January 24, 2004

Transport to the Rugby World Cup

Michael Jennings | Rail Miscellany

I spent the first half of November in Australia. This happened to coincide with the middle of the rugby World Cup. A couple of days ago I was looking through my photographs of the trip, and I found this photo, which I took at Central Station in Sydney while passing through one afternoon.

Looking at the photo the other day I found it slightly amusing, and I sent it to Patrick. He e-mailed back, suggesting that I post a blog posting on the photo. And at this point I have to admit something, which is that all is not as it seems From the photo, it appears that although lots of nice signs were printed for the occasion of the World Cup, they were not used very effectively. Right?

Er, no, actually. I will get back to the sign at the end of the post, but the key point is this. Although Sydney's railways are not especially reliable on normal occasions for things such as commuting to work (I speak from experience) there is one thing that the railway authorities know how to do, which is to get vast numbers of people to and from major sporting events at the former Olympic site, which is where the major matches of the rugby World Cup were held.

Most of the main venues for the 2000 Olympics were held at Homebush Bay, on the western reaches of Sydney Harbour.

The main western railway from central Sydney is just to the south of the Olympic site, and a looped spur was built off the railway line, going underground through the Olympic site, and stopping at a new station that was built specially for the Olympics. The station was specifically designed to allow large numbers of people to move through it rapidly. This loop was single track (except in the actual station where it was double track, dramatically increasing possible frequencies) and all trains go around it in an anticlockwise direction, but trains can be routed onto the loop from either the eastern or western direction, and trains coming off it can also be routed in either direction. Therefore it is possible to simply run existing services around the loop and give them an additional stop at Olympic Park, or to run special services from central Sydney to Olympic Park, and use to loop to reverse them and send them back to central Sydney. All suburban trains in Sydney are double deck, and an eight carriage train can terefore carry a lot of passengers. I am not sure what the maximum frequency is at which trains can arrive at the Olympic Park stadium, but I think it is something like one every three minutes.

All the main venues for the Sydney Olympics (including the 110000 seat main stadium) were completed with 18 months to go before the Olympics, and in this period a considerable number of test events were held. Things were deliberately made difficult. Multiple events were held to clash with one another. Rugby League matches with crowds of 100000 were deliberately held at the same time as the Royal Easter Show (an agricultural exhibition that is one of the bigger events on the Sydney calendar, and which can attract tens of thousands of people per day). Swimming trials were deliberately held at the same time as football matches. Railway authorities became very adept at getting many tens of thousands of people an hour on and off the site by rail. But to get people to move quickly and efficiently out of the station, it is necessary to get instructions to them clearly. And this means many large signs giving clear instructions.

When the Olympic Games themselves came around, the scale of the problem was much greater. There were separate programs of day and evening events in the main stadium, most of which were completely sold out. The swimming events were just next door, as were the venues for many other sports. That meant that one crowd of 110000 was leaving at the same time that another was arriving, as well as spectators for other events coming and going. On some days during the Olympics there were more than 300000 arrivals and the same number of departures at Olympic Park. This happened every day for 16 days. And, at least partly due to the fact that all the bugs had been got out in a lot of test events, it went more or less without a hitch.

For the people who pulled this off, the rugby World Cup was not a terribly great challenge. The major events of the World Cup were held at the main stadium at Olympic Park (now named "Telstra Stadium" after being sponsored by a telephone company) but only one at a time, and never on more than two days in a row. 30000 seats in the main stadium at the Olympic Games were temporary, so the stadium capacity has now been reduced to 80000 (much to the annoyance of the Australian Rugby Union, which would have no difficulty selling 110000 tickets for the big game between Australia and New Zealand every year, as well as for special events like the World Cup). Thus for the World Cup no more than 80000 people had to be transported in and out of the stadium at once. The infrastructure was originally designed to transport far more than this. The percentage of spectators coming by train was less than at the Olympics anyway. (At the Olympics, it was more or less mandatory for spectators to come by public transport, but it was less so for the World Cup).

And the system coped admirably wiith the rugby World Cup as it did in the Olympics. Well designed infrastructure can do that. And certain things had been learned, like the need for clear, well designed signs telling passengers precisely were to move to, and how to get there. Arrows showing the direction in which people should walk are always a good idea.

As it happened, I passed through Central station on a day when there wasn't actually a match on. The signs had been needed for a match a few days earlier, and would be needed again a few days later. They hadn't been put away but they had been rearranged somewhat. No doubt they would be moved back into place for that match and the arrows would again point in the right directions. But when I took the photo it didn't matter, because nobody was using them.

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This reminds me of the deeply flawed "plan" that WAGN executed in order to handle the thousands of people who travelled to and from Stevenage over the August bank holiday weekend for the Robbie Williams concerts at Knebworth. (Erm, my ticket was a gift from a friend, with whom I went.) At Kings Cross, you had to buy a special blue ticket that was specifically for people attending the concert -- without that blue ticket, we were told, we would not be allowed onto Stevenage station that night.

