NIF Concept Image

New Intercity Fleet – what to expect

On-board Wi-Fi and passenger load displays coming to the New Intercity Fleet

Edit: earlier I had indicated that the trains will come in 6+2 and 2+2 sets.  I have now corrected it to show 6+4 and 4+4 sets as per the contract.

It’s been long overdue, but the beloved intercity V sets first introduced in the 70s will soon be replaced by a new shiny fleet of trains — the New Intercity Fleet.

Some of the details have already been publicly announced by Transport for NSW and NSW Trains… but I thought I might as well dive a little further into the contract with the UGL/Mitsubishi/Hyundai Rotem consortium to see what else I can find.

Train consist

Firstly, the train sets are to come in 6 car sets or 4 car sets — a departure from the 4 and 8 car set configuration found in the existing fleet.  According to the contract, the “initial” fleet will consist of:

  • Long trains: 34 long trains consisting of a 4 car and a 6 car unit, and
  • Short trains: 21.5 short trains consisting of a pair of 4 car units

This adds up to 426 cars of the 512 cars announced, in the initial fleet.  This will adequately replace the existing 225 V set cars.

Contract excerpt from the New Intercity Fleet indicating the train formation
The contract specifies the train formation of the New Intercity Fleet (Source: TfNSW)

Passenger seating

The contract specifies that the short train must have the capacity to carry at least 650 seated passengers plus 345 standing passengers.  The long train must be able to carry at least 820 seated passengers and 410 standing passengers.

The contract also requires the passenger seating to “deliver a level of comfort comparable or superior to that offered by the existing TfNSW V-set rolling stock fleet”.

As was announced, the seating will have a 2+2 configuration rather than the unpopular 2+3 configuration found in the current fleet.  Each pair of seats will get at least one USB charging port and a GPO port for charging laptops and other devices.

Seats must have leg room of at least 750mm, with seat width of at least 480mm.

Contract excerpt from the New Intercity Fleet about the seating dimensions
The contract specifies seating configuration, charging ports and seat dimensions on the New Intercity Fleet (Source: TfNSW)

On-board Wi-Fi, again

It’s not the first time that we were promised on-board Wi-Fi on train services.  The Waratah (A-set) trains were initially promised to have Wi-Fi capabilities.

However, the service never eventuated… probably due to the global financial crisis which saw the Reliance Rail consortium requiring financial assistance from the NSW Government.

The New Intercity Fleet contract requires each train to be fitted with Wi-Fi equipment separate from the train’s communication system.  TfNSW will provide the public internet access service.

Contract excerpt from the New Intercity Fleet about the provision of Wi-Fi equipment
The contract specifies that Wi-Fi equipment needs to be installed on the New Intercity Fleet (Source: TfNSW)

Passenger load indicator

In a first on trains in NSW, the new fleet is expected to include a passenger load indicator on each carriage.  The contract specifies that this will be displayed on a bodyside display located on both sides of a car — similar to the destination indicator on the Hunter sets.

Sydney Trains has also been working on similar technology on its existing fleet by calculating the weight of the passengers on board.

This will (hopefully) allow passengers select a less crowded carriage at a glance.

Contract excerpt from the New Intercity Fleet. Trains must have a external bodyside display indicating passenger load on each carriage
The contract specifies that passenger load must be displayed on the bodyside indicator on the New Intercity Fleet (Source: TfNSW)

There’s a lot to go through in the contract… but that’s just some of the interesting bits I found.  If you want to have a read of the contract yourself, they can be found on the Transport for NSW website:

XPT arriving the platform at Central

NSW TrainLink refutes existence of non-binary gender

Update (26th November 2016): NSW TrainLink reached out in regards to the blog post. They agreed that the instruction was “offensive and inappropriate” whilst ensuring me that the “instruction was never followed in practice”.

As I have already updated at the bottom of the page, they’ve removed the instruction from its business rules to reflect their “values of inclusion and non-discrimination”.


Folks who don’t identify as either male or female pay double or denied tickets by regional train company

Well, here’s a bit of a shock.  In this day and age, NSW TrainLink is refusing to sell tickets to people who do not identify solely as male or female.

NSW TrainLink is the Government-owned company which runs intercity and regional transport services in New South Wales.  It operates routes to over 350 destinations by trains and coaches.

