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Forget the light rail - what about sky rail for Canberra?


Tom McIlroy

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. 

29 comments so far

  • looks noisy... if the Canberra streets have the room , than light rail would be the way forward although Washington in the USA built an underground metro system

    swinging voter
    Date and time
    July 25, 2014, 1:08PM
    • When Walter Burley Griffin designed Canberra, he included spaces for both trams and suburban trains. Canberra may never need the latter though.
      So yes, Canberra has ready-made space for trams.

      Date and time
      July 25, 2014, 1:26PM
    • Stop with the Griffin vision. That died before it began.

      Also, if you want to compare like with like then Iceland is the closest example of size and population.

      No more White Elephants.

      Outraged o'P
      Date and time
      July 25, 2014, 2:47PM
    • @Outraged o'P - Please find something else to say instead of "white elephant".. every day you come on here with the exact same (poorly researched) opinion and I'm bored of it. I feel like I'm living through Ground hog Day!

      Your humdrum comments are "more trouble than they are worth"... :/

      on my high horse
      Date and time
      July 25, 2014, 6:28PM
  • Well, sir, there's nothing on earth
    Like a genuine, bona fide
    Electrified, six-car monorail
    What'd I say?
    What's it called?
    That's right! Monorail
    Monorail Monorail Monorail
    I hear those things are awfully loud
    It glides as softly as a cloud
    Is there a chance the track could bend?
    Not on your life, my Hindu friend
    What about us brain-dead slobs?
    You'll be given cushy jobs
    Were you sent here by the Devil?
    No, good sir, I'm on the level
    The ring came off my pudding can
    Take my pen knife, my good man
    I swear it's Springfield's only choice
    Throw up your hands and raise your voice
    What's it called?
    Once again
    But Main Street's still all cracked and broken
    Sorry, Mom, the mob has spoken
    Monorail Monorail Monorail
    Mono, d'oh!

    Date and time
    July 25, 2014, 1:12PM
    • I've sold monorails to Brockway, Ogdenville, and North Haverbrook, and by gum it put them on the map!

      Lyle Langley
      Date and time
      July 25, 2014, 1:27PM
    • "I call the big one Bitey"

      Mutt Sanders' brother
      Date and time
      July 25, 2014, 1:29PM
    • So why didn't we just buy Sydney's monorail? I heard it went very cheap. Would have been a ripper, sailing down the centre of Northbourne Ave, families picnicking underneath, roos frolicking nearby in the early am, great bonus for tourism too, just like in Sydney. Seemed to be only me and my kids and other tourists on it there too.

      What a missed opportunity. We could have retained all that green grass in the centre of Northbourne while it zoomed overhead, no need to dig it up like for the light rail.

      What Canberra needs is visionaries like this guy!

      Date and time
      July 25, 2014, 1:29PM
    • The Monoraaaaiiiill The Monoraaaaiiiill The Monoraaaaaiiiil.

      Date and time
      July 25, 2014, 1:33PM
    • Comment of the week. Lol.

      Date and time
      July 25, 2014, 3:01PM

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