Which kind of sucked for me, since I had bought a return ticket to Stevenage from Chadwell Heath, where I live (and for my friend, who had grabbed a normal ticket from a machine at Kings Cross, because the signs about the blue tickets didn't appear until you walked onto the platform). After about a half hour's worth of being told contradicting things and having to stand in three different queues, we finally got our little blue tickets. Which -- you guessed it -- no one bothered to ask for when we got to Stevenage station that night.

That said, my friend and I walked very quickly from Knebworth to Stevenage station (only about three miles, but made harder to navigate when there are thousands of people all rushing out at the same time) and bypass most of the crowd. We even got a seat on the train, which gave us a nice view of the poor suckers who had dawdled and ended up having to queue behind about 15,000 other people for God knows how long after 11 PM.

Posted by Jackie D on January 24, 2004

Looking at those signs, one thing I find odd is how "British" they look. Maybe our signs look Australian to you, I don't know. It's one of the things about going abroad that all the signs look different - even in the US - which is why these ones stick out.

The Telstra stadium has a capacity of 80,000? Gadzooks. If I recall correctly the RFU stadium which has been on its site for ever only has a capacity of 78,000.

Posted by Patrick Crozier on January 24, 2004

I would think on the whole the answer is no. What is the case is that railways in the state of NSW are run in a very "British" manner, from the ticketing system to the way they do the signs to quite a lot else. I am not sure the similarity of signs extends far outside the rail system. Road signs (and the road numbering system) in NSW tend to be American in design rather than British, but road signs in Victoria are British rather than American. It's all quite confusing.

And as for the stadium size, for a long time Melbourne had a big stadium (the MCG) and Sydney didn't. This meant that many big sporting events automatically got held in Melbourne rather than Sydney. The Olympic stadium means that this is no longer so. There are a few post-Olympics white elephants in Sydney after the olympics (a world class equestrian centre anyone?) but the stadium is certainly not one of them.

Posted by Michael Jennings on January 24, 2004

CityRail are incompetent twats (that's put nicely)when its comes to maintaining & running everyday services. With cancellations and whatnot, 1/2 frequencies on suburban lines, no integrated ticketing with bus, tram or ferry, poor integration of bus & train services, my list goes on forever. Now they've just announced to expect more service cutbacks & cancellations due to stricter regulations on drivers' medical conditions after several (sometimes fatal) derailments, such as the Waterfall disaster last year. Ah well; to look on ther bright side at least they're getting rid of obese & unhealthy drivers.

Having said that, they do a damn fine job during special events like the Rugby World Cup, The Royal Easter Show (which I went to last year), the Olympics, etc. The Station has 3 platforms (two on the far sides, one on the centre, separated from the sides by a set of track) is designed so that passengers get off the train on the centre platform, then the two side platforms are for departures. Top stuff. No shoving on the platform (well, there is shoving but atleast its in one direction).
The problem with the transport system is inconsistency. Though the rail service is adequate, alot of people park n ride here particuarly in the suburbs, in park n ride lots, shopping centre/mall car parks or in local streets, highlighting the fact that feeder services need a good working over.

I've never been to Britian but I can understand the NSW railway's links/similarites to British railways, what with our Birtish heritage & all.

In regards to road signs, Australia generally speaking follows the similar symbols to American road signs. Our AD signs (Advance Directional) or BGS (Big Green Signs) have both British & American traits. Michael, the only reason, IMO that you reckon that Victoria seems more British is because it has implemented alphanumerical route numbering system (M/A/B/C routes) which I beleive is based on the standard of road (?). In NSW & WA, has different categories for numbering symbolised by the sheild the number is on. We have National Routes, National Hwys, (both are similar to the 'Interstates' of the USA in status, not necessarily qualtiy) State Route numbers, Tourist Drives, and in Sydney & Brisbane we also have Metroads (prioirty arterial routes in the metro area). Qld is currently implementing them, SA has had them for about 5 years, Tas has had them for about a decade and NSW is intending to implement a system in the next few years. My mate at the RTA is currently designing signs incorporating the M/A/B/C system, they're just waiting for the funding to come through. :)

For some Aussie Road signs see this site http://expressway.vze.com/

Posted by Vi Ong on January 24, 2004

EDIT: In the 2nd last paragraph what I was referring to was the alphanumeric M/A/B/C route numbering which: Qld is currently implementing them, SA has had them for about 5 years, Tas has had them for about a decade and NSW is intending to implement a system in the next few years. My mate at the RTA is currently designing signs incorporating the M/A/B/C system, they're just waiting for the funding to come through. :)

Posted by Vi Ong on January 24, 2004

A few decades ago, road rules, signs and practices in Australia varied very considerably from state to state. They have since been made more uniform. However, it was certainly the case that practices in Victoria were more British and practices in NSW more American. For instance, as a child I can still remember traffic lights changing from red to green via orange in Victoria as they do in England, whereas in NSW they went straight from red to green (as they still do). There are one or two other examples two. Most of this is gone, but you still occasionally see remnants.

Posted by Michael Jennings on January 27, 2004

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