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Passenger demand for trains in Sydney has risen by almost 20 per cent on some lines in just a year, new figures show, underscoring the strain on the city's rail network.
The number of trips taken on the T7 Olympic Park Line surged by 19.6 per cent to almost 180,000 in July, compared with the same month a year earlier, reflecting the pace of growth in residential development in and around the former Olympic precinct.
Patronage on the city's busiest line the T1, which includes western, north shore and northern services, rose by 10 per cent over the year, government figures based on Opal card usage shows.
Across the rail network, trips increased by more than 11 per cent, or 3.1 million, to 30.7 million in July, compared with the prior period.
The surge in demand places greater urgency on plans for public transport such as a new metro line between Sydney's CBD and Parramatta. Olympic Park and the Bays Precinct around Rozelle will be among up to 12 stations on the proposed line, which leaked government documents have estimated will cost up to $20 billion.
The T2, the second-busiest line which comprises airport, inner west and services to the south, rose by almost 14 per cent year-on-year. The T4 (Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra) and the T3 (Bankstown) both recorded increases of about 10 per cent.
Geoffrey Clifton, a senior lecturer in transport management at Sydney University, said the figures showed that Sydney risked reaching a "gap in capacity" on its rail network sooner than forecast.
"There is absolutely the risk of overcrowding. We have already seen an increase in capacity and that is translating into more people using the service," he said.
The state's Auditor-General recently warned that Sydney's trains will increasingly struggle to run on time unless "sustained and substantial investment" is made in the existing heavy rail network. Rail patronage growth has been outstripping both the government's forecasts and the rail system's capacity to cope.
Last week the government announced plans to add 300 train services a week on the two main rail lines between western parts of Sydney and the CBD – the T1 and the T2 – from November, when a new timetable for the network is rolled out.
"It is going to alleviate some of the overcrowding, but it will encourage even more people to use public transport – we certainly seem to be in a growth cycle," Dr Clifton said. "A lot of that extra capacity will be soaked up more quickly than expected."
While highlighting the pressures of a fast-growing population, Dr Clifton said the statistics showed that the public transport system was improving and giving people greater confidence to travel on it.
"The places people are moving into are well served by public transport such as Olympic Park, Strathfield and Burwood," he said.
This article first appeared on www.smh.com.au
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