Sydney’s Light Rail A Winner…Can We Have Some More please!

Wednesday 26 August 2015

Sydney’s Light Rail A Winner…Can We Have Some More please!

In 2013 (the most current figures available) it was estimated there are 400 light rail networks operating world-wide, 200 being planned and 60 under construction. With Sydney CBD and East Light Rail make that 61 under construction.

Clearly Sydney is joining a world-wide trend and for good reason, because also in 2013 figures published by the UN in its International Energy Outlook estimated that in 30 years time 63% of all oil based energy would be used in meeting transport needs. Such a result would only be avoided if we all started to ride pushbikes or started to use much more public transport. Hence we see more cities and governments moving to light rail as this is an ideal solution for urban areas looking to reduce energy consumption and congestion.

Locally Canberra is also set to roll-out a light rail and already more than five million commuters have now used the Gold Coast Light Rail - dubbed 'the G' - since the revolutionary service started on July 21, 2014. That is an average of 17,800 commuters each day, well over the predicted figure of 16,000 expected two years after the service began. Just like Sydney’s recently extended inner-west service, light rail appears to always be hugely popular.

And like the Gold Coast’s example Sydney’s new CBD and East service will be linked to major employment and educational services, which will in part include the constant flow of traffic to the University of NSW. Many of the 20,000 students at the Gold Coast' Griffith University campus at Southport are using the service.

Sydney’s Light Rail will tie all of the CBD to the highly mobile, educated and affluent population in Sydney’s East. It is being promoted as a reliable and sustainable mode of public transport that will ease the pressure on Sydney’s roads by reducing the city’s reliance on buses. Anyone standing on Anzac Parade will be pleased with that news given the huge number of buses services along that arterial.

The current plans will have been boosted by the fact that in 2012 the NSW Government began the extension of the Inner West Light Rail line and following its success then announced the $1.6 billion CBD and South East Light Rail project.

While it appears the sales job to the travelling public had already been done, if we needed more convincing then the estimate that the cities CBD congestion currently costs our economy around $5.1 billion a year will do that. However a big payback in reduced journey times and disrupts the city centre will also be welcome.

 Over the next 25 years, the population of Greater Metropolitan Sydney is forecast to increase from 5.6 million to 7.4 million. By 2031, the number of trips made around the city each day will increase by 31 per cent, from 16 to 21 million trips. Against this sort of tally the existing transport system does not have sufficient capacity to accommodate the sheer volume of demand that converges on the CBD and inner Sydney on a daily basis.

 To the obvious horror to any commuter the alternative to light rail would have included a possible 30 per cent increase in buses just for travel to the CBD over the next 20 years. In terms of further development of the CBD and its associated economic benefits existing transport does not have anywhere near the capacity to accommodate Sydney’s growth, and would further hold back the entire State.

As the recent example on Gold Coast shows, and as other projects merit the CBD and South East Light Rail will be a welcome boost for the CBD. It will also improve emissions from the transport system in the CBD and inner Sydney, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 700,000 tonnes of CO2 over 30 years, and so that’s another win.

 With so many positive features the next question might only be, where next? So lets remind ourselves that for example a trip from Manly can take as long as 50 minutes to get to the CBD - averaging just 18km/h. The morning commute from Parramatta to the city is another killer in Sydney, with an average speed of just 25km/h and Penrith to the Sydney CBD, using the M4 during the morning peak, can take some drivers up to 2½ hours.

 So it appears there’s plenty of scope for more light rail to come!