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IN TOKYO subway companies hire ''pushers'' to help cram commuters onto trains.
Sydney is not there yet. But next month the city's train operator will trial posting two guards per train door on the most crowded morning platform at Town Hall Station to help marshal the worst of the peak-hour crush.
The guards, hired in the past fortnight, will try to reduce the amount of time it takes for trains to stop, pick up and unload passengers before leaving the station.
But the flipside is that some passengers running late will find it more difficult to get on if that risks delaying the train.
From November 19 at Town Hall's platform three, RailCorp will start treating weekday mornings like a special event.
The station will be separated into three sections, with dedicated zones for passengers waiting for a train, getting off the train and getting on. And marshals at each door will try to move people on and off more quickly.
After the Herald learnt of the initiative, the Transport Minister, Gladys Berejiklian, explained the thinking behind the trial. ''Keeping trains moving through the peak is important as the most minor of delays can have a knock-on effect to following trains and cause disruptions to customers,'' she said.
''One train delayed by only a few minutes can have a potential impact on dozens of train services.''
Overcrowded trains and narrow platforms ill equipped to cope with the volume of peak-hour passengers mean it can take between 80 seconds and two minutes for trains to leave platforms on stations in the central business district.
This limits the number of trains RailCorp can run. On the western line, for instance, RailCorp's timetable says 20 trains run through the city in a peak hour but in practice only 17 or 18 do.
RailCorp's trial will target 60-second ''dwell times'' at Town Hall's platform three between 7am and 8.30am.
RailCorp has hired 16 marshals to work the part-time, peak-hour shifts. They are now being trained.
A spokeswoman for RailCorp would not say much it had cost to hire the marshals. But one source said it had been impossible to move existing staff from less crowded CBD stations - for instance, St James or Museum - to work at Town Hall in the morning because of restrictions in RailCorp's enterprise bargaining agreement with the Rail, Tram and Bus Union.
Mick Cartwright, a branch organiser with the union, said cuts in the past few years meant RailCorp had had to hire new marshals.
But Mr Cartwright said the trial would improve safety at Town Hall and should help trains run to time better.
''My understanding is that anyone who tries to run down and delay the train, the [marshals] will ask them to stand back when the doors close so the train's not further delayed,'' Mr Cartwright said.
''Hopefully it will get people to and from work efficiently.''
Close to 59,000 people get off or change trains at Town Hall every morning.
Platform three is particularly congested then as commuters getting off the busy western and northern lines mix with commuters trying to board trains for the north shore.
RailCorp will also try to clear space from platforms by moving vending machines and public telephones to other areas.
It has also taken away a few bench seats.
This article first appeared on www.smh.com.au
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