Overcrowding on Sydney’s Trains Rapidly Getting Worse as Demand Soars

Two in every five trains running through central parts of Sydney are overcrowded during the morning peak hour, the latest figures show, in a sign of the rapidly rising demand for public transport and the strain that it’s placing on the aged rail system.

The statistics contained in the NSW Auditor-General’s report on the state’s transport agencies, released on Friday, show a significant deterioration in overcrowding during the morning peak between September 2016 and March this year.

Some 41 per cent of trains passing through Central Station during the morning rush hour in March were overcrowded, compared with 25 per cent six months earlier.

The T1 Western, the T4 Illawarra and the T2 Inner West lines have the highest levels of overcrowding.

Trains stopping at Redfern on the Inner West Line were the worst affected during the morning peak hour between 8 and 9am, recording an average load factor of 164 per cent in March.

Passengers begin to suffer from overcrowding when trains have loads of 135 per cent, which is the benchmark used by transport officials.

The length of time a train needs to stop at a station when it becomes overcrowded is likely to blow out and cause the train, and others following, to run late.

The Western Line and the Northern Line via Strathfield accounted for most of the trains that were overcrowded in the afternoon.

In an attempt to cope with the surging demand, an extra 1500 weekly train services were introduced as part of an overhaul of the rail timetable last month.

However, the increase in services has put more strain on the rail network, reducing the ability to make up time after delays caused by major incidents.

Sydney Trains briefing document leaked early this monthhighlighted the challenges of the new timetable, warning delays to trains were likely to be “cumulative and irrecoverable” during peak hours following incidents.

The Auditor-General’s report has also urged the state’s transport agencies to take steps to stop the loss of revenue from passengers using Opal cards with negative balances to tap off after trips on public transport.

Revenue from unregistered Opal cards with negative balances cannot be recovered unless passengers top-up their cards.

The number of Opal cards with negative balances increased to 776,771 – amounting to $2.6 million owed to the state – in the 12 months to June, from 363,000 ($1.3 million) a year earlier.

And the Auditor-General warned the amount of lost revenue would continue to grow if passengers discard unregistered cards without paying for the remaining negative balances.

Transport for NSW estimates more than 22 million trips were taken by fare-evading passengers across all modes of public transport in the year to June. Of those, 9.7 million were on trains and 9.4 million on buses.

However, the agency estimates the revenue lost from people evading fares has fallen from $120 million in 2012 to $81 million.

The Auditor-General’s report also showed that meeting punctuality targets continues to be a challenge for NSW Trains’ intercity services. Data from Transport for NSW indicated that intercity trains achieved an average punctuality performance of about 89 per cent, which was below the target of 92 per cent.