Posts Tagged ‘rail’

Remember this idea?

November 22, 2011

Readers of this blog may recall a long term vision I imagined for bringing Adelaide’s suburban rail system into the heart of the city in the same way many of the rail systems in other Australian cities do.

Yesterday the SA Government announced investigations to undertake a study into a similar plan to the one I envisioned in linking the northern (Gawler) and southern (Noarlunga) lines of the network and providing a continuous north-south rail corridor across the city.

There are a few differences of course. The route would have new stations under Pulteney Street/Rundle Mall and Victoria Square (east-west) rather than Gawler Place/Grenfell Street, KWS South and Wayville as outlined in my version of this vision. The line would reconnect to the Noarlunga line north of Keswick rather than at Goodwood. Estimates of the cost of building the project are put at between $2 billion and $5 billion.

Also, it is worth noting that this would be a long term project, as it does not make sense in building it while the rest of the system continues to be improved and electrification completed, as it is not feasible to run diesel trains in deep level tunnels such as the ones discussed.

See the video below for more thoughts and details.


I thought I ordered standard brakes and air conditioners with my new trains and trams…

March 15, 2011

In our modern day and age where technology advances as quickly as the bullet train flies, you would think that working brakes and functional air conditioning systems would be the norm on any new vehicles being delivered on our public transport systems.

Not so.

As Australia’s public transport systems and associated infrastructure undergo their biggest investment in many decades, the largest number of new trains and trams have entered service in the past decade than in any decade previously. With more vehicles entering service, it seems that an increasing number of them have technical difficulties or faults. Sydney’s Millennium trains were plagued with electrical and mechanical difficulties for several years following their introduction in 2002. Melbourne’s Siemens trains, also delivered in 2002, continue to have braking problems while Adelaide’s Flexity trams (2006) have inadequate air conditioning systems.

Sydney's energy thirsty Millennium trains.

Siemens train overshoots the end of the line at Sandringham, Melbourne. (Source: Herald Sun)

Getting quality trams on Australia’s light rail systems has been an issue since we stopped manufacturing trams after World War II. All of the new trams operating in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney are European built, and have been built to European standards rather than Australian standards as a result. Adelaide’s Flexity trams are built with the same air conditioning systems as those built for Frankfurt, which has a colder and milder climate than Adelaide does, clearly not the same operating conditions!

It seems that Australia has lost its ability to manufacture rail vehicles of a decent standard.

Actually, that’s not completely true. The Millennium trains were manufactured in Australia. They function properly now, but only after many years of causing frustration to Sydney commuters. The narrow gauge systems in Brisbane and Perth are supplied by mostly trouble-free trains built in Maryborough, Queensland. However, the notorious Siemens trains were manufactured in Austria while the Flexity trams were built as a piggyback order along with new trams in Frankfurt, Germany which have the exact same design specifications. The issue relates more to the lack of proper due diligence in the design of the vehicles rather than poor quality construction. Of course, when politics comes into the picture getting brand new glamorous looking vehicles on to the system as quickly as possible takes precedence over getting the important basics in the vehicle design right.

The other problem is that the quality of Australia’s rail infrastructure is still substandard due to the lack of proper maintenance and investment in the systems between World War II and the turn of the 21st century. Some Melbourne train drivers have described the Siemens trains operating on Melbourne’s rail network as “space-age technology on caveman infrastructure”. They continue to face speed restrictions while a growing number of them overshoot the end of train lines such as the incident at Sandringham on Wednesday the 9th of March where a Siemens set crashed into a Bendigo Bank branch. In Sydney, the new Millennium trains continued to break down as the existing electrical systems could not cope with the high electrical demand of the trains and eventually needed to be upgraded. With lagging investment from decades of neglect and growing passenger demands, upgrading rail infrastructure in Australia to meet the needs of today and tomorrow has become a game of catch up.

And so we as travelling commuters continue pay the price for unreliable vehicles in the form of delays, cancellations and uncomfortable trips, time that could have been used more productively but we cannot gain back. As great as it is to have governments investing in new trains and trams, more attention needs to be paid beyond simply dumping shiny new multi-million dollar chunks of metal on our tracks to other things that are expected by commuters. We need to demand that our governments give us more than just new vehicles, but vehicles that are adapted and suitable for the conditions that they will operate in and the infrastructure that will support the reliable operation of these vehicles.


