Northern Line trains.

The second can be alleviated by building additional track between West Ryde and Rhodes. This will result in 2 pairs of tracks between Epping and Rhodes, thus allowing the faster Central Coast trains to overtake all stations trains.

Extending the NWRL to St Leonards

Of all the possible improvements mentioned in the Herald article, it makes special mention of this one. It would allow passengers on the NWRL travelling to St Leonards to avoid having to transfer to a North Shore Line train. In doing so it would also reduce overcrowding, which as mentioned earlier could be very close to crush loads.

Fast tracking this project to be ready by the time the NWRL begins operating in 2019 would be the single best way to ease the stress caused on the network until a Second Harbour Crossing is built.

Improved signalling

Upgrading signalling in order to boost the maximum capacity of the Sydney Trains network from 20 trains per hour to 24 trains per hour would add an additional 20% capacity to the network. Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian had previously talked about train frequencies of 24 per hour on the North Shore, but has since restrained herself to talking about 20 trains per hour. This suggests that such an upgrade is not likely to happen any time soon, probably due to the high cost of doing so.

The cost

The Herald report claims that the cost of these improvements, plus others listed in the internal document (such as new rolling stock), come to $4bn or almost half of the NWRL’s $8.3bn price tag. However, when asked about these costs during budget estimates hearings last year, Transport for NSW head Les Wielinga dismissed them as amounts that were already budgeted for. This suggests that the required track amplifications on the Northern and North Shore Lines will occur, despite no word on the timing. The Chatswood to St Leonards portion in particular would actually form the beginning of the promised Second Harbour Crossing, and therefore represents a bringing forward of future capital spending, rather than new spending.

Implementing all of these would not eliminate all the problems caused by the NWRL as planned. Upper Northern Line Stations would still lose direct access to Macquarie Park, and be forced to choose between longer journey times or making a transfer in order to reach the lower North Shore. NWRL users would still have to wait until some time next decade before getting a direct link into the CBD, and Chatswood (or St Leonards) could be strained to handle the number of passengers transferring there until that happens.

But it would be significantly better than the “do nothing but build the NWRL as currently planned” option.


19,000,000 passengers per year diverted to NWRL from other lines

19,000,000 / 52 = 365,385 passengers per week

365,385 / 6 = 60,897 passengers per day (assuming 50% usage on Saturdays and Sundays compared to weekdays)

60,897 / 3 = 20,299 passengers per morning peak (assuming rule of thumb that patronage is one third AM peak, one third off peak, one third PM peak)

20,299 / 2 = 10,150 passengers per hour in busiest hour of AM peak (assuming half of all passengers during the 6AM-9AM peak travel during 8AM-9AM)

10,150 x 67% = 6,800 passengers per hour past Chatswood (assuming one third of passengers get off by Chatswood)

The worst sort of NIMBY

Posted: September 25, 2013 in Transport
Tags: , ,

Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) is a common view with any major piece of infrastructure. While often derided by those not negatively affected, it is not entirely without merit. The benefits of something should be weighed up against the costs that it imposes on others, and when these costs are disproportionately imposed on a small portion of the community then it should be looked into further to see if those problems can be mitigated.

However, in some cases the cry of the NIMBY becomes so entrenched that they go on to oppose something that will actually alleviate their concerns.

Take the case of the residents living adjacent to the Northern Sydney Freight Line. The ABC’s 730 NSW program reported on this last week, and rightly pointed out that some residents suffer from freight trains passing by that are as loud as aircraft. But unlike aircraft noise, which is prevented by a curfew from occurring at night time, many of these freight trains pass by at night because of restrictions that prevent them from using the Northern Line during the morning and evening peak when the line is full of passenger trains. This is a legitimate concern, and given the push to transfer freight off trucks on the road and onto rail, one that deserves to be investigated as this problem will only become more intensified in years to come.

“Residents are presently considering a class action against extant freight train pollution, noting that we are facing 24-hour a day exposure to noise in the range of 90-108db; respiratory disease from asbestosis from freight train brake pads and diesel loco emissions; and, psychological damage because of the savageness, intrusiveness and frequency of the freight train movements.”Alex Sell, Northern Rail Noise Committee (10 May 2012)

But this opposition to additional freight trains has now extended to an opposition to the expansion of the Northern Sydney Freight Line. The current plan, to separate freight trains between Strathfield and Hornsby from passenger trains, would allow freight trains to pass through this busy portion of the railway during the peak commuter hour. This would end the ironic reality that noisy freight trains have a day time curfew, while noisy aircraft have a night time curfew. Yet what should be an improvement has instead been rejected in what seems to be a knee jerk reaction.

Moorebank Intermodal

The Northern Sydney Freight Line is shown in yellow. Click to enlarge. (Source: Department of Infrastructure and Transport)

Ideally no loud freight trains would pass through residential areas. But if they must pass through, it is madness to not build a piece of infrastructure that would allow as many of them to pass by during the day time when the least number of residents are at home, rather than night time when virtually all of them are home asleep.

