The Gold Coast’s G:Link. Image courtesy of GoldLinQ consortium.

27 March 2014 — As the city with the world’s largest light rail network, Melbourne is a showcase of the benefits of light rail for rapid, pedestrian-friendly, low carbon transport. The idea is catching hold around the nation, with projects at various stages of planning and implementation. Following are details of projects  in Sydney, Adelaide, Newcastle and the Gold Coast.

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The Gold Coast

The first of these infrastructure projects to seek a sustainability rating is the Gold Coast’s new Rapid Transit light rail system, G:Link, which is being designed and constructed by GoldLinQ, a joint venture consortium comprising GoldLinQ Pty Ltd, McConnell Dowell Constructors, Bombardier Transportation Australia and KDR Gold Coast Pty Ltd.

KDR Gold Coast will maintain a role in the ongoing operation and maintenance of the system, the company bringing to the task the experience gained by the Melbourne parent company, a joint venture between Keolis and Downer Rail which operates Melbourne’s tram and light rail network.

“Gold Coast light rail has applied for an Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia rating and will soon be Australia’s first public transport project and the third project nation-wide to receive a rating,” GoldLinQ chief executive officer Phil Mumford said.

Stage one of the G:Link runs from Gold Coast University Hospital at Southport down the coast to Broadbeach, a distance of 13 kilometres.

Future stages have also been planned, with an ultimate 40km route from Helensvale to Coolangatta contained in the Draft Gold Coast City Transport Strategy 2031. This Transport Strategy outlines how light rail extensions might be implemented to improve the city’s transport network.

According to the state government, preliminary planning has been undertaken but funding for the potential future stages of the Gold Coast light rail has not yet been committed.

The project is a partnership between all three levels of government in Australia, and has funding commitments from three levels of government.

This first stage, which is expected to carry its first passengers in mid 2014, was a key aspect of the Gold Coast’s bid to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games, with many sporting venues and accommodation centres directly accessible from the light rail stops.

A single 43.5m long tram is able to carry over 309 passengers safely; the equivalent of six standard buses, and has the potential to remove up to 235 cars from the road during peak periods. The state government has estimated G:Link will reduce local greenhouse gas emissions by 114,000 tonnes during the first 10 years of operation.

Image courtesy of the GoldLinQ consortium.

Long-term planning – but mixed reaction from Gold Coast community

According to GoldLinQ’s Phil Mumford there has been mixed reaction to the proposal for light rail on the Gold Coast.

“A project as major as Gold Coast light rail must balance the needs of traders and organisations with getting the job done,” Mr Mumford said.

“GoldLinQ meets regularly with traders, traffic, emergency services and other groups to find solutions to concerns about how works will affect them.

“There has been a mixed reaction from the Gold Coast community with feedback ranging from negativity with short-term construction to positivity of long-term city and population growth support.”

The Gold Coast is one of the fastest growing cities in Australia with travel demands exceeding population growth.

According to the Queensland State Government, traffic demand on a number of key Gold Coast roads currently exceeds capacity with congestion increasing. This makes an integrated public transport system essential to meet the city’s anticipated growth and reduce congestion.

Town planning

A proposal for a new Rapid Transit system was first developed as part of Gold Coast City Council’s 1998 Transport Plan.

In 2004, a joint Queensland Transport and Gold Coast City Council feasibility study developed plans for a possible light rail or bus rapid transit system, and in 2005 the Gold Coast Rapid Transit project was confirmed as a priority in the South East Queensland Infrastructure Plan and Program.

The system is also an important component of the TransLink’s South East Queensland Ten Year Network Plan.

From 2006-08, the state government conducted extensive planning to prepare the Concept Design and Impact Management Plan to determine the suitability for a rapid transit system on the Gold Coast, identify potential impacts and establish effective mitigation strategies.

Sustainable design and construction

According to Mr Mumford, the depot in Southport, located on a retired landfill site, was a major sustainability achievement for the project.

The team altered the track design which meant less landfill had to be excavated. “This saw 68,200 tonnes less waste removed and 40 per cent less concrete and steel required, saving $5.8 million,” Mr Mumford said.

The depot, which houses the Gold Coast light rail’s control centre and office space,  has four inside tracks for maintenance staff to work under cover and acts as the  nerve centre of the system with a wall of televisions allowing network controllers to constantly monitor signals, overhead power and pass information to tram drivers.

“Building the depot has been a mammoth effort with 1700 cubic metres of concrete, 320 tonnes of steel reinforcement and 210 tonnes of structural steel creating a gross floor area of 4000 square metres,” Mr Mumford said.

But it’s been built with sustainability in mind, he said. Trams will be kept clean in the depot’s sustainable automatic wash-plant, which will use rainwater gathered from the structure’s roof.

“Another sustainability triumph saw more than 5000 tonnes of sand excavated for light rail works donated to the City of Gold Coast to replenish the region’s popular beaches, which were eroded by severe weather in early 2013.”

Green power

The use of green power was considered, but as it was hard to quantify the sustainability benefits during construction activities, it will now be considered for the operation of the system. It’s use would prove a major long-term sustainability win.

Light rail systems have their own electricity supply system from the main grid, which is a separate set of lines to those servicing homes and businesses and with redundancy built in, to ensure continued operation.

Image courtesy of the GoldLinQ consortium.

And it’s all systems go

The first tram carriages were delivered in September 2013, with progressive testing of the line commencing at the Southport end, and the Broadbeach end reached at the start of March this year.

The testing phase has also included training for G:Link drivers, and to some degree has also provided an education for Gold Coast motorists on the advisability of obeying the road rules and allowing for the presence of trams. As Melburnians know, trams are mostly easy to avoid as they do not swerve, change lanes or make u-turns. For some Gold Coast residents, however, this is still something to get used to.

