City underground rail key to Adelaide group’s new transport vision

Adelaide needs a new approach to public transport with an underground rail loop in the city a key part of this transformation, according to a comprehensive blueprint released by a South Australian transport lobby group.

Nov 08, 2023, updated Nov 09, 2023
The Transport Action Network's vision for the public transport system includes an Adelaide underground rail loop with strategically-placed stations.

The Transport Action Network's vision for the public transport system includes an Adelaide underground rail loop with strategically-placed stations.

The Transport Action Network, formed in Adelaide last year, wants public and active transport planning to be a central part of the new Greater Adelaide Regional Plan.

In a paper released by the network this week, former senior government transport planner Tom Wilson and researcher Jennifer Bonham argue the time has come for a long-mooted underground rail loop, connecting the north and south rail lines and making trains more easily accessible in the city.

While the group is concerned about the State Government’s push to open up large new areas for development on the fringes of Adelaide, it believes the plans could offer a transformational opportunity for the public transport network.

It wants rail services extended to accommodate this growth in the north, the Adelaide Hills, and the outer south.

They also see an immediate opportunity for light rail, with tram services introduced to link the city with the airport along an existing corridor create by the Keswick Creek through the inner western suburbs.

The paper, Greater Adelaide Public Transport: A Network for 21st Century Challenges, sees the State Government’s work on the Greater Adelaide Regional Plan as an opportunity re-establish an integrated land use and transport plan for the city.

The paper’s arguments are based on a network approach: meaning trains, trams and bus routes are integrated with active transport networks (cycling, walking and micro-mobility).

This means expanding Adelaide Metro services to areas not serviced by the public system.

Adelaide Railway Station is a terminus – inefficient and time-consuming. Photo: Liam Jenkins/InDaily

The time is also right, the authors argue, for Adelaide to finally enact a plan first envisaged in the 1960s – an underground rail loop for the CBD with stations potentially located near Hindmarsh Square, Victoria Square and Whitmore Square.

They argue this proposal could have the biggest impact of all its recommendations.

“The entire public transport network can be transformed by connecting the northern and southern lines via an underground CDB loop,” the paper says. “This connection has been included in metropolitan Adelaide and City of Adelaide plans and strategies since the 1960s and it is a project that’s time has come.”

It pointed to Infrastructure SA’s concern that the “terminus nature” of the Adelaide Railway Station “puts a natural constraint on the rail network”.

The paper says the loop would improve access across the metropolitan area as well as throughout the CBD, saving significant time at Adelaide Railway Station and improving connections for passengers. The city station network would triple the train catchment area and increase rail patronage for Adelaide, which is one-third that of the Perth CBD and one-quarter of the Brisbane CBD.

The paper estimates the project would cost $3 billion to $5 billion.

“Advocacy for this project sits at the intersection of three key factors: the Federal Government’s renewed focus on heavy rail, Infrastructure Australia’s revised assessment criteria to include climate change, and the opportunity to apply for federal grant funding for a major project beyond Torrens to Darlington (South Road),” the paper says.

Bonham told InDaily the network had its paper checked by a transport economist and it was confident a “sensible timetable of actions” could be developed to take advantage of political and policy conditions.

InDaily has approached the State Government for comment.

Rail to the fringes

Rail is also a key part of the network’s vision for serving the outer reaches of the greater metropolitan area.

“It is essential to identify, secure and maintain suitable corridors for rail into areas subject to urban and regional development in the next 50 years,” the paper says.

“Regional and interstate railways should be evaluated and secured for new, revived and realigned services.”

It wants work to begin to extend passenger rail to the outer north-west – to the growth areas of Riverlea, Virginia and Two Wells – and in the outer northeast, from the existing terminus at Gawler to Concordia, Roseworthy and the Barossa.

The paper has strategised how these lines could be established, including reactivating disused railways, and has mooted possible station locations.

The paper argues for an immediate trial of passenger rail to Mt Barker, with the possibility of extending it to Murray Bridge.

“Long-term investments into the Adelaide Hills rail network could benefit passenger rail, freight, and The Overland, and could lead to passenger services being expanded along the Adelaide-Melbourne corridor, such as to Murray Bridge,” it states.

Down south, the authors want the government to secure a rail corridor to Sellicks Beach, just as it has from Seaford to Aldinga Beach, with the possibility of running passenger rail to Victor Harbor.

“Planning for the rail extension to Aldinga and beyond to Sellicks must consider the identification and reservation of a corridor for longer-term extension to Victor Harbor via Sellicks Hill and Hindmarsh Valley. Such a route would be substantially more direct than the old route via Strathalbyn and likely competitive with road travel time.”

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The Transport Action Network has mapped potential rail extensions to service new growth areas.

Reconsidering trams

The Malinauskas Government abandoned a comprehensive plan by the previous Labor Government to rebuild Adelaide’s tram network – a proposition rejected by the Liberals.

However, there have been ongoing calls – including this week – to expand the tram network to North Adelaide.

The Transport Action Network supports this and wants investigations into expanding the tramline to Adelaide Oval, North Adelaide, Blair Athol via Prospect Road, and Gepps Cross via Main North Road.

It believes a tram link to Adelaide Airport would reduce traffic congestion in the west and attract potentially large patronage, with the airport generating 50,000 vehicle trips per day.

Given the challenges of delivering a tram line along Henley Beach Road or Sir Donald Bradman Drive, the paper argues for an alternative route, branching from the existing line to Hindmarsh, near the proposed site of the new Women’s and Children’s Hospital, to James Congdon Drive, across South Road and then down the Keswick Creek corridor.

“A high-quality, high-frequency, light-rail connection between Adelaide airport and the CBD would offer a convenient, comfortable, highly prominent, and highly patronised service for tourists, business travellers, international students, as well as western suburbs locals.”

The paper also argues for investigations into replacing heavy rail with trams on the Outer Harbor and Grange lines, given its flexibility to branch out into other local areas.

The Transport Action Network’s concept of a tram to the airport.

Buses reviewed

The paper calls for a comprehensive review of the bus network, including access to and conditions at stops and interchanges.

It calls for improved transfers and “seamless” integration with rail and tram services, increased safety, extended Go Zones, and more bus priority lanes.

Inter-suburban access needs to be improved, including extending O-Bahn services into new suburbs north of Greenwith and Golden Grove, and the Adelaide Metro area should be extended as far as Mannum, Murray Bridge, Strathalbyn, Goolwa and Victor Harbor.

The network also wants a “fairer fare system”, to encourage shorter trips, along with an expansion of the Adelaide Metro ticketing system to towns further afield.

An immediate improvement would be to equip Link SA buses, which serve towns in the outer reaches of the greater metropolitan area, with Adelaide Metro readers.

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