Opinion: Transport for NSW 26 Nov 2017 Timetable Changes

It’s been just over two full weeks since Transport for New South Wales (TfNSW) introduced a new timetable. The changes are claimed to increase capacity, adding extra services across the network across all modes. These changes were signalled by bright pink signage at most stations, as the change is considered a major one. The key benefits for the system as advertised make for quite positive reading, although as a regular public-transport user, I’d have to say that nothing comes for free. After travelling around various places over the past two weeks, this is what I think about the new timetables.

Trains

From my perspective, the biggest overhaul is in the train network. Aside from getting a new timetable, the route map and (logical) lines have changed, even though the physical tracks remain much the same as they were just prior to the new timetable.

Before the reconfiguration, the map looked like this. After the reconfiguration, the map now looks like this. Key changes to the network include:

  • Allocation of names to each of the ends of the lines – e.g. instead of being solely T1, it is now T1 Western, T1 Richmond, T1 Epping, T1 Northern and T1 North Shore, which should help commuters find their direction on the “multi-headed” lines.
  • Change of the T5 Cumberland line at both ends – now starts from Richmond and ends at Leppington. Users in-between Riverstone to Richmond and Leppington to Edmonson Park gain services on T5, whereas users from Macquarie Fields to Campbelltown lose service on T5.
  • Loss of former T2 line towards the City via Granville services for Macquarie Fields to Macarthur. Now solely served by T8 Airport & South Line.
  • T2 Inner West now has a “spur” to Parramatta, and eliminates Granville as an interchange point between south and western lines. This promotes Parramatta as the major interchange, at the cost of Granville.
  • T2 Inner West services take on the role once afforded by slower “shuttle” services between Ashfield and the city, and city to Homebush which were all-stops. As a result, T2 service appears to be slower than previously.
  • Clyde now becomes an interchange point for Leppington and Inner West T2 services, allowing for smoother transfers from the (rather anaemic) T6 Carlingford line.
  • The new Sydney Metro City and Southwest stations of Chatswood, Crows Nest, Victoria Cross, Barangaroo, Pitt St., Waterloo are now depicted.

The changes to the network are predominantly logical changes, as the physical rails which they run on have not really changed all that much since the completion of the last project which saw turn-backs installed at Granville, a new platform at Lidcombe and Homebush, etc. Instead, these changes actually make better use of the network by reducing cross-overs between lines (although they cannot be eliminated entirely).

To illustrate this point, at Parramatta, platform 2 and 4 were for westbound services where 2 was predominantly the faster Blue Mountains Line trains and Emu Plains trains, and 4 was for the Richmond Line and remainder of the slower services. Platforms 1 and 3 were formerly for citybound services, again with 1 hosting the faster trains and 3 hosting the slower trains.

Because of this arrangement, the wye between Granville, Harris Park and Merrylands worked quite hard to get the trains where they needed to go. Platform 1 and 2 were relatively straightforward “through” to the city/west line services that needed few switches. However, Platform 3 and 4 were switched frequently as trains citybound on Platform 3 crossed over the Platform 2 tracks, and Cumberland Line services crossed over and intermingled with the slower Western and Richmond line services which also needed to cross the Platform 3 tracks on occasion.

Now, the platform reallocations have occurred, Platform 1 hosts all city-bound services, mostly of the express variety. Platform 2 hosts the faster west-bound services, with Platform 3 hosting the slower west-bound services. Platform 4 hosts the Cumberland line services (as it’s on that side of the wye) and the slow all-stops T2 Inner West services. This rearrangement makes commuting simpler, as westbound services are on two sides of the same platform and also reduces the amount of crossing-over that happens.

The up-side to all of this is that it seems that a firm direction is set – Parramatta has now won the war and is now the “Central of the west”. It has a strong bus interchange with routes to many areas, and services three lines along with ferry services as well. The downside is that Granville has lost, and as a result, what once was a bustling interchange that saw traffic from both western and south lines is much less important. This was a long while in the making – the renovation of the bus stands and incorporation of a new carpark in the old bus stand area was a sign that routes were no longer using Granville as an interchange. The removal of the high-speed western services from Granville at the last timetable made things a little worse. Now, the nail in the coffin is that Granville sees even fewer fast western line services, instead mostly being served by slower Leppington and Inner West T2 line services, half of which are all-stops during off-peak periods, increasing travel times immensely.

