Transportation Deployment Casebook/2018/Sydney Trains


Sydney’s train network has served as the backbone of the region’s socioeconomic development since its birth in 1855. With an underground core, 815km worth of track and 178 stations over 8 metropolitan lines, Sydney Trains has served over 22 billion passengers over its lifetime. Currently there are expansions in place with the Sydney Metro Northwest coming into service in 2024 and plans to connect the proposed Western Sydney Aerotropolis to the network grid in the future[1].

This report seeks to analyse the historic life cycle of Sydney Trains. This would include the context around its first deployment, as well as any major alterations to its network as it adjusts to new market and technological developments. There will then be both qualitative and quantitative analysis, observed against typical growth decline trends present in transport modes. With patronage data over the years, a direct comparison to a logistical three parameter function detailing expected patronages over the years would help identify precise dates of birthing, growth and maturity. A parameter for curve of best fit will then suggest the normality of growth of Sydney Trains, and an explanation as to why the parameter gave such a value will be detailed.


To best understand why the first train network was constructed contextual knowledge is required of technological innovations and market demands, or lack thereof. The modes of transport below give detail to the current outlook of the Greater Sydney area:

Water TransportEdit

Water transport was the most important means of moving goods and people in the early 19th century. The river systems and harbour provided the shell for a thriving market. Since the lands around Sydney Harbour were not arable, people moved upstream in areas of fertility[2]. Small settlements developed in Parramatta and Windsor, with some delving further into the Hawkesbury Nepean river system. Food and crops grown in these areas were then moved downstream to the city[3]. This lead to market development and an establishment of trade. However, water transport in that state was inadequate for day travel due to prolonged travel times. It was cited that upstream Parramatta River from Sydney Harbour to Parramatta took 12 hours, much longer than its scheduled 5-6 hours. That said, with the introduction of the steamboat in 1831[4], , and a thriving community expanding in all directions, coastal shipping opened avenues not only further along the coastal regions (Hunter Valley) but overseas as well. The deep water in Port Jackson and centrality as a hub allowed it to become the largest seaport in the South Pacific. This meant that even with the introduction of the railway mid-19th century, water transport remained a cornerstone of Sydney’s early socioeconomic growth.

Land TransportEdit

Because markets surrounding water transport were thriving, this resulted in a lack of mass demand for land transport. This, plus undeveloped innovations meant that land transport was inferior, and often lagged their aquatic counterparts[5]. Common transport back in the early 19th century was horse-drawn carriages along undeveloped roads. A common stage cart service between Sydney and Richmond was introduced in 1814, for goods and passengers. Imported English stagecoaches were used in the trail between Sydney and Parramatta in 1821. This mode of transport was unreliable, as horse hooves and wooden cart wheels did not travel well on gravel tracks, leading to common occurrences of breakdowns and accidents. This service was not only unreliable but expensive as well. A single fare from Sydney to Bathurst took 23 days and cost 4 pounds. It must be noted that the average labourer generated 5 shillings a week and there are 20 shillings to a pound. This serves to highlight the disparity of price and the high cost of land transportation. The centralisation of Sydney Town meant that most trading of goods had to be conducted within the city. This would mean a need of reliable means to carry goods from the productive Greater Sydney and beyond. Despite the industrialisation of power, a movement from organic means such as donkeys, bullocks and horses fuel sources such as coal and oil, land transport did not see any industrial innovations until the introduction of rail.

Socioeconomic LandscapeEdit

Due to un-arable land around the perimeter of Sydney, people were encouraged to settle away towards along river systems. This, with the semi reliable transport in boats and tugboats meant that most of Sydney’s economy depended on its river system. A relaxation of land restrictions from the Nineteen Counties allowed squatters to herd sheep and cattle away from boundaries. A flourishing trade market lead to the establishment of settlements such as Parramatta and Windsor, urban centres away from the city. In this way, the river system provided the initial skeleton of Sydney’s urban outgrowth. In 1831, The steamship Sophia Jane opened trade with other settlements such as the Hunter Valley, Newcastle, and overseas. A second steamship the Surprise operated between Parramatta and Sydney. The production of fine wool, crops and cattle were the driving forces of Sydney’s economy until the gold rush in 1851.

