Friday, September 12, 2008

Metro in Sydney Transport Plan

The formation of a new NSW Government provides the opportunity to rethink Sydney's transport planning. The "North West Metro" proposed as a "European" style metro was not viablee. Sydney is not a European style city and needs a different transport system. The government should look to cities such as Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane to see how to use heavy and light rail and express bus ways for public transport.

European style metros service densely populated cities using closely spaced stations and short lines. The Sydney metro was to be a single 38km rail line with 17 stations (one for every 2 km) to cost $12B. A few months ago I visited the Greek city of Thessaloniki and saw a real European metro under construction This will have 13 stations, almost as many as the Sydney plan, but is only 9.6 km long, one third the spacing of the Sydney system. This smaller system will cost only 800 million euros, but even so has taken thirty years to build.

Instead of one long rail line, Sydney could consider some shorter genuine metro lines to service densely populated parts of the city in the next few decades. However, this should be a supplement to improved heavy rail, as Perth has done. There are also measures which can be introduced relatively quickly and cheaply, costing hundreds of millions of dollars and taking years, rather than billions taking decades. These include extending the existing light rail in the inner west of Sydney and providing priority bus lanes.

Another relatively easy problem to solve is the ticketing system for Sydney transport. The previous smart card project failed due to a complex pricing system for Sydney's diverse transport system. Istanbul has an integrated electronic ticketing system (Akbil) for the city's trams, trains, buses, ferries and even two Funicular railways. This works because the fare structure of the transport system has been simplified.

Given that transport systems take decades to implement, Sydney could look at some emerging technologies, such as hybrid buses,
Guided buses (used in Adelaide), and rubber-tyred trams. The have the potential of providing the low cost and flexibility of conventional buses with the capacities of metro and light rail, using some of Sydney's existing road infrastructure. As an example some of the lanes of existing toll roads and toll tunnels could be converted to guided bus-ways. The buses would collect passengers on ordinary roads and the enter the guided way for a high speed trip to the city center.

The buses could be electrically powered from renewable sources while on the bus way. Computer control of the buses would provide a similar level of safety, ride comfort and speed to an advanced light rail system. Buses which primarily use the guided ways could be powered by rechargable batteries when away from the guide way and would not require internal combustion engines. Express buses which only used the guide way could be driver-less.

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