I’ve just spent a couple of days on the Gold Coast after tagging along to a work trip by my wife. Other than taking a few days off one of the things I was keen to do was to check out their new light rail system given it’s likely to be very similar to what Auckland Transport are proposing for the isthmus routes like Dominion Rd. I was very impressed by the system and the experience highlighted a number of areas where Auckland Transport could be doing better with our current rail system – there were a few areas where AT is ahead too though.
The system known as G:link is 13km long on a dedicated right of way, has 16 stations and was opened just over a year ago. It was built as a PPP at a cost of about $1.2 billion but that also includes 15 years of operational costs. The change in Prime Minister to Malcolm Turnbull almost two months ago as already seen changed attitude towards PT infrastructure and a second stage has been approved that will see the route extended 7.3km to the northwest linking the system into the heavy rail system that serves Brisbane and the travels through to the Brisbane airport. The cost for the extension hasn’t been announced yet as it’s in the middle of the tender process right now. As a comparison in Auckland, a route from Customs St, up Queen St and then down Ian McKinnon Dr and Dominion Rd to Denbigh Ave is approximately 7.7km.
The system uses 43.5m long trams that have 80 seats and are said to be able to carry 309 passengers. Auckland Transport are actually proposing light rail vehicles almost 50% longer (66m) carrying up to 450 passengers. They can travel up to about 70km/h but in the denser part of the urban area would only travel 30-40km/h. One thing that helped is they seem to have a lot of signal priority so only very rarely did they get held up at lights.
About the only disappointment I had with the trams themselves – and an area where Auckland Transport is heading in the right direction over – is that some had been wrapped completely in advertising. This is the same stuff that is used on buses with little holes so you can kind of see out the window but not quite.
Below is a shot of the interior which had a lot of poles for people standing to be able to hold on to – oh and the doors opened within a second of stopping – like Aucklands trains should be doing.
The digital screens you can see alternate between showing travel times for the remainder of the route and connecting bus services. Digital screens like these are a requirement for new buses and I understand will likely be installed on the trains too.
The timetable for services is impressive, they run frequently all week and even late into night. This is shown below and as you can see due to frequency it becomes very easy to communicate.
With the exception of the University/Hospital station which is underground, the stations all use a common design with a distinctive orange canopy. Some of the stations also had a coffee shack built in.
A few other aspects of stations – they had at least two ticket machines or in many cases where there were side platforms like above two machines per platform. In addition, those ticket machines sold smartcards – something ATs HOP machines strangely don’t do. Another aspect that was useful and that has long been a bugbear of mine in Auckland is that there were multiple tag posts (the yellow box) all along platforms including right next to the ticket machines Some stations had up to 6 posts per platform. In Auckland if you wanted to top up your card at most stations you have to go to the middle of the platform, top up the card then walk back to the end of the platform to tag on. Stations also had PT network and local destination maps plus one thing you can’t quite see from the photo was a drinking fountain for water.
At the southern end the line ends at Broadbeach South which is opposite the large Pacific Fair mall. This also happens to be a large bus interchange and it has clearly been designed to make transfers easy. The LRT tracks/platform are in effectively an island which is surrounded by bus stops. When the tram arrives doors on both sides can be opened making it easy to get to a bus you may be transferring to so transferring is as simple as walking across the platform. You can see this in the image below with the tram on the right and the buses on the left and this is repeated on the opposite side of the tram.
You may also notice from the image above that the platform you can see isn’t covered by the canopy. That’s because the intention is to eventually extend the line further south. The tracks are already in the ground however until the extension happens they’ve just widened the platform over the top of them.
All up it’s a fairly impressive system and already getting decent use. As a result of it public transport use on the Gold Coast is said to have risen by around 25% after just one year. In the first year there were 6.6 million trips on the system and so far is tracking to be over 7.5 million trips for the second year. That outstrips any of the individual lines in Auckland.
Lastly there was one additional outcome from the project and one that wasn’t included in any business case. The construction meant that a lot of the utilities had to be shifted which of course means they had to build new ones. Because of that the new infrastructure was of a higher quality and they’ve found has actually enabled more development to occur than was possible beforehand, in other words it wasn’t just the transport infrastructure that benefited from the project but all infrastructure in the corridor. This is perhaps a lesson for the planners and economists out there.
A light rail system like what has been built on the Gold Coast would be a fantastic addition to the central isthmus and there’s a lot from the system that AT could learn from to make the PT experience for all modes better.