Transportation Deployment Casebook/2018/Sydney and Intercity Rail

The Current NetworkEdit

New South Wales passenger rail is largely served by the Sydney Trains network and the NSW TrainLink intercity line. The Sydney Trains network provides passenger rail services in the Sydney metropolitan area. It is bounded by Berowra, Emu Plains, Macarthur and Waterfall[1]. The NSW TrainLink intercity line extends these services to the Hunter, Central Coast, Blue Mountains, Southern Highlands and South Coast regions[2].

The network forms an integral component of the New South Wales public transport network. There are over 1 million customer journeys per weekday on the Sydney Trains network[2], showing the high capacity that this mode offers. As a transport mode, rail has the advantage of operating on a separate network, unlike cars and buses which are required to share roads. Hence, it does not have to compete for space that can be limited by congestion, especially in a highly populated area such as Sydney. Although it does not serve more than one mode, the rail lines serve more than one market: passenger services and freight services. Hence, Sydney Trains is required to work collaboratively with freight operators to minimise the impact of freight operations on passenger rail services[1].

A map of the Sydney Trains network is shown in Figure 1 and the intercity network is shown in Figure 2. The structure of the network shows that there is a central hub in the Sydney Central Business District (CBD). This illustrates the connectivity that the network provides for Sydney and how it increases accessibility to the greater Sydney regions, facilitating economic growth. Sydney Trains is responsible for operating and maintaining the Sydney Trains network, as well as maintenance of a large proportion of the NSW TrainLink intercity line infrastructure. These are controlled by Transport for NSW; the lead agency for transport within New South Wales that is responsible for coordination of transport policy, allocation of funding, and planning[3].

Transport in NSW Before RailEdit

One of the earliest forms of transport in New South Wales was water transport[4]. In the early 1850s river transport played an important role in inland economic development and settlement.  The gold rushes throughout this period caused a large growth in urban population. Inland settlers depended almost entirely on steamers to transport everything required for successful land occupation. The alternative was road transport; however, the condition of roads was very poor during this time. District councils failed to manage local roads in their area[5]. Additionally, road transport during this period was expensive and time consuming[6]. For example, horse-drawn mail carts in 1841 took six days to travel from Sydney to Bathurst and back. Heavy hauling work was especially expensive due to the high cost of carts needed to transport the loads. Using roads for public transport was not as popular; the bad road conditions reduced comfort on long distance trips, and it was not very affordable as the daily fare highly exceeded a skilled labourer’s weekly wage[7].

Therefore, river transport was the main mode for supplying towns with their needs, and to carry wool and other products of the surrounding land for trade[6]. However, the supply of navigable rivers decreased further inland which made agriculture difficult in these areas due to the lack of access to the market. With the difficulty involved in road transport, development to these inland regions was constrained[8]. Hence, there was a need for transport networks that could service goods transport to and from inland regions of Sydney.

Technology DevelopmentEdit


The first locomotives on the railways used steam engines. These continued to be used for around a century until diesel-electric locomotives began to take over in the 1950s[9]. This new technology had the advantage of lowering operating costs. Steam had a lower range, required more labour to maintain and run the locomotives, and needed large supplies of water. Early NSW locomotives were of British designs due to the limited local industrial capacity and the English background of railway administrators. Although American locomotives were imported in the 1870s, when the design for NSW locomotives was developed in 1889, British design principles were followed[8].


Electric carriages were strongly influenced by North American Practice. The first public electric train on 1 March 1926 stimulated development of the Sydney electric fleet. In 1969 the first double-deck electric train entered service. The advantage that this had over single-deck trains was the ability to double the number of passengers carried for the same length, which decreased the need for upgrades to station infrastructure to increase capacity of existing lines. By 1992 the entire suburban network used double-deck trains[8].


Being a large-scale network, the railways required effective communication systems for efficient operations and safe working of trains. The lack of manoeuvrability of tracks means that signalling is an important part of the operations in rail. This is combined with clear rules and regulations so that train crews know when sections of the track are available, and when they can safely proceed to the next signal. Initially, railway junctions were worked with mechanical levers and signals were operated with foot stirrups. Improvements in this system came in 1910 when automatic electro-pneumatic signals and junctions were first introduced in Sydney Railway Yard. Fully electrified signalling systems first came into use in 1937 in Newcastle, and were later applied on the Cronulla line in 1939. These systems required a form of communication which was done by telegrams in the early years, and telephone-based train control systems after that. From the 1960s the signals, junctions, and the train movements were controlled by computers through centralised train control systems [8].

