Sydney’s New Metro: A bonanza for Sydney residential and commercial property buyers or not?

I was interviewed by Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore for an article on Curtis Associates website: The Sydney Metro. A bonanza for Sydney residential and commercial property buyers or not? My quotes below:

Professor Levinson adds: “One reason, I am told, that the government chose the Metro over trains for the new lines is that because it is a different technology, it will be easier to manage separately from Sydney trains (and will be privately operated under contract). It was a technology choice to achieve a policy aim of breaking the existing bureaucracy and labour unions.”

“To help ensure the political separation, the tunnels for the Metro line are just a bit too short, and the tracks too steep, for double-decker trains to use. This could have been remedied at little or no cost, providing future technological flexibility, but the government want to reduce the flexibility of future governments,” he continues.

“Flexibility would have been a potential benefit from providing compatibility. On the other hand, separation has some value from a reliability perspective, problems on the train lines should not cause problems on the Metro (except for crowding where people have a choice between the two), and vice versa.”

As Professor Levinson, professor of transport at the University of Sydney points out: the “game is the same. Just more territory is brought into the game.”

“Since the lines and stations for the Metro North West and City/South-West are already set, the landowners have already realised their price appreciation,” he says. “There is still a small fortune to be made on the Metro West line, since where the stations land is still not set.”


Full Interview below:

What are the problems with the current [Public Transport] system?

First, the rail system in Sydney, though like all systems engendering complaints, is actually really good, reflecting on the genius of Bradfield’s original rail plan. The evidence for this is the high public transport mode share in Sydney compared to other Australian (and similarly sized US) cities. That said, it is far from perfect. The signal system on the rail lines should be modernized to increase safety and throughput. The bus network needs to be completely rethought and streamlined, so the routes don’t go hither and yon. More on-street right-of-way should be designated exclusively for buses so they move faster and are less likely to be stuck in traffic. Tap-on, tap-off should be off the bus (at the bus stop) so that the buses can board and alight more quickly. The system as a whole needs more capacity in places. The rail stations should be modernized with more exits so the access time to and from stations is shorter, and so there are lifts for each platform.

Why has it taken this long to find a solution?

There have been fits and starts on expanding public transport in Sydney for decades (nearing a century on Bradfield’s plan, which is still not built out). The best theory I heard is the city exhausted itself with all the over-building for the 2000 Olympics, and then couldn’t get anything going until recently. These lines are on the maps and have been for decades, so it’s a question of money and willpower. The recent government has been far more keep to use the private sector for financing, and using asset recycling than previous governments. The advantage to private financing and control is that the infrastructure is sort of “off-the-books”, so since it is privately funded, users pay directly, as opposed to being intermediated through the political layer. This makes it easier to charge users more. This is especially the case for toll road construction as opposed to untolled motorways, but could be applied to public transport as well.

What has been confirmed / what are we still waiting to find out?

Sydney Metro Northwest is well under construction.

Sydney Metro City and Southwest, replacing the T3 Bankstown Line, is in engineering and early construction. What happens to service at the end of the existing T3 line (beyond Bankstown, e.g. Yagoona and Birrong) that is not served by Metro is unclear.

Sydney Metro West is in early planning stages, and the line has not been set, but some of the stations are locked in.

What are the challenges facing the new metro? Critics have pointed out that it is flawed – why?

The issue of Metros vs. Double-Decker Trains is a technology choice which has some practical tradeoffs. Metros have fewer seats (1 deck) and more doors, but a greater capacity, because they can run more frequently (because they can board and alight much faster, and because they are automated with modern signal controls). So for a short trip, fewer seats might be fine, since you save time. For a long trip, not being able to sit in rush hour, but standing for say 40 minutes, might be a bit tiresome for some people (noting that this is common in transit systems around the world). So one of the questions is whether this (Metro) technology is right for this (very long) corridor. I suspect there will be grumbling from people who want to sit and can’t.

One reason, I am told, that the government chose Metro over Trains for the new lines is that because it is a different technology, it will be easier to manage separately from Sydney trains (and will be privately operated under contract). It was a technology choice to achieve a policy aim of breaking the existing bureaucracy and labour unions.

