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Light rail has quickly become one of Australia’s
most exciting infrastructure platforms. A light rail
development brings together disciplines like civil
engineering, city planning, construction and rail
engineering, with projects often involving several
hundred contractors and sub-contractors – many coming
from outside the rail sector.

Once popular throughout Australia, light rail vehicles –
or trams – vanished from streets in all but two cities for
over three decades.

However, a renaissance of light rail has, in recent years,
seen new projects crop up all around the nation. With
projects recently opened, in construction, or being
planned in South Australia, Queensland, New South
Wales and the ACT, Rail Express takes a snapshot of the
market in March 2019.

Trams in Australia: A brief History

Trams first appeared in Australian cities in the latter
half of the 19th century, with numerous steam, cable
or horse-drawn systems in cities and towns around the
nation. By the early 20th century, electric tramways
operated in over a dozen locations, including Melbourne,
Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney, Hobart and Fremantle.

However many of these lines, poorly maintained during
World War II and facing declining patronage due to
the rise of the motor car, were shut down throughout
the middle of the 20th century. The only network not
shut down or heavily scaled back in this period was in

But in recent years, the car – previously a villain in this
story – has seen cities and states looking back to light
rail for answers. Growing cities facing road and transport
congestion like never before have increasingly turned to
light rail – a versatile, scalable and transformative mass
transit option – as a cure.


While the rest of the country has spent the last decade
rediscovering light rail, Melbourne hosts the largest
network on the planet. Emerging from the horse- and
cable-drawn era, and surviving the post-war period, the
Victorian capital’s electric tram network has been in
operation for more than 110 years.

Now boasting 24 routes across roughly 250 kilometres
of double track, the Yarra Trams network – operated
by Keolis Downer – delivers more than 5,000 services
each day, and more than 200 million passenger trips per
It is, unsurprisingly, an incredibly complex network.
Its fleet is comprised of almost 500 vehicles from at
least nine classes, including over 100 Z-class trams built
between 1975 and 1984, and a dozen heritage trams
built in the 1950s.

75 per cent of the network is shared with road vehicles,
and of the 1,700-plus stops, 420 have been made fully
accessible, and are serviced by modern-era low-floor
trams. The current E-Class fleet is built and maintained
by Bombardier at its Dandenong workshops southeast of the city, with a particular focus paid to energy consumption: the network’s scale, and Melbourne’s hot summers, make this a necessity.



Excluding tourist lines, Adelaide’s Glenelg tram is
Australia’s only surviving pre-war tramway outside
Melbourne. Trams were once a primary mode of
transport in Adelaide, but throughout the 1950s the
city’s expansive network was progressively shut down
and scaled back, so only the Glenelg tram remained.

The standard-gauge route from the city to Glenelg, in
Adelaide’s southwest, underwent a series of expansions
over the last 12 years:

• In 2007 a 1.2-kilometre extension from Victoria Square
in the centre of Adelaide, to Adelaide station and the
University of South Australia’s western city campus,
was opened.
• In 2010 the line was further extended northwest, to its
existing terminus at the Entertainment Centre.
• In 2018, the City Tram Extension was commissioned,
providing a new one-kilometre extension along North
Terrace, from King William street to East Terrace, and
an extension along King William Road to the Adelaide
Festival Plaza precinct.

Adelaide’s light rail line, which now operates three
separate services to 33 stops, uses Alstom and
Bombardier rollingstock, along with refurbished H-class
trams originally built in the 1920s.

Before the 2018 state election the Jay Weatherill-led
Labor Government – along with the Federal Labor
Opposition – was in favour of a plan known as AdeLINK,
to build another half-dozen lines radiating from the citycentre to growing suburbs in the north, south, east and west.

Part of the work for the recently-opened City Tram
Extension was in preparation for these additional lines.
However, the newly-elected Liberal Government, led
by Steven Marshall, has stood firmly in opposition
to AdeLINK and, since the election, has maintained
this stance. Federal Labor has maintained its support
for AdeLINK, and continues to urge the Marshall
Government to reconsider.

Sydney CBD & Parramatta

Sydney’s tramways were once so popular it was
estimated that on average, one journey was made on
them per day for every man, woman and child in the
city. At its peak in 1923, Sydney’s tram network was
almost 300 kilometres in total length. The final early-era
tramway closed, however, in 1961.

