Posts Tagged ‘Trains’

VIDEO: Transport for NSW COVID-19 Response: Essential Service (23 March 2020)

Social distancing has seen the movement of people in Sydney drop by about 90% in recent weeks. The Citymapper Mobility Index shows mobility beggining to slow on the weekend of Saturday 14 March, shortly after the government announced its first set of restrictions, but before those restrictions came into effect on the following Monday. Transport agencies have since responded in order to enable the safe movement of people around the city, whether that be by car, by foot, or by public transport.

In terms of road traffic, a comprehensive ABC article uses Google Maps traffic data to show that “peak-hour gridlock has virtually vanished”, with the same article using TomTom Traffic Index data to show a trip that typically takes 30 minutes would now take 26 minutes. The same TomTom Traffic Index shows the biggest drop occurring during peak-hour, with only a minor drop in off-peak road travel. Transurban, which owns most of Sydney’s toll roads, has reported a 36% drop in traffic volumes on its toll roads in the final week of March.

Push buttons in CBD pedestrian crossings have been automated since Monday 23 March, to prevent these normally high touch surfaces from becoming transmission zones for COVID-19. This is a limited time change and was restricted to the Sydney CBD.

Public transport usage has likewise seen a dramatic drop. Occupancy data published by NextThere for the 4 weeks to Sunday 22 March show demand for real time planning journeys began falling on Tuesday 10 March and was down to about half their regular volumes by the end of that 4 week period. Meanwhile, during that time peak-hour trains on the T1 Western Line went from over three quarters being standing room only to none being standing room only (see image below, Source: NextThere). Bus occupancy levels appear to have also fallen in the same time period, with the proportion of peak-hour buses passing through Neutral Bay Junction on the North Shore’s Military Road corridor with a majority of their seats available rising from about one in three buses to almost all buses.

Other than minor changes to the L1 light rail line, the government has yet to cut back on service levels; which combined with the fall in patronage has enabled members of the public who must travel on public transport to better observe social distancing when they do so. Additional changes include regular deep cleaning of public transport vehicles, a suspension on the sale of single use Opal tickets from buses, and closure of Opal readers and seats near bus drivers.

Despite this, there are actions that have been taken elsewhere which have not happened in Sydney. The most extreme of these responses occurred in the Chinese city of Wuhan, believed to be the epicentre of COVID-19, which suspended its public transport network in late January. Brisbane has moved to rear door boarding on its buses, with the front door only available for passengers requiring assistance and to maintain disability access. Advocacy group Walk Sydney is calling for the automation of push buttons to be extended to all of Greater Sydney. So far the automation is being extended out to crossings near many of Sydney’s hospitals, but not the entire city.

Over 100,000 people used Sydney Metro today on its first day open to the public, with no fare charged for those travelling between Chatswood and Tallawong. It was the first time in Australia that a driverless train line operated with passengers, but was not without teething issues and delays.

The trains, which travel at a maximum speed of 100km per hour, had a noticeably quick acceleration and deceleration, and complete the journey from end to end in 37 minutes. Platform screen doors are in use and the gap between platform and train is minimal. The stations themselves were modern and fully accessible.

Indicators above each train door show where the train is along the line, as well as showing how far the train has progressed towards the next station. Lights above each set of doors flash red when doors are opening or closing, light up solid green when the doors are open, and light up solid white when the doors are closed.

Some problems did occur. Mechanical failures with trains occurred in both the early afternoon and during the evening, leading to delays of roughly 45 minutes and 15 minutes respectively. With Sydney Metro controlling the number of people who could enter stations to reduce overcrowding, this led to a blowout in queues. Chatswood Station saw a conga line emerge starting from 1:30PM. Many of those in the queue had travelled to Chatswood from the Northwest earlier and were now returning home.

Inside the trains, the air conditioning seemed set to maximum and in-train indicators began having problems from early in the day and were soon turned off. As a result, there was little indication that doors were closing, besides the silent flashing lights that went unnoticed by most. This, together with shorter than normal dwell times, led some passengers to get caught by the doors (including some with prams) or unable to enter/exit in time. The dwell times were noticeably longer as the day progressed, with doors remaining open for 30 to 60 seconds at stations. This would no doubt lengthen journey durations if allowed to continue. However, the in-train indicators appeared to be working again by late Sunday evening and dwell times were back down to a reasonable length.

Trains also routinely overshot their platforms early in the day. This blog’s author counted roughly one in every two trains would stop past its platform screen doors in the early afternoon, requiring the train to reverse before opening its doors. However, this problem did not persist into the late afternoon, by when it was no longer occurring.

All in all it was not a perfect first day, but a few inconveniences should not eclipse the significance of the first complete new train line in Sydney in 40 years. Many of these teething issues, such as the overshooting and in-train indicators, appear to have been fixed by the end of the first day. Tomorrow’s morning peak hour will be a big test for the new line. If all goes well, most of today’s problems will be soon forgotten.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Expanding the turn-up-and-go network

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://t.co/JUW1kGFRQi

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

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

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

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

https://t.co/JUW1kGFRQi

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

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

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

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

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

The original plan

The 1998 Action For Transport plan proposed 4 new rail lines to be built in Sydney by 2010. These included the already under construction Airport Line (2000), a short extension of the Eastern Suburbs Line to Bondi Beach (2002), a Parramatta to Chatswood Line via Epping (2006), and an Epping to Castle Hill Line (2010).

Proposed rail lines in the 1998 Action for Transport plan. Click to enlarge. (Source:MrHaper, Wikipedia.)

The final two lines to Parramatta and Castle Hill would provide a new path through to the Lower North Shore from the West and North West without having to travel through the CBD. This would take pressure off the congested Strathfield to City corridor, where trains from the Western and Northern Lines merged, and shift it to the less congested North Shore Line.

Parramatta to Chatswood Rail Link

The Parramatta to Chatswood Rail Link was originally to go from Westmead to St Leonards. Only the Eastern portion, between Epping and Chatswood, was actually constructed in 2009, leaving the Western Parramatta to Epping portion unbuilt. (Source: Historical NSW Railway Timetables)

This was not the first time such a line had been put forward, with a similar line proposed all the way back in John Bradfield’s 1920s rail plan linking St Leonards to Eastwood.

What actually happened

The new line was plagued by delays and cost blowouts. In one instance, community backlash over a proposed bridge over the Lane Cove River forced the line to tunnel under the river instead. The deep tunnelling did not merely increase cost and lengthen duration of construction, but resulted in the abandonment of a station at the UTS Kuring-gai campus leading to its closure in 2015. Additionally, the steep gradients on the tunnel meant that Tangara and Millenium trains were initially not used on the line, despite these being the newest suburban trains on the network at the time. Rather the interurban OSCAR trains normally reserved for long distance train journeys would be used instead when the line eventually opened.

Due to steep gradients, some trains were unable to run on the Epping to Chatswood Line when it opened. As a result, OSCARS were used as a shuttle service instead. Click to enlarge. (Source:Wikipedia.)

In 2003, the NSW Government announced that the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link (PERL) portion of the project had been deferred indefinitely. Low levels of projected patronage was given as the reason. This effectively cancelled that half of the project.

The Epping to Chatswood Line eventually opened in 2009 at a cost of $2.3bn. This compared to an initial projected opening date of 2006 and budget of $1.4bn for the entire Parramatta to Chatswood Line.

The next decade would see the PERL reannounced, cancelled, then reannounced again; most recently in 2017s Future Transport Plan 2056, placing the line on the government’s wish list. However, under the current transport strategy it may not open until the second half of the century.

Future Transport Plan 2056. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Meanwhile, urban development of the Upper North Shore and its associated population increase has since led to a rise in demand for rail travel along the North Shore Line, eating up much of the spare capacity that was previously available. So much so that the government is about to begin construction on an extension of the Epping to Chatswood Line (as part of the new Sydney Metro) South through to the CBD in order to add additional capacity.

How it might have happened

The delays and cost blowouts made building the entire line a challenge for the then NSW Government. After all, this was not a time of huge stamp duty revenue streams and zero government debts. In order for the Parramatta to Epping Line to have been built, this was the main obstacle that needed to be overcome.

Perhaps a bit more planning and greater political strength in facing down the community backlash on issues like the Lane Cove River Bridge may have been enough to achieve this. Had this happened then the UTS Kuring-gai campus would almost certainly have survived. Or the Government may have instead chosen to borrow money to complete the project.

Either of these options would have proven politically unpopular, particularly for a government well into a third term. This at least in part explains their decision to abandon the line.

What this would have meant

Had the PERL opened in full last decade it could have significantly changed the direction of passenger flows in Sydney’s rail network. More passengers from the Parramatta area would travel East via Macquarie Park rather than Strathfield, reducing the pressure on the Western Line but increasing the pressure on the North Shore Line. Perhaps the densification of the Upper North Shore may not have happened, with the Parramatta to Epping corridor seeing this densification instead. Either way, the North Shore Line would now be dealing with trains from the Upper Northern Line and Parramatta in addition to those from the Upper North Shore Line.

Unlike the actual present, there would be less talk of the need for a new rail line linking the CBD to Parramatta (in the form of Sydney Metro West) as such a line would have already been built, albeit less directly, via Macquarie Park. However, like the present, there would still be a focus on building additional capacity into the CBD from the North, given the additional pressure on the North Shore Line and its single pair of tracks into the CBD.

So even though the Parramatta to Chatswood Rail Line was designed in part to avoid the need for it, additional rail capacity into the CBD looks to be the one constant that could not be avoided.

Alignment for the 2008 North West Metro. Click to enlarge. (Source: North West Metro Preliminary Environmental Assessment, p. 1.5)

One response would have been to build the 2008 Northwest Metro (see map above) from Castle Hill, but with a Victoria Road approach into the CBD rather than connecting it up to the existing line via Macquarie Park. This would provide additional capacity and act as a relief on the North Shore Line without requiring a deep tunnel under the Harbour, as the line would cross the Parramatta River further West at Hunters Hill.

Alternatively, the Metropolitan Rail Expansion Plan (see map below) would have seen a new line built between Sydenham and Chatswood, connecting the Epping to Chatswood Line in the North through to the East Hills Line in the South. Surface tracks would be built in the existing alignments from Chatswood to St Leonards in the North and Erskineville to Sydenham in the South, with tunnels required between St Leonards and Erskineville. This would create a completely new line from the North West and South West of Sydney through the CBD.

