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Whilst the report reiterates the need for major reform to produce a world class rail system particularly in the area of labour costs, repeating the issue without understanding the causes is not helpful. Nor is it particularly helpful to waste more money on consultants reports (which still seems to go on) to reveal what at least some of the many rail management teams in charge over the last 30 years always knew that other system have for many years instituted the necessary reforms. The underlying cost base at City Rail is too high by any reasonable comparison.
7. Whilst the report reiterates the need for major reform to produce a world class rail system particularly in the area of labour costs, repeating the issue without understanding the causes is not helpful. Nor is it particularly helpful to waste more money on consultants reports (which still seems to go on) to reveal what at least some of the many rail management teams in charge over the last 30 years always knew that other system have for many years instituted the necessary reforms. The underlying cost base at City Rail is too high by any reasonable comparison.
Then why is it so? How did this occur? The answer is simple.
Reforms proposed by various managements, some small, some major, have initially been endorsed by the owner (the government of the day). However, when negotiations with the unions break down and industrial action is threatened there is a history of governments of all sorts "going to water" and "pulling out the rug" from under their own management.
There have been notable exceptions to this sequence of events. Knowing this inevitable outcome, who can blame the unions for playing the "industrial action" card if negotiations are not seen to be proceeding in a favourable direction. The more serious problem then occurs where managements refrain from promoting reforms because of a history of lack of support at crucial times by the "owner".
It is not suggested this sequence of events would be allowed to occur by the current government. However, the fact remains there have in the past been statements of good intention which have, because of the political heat, been followed by inaction. Whilst the Government has a responsibility to ensure the public interest is preserved, all stakeholders need to know that management will be given the freedom to implement government agreed reforms.
The solution is clear but rarely discussed, certainly not as a recommendation in the Infrastructure NSW report.
Either the government of the day gives a transparent public commitment not to become a player in the "rail industrial relations game", particularly as it relates to reforms or it immediately takes steps to franchise in some form sections of the rail system.
The Illawarra sector is an obvious candidate. Some form of benchmarking with a private sector operation such as the North West Rail Link is just putting off the inevitable. There are already enough examples of successful reform in rail to provide the cost reduction and service standards which need to be achieved.
8. In the document Sydney's Rail Future released this year by the Premier and the Minister for Transport the Government has stated its preference for a second Harbour crossing to "unlock" the Sydney system and with one single major project increase the capacity of the rail system by 60%.
This decision clears the air and enables rail planners to determine not only how to operate the system with this connection in place but to ensure modifications and time table changes in the meantime are consistent with this final outcome. Unfortunately the configuration in the document for joining the second Harbour crossing with the existing system is sub optimal as is the decision to make the crossing a single deck only facility.
Based on questionable comparisons the Infrastructure NSW report sees the answer to the congestion problems in rail to use single deck services on major sections of the system at greater frequencies. It claims it should be possible to achieve 30 trains/hour against the current highest frequencies of 20 trains/hour resulting in a 50% increase in capacity (page 111). The comparison is skewed and somewhat misleading. It is unlikely that 30 trains/hour could be achieved without major resignalling using Advanced Train Protection in which case the double deck capacity would probably increase to about 24 trains/hour.
In the three large city stations which determine the capacity of the entire system it is unclear whether the platform widths and station assembly concourses would safely cope with this rate of passenger movement without major rebuilding.
The report in another table fails to compare like with like. In table 8.3 it compares line capacity figures for Sydney City Rail with Munich S Bahn and Hong Kong MTR.
The MTR figures are for an 8 km average journey railway with only 18% seating compared to the Sydney double deck which has 74% seating and the average journey is 20 km.
The mainly standing single deck is only suitable for very small journeys.
The other single deck comparison is with the Munich S Bahn which has an average trip length of 14 kms and achieves 28 trains/hour. Again the comparison is misleading. This performance is achieved by using separate platforms at key stations for alighting and boarding. Obviously to provide these facilities at Town Hall, Central and Wynard stations would require a complete rebuild of the stations.
Again the comparison of carrying capacity of each type of train which affects line capacity is affected by length. S Bahn trains are 9 cars or 203 metres in length whereas Sydney platforms will only allow 8 cars for a length of 162 metres. It is not clear if adjustment has been made in comparing capacities for the different lengths.
