Canberra is not a city we would normally look to for transport but that’s changing following the opening of their first modern light rail line just over two weeks ago. It’s an interesting and useful example because Canberra is not large city (only around 400k people), nor one known for its density or public transport (as of the begining of the year Canberra’s network was carrying fewer than 20m trips). The line is useful for us as it provides another nearby reference point for Auckland’s own plans to build light rail but may also help influence discussions in some of our other cities, especially Wellington and Christchurch.
There are 13 stations over the 12km route which runs at grade in the median of roads from Gungahlin in the north through to the city. These roads are quite large generally having previously had a wide grass median – in Auckland they would most closely resemble Ti Irirangi Dr. Along the route there are numerous intersections with side streets that the light rail vehicles need to pass through but like is proposed here, they have signalling priority over road traffic and as such takes 24 minutes end to end. That’s an average of 30km/h which may not seem that fast but to put it in perspective, is about the same distance from Britomart to Onehunga via Dominion Rd and SH20 as planned for Auckland and takes only a minute longer than our existing heavy rail trains do to get there, despite them only stopping at four stations along the way. That helps to give greater confidence to the estimated travel times for Auckland’s light rail, and that they won’t be slow, despite what some have claimed.
Canberra is using CAF built Urbos 3 vehicles which are 33m long and can carry over 200 passengers along with a handful of bikes. Again, this is similar to what is proposed in Auckland (although we plan to eventually combine two of them to run as 66m trains). Services on the line have also started out strong and put our rail network to shame at times with them running every six minutes at peak times – although the peaks, especially the afternoon peak, are a bit short. That’s something I imagine will only improve over time though.
One thing that is notable about the project is the cost. It was built under a PPP model and it came in under its budget of AU$707 million (NZ $747m), which itself was already lower than earlier estimates. I’m sure there are some aspects of the route that have helped keep costs down, such as having those existing medians and not appearing to need any bridges or tunnels. That might also be why it appears as an outsider to have been delivered fairly quickly with construction starting in mid-2016 and finishing in mid-2018 with the rest of the time being taking up by testing.
As well as being under budget, it seems the project is also seeing more development than expected. This is something I think we’re almost certain to see here as we’re already seeing strong growth occurring close to the rapid transit network.
But Mr Barr said the government’s expectations had been “exceeded” in terms of the transformation of the Northbourne corridor.
“We have obviously anticipated that the publicly owned, the government held, sites would transform but the rate at which the private sector have responded has probably exceeded our expectations. We thought it would happen eventually but it’s happened a bit quicker than we thought,” he said.
A second stage to Canberra’s light rail plans will see the line extended south to Woden, almost doubling its length, with a key decision being how it gets around Parliament House. They are hoping to deliver this by 2025.
Further lines and extensions are expected the other potential future lines are shown on the map below. They say they are aiming to deliver about two stages each decade and the connection to the airport the likely third stage.
Along with light rail, Canberra has also revamped its bus network using similar principles as Auckland has with a core of frequent connecting bus routes (shown below) supported a number of lower frequency routes.
Canberra’s light rail line is the second modern light rail system to open in Australia recently with the line on the Gold Coast opening in 2014 and being extended in 2017. The line is now carrying over 10 million trips annually. Sydney is due to start running the first part of its new light rail line later this year. When will Auckland join the light rail club and start building our line?