Network 19, light rail, buses and the winners and losers

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An edited version of this article was published in the Canberra Times here.

In its first week light rail from Gungahlin carried over 100,000 passengers and proved to be the success that its supporters knew it would be. It was a long time coming, and although it received overwhelming support from the public at the 2016 election, much political blood was shed in the decades leading to this endorsement including the toppling of Canberra Liberal Trevor Kaine, ALP Chief Minister Rosemary Follet and her Transport Minister David Lamont.

Chief Minister Barr and Transport Minister Fitzharris deserve much credit for the resolve they had to see the benefits of this city changing project through, since it was first announced by former Chief Minister Katie Gallagher in 2012. Essential political support from the Greens ensured that light rail survived the Legislative Assembly. Former Transport Minister Simon Corbell may one day be able to catch light rail from Civic to Kingston for a coffee, as he once famously predicted. Light rail will be a legacy for generations to come.

On Monday, the ACT received its second major public transport shakeup with Network 19, a fundamental reset of the system. Integrating light rail, a record nine rapid bus routes, and more frequent local buses, the aim is to increase local connections to rapid routes, and increase the frequency. Passengers have long complained about the magical mystery local bus tours, and this has been addressed.

Weekend passengers also benefit with light rail until 1AM and rapid buses operating until at least 10 PM on Sunday. Over time, it would be good to see local buses offer this same service, but as long as the TWU believes working weekends is voluntary and not something that the public expects that may be some time off. Passengers fortunate enough to live adjacent to light rail will be able to travel until 1AM on Saturdays and 11.30 PM on Sundays. This is the sort of weekend public transport service that Canberra has needed for many years.

Although the radical Network 19 changes will prove beneficial, there will be many short term issues as passengers start using it, and locating the new bus stops they may have to walk further to use. Not everyone benefits, and indeed some people lose out. Many long used local bus stops are disappearing, requiring people to walk to unfamiliar streets in their neighbourhood. Some people will have to transfer between services.

With 140 suburbs and 530 buses, not every suburb in Canberra can have a direct service to Civic. Expresso services received cuts, as patronage figures saw most removed, others changed to become part of the new rapid routes, and a few, mainly in Tuggeranong, retained in a different form.

Fairbairn, Hume, ANU and other locations lose a bus service. Although ANU has its own coaster bus, it may not have enough capacity for the students that relied on the former service. Transport Canberra have indicated that on-demand and flexible buses will replace some services, but there is no extra funding to expand this fleet and the software for the small fleet of on-demand buses is not yet available. In some instances the services are more likely to be used by the fridge magnet generation, than the app generation.

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Schools on regular local bus route in Nicholls

The loudest voices against Network 19 are the parents of children who use school buses to travel from north to south Canberra. These services have slightly decreased from 246 school bus services to 221 services, and there are now reportable metrics in place. Some services carry a handful of students a day. Clearly a bus carrying a hundred people is better used on a local bus or rapid service decreasing peak hour bus frequency. While there is no separate school bus fleet in Canberra, this balance of resources will continue to be played out.

Many schools now have regular bus stops next to them, or nearby. The majority of students travelling to school by bus do so on a regular bus, and it is better for their independence and to stop bullying that they do so into the future. Many former students and bus drivers have advised that a student is less likely to be bullied on a regular bus, when an adult passenger will speak up, than on a school bus with no adult present except the driver occupied navigating our roads.

 

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Excellent wayfinding signage in Civic

Passenger wayfinding between rapid and local bus services outside the interchanges also needs some work. Savvy passengers may know they can step off a rapid bus, walk 100 metres and step on a local bus, other passengers may not know this. People won’t mind transferring if the frequency of services leads to shorter waiting times for the next bus or light rail. Better signage at local bus stops, or software notifications could help here.

Overall the benefits of more frequent local services connecting to a mass transit spine will make public transport more efficient and better for passengers. Network 19 has been subjected to exhaustive community consultation, with changes made to school bus services, Expressos and some local loops modified. In large transport networks, people often transfer to complete their trip. It is a new paradigm this city needs to adopt as it goes from a country town to a city.

