Outer Sydney Orbital, Western Sydney Freight Line: no corridors rezoned for M9 motorway | Daily Telegraph

Jake McCullum at the Daily Telegraph writes: Outer Sydney Orbital, Western Sydney Freight Line: no corridors rezoned for M9 motorway . The big news is that the freight line will be tunneled (and the trains electrified) along with the M9 motorway.

My quote:

Transport expert and University of Sydney Civil Engineering Professor David Levinson said electric locomotives for freight transport had been used in NSW previously, and was used “much more widespread in Europe”.

“There are no technical reasons freight trains can’t be electrified, and if they have renewable power — which over the next decade will be increasingly common — electrified freight would be much cleaner than diesel overall, and due to lack of emissions, better for operations in tunnels,” Prof. Levinson said.

Western Sydney orbital (M9). Source: Daily Telegraph
Western Sydney orbital (M9). Source: Daily Telegraph

Sydney Train Stations Need Two Exits

One of the things about the trains of Sydney is that, in contrast with the light rail and Metro stations I am used to, so many of the train stations have only one entrance or exit, and it is on one side of the train station (rather than the middle).

This is fine if that is the only direction you are going, but in many cases (maybe even half, maybe more in a poorly designed stations) someone is interested in going the other way. So for instance, let’s say you have an east-west line, and an entrance/exit at the east end of the station. Let’s say further you live or work west of the station, or you are on the west end of the train and need to transfer to another platform. You would wish there were another entrance and crossing.

Redfern-GoogleEarthShown in the figure is Redfern station, nearest to the University of Sydney. While there is an entrance to the southwest at Australia Technology Park, it takes you to Platform 9 and 3/4 10, which is seldom served, meaning you have to go all the way to the front of the station, (climb the stairs) find your platform (climb down), and position yourself in the desired car, which might be the other end of the platform depending on your destination. There is a lot of backtracking. While climbing the stairs up and down may not be avoidable, the backtracking is.

Backtracking is not mere inconvenience, it is a loss of time for want of staircase and overpass, and thus it is  a loss of ridership and a loss of fare revenue. It is also a loss of accessibility thus and a loss of land value.

Further, this is not a small amount of time. The length of a train set is about 163 m, the railway platform is about the same, maybe a bit longer (I estimated 180m before I looked up the length of a train).  It takes nearly two minutes walking at normal speed to go from one end of the platform to another, and a passenger may need to do that twice in the extreme case (though they may have to do that second one anyway making the long walk either before they board or after they exit, because of the location of exits at the arrival train station, it could very well be that the problem there is the mirror, with the exits at say the west side when the traveler’s final destination was to the east). (And likely the process occurs twice a day.) Four minutes walking at 1.5 m/s is 360m (nearly a quarter mile). Eight minutes walking is 720m.* And this is inside the station area, leaving aside access to the station.

Now, I recognize that platform configurations may not always permit insertion of staircases or lifts near the unserved end of the station platform due to space reasons, especially when the track curve as shown at Redfern. The platforms often narrow at the end, and may themselves be awkward retrofits. But that does not mean they never do. And some expense is justifiable to the train operator if the benefits in ridership or property uplift are sufficient and can be captured, and to society if they cannot.

I am not going to make a list of the Sydney train stations where this issue should be investigated, but somebody should, and some assessment of their feasibility and cost would be warranted.

At a minimum, a few stations can be retrofitted as a pilot project and the effects on ridership, land value, and investment monitored.


Update: A reader writes:

Yes interesting comment about Redfern.

Now in fact when I went to Sydney Uni there was a footbridge exactly where you suggest – I recall that it was a somewhat ricketty timber structure but very handy none the less

This reference says:


“In c1994 the southern footbridge was removed as the Eveleigh railway workshops were gradually closed down and the footbridge was no longer required” which seems to neglect the traffic that used to access the university.

I suspect that additionally there were costs associated with fare collection management etc – which today could be covered by Opal Card readers – which the Govt of the day wanted to avoid.

Wikipedia also sort of supports this saying:

“Until 1994, Redfern had an overhead footbridge at the Eveleigh end of the platforms, connecting platforms 1-10 by stairs. This was demolished because the funds for its maintenance were not available.[1]”

Interestingly your comment certainly could have also applied to one of the busiest stations on the network – Central Electric i.e. the suburban platformswhich lacked a southern concourse until about 15 -20 years ago. That concourse is linked to the Devonshire street tunnel and provided access for thousands of -……you guessed it ……………uni students going to UTS. And workers going to the Railway square precinct which also happens to house the offices of TfNSW!



