Light rail is a city building marvel

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Light Rail is a city building marvel

Light rail continues to grow in popularity as a form of city building infrastructure in both regional and capital Australian cities. Projects are currently under construction in Sydney, Newcastle and Canberra with projects proposed in Perth and Sunshine Coast. Much of this recent interest has been spawned by the success of the Gold Coast light rail system which has now had two stages completed since first opening in 2014.

 

The Gold Coast light rail system recently acted as the backbone of the Commonwealth Games transport effort moving 100,000 people per day during the Games.  It has also driven regeneration through the Gold Coast on the back bone of the GCRT Corridor Study and a series of urban metrics are measured annually through the Light Rail Corridor Baseline Report. Recent revisions to the planning scheme encouraging density in strategic locations has also catalysed development along the light rail route.

 

There are five  basic reasons why light rail continues to grow in popularity as transit and city building infrastructure:

1. Targeted development - the permanence of light rail tracks provides certainty to the development industry that does not exist with bus networks. Supportive planning schemes are developed to provide a level of density and mix of uses that support vibrant nodes at stations. This creates a symbiotic relationship between transit and place in that they contribute to each other's success. More people creates vital places and more people supports successful transit infrastructure. This enables cities to lead the development industry on where density is supported which leads to better planning, infrastructure and public space outcomes.

2. Integrated in urban environments - unlike busways, heavy rail and highways, light rail integrates urban environments rather than dividing them as nearly all other transit infrastructure does. This provides fantastic opportunities to run light rail through the best public spaces in Cities and drop people off exactly where they want to be. By ensuring stations are located in the centre of cities the success of the system is increased in the long term despite community and trader concerns during planning and construction.

3. Supports walkable environments - no other type of transport infrastructure supports walkable centres like light rail. High frequency services and stations 800m to 1km distances apart enable citizens to walk straight up with park and ride options minimised. Supportive environments with wide, shaded footpaths and pram ramps further increase patronage. Light rail also allows at-grade access which other transit systems cannot promise.

4. Backbone of urban transport system - light rail running through key parts of a city can be supported by shuttle interchanges which can be designed into light rail stations. Park and ride can be provided at light rail route extremities which further increase patronage. As the system matures over time and more stages are delivered the opportunity to form a light rail grid as has been seen in many mature cities around the World.

5. City services future proofing - building tramlines through cities presents the opportunity to realign public utilities and provide a smart city optic fibre backbone. This supports Internet of Things capability and future wi-fi and sensor requirements. Extra conduits can be placed to minimise the need for construction associated with underground services for many years.

Light rail will continue to grow in popularity around Australia as a way of driving public transport infrastructure and catalysing the types of cities that Australian cities need to become. Efforts need to remain focussed on minimising construction impacts and contractual issues and pursuing innovative funding models.