Our city has grown and now our transport network has changed to accommodate that growth. In 1992 Gungahlin had 389 residents, today it has 80 thousand – 50 thousand who have arrived in the last five years. Light rail was delivered by  the Barr government under budget, before the major duplicated roads in Gungahlin being constructed at the same time. A startling reminder that under the Stanhope administration, public transport and road infrastructure was very far down the funding priority list, while single dwelling housing blocks were allowed to sprawl across Canberra. We have to stop building in car dependency.

Gungahlin residents deserve much credit for getting Canberra to an integrated bus and light rail transport network today.  They called for better public transport in the early 1990’s when it was apparent that buses alone would not carry the amount of passengers the popup suburbs were attracting. The Gungahlin Community Council, the Light Rail Coalition, and then ACT Light Rail were community groups energised by the idea of better public transport and planning outcomes that light rail could deliver. Sustained community activism can lead to political outcomes.

The Public Transport Association of Canberra has supported the current Governments public transport policies, and worked with transport planners and operators to bring about better public transport outcomes. Community consultation is vital, as direct engagement with the decision makers has led to better passenger experiences. Sometimes transport planners don’t get it right, and users can provide advice on a better passenger experience and provide user insights.

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Light rail vehicles in Gungahlins new station – it carried 100,00 people in its first week

We must get public transport right. At 420 thousand residents now, and half a million soon, Canberra must keep building transport infrastructure that matches our growth, and corrects past mistakes. More buses are being ordered, more articulated buses with greater passenger capacity are in the fleet than ever before, zero emission vehicles may form the core of a bus fleet (light rail is powered by renewable energy). Public transport is a visible sign of the health and livability of a city and its people. This government understands this, will future governments? The 2020 Assembly elections will be telling, as the Canberra Liberals are yet to share any thoughts on future public transport infrastructure.

This week Network 19 has arrived, building on the success of light rail stage one opening last week. There will be passengers with problems in the next week or two, as people have to establish new routines and make changes to long used commuting patterns. Despite teething issues, in a few months the true value of this radical change will be realised.

As only about ten percent of Canberrans use public transport now, the aim of Network 19, light rail stage one (and stage two when it is built) is to attract new passengers, encourage greater residential and business growth around transport corridors, and to provide incentives to people to park their car at home. A month of free public transport accompanying the new network and the introduction of light rail will attract new passengers, Canberra needs to keep them using public transport. The results of Network 19 may take some time to be realised but they must work if we want to enjoy the bush capital and not live in our cars.

Damien Haas is the Chair of the Public Transport Association of Canberra, the regions peak public transport user lobby group.

Canberra light rail starts carrying the public on a preview and launch day

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Golden Ticket for the first public light rail passengers

On 18 April 2019 light rail began carrying members of the Canberra public along light rail stage one from Gungahlin to Civic. The ACT Government combined the official launch and letting the public ride and experience the light rail by holding a community ballot, where several hundred people won Golden Tickets, letting them on the first service. This ‘soft launch’ was also to be a test ahead of the official opening on Saturday 20 April.

The launch came the day after the national rail safety regulator accredited the network for operation, and on the day that the ACT Government announced that the light rail project came in at $707 million dollars, $76 million dollars under budget.

It was a fairly simple day with Golden Ticket winners advised to arrive at a specific stop (Gungahlin, Dickson or Civic), have their name checked off, and then wait for their vehicle to leave. It would then travel to Civic (or for the lucky passengers that left from Gungahlin, they did a complete return journey) where people could either travel back to Dickson or Gungahlin, or wait for the plaque to be unveiled. After the unveiling (and press conference) there was a light lunch for invited guests where a cake was cut and consumed (see photo further down…)!

Leaving simultaneously from Gungahlin, Dickson and Civic, these first light rail services left around midday carrying Golden Ticket winners from the public, invited guests, many members of the media, Canberra Metro staff, Transport Canberra and ACT public service executives and ACT Government MLA’s.

The excited passengers waited at each of the three major stops, boarded and set out for the first trip! Some stayed to observe the political events, but most went excitedly about the rest of their day, after being lucky enough to be on the very first trip on Canberra’s brand new light rail. Several PTCBR members attended and were fortunate to be invited to the launch and the lunch.

