The Adelaide O-Bahn Busway is a guided busway located in Adelaide, South Australia. The O-Bahn – from the Latin omnibus ("for all people") and the German bahn (railway, as in S-Bahn and U-Bahn) – was conceived by Daimler-Benz to enable buses to avoid traffic congestion by sharing tram tunnels in the German city of Essen.
Adelaide's O-Bahn was introduced in 1986 to service the city's rapidly expanding north-eastern suburbs, replacing an earlier plan for a tramway extension. The Adelaide O-bahn was the first bus rapid transit system in Australia and among the first to operate in the world.
The O-bahn design is unique among public transport systems; busways typically use dedicated bus lanes or separate carriageways, but the O-Bahn runs on specially built track, combining elements of both bus and rail systems. Adelaide's track is 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) long and includes three interchanges: Klemzig Interchange in Klemzig, Paradise Interchange in Campbelltown and Tea Tree Plaza Interchange in Modbury. Interchanges allow buses to enter and exit the busway and to continue on suburban routes, avoiding the need for passengers to change. Buses travel at a maximum speed of 100 km/h (62 mph), and the busway is capable of carrying 18,000 passengers an hour, from the Central Business District to Tea Tree Plaza in 15 minutes. Services are operated under contract from Adelaide Metro, an agency of the South Australian Department for Transport, Energy and Infrastructure.
It was planned that bus routes serving the O-Bahn would be enhanced from Hackney Road along Grenfell and Currie streets and extended to West Terrace on the far side of the CBD along dedicated bus lanes. However, the Federal Government announced in January 2011, as part of its response to the 2010–2011 Queensland floods, that the extension would be cancelled "as a result of a significant scope reduction of the original project, resulting in only limited transport benefits".
Adelaide has had significant population growth since the industrial expansion following World War II, with the population having more than doubled from 312,619 in 1933 to 727,916 in 1966. In addition to the growing population, there was an explosion in the number of new motor vehicle registrations, a 43-fold increase in the period from 1944–65. This was fuelled by nation-wide full employment, annual economic growth close to 10%, and the discontinuation of government fuel rationing after World War II. Across Australia as a whole, the car was seen as a personal liberator and what was not long earlier a domain of the wealthy was sought after by mainstream society. Concurrent with this growth, a transport blueprint, developed with American assistance, was presented in 1968: the Metropolitan Adelaide Transport Study (MATS). The plan envisaged a large network of freeways crossing the metropolitan area, together with an underground city loop railway. One of the freeways to be constructed was the Modbury Freeway, connecting a city bypass route with the then predominantly barren and undeveloped north-eastern suburbs. The freeway was to be built in a linear park alongside the River Torrens.
The size of the MATS plan resulted in considerable public opposition; several suburbs were to completely disappear under interchanges, with Hindmarsh to be removed to make way for a multi-entry interchange. Widespread images of gridlock in similar overseas freeway networks also contributed to this opposition. The plan was abandoned by successive governments, and much of the land held by the Highways Department was sold off for housing developments. However, the land for the Modbury Freeway was retained and later renamed from "Modbury Freeway Corridor" to "Modbury Transport Corridor". The Modbury corridor was left to degrade, eventually becoming landfill.
The population of the Tea Tree Gully region increased from 2,561 in 1954 to 91,921 in 2001, through new housing developments. In 1973, the State Director-General of Transport spoke about using the Modbury corridor for public transport to improve services in the area, initially suggesting a heavy rail line be constructed to connect with the railway system. Over the next four years, the Department conducted the North East Public Transport Review (NEAPTR), which considered heavy rail, light rail, busways and freeways as options for the corridor. The study concluded in 1978 that a light rail line or busway were most viable. The governing Australian Labor Party, under Premier Don Dunstan, decided on a light rail proposal to extend the historic Glenelg tram. The new route was to continue along King William Street beyond the present terminus in Victoria Square and weave through the Adelaide Park Lands to the Modbury corridor.