The 2005 Metropolitan Rail Expansion Plan. Click to enlarge. (Source:‘Fixing’ the trains in Sydney: 1855 revisited.)

In the North, UTS would not have closed down its Kuring-gai campus, given that it would now be served by a heavy rail line. However, train frequencies between Macquarie Park and the CBD would be limited without a new harbour rail crossing, leaving Macquarie Park more dependent on road based transport and constraining its potential growth.

Meanwhile, in the West, the Carlingford Line would now be part of the Parramatta to Epping Line. Therefore, the current plans for a light rail network around Parramatta by converting the Carlingford Line to light rail would not be possible. Perhaps Parramatta light rail would still occur, but as a direct line between Parramatta and Sydney Olympic Park to make up for the lack of a West Metro through those location.

Of course, all of this is hypothetical. The Parramatta to Epping Rail Line was never built as originally planned and we will never know what would have happened if it did. If you have your own take on what might have happened, feel free to leave a comment below explaining what you think would have happened or why you think things went the way they did.

VIDEO: Santiago Metro Line 6 opening day, Bambul Shakibaei (3 Nov 2017)

This post will consider how to convert the T8 Airport Line between Revesby and Central as well as the T4 Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra Line between Bondi Junction and Hurstville on the Sydney Trains network to single deck metro operation without the level of disruption planned for the Epping to Chatswood or Bankstown Lines. It will not seek to analyse the merits of whether these lines are better suited to single or double deck operations, just how such a conversion would be possible.

In both cases, the lines would need to be separated from the rest of the network.

For the T8 Airport Line, Trains would begin at the Revesby turn back platform and travel to platforms 22 and 23 at Central Station via the airport. Construction of an additional turnback platform at Revesby would help to maintain a high frequency of service. (CORRECTION: As karan points out in the comments, Revesby already has 4 platforms and therefore does not require construction of an additional turnback platform.) T8 South Line trains would all run express from Revesby and be rerouted via Sydenham, made possible by the removal of T3 Bankstown Line trains once Sydney Metro City and Southwest is completed in 2024. A new set of platforms could also be built at Wolli Creek to allow T8 South Line trains to stop there and maintain a point of easy transfer between lines for passengers before continuing North via Sydenham.

In the case of the T4 Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra Line, any trains South of Hurstville would be rerouted to the City Circle (or Sydney Terminal in the case of South Coast Line trains). This would be possible due to the removal of T3 Bankstown Line and T8 Airport Line trains from the City Circle, thus creating enough spare capacity for T4 Illawarra Line and South Coast Line trains displaced from the T4 Eastern Suburbs Line.

From that point T2 Inner West and T8 South trains would enter the City Circle via Town Hall while T4 Illawarra Line trains (from Cronulla and Waterfall) would enter the City Circle via Museum. T4 Illawarra trains that begin and end at Hurstville would continue through to Bondi Junction as they currently do. This would provide much needed additional capacity to all parts of T4 South of the city, the second most used line in the network after the T1 Western Line.

If the aim is merely further sectorisation of the network, the process can end here. But to achieve metro conversion requires two additional steps: installation of platform screen doors and introduction of driverless trains.

Platform screen doors would come first. This would require trains on each of these lines to be replaced with single deck trains, each having the same configuration of doors as the new driverless trains. However, these trains would continue to have drivers. As both of these new lines would have spare capacity, this changeover could now be achieved by initially adding extra trains, rather than merely replacing existing trains 1 for 1. This means the changeover could occur with little to no loss of seated capacity.

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

Once all trains on the line are replaced, screen doors could be progressively installed during weekends or overnight. Some individual stations may need to be closed while screen doors are installed, but the line itself will continue to operate.

With screen doors in place, a new set of driverless trains could be rolled out.If this is done exclusively on one line first, these same trains could then be redeployed on the second line to complete the process on both lines with fewer trains.

The driver’s cabs could then be removed and the trains converted to driverless.

None of this would likely be possible before 2030 as it requires the T3 Bankstown Line to be converted to metro in 2024 and would be difficult to implement until the T8 Airport Line reverts to government ownership in 2030. But doing so could convert the T8 Airport Line between Revesby and Central as well as the T4 Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra Line between Bondi Junction and Hurstville to metro style operation.

Transport for a London has recently begun a trial of carriage passenger utilisation at one station on the London Overground. The idea being that if passengers at the station know which carriages are crowded and which aren’t, they will opt to enter the carriages with fewer spaces. The more even distribution of passengers would then reduce dwell times at stations, improving on time running and journey times.

Train enthusiast Geoff Marshall tried it out in the video at the top of this post and Diamond Geezer explains some technical background as to how the system works here.

The results of the trial were mixed, but it raises the question of whether such a system would be possible in Sydney.

It is understood that all Waratah trains, which comprise about half of the Sydney Trains fleet, have weight sensors similar to those used in the London Overground trial. This means it would be technically feasible.

However, when asked about it in 2014 while state’s Transport Minister, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian replied that it was not something the government was planning. She did mention that Opal data could be used to achieve a similar result. The same year, Sydney Trains CEO Howard Collins echoed that view; but suggested that train carriage weight, rather than Opal data, could provide passengers with information on which carriages have more available space.

To the Government’s credit, Sydney’s real time transport apps now do provide information on how crowded each bus is, allowing passengers to opt for a less crowded bus.

Real time data showing how full each bus is estimated to be. Click to enlarge. (Source: Next There.)

The difficulties encountered by the London trial suggest that providing this information may not be worth the benefits. For example, it uses a combination of expected loading based on historical data to estimate how full each carriage will be. That is because the weight sensors will not be accurate until the train leaves the station prior to the one where passengers are. This could give passengers as little as 2 minutes to move to the ideal spot along the platform, which in the case of an 8 carriage train is 160m.

So if the estimate is not accurate and passengers aren’t checking for updated information, it could be of limited benefit to its users.

Despite the risks, Sydney Trains and the NSW Government should pay attention to the London Overground trial. The potential to squeeze a little more juice out of a network that is straining under no new CBD capacity until 2024 is well worth investigation.

VIDEO: Sydney Metro bids thanks and farewell to the Sydney Monorail, Transport for NSW (31 Aug 2017)

This is an updated version of a previous post from March 2016.

Below is a list of all the railways that Sydney might expect in the near future. It only includes heavy rail (i.e. Sydney Trains or Sydney Metro, but not light rail) and includes both new lines or extensions to existing lines. Railways must have been proposed by the state or federal government, so any railways proposed only by local councils or lobby groups are not included nor any railways mentioned exclusively in internal government documents not intended for public release. Also excluded are railways previously announced but since cancelled.

Under construction: Sydney Metro Northwest

The current incarnation of this line was announced in 2010, with construction commencing in 2014. It is scheduled to open in 2019. This line consists of 23km of new track between Epping and Cudgegong Rd near Rouse Hill as well as the conversion of the existing 13km Epping to Chatswood Line (opened in 2009) to metro operation.

A line with a similar alignment was originally announced in 1998 (connecting to the Northern Line at Eastwood rather than Epping), but cancelled in 2008 in favour of a metro line that was itself also cancelled. It has previously been known as the North West Rail Link and Sydney Rapid Transit.

2015-02-20 NWRL

Alignment of the Sydney Metro Northwest from Cudgegong Rd to Chatswood. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Under construction: Sydney Metro City and Southwest

This line was announced in 2014, with construction commencing in 2017. It is scheduled to open in 2024. This line consists of 13km of new track between Chatswood and Sydenham as well as the conversion of the existing 17km Bankstown Line between Sydenham and Bankstown to metro operation.

Sydney Metro City and Southwest Alignment 2016

Sydney Metro City and Southwest alignment. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Announced: Sydney Metro West

This line was announced in 2016, with no date currently set for construction to commence. It is scheduled to open in the second half of the 2020s, though the government is understood to be keen to fast track a 2026 opening date. Stations have been confirmed for Parramatta, Sydney Olympic Park, the bays precinct, and the Sydney CBD.

Four options are currently being considered, with a Metro Rapid option firming as the favourite providing the highest benefit-cost ratio. This option involves a 20 minute journey between Parramatta and the Sydney CBD, with trains travelling between 10 stations at up to 130km/hour, with a benefit-cost ratio of 2.5.

UPDATE: However, the favoured option appears to be the Metro Local South. This option involves a 25 minute journey between Parramatta and the Sydney CBD, with trains travelling between 12 stations at up to 100km/hour, with a benefit-cost ratio of 2.3 when the sale of air rights to development above stations is taken into account.

2016-10-18-west-metro-and-cbd-metro-alignment

Planned route of the 2008 West Metro, which may be indicative of the future Sydney Metro West. Click to enlarge. (Source: Railway Gazette)

Announced: Leppington to St Marys extension

Technically not yet announced, the government is understood to be about to announce an extension of the existing T2 Line from Leppington to the T1 Line at St Marys via a new Western Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek. Previous investigations into an extension of the South West Rail Link from Leppington also included a Southern extension to Narellan. This extension provides the greatest potential for a freight rail connection to the new airport, whereas a metro connection would be unlikely to provide the opportunity for freight trains to reach the new airport.

2014-05-04 swrl-extension-corridor-map

The proposed corridors for an extension of the SWRL through to Badgerys Creek and beyond. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has indicated her preference is for a rail connection after the airport opens and further commented that “Some major airports around the world take up to 10 years to build a rail line”. With a 2026 scheduled opening date for a Western Sydney Airport, this would suggest a 2026-36 opening date for an airport railway.

Meanwhile, Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten announced his support in April 2017 for a North-South rail connection, but went further in calling for it to be completed in time for the opening of a Western Sydney Airport in 2026. So although there is a difference in opinion on timing, there is now bipartisanship support for a rail line connecting the airport to Leppington and St Marys.

