By Brian McMahon, principal planning consultant, PlaceMaking and Planning, Parsons Brinckerhoff

20 July 2011 – With the release of its draft consultation plan, Public Transport for Perth in 2031, the state government in Western Australia cannot be accused of suffering from siderodromophobia.  While improvements to the bus network are proposed, the introduction of light rail and the expansion of the heavy rail system are at the forefront of the plan.

The proposed light rail network is centred on Perth’s central business district.  Its initial link would serve the central northern suburbs to Edith Cowan University and Mirrabooka, relieving forecast bus congestion as well as passenger demand along the Northern Suburbs Railway.  Future extensions to the southeast (to Curtin University and Victoria Park), southwest to (University of Western Australia), would complete the much anticipated “Knowledge Arc”.

Ultimately the network would extend northwest to the proposed Stirling City Centre through Subiaco, one of Australia’s prominent transit oriented developments.  Only the southwest quadrant of the city, south of the Swan River, would remain unserved by light rail.

The heavy rail network will employ a number of extensions, including adding a rail spur from the Midland line to service the airport and Hills area; extending the Northern Suburbs line to Yanchep and extending the Armadale line to Mundijong. The existing heavy rail network’s capacity and efficiency would also be increased by purchasing new trains and buses; upgrading major bus interchanges, building new train stations and adding capacity to park and ride facilities.

The public transport network will be further expanded by providing priority bus lanes along routes that connect major centres and through congested intersections. The plan does not explicitly discuss how far along the spectrum of bus rapid transit technology, such as signal pre-emption, real time passenger information or light rail style platforms, the priority will include.  However, additional details are expected to be determined in future planning.

The light rail and bus rapid transit solutions are in response to the lack of cost-effective heavy rail options. Both forms will be road based and are a new tier of service in Perth and will be operated with “substantial priority” over general traffic on the road network. The strategy seeks to move larger volumes of people instead of cars on road space.

Costs in 2010 dollars over the next two decades for construction and fleet expansion are forecast at $2.9 billion, $1.2 billion respectively.  Annual operating costs will nearly double from $0.69 billion to $1.2 billion in 2010 dollars.

The plan expects a contribution of capital costs for the projects by the private sector based on the concept of “value capture”.  While the increased value of property near quality public transit stations is long recognised, unlike other countries Australian governments have been limited in ways to utilise a portion of that increased value to finance the infrastructure. The WA government will investigate ways to bring this tool to life.

The “transit map” for the future was created an independent panel appointed by the Minister of Transport.  The plan is envisioned as one of the “key enablers” for successfully implementing Directions 2031 and Beyond spatial framework for Greater Perth and Peel.

This framework seeks to intensify housing, employment and major services in the central and inner parts of the city. The panel’s vision is to the see public transport become the preferred choice of travel to these strategic centres and growth corridors.  It also aims to accommodate double the current use of public transport by Perth’s residents.