Sydney Trains has earned itself a pretty poor reputation amongst commuters, with services often riddled with delays, cancellations and broken down trains.
Just earlier this year in January, Sydney Trains went into total meltdown over 48 hours, with services being cancelled across the rail network, and stranding thousands of commuters on overcrowded stations.
For many Sydney-siders that have had first-hand experience with Sydney Trains, these major disruptions are common and the 'train-pocalypse' that happened in January was just a more extreme case of what occurs on a day-to-day basis.
Late services are a hallmark of Sydney's rail transportation, leaving many commuters frustrated, but not entirely shocked when it happens.
Sydney Trains has a punctuality target of at least 92 per cent of peak services arriving and departing within 5 minutes of the scheduled time. During May, this 92 per cent target was only reached during 10 of May's 23 weekdays.
'Tangled' rail networks, signal system failures, and a shortage of train drivers are the main reasons behind these major service disruptions.
It is clear that if no changes are made, Sydney Trains will continue to fall short and commuters will suffer.
In order to minimise service delays/cancellations, the Berejiklian government has announced an $880 million investment to digitise the train signal system. This will create the capacity for the Sydney Trains rail network to run services every 90 seconds in the future. The digitisation of Sydney Trains signal system will help make a 'turn up and go' system possible, with the addition of extra services across the lines.
The signal technology that will be integrated to upgrade the Sydney Trains network, has already been implemented on rail systems in Paris and London. According to Howard Collins, Sydney Trains chief executive, the signal technology has delivered significant results in London, where capacity was improved by 30 per cent and helped the city cope with the growing number of train users.
This investment is significant as improvements to the signal system will help increase the efficiency of the rail network, and future-proof Sydney Trains.
The population of New South Wales is expected to balloon to 9.9 million people by 2036. So, the government's commitment to overhauling the signal system, will aid in preparing Sydney Trains for the increased strain that comes along with population growth.
Upgrading the system with better signal technologies will help ensure that Sydney's transportation system keeps Sydney commuters moving, and reduce the likelihood of the Sydney Trains network from buckling under the added pressure.
However, with the other underlying problems, such as the driver shortage and the complexity of the rail network, yet to be addressed, many Sydney-siders aren't holding their breath over these promises.
Extra services will require extra drivers.
Presently, Sydney Trains is experiencing difficulties finding and retaining drivers, which has placed a lot of pressure on the drivers that they do have. Limited crew availability is a major issue, because when there aren't enough drivers on-hand that can be deployed to places where they are needed, recovery is painfully slow.
To ensure that the benefits of a digitised signal system are realised, more train drivers need to be hired and rail infrastructure needs to be improved. Finding a truly effective solution requires a more holistic approach that considers all the key factors.
The $880 million investment into improving Sydney Trains signal system is a positive step towards reducing severe service delays, cancellations, and overcrowding. However, with other issues surrounding Sydney Trains rail network being overlooked (i.e. driver shortages and insufficient rail infrastructure), only time will tell if the signal system upgrade will make a significant and long-lasting impact on the efficiency of their operations.
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