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

Duplication of the Richmond Line began in 2002, when it was duplicated through to Quakers Hills. Plans to extend the duplication were then announced in 2003 as part of the Clearways Project, which sought to increase capacity on the existing network by removing bottlenecks rather than by building new lines. This extension was split into 2 parts: the first between Quakers Hill and Schofields, the second between Schofields and Vineyard. While the second part was deferred, and now appears to have been scrapped entirely, the first was completed in 2011.

This was not without its controversy. The duplication required the demolition of the old station, which had only a single platform, and the construction of a new station located 800 South of the existing one. The long term plan is to develop the area around the new station with shops and housing, however at the time of opening there was little more than a few houses and an empty paddock on each side of the station (see images below).

Schofields houses

View from Schofields Station, looking East. (Source: author)

Schofields padock

View from a citybound train leaving Schofields station, looking West. (Source: author)

This has left the old town centre isolated from the new train station. It has also moved the station a 10 minute walk away from where it used to be, which for many locals would have been literally on their doorstep. Probably because of this, there was little celebration when the new station opened, with the government not even acknowledging the opening of a new piece of transport infrastructure. Keep in mind that this is a government that has made transport infrastructure its number one issue and that there will be no new transport infrastructure projects opened until the Dulwich Hill light rail extension is completed in 2014, not long before the next state election.

Schofields Town Centre

The old Schofields town centre. (Source: author)

Going forward, it is possible that the Northwest Rail Link may also be extended through and past Schofields, making this station an interchange between the Northwest’s 2 major rail lines.

The announcement of a stand alone Northwest Rail Link, followed up with a Second Harbour Crossing, has been criticised as a broken promise by the O’Farrell Government. What has received less attention is the unanswered questions that this announcement leaves. It’s important to remember that the main reason why Infrastructure Australia refused to back funding for the NWRL was a number of unanswered questions in the submission by the NSW government.

  • Will the NWRL use driverless trains?
This question was raised earlier and hosed down by Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian, who said she planned for trains on the NWRL “to have drivers”. But given the recent back flips this question deserves to be asked again, particularly considering the NSW Auditor General recently found drivers spend only one third of their time actually driving trains. Perhaps the government only intends to introduce ATO (Automatic Train Operation) and ATP (Automatic Train Protection), then running trains on “auto-pilot” but with a staffed train so that someone can take over if need be (as is the case on all commercial airlines these day). This could allow one person to act as driver and guard, as is the case in London or Singapore (which have automatically operated trains, but maintain someone on board to open/close doors and take over for manual operation if needed).
  • Will the NWRL tunnels be big enough for double deck trains, or only big enough for single deck trains?
Smaller tunnels would probably end up being cheaper, but would also further isolate the new metro portion of the network by preventing double deck trains from using it.
  • What happened to the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link?
Previous reports suggested that this had been deferred to 2036, but would still eventually be built. This new announcement makes no mention of the PERL. Perhaps it has been abandoned altogether due to the high price of a Second Harbour Crossing (costed at $10bn by industry experts). If it has, then will there be an alternative transport connection built to connect Parramatta to Macquarie Park (such as light rail or bus rapid transit).
  • Why isn’t the Inner West Line being included in the future metro network South of the Harbour?
Previous incarnations of this plan (here and here) did include the Inner West Line as a metro line. The high density housing along this line, along with stations spaced quite close to each other and the potential to separate this line from the rest of the network made it a good candidate for conversion to metro.
  • How will the Northern Line operate?
It is clear that trains will no longer go from Hornsby to the City via Macquarie Park anymore, and there have also been reports that Northern Line trains will go to Sydney Terminal at Central Station rather than going through the City and then across the Harbour. But the Northern Line is mostly dual track, meaning express trains have trouble overtaking slower local trains that stop all stations. This makes it difficult to increase services on the Northern Line. Yet increasing capacity on this line would alleviate much of the pressure from passengers on the NWRL, who would then have the option of changing either at Epping or Chatswood for CBD journeys.
  • Will there be a reduction in M2 buses before a Second Harbour Crossing is built?
The government had previously planned for a 66% reduction in M2 buses from the Northwest into the CBD once the NWRL opened, but that was when the NWRL would connect directly into the CBD itself. This seems to boil down to a question of where to put the congestion: trains from the North Shore into the City (which are at 110% of capacity) or buses from the M2 in the Sydney CBD (which is currently overflowing with buses coming across the Harbour Bridge).
  • Will the Richmond Line be attached to the Cumberland Line?
This has also been raised in the media as a possibility, yet speculation was not confirmed nor denied in the government’s recent announcement. Will trains from Richmond now run South towards Liverpool rather than East into the City?
  • Will quadruplication of track between St Leonards and Chatswood be fast tracked?

