Should we have removed buses because they moved too slowly?
Sydney CBD and South-east Light Rail – Issues – 16 January 2016 (Courtesy of Peter Egan)
1.Should we have removed buses because they moved too slowly?
No. The buses were delayed by the cars. Before buses were removed, did you ever see the George St entertainment area on Friday evenings at about 6pm? Inbound buses could barely move even though they were going in the opposite direction to the official peak and were less numerous than they in peak. We should have removed the cars first.
2.Light rail’s capacity to handle A.M. peak-hour loads
Diagram of CBD entry routes and loads from page 10 of Sydney City Centre Access Strategy
In the Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”) for the Sydney CBD & South-East Light Rail project (“CSELR”), Transport for New South Wales (“T4NSW”) claimed the ultimate capacity to be 30 trams × 300 pax = 9000 pax each way per hour. That was a serious exaggeration. A more useful figure would have been 24 48-metre trams × 250 pax = 6000 pax each way per hour. The initial capacity in 2019 was be 20 trams × 250 pax per hour = 5000 pax each way per hour of which only 1600 pax had seats however subsequent announcements foreshadowed a rise in capacity. The Alstom website shows that typical configurations provide seats for less than 30% of the passenger capacity. The 466 passengers claimed for 67-metre trams should likewise be discounted to 400 with perhaps 120 seated.
The claimed capacity for 30 trams per hour each way seems unachievable at peak hour, just when it would be needed. It would require the major intersections on the route (Bridge/Grosvenor, Elizabeth/Devonshire, Anzac/Cleveland) plus the Alison Road crossings to be interrupted up to 60 times per hour for a tram to cross unless the inbound and outbound trams could be co-ordinated. See remarks below about interference with cross traffic.
That capacity would not be enough for the load in the morning peak. The inbound trams would be overloaded as they approached the Chalmers St stop. Worse, many passengers entering the CBD on Broadway buses would prefer a tram ride up George St to a slower and longer bus trip along Elizabeth St and could be expected to transfer to tram at Rawson Place however there probably wouldn’t be enough room for them.
The situation might be even worse than that. There seem to be grounds for suspecting the EIS figures were massaged to downplay the overcrowding. For instance, the EIS statistics were presented in whole hours, possibly masking a peak between perhaps 0740 and 0840.
Worse again, the EIS showed that the planned Kingsford leg will attract more passengers than the Randwick leg. This imbalance will exacerbate the overcrowding on half the services.
About 40 public submissions to the EIS vainly questioned CSELR’s capacity. Peter Mills’ submission looks at several aspects of capacity. The official story that capacity was adequate changed on 23 October 2014 when a ministerial announcement said “the biggest challenge for this project is meeting the high demand” and went on to foreshadow a substantial increase in capacity although by unspecified means. On 18 December 2014 another ministerial announcement lengthened the trams from 48 metres to 67 metres but was vague about what this meant for capacity.
3.Long-term disruption to bus services
Pursuant to a 2013 plan called Sydney City Centre Access Strategy, which you can download at http://www.transport.nsw.gov.au/content/sydney-city-centre-access-strategy-0, from 4th October 2015 all George St buses (including those that use the Anzac Bridge) were diverted. Many now use Elizabeth St to travel to Circular Quay; some go elsewhere. Elizabeth St is presumably now a slower trip than at present because Elizabeth St was already congested and would have become more congested with the extra traffic. These detours will continue through the construction and testing phases of the CBD and south-east light rail project – at least three years.
Once the CBD and south-east light rail service is operating in perhaps 2019, all of the former George St bus services will be altered to either terminate at Haymarket or else leave the city in other directions. All passengers wishing to ride further into the CBD beyond Haymarket will have to transfer to light rail.
However, the northbound light rail vehicles arriving at Haymarket will already be carrying passengers from the south-eastern suburbs and will probably be unpleasantly crowded in peak hour.
