Let’s geek out with the latest Australian railway statistics

Angus Kidman 27 November 2017 NEWS

TrainsTrams_Shutterstock738

Aussies take 912.4 million train journeys a year, maybe.

Everyone knows I love trains, right? If not, a recap of some recent obsessional highlights: last year I marked changes to how the Opal smartcard charges for trains by travelling 1500km for $20. This year, I covered the entire NSW regional trains network over a fortnight, identifying a couple of highly obscure stations along the way. So naturally, when the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics released its annual Trainline report, I was right there queueing up for a download.

When these statistics came out last year, I noted that while we could see that Australians take around 843 million train journeys a year, the numbers aren't very precise. That rubber quality continues with the newest report, which found that in 2015-2016, urban Australians took a total of 682.3 million heavy rail (trains) journeys, and another 203.8 million on light rail (trams), adding up to 912.4 million total journeys. Here are the numbers for each city tracked in the report:

City Trains Trams
Sydney 322.6 million 9.7 million
Melbourne 233.4 million 203.8 million
Brisbane 52.4 million -
Perth 62.6 million -
Adelaide 11.3 million 8.9 million
Gold Coast - 7.7 million

Annoyingly, this figure is simultaneously too low and too high. It's too low because the Sydney figures don't include any of the intercity services that go to places like Newcastle and Wollongong, and because the Brisbane figures don't include the Airtrain even though that runs all the way to the Gold Coast. And it's too high because it includes free journeys on trams in the centre of Melbourne and Adelaide. (Those figures would only ever be guesses, since you don't need to tap on or buy a ticket, but they still mess up the numbers.)

While a small proportion, trams are growing fast, with patronage up 59% year on year in Sydney and 22% on the Gold Coast. That's a useful fact to quote the next time a Sydneysider whines about the new tram line being built along George St.

Rail use overall is growing in most cities. The one exception is Perth, which saw a slight decline, quite possibly due to the general post-mining-boom economic cooldown in that city. However, that doesn't mean that public transport usage itself is necessarily growing. For instance, the report notes that the growth on the Gold Coast's new tram network has been matched with a decline in the use of its bus services.

Sadly for a geek like me, none of this means we're going to see massive growth in train networks in our cities. While Sydney is continuing to build a new line to the Hills District and Melbourne is reconfiguring its city loop, there's rather less activity elsewhere. And that Sydney to Canberra high speed rail proposal remains fatally flawed.

Angus Kidman's Findings column looks at new developments and research that help you save money, make wise decisions and enjoy your life more. It appears regularly on finder.com.au.

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