Canberra Electric Highway


  1. Introduction
  2. Interim Transit Lane
  3. Electric Highway
  4. The e-Taxi

    See Also

  5. Belconnen to City Transitway Submission
  6. Other Transport Technology
  7. Home


Australian electric car by Shaun Williams

In 2005 the Australian Capital Territory Government asked for ideas on how to celibate Canberra's centenary in 2013. The Canberra Electric Highway project is one suggestion. It proposes the construction of a renewable energy powered transit system for Canberra, with an international conference in 2013 to report progress.

The ACT Government has proposed a bus transitway from the north western satellite town of Belconnen, to the center of Canberra (called "Civic"). Two possible routes have been chosen for further examination.

Both routes being considered by the ACT Government for the busway involve considerable expense, with tunnels and bridges to be built. These also involve the loss of native vegetation, with extensive new roads in a woodland area. The same area has been subject to protests and extensive legal action over the Gungahlin Drive Extension in the same area. There is likely to be political and legal objection to the proposed bus way, delaying work and increasing costs.

The bus transit-way is being designed to allow it to be upgraded to light rail (trams) in the future. But conventional light rail requires a higher population than is planned for Canberra. So the transitway will use conventional diesel busses for the foreseeable future.

An alternative policy is proposed which would start with a transit lane on the existing highway, to be later upgraded to a computer guided, renewable energy transit system. The transit lane can be built quickly at low cost (and with little political risk). This can be upgraded as technology becomes available.

ACT Government proposals

ACT Government is considering two options for a transitway:

Belconnen to City transitway routes 1C and 2C

The transitway (a dedicated road separated from other road users) between Belconnen and the City is a significant initiative aimed at achieving the Sustainable Transport Plan targets. ...

The two routes, were selected because they had the lowest level of impact on the environment, will serve a number of locations between Belconnen and the City, including the University of Canberra, Radford College, Calvary Hospital, Canberra Institute of Technology, Australian Institute of Sport, Canberra Stadium, CSIRO and the Australian National University. ...

Belconnen to City transitway routes 1C and 2C, From "The Sustainable Transport Plan", ACT Planning and Land Authority, 3 April, 2006

Wile it is claimed the routes, were selected because they had the lowest level of impact on the environment, both will require clearing of existing native woodland in a area already subject to resident opposition and legal appeals. The routes will require extensive roadworks, with bridges and tunnels. The cost is estimated at $115 million.

Alternative: Transit Lane Now, Electric Highway Later

Interim Transit Lane Now

A lower cost alternative to the Belconnen City Transitway would be a transit lane on the existing roadway. This would require minor roadworks (and some paint) to turn one of the three lanes on Belconnen Way into a transit lane and the widening of connecting roads. Traffic lights would be reprogrammed to give busses priority. This work could be done by 2013 at a far lower cost than a dedicated transitway, while providing many of the benefits. The ACT Government could reserve the land needed for a full light rail system, if that became feasible in the future.

Solar Power for Belconnen Bus Interchange

Some of the funds saved by not building the Belconnen City Transitway could be spent on refurbishing the Belconnen Bus Interchange. The roof of the interchange could be replaced with translucent photo voltaic panels, such as those invented at the Australian National University. These would then be used to power the interchange, provide power to the grid. In future the power could be used to recharge battery and electric vehicles.

Electric Highway

Beijing Trolley Bus

The electric highway would provide electrical mains power to vehicles on transit lanes. Initially the electric power would be used by hybrid diesel/electric busses, such as those using the GM/Allison Transmission-powered Hybrid Transit Bus. Unlike electric trolley busses, such as those in Beijing, the hybrid busses would be able to operate on normal roads under diesel power (or use bio-diesel or gas powered), as well as on the highway under electric power.

The electric power would be derived from Australian solar technology, wind or hydro renewable sources. The power distribution system would take advantage of advances in electronics to provide a safe and low visibility system.

Reva NXG Electric Car

Canberra's low population density is not sufficient to support conventional light rail (trams). Nor is it likely to in the foreseeable future. An alternative would be to provide electrical power for hybrid diesel/electric busses on major routes.