Proposed: Cudgegong Rd to Marsden Park extension

Work on preserving a corridor to extend the Sydney Metro Northwest began before construction on the line had even begun. Two options were considered: a Northern extension to Riverstone and a Western extension to Marsden Park via Schofields. The latter option was chosen with the potential to extend it further to the Mount Druitt area, although the corridor is to be reserved with mode neutrality. In other words, it could be both as an extension of Sydney Metro, but it could also be built as even bus rapid transit/light rail or even heavy rail with double deck trains from the T1 Western Line at Mount Druitt or St Marys.

NWRL Extension Corridor Options

Two options exist for linking the NWRL to the Richmond Line. One goes North West to Vineyard, the other continues west through Schofields and towards Marsden Park. Click to enlarge. (Source: http://northwestoptions.com.au)

Proposed: Bankstown to Liverpool extension

This proposal would see the Sydney Metro extended from the currently planned terminus at Bankstown out to Liverpool.

Such a line could link both Bankstown and Liverpool to Bankstown Airport, allowing for potential redevelopment of the current airport site. That would be in line with the Government´s pattern of building new transport infrastructure in places that enable new developments, including Waterloo, Sydney Olympic Park, the Bays Precinct, or the proposed redevelopment of Long Bay Prison. It would also provide connections between Liverpool and the Sydney CBD via Bankstown that are set to be lost once the Bankstown Line is converted to Metro services by 2024.

VIDEO: Sydney Metro: Future Options – Bankstown to Liverpool (Transport for NSW)

Proposed: Parramatta to Western Sydney Airport extension

A Western extension to the Sydney Metro West, this line would link up Parramatta with a Western Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek. With the airport and metro line each scheduled to open in 2026 or later, much of

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has called for a rail link to the airport to be built by the year 2046, but not necessarily ready to open simultaneously with a Western Sydney Airport. However, this was before the NSW Government opted for a North-South rail link from Leppington to St Marys, which is set to be announced jointly with the federal government.

2016-03-12 Parramatta Fast Rail Route

Potential alignments for a fast rail connection from Parramatta to a Western Sydney Airport at Badgeries Creek and the Sydney CBD. Click to enlarge. (Source: Parramatta City Council, Western Sydney Airport Fast Train – Discussion Paper, page 12.)

Proposed: City to Long Bay extension

An Eastern extension of the Sydney Metro West, this line would link up the Sydney CBD to the South East along a former tram reservation on Anzac Parade. To this date, there is no official government proposal for this line, only an unsolicited proposal from 2016.

However, Infrastructure NSW has been investigating the Anzac Parade corridor since 2014. The plans would involve the sale of the Long Bay Prison for redevelopment, which itself would help to fund the construction costs of a rail line down that corridor. This is in line with similar plans for Waterloo, the Bays Precinct and Sydney Olympic Park where new metro lines would support redevelopment that would in turn be enabled by the new metro line.

So far, this corridor has been investigated for an extension of the currently under construction light rail line out to Kingsford. Despite this, the close correlation between the unsolicited proposal and line actually being planned at the moment are close enough that an extension to La Perouse via Long Bay appears like a good proxy for official government policy.

2017 timetable (part 2): Off peak

Posted: September 4, 2017 in Transport
Tags: ,

VIDEO: More than 1,500 extra weekly services for train customers, Transport for NSW (28 August 2017)

See also: 2017 timetable (part 1): Morning peak

The number of stations with a train service every 15 minutes is set to rise from 88 to 126 (representing 71% of the networks 178 stations), an increase of 43%, thanks to the addition of 1,500 additional weekly services as part of a timetable revamp set to be introduced in November. This has been achieved by adding additional services in some parts of the network and by re-scheduling services to be evenly spaced where there are already 4TPH (Trains Per Hour) on that part of the network. These 15 minute frequencies will last most of the day, 7 days a week. The government has touted the benefits of this as allowing users to ignore the timetable and instead just turn up and go.

To visualise what this means, compare the Sydney Trains map shown above to the one shown below. The map above is the normal network map, showing all the stations. The map below (the regular map, modified by this blog´s author) only shows the stations that currently receive 15 minute frequencies all day. Lines with turn up and go frequencies can be seen in Inner Sydney as well and Nothern Sydney: the T1 North Shore Line, T1 Northern Line, T1 Epping Line, T2 Inner West Line, T3 Bankstown Line, T4 Eastern Suburbs Line, and T8 Airport Line.

The map shown below also includes the stations that are set to get 15 minute frequencies in November. These new stations are mostly in Sydney´s West: the T1 Western Line, T2 Leppington Line, and T8 South Line. The main lines still missing a regular all day 15 minute frequency are the T1 Richmond Line, T4 Cronulla Line, and the T4 Illawarra Line. The T1 Richmond and T4 Illawarra Line are hampered by being branch lines that service sparsely populated areas, meanwhile the T4 Cronulla Line does have 4 trains per hour, but enter the city on 10/20 minute frequencies due to varied stopping patterns.

Additionally, where branch lines with 15 minute frequencies merge in the inner portions of the network it results in even higher frequencies. Most of these stations thus provide all day frequencies of a train every 10 minutes or less, with a few providing frequency levels of a train every 11 minutes or less (often in one direction rather than both directions). The highest frequencies are seen on the City Circle, where trains travelling through in a clockwise direction pass through stations every 6 minutes or less all day.

There are 3 areas in particular, accounting for 27 stations, where this occurs:

  1. The T4 Cronulla Line and T4 Illawarra Line merge at Sydenham to provide 6TPH, resulting in even 10 minute frequencies between Sydenham and Bondi Junction.
  2. The T8 Airport Line and T8 South Line merge at Wolli Creek to provide 8TPH, resulting in 6/9 minute frequencies between Wolli Creek and Central via the airport stations in both directions. Services through the City Circle, entering via Museum and travelling counter-clockwise, continue this 6/9 minute frequency.
  3. The T2 Leppington Line, T2 Inner West Line, and T3 Bankstown Line merge at Redfern to provide 12TPH, resulting in 3/6 minute frequencies through the City Circle, entering via Town Hall and travelling clockwise, though to Central.
  4. The T2 Leppington Line and T2 Inner West Line merge at Ashfield to provide 8TPH, resulting in either 7/8 minute or 4/11 minute frequencies into the City Circle for Ashfield and Newtown Stations. Frequency levels depend on direction of travel and whether it is a weekday or weekend. However, Newtown´s 15 minute frequencies remain on weekends.
  5. The T1 Western Line and T1 Epping Line merge at Strathfield to provide 8TPH, resulting in 6/9 minute or 4/11 minute frequencies into the City and through to Chatswood for Strathfield Station. Frequency levels depend on direction of travel.

The stations affected can be seen in the map below.

Commentary: Why frequency matters

This blog has argued the merits of high frequency networks before (see: here, here, here). A network of high frequency public transport services, buses as well as trains, with easy interchanges between them, allow for a much greater level of mobility for its users.

The big increase in the 15 minute turn up and go network is to be commended. This will go a long way to improving access to the Sydney CBD. But for users wanting to make a transfer at an interchange, be it catching a bus to their local station or changing trains at an outer suburban station, a 15 minute frequency is just too long.

That´s why identifying where services are more frequent than a train every 15 minute is so important. As it turns out, 27 stations in and near the city currently do; reaching Chatswood, Bondi Junction, Wolli Creek, and Strathfield. Most of these have gaps between train services of no more than 10 minutes, with the best service levels seen on the City Circle for anyone travelling through it on a clockwise direction of a train every 6 minutes or less all day.

But there is still scope for improvement that requires little to no additional spending on operating costs. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Re-schedule trains on T1 between Strathfield and Chatswood to eliminate the 11 minute gaps between some services. This would allow for a train every 9 minutes or less all day without having to add more trains.
  2. Look into making express trains on T2 stop at Newtown during weekends to give that station 8TPH across the full week. Both these changes may be possible without having to add more trains.
  3. Re-route trains on T3 to run through the City Circle via Museum and then terminate at Redfern where they can turn around at the Macdonaldtown turnback and return to Bankstown through the City Circle. This would increase frequencies through the City Circle up to 12TPH in both directions, providing a train every 6 minutes or less all day with only a small increase in cost.
  4. Re-schedule trains through the City Circle to have even spacings. Where there are 12TPH, this would mean a train every 5 minutes rather than 3/6/6 minute gaps in the frequency as is currently the case. It would result in 5/10 minute frequencies in other parts of the network, rather than 6/9 minute frequencies, such as the Airport Line.

In the longer term, the two new Sydney Metro Lines should result in a large increase to the all day high frequency network out to Rouse Hill, Parramatta, and Bankstown. Sydney Metro Northwest is currently slated to run at 10 minute frequencies all day. When it gets extended through to Bankstown increasing its frequencies up to a train every 5 minutes all day would be a big improvement that would achieve the earlier stated goal of providing a true turn up and go network that makes interchanges easy and seamless.

Two thirds of stations on the Sydney Trains network will enjoy a train to the city every 15 minutes during most hours of the day on both weekdays and weekends under a revamp of the train timetable set to be implemented in late November. The plans will also see a boost to peak hour services, with the number of trains entering Sydney´s CBD stations increasing to 114 during the busiest hour of the morning; a 3.6% increase on the existing 110 trains per hour, while Liverpool will see the addition of fast express trains into the city during the morning peak.

The new timetable is accompanied by a new network map (shown above), which was reviewed by the Transit Maps website.

All up, an additional 1,500 services are being added per week. Half of these during the weekend. For comparison, the 2013 timetable changes saw an increase of 700 services per week, with no change to the weekend timetable. The increase in service levels will be supported by a $1.5bn capital investment, the largest part of which will be the purchase of an additional 24 Waratah trains. This will increase the existing fleet of Waratahs trains from 78 to 102.

This post will look at how the changes affect the morning peak hour. A future post will focus at the off-peak.

The Good

The number of trains into the city from Parramatta is set to increase from 20TPH (Trains Per Hour) to 24TPH. If the 4TPH on the Blue Mountains Line which stop at Parramatta but terminate at Central´s Sydney Terminal are included, Parramatta will soon see 28TPH into Central Station during the busiest hour of the morning peak.

It achieves this by extending the T2 Inner West Line to Parramatta, with 4TPH on that line now starting at Parramatta rather than Homebush. This was one of the few ways to increase capacity into the city from Parramatta, as the Western Line is currently at maximum capacity of 20TPH.

