Sydney: Driverless Metro Postponed?

I’m keenly aware of the irony of having praised Vancouver’s driverless metro on the very day that Sydney’s driverless metro proposal was declared dead by the city’s main newspaper.  I’m also aware that as part of the team that authored the Independent Inquiry (now widely called the Christie Report) which recommends postponing Sydney’s metro project, I could be misunderstood as saying that what’s good enough for Vancouver isn’t good enough for Sydney. 

The Christie Report’s recommendation to postpone the Sydney metro is not a view about driverless metros at all.  It’s an assessment of the relative priority of this project compared to several other urgent projects on Sydney’s electric commuter rail system.  Another key finding — not reported widely enough in the press — is that there is room to improve frequencies on Sydney’s existing rail system to get more of a “metro” effect, though labor cost will always limit what can be offered late at night.  More fundamentally, the report’s view is that the Sydney metro proposal was premature given the urgent need to make best use of the existing rail system.

Ultimately, the failure of the Sydney metro proposal, if that is indeed what happens, reflects severe problems with how the state government goes about planning major infrastructure.  The practice has been to create a new autonomous agency to pursue each project, and to operate each type of technology, inevitably setting those agencies in conflict with one another.  In the future, transit infrastructure planning needs to be the work of a single agency that thinks about all the possible modes, including busways, ferries electric commuter rail, and eventually driverless metro.  The need for such an agency is, in many respects, the single most important recommendation of our Inquiry.

Note:  I will be largely off the grid over the weekend, back Monday Australian time.

5 Responses to Sydney: Driverless Metro Postponed?

  1. Rhywun February 18, 2010 at 6:51 pm #

    You’ll get no argument from me that cities need to pursue modest but more numerous projects which bring more bang for the buck than the sexy grands projets that attract all the attention. Case in point, I’m looking forward to the new sort-of BRT lines that are coming to my city (NYC) in the near future. Most of them are targeting neighborhoods that will never, ever get subway service, even where the demand exists, yet for decades have suffered with the same crappy bus service suitable only for less dense areas. It’s this kind of “thinking outside the box” that’s desperately needed in times like these when there’s no money to splurge on big projects.

  2. Steve February 19, 2010 at 1:59 pm #

    I see no problem at all in your position – transit alignments and technology are a VERY local decision. When a city has an already pervasive regional rail system it makes sense to implement improvements to it rather than attempting to introduce a different technology on similar alignments.

  3. Richard February 23, 2010 at 3:38 am #

    Whatever the merits of metros and metros in Vancouver in particular, there is no question the existing double deckers are ideal for CityRail. Metro proponents were always on about dwell times. What is the point of stressing about dwells times when city-bound trains load in small numbers at widely dispersed stations and unload almost exclusively in at Redfern, Central and the chaos that is Town Hall station after far fewer changes of train than is usual in other city networks. The Christie Report correctly stressed the problems of Town Hall station none of which would be alleviated by more doors on trains.
    Clearly a rail system cannot be designed for special events but I am always amazed how quickly the city is emptied after major events like the New Years Eve fireworks thanks to the incredible capacity of the double deck carriages. Happily enough of us have travelled on overcrowded London Tube trains not to be conned by those with a vested interest in metros

  4. Alon Levy February 23, 2010 at 10:38 pm #

    Double deckers are good if your capacity constraint is the number of people the train can hold. This is not the case in most urban transport cases, where the capacity is getting people on and off the trains instead. Tokyo doesn’t use double deckers; it uses trains with six doors per car per side. Paris split the difference, and built special three-door double-decked trains for the RER.

  5. sydneyau February 12, 2011 at 1:41 am #

    I think that CityRail should terminate at Central (Chatswood for the North Shore Line) and have metro trains run the city circle, because it reduced congestion at stations, people get onto the first train that comes, instead of waiting for “their” train.