Sydney’s Old Rail Network – Why we face constant delays and how to fix them.

As you no doubt have noticed, it has been a shocking start to the year on Sydney’s railways, which many instances of delays lasting for multiple days. These delays were cause by a major incident on a single line somewhere on the network which snowballed into ongoing delays due to a lack of ability to recover from delays. This has lead Transport for NSW to write a report on how to reduce the amount of delays caused when incidents occur on the network.

Our rail network is very old, with most parts now approaching 100 years old and it’s stretched to its limit with many rail lines over capacity even when everything runs to plan. Unfortunately there is no quick fix to the problem of constant indefinite delays other than rebuilding our entire rail network, but this is too costly. The report has some ideas on band-aid solutions, but the network won’t be fixed until the Western Metro to Parramatta opens in the late 2020s at the earliest.

The report found that the network is too complex for it’s age, with many line criss-crossing at confusing junctions. Many parts of the network are running at full capacity even if trains are all on-time, so even just one late train can cause compounding hold-ups with no room for returning trains back to the normal schedule. There was also the suggestion that the communications and signalling systems were outdated and needed improvement to ensure that trains maintain on-time running.

The report also pointed out a shortage of drivers, which in some cases led to less staff being on-duty than the number of trains required in the network. This lack of drivers occurred multiple times in January. Concerningly, drivers were being made to work overtime 11 out of every 14 days and work 13 out of every 14 days.

The changes being made in light of the report include;

  • Reviewing strategies for dealing with high impact network events in a complex, tangled network;
  • Providing extra capacity for incident recovery by using post implementation reviews of the timetable to look for opportunities to adjust any non-peak services that are used by an extremely low number of customers;
  • Accelerating recruitment of new drivers;
  • Working with unions to help simplify changeovers for crew;
  • Bringing in an independent rail expert to find ways to improve the systems and tools to put the right number of crew where we need them;
  • Updating support and IT systems to ensure better communication and crowd management.


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