The new timetable then resolves the issue of overcrowding on the T2 Line from additional passengers boarding at Parramatta by adding an adding additional capacity on the T2 Leppington Line and T3 Bankstown Line. It is able to do this as these both run into the City Circle, which is the only line with significant spare capacity. The City Circle currently uses 34 out of the 40 paths (that being 20TPH in each direction) available during the busiest hour of the morning peak. The new timetable adds an additional 4TPH into the city, meaning that 38 paths out of a potential 40 will now be used. As a result, the T3 Bankstown Line will see an increase from 8TPH to 10TPH, and the T2 Leppington And Inner West Line will see an increase from 12TPH to 14TPH. This should, in theory, offset the loss of 4TPH to Parramatta.

The Bad

The increase in services through the City Circle now mean that Sydney’s city stations are one step away from being full during peak hour, with 114 of the available 120 paths on the 3 CBD lines being used up. This is 95% of maximum capacity.

With demand on the rail network currently growing at a rate of 10% per year, there is a risk that the network will reach capacity well before additional rail capacity comes online in 7 years when the Sydney Metro is extended through under the CBD in 2024.

The only other viable stop gap would appear to be an increase in services into Sydney Terminal. Internal government plans prepared in 2014 show this could increase capacity into Central Station by 16% during the busy morning peak, but it would cut many direct services between the city and Sydney´s outer suburbs. The current timetable goes part of the way in doing this by rerouting some T1 Richmond Line services through to the T5 Cumberland Line, but for now Richmond retains direct services into the city.

The Ugly

The T2 and T3 lines will now have some very unusual stopping patterns during the morning peak. Some stations on theT3 Bankstown Line will now have a 19 minute gap between services during the morning peak. This seems designed to cater for the new Liverpool express services.

It is unusual because this undoes part of what the 2013 timetable changes aimed to do: simplify the timetable to create regular clockface timetable. Strangely, those same stations still enjoy regular 15-minute clock face frequencies during the off peak hours of the day.

To complicate things even further, there is a possibility that these unusual stopping patterns will not survive past 2024, when the Sydney Metro City and Southwest absorbs the Bankstown Line.

A Peter Martin article entitled ¨Benefits from a Wollongong-to-Sydney rail upgrade would exceed costs, Cabinet told¨ appeared recently in the Sydney Morning Herald on 13 July 2017. The article suggests that a $5bn upgrade to the rail line from Sydney to Wollongong would potentially provide benefits more than double their cost. It suggests that this is a favourable option to an $18bn extension of the F6 Motorway between Sydney and Wollongong.

The biggest obstacle to upgrading the rail line to Wollongong is that there is actually no business case currently available for the full project. The SMH article claims ¨the total cost of upgrading the Sydney to Wollongong commuter line would be around $5 billion¨, of which a rail tunnel from Thirroul to Waterfall is the largest expense at $2.9bn.

A Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) of 1.5 to 2.4 is provided only for the Maldon to Dombarton freight line, which at $700m-$800m represents no more than 16% of the full project on a cost basis. This line would allow freight trains to travel to Sydney from Wollongong via Campbelltown rather than the current path via Sutherland.

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.)

However, the BCR drops to 0.9 when a discount rate of 7% is used rather than 4.4%. A discount rate of 7% is the standard one used in order to compare all infrastructure projects. Using a lower discount rate inflates the benefits when compared to other projects. The reduction in BCR below 1.0 suggests that the costs of this project outweight the benefits.

Infrastructure Australia also pointed out that the benefits are probably to be overstated for 2 reasons: (1) coal freight tonnage is likely to decline in coming decades and (2) there are no current plans to convert part of the T4 Illawarra Line to metro standard which would subsequently require a new entry path for rail freight from the Illawarra into Sydney.

The full text of Infrastructure Australia´s conclusion is included below.

¨There is significant uncertainty around forecast future freight demand, particularly from 2031 onwards. Freight throughputs were estimated for 2014, 2021 and 2031. Beyond 2031, demand was assumed to remain constant at 2031 levels. The business case assumed coal would represent 58% of projected freight tonnage using the line in 2031. However, a number of coal mines which were projected to use the Maldon-Dombarton Rail Link over the entire 50-year evaluation period are expected to be exhausted within the next 20 years. For example, the Tahmoor coal mine – which was expected to account for around 22% of rail paths on the Maldon-Dombarton Rail Link from 2031 – is expected to close by early 2019. This lost freight demand is unlikely to be replaced, and lower freight demand would lower project benefits.

The base case is not a ‘do-minimum’ base case because it assumes uncommitted future network changes to the Sydney rail system, including the potential introduction of rapid transit services to Hurstville by 2031. This would affect freight rail capacity on the Illawarra line. However, these changes have not been committed or funded, so it is not certain that the related project benefits would be realised.Also important to consider is that the $700m-$800m cost was calculated at P50. In other words, there is a 50% chance that the cost will be higher than that estimate, and a 50% chance that it will be lower. Additionally, the analysis excludes wider economic benefits. These include things like agglomeration economies, improving market competitiveness, or increased tax revenues from labour markets. They are excluded in part because they are indirect and thus hard to measure. But it does mean that a BCR of close to 1.0 could still make a project such as this viable as WEBs would ultimately make the benefits outweigh the costs. However, as previously stated, if the benefits are overstated then it is unlikely that the BCR would be close to 1.0 anyway.¨

So does this mean that an upgrade of the South Coast Line from Wollongong to Sydney does not stack up? The answer is: we actually don´t know.

A section of the partly completed Maldon to Dombarton freight railway. Click to enlarge. (Source: Marcus Wong.)

Remember: this is a $5bn project and the Maldon to Dombarton freight line is just one small part of it. In order to determine if the full project is economically viable, a business case needs to be developed for the full project. Not one part of the project. Not all of the parts separately. The full project. This is because when taken as a whole, individual parts of the full project could provide benefits for another part and vice versa.

What certainly doesn´t help is a government decision to look into a road improvement to connect Sydney to Wollongong, excluding all other options. Instead, the government could have committed itself to evaluating the transport corridor first, then determining which mode provides the best possible outcome.

It remains possible that improved road connections could provide a greater benefit than improved rail connections. However, the higher estimated cost of road ($18bn) compared to rail ($5bn) makes this seem less likely when taken at face value.

But without a study into the business case of both, we won´t know for sure.

VIDEO: Sydney Metro West, Transport for NSW (13 Nov 2016)

When first proposed by the then State Opposition in 2010, the principal aim of the CSELR (CBD and South East Light Rail) was to reduce congestion by adding additional capacity to the Anzac Parade Corridor. Ironically, one of the major criticisms of the line today, in 2017 a full 2 years before it is due to open, is that it will not provide sufficent additional capacity. Instead, the argument goes, a metro line should have been built from the beginning. The recent decision to defer, in effect abandon, a planned light rail line between Parramatta and Olympic Park in favour of a metro line would appear to reinforce this argument.

(All this puts aside the shortcomings of the arguments against the CSELR from the recent Randwick Council report – click here and go to pages 32-34 for the report itself; that being it assumes express bus services are set to be scrapped and thus total capcity along the corridor will decrease. The express buses into the CBD along the Eastern Distributor are not only to be retained, but expanded. So the main shortcoming of the CSELR is not that it will reduce capacity, but rather that it will not increase capacity sufficiently to handle the projected growth in coming years.)

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

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

In the case of both light rail lines, it appears that they have been a victim of their own success. Local Councils in Randwick and Parramatta pushed for the construction of light rail to improve transport capacity, often in the belief that this was a realistic improvement to lobby for. These were then taken up by the state government and soon began to appear insufficient. In the case of the CSELR, the project has matured so much that it is effectively too late to cancel and start again as a metro. In the case of the Olympic Park project, the change from light rail to metro was possible, but will push back the introduction of rail to that corridor by many years. If these plans are successful, eventually a metro line from Parramatta to Long Bay will provide heavy rail capacity along both of these corridors. Thus providing heavy rail capacity where light rail was first proposed.

Parramatta Light Rail route map. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

Parramatta Light Rail route map. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

This raises a key question: why didn´t this happen from the start? There are two likely answers.

One was that the studies into these corridors began with a transport solution (light rail) for a particular corridor first, then tested whether it would be viable (yes) second. They should have identified a congested corridor first, then identified the ideal transport solution(s) second.

Another reason for this was the lack of sufficient funding. Heavy rail is much more expensive than light rail. As an imperfect comparison, the cost of the CSELR ($2.1bn) is much less than the estimated cost of a metro from Parramatta to the CBD ($11bn). Indeed, a Parramatta to CBD metro has been little more than lines on a map until NSW privatisations brought in more money than was initially expected.

Planned route of the 2008 West Metro, which may be indicative of the future Sydney Metro West. Click to enlarge. (Source: Railway Gazette)

Planned route of the 2008 West Metro, which may be indicative of the future Sydney Metro West. Click to enlarge. (Source: Railway Gazette)

The solution to all of these problems would appear to be simple: let Transport for NSW do its job. Have them identify corridors that need upgrades to transport infrastructure. Then let them decide what the best options are for those corridors, along with the cost for each option. The government of the time can then make decisions based on what they can afford at each moment. The good news is that this already happens. The last Transport Masterplan in 2012 operated in this manner.

The problem arises when politicians or interest groups have their special pet projects. It results in deciding on a mode of transport first and then looking for somewhere to build it. This is an answer in search of a question. It´s backwards and temptations to engage in such actions must be rejected by both decision makers and the pubic at large.

With an updated 5 yearly transport plan due this year, now is the time to go back to letting Transport for NSW do its job.

A metro line connecting Sydney’s CBD to Parramatta is firming as the most likely major rail project to be completed once the currently under construction Sydney Metro opens in 2024. This follows the windfall gains received by the NSW Government in the 99 year lease of its poles and wires, with Daily Telegraph political editor Andrew Clennel citing senior government sources that the highest priority in using the proceeds of the privatisation funds will be a “third Metro line from the CBD to Parramatta — taking pressure off the above-ground rail line which is already near capacity”.

The NSW Government is currently reviewing an unsolicited proposal to build such a line, received in July of this year. The cost is estimated at $10bn and could be partly funded through value capture. This would be possible in sites like the Bays Precinct, Olympic Park, Camellia, and Badgerys Creek. However, it remains uncertain what this means for current plans for a light rail connection from Parramatta to Olympic Park, with suggestions that such a link may be shelved and replaced by a metro rail line.