To help ensure the political separation, the tunnels for the Metro line are just a bit too short, and the tracks too steep, for Double-Decker trains to use. This could have been remedied at little or no cost, providing future technological flexibility, but the government want to reduce the flexibility of future governments. See: link

Flexibility would have been a potential benefit from providing compatibility. On the other hand, separation has some value from a reliability perspective, problems on the train lines should not cause problems on the Metro (except for crowding where people have a choice between the two), and vice versa.

Sydney is the first Australian city to build a metro system. What does this mean for Sydney as a city? And for its inhabitants?

Not much. Note: Melbourne is also building a Metro. (Metro Tunnel). The distinctions between trains and Metro will not be terribly significant for most  users, they will just see it as new and old trains.  Now in the corridor that gets new service (especially the Northwest) this is new service (replacing buses rather than trains), so should increase people’s willingness to take transit for certain city-oriented trips. It will also encourage development in the corridor around stations.

What does this mean for property owners / property developers? Which suburbs will suffer and which will benefit? And how is current uncertainty over the lines affecting property / developers / homeowners? How does “value capture” come into play?

Value capture is way to help finance transport infrastructure by using property value appreciation to offset construction costs. This is not done systematically in Sydney, but should be. There are various techniques. (See my value capture study from about 9 years ago, still true)

Is the metro a game changer? i.e will it give massive buying opportunities for previously low density suburbs? Will only the long term gamblers benefit?

The game is the same. Just more territory is brought into the game. Since the lines and stations for the Metro NW and City/SW are already set, the land owners have already realised their price appreciation. There is still a small fortune to be made on the Metro West line, since where the stations land  is still not set.

One cabinet paper stated the Metro West project would trigger a high-rise boom, from the sale of development rights around a dozen new underground stations – what does that mean for standard of living?

It means people who want to live in new high-rises near Metros (and the evidence is there are many such people) will have more opportunities and pay lower prices, and people who don’t will be largely indifferent. The neighbours of those new high rises will suffer more traffic, but have better restaurants and shopping.

Will Metro West deliver on the promise of housing, jobs, and business opportunities?

Jobs will come from construction, but Sydney is pretty close to full employment now, so if that remains so, it will attract workers for these jobs who otherwise would be working on something else, driving up the costs of construction and increasing inflation.

Sydney will not become significantly larger due to MetroWest (i.e. it won’t cause more babies to be born or increase national immigration, it might keep a few people in Sydney who otherwise would have gone to Perth or Hobart or wherever). However development with Sydney will likely concentrate around new stations to take advantage of the convenient accessibility the system provides, so station areas will attract housing and jobs that otherwise would have been more dispersed.

How does the new metro reflect on the building of new roads, such as WestConnex, largely funded by the tax payer? Why wasn’t the Metro West rail project wasn’t considered as an alternative to WestConnex.

I don’t know. The answer to these questions is usually “Follow the money.”

2018 Rail Trends: Falling Behind or on Track to Revitalize the Industry | Trapeze

Marcelo Bravo writes “2018 Rail Trends: Falling Behind or on Track to Revitalize the Industry” for Trapeze, a transit software company. My quote below. There are other good quotes at the link.

“The U.S. will continue to fall behind the rest of the world in investments in transit and ridership. London is set to open Crossrail (The Elizabeth Line), metros continue to pop up across China, even Australia is making large new investments in rail transit, and all these countries are seeing gains in ridership follow. In contrast, public transit continues to lose riders in most of the U.S. with low gas prices, and even the simplest investments are huge political battles.

The most interesting new trend is the rise of stationless bike-sharing in cities, making bicycling more convenient. Again, this follows from international experience especially China. Whether this works in the North American market is an important question to watch. E-bikes are also gaining popularity and falling in cost. Both challenge public transport for ridership for shorter trips.”

David Levinson, Professor of Transport in the School of Civil Engineering, University of Sydney

Should Alexandria get a Metro Station?

Alexandria is a neighbourhood (and once an independent municipality) south of Sydney on the new City and Southwest Metro Line, which is slated to open in 2024. There are stations at Sydenham to the west and at Waterloo on the east but nothing in-between for Alexandria. The area has a population density of 1540/km^2, which is plausible for public transport, and is going up with new construction. This is the second longest stretch on the under construction Metro line without a station (only Epping to Cherrybrook is longer).