Please note that the Sydney City Centre Access Strategy is officially a quite separate plan from the CBD and south-east light rail and therefore no-one in authority will admit that it is a consequence of the light rail decision. The strategy has a rather Orwellian view of transport – for example, its December 2015 update says the disruptive 4 October changes were to “improve the way we use our city centre”.
4,Barangaroo and other construction disruption
We don’t know much because Transport for NSW hasn’t released any analysis. But we do know that they are concerned – in a submission on the proposed Barangaroo casino they say “the changes to George Street in the Sydney CBD when light rail is built there will increase traffic movements on the road work located within and adjacent to the Barangaroo project”. See http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/barangaroo-casino-parking-traffic-concerns-raised-by-transport-for-nsw-20150515-gh2cpo.html.
5. P.M. peak on the light rail
Broadway-bound passengers from around Wynyard will quickly fill available space in George St trams because they will thus get to Rawson Place more quickly than Elizabeth St buses can take them. Eastern suburbs passengers will therefore find boarding difficult around Town Hall and will be delayed waiting for a tram which can carry them.
There is doubt whether the A.M. peak service can handle the combined outbound load of SBHS, SGHS and UNSW passengers. And the principal of SBHS has expressed concern that an afternoon peak of returning USNW students might load trams to the point where some high-school students are unable to board.
A count made in Albion St on 28 August 2014 found over 3600 passengers on 891 (UNSW) and 610 (SBHS, SGHS) riding between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. Even without any passengers for other destinations, not many of the students can expect seats on trams.
7. Standing room
T4NSW figures seem to rely on four standing passengers per square metre of floor space. If you can’t visualise that, think of a fully-loaded lift in which people stand at about that density for a few seconds per trip. What if most of those people are students with backpacks?
How many buses do the trams replace? The June 2014 video says 220 – see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUQoV8DPkNI. If that means 220 per morning peak, which routes are they? The EIS nominates several routes which are to remain bus but points out that the list might change. There aren’t 220 buses in the other south-eastern routes.
Table 2-1 (EIS Technical Paper 1, page 39) lists services under study, including express services.
EIS Section 4.2.2 provides an overview of possible bus service changes. Some bus routes are to continue to operate into the CBD. However, the Cleveland/Crown district will lose most of its bus services yet be well away from light rail.
Sydney’s Light Rail Future (dated December 2012, page 18) provides further information but may be out-of-date. The figure of 220 buses shown above is close to the 227 shown on page 18 but that 227 includes 55 Harbour Bridge services!
About 1084 scheduled buses arriving from Broadway pass through Railway Square each weekday, 159 of them between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. These figures do not include red metrobuses M10 and M30 (six of each per peak hour). Nor do they include L88 and L90 etc. buses and Hillbus services which join George St further north.
Bus volumes, from page 18 of Sydney’s Light Rail Future
Bus volumes, from page 18 of Sydney’s Light Rail Future (Dec. 2012)
Sydney public transport is too slow and is not getting faster. Many rail services, including the Dulwich Hill light rail, could and should be run at higher speeds. Professor Hensher has published research showing that replacing M2 buses by feeders to the north-west rail link will result in longer trips to the CBD from most of the north-west.
CSELR speeds as envisaged by the EIS will also be unacceptably slow. For example, 15 minutes from Central to Circular Quay compares very unfavourably with heavy rail, which can do the whole city circle from Central to Circular Quay to Central with 5 intermediate stops in about 13 minutes. CSELR’s slowness is probably due to insufficient priority over crossing traffic.
The popular trip from Central to UNSW is also likely to be slower in CSELR trams than in existing express buses.
10. Light rail interference with cross traffic
Light rail vehicles typically accelerate and brake at about 1 metre per second per second. Any more is uncomfortable to standing passengers and is likely to result in passenger falls inside the vehicle. The Alstom website shows maximum braking and acceleration both 1.2 metres per second per second for the Citadis X05.