In its Business Rules Manual, last updated September 2016, the organisation outlines limitations on its sleeper car product on overnight regional trains.

In order to be eligible to purchase a sleeper berth ticket, the company requires the passenger to identify either as a male or female.

Staff are instructed to refuse the booking or request the passenger pay for two beds if they do not elect a binary gender.

The manual goes on to say that “transsexual is not a ‘gender'”:

If a person refuses to nominate being male or female then staff can either sell the person both berths as sole use in the compartment or refuse the booking. Transsexual is not a ‘gender’ and a berth must not be allocated.


This should not be happening.  Not least that this is a Government-owned organisation where this business rule legitimately exists.

What are people who have a “non-specific” sex on their birth certificate supposed to do?

Given how clearly it’s stated, there is ample grounds for a complaint under the Sexual Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth).  Under the law, NSW TrainLink not only has to recognise the existance of non-binary genders, it must also not discriminate against them.

In fact, in the intersex status factsheet on the AHRC website clearly states that intersex people need to be given fair treatment when getting or using services — including transport services:

Getting or using services – such as services provided by restaurants, shops or entertainment venues, banking and insurance services, services provided by government departments, transport services, professional services like those provided by lawyers, doctors or tradespeople

I’d encourage anyone who feels they are being discriminated against this business rule to lodge a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission.


It’s one thing to segregate passengers by gender, but to refuse to recognise the existence of non-binary gender is outright ridiculous.

smh.

 

NSW TrainLink claims in its business rules that transsexual is not a gender
NSW TrainLink claims in its business rules that transsexual is not a gender
Update (25th November 2016): all references to gender has been removed in the latest version of the manual.  I’m pleased to see NSW TrainLink’s swift response to this.

NSW TrainLink removes non-binary gender restrictions from its business rules
NSW TrainLink removes non-binary gender restrictions from its business rules

Say goodbye uni concession stickers for good

2016 saw the phasing out of concession foils common to uni students around the Greater Sydney region. Students commuting within the Opal-enabled network were no longer given a concession foil sticker.  A student identification card and Concession Opal card would suffice as concession proof on the network.

However, the sticker foil still remained for those of us who wanted to travel on NSW TrainLink’s regional services. As part of the fare rules, students must present their booked ticket with their Tertiary Student Concession Card or ID Card with a valid foil.

According to the Transport for New South Wales website, the tertiary concession foil will be phased out for good next year.  Starting 1st April 2017, tertiary students will have to order a Transport Concession Entitlement Card to prove their concession entitlement when travelling on regional services.

 

Transport Concession Entitlement Card is coming in April 2017 for Tertiary Concession Holders
Transport Concession Entitlement Card is coming in April 2017 for Tertiary Concession Holders

Currently, this card is available to Job Seekers, Approved Centrelink Customers and Ex-Defence with Disability.  More information about the card’s availability will be made available from February 2017.

A_Set_Central_Night_Moving

Don’t stress: bus timetables aren’t being “scrapped”

Timetables are set to become more dynamic with on-demand complementary shuttle services

Yesterday, the Minister for Transport announced that Transport for NSW will trial “on-demand” public transport next year as part of their Future Transport Roadmap. A number of media outlets reported “New South Wales Government to scrap bus timetables” based on initiatives promised to “transform the mass transit network”.

As one would expect, a flurry of fury followed after the announcement. Punters complained of the inability for current buses to stay within their current timetables as it is. How are they to deliver services quality “without a timetable”?

I don’t think the media did a great job at explaining what the plans were. So, let’s break it down. There are two parts to this puzzle:

  1. Timetables are becoming more dynamic
  2. On-demand services are being introduced

The truth is, timetables aren’t going way but are becoming more flexible. There are also additional on-demand services to help make the trip to timetabled services more efficient.

Hub and spoke model

You may have heard of the hub-and-spoke model. That’s where commuters take a short service close to their homes to a major transport hub to reach their final destination.

This reduces the number of low demand, point-to-point services required to get commuters to and from their destinations whilst still maintaining flexible route options.

The challenge with the current system is that spoke services (the short hops between homes and hubs) have long routes within the suburbs to get to as many pick up points as possible. This means that it could take a long time for commuters to get from their home to the hub regardless of whether all the pick up points have passengers.