The RailwayEdit

Trains facilitate for efficient large movements of freight or passengers over a period. Total dominion over their mode of travel (rails) means that trains are very insular in their own network. This allows for reliable forecasts in timetables and optimal exploitation of the rail network. Trains hold the advantage of energy and space efficiency over motor vehicles. Much less energy is required to move per person and much less space is required. Furthermore, trains are much less prone to congestion. However, congestion can be caused by a strong influx of passengers. This would increase unloading and offloading times thereby slowly trains down. Timetables are rigid, and, when timetables are allocated in such a way that can ill afford delays, repercussions are felt on other lines. This would create conflict of schedule resulting in mass delays and a timetable that is permanently behind schedule.

The first railway planning commenced in the 1840’s, with the goal of connecting the port in Sydney with the inland settlement of Goulbourn. Stage one was built by the Sydney Tramroad and Railway Company from 1850-1855, with operations commencing on the 26th September 1855. This track ran between Sydney and Parramatta, with intermediate stations at Newtown, Ashfield, Burwood and Homebush[6].

The purpose of the railway was to provide a means of wholescale movement of goods from urban centres to the city. As carts were unreliable and steamships limited in areas of access, the railway had a strong niche in the market. A secondary market of trafficking people was not fully embraced until the 1890 with the first civilian only railway (North Shore). The railway led to a geographical change in Sydney’s development. It saw a redistribution of its population along the rail line, attracting hotspots around intermediate stations. With expansions to Penrith (1862), Campbelltown (1858) and Richmond (1864), Sydney’s train network provided a skeleton that was fleshed out by its population. The relics of this trend remain to this day. The initial goals for the government was to reduce the capital costs of railways as it became clear how much positive impact it had on Sydney’s economy. Most of the track and stock had to be imported from England but by the 1880’s they were built locally. This lead to a rapid expansion of lines that delved deeper into the hinterlands.

The building of the first railway required the integration of building blocks and present innovations. Below is a list of innovations that went into the construction of early railways:

  • Steam technology
  • Standards in gauges
  • Blacksmithing
  • Real estate
  • Market planning

From the offset all locomotives were operating with steam engines. Apart from steamships, steam technology had yet to be embraced by Sydneysiders. Land transport were organically powered by animal hauls and cars were yet to develop. Furthermore, the use of tracks allowed trains to have total dominion over their mode of travel. Tracks were also far more reliable than dirt tracks and well catered for heavy load distribution. This meant that trains were more reliable and carried more freight than steamboats and carts. The innovation of the electric motor, and initial implementation by England, saw its trend sweep by Sydney.

Growth CycleEdit

As with all other transport modes, the Sydney railway system experienced its own growth cycle in its 163 years in service. This growth cycle can be broken down into three phases; the birth phase, growth phase and maturity phase. This section of the report seeks to correlate the development of its infrastructure and policy changes with attributes typical in each phase. An estimation of the affixed dates will be given. However, this will be quantitatively explored later in the report.

Birthing PhaseEdit

The first proposals for a railway line emerged in 1841. However, it was not until the surveyor’s report released on 24th January 1848 where prospect of a long-distance railway came to fruition. Here, the report details the aim of assisting farmers and herders move their produce to the port in Sydney. Furthermore, an extended railway line would allow access to much of the unexplored country for settlement. Thus, under the project guidance of Sydney Tramroad and Railway Company, construction commenced in 1949. During this phase, the first effects of birthing are evident. The lack of government policy on railroad building, whether by gauge standards or sleeper distances resulted in numerous delays and changes in scope. One such example was the changing of gauge from Irish standards (1.6m in width) to English Standard gauge (1.44m in width) midway through the project[7]. This, and the constant changing of engineers and under-capitalisation meant that the company became increasingly dependent on the colonial government for funds. This lead to the purchase of the now Sydney Railway Company to the government on the 3rd September 1955. Such events occurring during birthing phases are common. Due to the lack of experience in harnessing new technologies, mistakes in planning and foresight are to be expected.