On a like for like basis and allowing for advanced protection signalling the S Bahn trains on the Sydney system without dual platforms would probably achieve less than 28 trains per hour.
On the other hand with the same advanced train protection the Sydney double decks could achieve up to 24 trains/hour and after allowing for the disparity in length of the two types of trains the ultimate line capacities for the two types of rolling stock come much closer together. This shows that undertaking a change of an existing rail system with all its physical, operational and passenger comfort implications to single deck is very sensitive to the assumption made about capacity and simple comparisons can be misleading.
There is no doubt that with a relatively simple system using advanced train protection, evenly spaced specially designed stations 30 trains/hour is achievable. It is quite another thing to use this number as a justification for a not inconsiderable unknown expenditure associated with a major shift in the way the Sydney system is configured and operated.
The other factors that are important are seated/standing ratios. The double deck Sydney trains provide 74% of capacity seated whereas the Munich S Bahn provides 42% of capacity seated.
The Munich S Bahn has an average journey of 14 kms and under the Infrastructure for NSW proposals single decks would run as far as Hornsby, that is 21 kms from Central. It is assumed single deck trains would be taking passengers changing from intercity trains at Hornsby.
The most regressive aspect of this scheme is that the Government and Rail Corp have spent 10 years through the "clearways" programme separating the system as far as physically possible into more manageable separate sectors which are intended to confine delays within the sector and minimise system wide disruption.
This Infrastructure NSW scheme now proposes to amalgamate the North and Western sectors with the Bankstown and local suburban sectors.
The magnitude of the physical work required at the centre of the system near Central and Redfern and the cost makes this not just daunting but very high risk. In addition the report appears to indicate this would delay the second Harbour crossing until 2040.
This then means that having invested a sizeable amount (the report says $ 1 billion for physical works, $5 billion for resignalling) some unknown amount for single deck trains and for more stabling and more maintenance facilities we then in all probability will still need to build a second Harbour crossing.
The physical work near Central required to achieve this result would have to cause prolonged disruption to the operating system.
The report raises the fact that there is spare capacity on the City Circle.
Its capacity is maximised when there are no merging movements between Redfern and Central. This is achieved when train numbers approaching this loop from each direction are balanced
This would be achieved with a high frequency local service fed from Bankstown and Revesby on one side and the main suburban local line on the western side. This would be the correct application for a single deck segregated sector serving closely spaced stations and short journeys.
The Infrastructure NSW solution to reconfigure the Sydney system is a major rebuild project in its own right. It is high risk for several reasons not the least of which is the disruption to services. It re-scrambles the system. It runs counter to the rationale for "clearways" which has already improved reliability and in the long run even if the assumption about single deck frequency can be achieved which is very doubtful it still leaves us with the high probability that the second Harbour crossing will be required eventually.
9. None of this does anything to improve the bottlenecks at Town Hall and Wynard leading to dangerous overcrowding.
The problems at Town Hall are exacerbated by its current role as a major interchange with the Illawarra-Eastern Suburbs line.
Using the Pitt St alignment for a second Harbour crossing and providing a new interchange with the Eastern Suburbs line at an additional CBD station or at Martin Place station would take some of this load from Town Hall.
To provide a major bus interchange in close proximity of this station given its current inability to cope with passenger numbers would present a high safety risk.
However again if a new nearby station could divert a significant number of the passengers from Town Hall it opens up possibilities for a shared interchange and the possibility of shutting sections of Town Hall for rebuilding if this is considered a high priority.
10. In summary the Infrastructure NSW scheme suggested as a viable replacement for the second harbour crossing at least until 2040 has the following features;
There are significant customer effects if the scheme were to be introduced. Not the least of these is the elimination of through inter-city services for the Central Coast commuters to the North Shore, North Sydney and Sydney CBD destinations.
The current services save time for these passengers and they have access to seating for the whole journey which can take up to 100 minutes. Under the Infrastructure NSW arrangement the trip duration will be lengthened by the need to change at Hornsby. The single deck service will be slower as an all stops service. They will be transferring from one train with plenty of seats to another with fewer seats.
The scheme does not address the station crowding problem at Town Hall and Wynyard which can only deteriorate further.
Ironically having set out to find a viable alternative to the second harbour rail crossing, it seems Infrastructure NSW has in fact confirmed the Government's announced decision to build the second harbour crossing for rail.
This article first appeared on www.smh.com.au
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