25 September 2023

Archives shines light on rail plans

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ArchivesACT has used the official opening of Canberra’s light rail service as inspiration to focus its June Find of the Month on the history of light rail for the Territory and other proposed transit options.

The Archives have uncovered records from the 1980s when the newly-established ACT Government considered transport solutions to suit the future needs of the city.

“Light rail first became a feasible option in the 1990s, but it wasn’t the only transport option we were researching,” ArchivesACT said.

It said that in 1989 concerns were raised that urban sprawl made the delivery of transit services difficult.

There was a recommendation for the inclusion of employment centres and medium or high-density housing along known transit corridors.

Once these corridors were established it was suggested that the increased patronage would allow the Government to pursue alternate modes of transport, including light rail, trolley buses, monorails and electric buses.

“The introduction of the word ‘monorail’ conjured up an air of excitement,” ArchivesACT said.

However, while the operation was easy, the complexity of installation involved high capital costs with no significant gain compared with other electric options such as light rail.

It said another option was trolley buses, used quite widely and effective in certain environments.

“The problem with trolley buses really comes down to their small capacity, slow pace and fixed routes,” Archives said.

“They are best suited to difficult routes, not as a high capacity transport option.

“Light rail was long on our radar as a transit solution that could offer significant long-term benefits for Canberra. The list of advantages is lengthy. Operation costs are low, and light rail can achieve decent speeds whilst remaining relatively quiet.”

ArchivesACT said light rail was certainly a long time coming to Canberra.

“However, it could be argued that the public debate, feasibility studies and the urban planning lessons learnt along the way have provided Canberrans with the most efficient, environmentally friendly system that is both effective now and future proofed to suit our growing transit requirements,” it said.

The Archives’ Find of the Month can be accessed on its website at this PS News link.

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