8 August 2019

US light rail feats give Steel confidence for Stage 2 challenges

| Ian Bushnell
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Construction in the median of Interstate 90 on the East Channel Bridge for Seattle’s East Link line. Photos: Wikipedia Commons.

The engineering and design challenges for Stage 2 of light rail pale in comparison with the scale and complexity of projects in the United States, according to Transport Minister Chris Steel.

Mr Steel is back from a 10-day study tour that took in light rail construction in western cities of the US, including Seattle where a new $54 billion line, including bus rapid transit to increase frequency on the existing network, is being built.

“I was overwhelmed by the scale of investment that some of the cities are making in light rail and also the complexity of light rail build,” he said.

In Seattle, the East Link line is under construction on the floating bridge across Lake Washington and is due to open in 2023. It will be the first time a floating bridge will take rail and is being called Seattle’s moon shot.

“It’s an engineering feat in itself,” Mr Steel said. “It made me realise that some of the engineering challenges we’re facing on Stage 2 are small compared to some of the challenges they’re facing in other cities.”

Many corridors were also being built on stilts and through tunnels.

The two Interstate-90 floating bridges carry traffic from Seattle to the Eastside community of Mercer Island. The centre lanes will soon give way to East Link light rail.

Mr Steel observed stations in Seattle that went from overpasses down on to the median with escalators, offering a possible picture of how the challenge of getting people across Adelaide Avenue to a stop in the median might be solved.

“Existing overpasses could be utilised but whether it’s a lift or stairs or escalators, will need to be considered in the design,” he said.

Mr Steel said that there was a real focus on building communities supported by public transport with appropriate development around the stations.

“All of these cities are dealing with massive homelessness issues and problems with affordable housing and a lot of the transit-oriented development was about how can we use this as an opportunity to have more affordable housing close to public transport as well as building in public realm improvements and connectivity to the stops,” he said.

“That’s going to be a challenge for Stage 2 because there won’t be as many opportunities for transit-oriented development along the route but there certainly would be in Woden.”

Mr Steel said US light rail was being used as a mass commuter service in combination with buses, streetcars, and park and ride systems.

“It’s about seeing the integration of the network as a whole,” he said.

Bus and light rail together at University Street station of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel.

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Capital Retro8:54 am 08 Aug 19

“Tony Webber carried 1 million passengers in 3-4 months of opening.”

What were the busses carrying in a comparative period before the tram (not the tram novelty/freebie period)?

michael quirk9:11 am 07 Aug 19

It is unfortunate Mr Steel’s junket did not include visits to cities with successful bus rapid transport. The failure reflects the limited and closed vision of the government of how Canberra could develop. What a sham and a shame.

Capital Retro12:16 pm 08 Aug 19

Do you think that he is the only one in the current government who has been on a “light rail junket”?

The Euro ones are hard to beat. They really sell the sizzle – the steak is secondary.

An extra $54 BILLION. Hardly a challenge for Seattle or the ratepayers Of Canberra.

michael quirk9:29 pm 06 Aug 19

It is unfortunate Mr Steel’s junket did not include visits to cities with successful bus rapid transport. The failure reflects the limited and closed vision of the government of how Canberra could develop. What a sham the and a shame.

Yep,
I’m sure visiting a city that’s twice as big as Canberra with a population density nearly 7 times ours showed him exactly when a city might be able to justify a light rail system as a viable option.

It’s a shame that our politicians seem hell bent on saddling us with this monstrously expensive and unjustifiable largesse.

The opportunity costs of this clear folly will be felt for decades.

HiddenDragon6:05 pm 06 Aug 19

“All of these cities are dealing with massive homelessness issues and problems with affordable housing and a lot of the transit-oriented development was about how can we use this as an opportunity to have more affordable housing close to public transport as well as building in public realm improvements and connectivity to the stops,” he said.

There really is no end to the tram spruiking – now we’re to believe that it will be a solution to homelessness and unaffordable housing.

There’d be more chance of real and enduring responses to those problems if we had a government less addicted to big spending (not least on trophy projects) funded by property-related revenue gouging.

The US version of light rail is a bit heavier than the European version that we use here in australia and have used on stage 1 in Canberra. Hope the Minister has noticed this.

The European version is actually ideal for Gungahlin (and maybe Belconnen) where the load is collected en-route but for Woden and beyond to Tuggeranong the heavier more express version is what is required with plenty of room for park and ride stops.

I’ve said it many times any extension to the current line over the lake should be towards the triangle and eastwards Kingston.

Capital Retro3:35 pm 06 Aug 19

“Billions of dollars of private investment in urban renewal in the making along the northbourne corridor……”

Indeed there is but there will be millions lost as well. There is heavy unit discounting happening now. It’s ridiculous to say the tram is “successful” too as there is no precedent to measure the perceived success against.

Capital Retro8:19 am 06 Aug 19

Reality check urgently needed.

According to U.S. Census data released in 2018, the Seattle metropolitan area’s population stands at 3.94 million, and ranks as the 15th largest in the United States.

Canberra has tanked at about 400,000.

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