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Monday 16 October 2017

Sydney Ferry Timetable Changes Reviewed

Changes to the Sydney Ferry timetable were announced yesterday and take effect from Sunday 26 November. 

The main changes affect the existing Eastern Suburbs and Darling Harbour routes. An announcement by the NSW Government earlier in the year foreshadowed the main modifications, but yesterday's release provides all the details

  • Services to Darling Point and Double Bay will become an entirely separate route from the Watsons Bay/Rose Bay line. Under the current timetable, Darling Point is only serviced week-days in the AM and PM peaks. Double Bay has some off peak services, but they are irregular at best. The new timetable will give Darling Point and Double Bay passengers a 60 minute interval service in the off peak, seven days a week.
  • Watsons Bay and Rose Bay will become stops on a "through line" to be known as the Cross Harbour route. It merges Watson Bay and Rose Bay services with the existing Darling Harbour route. Passengers from Watsons Bay or Rose Bay will be able to travel on the same vessel to Darling Harbour, via Circular Quay, Milsons Point, McMahons Point and Balmain East. The new route terminates at its western end at Pyrmont Bay. Barangaroo becomes an intermediate stop rather than a terminus. Watsons Bay remains an "off peak only" stop with Captain Cook cruises continuing to provide a commuter peak service to this wharf.
  • A second stopping pattern will operate on week-ends between Circular Quay and Darling Harbour, with stops at Milsons Point, Barangaroo and Pyrmont Bay only. This pattern will operate at 30 minute intervals, lifting the frequency of services between CQ and Barangaroo to 15 minutes on week-ends (currently 20 minutes).
  • Cockatoo Island formally becomes a separate route from the Parramatta line. Late evening services to Balmain (Thames Street), Birchgrove, Greenwich and Woolwich will no longer be add ons to the Parramatta River runs.


Overall, the changes are moving Sydney's ferry network in a positive direction. There is clearly a strategy to create a more legible timetable with greater effort to achieve consistent clock-face scheduling. This has partly been accomplished by the acquisition of new Inner Harbour Emerald Class ferries, which provide more flexibility in the runnings.

This improvement is highlighted by the off peak Rose Bay timetable. Passengers from Rose Bay should be pleased to see that off peak sailings in the direction of Circular Quay
will always now depart at 29 and 59 minutes past the hour, reducing to a 60 minute interval (29 minutes past the hour) after 19:29. Simple and easy to remember.

But there is room for improvement.

Through lining is good in principle, but the combination of Watsons Bay and Darling Harbour is not ideal as the two routes have different demand profiles. This is discussed further in a previous post. Until Watsons Bay wharf is upgraded there is a risk also that delays at Watsons Bay will cause flow on punctuality issues for the Darling Harbour section of the line.

There are also some specific issues of concern revealed in the details released yesterday:

  • departures from Rose Bay in the direction of Watsons Bay are almost all scheduled one minute after departures in the direction of Circular Quay. Rose Bay is a single berth pontoon and scheduling the two so closely together will cause delays. Departures from a single berth should be at least four minutes apart. On a quick calculation, this feature will affect 113 services a week and cause vessels to sit idly off Rose Bay for a total of more than five hours every week.
  • Darling Point passengers are big winners from the new timetable, but will be affected by a curious feature. Off peak services will only stop at Darling Point in the inbound direction until 12:25 week-days and 13:25 week-ends. Outbound off peak ferries only stop there from 13:10 week-days and 14:10 week-ends. It could be argued that those who need to travel to or from Darling Point at other times can go via Double Bay first, but I'm not convinced it's necessary. The Double Bay cycle provides a five minute layover at Double Bay and a stop at Darling Point will only add two minutes to the journey.
  • Having two stopping patterns for the Darling Harbour section of the Cross Harbour route on week-ends is less than ideal. Simplicity is almost always better than complexity. I expect it will cause confusion and some lost ferry passengers.
The general progression to a more legible Sydney Ferry network is welcome. What we don't see yet, apart from the "Cross Harbour" experiment, is improved line connectivity at Circular Quay.  Why not take the periodicity a little bit further and adopt a fully integrated pulse timetable?  