Map of Alexandria, NSW. Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Map of Alexandria, NSW. Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Should Alexandria get a stop? On the one hand, more stops increases running time for all on-board passengers. On the other, it lowers access costs for those locally who otherwise would need to walk a longer distance or take a bus.

Let’s consider a hypothetical: If we say an extra 1 minute for the stop, it is adding the number of passengers traveling  through the station each day (~30,000)  x 1 minute each. (It is hard to quickly track down current ridership numbers, I have seen estimates of about 40,000 per day on the T3 line, but not all of them will go past this point .. the Metro will increase capacity, and may increase ridership, and development will drive in that direction anyway.) So if it were to Board 3000 people who saved 5 minutes each way (boarding and alighting) in travel cost compared to their next best alternative, the total amount of time lost  would be equivalent to the time saved. (It’s of course more complicated than this, as existing riders may switch stations as well, and changing mode has implications at both ends of trips.)  I am pulling these number out of thin air to illustrate the logic, an actual demand analysis could estimate their actual values (recognizing the inaccuracies of demand forecasting). It is not obvious that it would pencil out from a time-savings perspective, i.e. adding 3000 boardings and 3000 alightings to the station per day is a significant amount, even with the new development. This analysis does not even consider the cost of the additional stop, which is far from free.  Nevertheless, sometimes the need of the one outweigh the needs of the many.

If it gets a stop where would it be?

Map with indicative Alexandria Metro Station
Map with indicative Alexandria Metro Station

Given the map and assuming the line’s location does not move, I would say at the southern edge of Alexandria, somewhere along Sydney Park, probably at Mitchell Road so it can be near the huge new Park Sydney development (technically in Erskineville). It might make sense to be connected to the St. Peter’s Station for ease of transfers.

It is also worth noting that Alexandria is going to feel the brunt of the WestConnex exit to Euston Road / McEvoy at the St. Peters Interchange.

The local neighbourhood group, ARAG,  is lobbying for a station, as they should. The reluctance to an Alexandria Station they have heard from government agencies is the lack of redevelopable land in Alexandria to justify a station. That is, new stations are built to serve undeveloped sites rather than to serve proven demand. The same reasoning was given to route the line to Waterloo rather than University of Sydney in the first place.  This seems strange on both accounts. The University of Sydney is growing like gangbusters, and even if existing homes were off-limits, there is plenty of redevelopable industrial land in Alexandria, mostly to the east of the circle on the map I drew. But in any case, the test should be in providing accessibility, and existing land use has as much right to that as greenfield (or brownfield) development. If the tax structure and regulatory system were rational (for instance, used a land value tax), it should not matter whether the new riders were from existing or new developments.

A Busful of Knowledge: On Going from the University of Sydney to the University of New South Wales

There are a few universities in Sydney, the University of Sydney of course, is the most important (revealing my bias), and the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) is nearby, but the University of New South Wales (UNSW) also has a very strong reputation in Civil Engineering and overall, and really isn’t that far away, nothing compared to Berkeley vs. Stanford. Together they can and should make this region a technology powerhouse in the same vein, if not to the same extent, as Silicon Valley or Boston’s Route 128.

The universities are only an hour apart by walk (17 minutes by car on the shortest walking route), but the transit connections are circuitous and nearly 40 minutes. Look at the images. On the top is the relatively direct walking path, just a bit over 5 km. On the bottom is the shortest travel time path by transit, 37 minutes and far out of the way.  Perhaps if we want to encourage interaction, we should make interaction easier. Keep in mind not everyone has a car, especially students, and especially people who commute by train or bus, and taxis are still expensive.

Imagine how much more powerful the region could be if the researchers could more seamlessly interact and students easily cross-enroll and attend classes. Now I realize these are rival institutions established to be competitive, so there are limits to getting along. On the other hand, a more direct bus route seems like a good place to start.

Kristin Carlson: Accessibility Impacts of Bus Access to Managed Lanes

Congratulations to Kristin Carlson for successfully defending her MS Thesis: “Accessibility Impacts of Bus Access to Managed Lanes” at the University of Minnesota Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo- Engineering on August 22, 2017. The thesis will be made publicly available soon.