For people that have been campaigning for light rail in Canberra, and better public transport for many years it was a truly momentous experience. Riding in a brand new light rail vehicle, from Gungahlin to Civic, was very satisfying. It has already started to change Canberra for the better, and will for the next century.All the people associated with ACT Light Rail Coalition, ACT Light Rail and the PTCBR should be proud of the hard work they have put in over the last two decades.

The ACT Government deserve the credit for this, it has been a long hard slog with much political skin shed to get from an idea floated by former Transport Minister Simon Corbell, to a plaque being unveiled at the official opening by Chief Minister Andrew Barr and the Transport Minister Meegan Fitzharris. Administration of the project by Transport Canberra has been exemplary – with the project coming in $76 million under budget. Although the construction by Canberra Metro took a few months longer than anticipated, it is still a tremendous achievement. Light rail will be a lasting legacy, and something that the ALP and Greens can be rightly proud of.

This post has lots of photos of the days events, and a few links to local media coverage.

TV Coverage

WIN TV plaque 18 Apr
WIN TV Canberra coverage here

Nine News CM LR 18 aprNine Canberra TV News coverage here

abc tv newsABC Canberra TV News coverage here

Win tv newsWIN TV Canberra covered it again on 19 April here

Online Media

Video taken by PTCBR members on 19 April

Photos from the official opening day

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IMG_20190418_103255IMG_20190418_103248IMG_20190418_111854Golden Ticket winning passengers waiting for the first LRV IMG_20190418_114616IMG_20190418_113709Politicians on hand to witness the very first light rail trip for passengers!

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After arriving, the doors opened, and people raced onboard. That old guy with the walking stick is faster than you think!

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Moments later the LRV was full

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After years of campaigning for light rail – it was amazing to be on the first trip out of Gungahlin

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This LRV exiting the EPIC stop, is the first LRV from Civic carrying passengers to Gungahlin
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The view down Northbourne Avenue is very different than the view we have seen as car passengers/drivers – when the trees grow back it will be beautiful
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Lots of people made the trip to the light rail stations just to take photos of the first LRV’s
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ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Transport Minister Meegan Fitzharris MLA unveiled a plaque and then answered questions from the media for some time

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PTCBR Chair Damien Haas, Former Transport Minister Simon Corbell, Chief Minister Andrew Barr, Transport Minister Meegan Fitzharris at the official opening of Canberra’s light rail
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PTCBR Chair Damien Haas and Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury
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Transport Canberra and City Services Director (and former Capital Metro CEO) Emma Thomas and PTCBR Chair Damien Haas
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PTCBR Chair Damien Haas and Transport Canberra Director Duncan Edghill

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Canberra Metro CEO Glenn Stockton

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Cutting of the light rail cake

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Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Caroline Le Couteur MLA talk to PTCBR Public Officer (and long time light rail campaigner) Ian Ruecroft and GCC Chair Peter Elford
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PTCBR Chair Damien Haas, PTCBR Deputy Chair Ryan Hemsley and PTCBR Public Officer Ian Ruecroft at the light rail launch lunch

To stay up to date with all public transport and planning issues in Canberra,join the PTCBR here and visit our Facebook Group.

Canberra Metro Light Rail depot at Mitchell now operational

Canberra Metro Mitchell Depot light rail vehicle railyard.
Canberra Metro Mitchell Depot light rail vehicle railyard.

Canberra Metro hosted a small media function on Friday march 1st to show off the completed Mitchell light rail depot that will house the first fourteen light rail vehicles (LRV’s) for Canberras light rail network. Located in Mitchell, about half way along the route, the light rail depot contains a control centre, a workshop, offices, cleaning facilities and a rail yard. It has taken 31 months from sod turning to becoming fully operational (although it has been used as a workshop for around a year).

The light rail control centre has realtime monitoring of LRV’s, and of the CCTV on the vehicles and at stations along the line. All vehicles are monitored, and their location along the network can be observed from several different types of linked software. LRV operating parameters can also be monitored. Audio messages can be made to one or all vehicles from the control centre. Intersections along the route are also under CCTV monitoring, so any collisions can be monitored, and emergency vehicles despatched.