Further issues were experienced due to poor planning. The central terminus station was built on the periphery of the city. This meant that horse drawn buses and cabs had to fulfil the “last mile” transport demand to and from the popular sea port Circular Quay. Engineer John Whitton identified the extension of the terminus to within the confines of the city as a key priority in future projects. His proposal included a station site located on St James Church, Hyde Park, to the irritation of many residents. Despite setbacks, the first service departed the terminus “twenty past eleven” on September 26th, 1855.

A second proposed line was to connect the settlements over the Great Dividing Range to Sydney. However slow construction and high costs tarnished the success of the project. Given the forecast of railways yet to be constructed, it became government policy to reduce the capital costs of each project. At this point, most of the sleepers and tracks were imported overseas from England. To reduce costs, government initiatives targeted the development of infrastructure to build railway components. This resulted in most railway components becoming locally sourced by the 1880’s.

The re-election of Henry Parkes as Premier on May 1872 saw a revitalisation of optimism for the rail network. He with his secretary for Public Works James Sutherland recognised railways as crucial to transforming the social and economic landscape of the community. Railways would give access to land for settlement[8]. Revenue will be generated by the sale of these lands. The focus of the colonial government at this point was still freight lines to large inland colonies. As of March 1881, there was a line to:

  • Goulbourn (220km)
  • Blue Mountains/ Raglan (215km)
  • Blacktown to Richmond (26km)
  • Northern line connecting to the Hunter Valley and Newcastle (168km)

Growth PhaseEdit

The adoption of the suburban market is a clear sign of growth. This market niche was realised as city-based developers put pressure for potential new suburban lines. It must be said that at this point all railway works were carried out and maintained by the colonial government. However due to rural interests the proposals for suburban lines were rejected. This changed in the economic depression in 1889, drawing economic balance away from rural towns to the city. The first suburban only railway line was tendered for in 1887; a line from Hornsby to Milsons Point. Services opened from Hornsby to St Leonards leg on 1 January 1890 and the final leg to Milsons Point opened on 1 May 1893.

The population boom from the Gold Rush, an increase in population to 500 000 by 1890, and change in economic landscape saw a boon in suburban railways. Since most residents resided in suburbs with rail lines, focus was on the expansion of existing lines branching out to other suburban areas. Because of this, the following rail lines were completed in quick succession:

  • Illawarra line from Redfern to Kiama. First section to Hurstville 15 October 1884 and section to Waterfall 9 March 1886
  • Bankstown Line from Sydenham and Belmore 1 February 1895[9]
  • Private line from Clyde Junction to Rosehill 17 November 1888 and extended to Carlingford 1 August 1901.

Furthermore, innovations on the commuter travel saw an import of saloon like carriages from America in 1877. Over the next 50 years, 9 different suppliers generated 659 of these carriages to service the railway.

This boon in suburban travel generated issues on the network. Since the rail line caters for freight and suburban trains, measures had to be taken to improve the efficiency of flow on these lines. Glebe Island was proposed as a hub for shipping and rail operations facilities and a double track goods line from Summer Bay to White Bay and Rozelle. As such below gives details to the works involved:

  • Metro Goods line from Flemington to Campsie (11 May 1916)
  • Abattoirs branch line from Pippita (31 May 1911)[10]
  • Dulwich Hill to Glebe Island/ Rozelle (25 May 1916)
  • Locomotive depot and marshalling yards Enfield (23 January 1923)
  • Rozelle to Darling Harbour (23 January 1922)

The early 1920’s saw the latest in train innovation; the electric train. These provided marginal improvements to travel times but were seen in a marketed as a step forward for the railway network. Adapted from America, the first electrified service, from Central to Oatley opened in 1 March 1926 and further developments occurred in the City Loop from Museum to St James.

Maturity PhaseEdit

Due to the war effort progress on rail lines stagnated for much of the late 20th century. Electrification was still being carried out to all suburban lines and there were few proposals suggesting an expansion of the current system. The boundaries for electrification extended to the outskirts of the metropolitan area; to:

  • Bowenfowls, June 1957
  • Gosford, January 1960
  • Wollongong, February 1986
  • Kiama, November 2001

The most significant improvements in the rail system came from innovations leading to more efficient use of space and power. Whilst the first electrification of the system came in 1926, by 1950, technology has advanced to the point where the antiquated facilities was no longer sufficient in handling the increase in demand. Most of the system had to be upgraded.

