Posts Tagged ‘Transport plan’

VIDEO: South West Rail Link Aerials

Thursday: Federal government funds first urban rail project

The Federal Government will provide $60m in funding to the ACT to help pay for a new light rail line as part of the federal government’s “asset recycling” policy. The Abbott Government has been unwilling up until now to fund urban rail, but had confirmed that rail projects would be considered for funding if state governments privatised state owned assets in a statement by the Assistant Infrastructure Minister Jamie Briggs in May of 2013.

2014-05-22 Jamie Briggs

Federal funding may also be provided for public transport projects to Victoria if the sale of Melbourne Port goes ahead and to NSW if the electricity distribution network is leased.

Thursday: Opposition infrastructure plan

The NSW Labor Opposition announced its infrastructure plan, a scaled back version of the Coalition’s infrastructure plan with fewer projects planned but without the 99 lease of the electricity assets that the Coalition plans to go ahead with. Under its plan, a Labor Government would complete the North West Rail Link; the CBD and South East Light Rail; the M4 and M5 stages of WestConnex (with the latter connecting to Botany rather than St Peters); and build a light rail line around Parramatta. A second Harbour Crossing would be deferred for 5 years and be subject to a cost-benefit analysis and business case. Both the Inner West bypass road tunnel connecting the M4 and M5 as well as a Western Harbour road tunnel would both be scrapped.

A NSW Labor Government will build all transport projects currently under or about to commence construction plus a second Harbour rail crossing as part of its infrastructure policy released yesterday. It would also drop plans for a 99 year lease of the electricity distribution network, obtaining its $10bn funding by not cutting $5bn worth of business taxes and using $5bn of unallocated funding in the government’s Restart NSW infrastructure fund.

Under Labor, projects already under construction, such as the North West Rail Link and CBD and South East Light Rail, would be completed. Projects about to commence construction, such as the M4 East; M5 East duplication; and NorthConnex, would also be completed. In addition, Labor has also committed to the $1bn upgrade to the Western Sydney rail network, which will include improved signalling and longer platforms for trains that are 10 carriages long rather than the existing 8 carriages.

Labor will committ to completing the NWRL and has given qualified support for a second Harbour rail crossing to connect it to the CBD. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Labor will committ to completing the NWRL and has given qualified support for a second Harbour rail crossing to connect it to the CBD. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The plan would see both WestConnex and a second Harbour rail crossing modified. WestConnex’s M4 East would link up directly to the CBD along a yet undefined path, while the M5 East duplication would be redirected to the airport and seaport at Botany. Meanwhile, the Inner West bypass linking the M4 and M5 would be dropped entirely. Any construction on a second Harbour rail crossing would begin 5 years later than currently planned, in 2022 rather than 2017, and also be subject to a “rigorous cost-benefit analysis and business case”. In addition, no committment was made for a Western Sydney Harbour road tunnel or Western Sydney light rail.

Commentary: The wrong priorities

Labor’s refusal to consider privatisation, despite being supported by former Labor Premier Morris Iemma and Prime Minister Paul Keating, has limited its ability to promise an infrastructure plan as large as the Coalition’s. The Sydney Morning Herald’s transport reporter Jacob Saulwick put it best when he described it as “less of the same” in comparing it to the Coalition plan. In fact, other than the changes to WestConnex, this is largely a copy of the Coalition plan with some elements dropped and others deferred.

One positive to come from this report is an M5 East duplication that links up to Botany rather than St Peters. One of the main benefits of WestConnex will come from taking freight trucks off local roads, and having a direct connection will achieve this while also adding capacity to a growing port.

Labor should also be commended on committing to a second Harbour rail crossing. But deferring its construction for 5 years and adding conditions to that construction puts question marks over whether it is serious about building it. Yesterday’s policy document even quotes Nick Greiner, notorious for opposing rail projects and supporting tollroads, to make this case. In doing so, it reveals the real problem with this plan – it shifts priorities away from rail and towards roads.

Most disappointing is that this plan makes a clear committment to building a new freeway right into the CBD, while maybe building a new rail line into the CBD at a later point in the future. These are the wrong way around. Roads, which have their place, should provide travel opportunities from low density origins and/or destinations, acting as a bypass of dense areas like the CBD. Rail, on the other hand, works best at transporting large numbers of people from high density origins and/or destinations. So to build a road into the CBD but not rail is highly perverse.