2017-10-23 All Options.png

Transport for NSW subsequently published a discussion paper and is now seeking feedback until 28 October. The discussion paper outlines a number of options, split into Options A-E Western Sydney (mostly connecting Parramatta to the Sydney CBD) and Options 1-6 Western Sydney Airport (connecting the new Western Sydney Airport to the rail network).

Option A, a new western metro-style service, would appear to be the proposal being put forward by the consortium and therefore be the front runner. It is described as:

This line requires a tunnel to be built between Sydney and Parramatta / Westmead with stations located every few kilometres. It could operate as a stand-alone, metro-style, all stops service using high capacity single deck trains with the potential to transport 40,000 extra passengers per hour. It could potentially provide journey times between Sydney and Parramatta of around 30 minutes and relieve some demand on the existing network. This could also support opportunities for new developments at locations such as Olympic Park, Five Dock and The Bays precinct.

2016-10-23 Option A.png

Option 5, a direct rail express service from Western Sydney Airport to Parramatta, appears to be the proposal most similar to that being put forward by the consortium and would therefore also be the front runner. However, it involves a 160km/hour express service rather than a metro style service with frequent stops as previous Option A put forward:

This option would include a direct rail express service from the proposed Western Sydney Airport to Parramatta and through to Sydney CBD. This line would require a new tunnel as it approaches Parramatta and from Parramatta through to the Sydney CBD. This service offers the potential for the fastest service between the airport and these two major centres, but would be comparatively expensive to construct. Initial assessments indicate that such a line could achieve journey times of 15 minutes from the proposed Western Sydney Airport to Parramatta and 12 minutes from Parramatta to the Sydney CBD based on a maximum speed of 160 kilometres per hour. While such a service would provide a short travel time to the broader Sydney Basin and CBD, it would not necessarily service the population who are expected to work at and use a Western Sydney Airport in the short-term.

2016-10-23 Option 5.png

This proposal builds on a March 2016 Parramatta City Council feasability study which suggested a fast train rail link along this corridor, providing a 15 minute rail journey from Parramatta to the Sydney CBD that would also connect Parramatta to a Western Sydney Airport.

2016-03-12 Parramatta Fast Rail Route.PNG

 

Should such a line go ahead, it would pass though and potentially create a new economic corridor for Sydney. The existing “Global Economic Corridor” originally consisted of an zone spanning across Sydney Airport, the Sydney CBD, North Sydney, St Leonards, Chatswood, and Macquarie Park; recently also being expanded to include Norwest Business Park and Parramatta. This new economic corridor would encapsulate Western Sydney Airport, Parramatta, Olympic Park, the Bays District, and the Sydney CBD. This new corridor would pass through Sydney’s 3 cities described by Greater Sydney Commission Chair Lucy Turnbull.

Commentary: How might this line be built?

The Western rail corridor from Parramatta to the Sydney CBD remains one of the most congested in the Sydney network and yet has been seemingly neglected in terms of capacity improvements. Therefore, additional rail capacity is a welcome possibility. What is less certain is how much of it can be paid for with value capture, whether the journey times will be 15 or 30 minutes, and $10bn price tag.

A recent study focused on the Gold Coast Light Rail line found that value capture would be able to pay for only 25% of the capital costs of building the line. Using that as a benchmark suggests that governments will still be liable to fund the majority of the construction costs for major public transport projects. This is also why the windfall gains from recent privatisations is so significant: it makes a project like this possible.

The 15 minute journey time is possible, but unlikely unless the journey is express. The predicted journey times for the 2008 West Metro, which involved a 22km journey that included 10 stations, was 26 minutes. This equates roughly to 45 seconds/km (the equivalent of 80km/hour), plus an additional 1 minute/station. This also corresponds to the estimated journey times for the Sydney Metro currently under construction. So 25-30 minutes would appear a much more realistic journey time than 15 minutes.

2016-10-23 CBD to Parramatta Metro estimated costs.PNG

Finally, there is the construction costs. Here, a lot depends on how the line is constructed and a number of assumptions will be made. The 2008 West Metro is a good starting point, with the adjustment that it pass through the Bays Precinct and then most likely entering the CBD at Barangaroo. This would involve a similar number of stations, but with a slightly shorter length of perhaps 21km rather than 22km. Curiously, this would effectively see a hybrid of the West Metro and CBD Metro alignments, with the 2008 proposed alignments seen in the map below.

2016-10-18 West Metro and CBD Metro Alignment.PNG

Based on the costs of recent projects, but not taking future inflation into account, a more realistic cost could be just under $11bn for the Sydney CBD to Parramatta portion. From Parramatta to Badgerys Creek, the distance is longer at 26km, but about two thirds of this could be above ground rather than in a tunnel. Additionally, it would likely have fewer stations, probably 4 in total not counting Parramatta. So using the same assumptions, that portion of the project could come in at about $6bn.

That is approximately $17bn, approaching double the $10bn cited by the unsolicited proposal. This should come as no surprise, as unsolicited proposals are in the business of selling their case to the government and thus have an interest in underestimating the potential costs.

Finally there is the question of where to run the line through the CBD. The map accompanying the proposal submitted to the Government, published by the Sydney Morning Herald, suggests connecting the line to the future Sydney Metro at Barangaroo and then another line out from Waterloo out to the soon to be redeveloped Long Bay Prison in Sydney’s South East. This would have the benefit of funneling trains from two separate lines on each end of the central portion of this line, ensuring constant high frequency along the CBD portion of the Sydney Metro.

However, it would also place capacity constraints on the line. For example, it would prevent the Northwest line of the Sydney Metro from increasing its current 15 trains per hour during the peak if the Western line of the Sydney Metro were also to enjoy 15 trains per hour. It would be possible to extend the trains from 6 to 8 carriages, providing a 33% increase in capacity, but not the 167% increase in capacity that is currently possible.

The alternative is to build an additional rail line through the CBD. A second corridor under Sussex St has been reserved for such a future line, in addition to the Pitt St corridor that the current Sydney Metro line will use. Alternatively, the line could cross the CBD in an East-West direction, rather than the typical North-South direction that all the existing rail lines follow. This could potentially provide heavy rail access to Pyrmont or Taylor Square.

Either option would be challenging and disruptive. It would ordinarily also be expensive. But it could be transformational in a way very little else could and NSW has recently come across the billions of dollars necessary for such an endeavour.

VIDEO: Sydney’s Ghost Railways – Part 1 (Bambul Shakibaei)

Lachlan Drummond visited the Transport Heritage Expo on Monday 13 June 2016, the final day of the 3 day event. Below is his account of the event, which he wrote shortly after the event and would have been posted a week ago had this blog’s regular author not allowed it to sit idly during that time.

On the Monday public holiday, my partner and I decided to go down to the Transport Heritage Expo. I had been meaning to go for a few years but something had always crept up.

What is the expo?

The Transport Heritage Expo is a collaboration between Transport Heritage NSW, Transport for NSW, and a number of other NSW transport heritage organisations who are involved in operating and restoring old transport. It has been running for a few years now at Central Station over the June long weekend.

Central station allocates four platforms on the main concourse to display vintage steam, electric and diesel trains and carriages and to run vintage train rides on the actual Sydney trains network.

Steam engine 3642. Click to enlarge. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

Steam engine 3642. Click to enlarge. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

The event begins on the Saturday with the now traditional Great Train Race, where 3 vintage trains race down the Western Line from central to Strathfield. After this, the trains come back to central and continue to run services on other city rail lines every two hours or so over the long weekend.

At the station there are vintage trains and carriages on display that have been lovingly restored and maintained by the various transport heritage organisations. You can book a Devonshire tea cooked inside an original 1950s train carriage, and you can even hop into the driver’s cab of a Waratah train on the platform. There’s also a merch stand, a jazz band, and some vintage buses running outside on the colonnade.

The great thing about this expo is you don’t just get to see the trains and buses as a static museum piece. You get to see the trains leave and arrive at a real train station. You get to jump inside the carriages, hop into the drivers cabs and have a look around. And best of all – it’s mostly free. It does cost $25 to ride one of the vintage trains or to have Devonshire tea, but you don’t have to pay anything to climb around them while they’re back at the station. It’s also free to ride the buses. It’s a really great event for train enthusiasts, families and kids in particular.

The trains and carriages

This year the expo showed off a variety of different trains. The big highlight for most people was probably to see a fully operational steam train – engine 3642, hauling vintage carriages down to Hurstville (with an assist from a vintage diesel engine). This train has been beautifully restored, and it was a real joy to see it at the station (unfortunately I didn’t get to ride this one as tickets sold out very quickly). When it pulled into the station you could jump into the drivers cab and have a look around.

A variety of organisations also had some lovely diesel engines on display. The blue engine 4001 was a standout – beautifully painted, and sitting on the platform with its engine open so you could see the inner workings.

Red Rattler F1 with diesel engine 4001 in the background at Central Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

Red Rattler F1 with diesel engine 4001 in the background at Central Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

The guys at 3801 Limited also showed of their excellent restoration job on an old lounge and sleeper car, including the sitting area and bunk cabins. They are looking for some financial assistance to restore the toilet to full working order – if you want to give them a hand you can visit their website. Diesel engine 42101 also looked great.

Sydney Trains also came to the party with a very new Waratah set sitting at the station with the driver cab open. Kids young and old got to sit in the front seat and were shown by a driver how it works.

Riding on the Red Rattler

For me, the train that really stole the show was the recently restored “F1” red rattler electric train, returning to heritage service for the first time in 15 years. We hopped on the 9:30AM Monday service to East Hills and back.

Red Rattler F1 at East Hills Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

Red Rattler F1 at East Hills Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

A collection of 4 carriages built in the 1920s in Clyde and Newcastle, the set features three driver cabins and one passenger cabin, which we travelled in. Amazingly, one of the driver cabins (C3426) was part of the first scheduled service across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932. Some of the carriages saw some renovation work in the 1980s as they were kept in service until 1992 due to the delay of the Tangara trains. After this, Sydney Trains grabbed them and restored them for heritage services in about 1999, but they hadn’t been seen since 2002.