At the media event, Minister Meegan Fitzharris MLA said that she was confident that light rail operations would commence in April. There will be a free weekend of public transport across Canberra (I think this means that light rail will commence on a Saturday) when this occurs.

Canberra Metro CEO Glenn Stockton discussed the regulatory approvals process, saying he was confident that the light rail route would gain approval for a late April commencement of operation.

Between now and the opening date, the ACT Government and Canberra Metro (who have built the network) must sign off on contractual requirements. In addition the federal government regulator must sign off on the licence to operate an electrical network, and accreditation to operate a passenger railway.

Canberra Metro operations has received a rebranding and will be known as CMET. Some of the customer relations staff attending the opening, had CMET branding on their clothes.

The media covered the opening and the announcement that new traffic arrangement around light rail and road intersections now apply.

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ABC Canberra published a Facebook post here.

The Canberra Times published an article here.

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ABC Canberra TV News report on the depot opening (click here)

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Nine TV News report on the depot opening (click here)

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WIN Canberra TV News report on the depot opening (click here)

The following photos of the Depot including the Control Centre, were taken on March 1st 2019.

Transport Minister Meegan Fitzharris talking to media representatives covering the Depot opening
Transport Minister Meegan Fitzharris talking to media representatives covering the Depot opening
Canberra Metro CEO Glenn Stockton talking to media representatives covering the Depot opening
Canberra Metro CEO Glenn Stockton talking to media representatives covering the Depot opening
Canberra Metro operations are rebranding to CMET
Canberra Metro operations are rebranding to CMET
Canberra Metro operations control centre at the Mitchell Depot
Canberra Metro operations control centre at the Mitchell Depot

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View from the control centre of the entrance and exit from the Mitchell light rail depot to Flemington Rd. Thats a large substation and in front of that is the track into and out of the workshop area.
View from the control centre of the entrance and exit from the Mitchell light rail depot to Flemington Rd. Thats a large substation and in front of that is the track into and out of the workshop area.
That large cylinder is a sand tower. Sand is used in the braking system to enhance friction between steel wheels and steel tracks, in an emergency. The building next to the carpark is the backup control centre. In the background the railyard, that houses the 14 light rail vehicles in our current fleet.
That large cylinder is a sand tower. Sand is used in the braking system to enhance friction between steel wheels and steel tracks, in an emergency. The building next to the carpark is the backup control centre. In the background the railyard, that houses the 14 light rail vehicles in our current fleet.
The light rail workshop
The light rail workshop
The light rail workshop
The light rail workshop
Behind the LRV is the washing shed. All LRV's will be washed, before being stabled for the night.
Behind the LRV is the washing shed. All LRV’s will be washed, before being stabled for the night.
A map of the track inside the Mitchell LRV Depot showing the exit onto Flemington Rd
A map of the track inside the Mitchell LRV Depot showing the exit onto Flemington Rd

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This shunter moves LRV's in and out of the workshop. It can be operated by a person walking alongside it with a remote control.
This shunter moves LRV’s in and out of the workshop. It can be operated by a person walking alongside it with a remote control.
In the background the LRV fleet in its railyard. Future plans include covering the yard, and expanding it (to the right) when the LRV fleet expands for future stages.
In the background the LRV fleet in its railyard. Future plans include covering the yard, and expanding it (to the right) when the LRV fleet expands for future stages.

To stay up to date with all public transport and planning issues in Canberra,join the PTCBR here and visit our Facebook Group.

Launch of Canberra’s first light rail vehicle at the new Mitchell Depot

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On Wednesday morning the Chief Minister Andrew Barr, MLA Shane Rattenbury and Canberra Metro CEO Glenn Stockton, officially launched the first CAF Light Rail Vehicle for Canberra’s light rail network at the (almost completed) Canberra Metro light rail depot at Mitchell.

IMG_20180117_102807342.jpgAs a significant milestone for this important transport infrastructure project, the remarks by both the Chief Minister and Shane Rattenbury were focused on city building and the transformative nature of light rail. It was a confident delivery of a key election commitment, and that satisfaction was evident today. Glenn Stockton also spoke about the pride he had in his workforce in delivering the project for Canberra and that it would be delivered on time.

