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Thursday, 30 October 2014

The Story of the First Fleet Ferries

Transport anniversaries have been coming thick and fast lately. The Gladesville Bridge turned 50 on 2 October and last week Japan celebrated 50 years of high speed trains.

Another milestone will be reached next month. The first of nine First Fleet ferries went into service on 28 November 1984. All nine continue to provide reliable service across Sydney's Inner Harbour.

The story of the First Fleet Ferries should be better known. We all know how the dead hand of bureaucratic incompetence stifled the creative genius of Jorn Utzon, but few know that a similar story lies behind the most iconic class of Sydney Ferries.

Funding for the new fleet was a gift from the Federal Government to the people of New South Wales as part of Australia's Bicentennial celebrations. After a tender process, Australia's finest naval architect, Alan Payne, was selected to design the boats.

The skill and accomplishments of Alan Payne are little appreciated outside the maritime community. He fails to rate a mention in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, yet his achievements are astonishing.

After a string of successes in designing Sydney to Hobart yachts, he was engaged by Sir Frank Packer to design Gretel, the first Australian challenger for the America's Cup in 1962. Gretel proved to be faster than the American defender Weatherly and some argue it would have won the series, but for erratic interventions by Sir Frank in crew management.

Payne also designed two other Americas Cup challengers, Gretel II and Advance and was inducted into the Americas Cup Hall of Fame posthumously in 2005. The better known Ben Lexcen was inducted in the following year.

When Payne was engaged to design a catamaran ferry for Sydney, he undertook the project with his customary passion, attention to detail and a classical design aesthetic.  He worked with Sydney boat designer Bill Bollard to refine the design. Bollard, who still lives on the Central Coast, says Payne's eye for hull lines was exceptional. He was also fastidious about meeting functional and passenger requirements. This led to the novel feature of twin rudders on each hull to provide superb manoeuvrability in Sydney Harbour's tight coves. He also ensured all passengers had unimpeded views out of the vessel, a feature sadly not continued in more recent ferry designs.

Not satisfied with tank testing, Payne and Bollard built two 20 foot prototypes for testing at Brooklyn and on the Lane Cove River. Payne's famous EH Holden, purchased after the Americas Cup Challenge in 1962, is seen in the picture below launching one of the prototypes in the Lane Cove River.
Photograph by Bill Bollard 
Following testing, Payne decided that a semi-asymmetrical  round bilge hull shape was the best design.

The final design was close to perfection, creating minimal wash.

This is where bureaucracy intervened. At its original length of 30 metres, wash patterns were minimised, but a vessel of this length was required by law to carry three crew. The Urban Transit Authority insisted that it be shortened, much to Payne's distress, to keep crewing levels down to two. The plans were changed and production commenced at Carringtons, Newcastle. 

In the meantime, agitation by Sydney Ferry staff led to crew levels being set at three anyway, so neither the labour cost savings nor Alan Payne's perfect, low wash design were realised.

The first ferry in service was the Sirius, followed soon after by the Supply. The early First Fleeters have more outside seating on the Upper Deck, which is generally appreciated by passengers in Sydney's mild climate.

Designing a ferry fleet, fit for purpose on Sydney's iconic harbour is no easy task. But for the interference of the Urban Transit Authority, Payne came close to designing the perfect ferry. Had he designed it today, he may also have allowed for better accommodation of 21st century strollers and more advanced gangways, but it remains a firm favourite of crews and the public.

Not every naval architect has the courage to go beyond the brief set for them by the client, nor the imagination or persistence to design something of genuine quality which accommodates the thousand and one little details that need to be considered. Alan Payne was such a person.     

As for the bureaucratic interventions in the early 1980's, well of course it would not happen today - would it?


Thursday, 16 October 2014

What the Sydney Opera House and a Well Designed Ferry Network Have in Common: Patterns

Source: Sydney Morning Herald
Patterns are intrinsic to many scientific and engineering disciplines. Sophisticated and complex organisms and structures are built from simple interlocking patterns. The construction of the Sydney Opera House famously appeared to be impossible until its architect Jorn Utzon realised that all the shells of the building could be formed from the same basic shape, a 75 metre diameter sphere.

Patterns are also fundamental to the design of effective transport networks. A pattern is necessary to make the timetable legible for passengers, to use resources efficiently and to link lines in a way that make connections convenient.  

In transport, patterns are measured by time not distance.

Even if the network comprises a single line, passengers expect departures by the ferry (or train or bus) to be at regular intervals - say once every 30 minutes. This can only happen if the time required by the ferry to complete the outbound and inbound leg is a whole integer multiple of the service interval. The less frequent the departures, the more challenging this requirement becomes.  

The simplified network below is a 60' minute round trip with four intermediate stops at B, C, D and E and 30 minute headways. Vessels depart the starting point (A) two minutes past the hour and half hour and also depart from the end of the line (F) two minutes past the hour and half hour. As stop C is positioned 15 minutes from both the starting point (A) and the end of the line (F), inbound and outbound vessels always cross at C.

Two important observations can be made about this simple network:

  • A,C and F are nodes which are potential interchange points with buses or trains, because vessels travelling in both directions converge at these points at the same time. A single bus could connect at C with both the inbound and outbound vessel.

  • If a regular interval is maintained all day, and the vessels are punctual, they will never cross at B, D or E. This means these terminals do not need to be dual berthing, unlike C where the vessels cross all the time.

Realistically, most networks have several lines and they need to connect with each other. This is when patterns become really important.

In the following slightly more complex 30' interval network, four lines connect at a hub, "B". All routes "through line", so passengers travelling from A to C (or from D to E) do not have to transfer at the hub. Although the length of the lines vary, they all conform with the rule that each cycle time is a whole integer multiple of the service interval.

Two lines do not have intermediate nodes (B-C and B-E). Line B-D has one intermediate node and the other has three intermediate nodes.

This network has the potential for linkages with bus lines with timed connections at the nodes. Suddenly, from a very basic underlying pattern, following a very simple mathematical rule, it is possible to create a comprehensive, multi-destination transit network:

Another feature of an integrated regular interval timetable, like this one, is that the pattern leads to other surprising benefits:

  • all vessels arrive at the hub at the same time, two or three minutes before the hour and half hour, and all depart two or three minutes after the hour and half hour. This makes rostering much more efficient, because crib breaks can be scheduled in neat, modular blocks.
  • as the same pattern of vessel movements is repeated throughout the day, it is easier for ferry masters to develop a regular tempo or cadence. Potential safety risks are more predictable and punctuality is easier to manage.  
  • it is not difficult to add capacity for special events or to meet peak demand if the extra departures are scheduled at half the interval (eg 15 minute interval instead of 30). This does not disturb the underlying stability of the network structure. Also cruise ship movements can be scheduled mid-ways between the pulse times to avoid interfering with ferry operations.   
It seems to be a stubborn western habit of thought that systems can be broken down into discrete elements without recognising that the connecting pattern has emergent properties not present in the individual parts. Without the pattern, the collection of discrete parts are a complex, unmanageable mess. 

A pulse pattern in network planning is so important, it should be viewed as the fundamental DNA. This is well understood in Swiss public transport agencies, but sadly neglected in Australia.