Monday, 27 July 2015

My trip to Europe

A trip to Europe to see the places from where my grandparents had migrated was part of a bucket list, but it was also an opportunity to observe and ride on tram systems that I had been studying on-line in the course of writing this blog. These are some of my observations, city by city.


Pantographs down at Place Garibaldi
The tramway in Nice is impeccably designed. The U-shaped route passes under the elevated motorway that was built alongside the elevated railway so trams do not obstruct arterial traffic. Bus services along the other main north-south road, Bd de Chimiez, terminate immediately to the north of the tram line and are unaffected by tram movements. The average speed of the trams over the 8.7 km route is 19 kph - faster than the bus services they replaced. The trams I travelled in were packed to the rafters. Paper tickets are validated on board for each journey. The trams have no signalling, relying on headways and drivers sight-lines for safety. The 100° curve moving into Place Garibaldi (shown left) has unimpeded sight-lines.

Followers of this blog will recall that Nice rejected the "third-rail" technology of Alstom. The trams run on nickle-metal-hydride batteries for a short section along Place Garibaldi. I had a terrifying demonstration of the wisdom of this decision. I had to travel by taxi to Nice airport in torrential rain. The drainage along large sections of the elevated motorway could not cope and vehicles were pumping sheets of water over the edge with their tyres. The driver handled it with aplomb - he had done it before.


Rosie Hackett bridge across Liffey
Dublin is constructing a Cross-City luas which will provide connections between the successful tramway to the north of and parallel to the Liffey river and a light rail to the south-east that uses abandoned rail lines. An additional bridge has been constructed across the Liffey exclusively for the south-bound tram rail and buses and taxis. O'Connell Street is one of the widest thoroughfares in Europe but only the north-bound rail will cross the O'Connell bridge and travel up the centre islands - two lines were evidently considered too disruptive during extensive consultations and inquiries that had been conducted since 2005.

Tickets have to be purchased before boarding the trams - there are ticket vending machines at all stops. With the introduction of an intergrated smartcard for all public transport, the touch-on/touch-off Leap Card, this is openly referred to as an honour system. Plain-clothed "Revenue Protection Officers" are being introduced to reduce fair evasion.


T-junction at Picadilly Gardens
 Manchester has an extensive tram network to supplement the urban rail network. The tram lines to the north literally pass through the heavy rail terminuses at Victoria and Piccadilly stations. The tram lines to the south enter central Manchester via abandoned elevated rail tracks to the former terminus of the Midland Central Express to London which is now a heritage-listed convention centre. This line comes down to earth to pass through the historic center and link up to the northern system at a T-junction at Picadilly Gardens (left). The noise levels at this junction, the inevitable screaching of metal on metal, have to be heard to be believed. Double-decker bus services from the south pass through the city centre to terminate with a U-turn in the south-east corner of the T-junction.

Manchester bus terminuses
Not all bus services from the south terminate here. Some buses cross the tram lines at the main artery for vehicular traffic, Portland Street, and continue as north-eastern sector bus services. Once buses cross the tram rails they remain separate from the tram lines - buses never share lanes with trams.

Most bus services to the to the north terminate to the north of Piccadilly Gardens or at a purpose-built bus transfer station adjacent to another tram stop north of a vast area of department stores and shopping malls. This transfer station operates like the bus transfer station at Bondi Junction with doors that open automatically when a bus is discharging or taking on passengers.

Manchester buses queued for U-turn
Public transport in Manchester has been designed to minimise crossings of the bus routes with the tram tracks, with good reason. This is in stark contrast to the deleriously incompetent tramway foist on Sydney by Chris Lock and Ms Berejiklian: all buses from Parramatta and City Roads cross the tram tracks at Eddy Avenue coming and going; buses forcibly terminated at Pitt Street are forced to cross tram rails a mind-numbing eight times in order to turn round.