Figure 15: The absolute di↵erence in average job accessibility between the ML test scenario and baseline within 30 minutes by transit from 7 - 9 AM on Wednesday, October 5, 2016.
Figure 15: The absolute difference in average job accessibility between the ML test scenario and baseline within 30 minutes by transit from 7 – 9 AM on Wednesday, October 5, 2016.

This research introduces a method to measure changes in transit accessibility resulting from adjustments in bus-highway interactions. Operational differences between general purpose (GP) and managed lanes (ML) are measured using average travel time. Changes to transit travel time are systematically introduced to General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) data through the use of the StopTimesEditor computer program developed for the purpose of this analysis. The methodology is tested on two express bus routes in the Minneapolis – St. Paul region (Twin Cities). The change in operating speed along portions of the selected transit routes is translated to changes in the job accessibility of the surrounding communities. The percent change in the worker-weighted average job accessibility for the area surrounding the transit routes and for the entire metropolitan region are 12% and 0.25% respectively. The methods introduced in this study can be used to evaluate the accessibility impacts of different highway operating environments for buses, or estimate the accessibility outcomes of different bus-highways scenarios.

The forgotten station |Honi Soit

The transportist gets a shout out in The forgotten station by Simon Coleman in Honi Soit, the University of Sydney newspaper. The article concerns Redfern station, which we talked about earlier in Sydney train stations need two exits. An excerpt below:

An artist’s impression of a future Redfern station. Image: NSW Government / RedWatch.
An artist’s impression of a future Redfern station. Image: NSW Government / RedWatch.

40 per cent of USyd students use the station to commute to campus, and the University expects the student population to increase by 26,000 to 75,000 in the next two decades. Director of campus infrastructure services Greg Robinson has labeled Redfern Station “inadequate” while lobbying the state government unsuccessfully for light rail and metro, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. In 2015 the University lost out to Waterloo for a new metro station as part of the second harbour crossing, and the proposed West Metro is unlikely to go anywhere near the University. Three years prior, in 2012 UNSW prevailed over USyd for a light rail link. More recently, the state government has canceled light rail planning for Parramatta Road (and given Labor’s lack of  support) it is unlikely to happen anytime soon. Given the absence of planned alternative transport options for the University, Redfern Station looks set  to become increasingly important.

Previous government studies (obtained by the RedWatch community organisation under freedom of information laws) have shown that Redfern’s capacity and accessibility could be increased while preserving its heritage. The original entrances on Lawson Street could be closed, and a modern concourse with two staircases and lifts to every platform (removing the bottlenecks of the old cramped stairs)  built at the opposite southern end of the platforms.  The new concourse would have an eastern entrance at Gibbons Park near the apartment towers, and a western entrance at a pedestrianised Little Eveleigh Street or Ivy Lane. This western entrance would provide a direct walk to campus and pedestrian access far less cramped than Lawson Street.  As University of Sydney Professor of Transport Engineering David Levinson notes on the Transportist website, the western entrance would reduce backtracking and save at least a few minutes of walking to campus.

I would hope that not merely would there be a new “southern” entrance to Redfern, but that the “northern” entrance would be retained.

Opening: Chair in Public Transport


David Hensher writes:

I am in the early search phase to seek out interest in joining the Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies (ITLS) as the Chair (Full Professor) in Public Transport. This is a full time position funded by the NSW Government and is a continuing appointment (i.e., tenured).  Professor Corinne Mulley has held the Chair since it was established and is retiring at the end of 2017. She will be continuing to be involved with ITLS as an Emeritus Professor.

Re: a timeline, we hope to be advertising in early September with a closing date at the end of November, with interviews after short listing in early 2018.



Public transport is an important element of the transport system and plays an increasingly important part in developing sustainable cities. The New South Wales (NSW) Government is committed to plans predicated on increasing public transport use which in turn requires professional capacity building to ensure that the skills and knowledge are available to support the development of public transport. These skills include:

  •   Integrated transport and land use accessibility and mobility planning.
  •   Transport policy and regulation evaluation.
  •   Transport modelling, pricing and parking policy development.
  •   Determining public transport planning and priority criteria.
  •   Traffic management.
  •   Appropriate use of information technology.
  •   Determining methods for efficient use of road space.
  •   Public transport planning.
  •   Public transport systems operation.

