NSW Trains Wiki

CityRail is a former operator of metropolitan train services in Sydney. The RailCorp brand had responsibility for providing commuter rail services and some coach services to Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong. It operated at 307 stations and over 2,060 km (1,280 mi) of track, extending to the upper Hunter Valley, south to the Shoalhaven area and reaching as far west as Lithgow.[1] An average of 1 million trips were made from these metropolitan, intercity and regional stations each day.

CityRail was established in 1989 under the Transport Administration Act, 1988 (NSW) and worked in conjunction with its sister group, CountryLink, which operated rail and coach services in regional New South Wales.

In 2013, CityRail ceased operations as a result of the restructuring of RailCorp. It was superseded by Sydney Trains and NSW TrainLink, who are the current operators of metropolitan services.



Main article: CityRail Fleet

In 2009 CityRail ran ten types of rolling stock, in two categories: electric multiple units (EMUs) for suburban and interurban working, and diesel multiple units (DMUs) for interurban and regional lines running through less populated areas. All CityRail electric trains use 1500V DC overhead electrification and travel on 1435 mm standard gauge tracks. All electric rolling stock has been double deck since the early 1970s. 

The CityRail network was divided into three sectors, based around three maintenance depots. EMU trainsets were identified by target plates, which are exhibited on the front lower nearside of driving carriages. The target plate shows three important pieces of information about the train:

  • A letter showing the class of train
  • A number - the set number
  • A colour showing the depot the train was maintained at


CityRail's ticketing system was called the Automated Fare Collection System. Tickets were made of card and had a magnetic stripe for ticket validation.

Unlike the ticketing systems of other cities in Australia, most of CityRail's ticket prices were calculated on the distance travelled and were inexpensive by world standards. Entry to privately owned train stations at Sydney Airport requires a Station Access Fee in addition to the train fare. This station access fee was later removed for Green Square and Mascot.

Some tickets also included access to other modes of public transport, the Easter Show or allowed unlimited travel within a certain zone. These were originally known as TravelPass, which was rebranded MyMulti.

Tickets could be purchased at ticket windows or automated vending machines using cash or card.

The system was kept for a short period after Sydney Trains took over, however it has since been replaced by Opal, which first launched in 2013.


According to the 2003 'Parry report', "The interaction of metropolitan, suburban, intercity and freight lines and services has resulted in an overly complex system." This complexity has contributed in part to the organisation being widely criticised for poor reliability and safety. CityRail was also enormously expensive. RailCorp required a government subsidy of close to $1.8 billion a year, approximately 5% of the state budget and more than three times what it collects in fares. "There is an overwhelming sense," the report concluded, "that CityRail does not promote a real commitment to quality, customer focus and a service culture."

On-time running has improved since new timetables were introduced in 2005 and 2006. The newly introduced timetable increase the station dwelling time and increase the amount of time a train is expected to arrive at the destination. In April 2008, 99.6% of all services ran, and 92.6% of these services arrived within five minutes of their scheduled arrival time. However a 2007 report by Hong Kong's Mass Transit Railway Corporation found that Sydney's train system reliability levels lagged behind international benchmarks.


Main article: CityRail Lines

CityRail operated eleven suburban lines, four intercity services, one regional service, and four connecting bus services, plus a late night bus service across metropolitan Sydney (known as NightRide).

Suburban Network[]

Line colour and name Between
CityRailgreen.png Airport and East Hills line City Circle and Macarthur via either Sydenham (peak) or Wolli Creek.
CityRailorange.png Bankstown line City Circle and Liverpool or Lidcombe, via Bankstown.
CityRaildarkblue.png Carlingford line Clyde and Carlingford.
CityRailmagenta.png Cumberland line Blacktown and Campbelltown.
CityRail blue.gif Eastern Suburbs & Illawarra line Bondi Junction and Waterfall or Cronulla.
CityRailpurple.png Inner West line City Circle and Lidcombe or Liverpool, via Strathfield.
CityRailred.png Northern line Epping and Hornsby via Strathfield, the City and Macquarie Park.
CityRailyellow.png North Shore line Central and Berowra via Chatswood.
CityRailolympicpark.png Olympic Park line Lidcombe and Olympic Park. Some services operate between Central and Olympic Park, particularly during special events.
CityRaillightblue.png South line City Circle and Campbelltown, via Granville.
CityRailyellow.png Western line Central and Emu Plains or Richmond.