The other stark contrast is in the location of the tram stops. Tram stops in Manchester are integrated into the railway terminals at Piccadilly and Victoria stations and the tram terminus of the southern tram lines is linked to a railway station at Deansgate by a footbridge over a canal - the famed canal alongside Canal Street. Tram stops are located between these stops, adjacent to the bus terminals. Free bus routes, one one-way (orange line) and one two-way (green line) also link the rail stations.

This is in contrast with the George Street tram stops that mindlessly replicate the train stations. Commuters whose bus services have been terminated at Wynyard park will have the choice of catching a City Circle train coming as frequently as modern signalling can achieve or a tram whose frequency is determined by congestion at Pitt Street. Free bus shuttles in Sydney will be obliterated.

The tram stop in the centre of Manchester is the pinch point that determines the capacity of north-south tram movements. The tram rails through the stop will be doubled with another dual track to the west passing along Corporation Street, a pedestrianised street passing through the area of shopping malls and department stores. One rail has been lain alongside the existing platforms, which will be closed down next month while the remaining lines and island platforms are built. The George Street tram capacity can never be increased.


Royal Scottish Academy
The statue of young Queen Victoria is clearly not amused by the chaos at her feet

Princes Street tram stop
Buses in Edinburgh have for ├Žons used bus stops strung along Princes Street adjacent to Waverley Rail station, between North Bridge and the Scottish Academy, as an interchange for distributing services throughout Edinburgh. Now the buses are forced to share a single lane with trams at the most critical intersection for the bus distribution network.

The Mound, Edinburgh
The satellite images used by Google Earth were taken before Princes Street was closed to traffic and torn up, so they give a snapshot of what has been given up because of the trams. At the intersection in front the Scottish Academy buses turned right to the northern suburbs, left onto The Mound taking them back to the south-west or carried on towards Haymarket station. Now buses only circulate on to The Mound.

Kings wall (orange line)
The railways that extended north from the Midlands originally terminated at Haymarket to the west of Old Edinburgh town, which had been built on a ridge dominated by the Castle. Pedestrian streets, Closes, so narrow you can touch both sides with outstretched arms, sloped steeply from the central thoroughfare down to Nor' Loch and Cowgate and were easy to defend against Vikings, marauding Highland chieftains and the English. Houses were stacked eight stories high on top of shops and work places and, as in medieval London, sewerage was dumped into the streets. Cromwell was able to capture and hold the Castle but with the Restoration of a Scottish king to the English throne and the Act of Union the city expanded beyond the city walls. The Royal Mile was connected to Princes Street by North Bridge and to Chambers Street by South Bridge, over Cowgate, and Nor' Loch was reclaimed. The wealthy residents north of Princes Street objected to a railway through their parkland until an act of Parliament allowed the rail companies to burrow under The Mound and establish Waverley Station, which spans the entire valley. Railtracks never made it up the slopes and the rail lines continue east of Waverley to link with the lines on the east coast of England. A train line to the north, west of Haymarket, was closed as uneconomic and converted into a cycle path, as were lines to the port from the eastern tracks. Urban transport in Edinburgh has always been provided by buses operating on the roads along the ridges and the overpasses that connect them.

The Scottish Parliament passes an act to establish a rail station under Edinburgh Airport in 2007 and it received Royal accent. The underground station was costed at £500 million and would have been linked to the Forth Bridge line and the Haymarket-Glascow line. The Scottish National Party (SNP) manifesto at the election promised to scrap the station and also a proposal to build a tramway to the airport. The SNP-led minority government after the election commissioned a report from Audit Scotland that confirmed that the projectioned cost from 2003 of £498 for a tramway from the airport to the port was sound.

A draft business case had been accepted by the Scottish Parliament in March 2007 before the election on 3 May 2007. The plan for construction of the shared-road sections was drawn up by a joint design team from the infamous Parsons Brinkerhoff and Halcrow Group and work commenced in July 2007. The SNP-led minority government agreed to continue the scheme after a failed vote in Parliament, stipulating that no further public money would be available. SNP had 47 seats in the devolved Scottish Parliament, Labour 46, Conservatives 17, Liberal Democrats 16, Greens 2 and one independant. Edinburgh Council approved the final business case on 25 October 2007 months after work had commenced and had responsibility for the project through a wholly-owned subsiduary Transport Initiatives Edinburgh.

