It seems like a lifetime ago, but this time last year a delegation organised by the Committee for Geelong travelled to China to research a new, transformative transport technology — trackless trams.

Just last weekend, the federal Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure, Alan Tudge, announced $2m for the development of a business case to investigate trackless trams for a route in Western Australia.

“This is ground-breaking technology that has the potential to be rolled out across our cities. Being a fraction of the cost of traditional rail solutions it could enable a massive expansion of public transport, it is very exciting,” Minister Tudge said.

This federally funded business case will establish the economics of trackless tram as an alternative to light rail in Australia, the planning requirements associated and estimated timelines, and the necessary business growth and other indicators that would establish a successful route.

As Minister Tudge said, this is exciting and the Committee for Geelong’s position regarding the potential for this technology has been well documented.

Since our delegation to China last year, we have held multiple briefings with stakeholders and have been working with national place-design advisory firm, Urbis, to further refine the opportunity for Victoria and Geelong.

According to Urbis director Breton Fleming, the technology is also being explored across Australia, with a proposal for a 20km route with 15 vehicles currently being considered by the NSW government.

“Sunshine Coast and Brisbane city councils in Queensland, Liverpool City Council, Sydney City and Inner West councils in NSW, Stirling, Rockingham, Freemantle, South Perth in Western Australia and the Tasmanian government for Hobart are all actively investigating the trackless tram,” Mr Fleming said.

“While there are numerous technologies out there coming under the loose definition of ‘trackless tram’ most are based on bus technology, are too heavy for an Australian context or have been previously considered and discounted as a viable option.

“This Autonomous Rail Rapid Transport (AART) system is the latest ‘trackless tram’ to be seriously considered.

“The ARRT system is built by the largest rolling stock manufacturer in the world (CRRC), which is presently manufacturing Victoria’s new high-capacity Metro trains.

“The ARRT system uses a tram chassis and high-speed train technology rather than bus chassis, and it runs on rubber tyres on existing roads, is battery powered and thus does not require tracks or wires along its route.

“It also has the capacity of a modern tram.”

In September, the City of Greater Geelong’s CBD Engagement Taskforce reported that the trackless tram was considered the number one solution to issues in our public transport system.

In essence, the trackless tram or AART system currently being used in China could form part of the solution to car parking issues in central Geelong while also providing an attractor to people needing to get in and around the city for work, travel, shopping and entertainment.

As Geelong looks to rebuild its economy post-pandemic, we need to be bold and hold to aspirations that position our city to be sustainable, attractive and well designed.

The trackless tram may just be the catalytic project to unlocking the potential of our central district and to connect our city from Corio Bay to the Barwon River and beyond.

Jennifer Cromarty
CEO, Committee for Geelong