Light Rail Transit Association - UK Development Group 

 FACT SHEET No 108

NOVEMBER 2000 

TRANSIT IN AUSTRALIA - WHICH DIRECTION?

INTRODUCTION

The unexpected axing of the Brisbane Light Rail Project during July 2000 (1) has certainly opened up that proverbial "can of worms", not only in Queensland where recriminations have been somewhat abrasive, but throughout the eastern part of Australia. It would appear that bus operation in at least three of the eastern State capitals is the favoured urban transit mode, not because of any special appeal it may have in passenger service nor because of operational superiority, but ostensibly because its MODUS OPERANDI is more compatible with existing expressway and future busway configurations.

BRISBANE, THE "AFTER SHOCK".

Now that any thought of a light rail network has been eliminated, at least for the time being, Brisbane's urban bus services have come under a much closer public scrutiny a move that has tended to highlight certain "shortcomings". Even before the momentous decision to scrap the light rail plans, murmurings were appearing in the local newspapers (2) suggesting a poor record of bus breakdowns. The City Council's own figures revealed that 531 buses had been forced off the road through breakdowns in the past two years. The bus drivers themselves had complained about poorly serviced vehicles which still had faults when they left the depots. No wonder many of "the buses are full of empty seats" (3) and over an eleven years period 4 million bus passengers have deserted public transport. In viewing the light rail proposals, the Lord Mayor's concern was in respect of the impact on "business" and residents during the construction period as well as a fear that existing rail and bus passengers could be attracted rather than a cut in car use (4). The Property Council of Australia were also reported as voicing concern that light rail would limit access in several inner-city streets. Described as "strike two" (5) was elimination of plans to build a bus tunnel to connect Brisbane's CBD with the Inner-Northern Busway. This came out of a funding disagreement between Government and Council and surfaced only days after the demise of the light rail project. There had certainly been some earlier complications when a "key" part of the light rail scheme, the transit and pedestrian bridge across the Brisbane River to the University of Queensland, had been deleted following objections by the member for South Brisbane (6). The latest from Queensland, in order to prevent Brisbane from becoming "the world's road rage capital", is a plan to go under the river and the university with a railway line. Compared with the former tram and pedestrian bridge, not unlike Sheffield's bow- string bridge, the cost of this underground tunnel would be astronomical.

SYDNEY, MAXIMUM PUBLIC INTEREST WITH A MINIMUM TRAM EXTENSION (7)

An early attempt (about 12 years ago) to introduce light rail to Sydney's CBD was scuttled by a generous offer to provide a monorail over the streets at no cost to the public purse. Its intrusion was never liked by Sydneysiders who for years have campaigned (unsuccessfully) to have it removed (8).

After a gap of 36 years, from last tram in 1961 to first LRV in 1997, curiosity caused many Sydneysiders to queue up to just sample a ride over 3.6km of the former railway freight line to Darling Harbour. The 7 ABB VARIOTRAMS built for this line turned out to be sufficient to also operate the 3.lkm extension to Lilyfield which opened during August 2000. For a city the size of Sydney (nearly 4 million people) a total of 6.7km and just 7 trams does not compare very favourably with Melbourne. This is not for the want of trying because the operator CGEA has continually stressed the need for an extension to Circular Quay via the CBD. Any possibility of this will now have to wait until at least 2004 when it is hoped to have completed the CROSS CITY TUNNEL. This is expected to reduce city centre traffic, improve public transport services and permit pedestrianisation (9). Present planning by the NSW Government includes a 30km busway in S.W. Sydney of which 22km will be new and 8km bus priority in existing streets (10).

This and other road-based infrastructure spending does not meet with universal approval as demonstrated by a major newspaper article (11). This report commented, "The Games taught us that a Sydney with fewer cars on the roads is a city that works better" - - - "Light rail offers an excellent solution to this crisis of demand".

MELBOURNE, THE LARGEST TRAM NETWORK IN THE SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE.

Despite Melbourne's size, and being mostly served by a tramway network, Victoria's RAC is reported as having produced a ten-year blueprint for a new road and freeway network without giving consideration to other transport options (12). Also in this media release was the suggestion that public transport worked brilliantly providing it got the right infrastructure funding with sufficient political will behind it.