WestConnex and the proposed Western Harbour road tunnel, both of which are plagued with problems like property acquisitions or of inducing demand for car travel, enjoyed the major advantage that they would remove cars from places like the Sydney CBD or Newtown’s congested King St. In the CBD, it would also see roadspace on the surface taken away from cars on George St and Elizabeth St as part of the CBD light rail line as the former is pedestrianised and the latter is converted to a bus road.

It is here, and not Labor’s inability to accelerate infrastructure construction due to it committment to maintain public ownership of state owned assets, that is most concerning. Labor prioritised roads rather than rail, and those are the wrong priorities.

Infrastructure NSW released an update to its infrastructure plan in November 2014. Unlike the 2012 report, this one puts a greater emphasis on rail. Here is a (belated) overview of the main recommendations for the rail network.

Sydney Trains/NSW TrainLink (p. 34)

Major upgrades will focus on the T1 Lines, which are expected to see stronger growth in demand than other lines. These include lengthening of platforms, to allow longer trains to stop at certain stations; amplification of track, akin to adding more lanes to a road; and improved signalling, which allows more frequent train services without compromising safety.

The longer platforms will primarily benefit intercity train services, with new intercity trains to be 12 cars in length compared to the current 8 car trains. Meanwhile, the business case for improved signalling is expected to be completed over the next 18 months.

No specific details are given on where track amplifications will occur. A commonly touted corridor is on the Northern Line between Rhodes and West Ryde, which would upgrade the entire Strathfield to Epping corridor up to 4 tracks. This would allow service frequencies to be increased along this corridor while still maintaining a mix of all stops and express services. Such capacity improvements are necessary for Upper Northern Line trains that currently reach the city via Chatswood to instead be diverted via Strathfield when the Epping to Chatswood Line is closed down for upgrades as part of the North West Rail Link project in 2018.

Sydney Rapid Transit (pp.37-38)

Construction on a Second Harbour Rail Crossing is to begin in 2019, with completion in 2024-25. It has a BCR (Benefit to Cost Ratio) of 1.3 to 1.8, meaning that every $1 spent on the project will produce benefits of $1.30 to $1.80. The total cost will be approximately $10.4bn, with $7bn to come from privatisation of state electricity assets and $3.4bn from existing funding already committed. Additional stations will be considered at Artarmon, Barangaroo, and either Waterloo or Sydney University; which the report recommends partly being funded by beneficiaries of the new stations, a concept known as “value capture” (p. 146). The current plan has the line connecting to Sydenham Station via tunnel, rather than utilising the existing corridor between Erskineville and Sydenham which has been reserved for an additional pair of tracks.

Proposed new stations include Artarmon (not shown), Barangaroo, and either Sydney University or Waterloo. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Proposed new stations include Artarmon (not shown), Barangaroo, and either Sydney University or Waterloo. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Improving efficiency (p. 35)

Transport for NSW will further investigate the effectiveness of off-peak pricing and improved shoulder peak services on spreading demand. The report notes that, following the October 2013 timetable changes, improved frequencies during the shoulder peak periods (the time immediately before and after peak hour) saw 5% of peak hour journeys shift from peak hour to the shoulder. Transport for NSW notes that this represents “more than two years of patronage growth”, adding however that “this option is not ‘cost free’: additional rolling stock may be required to provide these services on some lines”. Despite these concerns, it is likely that improved efficiency can at the very least defer the need for more expensive capital expenditure to expand the rail network.

Light rail (p. 40)

Two light rail projects are discussed, the first being and extension to the existing Inner West Line out to White Bay where significant urban development is planned; which the second is an extension of the proposed CBD and South East Line to either Maroubra (1.9km), Malabar (5.1km), or La Perouse (8.2km). Neither of these extensions have funding attached to them.

Potential extensions to the CBD and South East Light Rail to Maroubra, Malabar, or La Perouse. Click to enlarge. (Source: Infrastructure NSW, State Infrastructure Strategy Update 2014, p. 40.)

Potential extensions to the CBD and South East Light Rail to Maroubra, Malabar, or La Perouse. Click to enlarge. (Source: Infrastructure NSW, State Infrastructure Strategy Update 2014, p. 40.)

Freight (pp. 62-63, 65)

A Western Sydney Freight Line is mentioned, as is a Maldon to Dombarton Railway and associated improvements to the Southern Sydney Freight Line (SSFL). The latter would link up Port Kembla to the SSFL in South West Sydney, thus removing freight trains from the T4 Line in Southern Sydney. Such a move is likely a prerequisite for increase passenger frequencies on the T4 Illawarra Line as well as extending Rapid Transit Services from Sydenham to Hurstville at some point in the future.