Herald Sun – Spaceships on Chariot Wheels

The Age – Metro Train Crashes Off Rails into Bendigo Bank

Bringing Adelaide’s suburban rail network into the city

March 10, 2011

Previously I’ve made comment about some potential transport infrastructure projects that I believe are worth considering including tunnels as part of Adelaide’s north-south corridor to replace South Road, and a new suburban line to the proposed Buckland Park development from Salisbury. The next vision I have is the expand the existing suburban rail network into the heart of the city.

Adelaideans who are well familiarised with the layout of central Adelaide will know that the main train station is located on North Terrace. So isn’t the city centre already served by the railway network? I don’t believe it is.

There are a lot of key destinations in the city centre that are a long walk from Adelaide Station. These include the Central Markets, Victoria Square and the East End. While it’s possible to connect to the free tram service outside Adelaide Station to reach some of these destinations, doing so is hardly convenient. In fact, it’s often quicker to take a bus to some city destinations than a train from certain railway stations, and the trams aren’t exactly quick either. It is this lack of accessibility by rail that often results in commuters choosing the bus over the train when given the choice. At the same time, it is also difficult to undertake cross suburban travel as all trains start and terminate at Adelaide Station, while many buses run suburb to suburb.

As Adelaide’s city centre and the number of commuters heading to the city centre grows, its single station will become ineffective at serving the city if patronage grows significantly when electric trains are introduced to the network. Adelaide railway station is to the metropolitan rail system what a hinge is to a door. If the hinge breaks down or has issues, the door malfunctions. A single derailment, signal malfunction or other incident around the station is all it takes to create delays or cause the entire network to shut down.

The Melbourne rail network is a perfect case of a vulnerable system with a hinge with every line running through the same city stations. On July 27 2010, an incident on Melbourne’s City Loop caused the entire Melbourne rail system to shut down for several hours, caused by a snapped wire above tracks between the city’s two busiest stations – Flinders Street and Southern Cross. See this footage for more about the incident.

If the experience of Perth’s electrification in the early 90’s is any indication of how patronage might grow, it may double within a few years. In Perth’s case, patronage increased from 7 million trips per year in 1992 to 30 million in 1997, although much of this growth resulted from the opening of a new line into Perth’s northern suburbs. Currently, Adelaide railway station serves over 40,000 movements a day. Following electrification, this may more than double. However, without other improvements to the rail system including improved accessibility to the city, electrification alone may not see the dramatic jumps in patronage experienced by Perth’s system.

To improve access to the city by rail, an underground line between Adelaide Gaol to Goodwood via the city could be constructed to provide new stations in the city, increase capacity and improve connectivity and flexibility to the operation of the rail system. The line would consist of two twin deep level tunnels with underground island platforms at Adelaide station (Central), Gawler Place, King William Street south (South Adelaide) and Wayville. Goodwood station would also be upgraded as part of the project and the junctions at Goodwood and North Adelaide reconfigured.

A scheme for building tunnels to improve rail accessibility to the city centre and improve flexibility of operations.

In regular service, this underground line would be served by the extended Seaford line, Tonsley line, Gawler line and the Buckland Park line which I suggested in a previous post. However, in emergencies or other circumstances, the tunnels could also be reached by the other lines. The Belair line would continue to serve Keswick and Mile End which would be bypassed by other lines. Trains would run through the tunnels and city without terminating, allowing for cross-suburban services from Seaford and Tonsley all the way to Gawler and Buckland Park, and vice versa.

The underground platforms at Adelaide station would be located under North Terrace, just east of Morphett Street. Exits would be to the existing Adelaide station, to Hindley Street and the Convention Centre. The line then swings around and follows Gawler Place heading south before reaching Gawler Place station, located between Grenfell and Pirie Streets. Exits here would be to the plaza adjacent the Grenfell Centre, Rundle Mall and Pirie Street. The line then travels diagonally through to Victoria Square and follows King William Street, reaching South Adelaide, located at the corner of Halifax and King William Streets. Exits would be built here and at Victoria Square. Wayville station would be located under Rose Terrace at Goodwood Road and would serve the Wayville Showgrounds, replacing the temporary station presently used.

