Ok, lets go back to the start.
What is the No.1 target of the NSW govt and previous in providing a line to some where in NW (former inner NW project or current NWRL project). AUTOMATION. Why? Because Legacy systems have legacy's including higher operating costs.
I think you'll find that someone or someones in the NSW bureaucracy (Rod Staples is the public face of this) has been pushing an "metro" agenda for some time in NSW. They just adapt it to suit the ideology of the government in power at the time, in this case putting one over those pinkos in the union by not having any staff.
I simple don't believe for one second the introduction of the NWRL format is going to reduce operating costs - at least not for the government. In large part this is an exercise in cost shifting.
For instance, the new NWRL fleet will be cheaper to operate per vehicle - probably quite a lot - primarily because it is new. Yet CityRail's fleet age profile will continue to deteriorate (despite the A sets it's still on the wrong side of the curve). If the systems had a common fleet then both systems would benefit proportionately from fleet modernisation. But as it stands all that benefit (all at taxpayer's expense I might add) goes to the privatised NWRL, while the cost of the older fleet profile is left with poor old inefficient CityRail and the NSW taxpayer.
In terms of efficiencies, the one genuine efficiency the new fully automated system will offer is zero crewing. This is offset to some degree by:
- the need to run 50% more trains, and associated maintenance costs
- the extra costs imposed on CityRail to support the isolated NWRL. (The biggest one is the Chatswood interchange - RailCorp will need to either build a new high capacity turnback at Chatswood - and there isn't really space to do it after they sold the air rights over the station - or run a lot of empty trains to the various turnbacks up the north shore.)
- the bringing forward of the 2nd harbour crossing, and the inefficient allocations of pathing resources imposed by the new format.
Another point I think worth considering is CityRail/RailCorp would not be allowed to run the the NWRL in it's proposed (a bit late to use that word) format purely on safety grounds. They simply wouldn't be allowed to pump 1000 up a tunnel without there being some member of staff there to co-ordinate an evacuation. Nor would they be allowed to run trains sufficiently light (ie lack of crash survivability) to achieve the specified speeds up those 1:20 grades. That's not to say we do or don't necessarily need this much safety. It's just pointing out that these "efficiencies" are being achieved by lowering safety standards. It may well be appropriate to lower excessive safety standards to reduce costs. But it makes no sense to do it on just one new line alone.
I actually remain to be convinced they will be able to fully implement crewless operations on the NWRL. There are a lot of risks and very few (well patronised) systems around the world that have done it effectively. How well those trains go up the 1:20 grades on a wet day with a robot deploying sand remains to be seen. Similarly with boarding, particularly at Chatswood and perhaps Epping. On it's own it's a laudable goal, but the benefits need to kept in perspective. Most "fully" automated systems around the world do retain a single crew member to be on-site to deal with whatever it is the automation can't. For high volume applications the benefits of having a human at the pointy end can outweigh the costs. Where automation seems to work is with low volume systems: like Docklands LR or the Vancouver SkyTrain, where there just aren't that many PAX to introduce the human element.
For mine, whatever real net advantages the NWRL format may have, these are dwarfed by additional and unnecessary the problems it's causing.