Another important part of communication is customer information systems. The first forms of public timetables were prints in book form and large sheets in the railway printing office. Providing regular service and creating timetables were enabled by the standardisation of time. Goods sheds and parcel offices displayed rates for different categories of goods and parcels. Additionally, changes to the timetable and rates were publicised in newspapers. Larger stations featured train arrival and departure boards which were initially manually operated. In 1981 this was replaced by computer-based train information systems[8].

Modelling and Defining the Lifecycle PhasesEdit

The lifecycle of Sydney and Intercity rail can be defined through modelling the growth of annual patronage on the network with S-curves. Data for this was obtained from the birth of the mode in 1855 to 2016 and is displayed in Table 1. The data was collected through a table in the Bureau of Transport Statistics 2014 Train Statistics report (pg. 82) for the years 1855 – 2012 and from a graph of historical patronage on the Transport for NSW website for the years 2013-2016. These were derived from ticket sales information, as well as OPAL card data post-2013, including estimates for passengers travelling without a ticket[10].

Table 1: Patronage on Sydney and Intercity Rail for 1855-2016
Year Patronage
1855 0
1856 0
1857 0
1858 0
1859 0
1860 0
1861 0
1862 0
1863 0
1864 0
1865 0
1866 0
1867 0
1868 0
1869 0
1870 0
1871 1
1872 1
1873 2
1874 2
1875 3
1876 3.3
1877 3.7
1878 4.1
1879 4.5
1880 5
1881 5.3
1882 5.7
1883 6.1
1884 6.5
1885 7
1886 7.4
1887 7.7
1888 8.1
1889 8.6
1890 9
1891 9.5
1892 10.1
1893 10.7
1894 11.3
1895 12
1896 13
1897 14.1
1898 15.3
1899 16.6
1900 18
1901 19.9
1902 22.1
1903 24.5
1904 27.1
1905 30
1906 32.2
1907 34.6
1908 37.2
1909 40
1910 43
1911 48.3
1912 54.3
1913 61
1914 68.5
1915 77
1916 81.6
1917 86.5
1918 91.7
1919 97.2
1920 103
1921 105.8
1922 108.8
1923 111.8
1924 114.8
1925 118.8
1926 121.4
1927 124.9
1928 128.5
1929 132.2
1930 136
1931 138.7
1932 141.4
1933 144.2
1934 147.1
1935 150
1936 153.8
1937 157.7
1938 161.7
1939 165.8
1940 170
1941 180.4
1942 191.5
1943 203.3
1944 215.8
1945 229
1946 232.1
1947 235.3
1948 238.5
1949 241.7
1950 245
1951 249.1
1952 253.2
1953 257.4
1954 261.7
1955 266
1956 263.5
1957 260.9
1958 258.4
1959 256
1960 253.5
1961 252.7
1962 257.8
1963 263.8
1964 261.7
1965 257.6
1966 255.3
1967 253.3
1968 248.5
1969 251.6
1970 254.8
1971 230.7
1972 201.2
1973 198.5
1974 190.9
1975 179.5
1976 181.1
1977 180
1978 179
1979 204.9
1980 207.8
1981 216
1982 202.9
1983 198.9
1984 197
1985 214.9
1986 220.6
1987 242.6
1988 246.1
1989 248.4
1990 251.6
1991 243.8
1992 229.8
1993 234.8
1994 249.6
1995 256.4
1996 264.7
1997 266.5
1998 270.5
1999 278.7
2000 293.1
2001 267.1
2002 263.7
2003 263.6
2004 259.9
2005 261.9
2006 269
2007 283.3
2008 292.2
2009 289.1
2010 294.5
2011 303.5
2012 306.2
2013 315.1
2014 326.4
2015 361.1
2016 385.9

A three-parameter logistic function was used to model an S-curve for the data. The equation of this was S(t) = K/[1+exp(-b(t-t0)], where:

  • S(t) is the status measure, i.e. the patronage
  • K is saturation status level
  • t is time, i.e. the year
  • t0 is the inflection time (year in which 1/2 K is achieved)
  • b is a coefficient

To estimate this model, the equation was rearranged to find K, b and t0 with a single variable linear regression. Since the saturation patronage was unknown, several iterations for K were done to find the curve of best fit. The values of the parameters are displayed in Table 2.