Goodwood Station would be rebuilt with four platforms, each allowing cross-platform interchange between the Belair line and the tracks for the Seaford and Tonsley lines. In addition, platforms would be built on the tram line above the station to provide improved connectivity and a key transport interchange to Adelaide’s inner southern suburbs.

Finally, the junctions at Goodwood Station and the River Torrens near North Adelaide would need to be altered to remove conflicts between suburban trains on the TransAdelaide network and interstate trains on the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) network at these locations through grade separation to improve the movement of freight across the ARTC network, which is currently in planning.

It should be noted that this is not an official proposal, it is merely an idea and vision for improving the accessibility and flexibility of operations on Adelaide’s rail system, particularly in central Adelaide. This plan would also benefit the greater metropolitan rail network.


Transperth Patronage

Opportunity to link the newly planned Buckland Park subdivision to Adelaide City

February 15, 2011

There’s been a lot of talk recently about ensuring that the newly developing communities near the boundaries at the edge of suburban Adelaide are adequately served by infrastructure – education, health and transport among the most pressing of the issues. So far, a lot of attention in the media has been towards the expansion of Mt Barker, but very little attention to date has been given towards the planned development at Buckland Park in Adelaide’s north.

Location of Buckland Park, circled in red (Source: Nearmap)

Buckland Park is located about 25 km north of the Adelaide central business district on the western side of Port Wakefield Road and south of the Gawler River. Its planned population is 33000 residents when it is completed in 2036. It all sounds good for creating housing in Adelaide’s growing northern suburbs, except that it just seems to be more urban sprawl and there is no decent public transport proposed for the area. Mt Barker at least has express buses to the city and bus services to other surrounding areas as well as the existing South Eastern Freeway. The map below shows the proposed bus network within the development.

Proposed bus routes within Buckland Park and other destinations (Source: Walker Corporation)

Three bus routes is hardly sufficient in serving 33000 people within the development. With the three routes only running to Munno Para, Elizabeth and Salisbury, the development will still be mostly isolated from the rest of the city with city bound commuters (not driving) forced to change to trains at either Elizabeth or Salisbury, resulting in a long detour and inconvenient travel pattern as well as a car-centric community that should be discouraged.

However, not all is lost. Buckland Park is close to an existing rail line owned by the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) which runs through nearby Virginia to the east. This corridor is currently a single standard gauge track which only carries freight trains as well as the Ghan and Indian Pacific trains to Darwin, Perth and Sydney. This corridor joins the existing commuter train line between the city and Gawler at Salisbury, and could be utilised as a new extension to the suburban rail system. In addition to this, the freight and interstate passenger trains will be redirected to the Northern Connector Corridor between Virginia and Dry Creek when it is built, rendering the existing ARTC track via Salisbury redundant.

In the map below, the new ARTC corridor is marked by the blue and purple, the existing suburban train line in use is orange, while the existing ARTC corridor via Salisbury is marked in red. The corridor I suggest could be converted for suburban rail services is the one marked in red.

Planned route for the road and rail corridor of the Northern Connector. Virginia and Buckland Park are just off to the left of the map (Source: DTEI)

Upgrading existing rail corridors for suburban passengers has been done in numerous instances in other Australian cities. In Melbourne, an existing rail corridor in Melbourne’s north was upgraded to extend the former suburban operations from where they previously terminated at Broadmeadows to Craigieburn by building several new stations along the line and providing the infrastructure to allow electric train services to run where only the diesel train intercity rail services could once operate.

Unfortunately, it isn’t quite as simple as building a few stations and whacking up a few poles and wires on the corridor between Salisbury and Virginia. The existing suburban rail system uses broad gauge tracks – it isn’t currently clear as to whether they will eventually be converted to standard gauge or not – while ARTC tracks are standard gauge. New trains would also need to be built to serve the new line and two tracks would need to be provided to allow frequent services.

Beyond the technical challenges, the corridor is owned by the Federal Government through the ARTC and would need to be transferred to the hands of the State Government to make the conversion possible – a factor currently making decisions on the upgrade of the Belair train line in Adelaide’s south difficult. In addition to this, much of the corridor between Salisbury and the proposed Buckland Park development is currently sparsely populated, although as Adelaide expands north the corridor will be surrounded by more residential and industrial estates.

