NSW trains will struggle with delays and overcrowding by 2019, says audit  


Trains in NSW will struggle to arrive on time and be blighted by overcrowding unless the capacity of the rail network is ‘increased significantly’ by 2019, says a report by the NSW Auditor-General.

The audit of passenger rail services and rail punctuality in Sydney and regional areas, services overseen by Transport for NSW and contracted out to Sydney Trains and NSW Trains, found that the rail agencies were ‘well placed’ to manage the forecasted increase in passengers up to 2019 but would battle to stay on time beyond this date.

But Auditor-General Margaret Crawford warned that this needed to be tackled.

“Based on 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,” Ms Crawford said.

“If recent higher than forecast patronage growth continues, the network may struggle to maintain punctuality before 2019.”

The NSW Long Term Transport Master Plan predicts there will be a 26 per cent increase in passengers between 2012 and 2031 and that passenger numbers may well overtake this figure.

Forecasts have underestimated passenger numbers in the past, particularly in the morning peak. There has been an annual growth of 6.6 per cent since May 2014, twice as much as was predicted by the NSW Long Term Transport Master Plan.

More passengers usually mean more delays as trains wait longer at stations for passengers to get on and off.

Ms Crawford said Transport or NSW had been making progress but was not close to submitting a costed plan to the government to address these challenges.

“If patronage continues to increase at a faster rate than forecast, particularly during the morning peak, the network will struggle to cope before 2019,” 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.”

While the audit found that system-wide punctuality was good overall, it pinpointed poor punctuality in some areas of the network.

Problem areas

  • Snarl ups around North Sydney affecting afternoon peak services out to Western Sydney and Hornsby via Strathfield
  • East Hills express trains in the afternoon peak performed ‘well below target’
  • Intercity trains were less punctual than suburban trains with declining punctuality between 2011 and 2014

But the Auditor-General was relatively sanguine about how these problems were being tackled, noting that Transport for NSW and Sydney Trains were ‘well advanced’ with strategies to address the North Sydney blockage with improved infrastructure, more staff training, new timetables  and fewer speed restrictions.

Train timetable changes should correct the East Hills delays within three years, she said.

Replacing old intercity trains and ensuring good staff training would ease intercity delays but MS Crawford said improvements to contracts would also help, given that Sydney Trains was responsible for train, track and signal maintenance and managing trains on the rail network.

She said that Transport for NSW, Sydney Trains and NSW Trains were now working collaboratively to make improvements to the contracts.


  • Transport for NSW should submit plans to address passenger growth over the next five to ten years to the government as soon as possible
  • Sydney Trains and Transport for NSW should:
    a) oversee and resource all plans to address passenger increases
    b) adjust strategies for any patronage growth above projections
  • Sydney Trains, NSW Trains and Transport for NSW should publish customer delay results by June 2018
  • Transport for NSW, Sydney Trains and NSW Trains should agree by December 2017:
    a) specific performance targets for intercity train, track and signal availability and reliability
    b) guidelines for train priorities during disruptions and indicators of control centre performance when implementing these guidelines
  • Sydney Trains, NSW Trains and Transport for NSW should by June 2018:
    a) improve the accuracy of measuring passenger numbers and develop a better understanding of growth trends
    b) address small errors in the adjustment factors used to determine a train’s punctuality
    c) improve their understanding of the factors impacting on intercity punctuality
  • Transport for NSW should, commencing June 2017, explore the potential to use behavioural insights to encourage more passengers to travel outside the height of the morning peak between 8 am and 9 am

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