Under the proposed staging strategy, a bridge would be built over Parramatta River near Sydney Olympic Park, and the light rail line extended in two phases: from Camellia to Melrose Park; and via the new bridge to Wentworth Point and Sydney Olympic Park.
The internal review said the section between Melrose Park and Wentworth Point via the proposed 325-metre bridge “could be considered as a candidate for trackless tram operations”.
It warned that operating trackless trams along the entire second stage would “add travel time and inconvenience penalties for some trips” because passengers would have to switch to conventional light rail vehicles at Camellia.
The review into the suitability of trackless trams for the Parramatta light rail project found that buying trackless trams on a “competitive basis may present challenges” because of a lack of suppliers. It said there did not “appear to be any other suppliers” of the trackless tram sought other than that developed by Chinese company CRRC.
Special access to operate on the road network was also likely to be required because CRRC’s trackless trams were at least 32 metres long. The maximum length of heavy vehicles that can operate on Sydney’s roads with “general access” is 19 metres.
Road pavements were also likely to have to be designed specifically for trackless trams, while bridges may have to be altered to accommodate their loads. Furthermore, the standard design of roadside barriers “may not cater for the dynamic behaviour of trackless trams in an impact situation”.
Transport for NSW reviewed trackless trams made by China’s CRRC, whose 32-metre long trackless trams can carry 300 people and run autonomously between two white lines on a road.
Mr Constance’s office declined to comment on the report, referring questions to Transport for NSW.
Labor finance spokesman Daniel Mookhey said the Transport Minister was peddling a “whacky project that his own department warns is untested”.
“This secret memo warns trackless trams are uncompetitive, untested and unsuitable for a city like Parramatta,” he said. “[Mr Constance] should explain why he is abandoning stage two of the Parramatta light rail despite promising it at two successive elections.”
The internal review of trackless trams is contained in bundles of sensitive documents tabled to Parliament, in response to a call for papers by Mr Mookhey.
Western Sydney Business Chamber executive director David Borger said trackless trams seemed to have “questionable viability” and the government should build the light rail line it promised.
“If the government wants to test out trackless trams, it would be better to do it on a different route, not something that is earmarked for an extension of the light rail network,” he said.
Transport for NSW said it was continuing to investigate emerging transport technologies, such as trackless trams, for potential use as part of an integrated network.
It said a number of considerations, such as city-shaping benefits, were taken into account when assessing which transport mode was right for the broader network.
The agency said the government was still considering the final business case for stage two of the light rail project, and an investment decision would follow.
Matt O’Sullivan is City Editor at The Sydney Morning Herald.