“Packed in like sardines”: Extra services to meet light rail demand

Ian Bushnell 10 February 2020 73
Light rail

Light rail is so popular that overcrowding and missed connections have become issues. Photo: File.

Overcrowding on Canberra’s popular light rail link between Gungahlin and the city has forced the ACT Government to run extra services, with more to come on-line in time for Term 2.

In its Budget submission late last year, the Gungahlin Community Council called for extra services, saying light rail vehicles are becoming very crowded, particularly in the peak morning period.

Transport Minister Chris Steel acknowledged the light rail’s popularity was now causing problems, with ”people packed in like sardines” and commuters unable to fit on to a vehicle at stops such as Dickson.

He said this week’s morning and afternoon peak periods, when there are services every six minutes, had been extended.

The southbound morning peak is now 7 – 9:30 am instead of finishing at 9 am, while in the afternoons northbound services are now 3 pm to 6:30 pm, instead 4 – 6 pm, and southbound services 3:30 – 6 pm, instead of 4 – 5:30 pm.

Mr Steel said the afternoon changes would also support school students making their way home.

In Term 2 from 28 April, frequency will be increased to every five minutes during the morning weekday peak, and the afternoon weekday peak period will be extended to 7 pm northbound and 6:30 pm southbound, with frequency at six minutes.

On Sundays and public holidays, services will start from 7 am rather than 8 am, which Mr Steel said would provide better connections with bus services.

The changes are a win for Labor Yerrabi MLA Michael Pettersson who last year moved a motion in the Legislative Assembly calling for more services.

“I heard from a lot of constituents that crowding on their commute was an issue and it’s great that light rail will now be even more accessible and comfortable for people to move around our city,” Mr Pettersson said.

Mr Steel said the demand had far exceeded expectations, with more than 15,000 boardings every day and 3.5 million boardings since the light rail started last year.

“This is a significant increase in the frequency of light rail services and we hope more people will use public transport,” he said.

“It’s not just about people using light rail, its about all the buses along the route, places like Dickson, where people have found it difficult to connect with light rail, with vehicles full coming from Gungahlin.”

Mr Steel said with the expansion of peak periods and the move to a five-minute timetable during morning peaks, a further 155 light rail services will be added every week, taking the total number of light rail services to more than 1600 every week.

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73 Responses to “Packed in like sardines”: Extra services to meet light rail demand
Capital Retro Capital Retro 9:30 am 08 Feb 20

“The CBR light rail was the right solution for a different problem.”

Please remind us what was the other “problem”. And wasn’t the governmnet going to transfer the offices of several agencies to Gungahlin? So far, none have been relocated that I am aware of. If this had happened there would be some commuters on the trams doing their return journey to Gungahlin in the mornings and the opposite in the evenings.

    JC JC 4:58 am 09 Feb 20

    ACT shared services are in Gungahlin, in the ACT government office building. They have been there for a few years now.

    And the feds have just announced that DHA is moving to Gunners. Though Zed said that’s so that people can live and work in the same community so it won’t contribute much to light rail use if what he says is true.

    That said can you tell me any of the public transport here or anywhere in this country that has a significant contra flow passenger flow in the peaks? I am certain you will struggle.

    So regardless be it bus or rail the vehicles heading back out to the burbs will either run out of service like buses (just almost be time for the annual ACT libs rant about dead running on Action buses) or running in service but with less passengers for rail.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 6:56 pm 10 Feb 20

    Fair comment JC, I accept all that.

Lewis P Owlay Lewis P Owlay 5:38 pm 07 Feb 20

Shoulda just bought a bunch of electric buses 🤦🏼‍♂️

Rob Smith Rob Smith 5:00 pm 07 Feb 20

They are using it because have no choice bus routes have been decimated

    Anne Christoff Frampton Anne Christoff Frampton 7:46 pm 07 Feb 20

    Rob Smith yes exactly they have no choice, the buses have been removed. Poor second choice.

Jeff Smith Jeff Smith 4:35 pm 07 Feb 20

Even at absolute maximum carrying capacity for each of the twelve peak hour trips from Gungahlin to the City only 2,500 commuters can actually make the journey to work on the Light Rail in peak hour. I'm still not sure this was the right public transport solution for such a wide and low density city. Especially a city with an 'office centre based workforce' and a projected student and workforce population in the city centre of almost 80,000 people per working day. The CBR light rail was the right solution for a different problem.

