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US light rail feats give Steel confidence for Stage 2 challenges

Ian Bushnell 8 August 2019 52

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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52 Responses to US light rail feats give Steel confidence for Stage 2 challenges
Michael Quirk Michael Quirk 11:18 am 08 Aug 19

The government is obsessed with light rail. Improving bus technology will enable the movement of large numbers of commuters more cost effectively than light rail.Light rail advocates get your heads out of the sand and consider real alternatives.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 8:54 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 quirk michael quirk 9:11 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 Retro Capital Retro 12:16 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.

maxblues maxblues 3:56 am 07 Aug 19

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

Martin Leonard Martin Leonard 9:59 pm 06 Aug 19

"Study tour" my hat.

michael quirk michael quirk 9:29 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.

Rob Chalmers Rob Chalmers 9:22 pm 06 Aug 19

Pollie goes on junket returns to Canberra "confident" gee whiz.

chewy14 chewy14 8:09 pm 06 Aug 19

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.

Lorenzo Ramirez Lorenzo Ramirez 7:02 pm 06 Aug 19

It should be built under water and come out on the side of WA🤣

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 6:05 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.

Rob Brown Rob Brown 5:01 pm 06 Aug 19

Not to mention his 10 day all expenses paid study/ holliday at tax payers expense 🤬🤬🤬

Amanda Evans Amanda Evans 4:23 pm 06 Aug 19

I wouldn't want our bridges to look like any of these.

Jorge Garcia Jorge Garcia 3:55 pm 06 Aug 19

In the meantime, life goes on in Melbourne, The Gold Coast, Adelaide, Helsinki, Phoenix ... .... . Canberra should have had north south light rail - with buses criss crossing the lines into the suburbs - for decades.

JC JC 3:50 pm 06 Aug 19

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 Retro Capital Retro 3:35 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.

Bill Orr Bill Orr 3:28 pm 06 Aug 19

Aaahhh.. the haters be hating. It’s so Canberra.

Tony Webber Tony Webber 3:20 pm 06 Aug 19

My commiserations to all my taxpaying friends @ family in Canberra!!!!! None of who ever have or will use these public white elephants!!!! ACT GOV you cease to amaze yet again!!!!

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 5:03 pm 06 Aug 19

    Yep, white elephant; no-one's using the light rail. They run empty. I must have been dreaming when I used it and saw how many other people were using it. I don't live near the light rail, but it's a great service and I am pleased for those who can get the benefit regularly. I wish I had the light rail near me.

    Damaris Wilson Damaris Wilson 7:54 pm 06 Aug 19

    Tony Webber I live near the city and I can assure there are many many people queued up waiting for it. It's a success, and why wouldn't you use it? cant wait for the link to the airport.

    Jamie Syme Jamie Syme 8:38 pm 06 Aug 19

    Tony Webber *never cease

    Brian McKenzie Brian McKenzie 5:52 am 07 Aug 19

    Tony Webber even the 6am LR service is standing room only

    Laura Frame Laura Frame 8:57 pm 07 Aug 19

    Tony Webber well mate. Your mates might not... but hundreds do.

    Marc La Galle Marc La Galle 3:31 am 08 Aug 19

    Tony Webber carried 1million passengers in 3-4 months of opening. White elephant? If that is a 'white elephant' result, you seem to have the bar set way too high.

    Tony Webber Tony Webber 9:52 am 08 Aug 19

    Laura Frame that's my point,, millions spent for hundreds to use!!!!!

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 10:59 am 08 Aug 19

    Tony Webber Get a grip. You know that many more are using it than that, but you wanted it to fail. It hasn't. Just be a bigger person and accept it's very successful.

Grace Morgan Grace Morgan 2:39 pm 06 Aug 19

I wonder how many people from Canberra have been to Seattle? Seattle which has four times the population and really does have congestion. The tram is a scam.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 5:01 pm 06 Aug 19

    I've been to Seattle twice and used the light rail, or rather the second time I did. The first time I used a bus on the light rail route. The replacement of that with the actual light rail was a big improvement on my second visit. They are expanding it because I was told of its popularity. I saw how well it is used. Your comment sounds ignorant.