In recent years the tram system has been through a traumatic period which partly involved an operating split into two new companies, a direct opposite to Manchester's new operator which was negotiated to avoid difficulties following the extension to Eccles. The tram services in Melbourne were privatised during August 1999 with the UK based National Express Group taking on SWANSTON TRAMS and the Metrolink Consortium.- headed by Transfield, taking on YARRA TRAMS. Both concessions will run for 12 years with a sliding operating subsidy from the Victorian Government reducing to zero after 10 years (13). Although the former network had seen a large injection of high performance trams, what was badly needed was some low-floor cars to improve the networks appeal to the public. This need was certainly not neglected when the new operators ordered new rolling stock. SWANSTON TRAMS ordered 59 COMBINO's from Siemens whilst YARRA TRAMS ordered 31 CITADIS (302) from Alstom. Tram extensions have not been neglected, Knox City from Burwood, Box Hill from Mont Albert, the Docklands Loop and also a short extension at Port Melbourne to serve the cruise ship terminal.

ADELAIDE - DOMAIN OF THE ROAD TRANSPORT INDUSTRY

Despite constant patronage losses with its bus dominated transit system (14) an expansion is being considered for the O-Bahn with new track in a southerly direction from the City to Bedford Park. In contrast, and despite their age (71 years old), the trams on the Glenelg interurban line are still able to provide a popular commuter and tourist service from the coast to the City's fringe. There have been suggestions, nothing more, that it should !be extended through the CBD and improved with some modern rolling stock. Unfortunately it lacks political conviction as demonstrated by a "throw away" remark by the South Australian Transport Minister Quote "the district has long been the unassailable domain of the road transport industry" (15).

CONCLUSION

This Fact Sheet tends to illustrate that transit in Australia, unlike its European counterpart, has still strong opposition to overcome to permit a better balance between bus, tram and motor car. It will at least be interesting to see if Melbourne can maintain the progress that appears to have been made so soon after privatisation. The COMMENT column in Transit Australia seems to sum it all up very neatly, Quote : "What is happening? Is all this a secret attempt to make public transport less user-friendly and to encourage passengers back into their cars, sell more fuel, more tyres, more cars etc.? "(16)

REFERENCES

  1. See Fact Sheet No 104. - BRISBANE LIGHT RAIL SIDETRACKED August 2000.
  2. Lachlahn Heywood - City Hall Reporter - Courier Mail (Brisbane) 23rd June 2000.
  3. Chris Griffiths - Courier Mail (Brisbane) 26th July 2000.
  4. Lachlahn Heywood - City Hall Reporter - Courier mail (Brisbane) 30th June 2000.
  5. Sean Parnell and Lachlahn Heywood - Courier Mail (Brisbane) 21st July 2000.
  6. Sean Parnell - Courier Mail (Brisbane) - 25th August 2000.
  7. The opening ceremony of a 3.1km light rail extension to Lilyfield was addressed by the Minister for Transport and Roads - Bob Merchant in TROLLEY WIRE (page 15) - published by SPER (South Pacific Electric Railway) - August 2000.
  8. See MODERN TRAMWAY - February 1989 for a full report on the Sydney Monorail.
  9. TRANSIT AUSTRALIA - January 1999.
  10. BUS OR LIGHT RAIL : MAKING THE RIGHT CHOICE (page 18) - by Carmen Hass-Klau, Graham Crampton, Martin Weidaeur, Volker Deutsch. - April 2000 - published by Environmental and Transport Planning, 9 South Road, Brighton BN1 6SB.
  11. Michelle Zeibuts - President of EcoTransit:Sydney - Sydney Morning Herald - 20th October 2000.
  12. A media release by the City of Port Phillip/Council - 4th October 2000 - called for road funding to be replaced by Transport funding.
  13. TROLLEY WIRE (page 3) - August 2000.
  14. Patronage fell 1.6% 1999/2000 - TRANSIT AUSTRALIA - August 2000.
  15. TRACK AND SIGNAL MAGAZINE (page 22) Oct/Nov/Dec 2000. GPO Box 2501V Melbourne. 3001.
  16. A report by W. J. Kingsley FCIT, MIE Aust,BCE, DisEd, CP Eng. in TRANSIT AUSTRALIA - July 2000 page 159.
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