Todays launch clearly shows that progress on light rail stage one is continuing and on schedule for service to commence in late 2018. A second stage of the light rail network is currently being designed and worked through (the business case is imminent). The PTCBR is supportive of this as it will provide superior public transport options to Canberra’s residents, and drive the transformation of Canberra from car dependency to a more livable compact city.

Media coverage

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WINTV Canberra covered the launch here

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Nine News Canberra covered the launch here

The RiotACT covered the launch here with good reporting of the comments made by those present:

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Chief Minister Andrew Barr, centre, with the Greens’ Shane Rattenbury and Caroline Le Couteur. At left is Tilo Franz Canberra Metro General Manager Tilo Franz and Capital Metro Chief Executive Glenn Stockton. Photo. Tim Benson.

“Mr Barr said the LRV’s unveiling was an important milestone and another practical example of progress on the project and of the Government meeting its election commitments.

He said that with Canberra’s population heading towards half a million it was crucial to invest in transport infrastructure now.

“That’s why we’re continuing to work on Stage 2 of light rail together with further investments and initiatives to improve transportation within the city,” he said.

He said the sceptics had been proved wrong and he was particularly pleased with the rejuvenation of the Northbourne corridor which is occurring faster than expected.

“There were many sceptics in the lead-up to the procurement of this project and many people said I wouldn’t be standing here as Chief Minister after the last election as a result of our advocacy for this project,” he said.

“Those sceptics also said there wouldn’t be the sort of investment and renewal in the Northbourne corridor we’re witnessing.”

He said there would a continued focus on public transport improvement, with light rail at the centre, including more rapid bus routes, improved demand responsive transport and more active transport options.

“It’s all part of making Canberra an easier city to get around and a better city to live in,” Mr Barr said.

The ACT Greens’ Cabinet Minister Shane Rattenbury said the Canberra LRV was the first in Australia to have a dedicated space for bicycles and was part of the strategy to provide as many options and as much connectivity as possible.

“I think well see people using light rail as their central transport spine, particularly when Stage 2 to Woden is complete,” he said.

Mr Rattenbury could even see bikeshare services install racks at light rail stops.

He said travelling to and from Gungahlin would be much easier and the Government was now considering a stop at Mitchell, where traders have been campaigning not to be bypassed.

“This is a really important part of shaping our city for the future. This is about providing modern environmentally friendly transport alternatives for Canberrans,” Mr Rattenbury said.”

The Canberra Times reported on the launch here:

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ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr with Canberra’s first light rail vehicle at its depot in Mitchell. Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

“Canberra Metro chief executive Glenn Stockton said one tram a week will start arriving in Canberra from the end of March, with testing on an electrified track to begin in April. “

“Chief Minister Andrew Barr, who revealed he’d nicknamed the tram Cam in what could be seen as a nod to the Can-The-Tram movement, said there was a degree of satisfaction in seeing the project reach this stage.

“Let’s be frank, there were many sceptics in the lead up to the procurement of this project. Many people said I wouldn’t be standing here as Chief Minister after the last election as a result of our advocacy for this project.

“Those sceptics also said there wouldn’t be this sort of investment and renewal of the Northbourne corridor we’re currently witnessing so there’s a strong sense of satisfaction but we’ve still got a way to go, we’ve got a second stage of this project to work through in the context of this parliamentary term and there’s a lot more new investment coming for Canberra and a continued focus on public transport improvement.”

Mr Barr said the business case for the second stage of the project would be looked at when cabinet reconvened later in January.

“Let me be very clear we are committed to further stages of Canberra’s light rail network. We’ve committed in the last election to stage two and my mind is of course turning to stage three and beyond,” Mr Barr said.

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More photos below…

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The red Transport Canberra livery is quite attractive. No advertising will be seen on Canberra’s light rail vehicles (at least in this term of government)

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The physical size of the vehicle was remarked upon by many people present. Parked next to a bus, its size will be quite evident. That is largely because it is designed to carry 200 plus passengers, as opposed to 80 on a bus.

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You don’t want to lose parts!

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The Mitchell depot is still being fitted out.

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Always useful to have a crane in a heavy vehicle depot.

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I think the Chief Minister is asking where the ignition keys are…

To stay up to date with all public transport and planning issues in Canberra, join the PTCBR here and visit our Facebook Group.