Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The City Circle

City Circle
Museum Station under construction
Work begun on the underground stations at Museum and St James in 1916 but work was delayed by financial problems and the line did not open until 1926. The lines to Wynyard and the station under George Street at Town Hall were built as part of the Harbour Bridge crossing in the 1920s and opened in 1936. The rail loop was not completed until the Cahill Expressway was built in 1956. Before then trains terminated at Wynyard and St James and backed out. For 50 years from the completion of the Central Terminal in 1906 to the opening of the Cahill Expressway in 1956 the Castlereagh/Pitt Street tram loop performed its role of distributing passengers from the rail terminus to destinations in the CBD and to Circular Quay.

Soon after the rail loop had been completed the trams were being burnt and the tram rails torn up. The destruction of the tram networks was indiscriminate. No assessment of the worth of individual routes were made - every tram route was annihilated.

The City Circle train loop while providing an efficient means for turning suburban train lines around  has always been recognised as a poor substitute for distributing people throughout the CBD and for movements within the CBD. When the tram loop was removed it was the George Street bus services that took over the roles that it had performed. Now Baird will obliterate these services with a painfully slow tram line that replicates half of the Train loop with stops only at the train stations.

The Bradfield Scheme

Bradfield had submitted a report outlining his grand plans for an underground rail network in 1915. It was to have a rail line under Parramatta Road looping through the northern CBD and continuing east under Oxford Street, which is why there were extra platforms at Town Hall and St James Stations. The Northern Beaches line was to operate along the eastern side of the Harbour Bridge replicating the  rails on the western side - it never progressed beyond the tram terminal at Wynyard Station.

The Central Station flyovers

Flyovers south of Central Station
The bidirectional City Circle rail loop was always planned as part of the Harbour Bridge project even before the design of the Bridge was selected. The flyovers south of the platforms at Central that were necessary for the loop to operate efficiently were constructed with brick arches as part of the original project. A contributor to Wikipedia has produced a schematic of the flyovers:
Two extra flyovers were built for the Airport Line connecting to the uppermost level. They can be seen in the Google Earth snapshot disappearing into tunnel in the right hand corner. It is beyond belief that a happy little band of taxpayer-superannuated public servants producing an "Engineering and Construction" scoping study could be unaware that it would be physically impossible for a Harbour Rail Tunnel passing under the Eastern Suburbs rail tunnel to connect to the Airport Line. They were producing preposterous alternatives for Ms Berejiklian to take to Cabinet and must have been aware of what they were doing.

You can see from the Google Earth snapshot and the Wikipedia schematic that trains change destinations as they go round the loop. This would be because the flyovers were built when trains were backing out from Wynyard and St James stations. The train services using the City Circle are an integrated whole. An attempt to speed up train schedules caused systemic problems for trains being on schedule across the network, but it had to be tried. Scheduling suburban train services is an intricate process that has been refined over decades. Rod Staples quest to hand over established parts of the suburban rail network to a privately-owned monopoly was always going to come to grief.

Up to 28 trains per hour

To their credit the public servants at Transport Projects Division expressed scepticism at the Staples dogmas: that single-deck trains can run at frequencies increased from 20 to 28 trains per hour. These claims have been studied by the Facts Check team at the ABC and found to be nonsensical. The claim is that if passengers are forced to stand for the whole journey they somehow are able to alight more quickly at station platforms and the reduced dwell times allow "up to" 8 more trains per hour to operate on the line, so the line can carry more passengers.

"Rail Future B seeks to run single deck rolling stock at increased frequencies to current operations (up to 28 trains per hour) on existing upgraded infrastructure" (i.e. the Harbour Bridge rail line).

"The findings of the investigations to date indicate that Rail Future B has extremely high degree of risk, operational impact and costs for the following reasons:
  • The high risks relate to the operation of 28 trains per hour on existing infrastructure
  • To robustly deal with the increased train paths through the CBD, significant reconfiguration of the Central Flyovers is required."

The Epping-Strathfield-Central link

On the other hand the rail link from Epping to Central Terminal through Strathfield has never been developed. Trains from the Ryde rail bridge are fed into the northern-most main line to the intercity platforms and must make it across the two-way rails to all the other platforms at grade to reach the suburban and central coast terminating platforms. A Fly-under to the eastern platforms of Central Terminal and to underground platforms would greatly increase the capacity of this Rail Link, at comparatively little cost. The underground platforms would have turn around facilities under Belmore Park allowing trains to turn around much more efficiently.

Whichever platform they arrived at, a few steps across the historic Central concourse to a restored tram loop, which would stop as frequently as current buses, would deliver them to destinations in the CBD from Central to Martin Place faster than someone using a multi-billion dollar Metro would be able to access the lifts at Martin Place. The trams would also deliver them to destinations in the CBD north of Martin Place. Passengers alighting from a Metro at Martin Place will find it well nigh impossible to reach these destinations except by walking.
Ryde rail bridge
The capacity of the Epping/Strathfield Junction rail link has been increased with a freight line (not shown in the Google Earth snapshot) and it could readily be increased further - there is an abandoned rail bridge alongside the current bridge used as a shared pedestrian/bicycle path!
Meadowbank bridge shared path
NSW needs to hock its poles and wires to build additional Harbour rail-crossing capacity like a hole in the bedrock.

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