The Pencil Guy: Hourann's illogical blog

You’re building a railway … where?

So the Premier used his official campaign launch the other day to promise more upgrades for Transperth, and thus I shall launch into a public transport rant!

The media release makes tantalising promises of 10 new trains, more late-night services, and improved bus frequencies (yay!). But there are bigger announcements: apparently he’ll spend $850m (ouch!) on a railway from Midland to Ellenbrook, something that’s been on the cards for years now. And even better, he intends to fix the biggest remaining hole in Perth’s rail system, due north of the city towards Ballajura.

Except instead of actually fixing it, he’s offering up a bus lane, albeit one using new “auto-tram” vehicles out of Germany (incidentally: not a proven technology, although they really are just modified buses).

No offence to Ellenbrook, but it’s got a mere ten thousand people. Compared to the sixty-plus thousand living along Alexander Drive, with thought to how much fun it is to drive that road at peak hour, and assuming the state can only afford one train line … surely the correct place for a railway (or subway or tramway or something) is not out in the sticks?

(That said, two railways is obviously better; they needn’t be that expensive!)

  1. Of course, the train will go through other suburbs on its way to Ellenbrook (what with it not being a tunnel). Possible stops are Morley, East Malaga, Beechboro and Whiteman Park. I suspect some of the cost will be defrayed through the Infrastructure Australia fund the Federal Government is looking to spend.

    The problem with building a train line up Alexander Drv is that there is really nowhere to put it. Looking at the Autotrams (there is a stack of info on the Fraunhofer website), they are a cross between road vehicles and light rail. They feature independent per-axle steering (they are able to follow quite a tight curve which means they can have quite a wide wheelbase and still make it around tight corners) and regenerative breaking. It looks like they combine most of the benefits of buses and light rail into one system. I thought they looked pretty neat.

  2. The train line to Ellenbrook has been planned for years – plenty of suburbs will benefit from this. The problem is the press release is that the positive impact of the rail line was never laid out clear to the voters.

    I sincerely hope they clarify this as most people I’ve talked to have blindly said “pfft! Ellenbrook? Who cares!” without checking out the facts.

  3. AutoTrams are neat, but they’re still buses; a similar system in Los Angeles (built under the same it’s-like-a-railway-but-cheaper logic) gets peak hour problems when buses bunch up at traffic lights, just like any other bus system. Real trams carry more people and could do a better job.

    And I stand by my remarks on the Ellenbrook line. The planned route has been in the MRS since 1994 — roughly due south along the eastern edge of Whiteman Park towards Bassendean, the same as buses 336/337.

    There’ll probably be many people living in that area in future, but there’s very few now. From the 2003 North-East Corridor Extension Strategy:

    A Public Purposes-Special Uses reservation in the Metropolitan Region Scheme protects an alignment for a rapid-transit public transport service from Maralla Road, through Ellenbrook and along the Perth – Darwin, Reid and Tonkin Highways … although this reservation is designed to accommodate a conventional railway line, it should be recognised that the need for such a service has not yet been established …

    Preliminary modelling suggests that a population of about 50,000 people in an area like Ellenbrook should be able to justify a light rail or busway-based rapid transit system … a population of 10,000 to 20,000 concentrated within the southern part of the study area would not justify more than a short extension … the study area population would need to increase to about 50,000, and be concentrated along a future transit route, to justify further extension of the rapid transit infrastructure.

  4. Alexander Drive isn’t suitable for heavy rail, and I’ve heard the PTA has an aversion to trams, so that may explain why autotram buses were chosen instead of light rail. How do trams avoid the getting stopped at lights problem?

    That report doesn’t cover Ellenbrook, it’s for an area northeast of there, hence “in an area *like* Ellenbrook”. The projected population for region including Ellenbrook, Aveley, the Vines and Albion (a new town to be built on an old RAAF base east of Whiteman park, right on the proposed route) is 80,000 in 15 years.

  5. Well, it’s always possible to reconfigure Alexander Drive and the associated roads … (I’d love to say “rip it up temporarily and put a railway underneath”, but heaven knows that’ll never happen!)

    Perth buses are 11m – 13m long, and AutoTrams are 24m with an option to go to 36m. Meanwhile new trams in Melbourne are 32m, and in some places (e.g. San Francisco) they’re 40m or 50m. So although four buses carry as many people, once the light turns green each has to wait for the previous one and then independently accelerate, making them slower and more prone to bunching than a single tram.

    You’re right that the study area for the last document starts just north of Ellenbrook, my bad. But the rail reservation only goes as far as Ellenbrook, so the first paragraph still holds — and the second still illustrates the idea I was getting at originally. 80k people in 2025 is great, but that doesn’t warrant a railway in 2012 like Carps is saying.

  6. This is outragious how colin barnett wont build a rail lin along alexander dr. How the bloody hell would he feel if he had to catch a slow, low freqent and crowded bus to work every day. Everyone would use a subway under alexander dr as it would be alot faster and a higher capacity of patrons, the gov has plenty of money to build a subway under Alexander Dr to Ballajura, it would work perfectly. Better than busses every 10 to 15 minutes. alexander dr doesnt need to be ripped up, have it a bout the same height as esplanade or perth underground station.

  7. Ellenbrook is sitting at 25,000 now. The building is still going strong 5000 to 7000 people a year at current rates. There are also new developments starting east of Whiteman Park. So by the time a train is built there will be c 35,000 in the corridor not mentioning the existing suburbs south of Reid highway and north of Guildford road that will benefit. A bit different from Colin Barnett’s “17,000” people.

    Gnangara Road and Lord Street are now extremely heavily used. The junction at Beechboro Road and Gnangara is a deathtrap – it can only be months until there is a fatality. Shoving buses up Alexander Drive and along Gnangara is not going to help. Also given I can’t drive that route in rushhour into the city in under an hour I can’t see the bus doing the journey in under 75 mins – it simply is impractical for a commute. Oh and they are starting work on the Perth Darwin highway which will shove all the heavy northbound traffic along the same route.

    Typical cheap-skate, uncoordinated and short-sighted WA planning.

  8. So aside from the fact that this post is now two years old, I think you are missing the point. I think it’s a great idea to build a railway towards Ellenbrook and the northeast … when there are enough people to justify it. For at least the next few years, the money is better spent elsewhere.

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