In dead of night, Canberra's light rail vehicle emerges for testing

In dead of night, Canberra's light rail vehicle emerges for testing

People driving down Flemington Road in the early hours of Tuesday morning caught a glimpse of the first light rail vehicle to hit the tracks, ahead of testing with energised wires.

At 5km/h, the tram was dragged from its Mitchell depot minutes before midnight towards Nullarbor Avenue in Gungahlin.

A light rail vehicle is dragged on to the tracks on Flemington Road for testing on Monday night

A light rail vehicle is dragged on to the tracks on Flemington Road for testing on Monday nightCredit:Sitthixay Ditthavong

Transport Minister Meegan Fitzharris and Canberra Metro chief executive Glenn Stockton were among those waiting out in the cold for several hours for the light rail vehicle to emerge.

An equipment failure delayed its departure, and one worker was overheard joking the tram must have still been on the boat from Spain.

Testing began on Flemington Road on Monday night.

Testing began on Flemington Road on Monday night. Credit:Sitthixay Ditthavong

“I think the keys are coming on the next boat,” another quipped.

As specialist machinery towed the tram along the tracks, members of the Canberra Metro team embraced one another, saying: “I told you we could do it”.

The vehicle had special foam on the sides to test the tilt of the track, while the brakes also got a good workout.

More checks will be carried out on the Gungahlin stretch of the track; the wires will be electrified on Tuesday night.

An equipment failure delayed the testing.

An equipment failure delayed the testing.Credit:Sitthixay Ditthavong

It followed an attempt last Thursday to energise the lines that was thwarted by a technical issue with the substation.

The light rail will undergo months of testing to iron out any bugs ahead of the service starting in December.

Initially, most of the testing will take place at night, as construction of the track and stops continues during the day.

Light rail project manager Meghan Oldfield said eventually testing will occur during the day as the light rail runs to timetable, trialling its signals, stopping at each stop and opening the doors.

"That's probably something we have to make sure is communicated well to the public, it could be confusing otherwise," she said.

But before then, the light rail has to pass baseline testing.

During the first stage of testing, a diesel-powered unimog cleans the track by running over it repeatedly.

In the second stage, technicians electrify the overhead wires and substations near the track, and do final checks on the power system for each light rail vehicle.


The final stage involves low-speed checks of the rail alignment, with the tram travelling between 5 and 10 kilometres per hour.

Drivers will then test the brakes of the vehicles, from speeds of up to 70 kilometres per hour.

The 12-kilometre track is divided into four segments, with testing at the northern end line of the network beginning first.

For now, ongoing construction means it's too dangerous to electrify the lines during the day.


The overhead wires can carry up to 750 volts of electricity, and will cause fatal injuries if touched.

Because of the time it takes to electrify and de-energise the wires at the beginning and end of each night shift, testing is likely to continue to be late at night for the next little while, Ms Oldfield said.

However the tram will be stabled between the depot and Nullarbor Avenue during the day, so anyone who doesn't want to go out late at night to see it can check it out.

Meanwhile, Canberrans are being warned about the potential dangers during the testing period.

Although the clearance is six metres, truck drivers should ensure their loads don’t touch the wires when crossing intersections.

Drivers are also warned to keep an eye out for oncoming light rail vehicles and not to queue across tracks.

Pedestrians should be vigilant near the tracks as the light rail vehicle can move quickly and quietly, and cyclists should cross the tracks at a right angle to stop their wheels getting stuck in the groove.

Katie Burgess is a reporter for the Canberra Times, covering ACT politics.

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