The Maldon to Dombarton Railway would allow freight trains to travel between Sydney and Port Kembla without using the T4 Line through Hurstville and Sutherland. Click to enlarge. (Source: Infrastructure NSW, State Infrastructure Strategy Update 2014, p. 65.)

The Maldon to Dombarton Railway would allow freight trains to travel between Sydney and Port Kembla without using the T4 Line through Hurstville and Sutherland. Click to enlarge. (Source: Infrastructure NSW, State Infrastructure Strategy Update 2014, p. 65.)

Commentary: What’s missing and what’s next?

No mention is made of a rail line to the Northern Beaches, the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link, an extension to the T4 Eastern Suburbs Line, or a CBD bus tunnel. The last 2 of these projects were proposed by Infrastructure NSW in its original 2012 report, designed to eliminate the need for light rail through the CBD. With the NSW Government opting to go ahead with the surface light rail option, both of these projects appear to have been dropped by Infrastructure NSW.

Infrastructure NSW’s combatative approach also appears to have been dropped replaced with a more cooperative approach to transport planning with Transport for NSW. Whereas in 2012 the Infrastructure NSW report was seen as an alternative to the Transport for NSW Transport Master Plan, and an alternative that focussed more on road based transport rather than rail based transport; this 2014 update reinforces, rather than contradicts Transport for NSW. It’s difficult to look past the departure of Infrastructure NSW’s inaugural Chairman and CEO, Nick Greiner and Paul Broad (both strong advocates for roads and road based transport), when looking for a reason why this may have happened.

Looking towards the future, the $20bn privatisation of 49% of the electricity distribution network in 2016 will provide funding for a decade – in particular to fund the construction of the Second Harbour Crossing, $7bn from privatization money is to be added to the existing $3.4bn allocated to it, with construction to begin in 2019 and the project completed by 2024-25. If the Premier Mike Baird has his way then construction will begin in 2017, potentially fast tracking this project to 2023. This would be 4 years after the opening of the NWRL, a welcome change to delays and deferrals that NSW has become used to.

Additional expansions of the transport network that come after that are currently unfunded and uncommitted. These include any extension to the North West and South West Rail Links, light rail to Maroubra and White Bay, and the Outer Western Orbital Freeway.

One option is that the remaining 51% could be sold off to pay for it. Alternatively, these projects could be funded out of consolidated revenue, built at a slower pace than would otherwise be the case. Following the coming decade of strong additions to Sydney’s stock of infrastructure, this may be an acceptable option. Either way, the 2015 election will not settle the debate over privatisation. This will be an issue that will remain on the table for decades to come.

It was revealed earlier today that the Government is making plans for a new Harbour tunnel, which would link a proposed extended Westconnex freeway near the Anzac Bridge to the M2 in Sydney’s North. Such a corridor was not news, it was included as one of the 4 corridors for investigation in the 2012 Transport Master Plan. But it now appears that the Government has moved beyond investigation and is actively planning for its eventual construction.

Road projects recommended by the Transport Master Plan. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Transport Master Plan, page 140.)

Road projects recommended by the Transport Master Plan. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, Transport Master Plan, page 140.)

Concerns have been raised about the continued expansion of the freeway network. One source reportedly asked “where does WestConnex end” while transport advocacy group Action for Public Transport said the proposal was “bad policy” and that “more roads = more congestion”. Urban planner Lewis Mumford famously said in 1955 that “building more roads to prevent congestion is like a fat man loosening his belt to prevent obesity”.

The author of this blog sympathises with these views and believes strongly that a sustained investment in expanding public transport infrastructure should take priority over road infrastructure in Australia’s major cities.

Despite that, roads are still needed. While it makes sense to encourage mode share towards public transport and away from cars, there are some trips that are more suited to public transport and other better suited to cars. Trips into the CBD and other major centres or within the dense inner city, for example, are well suited to public transport. This is evident by the high mode share which public transport already has into the CBD (70% of all journeys to work in the 2006 census). In these places, it should be further encouraged through greater investment in public transport, more bus lanes, or even pedestrianisation of streets. However, trips from dispersed and/or low density origins and destinations are much better suited to car transport and here car trips hold a high mode share (85% of all journeys to work in the 2006 census). Consider that a single occupant car is much more sustainable from both a financial and environmental perspective than a bus with a single passenger. In these cases, investment in roads is needed to provide the most efficient mode of transporting people.