    Grace Morgan Grace Morgan 9:20 pm 06 Aug 19

    Julie Macklin Or, I know what I am talking about....but think what you like and insult me if that makes you feel superior.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 9:41 pm 06 Aug 19

    Then please tell us something more, so we know what you are talking about, rather than uninformative, banal slogans such as, "The tram is a scam." Very good, it rhymes.

    Bianca Lorenne Bianca Lorenne 3:23 am 07 Aug 19

    Julie Macklin All we heard was blah blah blah. No one cares. It’s a bad comparison.

    Grace Morgan Grace Morgan 10:10 am 07 Aug 19

    Julie Macklin The business case for the Canberra tram is available and if you read it you will see how it doesn't stack up (if you can understand it). I didn't make the comparison, the minister on a jolly did!

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 11:37 am 07 Aug 19

    Grace Morgan With Australian's population continuing to increase, public transport needs to be added to get people out of their cars, as the roads will continue to become more congested, as thousands; millions are added to Australia's population. (Don't get the idea I am in favour of a big population; I most certainly am not and vote accordingly. But unfortunately big business and their government are.) The best time to build infrastructure such as public transport, is before all the people move into an area and make it much more difficult to build. I am pleased the local government were forward thinking on this. Public transport is not meant to be profitable and fit a traditional business model which makes money. It's a service. Light rail can carry more people and needs less drivers for the same amount of passengers. And from my experience riding the Canberra light rail recently it was also faster than a bus. There is a shortage of drivers now for buses. In fact systems such as light rail are better adapted than buses to become driverless in the future, as they run on their own track. (The dockland trains in London are driverless, as an example.) Light rail also gives more certainly to people that when they buy a house or apartment, that the public transport they bought nearby to, is much less likely to be taken away from them a few years later, as has happened to many bus routes. The inflexibility of light rail routes is actually a positive. The route is much less likely to be taken away than a bus route. I think the Gungahlin to City route was a good first stage. Although I am in favour of extending it, the next route is not so obvious, because of the way previously Canberra was planned.

    Marc La Galle Marc La Galle 3:35 am 08 Aug 19

    Julie Macklin spot on. Julie gets it. If you think busses are the answer, try living in say Dee Why in Sydney (an area that the rail network missed) and using a bus to get to the city.

Kerry Dent Kerry Dent 2:37 pm 06 Aug 19

The ACT govt. needs to explain to the Canberra public why the proposed stage 2 route of the tram is necessary, given the extraordinary cost and lack of any public transport advantage. The express bus from Woden the Civic is faster than proposed tram. Why extract so much money from Canberra rate payers for this “white elephant”?

    Laura Frame Laura Frame 8:56 pm 07 Aug 19

    Kerry Dent why so elephant? People are catching it. loads. If it moves south, more will. Would u have said that about Melbourne? Never built in a day mate.

    Marc La Galle Marc La Galle 3:28 am 08 Aug 19

    Kerry Dent why it's necessary? It's about moving large numbers of people efficiently. If you don't understand that in a growing city, go look at how well busses cope on Sydney's northern beaches. Heavy rail never got there - and it's a mess. I can see you are completely missing the point by citing travel times. The bus may be faster now (traffic is increasing not decreasing), but in 15 years time when Canberra is 500,000+?

    Kerry Dent Kerry Dent 8:50 am 08 Aug 19

    Canberra does not have and never will have a population like Sydney or Melbourne. We need a more flexibile public transport system collecting people from the suburbs, which electric public buses can provide. Ridiculous expense for antiquated system. No public transport benefit. Only making it so difficult for people to access. Most benefit in north was enabling the building of huge high rise along Northbourne Avenue, revenue for govt. No, I’m not a Liberal voter. I am a Labor voter.

Steve Wood Steve Wood 1:54 pm 06 Aug 19

What a joke.. the information could have been pdf'd and with Australia's internet only taken three days to download saving the ACT tax payer 10's of thousands of dollars...

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