What is light rail?
Light rail is a modern electric railway system based on low floor trams. Light rail vehicles run on tracks within a dedicated corridor or in a corridor shared with general traffic, pedestrians and cyclists.
Each light rail vehicle can carry around 250 passengers.The design of light rail creates a journey experience that is smooth, comfortable and quiet.
Light rail systems typically run through urban areas connecting people with a range of destinations. It can be incorporated into existing streets, road reserves and median strips.
Light rail vehicles typically draw power from an overhead electric line and are driven by an onboard operator. Low level platforms at stations to enable easy boarding are now the norm.
Modern light rail vehicles are modular and around 30 to 40 metres long with a maximum speed of approximately 80 km/h. Light rail vehicles are generally required to obey speed limits and traffic signals.
Light rail stations are generally spaced about one kilometre apart, but tend to be closer in busier areas. The visibility of light rail within a streetscape builds confidence and can serve to attract more users to the system.
How is ‘light rail’ different from ‘heavy rail’?
Light rail refers to “modern trams” running within road corridors while heavy rail refers to “trains” that operate in their own corridor at higher speeds.
Light rail is typically more suited to small to medium sized cities with stops 800 – 1,000 metres apart. Heavy rail is typically suited to large cities or to connect regions, with stations 3 – 10 kilometres apart.
The existing rail line between the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane (North Coast Line) is a “heavy rail” line which accommodates freight trains and both commuter and regional passenger trains.
What are the advantages?
Light rail is a flexible transport option that works well in many environments. The infrastructure needed to support a light rail service has a smaller 'footprint' than trains which means it is able to be integrated more seamlessly with existing traffic and pedestrians.
Light rail is cost effective solution for the Sunshine Coast environment and by offering alternatives to the private car will help protect the current lifestyle values as we continue to grow in population. Greenhouse gas emissions from transport are increasing at a faster rate than any other energy-using sector. Currently, about 27 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in South East Queensland come from road transport. These emissions and other transportation pollutants have a large impact on local air quality and environmental and personal health.
Light rail uses less energy than buses and with 3.6 times the capacity of a bus, can carry more people. A modern light rail vehicle also creates less pollution with approximately seven times less emissions per passenger kilometre than a bus.
Where would the light rail go?
The light rail service will form an integral part of the Sunshine Coast's future public transport system providing a backbone to support and cater to the needs of a thriving, developing region. Eventually the system will link all the major destinations and attractions within the urban coastal precincts and connect with bus and train services in the hinterland communities.
The pre-feasibility phase will identify potential corridors for the core light rail network together with staging options to be investigated. A short list of priority corridors will be analysed in the pre-feasibility stage and further potential corridors will be studied in the full business case proposal.
Early preliminary scoping work has identified the core light rail system will extend from Caloundra to Maroochydore via the new University Hospital Kawana town centre, Alexandra Headlands and Mooloolaba. Further extensions to key destinations such as the Sunshine Coast Airport and the proposed Caloundra South Town Centre will also be investigated.
The plan is to provide better public transport to the whole of the Sunshine Coast. Light rail will be supported by more bus services, modified routes and better connections which will reduce travel times to areas not directly serviced by a light rail service.
Where does light rail exist?
Seven of Australia's ten largest cities have built or are planning to build., light rail systems.
Light rail systems are currently in operation in Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney and now the Gold Coast. Light rail is currently being planned for Perth, Canberra, Newcastle, Parramatta and also a new line in Sydney.
Hundreds of cities around the world have also built light rail to address congestion and create better cities.
Why light rail?
The Sunshine Coast is one of the fastest growing regions in Australia and based on existing growth there will be half a million people living here in less than 20 years. The challenge for council, business and the community is to balance growth and opportunity with sustainable lifestyle values and choices.
Maroochydore to Caloundra will be focus of economic growth over the next two decades with the development of areas such as Palmview, Caloundra South and Maroochydore.
Development will have unsustainable impacts on our transport system and therefore on our economy if they are not supported by high quality, fast and frequent public transport from the start, that people will choose to ride on.
Light rail will be transformational for the sunshine coast. It is a sleek, modern mass transit service that is able to move people efficiently without the need to always rely on cars. If we can reduce the dependence of the Sunshine Coast on oil-based transport we can create more high quality lifestyle choices in the region that includes attractive options to the private car for some trips and a more sustainable community.
When would the light rail be built?
Based on growth projections for the Sunshine Coast and the timing of future development at Maroochydore and Kawana, the first stage of light rail between those two centres would ideally commence by 2025.
Despite the long lead time, we need to plan and preserve a preferred light rail corridor now. As an early step, we can develop a high frequency bus service in the future light rail corridor by the time the Sunshine Coast University Hospital opens in late 2016.