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Urban rail news in brief - July 2015
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AUSTRALIA'S cities will become less productive and less competitive than their global rivals unless governments abandon their fixation with building new roads and embrace rail projects.
The warning comes from three transport and sustainability academics, who say, given energy costs will soar over the next 50 years, the golden age of car-based cities is over.
Peter Newman, an authority on urban sustainability with Perth's Curtin University, warns that Australia risks a catastrophic drop in productivity if cities press ahead with road projects such as Sydney's proposed $10 billion WestConnex motorway.
Professor Newman told The Australian WestConnex, which is set to link Sydney's west with the CBD and the airport, was the "last gasp of the dying baby boomer world's addiction to oil".
"There is no economic rationale for WestConnex rather than some vague idea of connecting a lot of loose ends, as if building a transport network were some kind of work of art," Professor Newman said.
Around the world, cities were building light rail systems instead of motorways, yet governments in Australia continued to approve urban road projects without proper analysis of the wider economic benefits, he said.
More than 65 European cities built new or expanded light rail systems since 1980 while metro rail systems have expanded or are under construction in larger European cities, such as Paris, Madrid, Athens, London, Vienna, Stockholm, and Munich.
Professor Newman said Asian cities such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Manila, Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Seoul were turning to rail to control urban congestion driving "the biggest rail boom since the original railway age in the late 19th century in Europe and America."
Professor Newman argued that successful cities in the digital age would have dense concentrations of workers involved in "the knowledge economy", travelling within cities by public transport, rather than cars. Car use in Australia had already plateaued and public transport was rising steeply in all capitals and around the world.
"A bustling vibrant street life where commuters step off public transport such as light rail and become pedestrians is key to a city's productivity," Professor Newman said. "Such systems help support a wide range of retail and and other businesses and stimulate expenditure and consumption."
The proposal by Infrastructure NSW chief Nick Greiner to complete Sydney's orbital motorway network before funding a second rail crossing for Sydney Harbour and a light rail along George Street would make Australia's largest city uncompetitive.
Professor Newman's paper co-written by the City of Sydney's manager of transport policy Garry Glazebrook and Curtin University's Professor Jeff Kenworthy, argues that the mobile phone is now more important to younger commuters than the car.
The paper says that, given mobile phone use is restricted while driving a car, rail commuters are more productive than drivers.
"This is a cultural revolution that underlies the rail revolution," the paper says. "Baby-boomers gained freedom and connection with a car, Gen Ys are not needing one. If a city does not adequately develop or build the rail infrastructure then it can easily miss out on this important social and economic change. The biggest threat is if car-dependent cities do not recognise that the golden age of the car is over."
Another sign of the change has been the financial failure of recent toll roads, including the Cross City and Lane Cove Tunnels in Sydney, and the Clem 7 tunnel in Brisbane. There are also early signs that the Airport Road Tunnel in Brisbane is experiencing much lower traffic than forecast.
Michelle Zeibots, research principal at the Institute for Sustainable Futures at Sydney's University of Technology, said governments needed to look for more efficient public transport options over high-cost motorway construction to reduce congestion and lift productivity.
"Removing the station surcharge on the international and domestic airport stations on Sydney's Airport Rail Link would be a great place to start," she said. "The Airport Rail Link is an example of a great piece of public transport infrastructure that hasn't been used well because contractual arrangement got in the way."
Removing the surcharge from Mascot and Green Square, which are also on the airport line, led to patronage increasing by more than 50 per cent within three months. Dr Zeibots said patronage at the airport terminal stations could increase by far more.
"Shifting just 2000 people from road to rail within the industrial area around the airport would equate to removing the need for one motorway lane", she said.
This article first appeared on www.theaustralian.com.au
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