Sydney’s much hyped new light rail line between Circular Quay and Randwick opened on Saturday but the event went far from smoothly with one of the vehicles breaking down and causing delays. Teething problems are nothing new with big transport projects but what has concerned many much more is that the services are incredibly slow, taking over 50 minutes to cover the approximately 8.5km route. Apparently trams in the 1950’s did the same journey in just 26 minutes, and with more stops.
A couple of articles have helped shed light on this speed issue. This blog identifies the key issues such as:
- A lack of signal priority
- Long dwell times
- Speed limits, especially on George St.
While this article also points the finger at some of the consultants involved for treating operations like long distance intercity services.
This outcome is quite different from the other light high-profile light rail new builds, such as in Canberra and on the Gold Coast where services are relatively fast. But based on the issues mentioned so far, it seems like they should be able to get speeds up a bit to bring the travel times down. It seems once again there are a lot of useful lessons from Sydney should we ever get light rail built.
Below is a guest post about the opening day from Sydney based reader Nik
In celebration of the first day of the City and South East Light Rail line, labelled the L2 line, I convinced my wife on a spot of Quaxing for Christmas shopping, along with riding the new trams. The trip plan itself was pretty simple, walk to the L1 – Dulwich Hill line, catch it to the point that it crosses over the L2/L3 line, then catch the L2 close to our destination and walk a little. The destination was on the L3 – Kingsford line, which doesn’t open until March 2020.
It all started well, we headed down to the Light Rail stop at Lewisham West and fairly quickly got onto a Central bound tram. The photo below shows one of the L1 tram units stopping heading towards Dulwich Hill. It all worked well, we decided to get off at Paddy’s Market, and walk to the intersection of the light rail tracks.
This is where things started to fall apart, I was waiting to get a shot of both new and old trams, but after 10 minutes or so I checked the Opal app to see if there were any service disruptions and there were. I tram had broken down earlier in the day and service between Circular Quay and Central had been suspended.
We decided to walk along the route to the Central stop. I took the following photo to show the layout of a light rail stop on L2/L3. Of note is the information boards, which are a great improvement on the L1 line dot matrixes, that only display the destination. These are the white signs in the midde of the platform. Unfortunately as we crossed the near end of the platform, we heard some customer service people saying something other than what was on the Opal app, potentially adding more confusion to the already poor experience. This seems to be a common compliant around communication when there are issues.
On arriving at Central – Chalmers street stop, we were greeted by two trams, both double units.
We boarded and I noticed that the units are laid out a little differently, with a hump that isn’t noticeable until you start to go over it. The display system is a lot better than the dot matrix of the trains that have them and the older light rail units.
On setting off, things moved slowly, with a delay as a car blocked the tracks at the first intersection and very slow progress through to Moore Park, where we were advised over a relatively quiet PA system, that there would be a 5 minute halt, so we got off and walked to our destination. The following photo looks down the pedestrian overpass that has been built to cross the road, allowing a range of students access to the light rail/busway, without crossing 6 lanes of traffic.
As we walked down the road, we saw a number of buses utilising the same right of way, allowing the busway to supplement the light rail. We also noticed that the footpath was a standard 2 person wide effort, which with a number of cyclists heading along it isn’t really good enough, given that it’s right next to three lanes heading each way.
The next photo I think demonstrates why light rail and PT investment in general are required. The photo shows the tram we were on, when it finally set off again, against 4 lanes of traffic in one direction and the overhead wires for the L3 line. Without investing more in PT and upgrading a little before it required, we will continue to invest in super sizing the roads we have.
After finishing our shopping, we headed back into the city on the bus and then walked back to the Capitol Square stop to head to the Fish Market for dinner, where we saw that the network was back working. The next photo talks to one of the greatest fears surrounding light rail, particularly in the city centre, where pedestrians are making some poor decisions about crossing roads. The tram in the photo is heading towards us and the pedestrian is running in front of it. I also saw people walking down the right of way when there was a tram approaching. This was taken just south of the Town Hall stop, looking south down George Street.
Overall the new tram has a smoother ride, but they didn’t really get up much speed. I doubt it was the opening everyone was looking forward to with mechanical issues suspending service for a good part of the day.
I’ll finish off with the photo I was trying for earlier in the day, an old and a new tram crossing, with old in the foreground and new crossing to head up George Street.