Friday, 20 February 2015

A tale of two cities

Three-car Bombardier B-series in Perth
The three-car Bombadier B-series trains used on the Perth / Mandurah rail line are 73 metres long and carry up to 600 passengers most of them seated:
Bombardier B series train

The Labor Party government changed the design to a direct route over the Narrows bridge and a tunnel and underground stations under the Perth CBD but the 71 km rail line still came in under $2 billion in today's money. The patronage has exceeded expectations and peak services now use coupled six-car trains. The rail service supplimented bus services to the Perth CBD using the Kwinana freeway but did not rely on crippling bus services to be financially viable. The rail line does not have level crossings and buses transferring passengers to and from the trains and park-and-ride passengers never cross the rail lines.

The first trains to take passengers to Mandurah departed from Perth after Christmas in 2007 so one can make comparisons with the Sydney light rail project. The Bombardier B series trains have a mass of 120 tons, can carry 600 passengers and are just 6 metres longer than the George Street trams. Passengers can move along the length of the train distributing loads between the cars. The trains can carry 28.8% more passengers (most of them seated) despite being only 9% longer. This is not surprising as there are not two driver's compartments facing one another in the middle of the carriage sets. The trains have a maximum speed of 130 km/h, despite a 3 ft 6 in gauge track, and regularly outrace cars on the 100 km/h Kwinana freeway.
Alstom Citadis 302 trams in Reims
Sydney is clearly getting a far inferior transport system for a much greater cost. We do not know the cumulative cost of the annual payments that the taxpayer will be making to the ALTRAC consortium over the life of the contract.

The "light rail" carriages are not light. Based on the specifications of Citadis 302 trams in use in Melbourne, coupled carriages would weigh 80 tons unladen. These trams in Melbourne are never coupled and run exclusively on the converted urban-rail tracks to St Kilda. "Light rail" refers to the fact that there is no signalling to prevent collisions.

The trams in Reims are never coupled together. The trams above are posed but give an indication of the length of the cattle cars that will be imposed on the CBD and Randwick if Baird is ever elected Premier. I have ridden on the trams in Reims, which depends on tourism to the Cathedral that was the greatest achievement of mankind during the Dark Ages. The five-storeyed buildings in the city centre are hardly comparable to the buildings in the Sydney CBD which have floor-space ratios approaching those on Manhattan island.

The tramway de Reims opened in 2011 using the Alimentation par le Sol (APS) "third-rail" power supply system developed for Bordeaux. Two power-collection shoes under the carriages connect to segments that are activated by radio signals from the tram only when it is passing over them. Bordeaux has experienced problems with reliability and the system has been abandoned elsewhere because of safety concerns.

Regenerative braking cannot be used when power is being drawn from the "third rail" so power consumption is higher than when overhead wires are used.

A major problem is flooding of the tracks. A connection between active "third rail" segments and the continuous rails would have dire consequences for pedestrians. I have sheltered under an awning in Crown Street where the old tram tracks periodically break through the tarmac during a thunderstorm when water covered the road up to the top of the kerbs. Sydney gets tropical weather from over the Kimberley. Nice abandoned the "third rail" technology for lithium batteries and American tramways use capacitors.

It appears that ALSTOM was free to chose the most expensive system in its catalogue. This is of no concern to ALTRAC since with an "availability PPP" their profits are guarantied for the life of the contract, however long that may be. The taxpayer/public transport user will bear the losses.

Labor plays it safe

The Labor Party has announced the transport plan it will be taking to the election. There was no mention of the CBD South Eastern Suburbs light rail project. The NorthShoreConnex road tunnels will be scrapped in favour of an unspecified extension of the M4 Motorway to the CBD. The M5 tunnels duplication will extend to Port Botany.

The Labor Party in government would take advice from the independent adviser, Infrastructure NSW, presumably after removing the appointees installed by the present government.

Luke Foley said that Labor remained committed to funding another rail crossing of Sydney Harbour but this would not take place for at least another four years. He did not endorse Baird's commitment to tunnel under the deepest part of the Harbour with stations so deep under the CBD and North Sydney that there would be lift-only access to the surface, and Labor would not privatise public assets contributing over a billion dollars to recurrent spending.

This will be a focus of future posts on this blog.

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