Light rail

Making light rail work

At the ARA’s Light Rail 2020 conference, chief projects officer of Major Projects Canberra Duncan Edghill outlined how the Canberra Light Rail has become part of the fabric of the city.

For successful rail transport projects, looking back on a project once it is complete can reveal insights into a project that were not apparent in the busy construction phase.

For the Canberra Light Rail project this was no different, as chief projects officer of Major Projects Canberra, Duncan Edghill, highlighted in a recent speech to delegates at the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) Light Rail 2020 conference.

With stage one being the largest infrastructure project ever undertaken by the ACT government, the light rail generated an intense community discussion throughout planning and construction phases, however now in operation, the city has taken to the service with gusto. With a year now under its belt, the initial case for the project has not only been met, but exceeded.

“As an example, in the first three weeks of 2020 versus the same period in 2019 there was an increase of over 10 per cent of public transport journeys taken across the ACT,” said Edghill.

“It’s quite a step change.”

Prior to the project, Canberra was only served by a bus network, even though trams were included in Walter Burley and Marion Mahoney Griffin’s plan for Canberra. Such a change in transport infrastructure meant that the project was focused upon by the local community and businesses, meaning that every decision of the project team was on full display. In addition, the project ran along a major road artery, leading it to intersect with many residents’ lives before operations began.

“When you’re building light rail and it’s spread out over many kilometres, everyone can see what you’re doing,” said Edghill. “As we move into future stages, we will need to give consideration to issues like, ‘How will this shade cloth that we’re putting up now look in two years?’ and how do we pay attention to things like controlling weeds?”

On a commercial side, with further stages planned for the future, being delivered as a public-private partnership meant that the eyes of the infrastructure business community were also on the strip of Northborne Avenue which the light rail would run down.

“The overall commercial focus was really a genuine desire to treat the project as a partnership and to be seen as a commercial and pragmatic partner,” said Edghill. “We want Canberra to be the sort of place where you can come and do business with confidence and with a reasonable partner.

“Of course, in pretty much all big projects claims arise, but a real positive for both sides here was when we get to operations we cleared the deck of any outstanding commercial matters. Given the complexities of starting a light rail system for the first time it was really important that we focus on the important thing, which is getting the operations right rather than dealing with commercial issues [after the project opened].”

Another decision made at the beginning of the project came from the political side, but was instrumental in ensuring the project’s future success, said Edghill.

“The ACT government had resolved signal priorities for the light rail vehicles (LRVs) on an intersection basis. That was a decision that was taken in cabinet because it was a policy decision at the outset to provide LRVs with high levels of priority at intersections.”

Combined, these decisions led to a system that, now into its second year of operating, has surpassed initial hopes.

“Business case expectations have been exceeded across the public transport network system as a whole,” said Edghill. “It’s proof that, when it’s well thought through and well- integrated into the broader public transport network, light rail works.”

PROJECT INTEGRATION KEY TO LIGHT RAIL SUCCESS
When designing and building the light rail Stage 1, the delivery partners were also able to consider the wider impact that the project would have, and how to integrate these for the best outcome for the city as a whole.

“In Canberra’s case, the introduction of light rail actually led us to revisit the fundamental principles underpinning the entirety of the rest of the transport network,” said Edghill. “Before light rail we had a bus network where mode share is less than what we’ve targeted – long circuitous bus routes, sub optimal network frequency, a few very high capacities frequent routes and then a school bus system.”

In line with the opening of the light rail line from Gungahlin in the city’s north to the city centre, Transport Canberra redesigned the bus network to have higher frequency services on key corridors. Edghill noted however that the process will never be without its critics.

“There are some key lessons to draw from this process; you can’t begin consultation early enough, you’re not going to please everyone, and you will have to make some tough decisions. There will be those who in time benefit from the system, but they’re not the ones who are going to be writing letters to the editor now.”

With an entirely redesigned bus network, comparing a before and after is not like for like, but Edghill is confident that the changes have had a positive impact.

“What we have seen, on an aggregate level, is public transport has risen across the network. We introduced six new high frequency bus routes at the same time light rail was introduced and the high-speed bus network has proven to be really popular.”