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 5:26 am 09 Feb 20

    Jeff Smith publishes capacity of tram is 280. 12x280=3360

    And not sure your point as before there was a bus every 5 minutes in peak, only half were articulated. So rigid bus 6x60=360 + 6x100=600 so grand total of 960 passengers an hour.

    So to carry the same number of people as 12 trams an hour (and yes even I would hate to be in a tram with 280 people) you would need 3600/100=36 articulated buses so one every 1 2/3 minutes or if using rigid buses 3600/60=60 so a bus every minute. Hardly sensible or viable which might explain why they went the light rail route on this corridor.

    Message brought to you by Transport Canberra.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 12:03 pm 07 Feb 20

“It’s still a red herring”

……….that eats sardines.

Andrew Hegedues Andrew Hegedues 11:42 am 07 Feb 20

That's odd, as even this morning I saw NOT ONE passenger on it going back to Gungahlin... o that's right, it's only useful to the city in the morning, and reverse in the arvo.

This article doesn't cover the reverse direction at same period, and out of peak times.

Waste of money tram.

    Brett Downing Brett Downing 1:17 pm 07 Feb 20

    Andrew Hegedues I’ll second that! When you take away bus services you gotta get to work someway

    Elroy Jones Elroy Jones 5:35 pm 07 Feb 20

    Brett Downing overall patronage has increased.. there are more people on the tram than there were using buses.

GrumpyMark GrumpyMark 9:44 am 07 Feb 20

I thought the concept of a dedicated public transport corridor was always going to be a winner. However, from day one I have suggested an O-Bahn style (bus based) solution (as used in Adelaide – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O-Bahn_Busway) could achieve a good outcome at far less cost and allowing expansion to other areas at a much greater rate. Had a system like this been adopted, I think the engineering (Lake BG) and poltical (Parliamentary triangle) challenges would be much less. The one advantage light rail has over buses is the amount of “stock” that can be moved in a single journey – evidenced by the fact they can add on more cars. Given the current solution services a very heavy passenger load, perhaps there is room to adopt an alternate solution in the expansion down south where perhaps the load along the main corridor may not be so great?

Aldo Milin Aldo Milin 8:41 am 07 Feb 20

I realise that it's only early days but does anyone have pre light rail numbers for both bus passengers and the number of motor vehicles that used the light rail corridor compared to now? Those figures would more appropriately reflect the success or not of the light rail service.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 8:14 am 07 Feb 20

“Need to 2 extra trams to make peak hour frequency once every 5 minutes.”

This would be impossible to do at the Gunghalin terminus because the trams have to arrive from the wrong direction and there is no room for feed-in lay-bys. Poor planning evident.

    chewy14 chewy14 11:34 am 07 Feb 20

    We have 14 vehicles and there are two bays at each terminus for loading and unloading.

    Even with some leeway you can do that with 12 vehicles, with 2 offline for maintenance.

    Why dont you think it’s possible?

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 2:40 pm 07 Feb 20

    Two trams every 5 minutes means the first leaving Gungahlin will be reaching the City as the last one is leaving Gungahlin so it will be 30 minutes before the first tram gets back to Gungahlin.

    chewy14 chewy14 3:20 pm 07 Feb 20

    You’ve misread it.

    They are changing from the current peak hour frequency of 1 tram every 6 minutes, to 1 tram every 5 minutes.

    The travel time end to end of the route is 24 minutes, even if you allow a couple of minutes for unloading and loading passengers at each end as well as a couple of minutes contingency, there is enough trams to complete that frequency with a couple spare trams off for maintenance.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 3:44 pm 07 Feb 20

    I was commenting about the suggestion for 2 trams so you are the one misreading it.

    chewy14 chewy14 8:59 am 09 Feb 20

    Capital Retro,
    Why state that there is “poor planning evident”, when what you’re saying has nothing to do with the proposal and the current amount of trams are sufficient?

    ie. Nothing wrong with the planning.

    chewy14 chewy14 9:01 am 09 Feb 20

    “Need to 2 extra trams to make peak hour frequency once every 5 minutes.”

    Also, you have clearly misread the statement. No one was suggesting two trams, the comment was about extra vehicles.

    I’ve shown exactly why this is wrong.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 10:38 pm 10 Feb 20

    “Need to 2 extra trams to make peak hour frequency once every 5 minutes.”

    The comment I quoted was TRAMS, not VEHICLES.


