Thursday, January 19, 2006

All aboard the light rail to the future: Peter Seamer provides a good summary of the case for Light Rail in Sydney.

The Government's solutions are geared to a 2017 time frame but are not addressing the pressing problem in the heart of the city, where you have a 350,000 daily workforce and more than 400,000 visitors - and these numbers are growing.... Light rail 21st-century style is part of how Sydney should tackle a problem that threatens to undermine the viability, vibrancy and versatility of its CBD.

Trams can have an equal or greater capacity along any one line and are much easier and quicker to load, as they can have several doors. They are particularly good for inner-city trips, which are short and require high volumes.

In terms of capacity, the sustainability commissioner, Peter Newman, wrote in the Herald last year: 'Roads are also limited by their sheer physical capacity. A road lane can carry about 2500 people an hour; a busway about double that - a level now reached and even exceeded on the busways in the city centre.

'Light rail can carry between 7000 and 10,000 people an hour - which is why this must eventually replace the congested bus services along many corridors - while heavy rail can carry 50,000 people per hour, 20 times the capacity of a roadway.'

Light rail has been introduced to more than 100 international cities in the past 10 years. In the Toronto CBD, for example, which has three main sources of co-ordinated public transport - heavy rail, buses and light rail - the system carries 40 per cent more passengers and 30 per cent more boardings per capita at 30 per cent lower cost than Sydney.

For years, the campaign to introduce/expand light rail has been running, and yet the government has done little or nothing except build tollways and motorways. There is a failure of vision and commitment, a failure that is all the more acute as the twin crises of global warming and fossil fuel depletion inexorably bear down on modern civilisation.

Another quite apparent example of the State Government's failure of vision, understanding and commitment is its plan to build a desalination plant for Sydney:

[The letter from Sydney Water to Minister Sartor] is proof of official advice to the Government from its own experts that it would be unwise to proceed. The memo warned that it was not feasible from a financial and environmental perspective.... "Desalination is far less feasible than other options to restore Sydney's water balance," he said in the official briefing advice handed to Mr Sartor two years ago. "The environmental performance of desalination is very poor due to its high energy demand, the significant greenhouse gas emissions, the need to dispose of waste brine and the land required for the plant." The letter also reveals that desalination was considered but rejected by the Government's own Drought Expert Panel and extracting more water from the Shoalhaven, groundwater sources and recycling were preferable options.... The desalination plant is shaping up as a major political headache for the Iemma Government. Many Labor MPs claim it was not taken to caucus for discussion.

In a global situation where it is urgent that emissions be reduced and energy conserved, it is simply folly to build a huge consumer of energy like a desalination plant when it is not even needed. This is a government that is enormously out of touch with the biggest issue of the day.

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