This also affects Auburn and Lidcombe as well – Auburn sees a reduction in trains as well, with the most recent newsletter from our local MP claiming a 50% increase in travel times. Lidcombe is much the same. It seems that the “central-west” area is losing out.

But this seems to be in order to balance the system and improve commute times for those living in the outer west areas. Faster express trains from Parramatta claim to be every 3 minutes in peak periods, with some very enticing stopping patterns such as Strathfield, Redfern, Central. This would be very much welcome for those living further out.

However, as I’ve recently had to commute from Granville in off-peak, sitting on a train that stops Clyde, Auburn, Lidcombe, Flemington, Homebush, Strathfield, Burwood, Croydon, Ashfield, Summer Hill, Lewisham, Petersham, Stanmore, Newtown, Macdonaldtown, Redfern, Central just to get to the bus to get to university is rather annoying. The train trip would have taken about 25 minutes with a fast western line service, but instead takes 41 minutes with an all-stop service. The faster T2 Leppington line service does the same distance in 33 minutes, however, as service intervals vary from 6 – 15 minutes, waiting for the faster service will save you no time at all. At least, the all-stops tends to have seats as it starts from Parramatta … but you might be sitting in a “classic”.

No offence, I actually really like the old S-set Comeng trains. However, I’d have to say that some of the other commuters won’t – on a slow service on a hot summers day.

Buses

There are more buses and more services across the network, along with a new B-Line service as stated on the Bus mode page. However, under the key benefits, there is a puzzling second point – “brand frequent” – what’s that supposed to mean? I’m not quite sure.

Regardless, while that is surely welcomed by the areas seeing extra buses, I was not one to benefit. In fact, the two routes that pass in front of my doorstep saw absolutely no timetable changes that I could discern. As a result, the primary service remains just as poor as it was before – hourly to half-hourly intervals, restricted operating times (not after 6:30pm), no buses on Sunday. The other route remains as bad as it was too – hourly service through restricted times, and no buses on Saturday or Sunday. The route that is a 10-minute walk away from the house also saw no changes I could discern, remaining fairly well serviced in comparison as a Metrobus service. However, that route used to pass in front of my doorstep prior to the Metrobus re-routing, so it’s unfortunate.

However, the biggest irk I have with the buses is that they don’t seem to match the whole train transport scheme. I can understand not leaving existing bus users in the lurch, especially the large elderly population in the area, however, the buses remain routed in the same ways they were. As a result, the buses in my area connect to Auburn and Granville, meaning they make poorer connections to the trains owing to the new paradigm which shifts the primary interchange out to Parramatta. Trips take much longer, as the trains are both less frequent and make more stops.

Instead, my best bet is now to make a 10-minute walk to the Metrobus, and catch it an extra 10-minutes further out to Parramatta so that I can benefit from the express services at Parramatta (which although faster, also has to cover slightly more distance, so it’s no big win on train-commute time). Each way is an extra time investment of about 20 minutes or more depending on how well-timed the connections are. This is a little better than copping the slow-service to a smaller station (Auburn) and attempting to make a connection there, as the bus intervals are already long and it could become a lose-lose situation where the connection times are poor.

As a result, I can see a few problems arising – routes which presently exist and are relied upon may not see the level of patronage that they previously had because their “ongoing” connection prospects have become poor. This may cause those routes to further deteriorate in the future in regards to service intervals (or whether they even exist). Other routes to more favourable interchange points are instead becoming oversaturated and crowded, as commuters shift their habits to more time-efficient routes.

The biggest news, I suppose, is the introduction of B-Line services to the Northern Beaches. This does help the public-transport deficient area, however, I suspect the vast majority have long preferred to drive (being an affluent area) and the congestion on the roads that already exists is unlikely to be alleviated by the B-Line buses sufficiently. After all, it seems that it will be a big spend just to cut travel times by six minutes – if that.

Ferry

I don’t really use the ferries, so I can’t comment on the situation. However, that being said, I did venture around the new Barangaroo Wharf which looks pretty nice compared to the Kings Street Wharf nearby. From the mode page, there are a few lost services to some wharves.