Too many times ideology clouds what should be a mode-agnostic review. If the best mode for a particular area is rail, then rail is what should be built. If it is walking, then wider footpaths are needed. If it is cars, then more roads should be the solution. Extremist and ideological views, such as opposing all urban freeways or all urban railways, are not helping.

Which brings us back to the proposed tunnel. This tunnel, much like Westconnex, does not actually take traffic into the CBD. It acts as a bypass, allowing cars to go from the very dispersed origins and destinations mentioned earlier. It is a ring road which, as this blog outlined last year, is the best kind of road. It allows cars to do what they do best – transporting people and goods to and from dispersed locations; meanwhile it quarantines the CBD for what public transport does best – transporting large numbers of people into a small area.

The smart thing to so would be to push for improvements to the proposal, rather than oppose it. For example, this would provide a great opportunity to have bus lanes all the way along the Western Distributor, Anzac Bridge, and Victoria Road. This would be similar to the bus lane that was instated on the Harbour Bridge when the Harbour Tunnel was built. This would go well with the planned urban renewal of the surrounding Bays precinct, which would need additional public transport capacity to support additional development. Light rail, either a spur from the existing line to Dulwich Hill or a new line along the Victoria Road corridor, should also be considered.

What is not helpful is the idea that this is an either/or situation. Sydney can and should have more road and public transport infrastructure. What matters is not the mode, but whether that mode is appropriate for the purpose.

Note: I’ts been pointed out by Simon in the comments that buses feed in from Chalmers St, not just Cleveland St, and that those buses from there that continue through the city do so via Elizabeth St. These buses were all assumed to terminate at Railway Square, so it does not change any of the figures used below, though it should probably increase the number of buses on Elizabeth St (both now and in the future) by perhaps a few dozen.

The current CBD bus network is a spaghetti like tangle of lines that are difficult to understand and even harder to run efficiently. It can, however, be broadly broken down into 3 main corridors: Elizabeth St, George St, and York St/Clarence St. In total, 1,010 buses enter the CBD area during the busiest hour of the AM peak (Source: Sydney’s Light Rail Future, p. 18).

The current CBD bus network is complex, inefficient, and leads to unnecessary congestion. The current proposal would consolidate buses into 3 main North/South corridors and 1 East/West corridor. Click to enlarge. (Source: Sydney's Light Rail Future, p. 17)

The current CBD bus network is complex, inefficient, and leads to unnecessary congestion. The current proposal would consolidate buses into 3 main North/South corridors and 1 East/West corridor. Click to enlarge. (Source: Sydney’s Light Rail Future, p. 17)

Elizabeth St

This is busiest in the Northbound direction during the AM peak. It is primarily fed by buses from William St (45/hr), Oxford St (99/hr), Campbell St (23/hr), and Foveaux St (33/hr), and Chalmers St (85/hr). Many of the Chalmers St buses (those coming from Cleveland St) terminate at Railway Square, rather than continuing on to Circular Quay, so that equates to about 200 buses on Elizabeth St in the Northbound direction.

There are also Southbound express buses coming off the Eastern Distributor (56/hr) at the Northern end of the CBD, but this is not the peak direction so causes little congestion.

George St

This is currently the main bus corridor in the CBD and is busiest in the Northbound direction in the AM peak. It is primarily fed by buses from Cleveland St (85/hr), Parramatta Rd (175/hr), and the Anzac Bridge (113/hr). Most of the Cleveland St buses terminate at Railway Square, rather than continuing on to Circular Quay, so that results in about 288 buses on George St in the Northbound direction. The 2 main feeder roads into George St merge at Town Hall, and North of this point there are a significant number of half empty buses, causing unnecessary congestion.  By running high capacity trams along this corridor and forcing some passengers to transfer onto half empty vehicles heading towards Circular Quay, there exists a real potential to raise both speed and capacity.

South of Town Hall, buses on the York St/Clarence St corridor also travel along George St. However, this is not the peak direction  so causes little congestion.

York St/Clarence St

This is busiest in the Southbound direction during the AM peak. It is fed exclusively by buses from the Harbour Bridge (379/hr). Buses from the Northern Beaches terminate at Wynyard Station, while buses from the North West continue South to Central Station. The latter travel on George St South of Town Hall Station.

