Canberra's light rail plan - how should it look?
Pods proposed for Canberra's light rail system. Photo: Supplied by SkyTRAN
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Canberra might be on track to get a $614 million light rail line from Civic to Gungahlin, but at least one resident thinks the city could be overlooking the chance to use futuristic technology to revolutionise public transport.
Australian National University visiting fellow in applied mathematics Arthur Davies is behind a quiet campaign to get Canberra to consider a sky-high car transport system, which will be tested in Israel next year.
Developed by US company SkyTran, the system uses suspended two-person vehicles on elevated magnetic tracks and could allow passengers to order transport using a smart phone application.
The patented personal rapid transit system is also being considered by cities in France, India and the United States but has not been built as part of a large scale public transport project.
The vehicles are said to be able to achieve speeds of up to 70km/h and are being developed by SkyTran at NASA's Ames Research Center outside Mountain View, California.
Planning for a 500 metre line is underway for the Tel Aviv headquarters of Israel Aerospace Industries with testing to begin next year.
The company says the development of a larger 200km network will follow covering suburban and city areas in central Israel.
A sky car system is believed to cost about $15 million per 1.5km and uses solar power energy.
Mr Davies, a member of the Australian Electric Vehicle Association, is personally championing the system as an alternative to tram lines being installed on the median strip of Northbourne Avenue, and along Flemington Road and the Federal Highway.
He has lobbied members of the ACT Government and opposition to consider the system as an alternative to traditional tram lines.
Mr Davies said it offered significantly lower costs than the current tram proposal, and would improve transport times and reduce energy costs.
"It could either be on the side of Northbourne Avenue, between the road and the buildings, or it could run in the middle or along the edge of the median strip," Mr Davies said.
"If it was down the middle of the median strip, the trees would still be there and you would hardly see it. It could be done very unobtrusively and beautifully."
Mr Davies said other benefits include high passenger capacity and low noise pollution.
The pod vehicles could be accessed using special boarding areas and be waiting for passengers in areas of peak demand.
"A large proportion of the tram budget has nothing to do with trams," Mr Davies said. "It actually has to do with reinforcing the road bed and relocating the existing services underground."
"If you suspend these things off poles, problem solved."
Mr Davies conceded the untested system could face problems in construction and even cost overruns, but said the technology could also serve as a tourism attraction for the ACT.
"Canberra used to be the testing ground for everything in Australia," Mr Davies said. "We were proud of that but now we are too risk averse."
The ACT Government's Capital Metro Agency is expected to go to market for a public-private-partnership proposal for the 12km tram line after receiving a final business case in October.
Under current plans, construction for light rail will begin in mid-2016, with passenger services to being by 2019 or 2020.