Table 2: S-curve parameter values for years 1855-2016
K b t0
395 0.0422 1965
Figure 3: The acutal and predicted patronage on Sydney and Intercity rail for 1855-2016

Although this curve had the highest R-squared value of 0.836, a K-value of 395 did not fit the data very well. This is displayed in Figure 3, with the data for the graph shown in Table 3. Inaccuracies are evident in the inability of the model to predict the decline in passengers after 1955 and the subsequent regeneration of growth. The model has underestimated the recent growth and has incorrectly predicted the rate as currently slowing down. Like other mathematic models, an S-curve cannot accurately predict changes in the social, political and economic environment that can affect the deployment of a mode.

Table 3: Patronage on Sydney and Intercity Rail for 1855-2016
Year Patronage (millions)
1855 3.740182
1856 3.900023
1857 4.066623
1858 4.240263
1859 4.421234
1860 4.609837
1861 4.806386
1862 5.011208
1863 5.224642
1864 5.447039
1865 5.678764
1866 5.920198
1867 6.171734
1868 6.43378
1869 6.706761
1870 6.991115
1871 7.287299
1872 7.595786
1873 7.917064
1874 8.251643
1875 8.600046
1876 8.962819
1877 9.340524
1878 9.733746
1879 10.14309
1880 10.56917
1881 11.01263
1882 11.47415
1883 11.95441
1884 12.45412
1885 12.97401
1886 13.51483
1887 14.07737
1888 14.66242
1889 15.27081
1890 15.90339
1891 16.56103
1892 17.24462
1893 17.9551
1894 18.6934
1895 19.46049
1896 20.25736
1897 21.08503
1898 21.94453
1899 22.83693
1900 23.76331
1901 24.72477
1902 25.72244
1903 26.75745
1904 27.83097
1905 28.94418
1906 30.09825
1907 31.29441
1908 32.53387
1909 33.81785
1910 35.1476
1911 36.52433
1912 37.94931
1913 39.42377
1914 40.94894
1915 42.52606
1916 44.15634
1917 45.84098
1918 47.58119
1919 49.3781
1920 51.23287
1921 53.14659
1922 55.12034
1923 57.15512
1924 59.25192
1925 61.41165
1926 63.63518
1927 65.92331
1928 68.27675
1929 70.69615
1930 73.18208
1931 75.735
1932 78.35529
1933 81.04322
1934 83.79894
1935 86.6225
1936 89.51383
1937 92.47272
1938 95.49883
1939 98.59168
1940 101.7507
1941 104.975
1942 108.2638
1943 111.6159
1944 115.0302
1945 118.5052
1946 122.0395
1947 125.6312
1948 129.2786
1949 132.9795
1950 136.7319
1951 140.5333
1952 144.3813
1953 148.2733
1954 152.2064
1955 156.1778
1956 160.1844
1957 164.2231
1958 168.2906
1959 172.3836
1960 176.4986
1961 180.6321
1962 184.7805
1963 188.9401
1964 193.1073
1965 197.2784
1966 201.4497
1967 205.6174
1968 209.7778
1969 213.9272
1970 218.0621
1971 222.1787
1972 226.2736
1973 230.3434
1974 234.3846
1975 238.3939
1976 242.3684
1977 246.3047
1978 250.2002
1979 254.0519
1980 257.8573
1981 261.6138
1982 265.319
1983 268.9709
1984 272.5673
1985 276.1063
1986 279.5863
1987 283.0056
1988 286.3629
1989 289.6569
1990 292.8866
1991 296.051
1992 299.1493
1993 302.1809
1994 305.1454
1995 308.0422
1996 310.8714
1997 313.6327
1998 316.3262
1999 318.952
2000 321.5105
2001 324.0019
2002 326.4268
2003 328.7856
2004 331.0791
2005 333.3079
2006 335.4728
2007 337.5748
2008 339.6146
2009 341.5933
2010 343.512
2011 345.3715
2012 347.1732
2013 348.918
2014 350.6072
2015 352.2419
2016 353.8233
Figure 4: Acutal and predicted patronage modelled for 1855-1970