Of the proposed link between Chatswood and the CBD, this portion is the quickest, cheapest and easiest to complete given that it is short, above ground and requires little or no land acquisitions. It also connects directly to the terminus of the proposed metro line, extending it to St Leonards, which should also go some way to reducing the strain on capacity that will be caused on city bound North Shore Line trains.

Gladys fixing the trains

Unanswered questions remain for the Transport Minister. (Source: Sydney Morning Herald)

None of this takes into account the Second Harbour Crossing. Ms Berejiklian has refused to discuss details on that, saying that not enough work has been done on it to comment on the timetable or cost. Yet one thing that does seem to be clear is that this crossing will be under the Harbour, and thus result in a very expensive crossing. So there is one more question that must be asked:
  • Will all options for a Second Harbour Crossing be explored?

New track could be hung underneath the Bridge. Alternatively, the Easternmost lanes on the Bridge could be converted to rail, as they were when the Sydney Harbour Bridge opened, and a new road tunnel built under the Harbour (more cheaply than a rail one) to maintain roadspace for private vehicles. A new underground rail tunnel is surely not the only option, although it probably is the most expensive one and therefore most likely to either be cancelled/deferred or to suck the oxygen out for many other infrastructure projects.

The Cronulla end of the Illawarra Line was one of the last to be electrified, but also one of the first to be electrified through to its terminus. However, despite some duplication of track in the 1980s, it was not until 2010 that the line was fully duplicated all the way between Sutherland and Cronulla Stations. This lifted the cap on the number of trains that could travel along what was previously a single track of rail.

In conjunction with improvements on the city end of the line, including the construction of the Eastern Suburbs Line (which moved Illawarra Line trains from the City Circle and sent them towards Bondi Junction instead) and then the completion of a turnback at the Bondi Junction Station terminus (increasing the capacity at that station from about a dozen trains per hour to 20 trains per hour), this allowed a significant increase in the total peak capacity of the line. As a result, it is now possible to easily run 20 trains per hour on the Eastern Suburbs/Illawarra Line.

The Epping to Chatswood Line began its planning stages as the Parramatta to Chatswood Rail Link, part of the Carr Government’s 1998 Action for Transport. The line would actually run from Westmead, going to Parramatta, then joining up to a duplicated Carlingford Line, followed by a tunnel to Chatswood via Epping and Macquarie Park. By the year 2000 the project was so certain to happen that we even saw it on the maps in every train station and in every train carriage (see below). For anyone who forgot to turn their sarcasm detectors on, that last sentence is not to be taken seriously.

Parramatta to Chatswood Rail Link

The original alignment for the Parramatta to Chatswood Rail Link, seen as a dotted blue line. This map is from the year 2000, shortly after the opening of the Airport Line. Click on image for link to source website. (Source: Historical NSW Railway Timetables)

Originally to be up and running by 2006, the line was truncated in 2003 to just Epping to Chatswood due to concerns over the cost (a mere 3 months after Carr’s 3rd election victory, I’m sure the timing was purely co-incidental). Even then it was not completed until 2009, longer, more expensive and without one station originally planned for. More on this further down, first I’d like to focus on the Westmead to Epping portion, what is now termed the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link (PERL).

A Department of Planning report on the Parramatta to Chatswood Rail Link from 2002 outlines what the line from Westmead to Epping would have looked like. The line would join up to the existing track at Westmead before going underground, necessitating an additional set of dives which would require space either from the Parramatta Golf Course or Parramatta Park, both of which were adjacent to the line between Westmead and Parramatta. At Parramatta, an additional underground platform would be built just North of the existing station (underneath Darcy Street). This would then continue underground, going East until they reach the Carlingford Line at Rosehill Racecourse, where the tunnel would follow the Carlingford Line alignment North until it reached a new station underneath the Grand Avenue bridge. This new station would be an amalgamation of the nearby Rosehill and Camellia stations and also link up with the Parramatta to Strathfield bus transitway (which was never built either). Between the old Camellia Station and Carlingford, the line would continue mostly unchanged other than with the addition of a second track. At Carlingford a new station would be built underground, with a tunnel connecting Carlingford up to the underground platforms at Epping.