Note: There is also a potential control issue, as this would lead to more than one entrance to the station, which might have security issues. A real criminal would be willing to leave the platform and traverse rail tracks if necessary, so I think this is largely spurious. It might however warrant extra staffing if people (police) are needed to monitor entrances and exits, as occurs at some stations. I suspect most of this can be dealt with using cameras.

* I know, walking is supposed to be healthy for you, but this isn’t about health, it is about convenience and time.

Buses and railroad crossings

Buses are required by law to stop at railroad crossings (except where exempted, such as the light rail tracks on University Avenue in the Twin Cities). This is for safety reasons, the law was implemented in Utah for school buses after a terrible accident. The Deseret News reports:

DeVon Andrus of Cedar City wrote, “I endorse everything said about the safety on school buses. However, there are a few of us who remember a day in December 1938 when the worst school bus accident in the history of the United States occurred in Sandy, Utah. As a result of this accident, laws were passed in every state regulating bus travel when crossing railroad tracks. … Bus drivers were required to stop and open the door, look both ways and listen before crossing the tracks. …”

I know “safety first” and laws like this help keep us all alive, but sometimes they are applied too much.

Railroad Crossing at Franklin Avenue SE
Railroad Crossing at Franklin Avenue SE

There is a railroad crossing on Franklin Avenue in SE Minneapolis which is part of a spur, which used to have very few trains, and now has approximately none since the building it served (Bemis Products) is being converted housing (Brickhouse Lofts). Yet the tracks have not been removed, since the railroad (I suppose) might want to use the spur as a siding to store railcars sometimes.

Dozens of times each day school buses and Metro Transit buses and Metro Mobility buses decelerate, stop, look for non-existent trains, and accelerate again. This wastes time and energy, increases the wear and tear on vehicles, and pollutes the environment (with associated public health effects that probably exceed the safety benefits in these cases).

Is there a way to either (a) get railroads to pull up their unused track and abandon the right-of-way in a more timely fashion, (b) exempt more low volume tracks from the stopping requirement? [Clearly “exempt” signs are allowed, they just don’t seem to be implemented as widely as they might be.]

View from the Train

St Pancras from wikimedia commons

Arnhem-2013 09 20 at 09 26 01

Copenhagen backside

Train stations are marketed as important to the “Image of the City“, and that we need a grand gateway to attract or welcome visitors. Yet think about this. If you are already on a train arriving in the city, you don’t need to be attracted. And your welcome is not the building’s front edifice, but instead its unseemly backside. As you approach the station you are inevitably passing through the lower rent industrial areas of of the city (what else would be near the nuisance of train tracks without the benefits of accessibility), areas which are often strewn with litter and festooned with graffiti on concrete walls.

If you really want to welcome visitors, you would not restore the head house, but instead the arrival path. The head house may send visitors on a magnificent farewell, but is no place for a grand arrival, all arrivers want to leave the train station as fast as possible after arriving.



Automatic Train Operation

In the wake of this summer’s on-again, off-again BART strike, some of us wonder why a transit union can shut down what ought to be an automated train. Why can’t management “operate” (perhaps at a reduced schedule) the vehicles, as happens in many other organizations on strike? It is surprising that, in 2013, modern, grade-separated rail systems don’t all have automatic train operation (ATO). While there are a number of ATO systems internationally, it is rare in the US. At least part of the problem is lack of trust (deserved or otherwise). There have been at least two notable crashes of test-trains using automatic operation.

Fremont Flyer crash (October 2, 1972) – a train under testing with automatic control overshot the end of the track (link). 8143196966 cbee24a4ef b
A Precariously Positioned DLR Train On (March 10, 1987) DLR-overhang

However in one case (BART), drivers were re-inserted into the system (perhaps enabling this summer’s strikes), in the other (DLR), driverless trains remained standard (and safe).

The 2009 Washington Metro train collision was also attributed to failures in a track circuit part of the Automatic Train Control systems, and since the collision ATO has been disabled.

It should in principle be far easier to automate trains (which run on fixed guideways) than cars, which have to track many more moving parts in their environment. The technologies are very different, since the trains are centrally controlled, while any successful automated vehicles will be autonomous. The issue of course is not only design, but implementation, and robustness to faulty designs.

