Now if you got run over by a bus . . . what would happen to X?
Being run over by a bus is a polite expression for unexpected death used by people discussing wills or succession at work and so on.
In that context, people do not get run over by a train.
The train-death examples usually have people throw themselves under a train or some fiendish cad tying someone over the railway lines in the sure knowledge that a train will come and cut them in two.
This difference is instructive.
Buses are the vehicles of randomness. Trains have an element of certainty. The human has to get on to the train’s tracks to be hit and if you do get tied to the tracks, you will certainly be hit.
Where is all this leading us? Well, we are, er, on track for an argument about light rail.
Planning Minister Simon Corbell articulated (right, that’s the last pun) his view earlier this month about a light rail system that would enable workers from Civic to pop across to Manuka for lunch.
But why would or should a government invest huge amounts of public money in a light system for Canberra when everyone detests public transport, as witnessed by empty buses and the $50 million annual loss on them? Canberrans will always travel by car, the argument goes.
By and large, until now, the car has done reasonably well for Canberra. But pressures are building. The morning jam on the Tuggeranong Parkway-Adelaide Avenue route occurs despite the general excellence of the road. The Gungahlin peak-hour jam is notorious. Nothing can be done about these jams one a city reaches about 300,000. That population generates enough go-to-work trips to causes jams. Providing more freeways does not help. Cars can only move 2500 people an hour in each lane. In the two-hour morning peak, Tuggeranong Parkway can only handle 10,000 people.
Given the population projections of Gungahlin, Gungahlin Drive will never handle the traffic satisfactorily. It is a $150 million white elephant before it is built.
We would be doing the people of Gungahlin a favour not to build it – so that they can go through working life without traffic jams.
Instead we should build them a light rail line at two-thirds the cost of the road. It would also serve City-North Canberra commuters. Light rail can handle 20,000 people an hour with a greater certainty of arrival time than road.
Critics of light rail say it is inflexible because it must go on the rails. However, this is its very advantage, for several reasons.
Everyone knows where the trains will run, whereas the comic definition of an ACTION bus route is the longest distance between any two given points.
With the certainty, people can be confident about buying dwellings or setting up businesses around stations.
Also, light rail can share space with pedestrians because pedestrians can be confident of not being run over. All they have to do is keep a metre clear of the track. You only get run over by a bus.
Light rail accelerates well, turns tight corners and handles hills. It is well-suited to a place like Canberra where it can belt along unimpeded between town centres at 100km/h or faster and then slow to a crawl and go right through shopping streets. It is much more fuel efficient.
True, Corbell’s train-to-Manuka idea has some difficulty because you have to get a track across the lake. It would be better to concentrate on Gungahlin and the city, eventually extending down the Tuggeranong Parkway. The corridors are already there, as Corbell points out.
A lot of the cost could be recouped by selling carparks in Civic or charging their true economic cost.
But if people do not use buses why would they use rail? Buses are hard to get into and out of – people do not disgorge from buses the way they do from trains.
Also, there has been an unjustified social stigma about buses. Buses came after the car and were seen a vehicles for those who could not afford a car. Trains, however, came before the motor car. English literature is riddled with examples of the upper and professional classes using trains, reading The Times. The stigma has hung over. Also, trains have a romance about them, besides being much roomier than buses.
The compelling point is the efficiency of trains against cars. Only a 10cm-wide surface has to be kept smooth for a train track; one hundred times that has to be kept smooth of road surface. Between cities, a train can cart 100 semi-trailer loads of goods – much more efficient than 100 semi-trailers.
With a car we move hundreds of kilograms of metal to carry a tenth of that weight in bodies. And the total fuel bill of the community is horrendous.
It is not a matter of getting rid of cars, but of reducing the need for a second, third or even fourth car that some families have.
But it will take great political courage to scrap the Gungahlin road and do rail instead. Initially it will be seen as “denying the rights” of Gungahlin residents to have a road and “wasting taxpayers’ money on a white elephant. However, with an oil war upon us, the white elephant is the road, not the rail and, if the rail is built, ultimately other residents of Canberra will be jealous of it.