Though this plan was scrapped, a plan was later announced to build a passing loop on the Carlingford Line, which would allow 2 trains an hour, rather than the current limit of 1 train per hour. However, this too would also be scrapped.

One thing that was done right was future-proofing, and both ends of the Epping to Chatswood Line have been left ready for expansion. On the Chatswood end, there is space for an additional track pair between Chatswood Station and St Leonards Station. Both stations either have 4 platforms (Chatswood) or have space to run additional track along them to become a 4 platform station (St Leonards). This leaves open a potential Chatswood to St Leonards quadruplication, which is one step in an eventual new line through the CBD.

St Leonards Station

On the left you can see the space left to run an additional line of rail track to form another platform. The same is the case on the other end of the station. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Wikipedia)

The Epping end of the line has stub tunnels on the Northern end of the underground track at Epping Station. This would allow for a future PERL to be built with minimal disruption when it was connected to the existing network. Almost ironically, it appears that these stub tunnels will instead be used to connect the network to the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL), which will also have a set of stub tunnels for a line to Parramatta.

As a side note: the decision to have the NWRL join up at these stub tunnels, rather than further North above ground, has been seen as a controversial decision as it limits the options for trains from the Northwest (i.e. they must go via Chatswood and do not have the option to go via Strathfield). However the O’Farrell government has defended this decision, pointing out that using the tunnels is cheaper than going above ground as it avoids expensive land acquisition and that to do otherwise would delay the project by requiring new plans, investigations and impact studies to be carried out.

Epping Stub Tunnels

The existing stub tunnels at Epping is the tunnel on the right which goes deeper underground in this cross section, which forms the start of the NWRL. An additional planned stub tunnel can be seen rising up on the left, which will join up to a future PERL. Apologies for the poor image quality, this is what the government put online – and is no longer available as it has been superseded. (Source:

The truncated line, from Epping to Chatswood, was initially meant to have 4 stations – 3 at Macquarie Park and one at UTS Ku-rin-gai. However, protests from the public meant that the line was re-routed underground, rather than crossing over the Lane Cove River. This meant that the line would be too deep underground for the Ku-ring-gai Station, while also increasing the cost of building it and lengthening the journey time. Many of those opposed to the bridge option did so on environmental grounds, an ironic argument seeing as improved public transport would have done far more for the environment than preventing the construction of the rail line on the original alignment.

The changes also meant that the gradient were now too steep for Tangara trains to run on the line. As a result, the line was initially serviced by OSCARS. This was done as a shuttle service at first, running between Epping and Chatswood, but was later integrated into the Northern Line.


Due to steep gradients, Tangaras are unable to run on the Epping to Chatswood Line. Therefore, OSCARS were used instead. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Wikipedia)

The benefits of the new line were not limited just to increased network coverage, it also added capacity to the network by allowing trains from Epping to approach the CBD either via Strathfield or via Chatswood. Up until recently, there was ample spare capacity Southbound over the Harbour Bridge into the city. However this spare capacity has been mostly used up by a combination of new trains from Epping via Chatswood and an increase in trains from the North Shore due to increased population densities in that area. Today the morning peak sees 18 trains cross the Harbour Bridge into the city during its busiest hour, just shy of the maximum capacity of 20 trains per hour. (It should be noted that Northbound trains through the CBD that cross the harbour are already at the maximum of 20 during the morning peak.)

The long term solution to this capacity problem is to build a second harbour crossing. This would join up to a City Relief Line which, as mentioned earlier, would result in a new line running through the city, the first new line through the city since the Eastern Suburbs Line opened in 1979. Doing so would mean a 33% increase in capacity through the CBD. Alternatively, a metro conversion proposal has also been floated as a cheaper alternative to increasing capacity across Sydney Harbour.


The Richmond Line goes North-West through the middle of the North West Growth Centre (the dark green area on the left). The Northwest Rail Link can be seen in blue and purple. Note: There is a more current version of this map with up to date station locations for the NWRL. Click on image for link for higher resolution. (Source:

The NSW government has a history of duplicating the Richmond piece by piece. The first piece was a duplication through to Quakers Hill. This has allowed additional trains to run between Quakers Hill and Blacktown. So whereas the rest of the line through to Richmond is limited to a frequency of 2 trains per hour (TPH), Quakers Hill manages 6TPH during an hour in the morning peak and 4TPH during an hour in the evening peak.