These carriages and interiors were in fantastic condition, with the seats containing the old NSWGR logo on them and the windows and (manual!) doors were fully functioning. An old 1970s network map was still on the wall above my head, featuring stations such as “Goodyear” (Goodyear tires) and “Hardies” (James Hardie) on a spur line near Clyde. An interesting insight into Sydney’s industrial past.

Best of all, this train is in fantastic working order and was an absolute joy to ride. We travelled down the Erskinville-Sydenham-Tempe line, slowly through stations due to the width of the train and rebuilt platforms. Once we hit Wolli Creek and the East Hills express line, the driver opened the throttle and we were soon overtaking local Waratah train services at what must have been close to 70kph. It was seriously impressive stuff.  At East Hills we got out to admire the train before we turned around and went back to central. Plenty of the heritage guys were on the train and were happy to answer questions.

The restoration work on this set is absolutely top notch and full credit must go to Transport Heritage, Heritage Express, Sydney Trains, Howard Collins, and everyone else who worked on it and helped get it back on the rails. Have a ride on this if you get the chance- it’s a real gem.

Riding on a Vintage Bus

The guys from the Sydney Bus Museum are currently going through renovations (and will be reopening in August). This didn’t stop them from bringing out a collection of four vintage double decker buses for some joyrides through the Sydney CBD.

A vintage Sydney double decker bus. Click to enlarge. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

A vintage Sydney double decker bus. Click to enlarge. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

Their collection included two sky blue Sydney double deckers, a Green one, in fantastic condition. They also had something pretty special – a genuine Leyland London Routemaster from the 1960s, complete with the great old red colours. By chance we were lucky enough to get on it, and we drove up Pitt street up to Park street, and then around Hyde park and back. These rides were free and very popular, although I did chuck 5 bucks in their donation box (and I hope others did too). It was great to see the city from another angle.

Overall

Last year the Transport Heritage Expo won first prize in the NSW Heritage awards, and it’s not hard to see why. This really is a great day out for everyone, whether you’re a kid, a train enthusiast, or just an older person wanting a bit of nostalgia. While there’s plenty of great stuff to do for free, I really recommend spending the 25 bucks (adult) to ride on one of the old heritage trains. It’s not often that you get the chance to get on a vintage train at central and go somewhere far away on the network. You know the money will be used to keep these great machines running.

This expo is a credit to all the transport heritage organisations who put aside their differences for a weekend to create something really special. It’s an example of what can be achieved when everyone works together. I can see it growing into the future – hopefully in a few years we could get some vintage Sydney trams running through the CBD when the new line is built. How awesome would that be?

VIDEO: Metropolitanisationing: Sydney Transport (Jack Walsh)

There are two rail lines in Sydney currently under construction or in the planning phase. The first is the Sydney Metro Northwest, announced in 2010 and set to open in 2019; it consists of 23km of new track between Epping and Cudgegong Rd near Rouse Hill as well as the conversion of the existing 13km Epping to Chatswood Line (opened in 2009) to metro operation. The second is the Sydney Metro City and Southwest, announced in 2014 and set to open in 2024; it consists of 13km of new track between Chatswood and Sydenham as well as the conversion of the existing 17km Bankstown Line between Sydenham and Bankstown to metro operation.

Although no firm plans are currently in place for expansion of the rail network beyond 2024, there are a number of rail lines that have been mentioned by state and federal Transport Ministers, Premiers, and Prime Ministers. In chronological order of their first announcement, these include an extension of the Sydney Metro from Cudgegong Rd to Marsden Park, an extension of the South West Rail Link to Badgerys Creek, an extension of the Sydney Metro from Bankstown to Liverpool, and a new fast train from Parramatta to the Sydney CBD and Badgerys Creek.

(Left out of this list are previously announced rail lines that have been raised in internal government documents or were official government policy but in either case have since been abandoned. These include the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link, a metro line to the Northern Beaches, a metro line to Hurstville, and an extension of the Eastern Suburbs Line to UNSW.)

Cudgegong Road to Marsden Park

Work on preserving a corridor to extend what was then known as the North West Rail Link, now Sydney Metro Northwest, began before construction on the line had even begun. Two options were considered: a Northern extension to Riverstone and a Western extension to Marsden Park via Schofields. The latter option was chosen with the potential to extend it further to the Mount Druitt area, although the corridor is to be reserved with mode neutrality. In other words, it could be both as an extension of Sydney Metro, but it could also be built as even bus rapid transit/light rail or even heavy rail with double deck trains from the T1 Western Line at Mount Druitt or St Marys.

NWRL Extension Corridor Options

Two options exist for linking the NWRL to the Richmond Line. One goes North West to Vineyard, the other continues west through Schofields and towards Marsden Park. Click to enlarge. (Source: http://northwestoptions.com.au)

Leppington to Badgerys Creek

The South West Rail Link would be extended from the current terminus at Leppington through to Badgerys Creek at the new Western Sydney Airport. This line would also include a potential extension North to St Marys and South to Narellan. By connecting to the existing heavy rail network, this line also provides the greatest potential for a freight rail connection to the new airport. However, it does not provide a fast nor a direct rail connection between the airport and Parramatta, the Sydney CBD, nor the existing Kingsford Smith Airport at Mascot.

The proposed corridors for an extension of the SWRL through to Badgerys Creek and beyond. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The proposed corridors for an extension of the SWRL through to Badgerys Creek and beyond. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

This is also the only proposed new rail line that is an extension of the existing heavy rail network. All of the other 3 proposals involve extensions of the Sydney Metro network currently under construction or the creation of a new single deck fast train.

Bankstown to Liverpool

An extension of the Sydney Metro City and Southwest, set to open in 2024 between Chatswood and Bankstown via the Sydney CBD, this would see the line extended further out to Liverpool.

The proposed Southern extension of Sydney Metro would see the line extended from the currently planned terminus at Bankstown out to Liverpool. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The proposed Southern extension of Sydney Metro would see the line extended from the currently planned terminus at Bankstown out to Liverpool. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Such a line could link both Bankstown and Liverpool to Bankstown Airport, allowing for potential redevelopment of the current airport site into a new business park. It would also provide connections between Liverpool and the Sydney CBD via Bankstown that are set to be lost once the Bankstown Line is converted to Metro services at some point in the next 8 years.

VIDEO: Sydney Metro: Future Options – Bankstown to Liverpool (Transport for NSW)

Sydney to Parramatta

Parramatta City Council, in conjunction with the Western Sydney Business Chamber, have proposed a fast train from the Sydney CBD to Parramatta that would complete the journey in as little as 15 minutes. It also includes a Western Link between Parramatta and a future Western Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek.

Potential alignments for a fast rail connection from Parramatta to a Western Sydney Airport at Badgeries Creek and the Sydney CBD. Click to enlarge. (Source: Parramatta City Council, Western Sydney Airport Fast Train - Discussion Paper, page 12.)

Potential alignments for a fast rail connection from Parramatta to a Western Sydney Airport at Badgeries Creek and the Sydney CBD. Click to enlarge. (Source: Parramatta City Council, Western Sydney Airport Fast Train – Discussion Paper, page 12.)

The Eastern Link has 4 potential alignments to Parramatta Station:

  1. Upgrading the existing surface rail corridor with stations at Central, Strathfield, and Lidcombe. This would not reduce travel times by more than a few minutes below the current 25 minute minimum. It would also do the least to add extra capacity.
  2. A tunnel underneath the existing rail corridor with stations at the future Sydney Metro Station in Pitt St, Croydon, and Lidcombe. This has longer journey times than Options 3 or 4 and has limited scope for value capture. However, it provides the most favourable tunneling conditions.
  3. A tunnel South of the Parramatta River with stations at the future Sydney Metro Station in Pitt St, White Bay, and Olypmic Park. This is the shortest and fastest option. It also has the best scope for value capture and most challenging tunneling conditions.
  4. A tunnel North of the Parramatta River with stations at the future Sydney Metro Station in Barangaroo, White Bay, and Ryde. This is longer than Option 3, but passes through more existing centres. It has less scope for value capture but better patronage in the medium term.

The Western Link has 2 potential alignments between Parramatta Station and Badgerys Creek:

  1. A Southern corridor with an intermediate station in Liverpool.
  2. A Northern corridor with an intermediate station in either Blacktown or near the M4/M7.

The Western Link has fewer details than the Eastern Link. Proponents are split over which section to build first, with Parramatta City Council CEO Greg Dyer supporting an Eastern Link and Parramatta MP Geoff Lee supporting a Western Link. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has called for a Western Link to be built earlier than 2046, but not necessarily ready to open simultaneously with a Western Sydney Airport. Sydney Morning Herald City Editor Jacob Saulwick argues that an Eastern Link is more pressing given the capacity constraints between Parramatta and the Sydney CBD, but that it would be a good stage one for when a future extension to Badgerys Creek becomes needed and built as stage two.

A station at either McEvoy St or Green Square could form part of the new Sydney Metro railway currently under construction according to NSW Government plans. These plans show a range of potential alignment options considered for the line between Central Station and Sydenham, ranging from a Western alignment through Sydney University and Newtown through to an Eastern alignment through Waterloo and Green Square. The Government recently decided that the line should pass through Waterloo, rejecting the Sydney University option. However, these plans pre-date that decision.

Sydney Metro station and alignment options. Click to enlarge. (Source: Chatswood to Sydenham State Significant Infrastructure Application Report, page 51)

Maps of the potential alignments show that a line through Waterloo could go directly to Sydenham, but could also potentially continue South to include an additional station either McEvoy St in Alexandria or Green Square where an existing Airport Line station is located. A station at Green Square could allow for easy transfers between the two lines outside of the congested CBD. These stations have not been mentioned previously by the Government when discussing either the Sydney University or Waterloo options.

The Sydney Metro consists of two stages. Stage one comprises the former North West Rail Link from Rouse Hill to Epping together with the Epping to Chatswood Rail Link, which is scheduled to open in 2019. Stage two consists of a new tunnel from Chatswood to Sydenham together with the conversion of the Bankstown Line from Sydenham to Bankstown, which is set to begin construction next year and open in 2024. The line will operate with driverless single deck trains with limited seating on a frequent turn up and go style timetable.

