Why We Should All Be Excited About Sydney’s Light Rail

Sydney’s light rail plan, which commenced construction last week, may be sparking concerns about traffic congestion and disruption to bus routes among some, but there is good reason for environmentalists (and everyone else!) to celebrate its appearance in our capital city.

In a time where climate change, peak oil and traffic problems demand that we rethink the way we move around our cities, accessible, environmentally friendly and ideally unobtrusive public transport is an absolute must for any modern city.

A fast, electric-powered mass transport option (i.e. light or ultra-light rail) is the logical answer to some of the environmental and urban planning issues we face in the 21st century.

Light rail is essentially a modern tram system, using electric railcars. The infrastructure has a low environmental impact and is inconspicuous, with rails laid out along existing roadways and light rail stops by the side of the road, no more obtrusive than a bus stop.

On average 210 grams of carbon are emitted per passenger kilometre using cars and other private vehicles, but less than a third (only 60 grams) are emitted from each passenger kilometre using rail transport.

Sydney once had the largest tram system in Australia, until 1961 when it stopped operating. Now the sole light rail in Sydney – a privately owned line from Central Station to Lilyfield – is only 7km long.

Now Sydneysiders live in largely suburban environments, and decades of widespread urban planning has left a legacy of car-dependence.

We all know that using public transport significantly cuts your carbon footprint, but here’s something to put it into perspective: Travel for work, shopping, personal business and recreation is estimated to account for 34% of household greenhouse gas emissions.

Light rail has been introduced to more than 100 international cities in the past decade, and statistics from the cities which use light rail reveal:

  • 41% lower energy use per passenger/km than bus cities
  • 18% lower automobile passenger kilometres per capita
  • 23% lower transport emissions per capita
  • 38% fewer transport deaths

The Business Plan Summary for Sydney’s light rail estimates greenhouse gas emissions reduction by an average 23,300 tonnes per year over 30 years.

Construction on the Light Rail will run until 2018. Within a few short years we can look forward to  enjoying one of the most modern and sustainable forms of transport in our city, which also has the benefit of creating an estimated 10,000 jobs for the local economy.

What’s not to celebrate about that?

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