Providing direct services between the centre of Adelaide and Buckland Park also poses issues for the existing suburban line between Adelaide and Salisbury. Providing a new line to Buckland Park would also result in more trains using this corridor, potentially congesting the line with trains and resulting in more delays at level crossings for road traffic. Providing a frequent 15 minute service to both Buckland Park and Gawler would result in crossings being down up to 16 times an hour – and this would be outside peak hour! Upgrades may also be required along this existing corridor to allow for these changes and increases in traffic, including making use of the third track currently used by ARTC.

It should be noted that this is not an official proposal, it is merely an idea and vision for making better use of rail infrastructure to serve newly planned communities that could potentially be isolated from the rest of the metropolitan area of Adelaide.


Walker Corporation – Buckland Park

DTEI – Northern Connector

Tokyo: Damn, I missed the train… oh wait, here’s the next one!

July 3, 2010


Harajuku Station, well served by Tokyo's efficient rail system.

A few days ago, I wrote a post about how Adelaide’s (Australia) public transport system still has a long way to go and a lot of investment required before the people of Adelaide can consider the public transport as a serious method of moving around the city instead of a last resort.

After travelling to other cities outside Australia, many of us quickly begin to realise how ineffective our public transport systems in Australia are compared to their international counterparts, particularly in Asia and Europe. Whilst there are a handful of good examples of well planned public transport around transit-oriented developments in the US, few cities there have good quality public transport, not even New York City (although I must admit the coverage of NYC’s subway is truly respectable)!

I believe one place that we can learn from is the city where public transport usage is the highest in world, Tokyo. There are few places in the world where timetables are kept on track (pardon the pun!) to the second.

The first video shows how frequent the trains come and go (this is from Kanda Station on the Chuo, Keihin-Tohoku and Yamanote Lines):

This second video is of a video monitor and PA announcement on board the busy Yamanote Line. Notice how detailed the information is:

The third one shows how clean the interior of the trains are. This train is one of the new E233 series trains introduced on the Chuo Line in 2006:

There’s a few things that are difficult to pick up from the videos if you don’t look carefully but are key to Tokyo’s success in moving so many people by public transport:

  • On every line through central Tokyo, trains run at least every 2-3 minutes during peak hours and approximately every 5 minutes through the day time.
  • The railways run a variety of different train services to account for different travelling patterns. Local service trains run routes stopping at all stations for short distance commutes while several types of Rapid and Express trains speed up the longer distance commutes, often running parallel to the Local services.
  • Communication with passengers is clear, even with the imperfect English! Nearly all trains in Tokyo have video displays above the train doors displaying information about the time, stopping pattern of the service, next station, connecting services, position of exits at the stations and estimated times of arrival in several languages. This is complemented by the PA systems which are often in both Japanese and English.
  • The trains and buses are clean! Nothing less than perfection is acceptable on the public transport system (this in itself has some undesirable consequences but that is another story!)
  • Most importantly, if you haven’t picked it from the map, it covers just about every nook and cranny in central Tokyo! (Impressive in itself, considering the map is only for one of several rail operators in Tokyo)

A map of the JR East rail network in Tokyo. Several other operators also compete with JR East in Tokyo. (Source: JR East)

One final component to Tokyo’s public transport system is key to its successful operation is the Yamanote Line. From the map, the Yamanote Line is the green line which runs in a loop around central Tokyo. It’s main role is to provide a connection between the six major interchange stations (important hubs in the transport system) as well as providing a bypass to the mess of other lines that run within the loop and connections to smaller stations that aren’t served by faster lines. A well-defined major public transport corridor that runs around the centre of Adelaide linking numerous hubs together is an important part of the public transport system that is currently missing and makes the current overall system appear rather incomplete. Developing a good public transport system takes more than just investing in a few shiny new vehicles and a couple of piddly little extensions here and there.

Just some food for thought. What else makes a good public transport system?


Adelaide: The good and bad of Adelaide’s public transport

JR East – East Japan Railway Company

Human Transit: Portland – A challenging chart