NSW officials are warning the public they will need to change their behaviour on Sydney’s roads as the city’s light rail system enters operation.
Similar on-road trains systems have recently launched on the Gold Coast and in Canberra, with a number of crashes and near-misses taking place, often thanks to confused motorists and unaware pedestrians.
Marg Prendergast is the Coordinator General at Transport for NSW and says her team will launch a concerted public safety campaign in the coming months but admits crashes are hard to prevent as road users adjust.
“We need Sydneysiders to get used to it and we know it’s going to take a little bit of time,” she told Yahoo News Australia.
“We have watched Canberra and Gold Coast and we know there are risks.”
Zombie pedestrians warned over quiet trains
It’s not just motorists, but cyclists and particularly pedestrians that she says need to be aware of changing conditions on the road.
“Because these trains are so quiet, one of our key worries is people really absorbed on their mobile phone,” she explained. “And they can’t stop easily, quickly or swerve to avoid you.”
Videos online show pedestrians stepping our in front of Canberra’s new light rail trains causing a number of accidents.
The message from city officials is simple: “Look out before you step out. Trams are running both ways.”
Cyclists could get wheels stuck in tracks
“The other one that we really want to get the message out is for cyclists,” Ms Prendergast said.
Given the nature of the tracks, if wheels from bicycles, or other things like prams, are travelling in the same direction there is a danger the wheels could slip into the groove of the tracks and become stuck.
“One of the most important safety messages is that if you’re going to cross the tracks, cross them at an angle,” she said.
For drivers, aside from being aware of where the tram corridors are, they will need to remember not to clog intersections, Ms Prendergast said. “Because if they are blocking intersections, a tram could be trying to get through.”
Those with tall loads will also need to be extra mindful because of the overhead wires used by the trains.
Controversial rail project finally arrives
After long delays and cost blow-outs on the $2.1 billion project, NSW Transport is currently expanding its testing along the line from Randwick to Central Station during the day and night.
At the moment that means the trains are running very slowly, in highly controlled situations.
Soon they will move into driver training “and you’ll see a lot more trains about,” Ms Prendergast said.
The NSW government is aiming to have passenger services from Randwick to Circular Quay running in early December with other routes opening to the public in March 2020.
Andrew James Constance, the state Minister for Transport and Roads was quick to celebrate the first testing run last month.
“History in the making,” he wrote in a video of the event posted to Facebook. “For the first time in more than 60 years, a tram has travelled along Sydney's George Street.”
But not everyone has celebrated the project, which has frustrated local businesses along the route during the long and disruptive construction process.
NSW Labor has also questioned the effects on traffic at certain busy sections of road along the new train lines, suggesting the 67 metre-long vehicles could produce choke points along certain routes.
But Ms Prendergast rejects the notion, saying the service should help reduce traffic congestion. “Every tram takes nine standard buses off the road,” she said.
However she admits despite extensive planning, it will take time to get the traffic signals right to optimise traffic flow.
“We’re working on the traffic signal plans ... We want to give trains priority but we don’t want to detriment traffic.”
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