After more than 35 years without trams, a short line
was reintroduced in 1997 between Central station and
Pyrmont, operated by Transdev. This was extended to
Lilyfield in the inner-west in 2000, and then further
extended to Dulwich Hill in 2014 – a route which has
become hugely popular.

Construction began in 2015 on a new light rail route
from Circular Quay, at the northern end of the CBD, to
Randwick and Kingsford southeast of the city, via Central
station and the sports and entertainment precinct
at Moore Park.

Originally scheduled to open in 2019,
the project is now set to open in 2020, and will also
be operated by Transdev. Through its central section,
this route will be catenary-free (i.e. it will not rely on
power from overhead wires), thanks to rail systems
manufacturer Alstom’s APS technology, which will allow
the vehicles to draw power from a ground-based supply.
New light rail construction is also planned for
Parramatta, in Western Sydney.

Construction is expected to begin in 2019 on Stage 1 of the project, a 12-kilometre
route from Carlingford to Westmead, via Parramatta’s
CBD, which will also feature catenary-free sections – this
time reliant on onboard energy storage. The line will be
operated by Transdev.

The proposed Stage 2 route would connect the Stage 1
route to Ermington, Melrose Park, Wentworth Point and
Sydney Olympic Park.

Gold Coast

Queensland’s postcard-worthy city became the poster
boy for Australia’s light rail revolution, when in 2014
the brand new, 13-kilometre dual track line was opened
between Broadbeach South and Gold Coast University
Hospital. The project was jointly-funded by federal,
state and local governments, was delivered via a Public
Private Partnership, and generated enormous uplift in
property values along its corridor.

In late 2017, a 7.3-kilometre extension brought the
line further north to its new terminus at Helensvale
station, providing a crucial connection to South East
Queensland’s heavy rail network. The full Gold Coast
Light Rail, branded G:link, now consists of 19 stops along
its 20-kilometres of dual track, and is serviced by 18
Bombardier Flexity 2 trams, operated by Keolis Downer.
Planning is well underway for Stage 3A of the project,
a 6.4-kilometre addition to the south end of the line,
bringing it from Broadbeach South to Burleigh Heads.

The project is currently in the Detailed Business Case
phase. The proposed Stage 3B of the project would
continue the line further south to the NSW border at
Coolangatta, via the Gold Coast Airport.


Once home to yet another extensive tramway network,
Newcastle went without light rail for almost 70 years
after the last original line closed in 1950. The opening of
the new Newcastle Light Rail project put an end to that
drought on February 17, 2019.

The 2.7-kilometre dual track route extends from the
new heavy rail interchange to Newcastle Beach. It was
the first catenary-free light rail line to open in Australia,
and utilises an onboard energy storage system, which
is charged by an overhead bar at each of the network’s
six stops. Six trams run up and down the route, which is
operated by Keolis Downer.

The same week the new project was opened, the state
government indicated work was progressing quickly on
its first extension. Four possible extensions were listed
in a 2016 government investigation.


Testing is underway in the nation’s capital ahead of a
planned April 2019 opening for the Canberra Metro,
a 12-kilometre line between the northern town centre
of Gungahlin and Civic, at the city’s centre. 14 trams
will service the city’s first light rail route, which will be
operated by Deutsche Bahn.

Trams were always part of the master plan for Canberra,
developed by Walter Burley and Marion Mohony
Griffin more than 100 years ago. The city has relied on
buses, however, with light rail rarely discussed until the
early 1990s. At least half a dozen proposals and plans
emerged between 1991 and 2012, before the Capital
Metro plan was finally approved by the ACT Government
in 2014.

With the project still yet to open, work is already well
underway for Stage 2, which will extend from Civic,
to the southern town centre of Woden. The total cost
and complexity of the project will depend on the exact
alignment around or through the Parliamentary Triangle,
federally controlled land which will also require the use
of catenary-free technology to preserve the aesthetic
standards of the surrounding area.

Beyond Stage 2, the ACT Government has expressed
sincere interest in further extensions, including Civic
to Canberra Airport, Civic to Belconnen, Woden to
Tuggeranong, and Civic to Fyshwick. ://uromacaustralia.com.au/road-rail/ FIT FOR PURPOSE ROAD RAIL MAINTENANCE VEHICLES | 60 Bellevue Ave, Enoggera QLD | 24/7 enquiries 0414 746 181 | e: peter@forkliftfinder.com.au

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