For a Better Brisbane

Light Rail for Brisbane 2

Today’s blog looks at some special applications of light rail. While most are used in particular circumstances (and therefore not necessarily suitable for Brisbane) it is worthwhile to look at how flexible light rail can be.

Special applications include:

  • Light Rail/Busway shared operation
  • Light Rail running along in curb-lane operation (as opposed to down the middle of the road)
  • Light metro
  • Dual mode Light Rail on heavy railway lines
  • Wire-free operation
  • Rapid track installation

Today we’ll just look at application #1 light rail on the busway and #2 light rail in the curb lane.

Application 1: Light rail on the busway

In July 2009 after much practice Seattle’s Sound Transit began running Light Rail on their busway. A representative for King County Metro explains in this Seattle Times video. Ultimately the buses will be phased out.

A sound transit light rail vehicle can hold up to 200 passengers (specifications here). However in the peak up to four vehicles may be joined together to create a light rail ‘train’. This increases capacity to 800 passengers per train. Seattle’s platforms are lengthy to accommodate this.

Many of Seattle’s light rail stations are being built underground, metro-style.  For example plans for the University of Washington station resembles an underground metro.

Application 2: Light rail tracks in the curb lanes

Running Light Rail down the middle of roads means stations in the middle of the road. What if you don’t have space to do this? Answer: Run Light Rail down the side lanes. Here is a Google street-view of Seattle Streetcar tracks. Could this be an option for light rail down Brunswick street in Fortitude Valley?

Tracks in the far lanes means that passengers can be picked up from stops on the kerb, just like buses do. The disadvantage is that cyclists must be extra careful, ride on the footpath or take an alternative route. If the car parking were removed on either side, there would be a safe separate lane for bicycles. Naturally this would mean parking for cars would be lost.

Sound Transit, Seattle
Seattle Joint Operations Report, Sound Transit, Seattle
Sound Transit 2 Plan

BrisUrban wishes to acknowledge the assistance received from SoundTransit Seattle in obtaining information about their LRT project.


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April 18, 2010 at 12:04 pm

4 Responses

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  1. Unfortunately there are long lead times to get things done. From 2007 report to 1st bus took 3.5 years to get organised. Light Rail may need a new bridge, though nothing about the William Jolly or Go-Between bridges supporting LRT vehicles has been said.

    Future LRT may be light metro in underground tunnels, again Seattle has this with LRT vehicles every 3 min in peak hour in tunnels at selected stations.

    In terms of improving what we now have, the CityGlider really needs to pick up passengers at all stops. A bus might take 10 seconds at a bus stop, so a few extra stops would add something like 2 minutes at the most. The extra time would be more than made up by new passengers. Even if a service were late, the CityGlider is so frequent that it would be hard to notice if a bus was late.

    Speed only really matters for longer distances (busway and trains), over shorter distances capacity is more important.


    PS: You may be surprised, but there were tram services all the way to the West End Ferry, down Melbourne St, Hoogley Street. An image is here Also, there are anchor points installed at the top of the arches on the William Jolly Bridge for trams, though trams never ran across it. Its not known whether the bridge can handle the weight of modern LRT vehicles.


    April 20, 2010 at 8:22 pm

  2. thanks –really looking forward to that posting.
    the BCC Mass Transit exercise was bogged in Newman politics from the start and then lo and behold it finished with a naff outcome….it chose to rule out LRT on the basis of a phony comparison with BRT…then the CityGlider comes a long and its a regular on-street bus service…yeah nice one.
    have you ever thought about doing a charette on getting Melb St working? –starts with busway station through to Boundary St.
    Here’s the challenge: take the space from curb to curb, give the most efficient mode priority, provide dedicated cycle lanes & move the most people during peak hours….


    April 20, 2010 at 7:28 pm

  3. Hi kingcorio,

    It’s a very broad question but it really comes down to the features like:
    * underground, on-road or a mix of both?
    * running with traffic or separate from traffic?
    *will it need services moved or a new bridge?

    Costs fall into two categories:
    1. Capital (start-up costs)
    2. Operational costs (ongoing cost).
    The cost for a track-in road system can be $10 million/km (Yarra Trams) to $30 million-ish (Gold Coast).

    I’m not quite an expert in terms of costs, but the appendixes in the Mass Transit Report are a good guide. Costs are only half the equation though- the other half is benefits to the community. It is possible to have a more expensive project but which brings higher benefits to the community. It also has to be weighed against alternatives such as a do-nothing scenario and bus options.

    There is a UK company working to minimise costs with the goal of making LRT so cheap that it could be self-funding. This will be the subject of a future post!


    April 20, 2010 at 12:20 pm

  4. the return of light rail/trams to brisbane could be a game changer…how much would an inner-city network of possibly three trunk lines cost to roll-out?
    eg 1. West End-New Farm 2.Newstead-Paddington and Newmarket-Carindale????


    April 20, 2010 at 10:19 am

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