Select region:
English (APAC)
moving tram

Light rail reinventing cities?

Terry Poynton Principal

Terry Poynton | Principal, Sydney | 24 January 2017

The landscapes of our cities are changing more rapidly. Predictions indicate that by 2050, 7 billion people will call a city home, compared to 3.5 billion today. This will apply great stress to all aspects of city living, whether it is accommodation, services, or infrastructure. However, critical to the success of these cities being sustainable in the long term is one central issue: mobility.

Heavy demand on transport is nothing new, and billions are spent annually trying to improve various systems. With cities being planned with broader community needs and the overall urban amenity clearly in front of mind, mobility will become an even more important issue. To ensure the urban framework satisfies the increasingly complex requirements of better and more sustainable living and increased urban infrastructure, transport planning for the new urban developments must shift away from a focus on end to end journey and instead look towards journeys within the place, with the customer taking central focus on travel planning rather than the vehicle.

The typical journeys are made up of a combination of travel modes, including an increased focus on active transport (walking and cycling) as well as the more traditional public transport modes of trams, buses and urban rail. As the urban space becomes more congested, part of the development solution will no doubt involve the smarter use of available space, where developments increase in density and transport priority is given to users in accordance with the overall ‘best for all’ consideration.

Newer (or perhaps old as new again) transport modes, such as light rail offer an increasingly attractive intra urban transport option as they provide a comfortable, reliable, cost-effective and convenient transport solution in the revitalised urban settings.

Modern operating systems such as catenary free, combined with improved construction methods mean that the development of new light rail systems are becoming more affordable, do not require as much road or corridor and provide less disruption to the lived environment. The newer catenary free systems are able to integrate into the urban landscape in a less obtrusive manner than the span wire dependant constructions, so typical of the more traditional tramway.

These newer systems open up vehicle access for local communities to historical centres and other sensitive environments, which were previously inaccessible due to operational, heritage or construction restrictions. The newer (revitalised) version of light rail transport can offer a high frequency, high volume solution that moves people quietly, cleanly and frequently within their urban area. The newer solutions also improve access options for clientele that wouldn’t otherwise have been able to travel. As the modern cars offer fully flat, low floors, more people, for example parents with prams and passengers with mobility scooters, will find the revitalised travel option more convenient.

The thought process for urban planners and developers has become one of ‘plan your future urban environment now’ and integrate transport as part of the solution. Light rail is increasingly being seen as part of the urban framework rather than just a transport mode.

In summary, transport planning with the urban experience in mind must be the starting point for the urban plan of the future, with modes being a secondary consideration. Light rail is just one of the options in the urban fabric, offering an affordable and accessible mode for planners to incorporate into dense urban areas, most especially when minimising disruption is required.

As technology improves and the demand for clean and efficient transport both within and between community centres increases, light rail, using newer technology traction and energy systems, is once again becoming the transport solution of choice for the higher density urban environment.