Plans for Twin Cities to Chicago high-speed train hit speed bump | Grand Forks Herald | Grand Forks, North Dakota

A few weeks ago I was interviewed by Pat Doyle of the Star Tribune for an article on High Speed Rail. For some reason, I don’t see it there, (and I don’t get the paper), but it did show up in the Grand Forks Herald: Plans for Twin Cities to Chicago high-speed train hit speed bump

MINNEAPOLIS – Prospects for a high-speed train between the Twin Cities and Chicago in the foreseeable future have disappeared, the casualty of funding shortfalls and political priorities.
The refusal of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, to accept federal money to build a link in the line “does kill it … at least for the short term,” said Jerry Miller, chairman of the Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission. “We could be talking 10 to 15 years.”
But transportation officials in Minnesota, Wisconsin and the federal government are continuing to work on proposals for a high-speed line, committing $1.2 million to plan possible routes in case prospects improve over the next few years.
While Minnesota says a system could be running by 2017, there is no indication that enough federal or state money will be available to make it happen.
After 15 years of pursuing high-speed rail from the Twin Cities to Chicago, advocates are focusing immediate attention on simply upgrading existing Amtrak service by adding a daily train or nudging up speeds.
The dashed prospects for high speed come as President Obama vowed in last month’s State of the Union address to make it available to 80 percent of Americans by 2035.
Obama dedicated $8 billion in stimulus money for high speed — defined as 110 miles per hour or faster. But Walker’s decision to reject $810 million of it to build a link between Milwaukee and Madison resulted in those funds being re-routed to other projects. Walker said the line would have cost Wisconsin millions to operate.
“It pretty much kills it until he’s no longer governor, for starters,” said David Levinson, a professor with the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Minnesota. “Even if he’s no longer governor, the federal government might not be interested in funding high-speed rail at that point. … I don’t know if that window will ever come back.”
Advocates aren’t giving up.
“We’re not dead,” said Dan Krom, who directs Minnesota’s passenger rail program and has worked for more than a decade on high-speed rail. Wisconsin’s rejection of federal money “doesn’t stop our work in getting to Chicago.”
It takes several years to select a route and complete engineering work, he said, and “administrations can change.”
Others moving ahead
While the Twin Cities-to-Chicago project has stalled, other regions are moving ahead. Illinois is using $1.1 billion in federal money to begin building high-speed from Chicago to St. Louis. California voters approved nearly $10 billion in bonds to help finance a San Diego-to-Sacramento line.
America 2050, a coalition of regional planners and academics supported by foundations, last month ranked urban corridors on their suitability for high-speed trains. It considered population, employment, transit ridership, air ridership and highway congestion in scoring the corridors.
The Twin Cities-Chicago corridor ranked fourth in the Great Lakes Region, behind Chicago-Milwaukee, Chicago-Indianapolis and Chicago-Detroit, but ahead of the Chicago-St. Louis line under construction.
“The Chicago-Minneapolis corridor may have the edge, because of the larger air market and the strength of ridership on the Milwaukee-Chicago section of the corridor,” the study said.
Nationwide, the Twin Cities-Chicago corridor ranked 23rd out of 86 corridors, outscored by many routes in the northeast and in California.
In an effort to gauge business support for high-speed rail, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce asked members if they supported the Milwaukee-to-Madison link as part of a system “connecting Chicago to the Twin Cities.” They split, 214-214, on the question.
“There was no solid way to push,” said Timothy Sheehy, president of the association.
Cost concerns
“We vehemently oppose the Milwaukee-to-Madison line,” said Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie. While not commenting on whether the governor might ever support a Twin Cities-Chicago line, Werwie said, “We cannot saddle our taxpayers with another ongoing operating-subsidy cost.”
Krom acknowledges that operating costs are a challenge, with gasoline taxes designated for highways. “They don’t have a sustainable funding source,” he said of high-speed lines.
Wisconsin already faces a projected $3.6 billion budget gap and Minnesota faces a $6.2 billion deficit.
A line between Chicago and the Twin Cities running at speeds of 110 miles per hour could cost $1 billion to $4 billion to build. But a 200 mph system that would be an alternative to air travel could cost $25 billion to $30 billion.
“Nobody wants to spend money because of the deficit, … and these services don’t pay for themselves, unfortunately,” the U’s Levinson said.
But Petra Todorovich, director of America 2050, says high-speed transportation will save energy and serve “a more mobile workforce … making cities and regions more attractive to young people.
“These are long-term, expensive projects that do require a far-reaching vision about what we want to be.”
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.