On-demand spoke services

The on-demand trial that was being mentioned is about improving commuter connections to and from transport hubs. As the Future Transport Roadmap says:

The future of personalised transport will involve customers being able to book flexible, on-demand local services to make first- and last-mile connections to and from mass transit hubs.

Page 41, Future Transport Technology Roadmap 2016

On-demand services would complement existing “spoke” bus routes with routes being optimised for booked demand.

Diagram showing how a hub and spoke model with on-demand services could work
Diagram showing how a hub and spoke model with on-demand services could work

On-demand example:

Imagine the resident living in the middle of the suburbs, around a 15 minute drive from the train station. Currently, the options may be for the resident to drive their car to the station and commute to work. However, parking spots are limited.

Catching a bus is also an option. However, the closest bus stop may be a 10 minute walk away and only runs during peak hours. Worse still, it’s a bus service which is route is long and stops at many locations within the suburb before reaching the train station.

The on-demand public transport model tries to solve this. A commuter can “book” what is effectively a shuttle service between their home and the closest train station in advance. The route and times for this on-demand service will be generated continuously based on who’s booked a service.

Dynamic timetabling in trunk routes

It’s something that Sydney Trains have been doing for years. Despite having seemingly static timetables, Sydney Trains timetables are generated at least once a day to account for things like track work, special events and “operational issues”.

Some bus routes are also brought in especially in time for special events. For example, an example I know well is the Central to Moore Park shuttle during major sporting events.

The promise made in the Future Transport roadmap is that these dynamic timetables will reach more modes of transport (including buses). These timetables will also extend in reach, modelling patterns based on weather, demands based on day of week.

Using the supply/demand insights, develop an algorithm that optimises the timetable for day-of-week, weather and planned/unplanned events

Page 88, Future Transport Technology Roadmap 2016

It’s also about being able to generate new routes and increased frequency when new demands arise. With the Opal data that Transport for NSW has on their hands, they could potentially generate new high demand, point-to-point routes to cater for new businesses opening up or when new developments are built.

Conclusion

Don’t stress: timetables aren’t going away. They remain very important for the operation of transport services.

The good news is that the timetables will likely be adjusted more frequently based on demand on each route at particular times.

On-demand services will likely complement existing spoke services to make them more efficient and convenient for commuters.

Hopefully, this will less crowded services and quicker journey times into the future.

Opal Ticket Barriers

New Opal fares: How I shaved $2 from my work commute

Despite not having to switch modes in my regular commute to work, with the introduction of new Opal fares this week, I thought I’d try to take advantage of the new multi-mode rebate to see if I can shave a few dollars off.

Previously, my work commute involved taking a bus from UNSW Kensington to Town Hall direct (typically, the M50). The distance between these two stops is roughly 5 km — which falls into the 3-8km fare band of $3.50. This single bus trip takes around 30 minutes assuming relatively smooth traffic which is rare nowadays thanks to the light rail construction in the Kensington area.

Instead, I thought I’d break up my trip into a lower fare band bus trip plus a new train trip. Choosing my bus routes carefully, I can see that the 370 bus can take me from UNSW to Green Square station in ~2.6km ($2.10 in fare terms). Changing to a train service from Green Square to Town Hall, I’m charged $2.36 off-peak. Subtract the $2 rebate, and I come out on top: $2.46 one way.

A return trip to work each day would save me $2.08:

Original Route Route Mode Fare
UNSW to nr Town Hall Station M50 Bus $3.50
Total $3.50
New multi-mode route Route Mode Fare
UNSW to Green Square Station 370 Bus $2.10
Green Square to Central T2 Train $2.36
Central to Town Hall Station T1 Train
(Multi-mode rebate) ($2.00)
Total $2.46
New Opal Fares + new route = saving $1.04 one way from UNSW to Town Hall
New Opal Fares + new route = saving $1.04 one way from UNSW to Town Hall

Now, the caveats.  Firstly, the 370 bus can be quite unreliable.  If the bus is on-time, the total journey time is basically the same (± 2 mins) albeit with a bit more walking.  However, buses which are 15 minutes late or don’t show up at all are not uncommon.

Secondly, the cheaper fares only apply for off-peak times.  In my case, applying peak-time train fares, the journey is only 2c cheaper.  That’s probably not worth the extra effort walking through Green Square and Central Stations and potentially missing connections.

