A remark on social media inspired this: a quick comparison of suburban train punctuality in Australia.
We have suburban rail networks in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide, and all of them publish monthly punctuality data.
So here’s a quick graph comparing them since January last year:
- Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide consider “on-time” as within 5 minutes.
- EDIT: But note that it appears Sydney is only publishing peak data.
- Perth is within 4 minutes.
- Brisbane is within 4 minutes for most services, but within 6 for “interurban” (Gold Coast, Rosewood and Sunshine Coast lines) – they haven’t published their March figure yet.
- Brisbane publishes data adjusted for “force majeure”, but to their credit also publishes the non-adjusted data, which I have used – as it appears from Sydney’s March 2022 number that theirs is not adjusted theirs. (For the other cities it’s less clear)
The most noticeable thing here is Sydney and Brisbane taking a dive in February/March, no doubt due to the storms. And Perth seems to have had a fairly mediocre mid-2021.
Other than that, I’m not sure any of them stand out as exceedingly good or exceedingly bad, but the averages for January to December 2021 (so excluding the February/March storms) might shed some light. From highest to lowest:
Adelaide 97.51% – they no doubt did well because their rail network is so small, with mostly infrequent services, so track congestion is probably not terribly common.
Sydney 95.23% – they’ve worked hard at reducing delays over the years, including separation of services, and allowing more time in their schedules.
Brisbane 95.05% – their network is reasonably frequent at peak times, but mostly not outside the peaks, so major congestion issues might be mostly in peak.
Melbourne 94.44% – they are gradually removing the factors that lead to track congestion, including better separation of lines, but still has a way to go.
Perth 94.00% – to my mind, they have a relatively small system with good line separation. But their tighter definition of “on time” is probably contributing to their lower result.
Punctuality is affected by different factors. The Sydney page has some good information listing some of them, which apply on any system.
This comparison isn’t perfect of course, thanks to the slightly different measures used. But I’d argue it’s a more objective view than those surveys of passenger satisfaction, which don’t directly compare the systems, and usually conclude that the smaller the train system, the happier passengers are about it. Not really surprising, but is that really the main determinant of a successful system?
To my mind, punctuality, frequency, and ridership (per capita) are good measures, if you can get comparable data.
Ultimately, Australian’s suburban rail systems need to keep improving, to help provide better transport options, allowing people to easily cut their transport emissions, and to help improve the cities they serve.