Furthermore, the double decker U fleet was introduced in 1969. These provided an improvement in carrying capacities over single deckers, thereby allowing more commuters to be moved per train. Upgrades to the City Loop improved the recycling of trains from one suburban line to the next. This was important due to the radial cycling nature of Sydney’s train system. Trains are now able to continue services immediately after termination.

Regeneration of the Growth CycleEdit

Australia was in an economic recession from 1970-1975. This lead to a high unemployment rate and an increase in inflation. As people lost their work, transport systems such as the rail line became under burdened, and significant loss in commuter travel was experienced. However, 1972 saw the reform of management structure, an egalitarian movement for the railway that challenges the status markers and class distinctions of traditional organisations (as per transport heritage NSW). This would be a period of perpetual change, from the Public Transport Commission to the State Rail authority and finally the Railway Corporation of NSW (RailCorp)[11]. Logistics operations have now been separated from infrastructure and trackwork and freight services have been privatised. This and government policy to streamline and cut excessive spending lowered fare prices, such that commuters were encouraged to travel by train again. The reformation of governing bodies and expansions of the rail network have reinvigorated the network. Expansions in this time are as follows:

  • Eastern Suburbs Railway (1979)
  • East Hills to Glenfield (1987)
  • Cumberland services from Campbelltown to Blacktown (1996)
  • Olympic Park Circuit (1998)
  • Sydney Airport Line (2000)
  • Epping to Chatswood (2009)
  • South West Rail Link (2015)

With future projects under construction such as the Sydney Metro Northwest and Sydney Metro CBD, the network has yet to mature, and demand is set to increase for the foreseeable future. This is evidenced by spikes in train patronage in 2015, and a trend increasing commuters each year.

Quantitative AnalysisEdit

The data below details the annual patronage of passengers on Sydney’s trains over its initial 161-year lifespan. Data begins at 1855 and ends in 2016.

Year Annual Patronage (millions) Predicted Patronage (millions)
1855 0 3.74
1856 0 3.90
1857 0 4.07
1858 0 4.24
1859 0 4.42
1860 0 4.61
1861 0 4.81
1862 0 5.01
1863 0 5.23
1864 0 5.45
1865 0 5.68
1866 0 5.92
1867 0 6.17
1868 0 6.44
1869 0 6.71
1870 0 6.99
1871 1 7.29
1872 1 7.60
1873 2 7.92
1874 2 8.25
1875 3 8.60
1876 3.3 8.97
1877 3.7 9.34
1878 4.1 9.74
1879 4.5 10.15
1880 5 10.57
1881 5.3 11.02
1882 5.7 11.48
1883 6.1 11.96
1884 6.5 12.46
1885 7 12.98
1886 7.4 13.52
1887 7.7 14.08
1888 8.1 14.67
1889 8.6 15.27
1890 9 15.91
1891 9.5 16.56
1892 10.1 17.25
1893 10.7 17.96
1894 11.3 18.70
1895 12 19.46
1896 13 20.26
1897 14.1 21.09
1898 15.3 21.95
1899 16.6 22.84
1900 18 23.77
1901 19.9 24.73
1902 22.1 25.73
1903 24.5 26.76
1904 27.1 27.83
1905 30 28.95
1906 32.2 30.10
1907 34.6 31.30
1908 37.2 32.54
1909 40 33.82
1910 43 35.15
1911 48.3 36.53
1912 54.3 37.95
1913 61 39.43
1914 68.3 40.95
1915 77 42.53
1916 81.6 44.16
1917 86.5 45.84
1918 91.7 47.58
1919 97.2 49.38
1920 103 51.24
1921 105.8 53.15
1922 108.8 55.12
1923 111.8 57.16
1924 114.8 59.25
1925 118 61.41
1926 121.4 63.64
1927 124.9 65.93
1928 128.5 68.28
1929 132.2 70.70
1930 136 73.18
1931 138.7 75.74
1932 141.4 78.36
1933 144.2 81.05
1934 147.1 83.80
1935 150 86.62
1936 153.8 89.52
1937 157.7 92.47
1938 161.7 95.50
1939 165.8 98.59
1940 170 101.75
1941 180.4 104.98
1942 191.5 108.27
1943 203.3 111.62
1944 215.8 115.03
1945 229 118.51
1946 232.1 122.04
1947 235.3 125.63
1948 238.5 129.28
1949 241.7 132.98
1950 245 136.74
1951 249.1 140.54
1952 253.2 144.39
1953 257.4 148.28
1954 261.7 152.21
1955 266 156.19
1956 263.5 160.19
1957 260.9 164.23
1958 258.4 168.30
1959 256 172.40
1960 252.5 176.51
1961 252.7 180.65
1962 257.8 184.80
1963 263.8 188.96
1964 261.7 193.13
1965 257.6 197.30
1966 255.3 201.47
1967 253.3 205.64
1968 248.5 209.80
1969 252.6 213.95
1970 254.8 218.09
1971 230.7 222.21
1972 201.2 226.30
1973 198.5 230.38
1974 190.9 234.42
1975 179.5 238.43
1976 181.1 242.41
1977 180 246.35
1978 179 250.24
1979 204.9 254.10
1980 207.8 257.91
1981 216 261.66
1982 202.9 265.37
1983 198.9 269.03
1984 197 272.63
1985 214.9 276.17
1986 220.6 279.65
1987 242.6 283.07
1988 246.1 286.43
1989 248.4 289.73
1990 251.6 292.96
1991 243.8 296.13
1992 229.8 299.23
1993 234.8 302.26
1994 249.6 305.23
1995 256.4 308.13
1996 264.7 310.96
1997 266.5 313.73
1998 270.5 316.42
1999 278.7 319.05
2000 293.1 321.61
2001 267.1 324.10
2002 263.7 326.53
2003 263.6 328.89
2004 259.9 331.19
2005 261.9 333.42
2006 269 335.59
2007 283.3 337.69
2008 292.2 339.73
2009 289.1 341.72
2010 294.5 343.64
2011 303.5 345.50
2012 306.2 347.30
2013 315.1 349.05
2014 326.5 350.74
2015 361.1 352.38
2016 385.9 353.96