Initially the electric highway would be for conventionally steered busses with drivers. This could later be expanded to include commercial vehicles and passenger cars. Battery powered electric cars, such as India's Reva NXG could be recharged while running on the highway. Parts of the highway could be completely automated with steering and brakes under computer control. These systems would utilize research in Canberra on smart cars and simulation of passengers and vehicles on public transport networks. Other initiatives would encourage the use of battery and hybrid vehicles (see the accompanying proposal for "ePod: Cooperative Environmentally Sustainable Housing for the Disabled").

Cars offer unique challenges in human-machine interaction. Vehicles are becoming, in effect, robotic systems that collaborate with the driver.

As the automated systems become more capable, how best to manage the on-board human resources is an intriguing question. Combining the strengths of machines and humans, and mitigating their shortcomings is the goal of intelligent-vehicle research.

With mobile computing already encroaching into vehicles, this project aims to develop intelligent systems and technologies that will truly aid the driver and enhance road safety.

The research is centred around road context awareness through computational vision and supplementary sensors. Road awareness is then combined with driver gaze monitoring to demonstrate holistic, intuitive driver support.

From: "Smart Cars", Research School of Information Sciences and Engineering, ANU.

Bishop Austrans rapid transit system. Public transport systems of the future will feature high-tech vehicles supported, behind the scenes, by revolutionary control and scheduling systems that will make timetables redundant say CSIRO scientists.

CSIRO has developed software that simulates the movement of passengers and vehicles around track-based public transport networks that are designed to carry large numbers of people.

The software, called RTSim (Rapid Transit Simulator), lets researchers study the effects of changing design and operation parameters of this type of public transport system. ...

From: Public transport of the future, Media Release, Ref 2004/69, CSIRO, Apr 27, 2004

Cabling an Electric Highway

Electric busses were developed in the 1880s. These used a "trolley" (thus the term "trolleybus" or "trolley-bus") or pantograph to collect current overhead wires, similar to those for light rail (trams). Modern trolley busses are made by companies such as SKODA with their 24 Tr IRISBUS.

The problem with trolleybuses has been the need for an extensive overhead cable network to distribute power and the confinement of the busses to this network. A more recent development is to include batteries and a diesel engine to allow hybrid operation. Such vehicles can operate on the electric network and then leave it to operate as a conventional diesel powered bus, or just battery power for short intervals. This allows electrification to be gradually introduced on main routes. It can also be used where internal combustion engines are restricted, such as in long tunnels (not an issue in Canberra but in Sydney).

Cable-in-Road Option

Light rail and trolleybuses use overhead wires to deliver power for safety reasons. This separates the high voltage cables from pedestrians. This system requires careful design, installation and maintenance of the overhead power cables. Complex situations arise where two systems cross, as in Melbourne's electric train and tram network. However, if the vehicles have an independent power source, such as batteries, many of the complexities of the power distribution system are eliminated. Wires need not be run through intersections. Also modern power electronics can cope with different voltages. The supply voltage could be reduced to a safe level for low speed use in pedestrian access areas, such as the 42 volts, agreed by the automotive industry.

A light rail system will typically use 600 Volts or higher. A trolleybus such as the articulated Skoda 25 has a motor of 240 kW. A trolley bus requires about 9.84 MJ/km at an average speed, including layovers, of 15.2 km/h. This is about 41Kw average power requirement. This would draw about 69.2 amps at 600 volts, 692 amps at 60 volts.

Road level "Third Rail" systems are commonly used for metro railways, but has been used in used in southern England for trains (including the Eurostar), running at up to 160 km/h. For railways and metros, the third rail is fenced off to prevent pedestrian access. A roadway could be similarly fenced. Fences could be supplemented by an automated security system to cut the power if a pedestrian or vehicle breakdown is detected.

The e-Taxi

The electric highway is intended for high capacity routes, such as a transitway. Vehicles would operate on battery power at bus interchanges and diesel on normal suburban streets. However, electrical power at lower voltage could be used in areas with frequent access. This would allow electric mutli-hire taxis to operate on inner city streets at low speed and then share the electric highway with large busses for longer distances. An automated booking system using the web and mobile phones could be used to provide much of the convenience of a taxi, but at a cost closer to that of a bus for the passenger. These vehicles would be similar in size and use to the Bishop Austrans rapid transit system, but be adaptions of mass produced commercial vehicles, running on modified roads. The Austrans system requires specially designed vehicles on a separate rail network.

Part of a Transport Strategy

The Electric Highway could be part of an integrated transport strategy with high technology Hybrid Fast Train to Sydney Airport and heritage trams.

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