Managing junctions, turnouts, points and crossings can be a significant challenge for light rail operators. With their track and electrical overhead system located within busy road environments, the design, maintenance and renewal of light rail networks has to factor in the surrounding traffic. Older tram networks must also consider how existing track geometry, sub-structure and associated civil design best integrates with the existing environment.

Yarra Trams, the world’s largest tram network, is facing these challenges in its bid to integrate, maintain and modernise an old network. Once complete, the network will need to comply with Rail Safety National Law, meet accessibility standards, and satisfy the public’s growing expectations around safety and reliability.

Yarra Trams Head of Engineering, Civil and Structural Systems Dianne Banks says she is confident the upgrades will make a positive impact on both rail and road users.

“Keolis Downer is working with the Victorian Department of Transport and Planning to move our crossovers and turnouts to better locations, where there is reduced impact to road traffic to deliver a more efficient network. We are also designing curves, especially in H-crossing and crossovers, to reduce rail wear and better integrate our network with the community,” she said.

However, the work to date has not been without challenges. As a result of the busy operating environment there have been unique difficulties around power management and space utilisation, Ms Banks said.

“We have had to challenge the status-quo regarding the balancing of power requirements for our trams. There are over nine different tram models with differing associated power and track requirements. Our light-rail network also includes three rail squares, where standard and broad gauge intersect, and 1500 DC heavy rail trains share the track with 600 DC light rail trains.

“On top of that, the majority of our network is integrated with the road environment. This does not allow us to design larger curves, nor incorporate sufficient cant to assist in steering the tram around curves, maintaining the wheel-rail interface, and minimising wheel wear and rail squeal of the tracks; so the rail wears out at an increased rate.”

With Victoria’s population growing, these challenges will become more complex, with added traffic on the surrounding roads.

“There are a range of design and track constraints with our legacy network, so we have had to be strategic about where we place junctions, turnouts and crossings. These are placed to enable route flexibility for deviations and support special events. They also add operational flexibility when our trams are required to run a short due to a variety of reasons,” Ms Banks said.

Reflecting more on these challenges and sharing insights on Yarra Trams’ approach, Dianne Banks will present at the Rail Turnouts Conference, hosted by Informa connect. This year’s event will be held on March 28, 2023 at The Ritz-Carlton, Perth in Western Australia. Registrations are now open.

About Dianne Banks:

Dianne Banks is Head of Engineering, Civil and Structural Systems at Yarra Trams. She has worked in public transport, including Yarra Trams, MTM, VicRoads and the Department of Transport & Planning for over twenty years. She is also a development group member for a number of RISSB standards, both ongoing and published.

As part of her current role, she is the technical authority and subject matter expert for Civil and Structural issues within Yarra Trams. Recently she has been leading the transition of a number of RISSB standard to include light rail and provides subject matter advice for both rolling stock and infrastructure projects as part of the Victorian State Government’s Big Build Program, Level Crossing Removal and Next Generation Tram projects.

About Yarra Trams:

Melbourne’s legacy tram network is one of the oldest in the world and boasts more than 250 kilometres of double track. With operations running 24 hours a day, it operates nearly 500 trams, servicing approximately 1,700 stops. Around 75 per cent of its rail corridor is shared with cars – considerably more than similar networks in Europe, which general share only 25-35 percent. Yarra Trams carries more than 200 million passengers in a normal year, making it one of the world’s busiest light rail networks. Yarra Trams is proudly operated by Keolis Downer, Australia’s largest private multi-modal transport operator.