In 2007, the NSW Government established a partnership with the Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies in the now University of Sydney Business School (previously the Faculty of Economics and Business) at the University of Sydney to assist in this general aim. In particular, the NSW Government aspired to this post accelerating research, education and training in public transport, in conjunction with in-service training provided by government bodies and support for a strong local government capability in public transport policy and planning.

The Chair has been held by Professor Corinne Mulley from 2008 to February 2018, who becomes an Emeritus Professor following her retirement. We are now looking to appoint a new Chair Professor to this prestigious position.


The motivation for the Chair in Public Transport grew out of recognition that there is a need in Sydney for some independent and ongoing framework within which the full agenda relevant to supporting public transport in a balanced transport system can be housed. A major objective is to increase knowledge and learning of public transport within the transport industry (and the community in general, including the media) through research and educational activities including briefings, papers, workshops, training courses, opinion pieces and media commentary. A major thrust of the chair’s inception was to enhance learning and understanding regarding public transport development associated with Sydney in particular and NSW in general.

This Chair will be active in directing the overall program of public transport research, education, and training, overarching all themes of interest to ITLS, government and industry. Given the Institute’s strong interest and reputation in urban transport, the Chair will focus to a great extent (but not entirely) on passenger transport issues in urban areas. Themes that are high on the agenda

include growing patronage, efficient service delivery, environmental impacts, traffic congestion, the future of public transport, public transport performance in urban areas, mobility as a service, community transport, rural and regional transport needs, and optimal mixing of transport and land use facilities.

The key activities of the chair should include all areas listed below:

  •   Research
  •   Professional and Public Seminar Presentations
  •   Independent Media Commentary
  •   Industry Training (including briefing forums)
  •   Interaction with government through customised training, dissemination activities and one-to-one interactions
  •   Professional Office Roles
  •   Refereeing for International Conferences and Journals
  •   Conference/Workshop organisation
  •   University Teaching (public transport courses)
  •   Other Activities
  •   Publications
  •   Contract research

The Chair, in particular, will be active in tracking global developments in areas such as public transport reform, the performance of the public modes, technological developments to enhance the performance of PT, the growing interest in bus rapid transit (BRT) through the Volvo Research Education Foundation Centre in ITLS (in partnership with MIT, PUC Chile and Embarq), integrated transport systems, the role of PT in delivering sustainable transport outcomes, funding of PT, planning systemwide public transport services, supporting rural accessibility needs, the challenges facing socially excluded societies and the broad role of PT.


Regular guidance on the chair’s activities will be provided through an annual ‘chair in public transport reference group’ meeting. This meeting will review the current and planned future activities of the chair and provide guidance on future work program priorities. This group shall comprise senior representatives from Transport for NSW, the University of Sydney and other invitees as appropriate.

Profile of the Appointee

As this will be a high profile appointment, the incumbent will be expected to represent the Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies and the University of Sydney Business School (and the University more generally) on the national and international stage. The successful candidate, who may be from any discipline, will be personable, dynamic, outgoing and imaginative. He or she must have the leadership abilities and flair necessary to motivate the Institute’s research and teaching programs in public transport and be an active commentator on public transport matters.

The person must have a commitment to a broad perspective on public transport and be aware of and committed to the role of strategic, tactical, and operational initiatives and the systems view of passenger transport logistics.

Other Attributes of the Person to be Appointed

Given that this position is a leadership position, applicants must have the following credentials:

  1. A strong track record of involvement in public transport
  2. A strong track record in research focussed on public transport
  3. A strong track record in lecturing or giving presentations in a relevant area
  4. Substantial success in generating funds in general
  5. Demonstrated ability to manage research teams and deliver high quality research outputsleading to publication in the relevant journals in the field.
  6. Demonstrated ability to work with persons in government and industry in promoting debateand an evidence base on public transport policy, strategy and system performance.
  7. Demonstrated evidence of working well with external bodies in the capacity of both consultant and joint researcher, especially the government sector, peak (advocacy) bodies andthe media
  8. Demonstrated capability of independent media commentary.
  1. Demonstrated reputation in attracting outside interest in activities of a research institute such as ITLS.
  2. Demonstrated ability to represent the Institute and the University on the national and international stage.
  3. Demonstrated leadership abilities and flair necessary to motivate the Institute’s research and teaching programs (award and non-award) in public passenger transport logistics.

