Sunday, 18 May 2014

"Run over the bastards"

Five segment tram
I asked the tech guy at the final "information session" before the close of the exhibition period what kind of emergency braking will be used by the LRVs. He said that that would be left for the PPP (Public/Private/Partner) to decide. He also claimed that current trams could stop in the same distance or better than rubber-tyre buses - not physically possible. In the past some trams used electromagnetic controlled blocks between the wheels of the bogies that dropped onto the tracks to dissipate kinetic energy but modern trams use the equivalent of ABS braking on rubber-tyre vehicles to stop them going into the infamous death slide where the driver saw the tram accelerate as the wheels locked. The point at which antilock braking cuts in depends on the friction between the small-diameter steel wheels and the steel track. This depends on whether the track is wet or dry and on the cleanness of tracks level with the road surface but it is low - Chris Lock told the meeting at Sydney High School repeatedly that trams cannot go up grades greater than 7% as they "cannot stop". They cannot swerve to avoid a collision as well.

Hey Kids, ain't trams fun to play with?
Goldlinq tram cutout
The companies that manufacture segmented tram chassis internationally are few and far between but their web sites give no information on emergency braking, and what would be the point of speculating on where the PPP would source the trams. The Gold Coast is the only place in the world that will run seven segment trams, in small part, through existing streets so we will use this as an example.
The Gold Coast trams are undergoing testing for safety this year. Kid's activity packs and colouring-in books have been issued and school kids are being lectured on the "science" of trams. Queensland is the only state where tradies died through not turning off the power when installing ceiling insulation so safety would be an important consideration. Contrary to the conventions of the Westminster System, North Shore politicians set up a Royal Commission and released redacted Cabinet documents. The former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd successfully had restrictions on the information removed and in his testimony did not suffer the "massive memory losses" experienced by Sinodinos and O'Farrell and other politicians at ICAC hearings. The Royal Commission has given family members of the four workers who died a multimillion dollar platform to rend their sackcloths, but more importantly, under the tit-for-tat rule of politics, a Royal Commission into Transport for NSW following the inevitable deaths and serious injuries by trams will be able to access the Cabinet deliberations of the Baird government if the Project is approved.
Tram stopping Gold Coast traffic
The safety campaign states that safety is a shared responsibility but the message is that if you are hit by a tram it is your fault. This will no doubt be challenged by contingency law firms - the PPP is apparently being indemnified by the State Government and Gold Coast Council. The web site emphasises that the tram tracks are separate from the from the road tarmac and have a different colour. For the most part the tracks are completely separate from the road system, having their own bridge across the Nerang River and travelling alongside the Gold Coast Highway.
Gold Coast Hospital, Nerang Street 
The exception is where the trams make a dogleg along Nerang Street and Scarborough Street to provide stops at the Gold Coast Hospital and the Southport city centre. The stop at the hospital occupies roadway formally used for 90 degree central parking - the tracks are separated from the roadway with raised kerbing except for the ambulance-only crossing (top right). There are separate lanes for turning and straight-through traffic at the few minor crossings where right-hand turns across the tracks are permitted. The differences between the situation in High Street at Prince of Wales Hospital could not be more stark.
The stop at the hairpin bend into the Southport retail centre is the only place in the system where the trams pass through a pedestrianised area - it is only one block long. Pedestrians are being instructed to cross the rails only at signalised crossings. The black lines presumably represent where trams are required to stop when pedestrian movements are taking place. It is of course physically impossible to stop people crossing the rails at tram stops but the crossings are at the natural pedestrian paths. In Devonshire Street the only signalised crossing between Crown Street and Elizabeth Street will be at Marlborough Street which is not and never will be a pedestrian path. Contingency lawyers will have little difficulty in arguing that it was not a realistic expectation for pedestrians to divert to this crossing.

The light rail feasibility study

The Goldlinq project had a long gestation period. It was first mooted in a Gold Coast City Council Transport Plan in 1996 and the Queensland and Federal Governments funded a professional feasibility study in 2002 - the draft summary report was released in 2004. Alignment diagrams for the entire route have been published and show the lane direction arrows in adjacent roads. The Queensland Government committed $464 million to the project in 2009 supplementing $365 million provided by the Federal Government and $120 million from the Council and contracts were awarded in June 2011.

In NSW the route for a light rail project was determined on the whim of the then Premier. The project has never been subjected to a feasibility study and has never been endorsed by successive Federal Governments. Alignment diagrams for the portion of the route through areas in the jurisdiction of the Sydney City Council were inadvertently released in the Council's submission for the EIS but these have been superseded in the Preferred Infrastructure Report.

"There are winners and losers"

The Deputy Director General Transport for NSW Chris Lock told the Randwick Business breakfast in April 2013 that there are winners and losers. I for one had already raised concerns to the Minister about the unacceptable hazard that the design would impose on pedestrians and passengers - the losers would not only be those who lost their livelihoods but also those who lost their lives. There has been no attempt to address these concerns.

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