More than 100 people are waiting on Canterbury station’s platform 2 at 7.46am on Wednesday, and when the T3 train line turns up, everyone knows what the next 33 minutes will be like on the journey to Town Hall: tight.
The train has already picked up hundreds from Birrong onwards, including at Bankstown, Lakemba and Belmore. When the next service arrives 16 minutes later, it’s a push to get on at all.
“It’s somewhat inconvenient,” one man says of the long waiting time as the indicator board shows we’ll be here for another 10 minutes. “But they’re putting in a metro, so it’ll make it quicker.”
His hopes aren’t entirely misguided – Premier Chris Minns boasted that the metro would come once every four minutes – but the transition won’t be easy. For at least a year from July 2024, commuters at 11 stations on the T3 line will be bused to stations that have working train routes, or bused directly into the city.
Transport Minister Jo Haylen said on Tuesday the government was working to “ensure that there is a public transport service available to all passengers during this period of disruption”, and that the government was considering not only using rail replacement buses but new local and express routes.
The current bus journey from Canterbury station to the city follows a similar path to the Bankstown line and gives commuters a hint of what is in store next year. A journey that takes 33 minutes by train lasts for an hour and three minutes on the bus.
At the same time as the 8.04am train was departing Canterbury station – which dropped off passengers at Town Hall at 8.37am – we boarded the 428 bus headed to Martin Place in a bid to compare the journeys via two modes of transport. (We picked Canterbury station because it is the only affected station with a direct bus route to the city.)
The 428 route winds through the inner west’s Dulwich Hill, Marrickville and Newtown, and includes the often busy and slow Canterbury and New Canterbury roads, Enmore Road and King Street.
The first quarter of the bus journey is packed with students, who rely on the route’s 35 stops to get to school. But once they depart, it’s almost empty. Very few passengers are using the bus to travel to the CBD.
A runner plods past the bus when it pulls up at one of the four King Street stops. The 30-something doesn’t look exceptionally fast, but he’s quick enough – or, the traffic is slow enough – for him to reach Broadway before the bus. The crawl worsens as we get into the heart of the city.
By the time we get off at Hyde Park (9.04am) and walk three blocks to Town Hall station (9.07am), we’ve clocked up an hour and three minutes in transit.
The route is one issue – it winds through streets in a bid to make as many stops as possible. The bigger, somewhat intractable problem for planners is the roads themselves: inherently unpredictable, and prone to chaos the second a drop of rain falls.
And that’s before Sydney Metro – whose chief executive Peter Regan on Tuesday estimated 100 extra buses would be used to shuttle passengers – grapples with the city’s years-long desperate search for bus drivers.
At the other end of the T3 line at Bankstown, commuter Steven – who travels from Bankstown to North Sydney each day – is not looking forward to relying on the buses.
“It’s pretty frustrating,” he said of the closure timeline. “I moved here about two months ago, but I use [the train] every day to get to work.
“There’s always track work anyway,” he said. “[But] the buses aren’t really reliable either. I don’t know if they’re connected, but they’re pretty bad.”
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