    JC JC 5:16 am 09 Feb 20

    Actually it will probably work better. Current peak service sees a tram arrive at the terminus as one departs so yes gives the tram a 60 minute round trip. 24 minutes each way and 6 minutes to turn around at the terminus.

    Going to 5 minute frequencies the tram that would otherwise be waiting to go will have left before the inbound one arrives which nullifies any potential conflict which is assume was tour point about what you consider to be a bad design.

    5 minute frequencies also means the round trip time is now 58 minutes so it will only require 1 extra tram not 2. Current peak service only requires 10 of the 14.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 8:10 am 07 Feb 20

Why didn’t the buy double-decker trams in the first place?

    rationalobserver rationalobserver 3:07 pm 07 Feb 20

    Might have been possible if there were not unsightly power lines overhead. Bit late now.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 12:25 pm 08 Feb 20

    I meant the solar powered, wind assisted ones.

    ChrisinTurner ChrisinTurner 2:54 pm 08 Feb 20

    Where have you seen modern double decker trams?

Robert Hawes Robert Hawes 7:06 am 07 Feb 20

Need to 2 extra trams to make peak hour frequency once every 5 minutes.

chewy14 chewy14 7:03 am 07 Feb 20

I like how people are now attempting to use patronage numbers as proof of the “success” of the light rail, where in reality that was never in question.

The main issue with Its viability is that their were other options that would have delivered the same public transport benefit for a fraction of the cost.

If the government offered a cheap limousine service to your door, I have no doubt it would be highly used, but that wouldn’t, by itself, justify the expenditure.

Its almost like very few people have any idea how public infrastructure projects should be developed and funded.

Helen Gladman Helen Gladman 5:47 am 07 Feb 20

Thank goodness. I love the tram but in the mornings I’m starting to get anxious about how to manage the extreme lack of space. I’ll watch trams go by waiting for space at Dickson.

Ash Pagett Ash Pagett 10:41 pm 06 Feb 20

Go you good thing

Joanne McRae Joanne McRae 9:44 pm 06 Feb 20

Will be interesting to see how well the tram copes once all the new apartments under construction along the route are occupied.

Colin Mitchell Colin Mitchell 9:30 pm 06 Feb 20

It's still a red herring

    Leigh Brady Leigh Brady 9:48 pm 06 Feb 20

    Colin, I don’t think that means what you think it does.

Denise Wilson Denise Wilson 7:47 pm 06 Feb 20

Why don’t they add more carriages ??? Canberra has the shortest light rail system I’ve seen in this country . . .

    Denise Wilson Denise Wilson 8:58 pm 06 Feb 20

    Chris MacDonald wow

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 9:49 pm 06 Feb 20

    Denise Wilson shortest? The only light rail vehicle longer in Australia are the ones used on the Gold Coast. You could also add the new Sydney line which uses two vehicles coupled together which are the same length as here.

    Other than that Newcastle, Sydney’s inner west line, Adelaide and Melbourne’s longest tram are the same length as Canberra at roughly 33m.

    Fear not though the trams we have can be lengthened to 56m which is a 9 carriage vehicle, though the stops and infrastructure in Canberra were designed to allow expansion to 7 which would make them 45m which is the same length as the Gold Coast.

    And as Chris said frequency is more important that length until you get to the point where you cannot add more frequency which we are not at yet.

James Alan Nguyen James Alan Nguyen 7:40 pm 06 Feb 20

so funny. and here i thought the whingers of the ACT were all predicting these trams would seldom get used. wow!

    Lynne Staunton Lynne Staunton 8:02 pm 06 Feb 20

    James Alan Nguyen its the only public transport in that area so no choice really.

    Margaret Freemantle Margaret Freemantle 9:46 pm 06 Feb 20

    James Alan Nguyen there are plenty of buses fro gungahlin to civics. Just that tram is a smoother ride

    Bianca Lorenne Bianca Lorenne 10:09 pm 06 Feb 20

    Margaret Freemantle No. Not where the light rail services.

    James Alan Nguyen James Alan Nguyen 11:09 pm 06 Feb 20

    Bianca Lorenne Indeed. Last I checked the northbourne rapid services (formerly red rapid) duplicate the tram. :)

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 6:14 am 07 Feb 20

    James Alan Nguyen the tram is the rapid. It’s the R1.

Russell Nankervis Russell Nankervis 7:31 pm 06 Feb 20

I use it every day for work. I walk home to fit in some exercise in my day and to further reduce my emissions

David Brown David Brown 7:25 pm 06 Feb 20

It’s beginning to feel a lot like election.

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