No Australian city yet has a metro rail system, although many Australians will be familiar with them from travel overseas. A metro is a high capacity and high frequency passenger railway service, serving an urban area, powered by electricity and using grade-separated tracks. Each metro line uses exclusive tracks and platforms. Tracks are typically underground, but may be elevated or on the surface. With no level crossings and no other rail traffic, a reliable schedule is easier to achieve. By running at frequencies of less than ten minutes, passengers don’t need to bother with timetables.
Australian cities already have extensive public transport networks. Why introduce a metro as well? Firstly, different transport modes excel at different trip types. While trams are excellent for short trips, and ‘normal’ passenger trains are good for long trips, metros excel in the mid-range. Secondly, as a city’s total transport demand increases, it needs to increase the capacity of its transport system, and a metro line might well be the best value solution. Thirdly, by taking people out of trams, cars, buses, and ‘normal’ trains, a metro will reduce the demand on those systems and decongest them.
New technology allows the creation of a low- cost ‘light metro’ network to serve middle and inner suburbs. In just ten years, between 1997 and 2007, Madrid built 200 kilometres of line and 150 stations for a cost of just $50m per kilometre. Compare that with the $185m per kilometre for the proposed Parramatta-Epping rail link or the $68m per kilometre average cost for Sydney’s 160 kilometres of motorways.
Assuming a 25 minute maximum journey time between the centre and periphery, a metro system would have a diameter of approximately 50 kilometres. From central Sydney, that would take in Hornsby, Parramatta and Bankstown, while from central Melbourne it would include Caroline Springs, Craigieburn, Ringwood and Springvale.
In Australian cities, metro lines will work best connecting several major suburban centres through the city centre. For example in Melbourne, a line might run between Monash University and Tullamarine Airport via Chadstone, Caulfield, South Yarra, central Melbourne, Moonee Ponds and Keilor.
Catching metro is simple
Catching a metro can be as simple as walking from a footpath down one escalator straight onto a platform. Platforms can be as little as 7m below footpath level. With shallow platforms and a sophisticated ticket validation system, the street can act as the concourse, bringing more life to the street, reducing passenger walking time and lowering station cost.
The stations can be contained within a box only 20m wide, and so can be small enough to be built within most of the main streets in Australian suburban and city centres. Routes could mostly run under main roads and so to a large extent avoid the costs and problems of tunnelling under private properties.
All in all, metros can offer a green transport solution that largely fits under existing public land. Around stations it leads to dense urban form and intensely used pedestrian environments. Sounds like a dream transport system for any urbanist. Metro, anyone?