This has particular significance for cross traffic. For example, the offset Bridge/Grosvenor intersection spans 55 metres of George St. A 67-metre light rail vehicle must therefore travel 55 + 67 = 122 metres to clear that intersection. This may well be from a standing start if the traffic signals were against the vehicle when it arrived. And southbound vehicles will have to stop immediately after clearing Grosvenor St. Let us optimistically assume the vehicle starts immediately it gets a green light, accelerates at full power and brakes at maximum, and that the traffic signals change to favour cross traffic immediately after the vehicle has cleared the intersection. Formulæ taught in high school show that about ten seconds is required for acceleration during which the vehicle travels 61 metres. Another 10 seconds is required to decelerate over a further 61 metres. So just over 20 seconds will be required for each vehicle to cross. In practice, each interruption to Bridge/Grosvenor traffic would be rather more than 20 seconds.
Grosvenor St is a major feeder to the Sydney Harbour Bridge and will increasingly carry Barangaroo traffic. Its importance to Harbour Bridge traffic was amply demonstrated on 5 January 2015 when a closure of the Bridge/George/Grosvenor intersection in peak hour resulted in buses and cars backed up across the Bridge to North Sydney, despite the light holiday traffic.
There are several other intersections where conflicts between light rail and other traffic are likely to be an issue at peak hour.
11. What’s wrong with long trams?
All of the stops, and some city blocks, are too short to contain more than one 67-metre light rail vehicle. Some city blocks are too short to contain even one light rail vehicle. Therefore the vehicles cannot travel in clusters and can only cross intersections one at a time. This reduces the number of LRVs that can be run each hour.
Infrastructure NSW prepared a State Infrastructure Strategy “First Things First” in 2012 which stated that using 60-metre trams was not considered feasible in Sydney’s CBD as it would be too obstructive for retail loading/access points (page 98).
12. Breakdowns and special events
Bus services are readily diverted when large crowds, such as New Year’s Eve, preclude the ordinary route. Parades (e.g. Anzac Day) and breakdowns are also handled by diverting buses. The light rail service must cope with these contingencies which it can only do by turning vehicles back before they reach Circular Quay. It might have to do the same in peak hour due to heavy cross traffic at Grosvenor and Bridge.
13. George St mall
A strategy to turn George St into “Sydney’s major boulevard and a world-class destination for walking, shopping and dining” has been published in draft as George St 2020. It is unrealistic – the authors have overlooked such boring details as maintaining essential access for daily shop deliveries, occasional heavy deliveries and emergency vehicles.
14. The road network
It is suspected that T4NSW has found by modelling that giving the trams the priority they need at junctions like Cleveland St, Anzac Pde and Lang Rd would result in serious detriment to traffic conditions over a wide area. However, no modelling has been released.
15. Lost parkland
Sydney has a long history of parkland being filched for other purposes. This can happen gradually over many years. While sport might seem a valid reason for appropriating parkland, consider the case of Wentworth Park near Glebe, much of which is now a greyhound track and associated grandstands.
Further west, the eastern corner of Parramatta Park was long ago handed to the Parramatta Leagues Club. Fans celebrating the club’s premiership win in 1981 destroyed the old Cumberland Oval grandstand. The club then wanted to replace the oval by a 40000-seat stadium. Both the local council and the park trustees approved however the project was limited by the Land and Environment Court. Twin grandstands were erected and are now known as Pirtek Stadium. At the time of writing (October 2014) the club is expanding Pirtek, all around what was once a parkland oval. The adjacent Parramatta Swimming Centre and associated car parks also stand on former parkland. At the south corner, so does Parramatta RSL Club.
Note that in 2001 the proposed Epping-Chatswood rail bridge across the Lane Cove River was to be approved on the condition that there be a land swap for lost parkland, even though the affected land already had a busy road bridge across at the same point. (The Parramatta Rail Link was approved in February 2002, passing under the river in a tunnel and hence not requiring parkland.)
Returning to CSELR, the following parks are affected by the project:
Ward Park loses a strip.