Outside of the transport network, the impact of a light rail project on the businesses along the route has been a key concern for other projects. In Canberra this was no different, and the light rail work coincided with a number
of developments along Northbourne Avenue, causing disruption to nearby business owners.

“When you’re living in project world, it’s really easy to focus on your own project, but from the perspective of a business owner or a shop owner they don’t’ distinguish between your project and another project,” said Edghill. “At Gungahlin the light rail project coincided with a number of other construction projects.”

DESIGN DRIVING OUTCOMES
Having weathered the impact of construction, businesses are now embracing the light rail, said Edghill. Although not a scientific study of impacts, Edghill recounted examples of tea towels, paintings, and coasters now with the light rail imprinted upon them. For those that worked on the project, these are examples of where the project has gone beyond what could be quantified in the business case.

“People ask what makes me most proud to be involved in Light Rail stage one project? Is it the patronage, which is going gangbusters, the corridor development we’re seeing, is it delivering it on time and under budget? What is it that gives me the greatest satisfaction? All of these things are important of course but I think what actually struck me most is the fact that light rail has already become a shorthand for Canberra.”

Edghill puts this down to the nature of the project and its commitment to good design.

“The canopies are distinct to Canberra, the artwork is bespoke at each stop, the colour palette subtly speaks to Canberra institutions, the LRV seat livery was designed by a local Indigenous artist, the dynamic lighting allows us to change the lighting to different colours in response to local events, and there’s a high quality of workmanship.”

While these features could be seen as optional extras, Edghill counselled that the design elements are what defines a light rail project well after construction has ended.

“We all avoided the temptation to engineer out the project’s design qualities and I think that’s a very important lesson,” he said. “These projects obviously represent a very significant investment, and long after people stop thinking about the cost we’ll be thinking about the system and ultimately smart architectural design is a small part of the overall investment.”

In the end, Edghill says, the light rail project is not just about mobility.

“One of the most important things that we tried to keep in mind when embarking on the light rail project was recognising that it’s not only a transport project. Yes, light rail moves people from A to B and that’s undoubtedly of great importance, but just as importantly it shapes how our city looks and shapes the development of the light rail corridor.

“No matter how successful patronage will be, there will always be more people looking at the system than using it. For that reason, the final design of the system is something that is particularly relevant.”

These design elements will be continued as the ACT government looks to the next stages of the light rail project. As Stage 2A progresses to the waterfront, stage 2B then continues to Woden, and with plans for further extensions on the East-West spine of the city, ensuring that the light rail project remains integrated, and well-designed will be key.

“Light rail is really about servicing the future development of the Acton waterfront and convention centre and other things that will come to the centre of Canberra in time,” said Edghill.

“The project is as much about urban regeneration as it is around transport.”

Rail operators are ramping up hygiene to combat COVID-19 transmission

Major Australian rail operators are helping authorities minimise the spread of COVID-19 by seriously ramping up hygiene and cleaning protocols.

Current advice from the Australian Department of Health is that everyone in the community should go about their business as usual, unless they have travelled from a country or region with a high or moderate risk of COVID-19, or have had contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus. There is no need to take actions like limiting movement on public transport.

State government agencies including Transport for NSW (TfNSW), Queensland Rail, Victoria Department of Transport (DoT), Transport Canberra, South Australian Public Transport Authority (SAPTA), Western Australia Public Transport Authority (PTA) are advising rail operators around the nation to take extra precautions and maintain good hygiene practices for both employees and passengers.

On Tuesday, March 17 the NSW government announced that part of the $2.3 billion economic stimulus, $250 million will be invested to employ additional cleaners of public infrastructure, which includes TfNSW’s external operators statewide.

Cleaning squads have been deployed across NSW trains, light rail, and the metro, particularly in high-traffic areas including Central, Town Hall, and Wynard.

TfNSW is encouraging customers to use Opal and contactless payments where possible, to further reduce chances of community spread and safeguard staff.

Andrew Constance, NSW Minister for Transport said while staff have boosted maintenance and cleaning efforts on the network in response to COVID-19, customers need to take extra precautions too.

“For those services that do not offer contactless payment, we are advising all frontline staff to wash their hands and use hand sanitiser to limit the spread of viruses,” he said.

Jeroen Weimar, head of transport services Victoria said we’ve all got a part to play in responding to the significant challenge presented by COVID-19.

