Sunday, 16 December 2012

Trams to nowhere

When the Glenelg tramway was extended from its out-of-the-way windswept terminus on Victoria Square to a new terminus at West Terrace ready to serve the new hospital being built, I distinctly remember a fair amount of cynicism and complaints. I even recall a small but vocal group of protesters standing on the steps of Parliament House waving placards and complaining that the wires above the track would ruin the look of city streets. Right next to them, North Terrace was choked with cars and buses and the noise they were producing. The irony seemed to be lost on them.

Since being built, the tram extension has convincingly proved that it was a good idea. During daylight hours, every tram you see is full. The ones from Glenelg are fuller but even the shuttle trams that only run between South and West Terrace are pretty full. It cannot be said that there is no demand for it. Indeed, demand often outstrips capacity.

The unexpected success led to a further extension soon after. The suggestions at the time were for a loop around the CBD or what was ultimately built, an extension along Port Road to the Entertainment Centre. The idea was that in time, the intermediate suburbs would be regenerated with higher density living.


I will always prefer a tram extension, railway extension, station reopening, busway; in fact anything public transport related over yet another road. But this time, I can't help feeling that we could have spent that $100m a little better elsewhere. These are the reasons:

1. The purpose, as I understand it, of the tram extension was to serve the Entertainment Centre. That really only needs to be served when there is a show on. At its fullest, it can hold 12,000 people. By contrast, the yellow trams have capacity for 70 seated passengers and another perhaps 100 standing. The red ones have a capacity of 180. Given that they run about every 15 minutes, that is not a lot of capacity and it would take some time to clear the Entertainment Centre. Unsurprisingly, it is not the most used form of transport after a Taylor Swift concert;

2. This is the weird bit. As the tram travels along Port Road, just a couple of hundred metres to the east is a perfectly decent railway line. It starts at Adelaide Railway Station (where the tram also goes) and stops (on its way to Outer Harbor) at Bowden station - just across the road from the Entertainment Centre tram stop. Here's a view of the entrance to the Entertainment Centre from Bowden station:

Here's my question: if the idea is to serve the Entertainment Centre and offer an alternative was of getting to and from concerts, why not upgrade and build a walkway to Bowden station? From there, you have the entire train network at your disposal. With a little tweaking, you could have direct trains running north and south. You can also get as much capacity as you want by linking railcars together.

3. When the extension was completed, a park and ride system was introduced whereby motorists could park their car at the Entertainment Centre for $2 and take the tram into the city. It is so popular that further parking is being built. Park and Ride systems are used around the world. What is often found is that rather than using the facility closest to their home, motorists actually more often use the facility closest to their destination. That is more than likely the case with this one. So all of those motorists coming from Port Adelaide, Woodville and Croydon now have this facility at their disposal. All of those places are served by the pre-existing railway line. It does make you wonder what the long-term plans for the railway are.

4. I don't know if you have taken the tram but to get from the Entertainment Centre to Victoria Square takes a long time. I timed it once. It took close to 30 minutes! According to the timetables, it can take between 17 and 23 minutes (still too long I think) but in reality it often takes longer.

I cannot help thinking that the money would have been better spent inside the CBD where the people are and where the demand is. Still, we are stuck with it. It would be a silly idea to rip it up now that it is there. Two things could make it more useful. The first is to extend it to serve the western suburbs. Rather than having it be blocked by traffic, it could follow Linear Park the way the o-bahn does and serve say the Brickworks Market, Underdale High School, Kidman Park, Ikea (potentially), the airport and a number of places in between. The older idea of having 'tram-trains' share the Port Adelaide railway line is pretty pointless.

And speed it up so passengers get into the city at least as quickly as driving. Allow the trams to go faster, synchronise traffic lights with sensors and get rid of that stupid single track section outside the Convention Centre.

PS: Here's the latest about trains: The plan is for a tunnel under the parklands. Why? Tunnels aren't cheap. Why not under the CBD? I can't help thinking this will be one of those plans that ultimately does not come to fruition.


  1. Edward,

    Re points 1 and 2: it wasn't the purpose of the tram extension to serve the EntCent, it's just a staging point of the extension to the western suburbs. This is a common misconception, the same as thinking that the tram extension to West Lakes was intended to serve Football Park crowds.

    The tunnel under the Park Lands at North Adelaide is simply a "by-product" of grade separating the Adelaide-Melbourne interstate railway and the Outer Harbor Line. The primary objective of this treatment is to improve the efficiency of the interstate rail freight network. FYI the Adelaide-Melbourne freight line is the busiest in Australia due in part to Adelaide's location between WA and the eastern states.

  2. Thanks Jim,

    That's interesting and I did forget that. I recall that when the tram line was extended it was with a view to having it join the railway to go to Port Adelaide and then Semaphore. Is that still the plan though? It seems to have gone very quiet.

    I also did not know that about the proposed tunnel. It was not clear to me that it was to bypass the crossing where the freight trains often have to wait. That is not a bad idea - though expensive. That's the sort of thing I imagine the Commonwealth paying for.

    With the extension to the western suburbs, I thought (and still do) that the tram-train idea was questionable. Having said that, it works very well in Karlsruhe in Germany. It gets people right into the city without having to dig tunnels. Once they are out of town, the trams often share main railway lines and go a lot faster than a conventional tram. Some are dual-voltage while others are hybrid electric and diesel for non-electrified track. If the idea was extended to the whole of Adelaide's railway network, I think that could work well.

    1. In the last State budget electrification of the Outer Harbor Line was "suspended" so until that proceeds it won't be possible to run tram-trains to PA, Sema4 or West Lakes, which was the last commitment given by the State Govt.

      The two grade separations of the junctions of the freight and metropolitan railways are jointly funded by the Commonwealth and the State 50/50. Goodwood Jcn is State-funded and will be built in 2013 during the closure of the Belair and Noarlunga Lines starting in January. Construction of the grade separation of Torrens Jcn, which is the one that is proposed to have the tunnel in the Park Lands for the Outer Harbor Line, will most likely commence in 2015/16 as that is when the Commonwealth committed its share of the funding in its last budget.

      And sorry to hear about your bike being stolen.