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Perth’s new 72 km long Southern Rail System opened in 2007. With a maximum speed of 137 km/hr and an average speed of almost 90 km/hr this system acts more like a new high speed rail than a suburban rail system, which in Australia typically averages around 40 km/hr for an all-stops services. The Southern Rail Line was very controversial when being planned as the urban areas served are not at all typical of those normally provided with rail but instead were highly car dependent and scattered low density land uses. Nevertheless it has been remarkably successful, carrying over 70,000 people per day (five times the patronage on the express buses it replaced) and has reached the patronage levels predicted for 2021 a decade ahead of time. The reasons for this success are analyzed and include well-designed interchanges, careful integration of bus services, the use of integrated ticketing and fares without transfer penalties and, crucially the high speed of the system when compared to competing car based trips. The Southern Rail Line in effect explodes the current paradigm of transfer penalties, exposing this as a myth. The lessons for transport planning in low density cities are significant, and are explored further in the paper.
The 21st century promises some dramatic changes—some expected, others surprising. One of the more surprising changes is the dramatic peaking in car use and an associated increase in the world’s urban rail systems. This paper sets out what is happening with the growth of rail, especially in the traditional car dependent cities of the US and Australia, and why this is happening, particularly its relationship to car use declines. It provides new data on the plateau in the speed of urban car transportation that supports rail’s increasing role compared to cars in cities everywhere, as well as other structural, economic and cultural changes that indicate a move away from car dependent urbanism. The paper suggests that the rise of urban rail is a contributing factor in peak car use through the relative reduction in speed of traffic compared to transit, especially rail, as well as the growing value of dense, knowledge-based centers that depend on rail access for their viability and cultural attraction. Finally, the paper suggests what can be done to make rail work better based on some best practice trends in large cities and small car dependent cities.