Inquiries and Application Details

Confidential enquiries regarding the position may be made with Professor David Hensher, Director, Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies, email

The position is full-time continuing and may be subject to the completion of a satisfactory probation period for new appointees. Membership of a University-approved superannuation scheme is a requirement for new appointees.

On Trams in Sydney

‘Trams’ is the generic Australian term for smaller trains that in the US are called streetcars (in a shared right of way) and light rail (in an exclusive but usually not separated right-of-way).

The history of trams in Sydney dates from 1879-1961. Notably the early trams (dubbed the Juggernaut) were steam powered, as electric power was not yet feasible. Trackage peaked at 291 km in 1923 (the same year as the peak in the US), and ridership peaked in 1945 (also the same year as the US) with over 400 million rides per year, served by up to 1600 cars on the network at any peak times. Voommaps has developed a high-quality stylised map of the peak network.

Books about Trams and Transit in Sydney
Books about Trams and Transit in Sydney. I acquired these (for work, on behalf of the University) from the Sydney Bus Museum, in what may have been their customer largest purchase, ever.

Famously Melbourne kept its trams while Sydney engaged in ‘bustitution‘, converting its Tram routes to buses. Unlike the US, there does not seem to be too much nostalgia for Sydney’s disbanded network of trams, perhaps because residential mobility is so high, and so few people lived (or parents lived) in Sydney in the 1940s or 1950s when trams were still running.

On the other hand, the flexible bus networks seem to accumulate circuity in a way that hard-coded tram networks would find difficult. It would be difficult to reroute trams in order to serve a local constituent to the detriment of the system performance as a whole, while buses are easily changed, and these changes seem hard to reverse.

Yet the idea of trams remains more popular than the reality of buses. Some of this is idealisation, some of this is differences in quality of service that are associated with the mode rather than services, and some of this is a real difference in ride quality. This is true so much that a proposed electric bus rapid transit service was pitched as a “trackless tram“.

Bus planning in Sydney. Map via @Kypros1992 in Twitter
Bus planning in Sydney. Map via @Kypros1992 in Twitter

Sydney built its first modern light rail line (L1) along an old circuitous goods line in 1997 and extended it in 2014.

A second, more significant line (L2 and L3, denoting the two branches) is now under construction from the city along the George Street spine to the Southeastern suburbs down the Anzac Parade, serving the University of New South Wales. This is a dense corridor with a lot of potential demand, and I suspect it will be busy from day one in 2019, and in retrospect, there will be significant regret that it was not a Metro. The shopping district on George Street is being pedestrianized as the tracks are being laid.

The new light rails are designed L1, L2, and L3 (the L for LRT), but people still call them trams.

Sydney Light Rail line L1.
Sydney Light Rail line L1.

Sydney’s second CBD is planned to have another set of lines radiating from the core in Parramatta. The LRT networks will apparently not interconnect directly, at least not in existing plans, but both will connect with Sydney Trains (and perhaps the Metro if the Sydney Metro West line is ever built connecting Sydney with Parramatta). Uncertainty about whether the Metro will be constructed has reduced the size of the Parramatta network, as the eastern leg of the system serves similar areas to the proposed Metro, so they don’t want to build both at the same time. Of course the Metro will have greater station spacings, so the LRT and Metro don’t necessarily compete as much as they complement, but it is an issue in a world with scarce resources, even in Australia. While one could easily imagine extending an LRT eastward along Parramatta Road to the University of Sydney and on to the City somewhere, especially if it were sufficiently separated from the Metro Line, the ‘trackless tram’ serves the same function, and the government can’t do both.

A bi-radial system, with hub and spoke systems centered on different CBDs eventually joining is in fact how the Streetcars in the Minneapolis- St. Paul region evolved.

Another line was mooted from Barangaroo to the University of Sydney, but this proposal has been returned to the sheds.

