An experiment on a new type of light rail track has started at the National Arboretum.
The 20-metre x 30-metre ”Green Track Prototype” runs sections of steel rail through four garden beds filled with different species of grass, other low-lying plants, and trees.
It’s a test bed to see whether the same greenery can be replicated along various sections of Canberra’s light rail network, and flourish despite Canberra’s harsh climate.
“We’re looking at the different types of track as well as landscaping and how the overall greenery perseveres through the seasons,” Major Projects Canberra project director Julia Pucci said.
One side of the project features two species of native turf, and the other various low-lying plants scattered among cobblestones. To replicate the full effect, concrete substructures and even a vehicle-locating system have been built into it, too.
“The one on the farthest side actually sits within an encapsulation, so will generate more heat during the summer, while the one on the closer side is pulled down,” Ms Pucci explained.
“Canberra has a unique environment and we need to make sure we’ve got the right solution for Canberra.”
Green track isn’t new. The idea has been implemented in plenty of European cities, while closer to home, the Parramatta line in Sydney will feature several sections of it after a successful test of the native, drought-resistant ”Nara” Zoysia grass and solar-powered irrigation system.
The ACT Government is eyeing up three sections of the local network to receive the green-track treatment.
These include Northbourne Avenue, to complement the “overall landscape design of Northbourne Place”; another section along London Circuit in front of the Melbourne Building (to be mirrored by a similar planting in the median strip out the front of the Sydney Building); and a final stretch on Commonwealth Avenue to ensure the track blends in with the surrounding grass.
Minister for Transport Chris Steel said the three sections formed “part of our vision for creating high-quality, sustainable streets”.
“Green track is not only attractive, but also delivers benefits in terms of cooling our streets, improving water drainage, and reducing noise in our city,” he said.
There’s a safety aspect, too.
“We don’t want people to walk across … tracks … and so the low-lying shrub cover will indicate that it’s not a place to be walking,” Mr Steel said.
He admitted there had been mixed reactions on the current spread of native grasses along Northbourne Avenue – “I know some people don’t like it” but others “think it actually fits in really well with the bush capital … and Limestone Plains woodland”.
The next stages of light rail will move to reflect “the more exotic species” on display throughout the national capital area.
“Part of the green track will involve the planting of these exotic species – for example, pin oaks on Commonwealth Avenue will add to the canopy cover and have a turf mix underneath which will provide a fantastic boulevard leading into the Parliamentary Triangle.”
But is a bit of greenery between the tracks window-dressing on a project that’s already not going to carry its first passengers until 2028?
Public Transport Association of Canberra (PTCBR) chairperson Ryan Hemsley agreed the “key thing people are looking for is delivery” of Stage 2A.
At present, getting light rail from its current stop on Northbourne Avenue along London Circuit to Commonwealth Avenue is set to cost $577 million and take four years.
The next step, across the bridge and into the Parliamentary Triangle, is still waiting on approvals from the National Capital Authority (NCA), and that’s before it travels down Adelaide Avenue and on through to Woden.
But Mr Hemsley said the green track would play a vital role in ensuring light rail met the “specific requirements” of the national capital area and protected “all those landscape values”.
“It demonstrates it’s the perfect technology to use for this important corridor between Canberra’s southern and northern suburbs,” he said.
The green-track experiment will run for at least a year and is on display near the Margaret Whitlam Pavilion at the National Arboretum.