Hence, these results suggest that the lifecycle of Sydney and Intercity rail did not go through the regular birth, growth, maturity phase progression that is modelled by an S-curve. Rather, it shows that the data would be more accurately modelled through dividing the lifecycle into stages. Dates were affixed to these stages by looking at the shape of the curve for the actual patronage (seen in Figure 3) and analysing the data to observe changes such as acceleration in growth and points of inflection (e.g. change from increase to decrease). Additionally, an S-curve was modelled for the section of the data prior to the decline to assist in defining the birth, growth, and maturity phases. K was taken as 266 as this was the peak patronage for the period. This fit the data much better with an R-squared value of 0.906 showing that accuracy in modelling this section was increased by separating the data. However, this was not the curve of best fit. A K-value of 284 improved the fit to the data with a high R-squared value of 0.981. The parameters for both K-values are shown in Table 4 and a graph showing both models is displayed in Figure 4. The model for K-value 284 suggests that without the decline in lifecycle, the maturity phase would have spanned over a longer period.

Table 4: S-curve parameter values for years 1855-1970
K b t0
266 0.0952 1926
284 0.0808 1931

The dates determined for birth, growth, maturity, decline, and regeneration of growth are displayed in Table 5. Analysis of these dates with the development of the railways and the social, economic, and political influences will assist in understanding the reason for these phases in the lifecycle.

Table 5: Estimation of the Lifecycle Phases
Birth Growth Maturity Decline Regeneration
1855-1894 1895-1955 1956-1970 1971-1978 1979-2016

Major Events and Policies Through the Phases of the LifecycleEdit


The Rural MarketEdit

Initially the dominant market for Sydney’s railways was goods transport from rural areas. Railways were required inland to facilitate in the growth of the local and regional economy and industries through providing cheap and efficient transport, allowing access to larger markets and enabling export through the port of Sydney[11]. Although the population of residents in urban areas was growing, the value that colonial politics placed on rural interests meant that improving transport for metropolitan passenger transport was a lesser priority[12].

Construction, Expansion, and the Development of the Urban MarketEdit

Construction of the first railway track in New South Wales began in 1849. The line serviced passengers from Sydney to Paramatta. While initially the project was managed by the Sydney Railway Company[9], it was eventually turned over to the government on 3 September 1855 due to under-capitalisation and escalation of costs from changes in scope[12]. The line opened on 26 September 1855 including four intermediate stations located along the line at Newtown, Ashfield, Burwood and Homebush[13]. Both terminals for the line were initially temporary stations to reduce the capital cost of the railway as a priority of the government[12].

There was a boom in railway expansion during the 1860s, prompted by the economic wealth generated by the farming and pastoral industries. Rural railways were extended from Sydney across the Blue Mountains to Bathurst and across the Southern Highlands to Goulburn[13]. The pastoral industry was established in 1815 and dominated the Australian economy by 1830. Due to this position they became the dominant political force in nineteenth century colonial New South Wales, giving them the power to shape railway policy. However, the political landscape changed in the 1890s due to the rapid increase in urban populations and the economic depression[8].

Railways resulted in a dramatic increase in Sydney’s population[14]. For example, the development of suburbs in a linear fashion along main lines to Liverpool and Penrith enabled a doubling of the city’s population in 1880, relative to 1855. Urban growth was stimulated along the main rail corridors[8], which pressed for the need for the construction of new suburban passenger lines[12]. Initially proposals from city-based land developers were rejected by the NSW Parliament due to powerful rural interests including the pastoral industry. However, Henry Parkes became premier in 1887, leading to the approval of the construction of a North Shore Line from Hornsby to St Leonards. This ministry saw the value of railways in transforming the social and economic landscape of the colony through stimulating development in areas that previously lacked accessibility[12].

