This is a guest post from reader and friend of the blog, Warren Sanderson
If you are interested in the design of cities and transport, for those of us in Auckland this is indeed a very interesting time. With the adoption of the Greater Auckland’s Congestion Free Network 2 (more or less) by the Labour Party we seem as citizens, to be reaching some consensus that Auckland has to well and truly ease off on further motorway development and play catch-up with public transport. Even the National Party, though with some reluctance, are prepared to spend some money on rail.
The city of Perth in Western Australia has of course, been an example for us. It has been referred to on this blog on many occasions and we had their old clapper diesel units as commuter trains, before our own new CAF EMU’s arrived. Like us, Perth went through a long period of political non-acceptance of the role of rail and the closure of the Freemantle line was on the cusp at one stage. Luckily, ‘Build it and they will come prevailed’. It was built and they did come.
I had not previously been to Perth, but I well remember attending an Auckland Conversations session back in April 2014 and listening to Professor Peter Newman from Curtin University in Perth explaining the positive difference rail has made to Perth and drawing lessons for Auckland, as we make public transport more sustainable.
It was time to check Perth out for ourselves so my wife and I sorted some likely accommodation on the internet and in due course made our way to Claisebrook Cove in East Perth and right on the Swan River. The area was apparently an old industrial area but has been beautifully redeveloped, mainly into terrace housing and with convenient adjacent restaurants. It was a very pleasant locality in which to base ourselves and about as far out of town as Parnell is from our CBD. And as a cricket lover I had been pleased to note that the hotel was not far from the WACA i.e. West Australian Cricket Ground.
More importantly, we found our hotel was located on the yellow CAT (Central Area Transit) Free Bus route – equivalent to our Link Buses. The frequency was every 7 to 8 minutes so getting into the CBD was very easy and at no cost at all.
But wait, there is more………….There are four such inner city colour coded bus routes within the free transit zone, mostly with 10 minute frequencies.
Murray and Hay Streets in the main shopping precinct of the Perth CBD are completely pedestrianised for one block and together with several interlinking side lanes were actively busy places. As a contrast, by casual observation vehicular traffic in the general CBD area was comparatively light but not so, as we later discovered, in some of the further out suburbs where the car is still king.
Now for the trains. The Metro Rail Network comprises five lines centred on or passing through central Perth. Three of these are legacy lines which depart from the old, but upgraded Perth Station, to Freemantle, Midland and Armadale. They tend to have more stops at shorter intervals for the distance covered.
The newer and longer lines are the Joondalup line running north and now extended to Butler and the Mandurah line which goes some 74 kilometres south. They start from the Perth Underground Station which is on the other side of Wellington Street but connected to the old station by a wide underground pedestrian tunnel. Stations on these lines are more widely spaced and the trains have the freeway route on either side for a considerable distance. We noted they have very fast acceleration and go faster than vehicles on the adjacent freeway.
We travelled on all the lines except the Mandurah line, to their outer termini and experienced this fast rapid transit both as train passengers and again as motorists in our rental car, as we drove south down the Kwinana Freeway, with the Mandurah line alongside.
Fares: Elizabeth and I found that the most economical fare for us was a Day FamilyRider ticket, which took the two of us anywhere that day, including on the ferry across the Swan River to South Perth, for a total of $12.60. This fare was cheaper than four single trips for both us would be.
The four unit trains are very similar to our Auckland EMU’s but I noted that with one exception that seating was lengthwise along the carriage, which allows more standing room.
Stabling: There is a depot and marshalling yard reasonably close to the central city in the direction of East Perth but I also spotted this storage depot with lots of trains stored out in the open, just before the end of the line at Butler. See satellite picture below and note how the outwards and inwards lines diverge, which together with fencing encloses and protects trains not currently being used.
Perth infrastructure all seems to be modern and of good design and good quality, which I guess reflects the wealth Western Australia has enjoyed over the last three decades. Let me give you one small observation. Roadside gutters are in the main chamfered back – see picture. For motorists, this ensures they do not mutilate expensive mag wheels, if they make a misjudgement, when trying to park as close as possible to the kerb.
It is worth keeping an eye on what is happening in Perth, as our cities are of similar size and they have embraced the concept of public transit just that much earlier than we have. As for Elizabeth and me? Well, we enjoyed this first visit and fairly comprehensive exploration of Perth, so we rewarded ourselves by heading south by rental car, to sample the delights of the wineries in the Margaret River region.
That however, is another story!
Editor’s note. Perth happens to be one of the cities I keep an eye of for ridership. Below is their rail numbers compared to Auckland. Usage in Perth has dropped a little bit in recent years, possibly the result of economic conditions. I think it’s quite possible we’ll see similar explosive growth in Auckland once the CRL opens, possibly taking us to 40-50 million trips a decade from now.