Trackless trams the future?

Peter Newman writes:

I began my life as an activist academic in 1979 when the Western Australian government closed the Fremantle railway, saying buses would be better. Patronage immediately fell by 30% and I ran a four-year campaign to save the railway. We won. I have been writing books and running campaigns ever since on why trains and trams are better than buses. But I have changed my mind. The technology has changed, and I think it will end the need for new light rail.

So a light rail champion says it is a technology of the past, not the future.

“Trackless trams” are based on technology created in Europe and Chinaby taking innovations from high-speed rail and putting them in a bus.

I went to China to check out the CRRC trackless tram (they call it autonomous rail transit, or ART). I came back convinced it’s a transformative transit technology. …

Trackless trams are neither a tram nor a bus, though they have rubber wheels and run on streets. The high-speed rail innovations have transformed a bus into something with all the best features of light rail and none of its worst features.

Sounds great.

It replaces the noise and emissions of buses with electric traction from batteries recharged at stations in 30 seconds or at the end of the line in 10 minutes. That could just be an electric bus, but the ART is much more than that. It has all the speed (70kph), capacity and ride quality of light rail with its autonomous optical guidance system, train-like bogies with double axles and special hydraulics and tyres. …

Similar disruption has happened in the Gold Coast, Canberra and elsewhere, but ultimately light rail systems have been highly successful in attracting patronage and land development. This will happen in Sydney too when the project is complete.

However, the cost has been far beyond original expectations. Sydney is costing over $120 million per kilometre. The Gold Coast was similar. Canberra and Newcastle are over $80 million per kilometre, as was the cancelled light rail in Perth.

The trackless tram costs around $6-$8 million per kilometre. And it can be put into a road system over a weekend.

So 10% of the cost and can be installed in a weekend!

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