Recently the New South Wales Government released a long term rail strategy for Sydney. It makes for interesting reading. Like Auckland, Sydney is experiencing relatively fast population growth and expects to grow from its current population of 4.6 million to around 6 million by 2031. The map below shows the location of employment across Sydney in 2031 – highlighting that the city centre is expected to continue to be by far the largest area of employment:
Australian cities have made conscious efforts to try and decentralise their employment over the past few decades, but while places such as Parramatta, Macquarie Park and North Sydney certainly do have a lot of jobs – the CBD still stands out. For comparative purposes I think Auckland’s CBD has around 80,000 jobs, showing that as a proportion of population Sydney is a bit more concentrated than us.
Sydney’s rail system is a rather strange hybrid of inner-suburban, outer-suburban and inter-city trains all competing to use the same tracks and stations. A lot of different operating patterns are run, especially at the peak times, which makes the system incredibly complex and therefore fragile to failures. The diagram below shows an example of this on Sydney’s western line – detailing all the different conflict points:
Because of continued population and employment growth, Sydney’s rail system is struggling to meet growing demand. On certain parts of the network there are significant capacity constraints. Importantly, overloading of certain services leads to slow boarding times which actually ends up meaning fewer trains per hour can be operated than planned – further reducing capacity and further creating overcrowding. This is succinctly described below:
A useful diagram shows where crowding on the network is likely to occur and how severe it will be – without significant upgrades. Something like this would be interesting for Auckland’s public transport network (bus and rail) in 2030 or 2040 if the CRL isn’t built:
The main proposed solution to Sydney’s impeding rail crush is quite interesting and proposes to effectively split the network up into three parts – a metro-like “Rapid Transit” for single-level trains, a suburban network and an inter-city network. This is shown in the map below:
There has been a long debate over whether the double-decker trains in Sydney are well suited to the role they play and it seems that the latest rail strategy quite cleverly says that the system needs to stop trying to be so much of a “jack of all trades” and actually start specialising a bit: much like how Paris has its Metro, RER and Transilien networks.
The rail strategy realises that implementing this long term vision is going to take time and will be expensive (I suspect the new cross-harbour tunnel would be the most costly part of the whole scheme). Therefore it outlines a staging of the plan, with many of the earlier phases around service improvements or relatively minor infrastructure upgrades (along with a big project here and there). This is sensible to ensure that maximum value is squeezed out of the existing rail network:
The really amazing thing about this strategy is that it’s promoted by a centre-right state government of New South Wales. Interestingly both Victoria and New South Wales have seen centre-right governments elected in the past few years with core parts of their election platforms being to improve public transport in Sydney and Melbourne. I wonder why Australian politicians of all political hues seem to understand the importance of good public transport, whereas in New Zealand our centre-right politicians (particularly in central government) seem stuck in the stone age on the issue. I suppose in Australian cities enough people catch the train that they can’t be ignored – something that will happen in Auckland over time.
An Auckland version of this rail strategy would be damn useful as well.