Wimbo Park loses a wide strip but may gain land from the Olivia Gardens site.
Moore Park East loses a wide strip.
Tay Park loses a strip.
Centennial Park loses a strip parallel to the existing busway.
High Cross Park stood to lose a wide strip of grass and all its trees. It contains the major war memorial for the Randwick district and has attracted large crowds on Anzac Day. Although the parkland loss is less than envisaged by the EIS, note that the EIS canvassed the issue of a land swap that has now been forgotten. An announcement on 17 September 2015 that T4NSW was considering relocating the Randwick terminus to High St, which would save High Cross Park entirely, has not been followed with an official modification although it was confirmed by local media in December 2015 which added that High Cross Park would not be entirely untouched.
High Cross Park was selected for an above-ground power substation incorporating “driver amenities” with a footprint of 80 square metres and which will probably be about 3 metres tall with noisy exhaust fans. However, the 17 September 2015 announcement said that the “transformer would now be underground”. What will happen to the amenities is not clear – would the amenities move with the terminus to a location in High St?
16. Trees lost to light rail
Including street trees in Devonshire St and Wansey Rd etc, plus parks, the total loss is over five hundred trees.
17. Olivia Gardens
About 100 residents were evicted by August 2014 and the building was demolished early in 2015.
18. Parking displaced by light rail
People are not satisfied by “compensatory” parking to be provided remote from where they want to park.
19. Noise nuisance
Although it is possible to reduce wheel squeal on curves by treating the wheels and track, little can be done to reduce rolling rumble noise. This is likely to be an issue in Devonshire St and Wansey Road.
20. Kingsford shops
Neither of the relevant stops (Strachan St and the Kingsford terminus) is convenient for most of the existing shops. Strachan St is too far north. The terminus is too far south – crossing the Nine Ways roundabout to get to it will be a nightmare for pedestrians.
Businesses are concerned about the loss of parking.
The trams use significant power. Indicative figures for the Gold Coast light rail system which uses 45-metre trams, are 1250 amps traction current plus 250 amps for air-conditioning etc, at 700 volts DC. Scaling this up for 67-metre trams suggests about 2000 amps. While full power is only drawn for short periods of acceleration, each substation has to be capable of supplying well over a megawatt for each tram in its zone.
None of the above makes wire-free operation a good idea in George St. For a discussion of the cons of wire-free operation, see page 261 of Transit Australia, September 2014. The system used by Alstom for wire-free trams relies on a segmented third rail which is only powered when there is a tram above it; relying on that may have the disadvantage of precluding trams by other manufacturers. Also note that the “ugliness” of overhead wiring can easily be exaggerated by a photographer with a telephoto lens and the wiring probably doesn’t look as bad as depicted.
Simply, make permanent the interim bus arrangements that commenced in October 2015. And don’t build CSELR.
Better, all of the above problems could be averted by cancelling CSELR and instead extending the Eastern Suburbs railway underground from Bondi Junction to Kingsford. There would be a station servicing UNSW and the PoW hospitals. There could also be a Charing Cross station.
The question of banning cars from part of George St is quite separate. It could be done at any time. Or a toll cordon around the CBD could be implemented to deter cars from entering the area.
Provide track crossovers outside Australia Square so that trams could be turned back whenever crowds at Circular Quay or traffic crossing between Bridge and Grosvenor Sts precluded trams from going further north.
Similarly, there should be a few crossovers elsewhere along the route to reduce the impact of breakdowns or other blockages.
Put the tracks in a cut-and-cover tunnel under Devonshire St between the Gaelic Club and about South Dowling St. Dr Gerofi’s submission to the EIS estimated about $100 million for this.
As suggested by Peter Mills’ EIS submission, keep the Randwick trams on the south side of Alison Rd. Run them round the depot and let them service the Carlton Street stop, thus balancing loads on the two CSELR legs. This would facitate eventual connection to Green Square station.
Provide grade separation at the Alison/Anzac junction, keeping tram tracks above the flood level.