There was a moment of sanity on 25 August 2011 when Council voted to terminate the line at Haymarket. This actually made sense. The line from Haymarket to the airport is segregated from the road network with bridges over the rail lines and and a tunnel under the interchange at the start of the Edinburgh City Bypass, a free motorway around the coastal city. The frequency of services is limited only by demand and safety standards - there are many level crossings. Extending the line to St Andrews Square merely replicates the rail line to Waverley and ensures that congestion at the pinch point in front of the Scottish Academy will always determine the frequency of services. It is physically impossible for the two extra island stops to the west along Princes Street to ever transfer passengers to buses - they have a long walk to their destinations.

A week later Council reversed its decision and agreed to extend the tram line to St Andrew Square, after the Scottish Parliament threatened to withdraw funding. The tramline, shortened to half its length, cost over £1 billion when interest charges are factored in. It is universally described as a fiasco - half the length at twice the cost.

I wanted to get a photo of a tram queueing to go through the pinch point but they were so infrequent I gave up. This was a Saturday evening but airports don't close at weekends.

A statutory inquiry into the fiasco was set up by the Scottish Parliament on 7 November 2014 so public servants could be compelled to give evidence. It is expected to examine more than 2 million digital files and 200 boxes of documents.

Edinburgh compared with Sydney

New Town, Edinburgh 1819
It turns out that Edinburgh will get off relatively lightly compared to what is being inflicted on Sydney by the George Street trams. The George Street trams mindlessly replicate half the City Circle loop but they also obliterate all the places in the CBD where it is physically possible for buses to turn around.

New Town to the north of Nor' Loch was laid out in accordance with Georgian planning principles with orthogonal major roads alternated with minor roads and lanes. Melbourne and Adelaide have similar road structures. In Edinburgh this was achieved the same way as on Manhattan island - hillocks and outcrops were flattened and the rubble used to form The Mound. Planners were not encumbered by medieval land titles. Bus services can be rerouted to roads further north to avoid the chaos in Princes Street. Commuters will just have to walk further to catch a bus.

Diverting bus routes and other traffic away from the pinch point at The Mound could potentially allow the frequencies of the tram services in Edinburgh to be increased. This is not possible in Sydney where every bus from Broadway will be forced to pass through the intersection of Pitt Street and Eddy Avenue entering and leaving the CBD regardless of where they are terminated. The frequency of trams in George Street must inevitably decrease over the future life of the City of Sydney. The volume of general traffic through the intersections at either end of Eddy Avenue can never be diverted since Wentworth Avenue/Elizabeth Street is the major arterial road between the Eastern Suburbs and the rest of Sydney to the south and west, and the other routes, Cleveland Street and Gardener Road, are also stuffed by the tram rails. In Edinburgh traffic passing round the city centre using the City Bypass to the south or a route through the port, to the north, is unaffected by tram movements.

Trams in Edinburgh share a lane with buses only on the outbound route for a short distance in front of the Scottish Academy. In Sydney trams will share lanes with buses in both directions for an unspecified distance from the Kingsford terminus across Gardeners road. Every bus that transfers passengers at the terminus will be forced into these lanes regardless of where they are eventually forced to turn round. It is not known whether buses will turn right into Bunnerong Road from this lane or a separate right-turn lane. Parsons Brinkerhoff showed buses entering the shared lane at random - no attempt to maintain safe headways. This cannot be. It will not be possible to increase tram frequencies while this system persists. There are shared lanes in Centenial Park on the Randwick leg which creat the same problems.

The trams in Edinburgh do not pass through pedestrianised areas.

One can keep on producing odious comparisons of the George Street trams with all the other tram systems in the civilised word. There has never been a tramway as incompetently designed.

My observations have comfirmed the obvious: the George Street trams are the greatest mistake made by a city since the fall of Troy.

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