The line was opened on 1 January 1890, followed by the first section of the Bankstown Line in 1895. Development of rail for metropolitan passengers began to overtake the goods transport market during this period due to the previously mentioned economic depression as well as a decade of severe drought, and as a result, Sydney’s suburban rail network expanded dramatically[13]. The effect of the lines on land development is evidenced by the boom in land sales in the North Shore estates in the mid-1890s resulting in a rapid increase in population[14].

Setting Freight RatesEdit

The Department of Public Works was established in 1859. This administrative structure aimed to ensure wise investment of public funds to enable the railways to serve public interests. Railway administrators were required to make decisions on political interests such as discriminatory freight rates to favour particular industries or localities. Setting rates and fares was an important task due the common carrier nature of the railways, a policy derived from the inland water transport. Due to the economic dominance and therefore political power of the pastoral industry, the early days featured favourable rates for the carriage of wool. By the 1890s the setting of differential freight rates led to increased centralisation of industry in Sydney, as city-based manufacturers could send their products to regional centres at competitive prices[8].

Reform of Rail ManagementEdit

Parkes introduced railway reform bills in 1888 in an effort to increase the service of railways for the public need and reduce the influence of political interests. The two Acts that were introduced reassigned management of the railways to more competent administrators; this separated the tasks of planning and constructing railways away from the existing management network. This meant that instead of decisions being made through discussions among politicians, the Parliamentary Committee on Public Works held public enquiries to assess the viability of new proposals[8].


Development of the City UndergroundEdit

Suggestions for moving the Sydney terminal and extending railways into the city came as early as 1857[15]. Without the railway, horse-drawn buses and cabs were required to transport passengers through the city to Circular Quay due to the terminal being located on the periphery of the city[12]. Between 1908 and 1909, the Royal Commission on Communication between Sydney and North Sydney, and the Royal Commission on City Improvements, presented plans for a Sydney Harbour crossing and the construction of an extended railway network through an underground railway loop. John Job Crew Bradfield was appointed chief engineer of the project in 1914. The project was accelerated by the government passing the City and Suburban Electric Railway Bill in the following year, displaying the focus of government policies on metropolitan development. In 1926 the first section was opened, between Central and St James, and the whole loop was completed in 1956[15].  

The Start of ElectrificationEdit

Electrification of the network was required for the construction of the loop, which led to plans for electrifying the rest of the rail network. Electrification was necessary because firstly, the old and heavy steam trains were competing with electric trams in Sydney by 1911, and secondly, slow steam trains were put under pressure from the expanding suburban area and growing patronage[16]. The first electric trains ran on the Illawarra Line in 1926[13]. This was the start of modernisation of the network as the new trains offered higher speeds and longer trains compared to steam. Electrification offered improvements to the North Shore line especially, as steam locomotives struggled to maintain schedules on the steep grades along the line[14].The process of converting lines for electric trains continued throughout the growth phase.

Competition from RoadsEdit

The 1920s saw the expansion of road transport. This presented competition for goods and passenger traffic for railways as automobiles offered private transportation, and private motor lorries and buses were able to use the public roads free of charge. Public funds were increasingly allocated to road construction instead of railways with the 1924 Bill for improvement of the road transport system and its management. In 1927, the Commissioner for Railways asked the government to consider equity in the market, reasoning that the competition caused losses in operation which resulted in burdens for State taxpayers. With the worsening of the situation through the onset of the Great Depression, in 1932 railway administrators and politicians introduced legislation that placed road tax on carriers that operated in direct competition with railways. However, this was abolished in 1973. This illustrates the ability of legislation to alter competition between modes. This was especially important for the growth phase to avoid losing market share and going into decline[8].


Building of new lines slowed down dramatically during the maturity phase, where there was more focus on upgrading the existing infrastructure and improving the management of the current system. This included continuation of electrifying the network such as electrification of the Western Line to Bowenfels in 1957. Service of Sydney’s first double-deck electric train started in 1969 which marked the start of the standard design for the Sydney suburban fleet. In terms of long-distance trains, the first double-deck trains ran to Gosford in 1970. These improved the network through allowing higher capacities for the same amount of space [12].