As suggested by Randwick Council, leave High Cross Park untouched.
Other locations and configurations should be considered for the Kingsford terminus. Bunnerong Rd looks more promising than Anzac Pde.
23. Construction costs
A 2011 Legislative Council inquiry found that NSW construction costs per distance for heavy rail were high compared with similar projects elsewhere in comparable economies.
According to SMH of 10 November 2014, estimated construction costs have blown out to $2.2 billion. However, important details such as the length of trams and the frequency of services are still being negotiated. Despite about forty EIS submissions criticising the project for lack of capacity, this inability to carry peak-hour loads acceptably was only admitted on 23 October 2014 when the Minister said “As I have said previously, the biggest challenge for this project is meeting the high demand from customers who are expected to choose light rail over buses, private vehicles and other transport options”. So we cannot be sure we are hearing the full truth.
24. PPP risks
The risk will lie with the NSW government, not the winning tenderers who will have a guaranteed return.
25. Car-free George St
This could be implemented at any time. It is a separate issue from light rail.
Will the tram windows be covered with perforated advertising film which becomes opaque in wet weather? See the problems set out in Wikipedia.
28. Benefit/Cost Ratio
It would be very interesting to see details of the calculation of 10000 jobs to be created by the light rail and also of the claimed $4 billion benefits.
Table of CSELR benefits claimed by T4NSW, from page 6 of the CSELR Business Case Summary dated November 2013
Table of CSELR benefits claimed by T4NSW, from page 6 of the CSELR Business Case Summary dated November 2013
“Wider economic benefits” may mean agglomeration benefits.
The admitted costs do not include any allowance for disrupting Broadway and Anzac Bridge bus services nor for reducing passenger amenity in the eastern suburbs. If they did, the project would be much less attractive and might well be unwarranted.
The NSW Auditor-General is reviewing the claimed business case and expects to report in April 2016.
29. Wider effects
The plan is to remove all buses from CSELR’s service area, However, that would leave holes in the present services to some areas. For example, many of the buses which will be removed use Cleveland St to get from Randwick to the CBD. What happens to Cleveland St without buses?
30. CBD shopkeepers
Curiously, most George St shopkeepers seem unconcerned about the impending disruption and its possible effects on their businesses. The Sydney Business Chamber has asserted its unreserved support for the project.
However, it is quite likely that many businesses, especially those which rely on passing trade, will suffer a downturn in trade. This may well result in some staff losing their jobs and perhaps in the closure of the business. The NSW Government will presumably resist any attempts to extract compensation from it.
31. CBD cycleways
The march of CSELR will delay completion of the cycleway network – see http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/delays-threaten-sydney-cycleways-as-changes-to-castlereagh-street-considered-20141112-11l12e.html and http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/bike-lanes-out-as-george-street-light-rail-project-takes-off-20150528-ghbamo.
The serviced area outside the CBD almost coincides with the Randwick local government area, plus the two Sydney high schools. However, there are serious ramifications for the inner western suburbs, due to the effect on Broadway and Anzac Bridge bus services.
Relevant state seats in the east are Sydney (independent), Coogee (Liberal), Maroubra (Labor), Newtown (Green) and perhaps Heffron (Labor). In the western suburbs, the affected electorates will be Balmain (Green), Newtown (Green), Summer Hill (Labor) and Drummoyne (Liberal).
Some of the cost of the light rail is being paid by Sydney City Council. The Sydney local government area includes considerable areas in suburbs like Glebe and Erskineville and collects rates from those areas. However, the residents of these areas cannot be said to benefit from the project.
33. Recent developments
Randwick Council is pressing for the planned Alison Road track to be returned to the south side of the road west of Darley Road. This would save a long stand of mature trees.
Surry Hills residents are pressing for an additional station at the eastern end of Devonshire St. They say that the Ward Park stop is too far away from the Wimbo Park area and there should be a station near the Olivia Gardens site.