Sydney still on track with more stages underway

The light rail extension opened in Sydney this week, and three international consortia have been invited to tender for the Public Private Partnership to deliver and operate the new 12k m CBD and South East Rail Network, and the ongoing operation and maintenance of the Inner West Light Rail Network, which operates from Central to Lilyfield, and through the inner west to Dulwich Hill.

The consortia shortlisted to tender for the PPP are:

  • SydneyConnect – including Serco Pty Ltd, John Holland Pty Ltd and Plenary Group Pty Ltd
  • iLinQ Sydney – including Keolis Downer, Balfour Beatty, McConnell Dowell, Bombardier and Macquarie Capital
  • Connecting Sydney – including Transdev Sydney Pty Ltd, Alstom Transport Australia Pty Ltd, Acciona Infrastructure Australia Pty Ltd and Capella Capital.

In announcing the short-listed contenders, NSW Minister for Transport Gladys Berejiklian said the $1.6 billion expansion of light rail in Sydney would deliver huge public transport improvements, create thousands of jobs, address congestion and deliver economic benefits worth an expected $4 billion.

“We know construction of this project will be disruptive, so we’re asking the teams to focus on showing us how they can deliver and operate light rail in a way that minimises impacts to Sydney and maximises benefits to our customers and NSW taxpayers,” Ms Berejiklian said in the media statement accompanying the announcement..

Subject to planning approval, it is expected that the PPP contract will be awarded in late 2014, with a construction timeframe of up to six years projected before the project is complete, commissioned and carrying passengers.

Light Rail planned to revitalise Newcastle

North of Sydney, the NSW government has announced its intention to use proceeds gained from leasing the Port of Newcastle to deliver a light rail link for the city as part of the Revitalising Newcastle strategy.

The proposed light rail will link the city’s beachfront with a new transport interchange at Wickham, and two possible routes were released for public comment earlier this year.

The larger vision is that this first light rail project could form the spine of a future light rail network for the Hunter, according to the statement by NSW Minister for Planning and Infrastructure Brad Hazzard.

Consultation on the light rail routes closes on March 31, and further consultations are planned for later in the year.

Newcastle is the second largest city in New South Wales, and has traditionally been heavily involved in coal and steel processing and exports. Light rail regarded as a critical element in the renewal of the city centre and to improve connections between the city’s commercial and retail centre and the waterfront, making the beaches more easily accessible to locals and tourists alike without increasing vehicle congestion in the area.

Adelaide has grand plans

In South Australia, the first tramline electrification project, the coast-to-coast line which runs between Glenelg and the Entertainment Centre on the banks of the river, has had a positive response from the community.

The state government has since proposed significant extensions to the light rail tram network in order to improve connectivity between the CBD and surrounding suburbs. The proposal also includes a plan to convert the Outer harbour heavy rail line into a light rail tram line.

The new routes for the AdeLINK tram network proposed under the state government’s Integrated Transport and Land Use Plan include:

  • PortLINK – a conversion of the Outer Harbor train line to deliver a new tram service to Outer Harbor, Port Adelaide and Grange, and construct new tram lines to West lakes and Semaphore
  • EastLINK – a tram line running along The Parade to Magill
  • WestLINK – a tram line running along henley beach Road to Henley Square, with a branch line to Adelaide Airport (the existing tram line to Glenelg will also form part of WestLINK)
  • ProspectLINK – a tram line running from Grand Junction Road along Prospect Road and O’Connell Street
  • UnleyLINK – a tram line running along Unley Road and Belair Road to Mitcham
  • CityLINK – a tram running in a continuous loop at regular intervals along the Morphett Street, Sturt Street, Halifax Street and Frome Street corridors, with transfers available from other tram lines and railway stations.

In a statement received by The Fifth Estate in response to enquiries about the progress of the plans, the South Australian Department of Transport, Planning and Infrastructure said, “the draft Plan… presents a comprehensive strategic vision for Adelaide’s transport system and its integration with land planning, and in particular the crucial role that the proposed AdeLINK tram network will play in placing a sharper focus on inner Adelaide to boost the central city as a creative, lively and energetic district where more people want to live and businesses want to locate.”

The department said the return of trams to central Adelaide would support the development of the inner city as a “well-connected, dynamic, safe and attractive area that is home to more people, more businesses and more jobs”.

It would also support  growing market demand for residential development in the CBD and the inner suburbs.

Green power part of mix for AdeLINK

DPTI estimated that just under 30 per cent of the energy for the coast-to-coast trams was sourced from renewable sources in the 2012/13 financial year.

In addition, five-kilowatt solar systems are fitted to five of Adelaide’s CBD tram stops between Victoria Square and City West.

These stops were added to the network as part of the Glenelg tram extension project, and the solar systems are not only producing enough energy for the stops themselves for lighting, they are also producing excess power for general consumption.

Renewable energy has been a fundamental part of the integrated approach the South Australian government has taken with their public transport network, including heavy rail, with the Adelaide Railway Station featuring a 108-panel solar installation. This system was jointly funded by DPTI and the Australian Government through the Adelaide Solar City program.

The 21.6kW system is capable of generating approximately 29,000 kilowatt-hours each year, equivalent to powering 3.5 houses for the same amount of time. The carbon reduction through its renewable clean power is estimated to be approximately 18,850 kilograms of carbon dioxide abated a year.

At the time the system was commissioned, Dario De Bortoli, Adelaide Solar City program manager, said in a media announcement the solar electricity system was another example of a successful collaboration.

“The Adelaide Railway Station is the latest addition to the Adelaide Solar City’s installation portfolio which includes the Adelaide Bus Station, Rundle Lantern and the Central Markets.” Mr De Bortoli said.

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