Tuesday, October 27, 2015

How to build a tram system #101

Probably not of interest if you are not really interested in public transport.

I have heard quite a bit about the Gold Coast Light Rail since it was first planned. Naturally I followed the news to see if it would ever come to fruition. A local Gold Coast tour guide said to us, we never wanted the damned thing and now we have it, we love it.

The opposition to G Link, as it is called, was vehement and vicious, with local papers being flooded with letters from opponents. The noise when the trams are travelling past homes will be horrendous. It will divide the Gold Coast, a lengthy strip of beautiful beaches with lots of high rise development along with a more traditional hinterland,  into two (partly true as those who are not near the tram are really missing out). It will devalue properties (only those who are not near it). As per a taxi driver, the biggest negative was during the tram line's construction, where some business failed, perhaps because of the construction disruption or perhaps they were quite marginal businesses anyway. No one can deny construction of such a project is very disruptive but now businesses along the tram line are reaping the rewards. It was suggested that it would be a white elephant and a drain on the public purse. From vague memory I think it carries three times the numbers of passengers forecast and I would be very surprised if it is not a rare beast of Australian public transport and actually makes a profit.

Interestingly Sydney's planned light rail passenger number forecasts have been significantly increased and catered for but I wonder if that will be enough.

Sydney's won't be as successful if the planners and management don't follow what the Gold Coast tram planners and management did. Are you picking up that I was impressed by the Gold Coast tram?

So why? I'll leave the ticket system out for now, except to say you can arrive at what locals call a tram station, sit or stand in shade, and good rain shelter. There is a plethora of information to help you use the tram at the stations. There are next two tram live time indicators. Arrows to streets and local attractions to where you might want to go. Safety and other helpful announcements at the stations. Each station has a public transport smart card machine, giving you a Go Card that can be used on all south eastern Queensland public transport. It is also easy to buy a card elsewhere in local shops. Better than the Myki system in Melbourne, you can claim the cost of the card and the unused credit back.

The trams are Flexity models, the same as Adelaide's older new trams only newer. Yes, Flexity 2, made by Bombardier, which I am never quite sure whether if it is based in Canada or Germany. Ah, Adelaide bought Flexity Classic, quite different and Melbourne's newest trams, the E Class, are Flexity Swift.

The vehicles seemed much smoother and quieter than Melbourne's newest trams, also made by Bombardier. The drivers were skillful and relaxed. The track was sound and smooth, making the combination of a really great ride.

But here is why the system is so great, tram priority, of the kind that is not seen in Melbourne. I did not take the time to study how traffic lights worked but the trams rarely sat for more than 20 seconds at traffic lights. As well, there were sensible speed limits, at times down to a low speed in heavy pedestrian areas but there was a stretch where I was sure the tram was travelling at over 60 km/h and sure enough, I saw tram speed limit signs of 70 km/h.

One valid criticism might be that some stops are a very long way apart, deterring local commuting but then I don't know about Gold Coast demographics, like where populations are that might use the tram.

During our visit, Prime Minister Turnbull announced some federal funding towards an extension from the tram line's present northern terminus to Helensvale railway station, thereby making a rail connection from Brisbane to Surfers Paradise and beyond, ready for the 2018 Gold Coast Olympic Games.

One day it may be extended to the Gold Coast airport, probably about the same time Melbourne gets a rail line to its airport and 400 km/h train travels between Sydney and Melbourne.

I was really quite impressed by the Gold Coast light rail. It was described by at least half the people I heard speak of it as 'the tram'. However, it is very unfortunate that a tram used by so many tourists who are unfamiliar with area and need to see out from the tram, some trams have that terrible all over advertising, blocking your view out of what should be clear windows.

23 comments:

  1. Andrew building tram system is not easy but Upper Silesia is good at it. We have trams since 1894.

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    1. Gosia, the ex eastern Euro countries are really good at tram systems. Australian trams systems were even older than yours but most were dismantled in the 1950/60s. Lucky that we in Melbourne kept ours.