So there you have it.  Even if you don’t normally switch modes, you might want to explore various multi-mode route options to see if you can save a few bucks or even save a few minutes in your daily commute.  You never know what you might find!

Note: For the purpose of this blog post, I’m assuming adult Opal fares even though I’m eligible for concession fares.  Fares and any savings would be halved when considering concession fares.

Opal Ticket Barriers

4 things to look out for with the new Opal fares

The Opal fare structure is changing starting next Monday (4th September). Here are 4 facts you need to know about the new Opal fare structure:

1. $2 rebate for switching modes

If you have to transfer between different modes of public transport, you’d know you’re being charged a lot more than someone else travelling the same distance on just one mode of transport.

That’s because Opal calculates fares on distance, but doesn’t carry over the distance when switching modes (e.g. switching from a bus to a train).

To solve this, Opal will introduce a “multi-modal” $2 rebate every time you switch between two different modes of transport. For commuters who have half-priced fares (such as child/youth, concession or seniors), this rebate will be $1 to reflect that fares are also half the price.

2. Weekly travel reward, now 50% off

When Opal was first launched in 2012, a travel reward was added to incentivise users to switch. After 8 journeys per week, subsequent trips made on public transport were free (except for the gate fee at Sydney Airport).

Some commuters took advantage of this quirk by accumulating cheap, pointless journeys early in the week to get free trips later in the week. Opal will now block this quirk by making fares half-price after the first 8 journeys, rather than free.

3. $2 rebate won’t work between Light Rail and Ferry

Due to technical limitations, Opal card users won’t receive a $2 rebate when switching from a ferry to a light rail service. It’s not too much of a problem at the moment as it will only affect commuters who switch between the F4 ferry and the L1 light rail service at Pyrmont Bay.

For commuters in Newcastle, the Stockton ferry is considered a bus for fare calculation purposes and so, are unaffected by this technical limitation.

Opal says the issue will be fixed by the time the CBD and South East Light Rail is completed in 2019, when Circular Quay will become a major ferry/train/light rail interchange.

4. Tap off to get the $2 rebate

It’s more important than ever to tap-off correctly. The multi-modal $2 rebate is only applied if you tap-off correctly on your previous trip.

If you forget, not only will you miss out on the rebate — you’ll be charged a full “default fare” AND your journey might not count towards your 8 journeys per week to get half-priced fares.

A_Set_Central_Night_Moving

Opal CBD Increment: a quick follow up

A few people have written in about the CBD Increment since my blog post went live this morning. As it turns out, this CBD increment is “well documented”… in a 107 page handbook known as the Sydney Trains and NSW Trains Fares and Ticketing Customer Handbook.

I’ve tried looking all afternoon, and cannot find a link from either the Opal website nor on any portion of the Transport for NSW website discussing Opal or fares generally. It is, however, linked to from the Terms and Conditions page about paper tickets.

For those curious, the direct link can be found here. The part you’re looking for is page 74.

Quick summary

Basically, any train trip that traverses through or starts and ends at a CBD station (Central, Town Hall, Wynyard, Circular Quay, Martin Place, Kings Cross, St. James and Museum Stations) will incur an extra 3.21km distance in their trip.

There is one extra caveat though. Regardless of which of the CBD stations you get off at, TfNSW will calculate the end of your trip to a “Gateway Location” based on which line you came from… before adding the extra 3.21km. Let me elaborate:

CBD Gateway Station Table

Gateway Station Travelling via
Wynyard the Sydney Harbour Bridge
Central Redfern Station, or Airport Line
Kings Cross Eastern Suburbs Line

If you’re travelling from Macquarie University to any CBD Station, you will be charged the fare distance from Macquarie University to Wynyard (the Gateway Station for via Sydney Harbour Bridge) plus the extra 3.21km increment.

If you’re travelling from North Sydney to Newtown, you also have to add the increment.  You will be charged the distance fare from North Sydney to Wynyard (the Gateway Station for via Sydney Harbour Bridge) plus the extra 3.21km increment.  In addition, you will pay for Central (the Gateway Station for via Redfern Station) to Newtown.  Note, that the increment is only charged once.