Plans are currently in place to duplicate the line through to Vineyard. This will result in the 4 stations in proximity to the Northwest Growth Centre (NWGC) – Quakers Hill, Schofields, Riverstone and Vineyard – having a complete track pair running through them. There are an additional 70,000 dwellings planned for the NWGC over the next 25-30 years, which will see an additional 200,000 people reside in the area. Duplication of the Richmond Line is one strategy the government has to provide additional transport infrastructure for the area (as clearly a single track of heavy rail will be insufficient).

Interestingly, the Northwest Rail Link as currently planned only barely penetrates the NWGC (see map). However there is significant scope in place to extend it through to Schofields Station, Marsden Park and then the Western Line, probably at Mount Druitt, thus linking it up with both the Richmond and Western Lines. This remains idle speculation at this point, and is little more than a “long term corridor” to be considered post-2040.

The Richmond Line had been partly electrified through to Riverstone in 1975, and was finally electrified all the way to the terminus at Richmond in 1991. This completed the electrification of the suburban Cityrail network that had begun when Bradfield built the underground city subways in the 1920s and the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the 1930s. The opening of the newly electrified line was covered by Nine News on the day, video ois included below.


Despite being electrified, the line remained single track. Back in 1991 it shared this dubious claim with the Carlingford and Cronulla Lines. Since then the Cronulla Line has been fully duplicated and the Richmond Line partly duplicated (through to Schofields as of 2011). Riverstone, Mulgrave and Richmond Stations have 2 platforms, which act as passing loops to allow trains to travel in both directions despite there being only a single track. However, the large amount of single track remaining on the line means that the Richmond Line remains limited to only 2 trains per hour through to the Richmond Station terminus.

It seems I missed a few events in the East Hills Line between 1932 and 1987, so I’ll start off by covering those.

The East Hills Line was first opened in 1931, consisting of an electrified double track between Tempe and Kingsgrove, then a single non-electrified track between Kingsgrove through to East Hills. The line was fully electrified in 1939 and duplication extended from Kingsgrove through to Riverwood in 1948.

Cityrail network map, prior to the East Hills Line extension. Technically it was called State Rail at the time, not Cityrail. (Source: Historical NSW Railway Timetables)

Cityrail network map, prior to the East Hills Line extension. Technically it was called State Rail at the time, not Cityrail. (Source: Historical NSW Railway Timetables)

The line between Riverwood and East Hills remained single track until 1987, when it would be duplicated as part of the extension of the line to meet up with the South Line at Glenfield. This allowed East Hills Line trains to go all the way between Campbelltown or Macarthur in Sydney’s Southwest through to the Sydney CBD. The new line was opened on December 21, 1987 by then NSW Premier Barrie Unsworth (see video below).


Next week: electrification of the Richmond line.

UPDATE (6:40PM, 30 Nov): The government has announced the process for finalising its transport plan on Transport for NSW’s website. It will involve a 12 month period of consultation with the community and various interest groups before a final version of the plan is finalised. A discussion paper and draft plan will be released during 2012, prior to the completion of the process. This is a welcome move, and should help to prevent the transport planning disasters that we’ve had in Sydney in the last decade (such as the $500m cost of the aborted Rozelle Metro).

The NSW Government has released a draft version of the rail portion of its transport plan. It’s definitely worth a read – the first half outlines existing projects (NWRL, SWRL, etc), so if feel free to skip to page 24 if you want to get to the meat of the report. I have previously voiced concerns about a new transport plan, as it suggests trashing the previous plan and starting again from scratch. In NSW, this reminds me all too much of the Rees Labor Government’s Rozelle Metro, which cost NSW tax payers $500m before being scrapped – $500m that couldn’t be spent elsewhere. However, the new plan appears to retain all the key elements of the previous plan developed under Kristina Keneally’s government in 2010: a Southwest Rail Link, a Northwest Rail Link and a Western Express (including a City Relief Line), and then provides a number of options through to 2036 for expanding network capacity after these projects are complete.

This fear grew larger when it became apparent that the government was considering converting a portion of the Cityrail nework into a single deck metro style rail system (I wrote about it here, here and here). However, seeing that the new plan in effect locks in what was in the previous plan and then builds on it. I have since warmed somewhat to the metro plan as a result of reading the draft plan, and I might have been a bit too hostile to it initially. (I still think a second Harbour Crossing is more important than a conversion to single deck, but I’d be happy for that second pair of tracks to carry single deck trains.)

