Commuter crush: More trams needed to cope with surge in light rail demand

Demand for light rail services has surged over the past year. Photo: Christopher Pearce Up to 90 extra services a week will run between Central and Dulwich Hill. Photo: Tamara Dean


A surge in passengers on Sydney’s inner-west light rail line over the past year has prompted the operator to put on up to 90 extra services a week to cope with demand during peak travel periods.

The number of passengers using the trams rose almost 60 per cent to 6.1 million last financial year due in large part to the opening of a 5.6-kilometre extension of the line to Dulwich Hill in early 2014, government figures show. The line runs from Central Station to the inner west via Pyrmont, Glebe and Lilyfield.

The patronage statistics will not be a surprise to commuters who are increasingly finding carriages packed.

Most of the extra peak-hour services will begin from Monday, while the remainder will be put on by the middle of the year. In total, tram services will rise from 197 to 215 on weekdays.

Transport officials expect it will result in a service running every eight minutes during peak travel periods on weekdays, instead of every 10 minutes at present.

Transport Minister Andrew Constance said the increase in tram services would allow an extra 3700 people to travel on the light rail line each day during the peak periods.

“Demand for light rail is expected to rise so we’re putting on extra services to make sure we’re ahead of the curve,” he said.

The afternoon peak travel period will also be extended by an hour to 7pm on weekdays, leading to a service every 10 minutes.

The surge in demand also bolsters the case for Sydney’s $2.1 billion light rail line from Circular Quay to Randwick and Kensington in the city’s east, as well as the Parramatta light rail project.

Construction of the new line to Sydney’s eastern suburbs began late last year, and the first trams are due to run on it in 2019.

ALTRAC, the consortium of four companies building the new line through Sydney’s CBD, also operates the inner-west light rail. It will run the extra services using its existing fleet of trams.

With construction of the Sydney light rail ramping up early this year, the University of NSW has raised concerns that stops for trams near its campus in Kensington will not be large enough to cope with the expected growth in commuters when it opens.

The university has forecast students and staff will use up to 76 per cent of the capacity – or 5300 passengers per hour – on the two branches of the light rail line to Kensington and Randwick by 2021.

About 26,000 people already catch public transport to the university on weekdays, and four of the six busiest bus stops in Sydney are between Central and UNSW.