Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Monorail not suited for Canberra

The recent news that the Monorail in Sydney is to be closed and dismantled, with the new focus to be on light rail construction, has seen several other cities with public transport problems to look at using the Sydney monorail. 

I cannot comment on the Hobart proposal, but I can comment on the Canberra monorail suggestion. 

Canberra needs to focus on building a proper mass-transit public transport system to act as the backbone of a fully integrated system. Light rail can do the heavy lifting this system needs, with ACTION buses providing the flexibility in urban areas to feed passengers to light rail nodes. 

The Sydney monorail cannot. Its carriage passenger capacity is very low. The carriages are small. I have used the service - it is like siting in a row of old Kombi vans being towed one way around a strange non-relevant route. 

Light rail is a proven, commercial off the shelf technology, with multiple providers and a set of recognised standards. 

Monorails feature largely proprietary systems and technologies, locking users into contracts or using obsolete technologies with little to no service support available if the original supplier goes into liquidation. The same applies to providers of 'guided buses' and other types of proprietary technologies. 

The Sydney monorail track is very short. It runs one direction on a loop. 

Light rail in Canberra needs to link the major urban areas, with the major employment areas. It cannot be at the scale of a small tourist novelty. 

The Sydney Monorail is over twenty years old and maintenance on such an aging asset needs extra attention. Acquiring this system would be fraught with unknown technical challenges that would be expensive to resolve. Technical knowledge and support for this obsolete technology is scant and expensive. 

Building a light rail network would mean new infrastructure with system support from the contracted providers, who are still building this technology. There is a deep pool of this experience in Australia, and multiple vehicle builders and providers. 

While the availability of a cheap monorail system may have initial appeal, it is an impractical suggestion and should be rejected by public transport planners.  The Sydney monorail system has never attracted the patronage expected, and the reason it is being replaced is so that light rail can be extended.

Conversations on alternatives to using diesel buses as Canberra's mass transit public transport system are always welcome, but monorail is not that alternative. 

1 comment:

  1. A major problem with the concept of "buying" the Sydney Monorail is that the only portion that has any potential for recycling is the rolling stock itself, and as already pointed out this is ageing technology with "unknown technical challenges".

    Amongst the many reasons for the original choice of Monorail in Sydney, were the constraints in attempting building a transport system at ground level. The actual track infrastructure in Sydney is a highly bespoke installation fitting a specific route, designed to minimise impact on existing infrastructure at ground level, and moulding to the already-built cramped city form. On this basis any concept of hoping to effectively recycle the existing concrete and steel (mono)rail infrastructure is largely impractical.

    Fortunately, historical and current planning for Canberra has and continues to provide ample room for ground level transport corridors thus largely negating any need for specifically elevated track solutions. Having ground level infrastructure (conventional track) is also significantly cheaper to implement than monorail.