Proposed changes

A number of changes are being looked at to reduce the number of buses travelling through the CBD. These include diverting buses from York St to the Cahill Expressway (implemented in February 2013), converting buses from North West Sydney to the CBD into feeder buses for the North West Rail Link (NWRL), making buses from the Anzac Bridge through-route to William Street and vice versa, reducing the number of buses when the new South East Light Rail Line opens, and moving any remaining George St buses to Elizabeth St to make way for a pedestrianised George St with light rail.

Initial proposed changes to the CBD bus network in the AM peak. Click to enlarge. (Source: Sydney's Light Rail Future, p. 18)

Initial proposed changes to the CBD bus network in the AM peak. Click to enlarge. (Source: Sydney’s Light Rail Future, p. 18)

York St: Diverting buses that currently travel along York St to the Cahill Expressway began on 18 February 2013, with those buses now terminating at Market St and Pitt St. Passengers are able to show their ticket to continue South on another bus, which is a promising sign for integrated fares. This resulted in the removal of about 60 buses during the morning peak, or about 33 buses arriving in the CBD between 8AM and 9AM.

Once the NWRL comes online in 2019, a further 160 buses during the morning peak (which according to some rough estimates is about 103 buses between 8AM and 9AM) will be converted into feeder services for the NWRL. Together with the Cahill diversions, this will reduce the number of buses on York St in the AM peak from the current 379 in the busiest hour to about 243 buses. These buses will also now terminate at Town Hall rather than continuing to Central, and passengers will have to transfer at Town Hall onto an East/West bus or a North/South tram or train if they want to travel further into the CBD or elsewhere.

2013-08-24 Bus numbers on York St

George St: 158 buses currently enter the CBD from the Anzac Bridge (113/hr) and William Street (45/hr) before continuing through to Circular Quay via George St. These will instead become East-West through-routed buses, requiring passengers to get off at either George St for a connecting tram, Elizabeth St for a connecting bus, or either for a connecting train in order to get to their final destination in the CBD. The previously mentioned buses, trams, and trains should by then have spare space due to some passengers disembarking, thus allowing a much greater capacity within the CBD via a more efficient use of the existing public transport infrastructure (rather than running lots of half empty buses and trains as is currently the case). Druitt St will become bus only between York St and Clarence St in order to accommodate this.

Elizabeth St: Once the George St and South East Light Rail Line comes online by 2020, an additional 93 buses will be removed, from Parramatta Road (33/hr); Foveaux St (33/hr); and Oxford St (27/hr), while an additional bus will be added to Campbell St (1/hr). This will result in the Foveaux St/Albion St routes disappearing, with passengers being shifted nearby either to buses on Crown St/Campbell St or trams on Devonshire St. Together with the removal of Anzac Bridge/William St buses, this will reduce the number of buses on the combined George St and Elizabeth St corridors from 488 buses to 238 buses. That in turn will allow all these buses to travel exclusively on Elizabeth St, which will see its number of buses increase from 200 to 238 in the busiest hour, thus becoming the main bus corridor in the CBD.

2013-08-24 Bus numbers on Elizabeth St

This loss of 92 buses during the busiest hour of the AM peak represent a loss of capacity equivalent to 4,600 passengers (assuming 50 passengers per bus). However, this will be offset by the 9,000 passengers per hour capacity of the new light rail line. Government figures suggest that this will result in a 50% increase in passenger capacity along the Anzac Parade corridor from the current 10,000 per hour to 15,000 per hour.

Express buses along the Eastern Distributor will remain, as these service the Northern end of the CBD and travel in the counter peak direction, thus don’t significantly contribute to congestion. The redesign will also include a new North/South corridor along the Western edge of the CBD up to Barangaroo, though details on this are limited.

Integrated fares

For many passengers, these changes mean transferring from one vehicle to another, generally from a bus to a tram or vice versa. Passengers on Anzac Bridge/William St buses will need to change in order to continue travelling into the Northern end of the CBD, many passengers from North West Sydney will need to catch a feeder bus to a NWRL station and then catch a train the rest of the way, while passengers from South East Sydney might similarly need to catch a feeder bus before transferring to a tram to get into the CBD. All of these are multi-modal journeys, and would require passengers to pay a multi-modal fare.