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.

Three things came up in the news in the previous week which are worth touching on just quickly – a new Cityrail timetable, the report by Canberra Airport recommending the construction of high speed rail between Sydney and Canberra rather than building a second airport in the Sydney basin, and the NSW Budget Estimates hearings.

New Timetable

A few extra train services are being added to the timetable. (The associated Transport for NSW press release says it is 44 services per week, while the Telegraph reports 36 new services per week, but I count only 34.) It includes 4 new services each day (weekdays only) to the Illawarra/Eastern Suburbs Line as well as 2 new services each day (weekdays and weekends) to the Blue Mountains Line (all the way to Bathurst, which until recently was served by buses rather than trains). This is on top of the 63 new services per week introduced last year, bringing it up to about an extra 100 train services per week since the Coalition won the 2011 election.

However, word is that it is the next timetable change, coming at the end of 2013, that will deliver real changes to service levels on the Cityrail network and will also involve a complete re-write of the timetable from the ground up. This is when the Liverpool turnback platform and Kingsgrove to Revesby track quadruplication are set to be completed, allowing for a significant increase in the number of trains operated. This is particularly the case for trains that use the City Circle, which currently is not being used to its full capacity during either the morning or afternoon peak.

Canberra High Speed Rail

A report released by Canberra Airport suggests that High Speed Rail (HSR) could enable Canberra Airport to function as Sydney’s second airport, eliminating the need to build a second airport in the Sydney Basin. Given the $11bn price tag of HSR, compared to $9bn for a second airport, and a total travel time of 57 minutes into the Sydney CBD, the plan appears to be quite reasonable. However, Alan Davies points out that the $11bn figure comes from the federal government’s HSR feasibility study, which found that:

“the report says there’s only a 10% chance that estimate wouldn’t be exceeded. No one uses that figure – the preferred estimate is $19 billion because at least there’s a 90% chance it won’t be exceeded” – Alan Davies (10 Oct, 2012), The Urbanist

A HSR link was also quickly rejected by the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, who said it was “some time away” from being viable.

Hopefully one or both the state and federal government will bite the bullet and accept the conclusion of the both the Joint Study on Aviation Capacity and the Infrastructure NSW report, which recommend a second airport be built at Badgerys Creek. This location provides improved transport links and employment opportunities for the growing Western Sydney region. It’s an unpopular decision, but it’s the right one.

Budget Estimates

The Transport Minister, Gladys Berejiklian, fronted the state budget estimates hearing on transport on Tuesday. Major information arising from that hearing included points below.

Heavy rail:

The portion of the hearings that made the headline news was about non-air conditioned trains being kept on, despite these being scheduled to be phased out by the end of 2014 once all the Waratah trains are delivered. It comes from the following question and answer:

“Are you planning beyond 2014 for the C and K sets and other non air-conditioned sets to have to remain on the network to meet the timetable changes…Mr Wielinga are you confident that the C, K and S sets are not going to remain on the network beyond the rollout of the Waratahs?” – Penny Sharpe (9 Oct, 2012), Shadow Transport Minister

“No. We are being as flexible as we can be. The question that needs to be asked is: How many additional services do we want to put on? If our customers are seeking additional services and we want to increase that above what is programmed at the moment, we will use whatever rolling stock is available to us to provide those customer services.” – Les Wielinga (9 Oct, 2012), Director General of Transport for NSW

Some confusion remains as to what this means, primarily due to Ms Sharpe’s questions, and whether she was asking only about non-air conditioned trains, or about the old silver sets (each given a letter classification, with C and K being air conditioned, while L, R, and S are not air conditioned). This led to the following back and forth on Twitter:

What could potentially be happening is that all non-air conditioned trains are being withdrawn from service, but kept warehoused for use in case of emergency, should a situation arise in which Cityrail was short on trains. In these cases, a non-air conditioned train is better than a cancelled train. Mr Wielinga’s response would be consistent with such a scenario. Or alternatively, it could just mean that increased numbers of services each day means that some non-air conditioned trains will be kept on in regular service in order to meet timetabling requirements.

Ms Berejiklian was asked if a second harbour crossing that is not in the form of an under-harbour tunnel was being considered, but she did not directly address the question (page 30). She instead pointed out that 15 different options had been considered for Sydney’s rail network once the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) is completed, but these were high level options (such as converting the existing harbour crossing to single deck metro, rather than building a new one, or maintaining double deck rolling stock on the entire network) that did not include specific alignments. She did, however, reaffirm that a second harbour crossing will be built (page 14).

A figure cited by the Sydney Morning Herald of $4bn of extra work which would be required to handle the NWRL once it is completed is not new money, and these costs are already budgeted for.

The narrower tunnels on the NWRL, large enough for single deck rolling stock but not double deck rolling stock, will result in cost savings. However, the cost savings are less than the cost of refitting the existing Epping to Chatswood section of the line to run the single deck trains (page 29). The real savings would occur when building new tunnels, most potentially an under-harbour tunnel, as single deck trains can handle steeper gradients than the heavier double deck trains.