CBDIncrement

The problem

The idea behind the CBD increment is so that periodical tickets (e.g. weekly tickets) can be sold as a “city ticket” meaning passengers can get off any any of the CBD stations with the same ticket.

However, this doesn’t make sense for the Opal system where fares are advertised on a distance basis. It’s misleading and disingenuous to advertise that Opal train fares are based on “track distance” when in fact, it’s based on a psudo-distance hidden away in a 170 page handbook.

A suitable analogy, in my opinion, is a grocer selling apples and oranges at $3.99/kg. However, hidden away in a 107 page handbook, the grocer says that oranges incur an extra 1 kg increment that can be found the aisle that sells milk. Surely, this is considered misleading advertising.

Like the grocer, Opal advertises different fares based on track distance bands with no reference to this psudo-distance calculation. Like the grocer, it hides the CBD increment in a lengthy handbook stored in a part of the website that doesn’t talk about Opal fares. Does this mean that CBD Opal fares constitute as misleading advertising?

While I personally don’t mind to pay extra for travelling through the busy CBD area, I think Transport for NSW needs to be transparent about it.  Fiddling with the distance travelled certainly doesn’t look great.

Just my two cents. Keen to hear people’s thoughts.

A_Set_Central_Night_Moving

Opal secretly adds extra distance to CBD fares

This is why your train fares may be more than you think

Update: we now know how TfNSW calculates this increment… but there are still massive problems.

If you travel to and from a CBD station using an Opal card, Transport for New South Wales (TfNSW) may have been charging you a little extra every time you tap off.

It has been a relatively well kept secret until now, but the final IPART report into public transport fares revealed and recommended the removal of a hidden feature, known as the Opal ‘CBD Increment’. The report states that:

“the ‘CBD increment’ [adds an] extra notional distance to the distance travelled for rail trips that start or finish in the CBD”

Excerpt from IPART final report (Page 13)
Excerpt from IPART final report (Page 13)

I came across this issue after finding inconsistencies with distance calculations when building my Opal calculator, a easy-to-use tool to compare current Opal fares with those set to start in September. To my surprise, after exhaustive research, I’ve been unable to find any mention of this “CBD Increment” on the Opal or TfNSW website.

Even TfNSW doesn’t know this exists…

Reaching out to TfNSW to enquire about this, they seemed just as baffled as I was. After two phone calls, no one thus far has been able to explain to me what this CBD Increment is for, or how much extra distance is being added to each CBD trip. Although, they have promised to escalate my issue and come back to me with more information (this was two weeks ago).

What I know for sure is that this increment does exist. Having tested a few trips myself for research, it appears the distance increment is quite random.

Some affected trips

Here are a number of trips to the CBD which cost more than what you would expect if the fare was based solely on track distance:

CBD Destination From Station Track dist.
(km)
Expected Fare Actual Fare
Town Hall Ashfield 9.6 $3.38 $4.20
Summer Hill 8.3
Artarmon 9.2
Tempe 8.1
Wolli Creek 8.6
Arncliffe 9.8
Turella 9.9
Meadowbank 19.5 $4.20 $4.82
Auburn 19.9
Berala 19.6
Macquarie University 19.9
Macquarie Park 18.7
Turramurra 19.7
Riverwood 18.8
Museum Tempe 7.7 $3.38 $4.20
Arncliffe 9.4
Wynyard Tempe 8.9 $3.38 $4.20
Summer Hill 9.2

Note: these are a small selection of trips selected to test the CBD increment. It is not an exhaustive list of stations which are affected. Track distances are based on track information provided by TfNSW through its Open Data exchange.  Prices listed are Adult peak fares.
Some trips with track distance within the tolerances listed also appear to be unaffected by the CBD increment. I’m unable to to discern a pattern at this point in time.

A trip from Ashfield to Town Hall (a CBD station) has a total track distance of ~9.6 kilometres — just shy of the 10 kilometre fare band which will cost $3.38 for an Adult during peak time. However, when travelling on the train between these two stations, TfNSW charges for the higher 10–20km fare band, costing $4.20.

Will this stay?

Despite IPART’s recommendation, Transport for NSW has not indicated whether or not it will retain the CBD increment when the proposed fare changes come into force in September.

I’m still awaiting a response from TfNSW about my enquiry about this existence of this ‘CBD increment’. Let’s see what they say if and when they respond… I’ll update this post when that happens.