Currently, this means a myMulti, which represents a fare penalty, with different passengers being charged a different fare for travelling the same route depending on how many vehicles they used. This is despite transfers generally being more efficient, from both a passenger time and operating cost perspective.

Opal does have a fare cap ($15/day and $60/week), but these would still be well above the cost of a myBus Travel Ten ($7.36/day and $36.80/week) or even a myMulti1 ($44/week).

It therefore makes a lot of sense for an integrated network (which relies on transfers) to be accompanied by an integration of fares. If it doesn’t happen with the Opal roll-out, then it should happen when the CBD bus network is redesigned at the end of this decade.

This week’s announced dual resignations of Nick Greiner and Paul Broad, the Chairman and CEO of Infrastructure NSW (iNSW), was the eventual result of a battle of ideas within the NSW Government. On one side was those who supported a large scale expansion of Sydney’s roads network via aggressive use of toll roads, a view shared  by Mr Greiner, Mr Broad, iNSW, and the Daily Telegraph. On the other was those who supported a large scale expansion of Sydney’s public transport capacity with a focus on the rail network, a view supported by Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian, Transport for NSW (TfNSW), and the Sydney Morning Herald.

Nick Greiner, Infrastructure NSW Chairman and former NSW Premier (Image: Infrastructure NSW)

Nick Greiner, Infrastructure NSW Chairman and former NSW Premier (Source: Infrastructure NSW)

The two government departments each championed their view via separate policy documents. TfNSW published the Transport Masterplan, which called for light rail on George St and a Second Harbour Rail Crossing. iNSW published the State Infrastructure Plan, which called for a CBD Bus Tunnel and extension of the Eastern Suburbs Railway, which rejecting both light rail on George St and the Second Harbour Rail Crossing. TfNSW responded by itself rejecting the Bus Tunnel and not incorporating the extended Eastern Suburbs Line into the final version of its plan. The NSW Government adopted both of the TfNSW proposals, but never of iNSW’s. Given the option, e government sided with TfNSW every single time its department disagreed with iNSW.

Part of the media circus around this revolves around a misunderstanding of the role of iNSW. It is often compared to Infrastructure Australia (IA), which is tasked with evaluating transport projects and determining which will get government funding, a process designed to take the politics out of the decision. But while IA is staffed by former Transport Department bureaucrats and in in charge of distributing funding from the federal government, iNSW is staffed by former Treasury bureaucrats and is in charge of obtaining funding from the private sector.

The role of iNSW is not, and should not be to determine, design, or deliver transport projects. Where it has, it has failed. The CBD Bus Tunnel was discredited and rejected by TfNSW on the basis that it lacked integration, did not provide opportunities for urban renewal, lacked a viable corridor for construction, and cost 4 times as much as the light rail option, amongst other reasons (Source: Sydney’s Light Rail Future, pages 25-26). The WestConnex’s slot idea for Parramatta Road, initially conceived as an innovative way to build the M4 East at a lower cost than a tunnel, turned out to be more expensive than a tunnel and has now been scrapped because iNSW did not do its homework. Even the first project set to be administered by iNSW, the temporary Glebe Island convention centre, will now not happen. It is now clear that iNSW has been ineffective at determining, designing, or delivering transport projects, and should leave this to the experts at TfNSW while it sticks to what it can do – obtain private sector funding for PPP projects.

This might have been fine, had Mr Greiner considered himself a valued contributor to the NSW Government. But as has been demonstrated, the Premier Barry O’Farrell sided with his Transport Minister over his Infrastructure Tsar every time Ms Berejiklian and Mr Greiner had a disagreement. Disappointed by his inability to convince the NSW Government on issues like those mentioned, as well as things like privatising the state owned poles and wires in order to fund additional infrastructure, it was clear that someone had to go. And that meant that Mr Greiner and Mr Broad’s resignations became an inevitability.

They will be missed by some, such as the Daily Telegraph’s state political editor Andrew Clennell, who believes that “it’s ended in tears” and that “the danger is now, with a cautious poll-driven premier, nothing will get built”. But few tears are likely to be shed by those who have advocated for a greater focus on public transport, rather than on roads.

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

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

Overcrowding

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

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

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

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

Spare capacity

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

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

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

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

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

Changes in the 2013 Timetable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Improvements and remaining problems

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

Estimated overcrowding by line for October 2013.

Estimated overcrowding by line for October 2013.

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

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

Future developments

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

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

Sources

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

Transport Master Plan, Transport for NSW (December 2012)