On the LRT Information Page, I originally referred to Melbourne as “Not full LRT, but worth a look,” and listed it separate from other cities. This is due to the fact that 82% of Melbourne’s tram network shares road-space with other vehicles. Even so, there are parts of it that are classifiable as “true LRT”.
As I have returned to Melbourne on business for this week and next, I am taking the opportunity to better familiarize myself with the tram operations outside of the CBD (Central Business District). While I will be working on updating the Melbourne page over the next few weeks, I believe I will move it into the mix of other cities, as it may be one of the better examples of how things could be done in Toronto and the GTA as a whole.
Within the CBD, shared road-space often means that the trams run in lanes separated from the rest of traffic by nothing more than a painted yellow line. For the most part, this is observed, but it does allow the flexibility of not locking other traffic should it be necessary to get around a blockage, make a U-turn, or turn into a lane or alley when necessary.
Throughout the network, real transit priority signals exist. These are not simply an extra traffic light that receives a fixed piece of the light cycle regardless of the presence of a tram or not. It is true intelligently programmed traffic lights that sometimes gives the trams a signal along with traffic, sometimes ahead of turning traffic, and sometimes after turning traffic. When trams need to turn at an intersection, they get an exclusive signal to proceed or, in some cases, they get a signal along with traffic that receives a green signal who’s movement does not conflict with the tram movement.
A POP (proof-of-payment) system is used for fares, so all-door loading is possible and this reduces dwell time and evens out the crowds on the vehicles. Unlike other cities where POP fare systems are implemented, it is possible to purchase a 2-hour or day fare from a vending machine on board each vehicle, provided you have coins. This eliminates the need to have machines at each stop, which has the need to go out and collect and restock the machines at stops. It is easy enough to purchase other fare media with other forms of payment at many vendors around the city.
The tram network in Melbourne also demonstrates that pantograph use on Toronto’s streetcar network is very viable. I have heard concerns that some of the intersections in Toronto would be a nightmare to rewire for pantograph operation. After seeing some of the intersections in Melbourne, I can safely say that little modification would be needed in Toronto. Wire frogs and crossings would have to be replaced, but that is about it. While pantograph wiring staggers slightly from left to right with each support, this is a fairly minor change in Toronto. Full catenary is simply not needed for the existing network. Much of Melbourne’s tram network uses a contact wire supported by spanning wires just like much of Toronto’s network. The same can be said for some other street portions of LRTs in other cities: downtown Minneapolis and parts of Pittsburgh (Allentown line and the Library branch) to name two.
While much of Melbourne’s fleet consists of high-floor vehicles, newer units are a good example of low floor design. In fact, the Siemens Combino LRVs (both the 20 m units with three sections and the 30 m units with five sections) have a 100% low floor design, and considering the TTC has now specified a 100% low floor design for the next generation of vehicle, it is nice to see what is possible. The terrain in Melbourne is a good example to see how these vehicles might operate in Toronto. There are a number of hilly sections, with a fairly sudden transition from level ground to somewhat steep climbs. The turning radius at some intersections are very comparable to Toronto’s. About the only things really different is that Melbourne uses standard gauge track with double point switches.
Watch for the changes to the Melbourne page and if anyone out there would like to see a photo of anything in particular, leave a comment or email me and I will do my best to get that photo while I am here.