The light rail system was to connect with feeder buses at stations along the length of the corridor to transfer passengers onto suburban routes. New light rail vehicles were to be bought to replace the ageing 1929 H-Class vehicles. However, public opposition to the project was broad; the Adelaide City Council objected to the plan on the basis that it would interfere with the well-designed layout of the city proper. In response, the Government altered the plan to redirect the line underneath the city, significantly increasing the cost. Residents in inner-city suburbs such as St Peters were concerned about the noise of the light rail vehicles, and protested against any disruption of the Torrens Gorge, which lies in the Modbury corridor. The Liberal MP for Torrens, Michael Wilson, representing the north-eastern suburbs, vocally opposed the project on behalf of his constituents.
Drilling commenced on the tunnel, but the resignation in 1979 of popular Premier Dunstan weakened the Government, along with widespread bus strikes and public dissatisfaction with the light rail project. In elections held that year, the Liberal Party gained government with a swing of 11% in their favour. Wilson became Transport Minister in the new cabinet and construction of the light rail project was halted immediately.
In search of a replacement for the light rail project, the new Government sent experts to examine an innovative guided bus system being developed in West Germany by Daimler-Benz for use in tram tunnels in Essen. After extensive consultations with German authorities, State Transport Department engineers decided the O-Bahn could be used. The system was seen as far superior to previous proposals; it used less land, made less noise, was faster and cost less. In addition, its unique feature of a non-transfer service direct from suburban streets to the city centre made it more attractive. Plans were drawn up for a length of 12 kilometres (7.5 mi): initially only three kilometres (1.9 mi) were to be constructed as O-Bahn, with the rest being conventional busway. However, safety concerns and public opposition led to O-Bahn being used for the entire length. Construction began in 1983 for the first section to Paradise Interchange. In 1982 the Tonkin Liberal Government that oversaw the O-Bahn's development lost office and was succeeded by the Bannon-led Labor Party resulting in uncertainty over the future of the project. The Bannon Government, after consultations, decided to continue with Stage 1 (City to Paradise) and in 1986 proceeded with Stage 2 (Paradise to Tea Tree Plaza). The cost of the project totalled $98 million, including the buses.
The O-Bahn had more than 4 million passenger trips in the year after completion of Stage 1 in 1986, with a 30% increase the following year. When the completed O-Bahn was opened on 20 August 1989, passenger numbers rose another 17%. The Adelaide public transport system was privatised in the 1990s and overall patronage across all systems (bus, rail and tram) dropped 25%. The exception to this was the O-Bahn with no decrease, and there were 19,500 passenger trips daily in 1996 (7.13 million a year). Currently there are 22,000 passenger trips daily (8 million a year).
There have been a number of proposals to extend the O-Bahn to Golden Grove and to the southern suburbs. An extension to Golden Grove would require the acquisition of extensive tracts of private property, in the absence of an available corridor. Population increase in the area is negligible, although sprawl continues from Tea Tree Plaza Interchange for another eight kilometres to the Adelaide Hills. The current route was built with an allowance for a station at Grand Junction Road but it has not been built.
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The southern O-Bahn proposal has attracted the most attention and has been the subject of various studies and Parliamentary Committees as to its viability since 1996. The rail route through Adelaide's far south is off-centre, without the large catchment area of a more central transport route. An O-Bahn running direct through the region would be able to take advantage of an already large population and the continuing growth in the area. The most suggested route for an O-Bahn has been for an alignment adjacent to the Noarlunga rail line from the city to the Tonsley branch line. The O-Bahn would end there, with buses continuing on an upgraded (dual-carriageway) Southern Expressway through the far south. Construction of this O-Bahn would require moving the railway track slightly to fit the O-Bahn alongside. In addition, Emerson Crossing and the tram overpass would require huge alteration. The estimated cost of construction, A$182 million, was considered too expensive, and the proposal was suspended in 2001. The current Labor Government has focused on road upgrades and an inner-city light rail extension.