A three-parameter logistic function is used to normalise Sydney Trains. This is expressed as:

S(t)=K/(1+e^((-b(t-t_0 )) ) )


  • K = saturation status level
  • b = coefficient of independent variable X in the linear regression model
  • t = time
  • t0 = inflection time

A linear regression model is used to estimate K, b and t0. Equations used are:

  • Y=bX+c
  • Y=LN((Annual Patronage )/(K-Annual Patronage))

With the use of excel, variable values of K were used to find the best estimate. The definition of least squares was used to find the K of best fit (defined by Rsquared). The closer Rsquared was to 1, the better the statistical model. The table below is a summary of variables derived.

Variable Value
K 395.1
b 0.04225
Rsquared 0.8366
t0 1965.06

From here a predictive trendline of patronage could be predicted. A graph of the actual patronage against predicted is shown below.

S CurveEdit

Annual Patronage of Sydney Trains over its lifespan

The saturation status K level is predicted to be close to actual values gathered by Transport for NSW. The logistic function considers the entire lifespan of the system, thereby attempting to normalise unusual trends and outliers. A Rsquared value of 0.8366 suggests a mediocre fit to curve. This is due to the unusual growth trends from 1970 onwards. The post maturation phase, a regeneration of the growth curve, does not fit in with standard S curves. By omitting data from 1955 onwards, a Rsquared value of 0.976 is generated. Sydney trains was approaching a state of maturation before reform and privatisation of its freight sector breathed new life into the system. A better method would be to separate the lifespan of Sydney Trains into 2 eras, pre and post reform. The three-parameter logistic function is suitable pre reform whilst a logarithmic function with a new gradient A is recommended post reform.

Analysing the S curve and datapoints above gives affixed dates for each phase in the growth cycle.

Phase Year
Birth 1855
Growth 1910
Maturity 1955
Regeneration of Growth 1975-


  6. Dictionary of Sydney, Shaping the City and its Commerce,
  8. R Lee, Colonial Engineer: John Whitton 1819–1898 and the Building of Australia's Railways (Sydney: Australian Railway Historical Society, 2000), 217
  10. Neville Pollard, 'The Story of the Abattoirs Line', Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, 36, no 571–2 (May–June 1985)