*In peak hour on the North Shore line, some outer-suburban services run to Gosford and Wyong, and some Western Line services extend to Springwood.
*Inbound Inner West and South services generally travel around the City Circle in the clockwise direction. Inbound Airport and East Hills and Bankstown services generally travel around the City Circle in the anti-clockwise direction.

Intercity Network[]

Line colour and name Between
Bluemountainsline.png Blue Mountains line Central and Lithgow.
Newcastleline.png Newcastle and Central Coast line Central and Newcastle.
SouthCoastline.png South Coast line Central and Bomaderry (Nowra) or Port Kembla.
Southernhighlandsline.png Southern Highlands line Campbelltown and Moss Vale, with less frequent services to Goulburn and Central.

Regional line[]

Line colour and name Between
Hunterline.png Hunter line Newcastle and Telarah, with less frequent services to Dungog or Scone

Connecting bus services[]

CityRail operated several bus routes along corridors where the railway line had been closed to passengers or as a supplement to rail services. These bus services appeared in CityRail timetables and accepted CityRail tickets, but they were operated by private-sector bus companies contracted by CityRail.

Line colour and name Between
NSWTrainLinkbusyellow.png Blue Mountains line Lithgow to Bathurst via Mt Lambie
NSWTrainLinkbusred.png Newcastle and Central Coast line Fassifern to Toronto via Blackalls Park
NSWTrainLinkbusblue.png South Coast line Bundanoon/Bowral to Wollongong via Robertson
NSWTrainLinkbusgreen.png Southern Highlands line Bowral to Picton via Thirlmere on weekdays only


The CityRail network was a hybrid of three different types of passenger railway: metro-style underground; suburban commuter rail and interurban.

CityRail's suburban network mostly radiated outwards from the Sydney CBD. Some trains operated via the City Circle, an underground loop through the CBD that received a much higher service frequency then other lines. Inner suburban areas received a higher frequency of services than outer suburban areas, as most lines had intermediate termini to cope with the higher urban density of inner-city suburbs.

There is evidence this hybrid arrangement was deliberate. The design of the early electric carriages was developed as a combination of the high-capacity, low-boarding time of the New York Subways trains and the existing English long carriage design that was established in Australia's long-haul steam train system. Those design principles have carried over to successive rolling stock.

CityRail also operated several interurban services from Central Station. These lines stretch over 160 km (99 mi) from Sydney, as far north as Newcastle, as far west as Lithgow, as far south-west as Goulburn and as far south as Kiama and Port Kembla. They also operated two regional services: between Kiama and Bomaderry (Nowra), and between Newcastle, Scone and Dungog.

Passenger Information System[]

Most CityRail stations were well equipped with electronic passenger destination indicator boards. These provided information on the current time, next three available services, time due to arrival, destination, stopping pattern and the number of carriages. Systems at Central station also produced a visual alert to passengers of train doors about to close during peak hour. At stations where trains arrived at a higher frequency, single LCD screen were placed vertically whereas at low frequency stations the information was spread out on two horizontal LCDs, with the next train information on one and following train information on the other.

There were two systems built to controls these screens: PICS (Passenger Information Control System) and LICS (Line Information Control System). PICS was used at stations where station staff controlled the displays, whereas LICS was used at unattended stations where the displays were controlled from the signal box. The only differences visible to customers was that the station names were abbreviated differently between the two systems. CBSM (Custom Built Sheet Metal) was responsible for the manufacture of many indicator board encasings. Very few stations also had mechanically operated signs dating back to the State Rail days.