A Victorian DoT spokesperson said all operators on the state’s network have been asked to activate their increased cleaning protocols which will be rolled out in the coming days.

The increased cleaning measures mean all carriages on Metro Trains and V/Line trains will undergo nightly sanitation, and Melbourne’s trams will undergo a deep clean before each service.

A TransLink spokesperson said it  is working behind the scenes in preparation and have plans in place to respond to any recommendations from Queensland Health.

Gold Coast trams have already moved to daily sanitised cleans, and Queensland Rail will boost dedicated cleaning staff, ramping up regular cleaning measures and beginning a new disinfecting process on South East Queensland commuter trains from Tuesday, March 17.

Queensland Rail has stated in an update that it has strict maintenance and cleanliness standards for its trains and stations to ensure the comfort and safety of customers and employees. 

SAPTA has also increased cleaning schedules and extra crew are being used across all modes with particular focus being given to hard surfaces such as handrails, validators and push buttons. 

Stephan Knoll, SA Minister for Transport and Infrastructure said the safety of passengers and staff remains the highest priority. 

“We are taking these additional measures to help protect South Australians who deliver and rely on public transport to get to work or go about their daily lives,” said Knoll. 

Transport Canberra said there have been no changes made to public transport, and all governments are working together to ensure a national approach.

“We are implementing an increased cleaning regime on our light rail vehicles as well as at high-traffic areas such as stops and interchanges,” Transport Canberra stated.

Chris Steel, ACT Minister for Transport said the state government has engaged Robson Environmental to undertake a study to make any further recommendations on Transport Canberra’s cleaning practices.

Rita Saffioti, WA Transport Minister said along with other state transport agencies, Transperth trains have transitioned from getting a basic daily clean each night to a full daily sanitation.

“So far there is no evidence of community transmission in WA, and the increased cleaning regime is intended to reduce the risk – as much as practical – against potential exposure,” Saffioti said.

Across the Tasman in New Zealand, Auckland Transport have been quick to adopt similar health and safety initiatives to those that have been put in place by Australian transport operators.

Auckland Transport (AT) advised in a statement that the NZ Ministry of Health has made it clear that there are no issues with people using trains.

“While many Aucklanders are working from home during this time of uncertainty, those continuing to use public transport should use good hygiene practices,” Auckland Transport stated.

Phil Goff, Auckland Mayor, said AT is well-prepared for a possible escalation of its COVID-19 response and has taken steps including installing new public hand sanitiser stations and has increased the cleaning of vehicles and facilities.

Shane Ellison, Auckland Transport chief executive, said AT are making sure information and advice from the NZ Ministry of Health on preventive measures is being supplied to its staff, operators, and contractors.

AT have created a COVID-19 update section on its website, as have most rail operators and state transport departments in Australia, to inform staff and passengers with the latest information.

Making way for a new ticketing system for Canberra’s light rail

The current MyWay ticketing system will be replaced by a new and advanced ticketing system for Canberra’s public transport network.

Transport Minister Chris Steel said Transport Canberra had begun a procurement process for the new system.

“With a modern ticketing system, transport users will be able to pay for their bus or light rail fare using their credit card to tap on and off, as well as other flexible payment options including with their phone, smart device, travel cards and other options,” Steel said.

A spokesperson on behalf of Steel said that the ACT government was yet to select a contractor to provide the system.

A new app will include reliable real-time travel information and updates with GPS data allowing travellers to check details of their connecting services.

Steel said the new system’s high tech features will provide more data than through the current MyWay System to support public transport planners and operations.

He said the new system is likely to be rolled out next year or in 2022 after a lengthy development and transition period.

The cost of the new account based system will be released once the procurement process is finalised towards the middle of the year.

“The Territory continues to undertake further investigations as part of the broader procurement process which is confidential until that process is completed,” Steel said.

The new system will include reliable real time travel information and updates with GPS data and will enable passengers on light rail services to discard MyWay cards as they will no longer need to buy and load money on them.

“We’ve heard from public transport users that they want better real time information to inform their travel plans,” Steele said.

“Many Canberrans have been to other cities around the world where it is much easier to use public transport than it is here because of modern ticketing systems.

“A good ticketing system is really important to improve the transit experience.”