Light rail:

The Greenway – a pedestrian and bicycle path, which was originally part of the Dulwich Hill light rail extension before being deferred, would have costed $37m to build (page 34), compared to the cost of the light rail extension of $176m. The $176m figure includes $24m for rolling stock (page 16), and was revised upwards from $120m under the previous Labor Government, which (along with the delay in its completion) Ms Berejiklian says is because the previous government had not done any geotechnical work, considered where the rolling stock would be acquired from, etc.

A final decision on George St light rail will be made in the final transport plan (page 33), to be released by the end of the year.


Opal is on track to be rolled out on ferries in December of this year.

The Director General of Transport for NSW, Les Wielinga, was never a full director of Infrastructure NSW, he was only ever a temporary “guest” (page 9). Mr Wielinga also argued that the differing conclusions made by his organisation (Transport for NSW) and Infrastructure NSW was due to each taking a different approach, and so different solutions were inevitable but that he also did “not think this is a problem”.

The NSW Transport Master Plan was released yesterday, and at 370 pages it is a very long document. It’s going to take me a little while to get through it, so I’m going to periodically post bits and pieces of it over the coming days as I digest it. So today it’s just a quick overview and links to some media reports. Make sure to come back later for more, or follow me on Twitter.

Problems and solutions

The Master Plan works by identifying which transport corridors are going to see high levels of congestion by 2031, assuming nothing is done today. These are the problems. It then considers what mode of transport provides the best way of relieving that congestion. This is the solution. It also takes a big picture view of the transport network as a unified network, and sees what improvements can be made to help it run more smoothly as a whole system, rather than just lots of little transport routes operating independently of each other.

Identifying the problems first, then seeing which are the most suitable solutions to them is the right approach. I wrote earlier about how enthusiasm for a particular type of mode or technology can result in these two steps becoming inverted, and this is an example of where that is not being done.

What are the problems?

Six transport corridors are projected to have high constraints if nothing is done between now and 2031;

  1. Rouse Hill to Macquarie Park
  2. Northern Beaches to CBD
  3. Parramatta to CBD via Victoria Road
  4. Parramatta to CBD via Parramatta Road
  5. Liverpool to Airport
  6. Airport to CBD

These 6 corridors are seen in dark blue in the map below:

Sydney’s major transport corridors. Those in dark blue are expected to experience the highest levels of congestion by 2031 if nothing is done about it. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Draft Transport Master Plan, page 84)

What are the solutions?

In order to alleviate congestion along these corridors, a number of actions have been recommended. These have been placed into short term (0-5 years), medium term (5-10 years) and long term (10-20 years) periods. Most of these actions involve the construction of new transport links, rail, bus and road. In the case of the road projects, their priority will be determined by Infrastructure NSW’s report, to be handed down next month. I will discuss these in more detail in a later post.

Much media criticism has been based on a lack of a timetable and costing/funding that accompanied this report, and while the latter is certainly true, a rough timetable has been provided through the breaking down of proposed infrastructure projects into short, medium and long term.

The 6 most constrained corridors, and what Transport for NSW recommends be done to deal with it. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Draft Transport Master Plan, page 148)

These are not the only planned projects. The Master Plan also includes potential upgrades, enhancements and extensions of a number of other transport corridors. Below is a map of the existing major transport corridors, those new transport corridors that have been committed to, and other potential new transport corridors or upgrades to existing ones.

Current and proposed major transport corridors in Sydney. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Draft Transport Master Plan, page 93)

What happens next?

The next major cab off the rank is the Infrastructure NSW report, due next month. It will recommend which projects should go ahead (the road projects in particular) and how they are to be funded. Infrastructure NSW and Transport for NSW have competing views on what Sydney should be building: the former believes it should be roads while the latter thinks it should be rail. How this pans out will be interesting to watch.

Media reports

There’s lots floating around in the media. Below is a selection. The Telegraph, Channel Seven and Channel Nine reports are all quite pro-road, in some cases almost ignoring the role that public transport plays. Channel Ten was the only television report to actually speak to an expert who wasn’t a lobbyist or politician and, along with the Herald articles, is probably the best place to go for more details. The 2GB piece is an interview with the Telegraph State Political Editor, Andrew Clennell, which is also worth listening to, if heavily opinionated.

Print media reports

Transport plan to ease six of the worst, Sydney Morning Herald

Transport plan long on hope, light on detail, Sydney Morning Herald

O’Farrell plans a way out of paying for a solution, Sydney Morning Herald

All roads lead to more frustration, Daily Telegraph

Too many concepts amount to no idea, Daily Telegraph

O’Farrell’s action plan takes us nowhere fast, Daily Telegraph

Greiner tells powers that be not to sit on their assets, Daily Telegraph

Radio media reports

Congested Sydney gets transport master plan, ABC Radio National

Fixing Sydney’s transport system, 2UE

State announces grand plan for public transport, 2GB

Television media reports