Increasing popularity of cars is one reason for the decline during the 1970s, however, this is not likely to have caused the major drop alone. Another factor is the management reform during this period. In 1972 the Public Transport Commission (PTC) was established to take over responsibility of all government trains, buses, and ferries in New South Wales. While the Commission was able to achieve some operating reforms, this change in management was largely opposed as the public had concerns about a perceived reduction in safety standards, and so may be responsible for the decline in ridership. Towards the end of the decline period, the Granville rail disaster in 1977 prompted government consideration of the negative effect that the PTC was having on rail. Hence, the PTC was replaced with the Urban Transit Authority and the State Rail Authority[8].

Regeneration of GrowthEdit

Notable Expansions and the Private SectorEdit

New investment in Sydney’s suburban railways was stimulated by the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. A new electric line and station for the Olympic Park was built as well as facilities at Homebush in 1988. The Chatswood to Epping line began construction in 2002 and opened in 2009. In recent related news, this line will be converted for integration with the Sydney Metro Northwest which is expected to open in 2019 [12].

The mid-1980s saw a push for private sector infrastructure financing due to increased pressures on State government finances and the introduction of the ‘new federalism’ policies in the late 1970s that reduced the contribution of Commonwealth funds to State revenues. This change has allowed a greater supply of infrastructure to be provided, therefore shaping the nature of recent developments. Projects around this stage focused on catering to growth in public transport demand. For example, traffic from the Olympics Games helped justify the construction of the New Southern Railway, connecting Central Station to Sydney Airport. Additional to the arguments for the railway was how it would promote urban consolidation along the line, showing that the effect of transport infrastructure on land use has been a value of the government throughout the lifecycle, as it was first seen during the birth phase [17].

Sydney's Rail FutureEdit

Sydney’s Rail Future was published in 2012, detailing plans of modernisation of Sydney’s rail network to grow with the population and meet the needs of future customers, through investment in new services and upgrades to existing infrastructure. This was prompted by recognition of Sydney’s rail system reaching capacity. It is part of the NSW Long Term Transport Master Plan, a 20 year framework for the NSW transport system that integrates all modes of transport, roads and freight.

The report explains a three-tiered system to respond to different customer needs. The first is rapid transit lines. This involves frequent services that eliminate the need for consulting a timetable, as well as the use of single deck trains design for easy boarding and alighting. The second is suburban lines which will continue to use timetabled services and double deck trains to allow higher capacities. The third is intercity lines which also use double deck trains, but additionally focus on comfortable service and on-board facilities for long distance commutes[18].

Additionally, there is significant focus on improving existing infrastructure, with enhancements such as Automatic Train Operation to improve capacity and performance. These will be used on the rapid transit lines due to the higher efficiency in acceleration and braking that improves travel times and allows more trains to travel on the line[19]. Hence, this report shows how current policies are focused on catering to growth of the market, needs of the market, and improving the existing network. Additionally, the construction of new networks such as the Sydney Metro Northwest show the investments in new projects that also characterise this phase.


  1. a b Bureau of Transport Statistics 2015, Train Statistics 2014, viewed 6 May 2018,
  2. a b Sydney Trains n.d., Facts and Stats, viewed 6 May 2018,
  3. Sydney Trains 2016, 2016-2017 Corporate Plan, viewed 6 May 2018,
  4. Glencross-Grant, R 2009, ‘The Development of Transport Networks in NSW 1860-1894’, Australian Journal of Multi-disciplinary Engineering, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 91-100, via Taylor and Francis database
  5. RTA 2006, RTA Thematic History, no. 2, viewed 7 May 2018,
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  12. a b c d e f g h McKillop, B 2016, The Railways of Sydney: Shaping the City and its Commerce, viewed 7 May 2018,
  13. a b c d Sydney Trains n.d., History of the NSW railways, viewed 7 May 2018,
  14. a b c McKillop 2017, The North Shore Line, viewed 8 May 2018,
  15. a b Dunn, M 2017, City Underground, viewed 8 May 2018,
  16. Dunn, M 2017, Electrification of the Sydney Suburban Train Network, viewed 8 May 2018,
  17. Searle, G 1999, ‘New roads, new rail lines, new profits: Privatisation and Sydney’s recent transport development’, Urban Policy and Research, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 111-121, accessed via Taylor and Francis database
  18. NSW Government 2012, Sydney’s Rail Future, viewed 10 May 2018,
  19. NSW Government 2012, Sydney’s Rail Future, viewed 10 May 2018,