One thing not included in the report is the cost of each option. The Herald has obtained estimates of the costs, which range from $26 billion to $38 billion (see below). However, the Herald also points out that the costs may not have been calculated consistently, and that the Sector Five option (which involved maintaining a fully double deck network) includes the costs of necessary upgrades but the other options do not, despite also requiring the same upgrades. If true, this would suggest the report is biased towards the metro proposal.

Cost of various options. (Source: Sydney Morning Herald)

Cost of various options. (Source: Sydney Morning Herald)

All plans follow the same initial timeline: SWRL to be completed in 2016, NWRL to be completed in 2019 (the diagram says 2021, but the document says 2019) and a City Relief Line to be completed in 2026 allowing express trains from Penrith and Richmond via Parramatta to go through the CBD (though not across the Harbour). Image quality is unfortunately quite poor, even at full resolution, but these were the maps included in the draft report:

Southwest Rail Link, completed in 2016. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Rail options for the Sydney Greater Metropolitan area, page 33.)

Southwest Rail Link, completed in 2016. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Rail options for the Sydney Greater Metropolitan area, page 33.)

Northwest Rail Link, completed in 2019. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Rail options for the Sydney Greater Metropolitan area, page 34.)

Northwest Rail Link, completed in 2019. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Rail options for the Sydney Greater Metropolitan area, page 34.)

Western Express/CBD Relief Line, completed in 2026. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Rail options for the Sydney Greater Metropolitan area, page 34.)

Western Express/City Relief Line, completed in 2026. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Rail options for the Sydney Greater Metropolitan area, page 34.)

It has been suggested (I can’t remember where) that the Western Express trains will stop at Blacktown, Seven Hills, Westmead and Parramatta before continuing express to Central and the CBD stations. Central may be misleading, as the platform may actually be located underneath Railway Square, a few hundred metres West of the suburban rail platforms, then continuing North most probably either under Sussex Street towards Barangaroo or under Pitt Street towards Martin Place.

It is after this point that the plans diverge. One plan recommends converting a large portion of the network to single deck metro, the other recommends connecting the City Relief Line to Chatswood. These plans seem to suggest the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link and Chatswood to St Leonards Quadruplication might also be built, but no mention is made of either in the document.

Metro option, completed in 2036. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Rail options for the Sydney Greater Metropolitan area, page 35.)

Metro option, completed in 2036. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Rail options for the Sydney Greater Metropolitan area, page 35.)

Second Harbour Crossing option, completed in 2036. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Rail options for the Sydney Greater Metropolitan area, page 35.)

Second Harbour Crossing option, completed in 2036. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Rail options for the Sydney Greater Metropolitan area, page 35.)

What is common for both plans is a merging of the non-express Western trains (which start at St Marys) with South Line trains going from Liverpool to the City via Granville. This makes a lot of sense as it puts each different line onto a different physical set of tracks: the Western Express trains on the Main West Line, the St Marys and Liverpool/Granville trains on the Suburban West Line and the Homebush starting Inner West trains on the Local West Line. Currently Western Line and South Line trains share track between Granville and Homebush, while South Line and Inner West Line trains share track between Homebush and Redfern, despite each having separate stopping patterns (i.e. express, limited stops and all stations).

This makes it a 25 year plan, however there are also a number of future corridors which it recommends should be kept for future consideration, allowing land to be reserved for any developments in the future. The report points out that these corridors may end up being developed either as a non-rail option (such as light rail along the Anzac Parade corridor) or as part of a “stand-alone rail system” (code for metro) in addition to just adding to the Cityrail network. Realistically, other than a minority of these corridors (the NWRL and SWRL extensions in particular), I would imagine that no further extensions would be made to the Cityrail network, with any new developments either forming the start of a new metro network or an extension of the metro network created by converting a portion of the Cityrail network.

Future corridors, for consideration post 2040. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Rail options for the Sydney Greater Metropolitan area, page 36.)

Future corridors, for consideration post 2040. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Rail options for the Sydney Greater Metropolitan area, page 36.)

The Cronulla Line, while electrified since it opened in 1939, remained almost entirely single track. Instead there were crossing loops at Gymea and Caringbah stations, each roughly at one third intervals between Cronulla and Sutherland stations, which allowed trains going in opposite directions to pass each other while at those two stations. The line between these two stations would eventually be duplicated in 1985, allowing trains to pass each other at any point in this middle third of the line.