All stations, including those without displays, also had automated announcements. These were made from recordings of single words and phrases, which were then pieced together in the software to announce the stopping pattern of each train. Several different voices were used over the years, with most announcements done by Grant Goldman and Taylor Owynns in later years.


CityRail's origins go as far back as 1855 when the first public railway in New South Wales opened between Sydney and Granville, now a suburb of Sydney but then a major agricultural centre. The railway formed the basis of the New South Wales railways and was owned by the government. Passenger and freight services were operated from the beginning. The State's railway system quickly expanded from the outset with lines radiating from Sydney and Newcastle into the interior of New South Wales, with frequent passenger railway services in the suburban areas of Sydney and Newcastle along with less frequent passenger trains into the rural areas and interstate. All services were powered by steam locomotives, though in the 1920s petrol railcars were introduced for minor branch lines with low passenger numbers, both in metropolitan Sydney and rural areas.

The CityRail system as it existed is to some extent the result of the vision and foresight of John Bradfield, one of Australia's most respected and famous civil engineers. He was involved in the design and construction of Sydney's underground railways in the 1920s and 1930s, but he is more famous for the associated design and construction of Sydney's greatest icon, the Sydney Harbour Bridge.


New South Wales uses an overhead electrification system at 1500V DC. Whilst inferior to and more expensive than modern single phase alternating current equipment, it was in vogue during the 1920s and is generally sufficient for the operation of electric multiple unit trains. However, the introduction of powerful electric locomotives in the 1950s, followed by the Millennium Train in 2002, revealed drawbacks in this antiquated system of electrification. As the voltage is relatively low, high currents are required to supply a given amount of power, which necessitates the use of very heavy duty cabling and substation equipment. Until the retirement of electric locomotives from freight service, it was often necessary to observe a "power margin" to ensure that substations were not overloaded. This situation was similar to that which applied to The Milwaukee Road's 3000V DC electrification. Plans to electrify the Hunter Valley at 25 kV alternating current were abandoned in the 1990s. With private freight operation favouring diesel haulage, it is unlikely that the electrification will extend beyond its present outer-metropolitan limits in the foreseeable future.

Electrification came to Sydney's suburbs in 1926 with the first suburban electric service running between Sydney's Central Station and the suburb of Oatley approximately 20 km (12 mi) south of Sydney. In the same year, the first underground railway was constructed from Central Station to St James in Sydney's CBD . Electric trains that had previously terminated at the Central Station continued north, diving underground at the Goulburn Street tunnel portal, stopping at Museum underground station and then terminating at St James. Other lines were soon electrified. Also, in conjunction with the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge which opened in 1932, an additional underground line in downtown Sydney was constructed, connecting the North Shore line with Central Station via two downtown stations, Town Hall and Wynyard.

World War II interrupted programmes for further electrification, but an extensive electric network was in place in 1948.

Rail Clearways[]

CityRail also launched a program named Rail Clearways. Its aim was to improve reliability of the rail network by reducing the number of interconnections (e.g. shared tracks, trains and crew) between lines. A number of different improvements were planned as part of this program, however not all were implemented:

  • Macdonaldtown turnback (completed 2005)
  • Bondi Junction crossover (completed 2006)
  • Revesby turnback (completed 2008)
  • Hornsby Platform 5 (completed 2009)
  • Cronulla Branch duplication (completed 2010)
  • Lidcombe turnback (completed 2010)
  • Homebush turnback (completed 2011)
  • Quakers Hill to Schofields duplication (completed 2011)
  • Macarthur additional platform (cancelled)
  • Liverpool additional platform (completed 2013)
  • Kingsgrove to Revesby quadruplication (completed 2013)
  • Sydenham to Erskineville sextuplication (cancelled)
  • Wolli Creek Illawara Local platforms (cancelled)