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Monday, 26 June 2017

First thoughts on the Barangaroo Ferry Terminal

Disembarking passengers from a Parramatta River ferry at Barangaroo
The long awaited opening of the Barangaroo ferry terminal finally happened today, creating Sydney's second major ferry terminal (the first of course is Circular Quay). It replaces the sadly inadequate King Street Darling Harbour wharf, about 250 metres to the south. The pontoon at King Street wharf is far too small to accommodate crowds and was frankly dangerous during events like the Vivid Festival or even regular, busy Sunday afternoons.

The Barangaroo terminal comprises two wharves. For reasons unknown, the two wharves are collectively described by Transport for NSW as "the Barangaroo Wharf" (singular). Why not just call it a terminal? I plan to. For the moment, only Wharf 1 is being used, but both will be required when additional ferry services are introduced in October. 

To say the terminal is a big improvement on King Street is an understatement. It is vastly superior to either the King Street wharf or Circular Quay for crowd management. The pontoons and ramps are wide and uncluttered, allowing easy direct egress to the pedestrian concourse at Barangaroo South, without being impinged upon by crib rooms or food outlets. And it's a short five minute stroll through Wynyard Walk to Wynyard railway station for connecting train services.
Disembarking passengers can easily be separated from those waiting to board
Features not obvious to users today is the facility to insert temporary queuing barriers when required. This will allow wharf staff to maintain separation of boarding and disembarking passengers during events or busy Sundays.

The opening of Barangaroo creates opportunities that were not previously possible. Why not have ferry routes from Barangaroo to White Bay, Glebe Point and the revamped Fish Markets? And why not use this extra capacity to reduce congestion at Circular Quay by terminating River and Woolwich ferries at Barangaroo?


First run for a new Sydney Ferry Class

Passengers disembark at Barangaroo from the first Fred Hollows service
"Commodious" was a commonly used adjective for describing newly commissioned ferries in the Nineteenth Century. The Sydney Morning Herald breathlessly reported the launch of a new double ended steamer, the Wallaby, on 3 April 1879, saying it was "one of the most commodious boats of her kind constructed here".

The Herald also reported on the North Shore Ferry company's plans in 1882 "to build larger and (even) more commodious ferry steamers." Seven years later, the Company announced its order for a "commodious and swift harbour steamer...of a similar type to the Bunya Bunya". 

Over a century may have passed, but commodious and swift are also apt epithets for the latest addition to the Sydney Ferry fleet, the 35 metre catamaran Fred Hollows. It entered the runnings on the 0807 Darling Harbour service this morning and is the first new Sydney Ferry to be acquired in 16 years. Fred is the first of six boats to be acquired by the NSW Government in what will now be known as the Emerald Class.

Today was certainly a big one in Sydney's ferry history as there wasn't just a ferry launch -  the new four berth ferry terminal at Barangaroo South also opened this morning.

Customer experience

The extra 10 metres length compared to a First Fleeter makes a distinct difference. One passenger boarding at Balmain East gasped "it looks like we're catching the Manly Ferry".

Although the superstructure is evocative of the Alan Payne designed First Fleet Class (and they share the same passenger capacity - 400), the interior is far more spacious and comfortable. The two doorways on either side of the vessel should allow faster embarkation than the First Fleeters, if deckhands deploy two gangways.

The roomy interior of the Fred Hollows on its first run

And the Emerald Class is certainly swift, with a maximum speed of 24 knots. 

Passengers will also enjoy having more outside seating on the upper deck, including forward seating, a feature not available on the upper deck of First Fleeters. And in very Sydney style, there's no air conditioning. In summer windows can be opened to get the sea breeze and we wear a coat for the two months of the year when it's cold. 

There is less to like about Fred's external appearance. The straight lines of the hull don't compare well with the curves of a First Fleeter, but then aesthetics are a matter of personal taste. I'll probably get used to it.

A minor disappointment is the lack of a forward view from inside the main deck. The raised bow and outside seating obscures the view. Alan Payne was meticulous in designing the First Fleeters so that passengers inside had the best possible vision of Sydney Harbour. But this is a small quibble.

Operational considerations

Although it's the first in service, Fred Hollows is the second Emerald Class ferry built by Incat in Hobart. The first built - Catherine Hamlin - had some deficiencies, the main one being its capacity to manouevre in high winds. These were rectified in Fred Hollows, which has a bigger rudder and keel. Catherine will be similarly modified at the Harbour City Ferries Balmain Shipyard before entering service. 

It looks like Emerald Class ferries will be deployed on Watsons Bay/ Rose Bay runs, as well as Inner Harbour services (mainly Darling Harbour). They also have capability to back up the Manly Ferry in case of a breakdown. 

The benefit of a multi purpose class is that it offers the possibility of a simpler fleet configuration - perhaps the end game is a fleet of just three classes:

  • Freshwater Class (or whatever replaces it), operating Manly services;
  • RiverCats for the Parramatta River; and
  • Emerald Class for the Inner Harbour, including Watsons Bay/ Rose Bay (The First Fleeters probably have at least another 10 years life in them, so this is a long term strategy).
A previous post explains the benefits of a ferry operation minimising its vessel classes. It's a laudable goal. 

The challenge is that it is hard to build a boat which is well suited to long runs out to Watsons Bay/ Rose Bay and the shorter runs in the Inner Harbour. 

Watsons Bay and Rose Bay passengers have grown accustomed to a fast journey via the SuperCats for about 16 years, hence the requirement to retain fast ferry capacity on this route. But speed has a downside. Frictional resistance on a wetted hull means ferries travelling at 24 knots use a lot of fuel. If the Emerald Class boats are like the SuperCats, they will need to be refueled every day. That's a big cost disadvantage compared to the sedate 13 knot First Fleeters, which only refuel once a week.