  1. Increased service levels and extended clock-face interval running is a great step forward. It's a shame it coincides with through-routing (that is, using Circular Quay as an intermediate, rather than as a terminal stop), because this change brings with it many operational risks. I think the demand mismatch issue is small compared to the "circular quay as an intermediate stop" issue.

    The main risks stem from the existing congestion and undisciplined operation of Circular Quay. Even today the eastern routes are often delayed 2-3 minutes on arrival. This means that every through-route needs to have at least 2-3 minutes of recovery time to maintain on-time running at Barangaroo, extending the cumulative section run time.

    In the absence of terminal stop recovery time, it will also heighten pressure on crews to maintain time. Add to this the retirement of the inner-harbour double-enders (increase in reversing manoeuvres), this will present a heightened operational safety risk.

    For "CQ as an intermediate stop" something will have to give: reliability or journey time (for an acceptable level of operational safety). The Rose Bay route is one of Sydney Ferry's most extraordinary growth and revenue/ cost success stories. The risk of spreading reliability contagion into that route from this change is substantial.

  2. I certainly agree that Circular Quay congestion should be better managed, but I give credit to TfNSW for having the courage to give through routing a crack. It may lead to the fixing of other systemic problems that have never been properly addressed. A total of 8 minutes (4 in each direction) is allocated for loading and recovery in each cycle at Barangaroo. I think that's probably enough once the new Milsons Pt wharf is operational. I'm actually more concerned about the reliability contagion starting in the east, due to the berthing conflict at Rose Bay and the inadequacy of Watsons Bay wharf.

  3. I think you are being generous with 'Cross Harbour route on week-ends is less than ideal'.

    It is hardly a Watsons Bay-Barangaroo service when it only goes to Watsons Bay 10:00-4:00 weekdays, and the Darling Harbour part is really quite confusing in the evenings. Why is Pyrmont Bay skipped by just one service ?

    And the 'day restrictions' - that takes some working out !

    Why is Circular Quay arr/dep repeated on Mon-Fri timetable ? Is this the remnant of somebody in Sydney Ferries being obsessed about which Circular Quay wharf ?

    Is there an operational reason or benefit for a Cross Harbour service ?

    Interesting that combining Hunters Hill and the river service has been quietly abandoned.

    And what happened to the idea of terminating all river services at Barangaroo ?

  4. In response to your issues Trevor:
    1. Watsons Bay has long been without an SF commuter service on week-days, basically because of cost and a shortage of high speed vessel capacity. The boat shortage problem is now "fixed" with the acquisition of six new ferries this year, but in the meantime Transport for NSW has allowed Captain Cook Cruises to offer a non regulated ferry service to and from Watsons Bay in the AM and PM peak periods. So I'm guessing that TfNSW can't now turn around and undermine the Captain Cook service, which unfortunately isn't under the Opal card system.
    2. Pyrmont Bay becomes the terminus at the Darling Harbour end of the service and the ferry will now stop at Barangaroo in both the inbound and outbound directions. This is actually a good thing for Balmain East, McMahons Point and Milsons Point passengers because it means a shorter journey time from Barangaroo to these wharves, going in the direction of CQ. It also means passengers from Pyrmont Bay can now travel to Barangaroo. The main concern I have is that the runnings will be very tight - ie delays look probable, especially on week-ends. Under the new TT, the ferry will have one extra stop (the inbound to CQ stop at Barangaroo) and less time to complete the run.
    3. I think the repetition of CQ in the timetable is just a typo by Transport for NSW.
    4. I can't think of any operational reason for the cross harbour service - I imagine the intention is to give a better connection to Watson Bay for leisure travellers from Darling Harbour.