Driverless trains are surging ahead across Sydney. Photo: Alec Smart

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By Allison Hore 

The North West section of the Metro opened last month with just under 140,000 people taking advantage of free trips on its opening day. But with errors and delays across the network there are lessons to be learned before the next stage of the Metro opens in 2024.

The line currently extends from Tallawong Station at Rouse Hill to Chatswood and stops at 13 stations, including the reopened Macquarie University and Macquarie Park stations. The $7.3bn project took over eight years to complete.

The new driverless service boasts ‘no timetable’, promising customers can just ‘turn up and go’.

NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance promised trains every five to six minutes in the first six weeks of the new line during peak-hour. Services are eventually expected to run every four minutes in each direction between Tallawong and Chatswood.

But since the opening of Sydney’s North West metro link, customers have complained about longer-than-anticipated wait times and no way to check arrival or departure times before arriving at the station. Even the much-anticipated opening day was plagued by error with computational problems, leading to serious delays across the network.

In one instance a peak hour train stopped at the platform in Chatswood for a few minutes without opening its doors to let passengers off, before continuing down the line.

The transport workers union said that its members had predicted there would be errors like this as a result of the driverless technology.

“[The Metro] has failed to prove it is capable of doing the two basic tasks required of a driverless train – driving and stopping,” Rail, Tram and Bus Union NSW secretary Alex Claassens said in a statement to AAP.

“We’ve seen commuters forced onto replacement buses, people left stranded in between stations with no information, delays and serious automatic door problems. We’re lucky we haven’t seen any major safety incidents as yet.”

Macquarie University student Xanthe Petridis is just one of many commuters who have experienced delays on the network. She told City Hub, “I got on at showground station heading towards Chatswood and noticed the train going the other way had been sat there for a while. We then moved to Castle Towers stop and were held there for a while.”

She added that while the platform staff were helpful there wasn’t much information available online or on station screens for commuters.

“A staff member was walking up and down the train giving us information as she had it but there was nothing on Twitter or in the announcements for a good while.”

Premier asks public for patience

Premier Gladys Berejiklian chalks down errors like the one Ms. Petridis experienced to teething problems with the new service and said that she expected further glitches were likely to occur.

“You’d expect in the first few weeks and even months that it won’t be perfect. We are asking people to be patient and I want to thank everybody for their patience,” Ms. Berejiklian told the Today show.

Despite her experience Ms. Petridis still feels generally positive about the North West Metro. “The train takes me around 15 minutes to get from the Showground station to Macquarie. Which is so much faster than it takes by bus.

“As someone who gets car-sick I much prefer having a train to a bus, and am more likely to go slightly out of my way to not have to contend with traffic.”

But Ms. Petridis thinks the lack of real-time data sometimes makes it difficult to make connections with buses or trains on other lines. She’d like to see GPS tracking for the trains roll out in the future.

“It would mean if I’m trying to change trains, or know when I need to leave to make it to Uni in time, especially if the trains are running late,” she explained.

Ms. Petridis’s wish for real-time data is one shared by a lot of commuters, with many taking to Twitter and Facebook in frustration about the lack of trip planning information available online.

The next stage of the Sydney Metro project involves the opening of the City and South West rail links. This stage involves the construction of 15.5 kilometers of underground metro line from Chatswood, under Sydney Harbour and through Sydney’s CBD to Sydenham.

The completed network is expected to carry 100,000 more commuters across Sydney and will increase the capacity of train services from about 120 an hour today, to up to 200 services an hour after 2024.

 

Transport for NSW was contacted for comment but didn’t respond by deadline.