Is Melbourne better for having kept its trams? I suspect most people would say yes, but I am not convinced. Would Sydney have been better off if it had kept its trams? This is less obvious. Though the cities are similarly sized, if dissimilar topographically, the transit mode share in Sydney (23%) is notably higher than Melbourne (16%). This is due in part to more trains, but Sydney’s buses (+trams+ferries) outperform Melbourne’s trams (+buses+ferries) in journey to work trips as well.

Wye Not? |

Imagine arriving at the Mall of America light rail station and seeing trains for both downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul, and not waiting 20 years until the Riverview Corridor is built.

When the Hiawatha Line (today’s Blue Line) opened in 2004, it had service every 7.5 minutes (8 trains per hour). [As of this writing, Wikipedia still thinks it does]. Today it has service every 10 minutes (6 trains per hour). In exchange service was transformed from to 3 car instead of 2 car trains. Most transit riders I know would prefer the more frequent service. (Most auto users of course prefer fewer trains, as that means less problems at traffic signals.)

Engineering sketch of Cedar-Riverside Wye Junction.

When the Central Corridor (today’s Green Line) was proposed, it was to have “16 trains per hour“, i.e. service every 7.5 minutes in each direction. Today it has service every 10 minutes. The bottleneck, we are told, is downtown Minneapolis, where the lines come together, providing train service every 5 minutes.

However most users of the Green and Blue Lines are not going downtown. Many are going to other destinations along the line. That is what keeps them in business. In fact, many riders transfer from the Green Line to the Blue Line (and vice versa) at Downtown East.

Suppose in addition to today’s service MetroTransit provided one more service, let’s call it the Cyan Line*, running from St. Paul to Bloomington, requiring very little additional construction, and no additional train cars (if we are willing to reduce the number of cars per train), that did not further congest the critical points in downtown Minneapolis.

MetroTransit could add about 3 trains per hour (one more train every 20 minutes) with no additional cars if each train went from 3 car to 2 car length, for a total of nine trains per hour (9*2 = 6*3). Alternatively, they could just buy more cars. (To achieve the “High-Frequency Network” designation, there would need to be 4 trains per hour in each direction, though since the lines already have service, I am not sure this is required).

To achieve this, MetroTransit would need to construct the small section illustrated in the figure (map). This Wye Junction would take very little land in Currie Park, and quite possibly no buildings. Some park land would need to be replaced. (I see some nearby surface parking that would be suitable, if not land bridges/interstate lids/freeway caps.)

What the Cyan Line service (shown in figure 2) achieves is not so much direct access from St. Paul to Bloomington, which would be a very long trip (on the order of an hour), but direct access for other Green Line origins (destinations) like the University of Minnesota to Blue Line destinations (origins) like South Minneapolis, the Airport, and the Mall of America.

Metro Transit Diagram with Cyan Line added

Shorter distance trips on the same line (e.g. from Lake Street to the VA, from Snelling Avenue to downtown St. Paul) would also see increased service. Once eastbound on the Green Line at West Bank, it changes from Cyan to Green Line designation since they share a common destination. Once southbound on the Blue Line it changes from Cyan to Blue Line designation .**

As we know, transit is a positive feedback system. Cut back the service, and ridership drops. Lose more riders, cut more service. This works in both directions. Add service, ridership increases. Ridership increases justify more service. Over the long run, land use patterns change.

How much will this cost? I don’t know, but this is in practice a really short section, I am guessing on the order of $10 million in initial construction. Additional costs for trainsets and labor as needed.  The Minneapolis-St. Paul region needs to be more creative about the services provided. I am suggesting build the Wye and run 3 Cyan Line trains per hour for a few years. If it works, expand it. If in fact long distance trips from Bloomington to St. Paul are using it, it provides justification for the Riverview Corridor. With a Riverview Corridor, the Cyan Line could be extended along that new track (with additional Wyes where the Riverview meets the Green and Blue lines, respectively), and be transformed into a Circle (or in this case, Triangular) Line.  If not, the region has lost very little.





* Many of the more common colors are spoken for, Cyan is the mixture of Blue and Green.

** Granted stopping at both West Bank station and at Cedar-Riverside Station is not ideal, it is no worse than what happens at much less used stations in Bloomington.


Cross-posted from