Rail network needs to avoid a peak crunch by 2019

An audit of the NSW rail network has found that measures need to be taken to ensure it can meet increasing capacity demands in 2019 and beyond.

Image: Paul Hemsley/GovNews

Sydney’s railway network has experienced an enviable golden age in the last few years when it comes to trains running on time, in comparison to some of the shocking delays that persisted in the mid-2000s.

But those good times might be coming to an end unless measures are taken to make public transportation even better.

In a new report from the New South Wales Auditor-General, Margaret Crawford, titled Passenger Rail Punctuality, the railway network’s ability to run its rolling stock against the clock has been placed under the microscope, and there’s good news and bad news.

The good news, according to the report, is that rail agencies are ‘well placed’ to manage the forecast increase in passengers up to 2019, which includes the joining of the Sydney Metro Northwest to the network at Chatswood.

‘Their plans and strategies are evidence-based, and mechanisms to assure effective implementation are sound,’ the report said.

However, the report has offered a firm warning that based on the aforementioned forecast patronage increases, the rail agencies will find it hard to maintain punctuality after 2019 unless the capacity of the network to carry trains and people is increased significantly.

‘If recent higher than forecast patronage growth continues, the network may struggle to maintain punctuality before 2019,’ the report said.

Ms Crawford acknowledged that Transport for NSW has ‘undertaken considerable work’ on developing strategies to increase capacity and maintain punctuality after 2019, ‘but remains some way from putting a costed plan to the government’.

She said there is a ‘significant risk’ that investments will not be made soon enough to handle future patronage levels.

‘Ideally, planning and investment decisions should have been made already,’ she lamented in the report.

‘Passenger rail punctuality indicators adopted in NSW are good practice, and include measures of train punctuality and customer delay.’

There’s always room for improvement, as the report states in relation to the accuracy of the measurement of punctuality, which the report says is ‘reasonably accurate’.

The report suggested more information could be published on punctuality performance, particularly the Customer Delay Measure.

It also found that the rail network around North Sydney creates punctuality problems for afternoon peak services heading to Western Sydney and to Hornsby via Strathfield.

East Hills express services performed well below target during the afternoon peak.

The punctuality of intercity trains lags behind suburban trains, and there was an extended period of declining punctuality between 2011 and 2014.

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