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PM Change Spurs Australia Cities to Dust Off Light-Rail Plans

With Malcolm Turnbull now in the prime minister’s chair, Adelaide could get the greenlight on rail projects. (Photo by Orderinchaos)

Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects worldwide.

Change at the Top in Canberra Brings Change in Focus for Transportation
Australia just experienced a change in government without an election when the ruling Liberal Party ousted Prime Minister Tony Abbott and chose Malcolm Turnbull as his replacement. That in turn has led officials in at least two Australian cities to dust off or propose plans for new light-rail lines, as Turnbull has made comments suggesting that he would be more receptive to rail transit projects than the road-focused Abbott was.

One of the two cities is Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, which already has tram service. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reports that Acting State Premier John Rau plans to submit proposals to Infrastructure Australia for major extensions of the Adelaide tram network and the completion of electrification of the Gawler railway line.

The new tram lines would serve Adelaide’s airport as well as the communities of Semaphore, Blair Athol, Mitcham and Magill.

“The fact that we now appear to have a different attitude in Canberra is very welcome and that means we shift our emphasis now from road projects that we’ve got sitting there, over to rail projects,” Rau said.

A former federal government official is also using the change at the top to urge the state government of Tasmania to proceed with plans to build a light-rail network for its capital, Hobart.

Another ABC news report says former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer told the Tasmanian state government that such a system would “set Hobart up for the 21st century” and that the state government had a fiscal responsibility to build it.

The initial line would use existing narrow-gauge railroad tracks connecting Hobart with the suburb of Glenorchy. “There is modern technology relating to light rail on narrow gauge, which can be done without even having to erect overhead wires,” Fischer told the ABC.

Fischer, who was in Tasmania to meet with local industry leaders, said that the state government should have commissioned the line long ago and that it would prove to be a huge asset once it went into service.

“Now that we have a Prime Minister backing light rail ahead of road, go for it,” he said.

Infrastructure Tasmania is currently conducting an assessment of the light-rail project and is due to report back to the state government on its feasibility by year-end.

“Cafe service” has been added to the upper deck of an Alexandria, Egypt, tram, and revenues will go to maintain and improve the city’s historic tram network, above. (Photo by Wrightbus)

Alexandria Debuts Coffee Shop on Wheels
Just in time for Eid al-Adha, Alexandrians now have a place to sip and surf while on their way to where they’re going.

It’s called the Lemon Café, and it’s located on the upper deck of one of the Egyptian city’s iconic trams. The Cairo Post reports that the café tram operates on a route that connects el-Nasr (Victoria) station with el-Raml station, making 29 stops in between.

The cafe tram has Internet service, display screens and a library. For a fare of five Egyptian pounds (64 cents U.S.), riders can purchase beverages, surf the Web or check their email, watch videos, and get a little reading in while they ride.

The tram is part of a program of upgrades involving 25 trams and 125 buses and minibuses along with a planned extension of tram service into Alexandria’s historic al-Mansia district.

Alexandria Governor Hany el-Messiry said the tram could also be reserved for weddings, with revenues going to maintain and improve the city’s historic tram network.

L.A. Says Goodbye to the Big Red Cars (Again)
On Sunday, the last of the Big Red Cars made their final trips through Los Angeles’ port district of San Pedro. The heritage Pacific Electric trolley line opened in 2003, as part of a package of projects designed to attract visitors to L.A.’s bustling port. The line operated along 1.5 miles of former Pacific Electric tracks paralleling Sampson Way with a restored 1907 PE car and two replicas.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the line has been shut down in order to reconstruct Sampson Way as part of a renovation of the Ports o’ Call Village, a shopping center built in the 1960s.

Replica Pacific Electric car in San Pedro

City Councilman Joe Buscaino, who represents San Pedro, told the Times that the project is “crucial for the redevelopment of Ports o’ Call” but also expressed hope that funding could be found to add modern streetcar service to the L.A. harbor district.

Port of Los Angeles spokesman Phillip Sanfield said it would cost upwards of $40 million to build a light-rail line in San Pedro and that its route and rolling stock would probably be different.

The heritage trolley line was a money loser for the Port of Los Angeles; in 2013, the line generated revenues of $146,000 from 827,000 riders but cost $11.2 million to operate. Nonetheless, there remains significant sentiment for keeping the Red Cars around to roll another day. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority board passed a resolution last week calling on harbor officials to delay the closing for a week and at a minimum keep the southern end of the line in service.

“These are not relics from the past or museum pieces. They are symbolic of our desire to connect, and that connection is made by many people to the future of our public transportation system,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, who introduced the resolution.

Metro is conducting its own study of the heritage Red Car line and will issue a report in 60 days.

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