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Crowding on Sydney's trains has worsened significantly in just a year, new figures show, frustrating passengers and placing greater pressure on an aged rail network struggling to cope with a booming population.
Trains are running during the morning peak with loads as high as 185 per cent, way above the level at which passengers begin to suffer from overcrowding.
Average passenger loads during the morning peak across the city's suburban lines hit 120 per cent in September last year, up from 112 per cent a year earlier, just-released figures from the state's lead transport agency show.
The T1 Western line was the worst for overcrowding at an average load factor of 145 per cent between 8am and 9am, followed by the T1 Northern line via Strathfield (137 per cent), and the T4 Illawarra (132 per cent).
The most severe overcrowding on a train in the morning was recorded on the T1 Northern line at 185 per cent. Passengers begin to suffer from overcrowding when trains have loads of 135 per cent, which is the benchmark used by transport officials.
High passenger loads also make it more difficult for services to run on time.
So far this month, trains on Sydney's suburban network have failed to meet punctuality targets on more than half of weekdays.
The average load on trains during the evening peak was 94 per cent in September, up from 91 per cent a year earlier.
Trains on the T1 Northern line via Strathfield were the most packed in the evening at an average load of 133 per cent, an 11 percentage point rise on the prior period.
The deterioration in crowding on trains underscores the stress on the rail network, and the urgent need for major new public transport projects. The state government plans to open an $8.3 billion metro rail line to Sydney's north-west in the first half of next year.
However, the opening of an extension of the metro line at a cost of up to $12.5 billion from Chatswood, under Sydney Harbour to the CBD, and on to Sydenham and Bankstown is still five years away.
The crowding on the T1 Western line, in particular, reinforces the need for a proposed metro rail line from Sydney's CBD to Parramatta via the Bays Precinct at Rozelle and Olympic Park.
The Berejiklian government is likely to announce some funding for Sydney West Metro in the state budget next month. Leaked documents have put the cost at up to $15 billion.
The latest patronage figures show all but one suburban line – the T2 Inner West – and all three intercity lines, such as the Blue Mountains and South Coast, experienced higher average loads in the mornings in September than a year earlier.
Of the 14 suburban and intercity lines, only the T2 Inner West and the Blue Mountains had a fall in loads during the evening peak between 5pm and 6pm.
Transport for NSW said the data confirmed what most people who caught trains in Sydney already knew, which was that demand for services was booming and that action was needed.
“Service boosts on the existing network are just one part of a plan to cater for this massive increase in demand,” a spokesman said. “We’re also building the new Sydney Metro network, which will have room to move more than 40,000 people an hour.”
Following the end of paper tickets for NSW public transport users in 2016 and a switch to an Opal-only network, transport officials have designed a new way of tracking passenger loads on train services.
The new model uses Opal data to give a more accurate picture of passenger demand than previous biannual surveys, which were conducted manually and based on selected services.
Passengers can also now use real-time train occupancy data via apps on their mobile phones to see how full a Waratah train is before it arrives at a station.
Using the average weight of a train passenger, apps such as TripView, NextThere and Anytrip determine the occupancy of carriages as train doors close.
This article first appeared on www.smh.com.au
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