The state government says trackless trams are an untested technology and it is too early to consider them as a viable option for extending Newcastle’s light rail network.
The Newcastle Herald quoted leading sustainability academic Professor Peter Newman AO this week saying trackless trams cost one tenth of light rail and can stimulate urban development in the same way.
The world’s first trackless tram, running on rubber wheels and using automated optical guidance to follow dots on the road, was unveiled by Chinese firm CRRC last year.
But a Transport for NSW spokesperson said on Thursday that the technology had not been developed to the extent that it was a reliable alternative.
“Guided Electric Transit Systems, known commonly as trackless trams, are still in their infancy around the world with mixed results as to their viability and success,” the spokesperson said.
“Due to the technology still being developed, Transport for NSW is not currently considering Guided Electric Transit Systems as a mass transport solution, but we are monitoring its development.”
This position was supported by Monash University public transport researcher Professor Graham Currie, who said CRRC was the only manufacturer of the technology.
Professor Currie said the CRRC tram was “very encouraging”, but he was “very supportive of the view we need to learn more”.
He said it would be difficult for customers to get a good deal if the technology had only one supplier.
“Mature technologies need to have more than one supplier, otherwise you get this sort of effect,” he said.
“We’ve got to move ahead because our cities are growing. We’ve got to invest now.
“All governments should have their heads in looking at this. We should be looking at it for the future, but we should get on with what we’re doing now.”
Professor Currie said CRRC was one of the largest rolling-stock companies in the world, if not the biggest.
“They’re an incredible organisation, but I was just at InnoTrans, the world’s largest exposition of railways, and they were there, but they didn’t have the trackless tram, which is interesting.
“Why would they not bring that along?”
He said other light rail alternatives coming out of Europe were more like buses.
The Transport for NSW spokesperson said the government’s Future Transport 2056 transport strategy was designed to “incorporate emerging technologies as they become viable transport options”.
The government says it will complete a strategic business case for extending Newcastle’s light rail line by the end of this year and place it on public exhibition early next year.
“The need for improved bus services is also being considered as part of the strategic business case,” the spokesperson said.