Light Rail

The light rail has seen some additional services added back in August, however, not much has changed. This is not surprising, as the network hasn’t exactly changed yet and the system operates “in isolation”.

The next major change may well be when the new Light Rail line to Randwick opens in 2019, although as both systems are incompatible and run “in isolation”, there is likely to be little impact with the exception of the choice of who operates both systems (as a new private operator will be chosen to operate both systems once it becomes operational).

Other Bits and Nostalgia

Of course, where there’s change, there’s a little bit of me that pines for the old days. I miss not seeing and hearing the old paper ticket machines (“ka-cheek … clunk, clunk, clunk” goes the dot-matrix print head and change-hopper), or seeing an attendant at the ticket window since Opal has come about. Opal has been fairly good to me nowadays – it seems that things going wrong are much less frequent than they were at the beginning, although the system is still limited in capabilities and clunky-slow at times.

Speaking of which, I came across this envelope and enclosed card from STA.

This was from my undergraduate days, when my TravelPass Yellow Concession was invalidated by a green AES Prodata “dipper” machine. I was trying to put my ticket in, but felt an obstruction. I reported it to the attendant as someone may have lost a ticket in the machine, but instead, the attendant just forced my fresh ticket in … and the machine faulted the ticket. As a result, I lost out that day and couldn’t use my fresh TravelPass, and instead had to fill in a form and pay postage to mail my faulted ticket back. A few days later, they mailed a fresh ticket back to replace it – but I was not happy.

The network map that most resonates with me is this map from 2003 and maybe even the version before it, prior to the introduction of “curves” on the map and the Airport and Cumberland lines, but I can’t find it anywhere online. It’s fascinating to think how far we have moved from this in the (almost) 15 years since:

  • Parramatta was supposed to “save” the Carlingford line, join up to Epping, and the rail link was to run to St Leonards. That never happened, and the Carlingford line remains as anaemic as it was back then.
  • Olympic Park was depicted as a loop, capable of being fed from either side, so catching a train to it can be achieved from Strathfield or Lidcombe. Now it tends to operate shuttle-only with some exception for major events.
  • The Sefton, Regents Park and Birrong wye was used to its full extent. Services from Sefton went both via Regents Park and Bankstown into the city, offering twice as much choice and easier connections to the west/south. Now, the City via Regents Park services are long gone and the stretch from Liverpool through to Sefton is routed through Birrong and only there can the Regents Park leg be reached, terminating at the new Platform 5 at Lidcombe.
  • Glenfield through Campbelltown had choices to run on Cumberland, Airport/East Hills or via Granville.
  • The Northern Line was a “thing”, so getting to Cheltenham to Normanhurst is much easier than the current network makes it, especially when coming from the west and not intending to travel through the city to the North Shore. (As that would entail changing at Strathfield, then at Epping).

The physical lines have had some work done to implement the rail clearways program, but for the most part, the changes have happened on the “logical” side of the network – i.e. the runs the trains make over the rails, the stopping patterns, the timetables, the maps depicting the services.

Of course, nowadays, we do see a lot fewer S-sets, K-sets and C-sets which I feel is a little sad. As much as they are “hated”, especially the non-air-conditioned S-sets, they do come from an era where Australia’s engineering and industry were celebrated as being innovative and class-leading. The names Comeng and A Goninan & Co. come to mind. The new Waratahs that replace them are more comfortable, but they do come mostly from China and are starting to show some strange faults (e.g. blue LED panels, suggesting significant overdrive and failure in current regulators).

While looking them up, I came across several promotional videos on YouTube which I felt were very nostalgic and worth sharing:

It’s quite amazing to look back 35 years – the commercials really make public transport seem “advanced” for its time.

Conclusion

I suppose with every change, there’s going to be some things lost and some things gained. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work out that well for me meaning that it takes longer to get to the city and back, but in return, it should help improve the reliability of the service and benefit those living further out. I suppose we can’t have it all, but at least, the buses and trains are still here and I’m thankful for that.

About lui_gough

I'm a bit of a nut for electronics, computing, photography, radio, satellite and other technical hobbies. Click for more about me!
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