VIDEO: Shaun Micallef: Australia’s NBN proposals

A High Speed Rail (HSR) network connecting Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, and Brisbane has been shown to create more benefits than costs while fares would pay the operating costs of trains on such a network. Yet there seems little appetite in the government to build one. Initially, this may appear to be due to the high initial costs of $114bn to build it; but on closer inspection it may be necessary to re-evaluate the way we look at HSR as something for regional Australia rather than just for travel between the capital cities.

Cost benefit analysis suggests that HSR is worth building. The Phase 2 Study found that HSR has a BCR (Benefit Cost Ratio) of 1.1 when a 7% discount rate is used. Thus, the benefits of building HSR are greater than the costs. However, the bulk of these benefits would accrue to the users of HSR in the form of time savings. In 2028 dollars, HSR users would receive $141bn of the total $180bn of benefits that HSR is expected to create. An additional $14bn of benefit go to operator benefits, which help to pay the operating costs and up to $16bn (14%) of infrastructure costs, but this still leaves the government paying for $98bn (86%) of infrastructure spending on HSR. (Sources: HSR Phase 2 Study Executive Summary, pages 42, 9).

This means the government would be subsidising the travel costs of HSR users to the tune of $98bn. This is unlike the NBN, where the initial infrastructure spending is expected to be eventually recouped. The majority of users (65%) would be leisure travellers; however the bulk of the benefits would be realised by business travellers (the remaining 35%), who would receive $93.6bn of the $141bn of benefits. That is because of the higher value attached to their time. This point was raised by Alan Davies in Crikey, who proposed that “if the [time] saving is so valuable to business travellers, they should pay the full cost of constructing the line”. The Phase 2 Study even recognises that these travellers would be willing to pay a higher fare:

“Increasing the cost of fares would increase the financial returns and reduce the funding gap, although doing so would reduce the number of people using the system. Even so, the economic benefits of the program would remain positive.”Source: HSR Phase 2 Study Executive Summary, page 9

Higher fares would have the benefit of reducing the government’s cost below $98bn. However, it would do so by impacting leisure travellers the most, with many choosing not to travel on HSR. Business travellers would mostly still continue to use HSR, but the loss of many leisure travellers would see the total benefit of the project reduced. Although the Phase 2 Study claims the economic benefits in such a situation would still remain positive (i.e. a BCR greater than 1), this may be based on the less conservative 4% discount rate, rather than the more conservative 7% discount rate that is normally applied to transport infrastructure projects. The 1.1 BCR that a 7% discount provides is dangerously close to falling below the 1.0 required for the project to be economically viable. Therefore, as it stands HSR does not appear viable without a $98bn government subsidy, most of which would flow to business travellers who least need government welfare.

An alternative perspective

The Phase 2 Study emphasises that HSR accrues more benefits as time progresses, given the growth in population. If governments work collaboratively and actively to preserve potential HSR corridors then HSR cost increases should be limited. Therefore, HSR becomes more viable as time progresses with benefits growing faster than costs.

Since HSR gains most of its benefits from additional users, one way to increase the viability of HSR is to add additional population to the corridor. This would be much easier to achieve around the regional stations where constraints are much more limited than in the major cities. HSR could act as an enabler, allowing a greater number of people to live and work in regional areas without becoming isolated from those services only available in major cities. The Phase 2 Study’s assumptions of modest population growth in regional towns situated on the HSR route show that this was not considered as part of the feasability for HSR.

In fact, the Phase 2 Study finds that HSR will produce $73.2bn in benefits from intercity travel, more than the $67.5bn in benefits from regional travel (Source: Department of Infrastructure, page 43). This finding that most of the benefits accrue from intercity travel rather than regional travel suggest that not enough is being done to massively develop regional Australia. HSR provides this opportunity which in turn makes HSR more viable.

Proposed East Coast High Speed Rail alignment. Click to enlarge. (Source: Department of Infrastructure, page 17.)

Proposed East Coast High Speed Rail alignment. Click to enlarge. (Source: Department of Infrastructure, page 17.)

 

This idea was floated by the ABC show Catalyst in its 4 December 2014 episode “Future Cities“, in which Dr Julian Bolleter says:

“So, what we think is really important, as the capital cities grow beyond mid-century, is that we begin to think not so much in terms of mega cities, but mega regions. Essentially, it means chains of smaller cities connected with very good public transport infrastructure. So we could conceive of a mega region running from Brisbane to Sydney through Canberra to Melbourne which is bound together by a high-speed rail link, and those cities will have access to affordable land, and they’ll also be able to be designed from the ground up around the principles of 21st-century sustainability. High-speed rail can travel at about 350km/h, so there’s no city along this mega region that is further than two hours commute on a high-speed train from a capital city.”Source: Dr Julian Bolleter, ABC

Achieving this would require us to rethink how HSR would work in AustraliaShadow Transport Minister Anthony Albanese recently wrote on HSR in which he concluded one well thought out and one not so well thought out point. His statement that “people could live in regional Australia and commute to work in the city” was not well thought out; this is true only to the extent that people can currently commute to work in Sydney by flying into Kingsford-Smith Airport, or any other major city airport. However his point that “companies could establish themselves in the regions, taking advantage of lower costs but comfortable in the knowledge the city was a short train ride away” hits the nail on the head.

In order for HSR to be a success in spurring regional development people need to live, work, and spend leisure time in the same place. Employment opportunities as well as services that are needed on a day to day basis such as health and education would be provided locally. But the existence of HSR provides convenient access to services which are not needed day to day, such as medical specialists or major cultural festivals.

If the 1,700km HSR corridor had a station every 100km or so along major regional cities, and these cities were allowed to grow to 800,000 residents each (as Dr Bolleter suggests in the Catalyst video), then it would be roughly equivalent to a doubling of the existing populations of Sydney and Melbourne combined. Once it becomes prohibitively expensive to retrofit the necessary infrastructure into our growing major cities, it will become cheaper to build it in regional cities even after the cost of HSR is factored in. Australian cities have not reached that point yet, but it remains a question of when rather than if they do reach that point.

VIDEO: Malcolm Turnbull announces new Cabinet (ABC News)

The new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will abandon the ban on urban rail funding and have a Minister for Cities instead of an Assistant Minister for Infrastructure. In a 14 minute press conference yesterday announcing his new ministerial line up, Mr Turnbull dedicated almost 3 minutes to cities and urban transport in which he stated that “infrastructure should be assessed objectively and rationally on its merits” and that “there is no place for ideology here at all”.

Malcolm Turnbull in Perth before becoming Prime Minister, about to take the train to Mandurah. Click to enalrge. (Source: Malcolm Turnbull.)

Malcolm Turnbull in Perth before becoming Prime Minister, about to take the train to Mandurah. Click to enalrge. (Source: Malcolm Turnbull.)

Mr Turnbull, an avid promoter of public transport who still intends to catch public transport as Prime Minister, is famous not just for taking public transport but also announcing to the world that he takes public transport.

“Livable vibrant cities are absolutely critical to our prosperity. Historically the federal government has had a limited engagement with cities. And yet that is where most Australian live. It is where the bulk of our economic growth can be found. We often overlook the fact that livable cities, efficient productive cities, the environment of cities are economic assets.

You know, making sure that Australia is a wonderful place to live in, that our cities and indeed our regional centres are wonderful places to live is an absolutely key priority of every level of government. Because the most valuable capital in the world today is not financial capital, there’s plenty of that and it is very mobile. The most valuable capital today is human capital. Men and women like ourselves who can choose to live anywhere. We have to ensure for our prosperity, for our future, for our competitiveness that every level of government works together constructively and creatively to ensure that our cities progress.

That federal funding of infrastructure in cities, for example, is tied to outcomes that will promote housing affordability. Integration is critical. We shouldn’t be discriminating between one form of transit and another. There is no ‘roads are not better than mass transit’ or vice versa. Each of them has their place. Infrastructure should be assessed objectively and rationally on its merits. There is no place for ideology here at all. The critical thing is to ensure that we get the best outcome in our cities.

Now of course, we have a Minister for Regional Development in the Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss. But cities have been overlooked, I believe, historically from the federal perspective. So within the Ministry for the Environment I’m appointing the Honorable Jamie Briggs MP to be the Minister to Cities and the Built Environment to work with Greg Hunt, the Environment Minister, to develop a new Australian Government agenda for our cities in cooperation with states, local government, and urban communities.” – Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister (Press Conference, 20/09/2015)

The former Assistant Minister for Infrastructure Jamie Briggs will become the Minister for Cities and Built Environment. Transport and urban development consultant Alan Davies points out that this moves the cities portfolio out of the Department of Infrastructure, where cabinet member and Minister for Infrastructure Anthony Albanese held responsibility for the then Major Cities Unit; shifting it into the Department of the Environment. Mr Briggs will not be in cabinet, and will instead rely on his senior: the Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt.

Mr Davies raises concerns that yesterday’s announcement was mostly symbolic and that he wants to see action, saying “I don’t think it can just be assumed the appointment of Mr Briggs heralds a new dawning for cities that goes beyond rhetoric”. He adds that Mr Briggs “is neither personally influential – he’ll have to rely on Greg Hunt’s efforts in Cabinet – nor pushing policies that most in his party think are critical issues. Mr Briggs administrative support will come from the Department of Environment; in terms of the Commonwealth’s influence on urban policy that’s a much less relevant portfolio than Infrastructure”.

This is a big turnaround from the previous Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, who refused to fund urban commuter rail and abolished the Major Cities Unit. Mr Abbott argued that the funding of public transport was not in the government’s knitting, preferring to leave this to the states. He promoted himself as the infrastructure Prime Minister, committing billions of dollars to transport infrastructure so long as that infrastructure was roads or freight rail. This was consistent with the views on transport outlined in his 2009 book Battlelines.

“…there just aren’t enough people wanting to go from a particular place to a particular destination at a particular time to justify any vehicle larger than a car, and cars need roads.”Tony Abbott, Leader of the Opposition (Battlelines, p. 174)

But this was not a unanimously held view within the Coalition. The Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss, who also holds the title of Minister for Infrastructure, has voiced his willingness to provide funding for rail projects: “The Federal Government is quite happy to fund metro rail projects” (Source: Herald Sun, Regional Rail Link unites state and federal MPs, 14/06/2015). Meanwhile, the Commonwealth Government has been willing to provide funding for urban rail projects as part of its asset recycling program; under this program it has provided funding to the NSW and ACT Governments for the Sydney Metro and Capital Metro projects.

