Friday, June 3, 2011

Future of Light Rail in Canberra

The Canberra Times will be running a feature on light rail/public transport in the Sunday June 5th edition. I provided the following article for them to use all or parts of for their feature. 

The future of light rail in Canberra is assured. Although the present government dare not speak its name, light rail is still needed in the nations capital - and not in twenty years, it needs it now. Canberra is a city designed for the car, but not the volume of cars that it now has. A city with proper public transport does not require each household to have two cars or more. That’s a sign of a broken system. Road congestion, a decrease in parking availability, higher urban density – these are factors that will only increase.

The best public transport system for Canberra is a light rail system connecting the major employment and population centres of Canberra, with a linkage to Queanbeyan. With this high speed network in place the ACTION bus fleet would be retasked with an increase in the frequency of buses serving suburban areas and feeding commuters to transport nodes. The transport nodes or stations would also have Park and Ride facilities and bike cages.

This integrated bus/light rail system will offer public transport that is reliable, frequent and attractive.  It also provides a realistic alternative to a private car for more than the 6% of people who choose public transport today. Public transport should be the first option, not the last. A functional public transport system, will also decrease road congestion, travel times and provide a better quality of life for Canberra residents. The governments own studies have shown this.

Despite this being known, the government pretends to address the requirement for better public transport with tentative steps towards a mass transit network with the ‘Rapid’ buses. This is not a proper Bus Rapid Transit system and it never will be. The same investment in expenditure that would be required to make Bus Rapid Transit work is roughly the same investment that would be need to build light rail. This investment in light rail is something the Labour government seems unwilling to make.

There is no shortage of will for light rail in Canberra from every sector except the Government. Despite a bid to Infrastructure Australia for Light Rail two years ago being the primary item, it is now never mentioned and much government effort is being put into finding funding for a new road. The bid failed because there was no engineering study to support it. The cost of this study is less than building a new skate park or marina on the Kingston foreshore.

Since self government, the ACT Government has been unwilling to borrow money for infrastructure – fearful of running a deficit. This is the same as a person buying a home and only being able to pay for it out of that years salary. It’s a tactic that has delivered substandard infrastructure and caused projects like the GDE to run for a decade, when it could have been built in half that time if funded properly from the start.

While the ACT Government has finally decided to borrow money for transport infrastructure, its just a shame its not infrastructure that will benefit the greater community. The investment needed to build the Majura Road upgrade is roughly the same amount required to build light rail from Gungahlin to Civic. What investment will deliver a better return for Canberra over the longer term? Another road or the first part of a light rail network. I know what answer commuters would give.

Although the issue has fallen off the government’s agenda, the requirement for better public transport still exists, and will only grow over time. Despite efforts to improve ACTION, patronage barely grows while road congestion and the number of cars in Canberra does. The only solution is a modal change to light rail. The voters of Canberra do not fear an investment in public transport; they want to know why it hasn’t yet occurred. 


  1. Anonymous17.6.11

    How will the light rail track negotiate major cross roads on Northbourne ave? Will there be some kind of flyover or underpass that means that trams will not have to stop,or will they have stop at traffic lights?

  2. Technology exists to provide priority for light rail vehicles at traffic lights. Theoretically, you could travel the entire way on green lights. Id imagine apart from Northbourne, the rest of the route would be separated from the road system. Thats the ideal setup, and we have the transport reservations to enable it.

  3. Anonymous27.6.11

    Would not some sort of suspended by bydirectional mono rail or suspended air bus be more practical eg & have less impact on the environment & existing infrastructure. "Light rail" where commuters could ride on ride off on Push Bikes, mobility scooters & wheelchairs is well overdue. A suspended system that could be integrated with our major shopping centres, airport & other transport hubs would assist in take-up & usability of the system.
    Preferably a transport loop that included the good people of Queanbeyan many of whom commute daily into & out of the ACT.
    I would think that a system that is using an unobstructed corridor could achieve considerably higher speeds than road traffic & make use of renewable energy resources. (those other that internal combustion engines.)
    I despair at the thought that Canberra is starting to catch up to Sydney & its road transport nightmare.
    (Apologies if all this has been said before)
    Just my 2c worth. 

  4. Using off the shelf engineering is a better way to approach the public transport solution. Im not aware of any modern monorail system in use that serves as a mass transit public transport system. There are many light rail networks in place.
    ACT Light Rail support the inclusion of Queanbeyan and Jerrabombera in any light rail system that is constructed.