Back to digitalAmigo

Transport for the Greater Cairns Area

2009 Submission to the Department of Transport and Main Roads


Click to find the 2009 proposed alternative transport system (PDF, 11 sheets) for the Greater Cairns Area.

Please note, this alternative proposal is an exercise in thinking-outside-the-square, therefore, some of the solutions suggested may seem a little over the top to some people. But nevertheless, after giving the proposal due consideration, ask yourself these questions:

Do we really need to be locked into freeway construction, especially in Cairns?

Is there another way to achieve the desired outcomes?

What do YOU think?

Also included is a copy of a newsletter (PDF, 8 sheets) released by the Department of Transport and Main Roads that outlines their proposal. Can you spot any major differences between their proposed options 1, 2 or 3?

2016: A Reflective Look at the Submission shown above

It's been seven years since the Bruce Highway Upgrade started taking traffic. Since then there has been an addition of traffic lanes with more promised in the near future, and there will be even more when the suburb of Mount Peter (PDF, 65 sheets) starts to generate traffic.

Traffic congestion is now a nationwide problem and the authorities are seeking solutions. For the most part, there appears to be a change in thinking. It seems that rather than just upgrading our highways, there is a switch back to public transport. So what type of public transport should we choose? One we should seriously consider NOT using are diesel buses. Research by the World Health Organisation has found a link between diesel exhausts and lung cancer. In fact, Britain's Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), in a new report, recommends the gradual phasing out of all diesel vehicles, including buses, from the streets of London.

Public transport vehicles that don't have tailpipe emissions are trains and trams (light rail) that use overhead electric power, and electric buses; each of these transport systems have their advantages and disadvantages. One Australian city going through a public transport revolution and has examples of what to do and what not to do, is Sydney.

Sydney once had a very extensive tram network, even larger than Melbourne's present day system. The policy in Sydney these days is to convert much of their old tramway lines back into use. At Sydney Central Station, the old tramway line that went westward has been re-birthed and now goes through the "touristy" areas of Chinatown and the Darling Harbour area and continues on along the refurbished old goods line and terminates at the inner-west suburb of Dulwich Hill. What's easily noticed is that the "touristy" areas of the rail line are significantly more busy than the suburban areas of Roselle Bay to Dulwich Hill. This suggests that light rail lends itself to the "touristy" areas but, possibly because of the slow speed of light rail, it just doesn't cut it with suburban commuters.

Sydney's eastern suburbs light rail line, which is under construction, is very much in the news, but for all the wrong reasons: these reasons are the trimming and removal of 150 year old Moreton Bay Fig trees, the digging up of ancient Aboriginal artifacts and the complaints of businesses along parts of the proposed route who believe that they will lose parking space for their customers. For an overview of the problems, click here. A poster promoting this project is shown below:

In the Far North, the authorities are also thinking about light rail. The Cairns Regional Council on the 27th of June 2016 has budgeted "$250, 000 to undertake a "scoping study" to review the future transport needs of the region, with a view to establishing whether Cairns can support light rail".

In this study, I was wondering if it could tell us why public transport in Cairns is so poorly used. I don't know the exact percentages, but I have noticed that these days it is common for a bus to only have a handful of passengers. As a matter of fact I recently caught a bus from Westcourt to the City. I was the only passenger!

So if the council does go ahead with light rail, could it be possible that the patronage for it be just as bad as the buses? This would result in a massive waste of money. Light rail does not come cheap. From information gathered on the internet, in Cairns it is said to be $29 million per kilometre and in Canberra it was double that at $58 million per kilometre.

But hang on here, we already have a local rail line. If it was upgraded to a dual track with overhead power lines and safer traffic crossings built along the route, we could have commuter rail from at least Edmonton to Cairns Central that could connect to feeder buses that would service the residential areas. If this train could average a reasonably rapid speed (up to about 80 - 100 kph at appropriate places) and have only one stop at near the Forest Garden overpass, we could have something that could give the Car serious competition. See the drawing below and the photo below that:

I suggest that all three stations, ie Edmonton, Forest Gardens Boulevard and Cairns Central have an easy transfer capability of Rail to Bus and vice versa. The ease of going from one to the other would be assisted by a transit card such as the GO card as used by Translink in the Brisbane region. I also suggest that the feeder buses should be electric and have a capacitor storage system that stores electricity electrostatically. This ought to make it cheaper than batteries, mostly because capacitors last a lot longer. However capacitors have a limited storage capacity. Fortunately they recharge very quickly so therefore this problem would be easily overcome by placing recharging stations where necessary, and preferably, at the major and the busier bus stops along the route. It's not a good look to have the capacitors charging up when there are no passengers around. For more information about these buses, such as the Chariot e-bus, click here. Note that the Chinese have been using capacitor buses since 2006. Also, see this article about electric buses that has Treehugger magazine excited.

Although the construction cost of upgrading the existing local rail line would also cost a lot of money, much of this money will not be wasted even if an attempted commuter rail service failed. This is because much of the east coast rail line in Queensland needs upgrading anyway. For a start, the rail line between Cairns and Rockhampton will need overhead power lines. In addition to this, an upgrade of the entire east coast route is essential so that we can reduce the number of semi-trailers on our roads who, from my point of view, increase the probability of making the collisions that happen on the Bruce Highway, to be fatal.

On the southside in the near future, with the establishment of the Mount Peter suburb, the authorities, hopefully, will look to transport systems other than private cars and diesel buses to solve our transport needs. Perhaps they could have a look at the rail/bus transfer concept discussed here. The northern beaches of Cairns, however, have transport problems of their own. Designing effective public transport on the northside of Cairns is difficult. The original population centres are on the beaches and the main thoroughfare to Cairns is on the higher ground to the west. The result is that there is little or no connectivity between the beach suburbs. To get people on to Rail, in the 2009 submission I proposed a rail line to go on the western side of the Captain Cook Highway up to the old cane train underpass just before the Caravonica roundabout. Using this underpass, the rail line was proposed to continue on up to at least McGregor Road. This, however, would be a very expensive project and unlikely to ever pay for itself.

An alternative transport system for the northern beaches could be to use capacitor buses, such as the Chariot e-bus mentioned, and place recharging stations along the bus routes where necessary. However, bus schedules can suffer from traffic congestion, especially during peak hours. To solve this problem, authorities from around the world have built bus lanes. Many cities have them and many cities hate them (well, mostly their motorists). Much of this antipathy could be reduced with the introduction of EV lanes, that is, lanes dedicated to only electric vehicles such as buses, coaches, trucks, and for the "dyed in the wool" motorists, cars. Hopefully, all this will remove the congestion issues.

Perhaps an easier way to get a similar result could be achieved by having a traffic toll similar to those already in use for freeways and tunnels where motorists pay a toll electronically. Such a practice, if used up here on our highways when they're busy, should help decongest these highways. All electric vehicles, including buses would, of course, be exempt from this fee. This should also assist in helping to make electric vehicles more popular.

Finally, I hope that CRC's proposed study about the future transport needs of the region will get an answer to my question: "Why is public transport in Cairns is so poorly used?" But I think the answer is obvious and that is, for far too long we have allowed urban sprawl to spread in our suburbs. All this has been because spending on our public transport systems has been insignificant while, at the same time, millions upon millions were spent on highways so that we now have to rely on our cars for most of our transport needs. In Cairns especially, people really do love their cars, so it will be a major task to get people out of them - with all the convenience that they provide - and on up to public transport.

For a discussion about a Public Transport link to the Airport, click here

Back to digitalAmigo