Next week: the East Hills Line is extended to Glenfield on the South Line.

Up until 1980, the Western Line had 4 tracks as far out as Blacktown. This allowed trains to be separated into express and all stations services, each with its own line, without having to worry about express trains getting stuck behind slower all stations trains and unable to overtake them. From Blacktown, one track pair went Northwest towards Richmond and another track pair continued West to Penrith and the Blue Mountains.

The lack of a second track pair between Blacktown and Penrith made express services difficult, potentially adding 9 minutes to a train trip for Penrith commuters. This problem was solved in 1980, when the track between Blacktown and St Marys was quadruplicated, allowing the separation of trains depending on their stopping patterns.

There was one proposal to extend the quadruplication all the way to Penrith in 2002 when the Fast Rail Link was proposed. This would be a private sector project that would also construct a tunnel from Parramatta to the CBD, allowing a trip from Penrith to the CBD to be cut from 55 to 28 minutes. However, it would do so by gaining exclusive control of a track pair between Penrith and Westmead, before continuing though the underground tunnel. This would prevent the operation of express trains between Penrith and Parramatta on the remaining Cityrail track pair, forcing Penrith commuters that did not pay for the premium express service onto 84 minute all stop services. This, along with concerns that the $2.5 billion price tag was highly optimistic, ultimately led to the government rejecting the proposal.

Western Express

The Western Express is shown highlighted in yellow. The City Relief Line can be seen on the bottom right hand corner, running North through the CBD. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Metropolitan Transport Plan 2010)

A more recent proposal is the Western Express, first announced in February 2010 as part of the Metropolitan Transport Plan (which I wrote about here), it would involve the construction of the $4.5 billion City Relief Line, a new line between Redfern and Wynyard. This would then connect up to the “express” Western Line track pair (officially known as the Main West Line, with all stops trains using the Suburban West Line), allowing express trains to remain separated from all stops trains all the way to the Northern end of the CBD. Currently, interurban trains from the Blue Mountains and the Central Coast use the Main West Line, but terminate at Central Station as they still use V-Set trains, which are longer than suburban trains and do not fit into the shorter underground stations in the CBD. A City Relief Line would be expected to have longer platforms, and also potentially screen doors that are commonly found in Asian metro systems. The Western Express was deferred by the incoming O’Farrell Liberal Government earlier this year, but based on recently released draft plans this appears to have been a genuine deferral, rather than code for cancellation.

Next week: Gymea to Caringbah duplication.

When the new Eastern Suburbs Line was finally completed in 1979 and connected to the Illawarra Line, the NSW government made the decision to fully electrify the line down to Wollongong. The Illawarra Line itself was fully electrified through to Sutherland, at which point it split in two directions, one towards Cronulla (fully electrified) where it terminated and the other towards Wollongong. The latter diverged, at Loftus, with one line continuing through to Wollongong and the other veering East towards the Royal National Park. Only the line to the Royal National Park was electrified (more on this below).

Electrification of the line occurred in two stages. The first, between Loftus and Waterfall (currently marking the edge of the Cityrail suburban network), was completed in 1980. The second, between Waterfall and Wollongong, would be completed in 1985.

The National Park Line consisted of a single station: Royal National Park, from which the line derived its name. It ran until 1991, when low patronage caused it to be closed. A few years later, in 1993, the track was given to the Sydney Tramway Museum, which today runs vintage trams from Australia and overseas on the track. If you’re from Sydney, it’s worth a visit. Below is a photo of me when I went earlier this year.

Glenelg Tram

Me on an Adelaide Glenelg tram at the Sydney Tramway Museum on 17 July 2011. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author)

Next week: Blacktown to St Marys Quadruplication.

A leaked email from Railcorp has revealed that the estimated operating costs of the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) will be $30 or $80 per trip (depending on the assumptions used). The $80/trip headline figure is based only on the 9 million new trips from the line and excludes the 19 million other trips on it that are diverted from other lines. Counting all 28 million trips on the NWRL brings this amount down to $30/trip. This is significantly higher than the $11/trip average across the Cityrail network, and represents a significant subsidy by the government to commuters who will be paying around $6/trip (depending on the type of ticket and destination).