Why deploy a 24 knot fast ferry in the true Inner Harbour (between Bradleys Head and Cockatoo Island), on routes where much of the distance traveled has speed restrictions of 15 knots or less? Improving the passenger loading process would achieve a better return in journey speed for the Inner Harbour routes.

But it is early days for the Emerald Class. If there is a common theme in the history of Sydney ferry fleet acquisition, it might be described as iterative. Time and experience leads to modifications and the best way of doing things just sort of unfolds over time. It will probably continue that way. 

Thursday, 22 June 2017

The retiring Ladies

The Lady Northcott makes her way to Taronga Zoo
It looks like the retirement of the Lady Northcott and Lady Herron, the last remaining Inner Harbour double enders, is now imminent. Many feel sad about it, including me. 

We feel sad because the two Ladies recall a distant past, before we were born, when large single hulled double ended screw steamers buzzed across Sydney Harbour. Many of us have a grandparent or Great Aunt who told us stories of coal dust in their clothes, the all day 10 minute headways between Milsons Point and Circular Quay or the exquisite wood lined interiors of the South Steyne. They are evocative of a Sydney that no longer exists.

The antecedents of the Lady Northcott and Lady Herron go right back to April 1879 when Sydney's first double ended screw ferry, the Wallaby, was launched. It was designed by Norman Selfe and built at Dunn's Berrys Bay boatyard. It was probably the world's first successful doubled ended screw ferry.  
The Wallaby, Sydney's first double ended screw propelled ferry

The tradition of naming the boats with the honorific "Lady" started in 1892, when two Walter Reeks designed ferries, Lady Mary and Lady Napier, were launched.

Double enders are in the DNA of Sydneysiders, so why wouldn't we be sad about losing the Northcott and the Herron? We're losing family. 

Double enders were once considered the only option for congested ferry operations in Sydney Cove as they removed the need for risky reverse manouevring. For many years, it was illegal for anything but a double ender to berth at Circular Quay. It's still a useful feature, but technology has moved on and the introduction of the highly manouevrable First Fleeters 30 years ago showed that single enders can reverse from the Quay without incident and with minimal loss of time.

Casting aside the emotion and sentiment, the rational self will admit the two remaining Ladies have had their day. Sydney's ferry system is not a museum. It's public transport and its future depends on efficient operation. Retiring the Ladies makes a contribution towards this objective.

In an ideal world, the most efficient ferry operation would have one class of vessel. This minimises maintenance costs, crew only need skills currency for one type of vessel and controllers have maximum flexibility in allocating boats across runnings. 

But the world of Sydney ferries is not an ideal one and it is not sensible or possible to use the same vessel class in all our marine environments. As posted previously on this blog, Sydney's waterways have diverse characteristics with four different sets of performance requirements:
  • the ferry to Manly can be subject to big swells when passing the Heads and difficult surge conditions at the Manly terminal.
  • the runs to Watsons Bay and Rose Bay are long and best suited to a high speed ferry. Customers' journey time expectations have been raised by the SuperCats.
  • Inner Harbour routes like Neutral Bay, Mosman and Darling Harbour cover short distances, but with multiple stops and speed restrictions: slower but highly manoeuvrable and fast loading vessels are needed for these conditions.
  • Parramatta River runs are different again with the need for shallow draught and low superstructure to allow ferries to pass under bridges.
So the best option would be to standardise the fleet into four vessel classes. 

Including the Lady boats and the newly acquired (but not yet in service) Heritage Class, there are currently seven (1), with all the inefficiencies inherent with this hotch potch. On top of this is a variety of charter vessels which are brought in to fill gaps in the runnings as needed.

Assuming the Heritage Class is the new standard for the Inner Harbour, it does make sense for the Lady boats to now leave us. Looking 10 or 15 years ahead, it will also be time to farewell the much loved First Fleet Class, so then there will be just one class of vessel operating in the Inner Harbour - the Catherine Hamlin and her many siblings - all with similar performance in speed over water, loading speed, manouevrability and capacity to stay on schedule.

There are those who point to the unique features of the Lady boats. They have a greater passenger capacity than either the First Fleeters or the Heritage Class. The Northcott can carry 800 and the Herron 550, while the newer Inner Harbour boats carry 400. But there is a solution to this, which is more agreeable to passengers. As a passenger, I would prefer a 400 capacity ferry operating at 15 minute intervals to Taronga Zoo than one carrying 800 passengers that runs twice an hour. For 95% of Zoo runs, a capacity of 400 is plenty when operating at 30 minute headways, so why not slot in extra boats for the times when demand requires more capacity? 

Another argument is that they are more fuel efficient than the Heritage Class, which will need to be fueled daily. Well, yes this is a fair point, but that is really a criticism of the performance specs for the Heritage Class. That's a topic for another post.

One of the major limitations of the Ladies is their unsuitability for use at tight manouevring wharves. They are now restricted to the Taronga Zoo and Mosman routes, with capability for Manly runs (Heritage Class vessels can do this too) or special event services to Cockatoo Island. They don't run to Neutral Bay, Balmain, Double Bay or Pyrmont Bay, a significant operational deficiency. 

Simplifying the fleet composition is an important step to making Sydney's ferry system more efficient. Sadly the tough decision to retire the Ladies is a necessary one.
(1) Technically there are at least nine vessel classes because the Herron and Northcott are very different from each other and the youngest Manly ferry, the Collaroy has many technical features which separate it from the rest of the Freshwater Class.