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With overcrowding on Sydney's trains worsening, a way to boost services running through rail bottlenecks at peak hour may be closer than commuters think.
Following trials at stations in Queensland, 3D robotic sensors are set to be installed on Sydney's much larger rail network for testing by the end of the year.
The brainchild of the University of Technology, the sensors can provide an accurate map in real time of where crowding is occurring on platforms, allowing for commuters to be warned to avoid congested areas at stations.
Michelle Zeibots, the leader at UTS's new Transport Research Centre, said up to four extra services could be added every hour if the amount of time trains spent at station platforms was reduced.
"It is at relatively low-cost. We are not talking about building whole new lines – we are talking about operating existing lines more efficiently," she said.
The testing of the sensors in Queensland has shown that accurate information can be gained about passenger behaviour and how it interacts with the rail system.
Average passenger loads on Sydney's trains in the morning have surged 10 percentage points in the past year to 114 per cent, a sign of the rapidly rising demand for public transport and the strain that is placing on the aged rail network.
"The Sydney network is far more challenging because the crowding is much more dense," Dr Zeibots said.
The data would allow "gentle reminders" such as small lights or information sent to smart phones warning commuters about overcrowding on parts of the network.
Up until now, predicting passenger flows at stations has largely depended on manual counts.
"Everyone has been operating blind on this. It is very difficult to know what is going on along the entire platform with all the many hundreds of people," she said.
Dr Zeibots said ways had to be found to boost train services on the existing network while Sydney waited for the completion of the new $20 billion-plus metro line.
"In order to do that, we need to work with rail passengers," she said.
"That involves giving people guidance about where to stand and where to get on a train so that everyone gets a quicker journey."
Transport Minister Andrew Constance said UTS's work on robotic sensing and perception technology could allow the government to better plan rail services.
"In the months ahead, we'll be working closely with UTS to identify how the technology can best be used in Sydney," he said.
This article first appeared on www.smh.com.au
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