The figure you need to focus on is the $30 one, not the $80 one. That is because those commuters who are moving from one line to another are mostly going to be residents in the Northwest who are currently heading South to stations like Blacktown or Seven Hills and catching Western Line trains. These are some of the most crowded trains on the network with an average of 1,236 passengers per train (Public Transport Inquiry, page 243), and additional capacity on these trains will easily be filled. Therefore, the loss of passengers to the NWRL should easily be replaced by new passengers.

The Herald article reporting this story suggests that each new passenger would cost $80 (or $30) to operate. The reality is that the operating costs are mostly fixed (you pay the same for running a train, track maintenance, stations, etc whether 100 people use them or 10 people use them), so increasing the number of passengers has the effect of reducing that cost per trip. This will help with cost recovery.

The main obstacle to getting sufficient patronage is being able to run enough trains on the NWRL. Currently it is restricted by the Harbour crossing, which has space for only 2 additional trains per hour into the CBD during the morning peak without removing trains from the upper North Shore Line. In the short term, a quadruplication of track between Chatswood and St Leonards will allow trains to turn around at St Leonards (currently tricky at Chatswood at higher frequencies) and go back to Rouse Hill while also linking commuters with the job rich areas at Norwest, Macquarie, Chatswood and St Leonards. Commuters wanting to go into the CBD can either change at St Leonards or wait for a direct CBD service (which should run at 15 minute intervals). In the long term, a second Harbour crossing should be built, separating the 2 lines entirely and allowing significant increases to the capacity of trains running through the CBD.

Northwest Rail Link alignment

The Northwest Rail Link will connect residents of Sydney’s Northwest to job centres at Norwest, Macquarie, Chatswood, St Leonards, North Sydney and the CBD.(Source: ABC News)

Also in the news on the NWRL: the NSW O’Farrell government is set to submit costings and a timeline to Infrastructure Australia by the end of the year (possibly as soon as November). This is part of its attempt to have the $2.1 billion promised by the federal Labor government for the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link applied instead to the NWRL. Federal Transport and Infrastructure minister Anthony Albanese has thus far ruled out requests by the NSW government as no submission had been made to Infrastructure Australia. The O’Farrell government’s submission is an attempt to move one step closer to getting that money from the feds.

I think the federal government has a 50-50 chance of giving NSW the $2.1 billion. On one hand, they don’t want to be seen as holding back money from transport in Sydney and know that there are a lot of marginal electorates in Sydney that they need if the want to win the next election. On the other hand, the NWRL route goes right through safe Liberal seats, and the federal government desperately wants to keep the budget in surplus, so ditching the $2.1 billion pledge could also work in their favour.

The Carlingford Line had been partly electrified up to Rosehill in 1936, with the rest of the line through to Carlingford Station being converted to electric in 1959. The line between Rosehill and Carlingford consisted of a single track with no passing loops and also includes a station for the UWS Parramatta campus. As a result of having only one track, services on the line remain extremely limited, with only a single 3 carriage service per hour operating as a shuttle between Clyde and Carlingford.

A number of proposals have been made over the years involving this line:

1. The line would form the bulk of a future Parramatta to Epping Rail Link, with underground portions linking Epping to Carlingford and Parramatta to Camellia. The line would be upgraded to dual track as part of this proposal. This idea has been seriously floated as far back as the Carr Labor government’s 1998 Action for Transport plan and most recently by the Keneally Labor government’s 2010 Metropolitan Transport Plan that would complete the Parramatta to Chatswood connection originally proposed in the 1998 plan. The election of the O’Farrell Liberal government in 2011 put this plan on ice, choosing to focus instead on the Northwest Rail Link.

Cityrail Map 2000

A map of the Cityrail network from the year 2000. The proposed Parramatta to Chatswood Rail Link can be seen, and is shown as an extension of the Carlingford Line. (Source: Historical NSW Railway Timetables)

2. The construction of a passing loop was initially included as part of the Cityrail Clearways program to increase capacity on existing lines, before being quietly dropped. Such a passing loop would probably double the capacity of the line to 2 services per hour, but without the expensive exercise of building double track the whole way along the line.

3. UTS academic Garry Glazebrook has suggested converting the line to light rail and for the Southern end to link up to Parramatta rather than Clyde. Given the low capacity nature of this line, it would allow for frequent services along this line that would take commits directly to Parramatta, forming the base of a future Western Sydney light rail network. Doing so would require any Parramatta to Epping Rail Link to go entirely underground, probably following an alignment along Pennant Hills Road.