‘Crush capacity’: The worst time to get on Sydney’s light rail
Sydney Morning Herald, 27 August 2018
The number of passengers enduring “crush capacity” on Sydney’s inner west light rail line or being left behind on platforms will worsen unless the Berejiklian government buys more trams to boost the frequency of services, “sensitive” documents warn. And even if new trams are bought, it will be up to three years before they are running on the line because of the length of time it takes to procure and commission them.
The confidential government reports, obtained by the Herald using freedom of information laws, warn the existing fleet of 12 trams will “likely not meet forecast patronage growth” over the next two years, and commuters will “require alternative transport options” along parts of the rail corridor.
“Patronage growth shows that by 2021 most, if not all, services will be at crush capacity under the current eight-minute headway arrangement,” one of the documents states.
They reveal that buying four extra trams will be only a short-term fix. An upgrade to parts of the line will be needed before service frequencies can be raised to meet longer-term demand.
Patronage on the 12.8-kilometre light rail line between Central Station to Dulwich Hill has surged by more than 260 per cent from 3.9 million trips in the 2013-14 financial year, to more than 9.4 million in 2016-17.
And modelling by the state’s transport agency forecasts patronage to grow by 8 per cent annually over the next three years, due mainly to high-rise apartment developments.
It predicts a 47% surge in patronage during the peak-hour period by 2021 to almost 4,400 people, and 73% by 2031 to nearly 5,200.
A “final business case” outlining the need for more trams, completed late last year, warns that “without a short-term increase in capacity, customer experience will fall due to increased wait times between services and over-crowding”.
“There is a significant risk that the current fleet size cannot accommodate the forecast growth in demand … without a significant fall in customer experience,” it states.
While it got a better rap from commuters than other public transport, the light rail line had a “noticeable downturn in customer satisfaction over the past 12 to 18 months”.
“The deterioration in customer experience is expected to accelerate if these problems are not addressed,” the report marked “sensitive” states.
The existing fleet of 12 trams allows a maximum frequency during peak periods of one service every eight minutes, which the reports warn is “quickly becoming inadequate”.
At present, the “worst service outbound” is the 8.10am tram from Central Station, while the most heavily crowded in the opposite direction is the 8am from Dulwich Hill.
The main peak-load periods in the mornings are eastbound from Lilyfield to Pyrmont Bay between 7.45am and 8.30am, and westbound from Central Station to Pyrmont between 7.45am and 9am.
Under the “potential short-term” fix, buying four new trams would allow a service to run every six minutes. That would be the “maximum level that can be used on the existing infrastructure”.
But to meet demand beyond 2024, “all long-term scenarios” will need extra track to be laid near Dulwich Hill, power supply and stabling yards upgraded, and investigating whether trams that will be used on the $2.1 billion CBD and South East light rail line can also run passengers services on the inner west line. The latter is stymied by “contract limitations”.
The length of platforms on the inner west line, as well as the stabling yards, also restrict the introduction of longer trams to carry more passengers.
A confidential briefing note for Transport Minister Andrew Constance in August last year said the purchase, delivery and commissioning of new light rail vehicles would take a “mimimum of two-three years, and there is no identified funding stream currently”.
Transport for NSW said in a statement that the business case for new trams had yet to be finalised and was subject to further review.
“Once the business case has been finalised the infrastructure improvements for the longer term planning will be considered by the NSW government,” it said.
The agency has refused to release to the Herald under freedom of information laws two reports – a draft “strategic business case” and an “economic appraisal” – which outline proposed “capacity enhancements” for the inner west line.