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Trains, ships and glitches shine spotlight on travel in NSW

March 21, 2019 Headline News No Comments Email Email

The relationship between Sydney trains and cruise ships is plain to see but seldom discussed – even though it cost an unfortunate cruise group over AUD 5000 a few weeks ago. Transport has become a key issue in this weekend’s New South Wales state election.

On New Year’s Eve, Sydney train delays caused a group of New Year’s Eve revellers from China and Taiwan, who each paid AUD 725 for an all-inclusive harbour cruise, to miss their big night out.

Collectively the group had paid AUD 5075 for the New Year’s Eve luxury harbour cruise. They caught a train from Chatswood to Wynyard as part of a trip which usually takes 40 minutes – only to find it took over 1.5 hours when the Sydney train grid went into meltdown after a storm.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told the Sydney Morning Herald she “completely accepts the frustration” of the thousands of people who were stranded by Sydney Trains on New Year’s Eve – but added that as it was a “freak lightning storm” there would be no refunds or compensation.

For many travellers on Sydney trains, the departure of big cruise ships is a significant event. It often means they have nowhere to sit as they head into Sydney. Cruise passengers going to Circular Quay to board their ships take up all the space with large suitcases and bags.

Many Sydney trains were designed with little or no luggage space. The idea that passengers often travel with luggage doesn’t seem to have occurred to the designers or those who run the system.

Bags and knees jostle for space on Sydney train

The traditional solution of just adding another carriage – perhaps a dedicated “goods van” – doesn’t work either. Many Sydney trains, including the ‘Oscar’ suburban trains, are designed to run in sets of four carriages. When four carriages are too few and eight carriages are too many, too bad – nothing in between is possible.

New trains due to be introduced later this year have 28 fewer seats per carriage, potentially leaving thousands of commuters without a seat.

It gets worse – and more bizarre. Last year, an embarrassing problem was revealed affecting the AUD 2 billion worth of new trains NSW has on order – they are too wide to fit through the tunnels.

The current trains are 2.9 metres wide but the new models being built in South Korea and due to be introduced from later this year are 20cm wider, meaning the new trains could hit the tunnel walls while taking tourists and locals up to the world-famous Blue Mountains.

Off to catch a cruise ship on a recent morning

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Transport for NSW (TfNSW), the Government body that manages the state’s rail system, has proposed simply relaxing current safety standards to get around the problem. In addition, 10 tunnels built in the 1900s will be partially modified to allow the new trains to run, the paper reported.

Professor David Hensher, founding director of Sydney University’s Institute of Transport and Logistics, told the Herald the current investment in transport planned by the NSW government “just buys a few years of growth before we are back to where we started”.

Transport is shaping up as a big issue in Saturday’s NSW state election. It’s a subject Berejiklian is familiar with, having been appointed Transport Minister in April 2011 following the election of the O’Farrell government. She held the same portfolio in the first Baird government.

MEANWHILE, the Tourism &Transport Forum (TTF) has come up with a study that shows transport in NSW is just great.

Peak hour, Sydney trains

“NSW commuters will be in a technology fast lane that will move people faster and better before any other state,” the TTF said in an issued statement, coinciding with the release of a new study the TTF has conducted in conjunction with L.E.K. Consulting.

Speaking at the release of the “Are We There Yet?” Report, TTF chief executive, Margy Osmond said, “The cutting edge of public transport in great transport cities like Singapore is all about autonomous, high tech, no-holds-barred innovation, combined with community friendly transport options that work for individuals.

“This report is designed to look at who is ahead of the pack in catering to our travellers over the next decade.

Suitcases on suburban train

“Our state governments have to provide really good reliable public transport options right now, but the future is rushing at us. It is important to measure the capacity of governments to meet that ‘hyper smart’ challenge for Aussies and tourists,” Osmond said.

Simon Barrett, Senior Partner of L.E.K. Consulting Australia commented: “The Report shows that as a nation we are innovating, we are looking to the future and how to leverage new ‘smart’ options.

“The research shows us each State has developed unique strengths, but it also highlights where there is more work to be done, if we are going to meet the mobility challenges and opportunities of the next decade.

“Many states have already made significant investments in modernising the way people move and preparing for the next wave of change. What we need to understand is – are we moving quickly enough and what will be most critical for the users of these future transport systems.

“We wanted to objectively measure Australian State governments’ performance on key technologies and trends i.e. shared mobility, autonomous vehicles, electric vehicles, mobility as a service, on-demand public transport, driverless rail, digital driver’s licence and payment innovation.”

All the States were compared to Singapore, anacknowledged global leader in new mobility,” Barrett said.

The TTF found that NSW had an “impressive lead on the rest of the States and is ahead of global trends on nearly every criterion.

All aboard!

“It also marginally out-scored Singapore,” according to the TTF. (Which may surprise Sydney commuters who have visited Singapore.)

In other results from the TTF/L.E.K. survey:

  • South Australia, “which has already been recognised as a global leader of automated vehicles and digital drivers’ licences”, came in second.
  • The ACT, “which has developed an integrated future transport strategy embracing shared vehicles, electric vehicles and payment innovation”, was third.
  • Queensland followed in fourth position “with a strong record of investing heavily in shared mobility and future transport technologies like electric vehicles”.
  • Victoria was fifth “being the test ground for shared mobility companies and with a long history of smart road technologies”.
  • Western Australia took sixth place.
  • Tasmania and the NT “are making progress but not yet ‘at scale’”.

“Every commuter wants public transport to be easy and on time right now,” Osmond said.

“A recent TTF Nielsen Survey revealed that 76% of Aussies are satisfied and happy with their state’s public transport,” she added.

“This level of day-to-day satisfaction provides a really solid foundation for future high tech and more innovative travel planning.”

Written by Peter Needham

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