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  2. I suspect people don't like change in general. But more importantly we have seen virulent opposition to the development of every public facility in history. Private profiteers hate facilities that improve the life of ordinary working families.

    And the reverse is also true. Los Angeles had a wonderful public transport system until the petrol and car manufacturing industries made the City Council pull it all to pieces.

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    1. All correct Hels. Good to see 'light rail', that is trams are returning to LA.

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  3. Public transport which runs in the black? Almost unheard of. How I wish that we as a nation paid a LOT more attention to public transport needs - and learnt both from the success stories and the failures.

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    1. EC, some interesting reading in today's press about how much your bus drivers are paid, but also some exciting propositions for light rail in your town.

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  4. I always think of Bombadier as the planes. I think the planes are Canada and the trams are Germany but apparently they have a factory in Dandenong, so wikipedia tells me. That would be pretty amazing to visit. :)

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    1. Snoskred, yes, there is a factory in Dandenong where our latest trams are being built, from a mix of imported and local parts. I am now fairly convinced it is a German company.

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  5. I remember during my time as a public transport exec having to deal with a business owner in an existing, heavily-used tram corridor where we were upgrading passenger platforms (high-floor trams, unfortunately) and disabled access. We needed to remove 1 street parking spot in front of the business and the owner went apoplectic, pleading to the city council (and anyone else who would listen) that that one space gone would destroy the business. I kept saying (but not publicly) if that one parking space (in a primarily urban walking environment) made such a difference, the business was not in very good shape to begin with. And I was right. Needless to say, we went ahead with the improvements, and the business closed within of year of the construction's completion. It was a bakery. And I maintain that it wasn't our fault.

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    1. Just to follow up, not long after that, a new business opened on the same block, a small upscale grocery and café that turned out to be quite successful, despite the missing parking space.

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    2. Walt, I have a vague recollection that you have mentioned that in passing. How interesting. What city was this? Private if you like. ripppon at yahoo.com

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  6. I don't need to use public transport as yet. Your post is interesting as it give insight to the trams.

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    1. Margaret, buses are so complicated I find. Trams are so simple to see where they travel. Years ago I did tram route posts. I should do one for your town. It is on the back burner. Do you know the streets already?

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  7. There's no way trams will come back to Perth but hopefully we will at some point have a rail service from the airport to the city :) I can't believe how much building is going on here right now! Tres interesting post Andrew.

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    1. Grace, not literally trams, but certainly some light rail will appear in Perth in the not too distant future.

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  8. When designing tram systems, cities should rely heavily on rider input. Like yours!

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    1. Strayer, the problem is that such systems are built with more of an eye on profit than service.

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  9. I love reading success stories about light rail introduction.

    Hopefully we will read similar reports about Sydney's extension lines when they are operating in 4 years time.

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    1. Victor, there are a few failed new systems. Small towns in France and Spain come to mind. From what I understand, the new south east light rail is planned to be too slow and not using normal overhead power lines in George Street may be a big problem. Regardless, I am sure it will be very successful.

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  10. As a Sydney person I've been here all my life I don't remember the trams that were here before but we did have all the rails and stuff, all ripped up, if they stop the cars, the trams would work well, as a workers in the city don't usually take their cars in, as it is to hard to find parking but most companies have undercover parking for their managers and higher up, if these people left their cars at home and learnt how to walk again we would all be better of and so would they but we all know that may not happen.
    Merle..............

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    1. Merle, yes walking is good. I am an offender and drive or catch a bus or tram. Walking can be hard work, because we don't walk. The more we walk, the easier walking is.

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  11. Build them and the people will use them. So do the job properly first time, or the people will be up in arms at every break down.
    Like the Gold Coast people will say "we don't want them", but once they are operating they'll love them.

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    1. River, you have your own example in Adelaide. The re-invented light rail to Glenelg is mega successful, in spite of it receiving very little priority at traffic lights and generally a 15 minute service interval, which makes it overcrowded.

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