NSW has a number of rail projects currently being planned which lack funding: the CBD and South East Light Rail extension South of Kingsford, light rail around Parramatta beyond the first line currently being planned, and a heavy rail line out to Badgerys Creek from the current South West Rail Link terminus at Leppington. But, these projects are all still in the planning phases and none will be shovel ready for many years. So the real test for the change of policy is likely to come from outside of NSW, with projects like the Melbourne Metro in Victoria and Brisbane’s Cross River Rail in Queensland.

However the most immediate project, which is both ready to go from a planning perspective and could be completed in the next few years, is the extension of the Gold Coast light rail. The Queensland Government is seeking to complete it in time for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, but has been unable to find sufficient funding for it. The initial line was funded jointly by the Commonwealth, Queensland, and Gold Coast Governments. The extension has the support of local MP Stuart Roberts, a member of the LNP and Turnbull supporter, and also the Queensland Government.

Queensland Deputy Premier Jackie Trad has called on Mr Turnbull to commit to funding the extension within a week, otherwise she argues that construction will not be able to commence in time to complete the project before the start of the 2018 Commonwealth Games. If this is the case, then Mr Davies’ question as to whether Mr Turnbull’s move is purely symbolic or not will be answered very soon.

The Sydney Trains network contains 178 stations. 25 of these stations have all day 10 minute frequencies. This is mostly in the CBD, Eastern Suburbs, Airport Line, and Lower North Shore Line.

The Sydney Trains network map showing all stations and also just the stations with a train every 10 minutes all day. (Source: Sydney Trains.)

The Sydney Trains network map showing all stations and also just the stations with a train every 10 minutes all day. Click to enlarge. (Source: Sydney Trains.)

Prior to 2013 this high frequency network was even smaller, consisting only of the 9 stations on the T4 Line between Wolli Creek and Bondi Junction. This remains the case on weekends, with the 2013 timetable improvements only applying to weekdays and not weekends.

In addition, the T1 Line between Strathfield and Chatswood does have some 11 minute gaps which have been counted as 10 minute frequencies even though the technically do not meet the strict 10 minute criteria. But stations like Hurstville in the South and Parramatta in the West, serviced by 7 and 9 trains per hour respectively, do have 10 minute frequencies if measured at Central Station; however different stopping patterns prevent them from having evenly spread out 10 minute frequencies outside of the CBD.

This distinction is important; as a rule of thumb passengers generally value waiting time twice as much as their travel time. The result of this is that a passenger would rather spend 25 minutes travelling on a train than 10 minutes waiting for a train followed by 10 minutes on the train. The 10 minute waiting time is worth the same as 20 minutes of actual travel time, therefore the second option feels like a 30 minute journey and so passengers would often opt for the first option of 25 minutes. This is even though the first option involves a longer total journey time.

Hypothetical high frequency network achievable by changing stopping patterns rather than adding extra services. (Source: Sydney Trains.)

Hypothetical high frequency network achievable by changing stopping patterns rather than adding extra services. Click to enlarge. (Source: Sydney Trains.)

This high frequency network could hypothetically be expanded by changing the stopping patterns of some trains. This eliminates the need to provide additional services, though may sometimes necessitate additional train revenue service hours. This is not an exhaustive list. For example it leaves out stations like Newtown which could achieve 10 minute frequencies by having all T2 Line trains stop there, rather than just the current 15 minute frequencies resulting from half the T2 Line trains that do stop there.

  1. T1 trains that stop at Strathfield to also stop at Burwood. There are technically trains every 10 minutes at Burwood, but the T2 trains are so slow that they arrive in the CBD after the T1 trains. So what is needed here is for some more of the 13 T1 Line trains that stop at Strathfield every hour to also stop at Burwood.
  2. T4 trains that stop at Sydenham/Wolli Creek to also stop at Tempe. The trains that skip Tempe are not timetabled to run any faster than those that stop there, so this could be done without slowing down the timetable.
  3. T1 and T5 trains between Blacktown and Harris Park to add stops at intermediate stations spaced evenly apart. While the T1 Line has 7 trains per hour passing through this section of the network, there are also 2 trains per hour on the T5 Line, resulting in 9 trains per hour in total. This would not provide 10 minute frequencies into the CBD, but would provide 10 minute frequencies for those getting a train to/from Parramatta or Blacktown.

The Sydney Trains network actually looks a lot better when all day 15 minute frequencies are the benchmark. 113 stations out of 178 (63%) have 15 minute frequencies. This is high enough for turn up and go journeys when only 1 train is required. However, if a transfer is required; such as to another train or between bus and train; then 10 minute frequencies are a much better benchmark for turn up and go services.

Sydney Metro proposed alignment. Click to enlarge. (Source: Project Overview, Sydney Metro.)

Sydney Metro proposed alignment. Click to enlarge. (Source: Project Overview, Sydney Metro.)

Meanwhile, the 10 minute frequency network is set to expand dramatically in 2019 and then 2024 when the 2 stages of the Sydney Metro project are scheduled to begin operation. This new line will also run at 10 minute all day frequencies, and extend these frequencies further out into the outer suburbs of Sydney than is currently the case.

Note: For the second time this year, this blog has taken an unannounced hiatus for a number of months due to the pressures of real life. This post was written up at the end of June but never properly finished and thus not posted. It will probably be the final monthly round up, at least for the foreseeable future. This blog will not be ending, posts will still continue. But instead, the focus will be on specific issues or events as they occur with no set frequency of posts. For now, please enjoy the breaking news from 3 months ago…

VIDEO: Urban Taskforce Research- Who Lives in Apartments (31 May 2015)

2 June: $50m cost blowout for NWRL

The budget for constructing the skytrain portion of the North West Rail Link, an elevated viaduct between Bella Vista and Rouse Hill, has blown out from $340m to $390m. Despite the cost blowout, a project spokesperson said that there has been no change to the completion date for the skytrain, while the Transport Minister Andrew Constance stated that variations in cost had been factored into the full $8.3bn budget and that the overall budget remained unchanged.

The skytrain portion of Sydney Metro, shown at the proposed Rouse Hill Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The skytrain portion of North West Rail Link, shown at the proposed Rouse Hill Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

 4 June: Sydney Rapid Transit renamed Sydney Metro

Sydney’s single deck train network will be known as Sydney Metro, replacing the previous name Sydney Rapid Transit. This follows the passage of legislation authorising the privatisation of state owned electricity assets, which passed both chambers of Parliament the previous day.

4 June: NSW Opposition dumps support for light rail because of Infrastructure NSW Report

The new Shadow Transport Minister Ryan Park, who together with the Opposition Leader Luke Foley recently withdrew their support for light rail down George Street, announced that the change of heart on light rail came after reading the 2012 Infrastructure NSW Report that opposed George Street light rail. The alternative bus tunnel option suggested by the report was criticised by Transport for NSW, with Infrastructure NSW later supporting George Street light rail.

A very early proposed map for the CBD BRT would see a tunnel between Wynyard and Town Hall, removing many buses from the surface streets. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: First Things First, Infrastructure NSW, page 99.)

A very early proposed map for the CBD BRT would see a tunnel between Wynyard and Town Hall, removing many buses from the surface streets. Click to enlarge. (Source: First Things First, Infrastructure NSW, page 99.)

6 June: Transport corridors in Western Sydney to be reserved

Work to reserve transport corridors in Sydney’s West for an Outer Sydney Orbital motorway, Bells Line of Road to Castlereagh Connection, and South West Rail Link extension is moving into the public consultation phase. The NSW Roads Minister Duncay Gay said that work on the 2 roads was not expected to begin for decades; with the SWRL corridor set to be identified by late 2016.

8 June: Olympic Park becomes preferred light rail option

A light rail line connecting Parramatta to Olympic Park has firmed as the favourite option for a new light rail line in Sydney’s West. The line could extend out to Wesmead in the West and Strathfield in the East. It gained favour after a campaign by businesses and developers who touted the possibility for development of the corridor and the potential for value capture from that development to fund the cost of building the new line. However, local councils have labelled the line a white elephant and are calling for the Government to build a line to Epping instead.

11 June: Opal only gates installed at Wynyard Station

New Opal only gates have been installed as part of the Wynyard Station upgrade. Opal only gates have recently been installed at Olympic Park Station. No date has been set for the full phase out of ticket gates that accept magnetic stripe paper ticket.

12 June: SWRL connection to CBD via Granville?

Transport blogger Nick Stylianou suggests that Leppington trains may be connected up to the T2 South Line, travelling to the CBD via Granville. This may happen as soon as the end of this year, with Campbelltown to city services running exclusively on the T2 Airport Line.

12 June: 65 new transport officers

Sydney’s existing 150 transport officers is set to increase to 215, with an additional 65 transport officers to be hired.

15 June: Trial of backdoor boarding on CBD buses

The Government is set to trial boarding of buses via the back door for 2 weeks. The trial will be restricted to Opal card users between 4PM and 7PM at 7 bus stops in the CBD. Marshals will be present to ensure boarding occurs safely. It is hoped that the trial will see lower dwell times for buses by allowing customers to board more quickly.

VIDEO: Seven News Sydney – Trial of back door loading on buses (15/6/2015)

19 June: Reduction in minimum parking requirements

The NSW Government has announced a watered down version of a minimum parking requirement policy that it announced last year. The new policy allows new apartment blocks in areas well serviced by public transport to have fewer off-street parking spots than is currently mandated by local government regulations. The previously announced policy would have eliminated the requirement for off-street parking entirely and has not been adopted. Supporters of the move argue that it will help to keep construction costs down and help with housing affordability. Opponents of the move claim that it will cause cars to spill over into existing streets where parking is already scarce.

23 June: Barangaroo Station confirmed

A Station at Barangaroo has been confirmed in the Sydney Metro City and Southwest. Stations still to be determined are Artarmon, St Leonards/Crows Nest and either Sydney University or Waterloo.

VIDEO: Sydney Metro Barangaroo Station