The purchase of 160 buses at a cost of $120 million is to take place over the five years from 2007 to 2012 to replace buses used on the O-Bahn and inner city routes, where the fleet is near its 25-year age limit. With the contract expected to be finalised by June 2007, the first buses are planned to be delivered in 2008. Being replaced are the current $90 million contract for 170 buses won by Scania with Custom Coaches from 2001 over five years. With the new contract, Adelaide expects to be at 89% disability accessible by 2013 and fully accessible by 2022, and all buses will be air-conditioned by 2013. There are also plans to upgrade the O-Bahn track and interchanges with a new state of the art ticketing system. It is planned that weekday travel by public transport will double by 2018.
The O-Bahn track is made of concrete; it is elevated above ground because of the poor quality of alluvial soils along the River Torrens, which frequently move due to seismic shifts due to their high level of plasticity. Large concrete pylons were cast into the ground to ensure stability, to a depth of up to four metres. On top of the pylons are concrete sleepers on which the track runs. 5,600 pylons were drilled in place to support 5,600 sleepers and 4,200 prefabricated L-shaped track pieces, sited at 12-metre (40-ft) intervals. The width of both tracks, sitting on the sleepers, is 6.2 metres (20 ft). The O-Bahn's concrete tracks were narrower and lighter than those of the initially proposed light rail development, and put less stress on the land. The concrete components were precast and then laid onto piers.
At the city end, the O-Bahn begins at Hackney Road, opposite the East Parklands, where it enters a 60-metre (200-ft) tunnel at a speed limited to 40 km/h (25 mph), due to the tight initial corner, ensuring that the rear tyres (especially trailer tyres of articulated buses) do not 'scrub' against the track. Speed is gradually increased to 80 km/h (50 mph) for most of the trip to Klemzig Interchange. Once en route to Paradise Interchange, the speed limit is 100 km/h (62 mph), with 90 km/h (56 mph) on tighter corners. The limit on the remaining section to Tea Tree Plaza Interchange varies between 100 km/h (62 mph), 90 km/h (56 mph) and 80 km/h (50 mph). The average speed including stops is about 60 km/h (37 mph). On some sections 115 km/h (71 mph) has been easily achieved in tests. On entering interchanges the O-Bahn ends and the speed limit is 40 km/h (25 mph). In the interchange area, the speed limit is 20 km/h (12 mph). The O-Bahn is officially considered a road, due to a court ruling in the early years of the system's operation. This ruling permits the South Australia Police to install speed cameras and fine speeding drivers.
Cars entering the O-Bahn are deterred by a large number of signs at entrance points and a "sump buster" device that rips out a car's sump (oil pan) if it gets onto the track. An average of four cars per year enter the O-Bahn and must be removed by crane.
The first buses to enter service on the O-Bahn were specially modified Mercedes-Benz O305 models. A fleet comprising 41 rigid and 51 articulated buses was purchased, their cost included in the original $98 million budget. The chassis were bought from Germany and heavily modified at the Mitsubishi Motors plant in Clovelly Park. The rigid buses had their power increased to 240 hp (180 kW) and the articulateds to 280 hp (210 kW); they were the first buses to travel at a speed of 100 km/h on suburban routes. Modified Scania and MAN buses were later introduced. The O-Bahn fleet currently consists mainly of Scania K230UB and Scania K280UB rigid buses, Scania K320UA articulated buses and a single Mercedes-Benz O405NH. All buses have ABS brakes and are able to stop within two bus lengths.
In the case of breakdowns, a specially designed vehicle nicknamed 'Dumbo' is used to tow buses from the O-Bahn. In the early stages of design it was intended that all buses would have towing ability; however, this was soundly rejected by the drivers' union and 'Dumbo' was purchased. If a bus tyre blows during a trip the guide-wheel prevents the bus from erratic movement, and a smaller aluminium inner tyre allows the bus to be driven to the nearest station at 40 km/h (25 mph).
The guide-wheel, which protrudes from the front sides and aligns with the track, is the most important part of the bus when travelling on the O-Bahn. Connected directly to the steering mechanism, it 'steers' the bus while on the track and prevents the main tyres from rubbing against the sides of the track. While it is not strictly necessary for drivers to hold the steering wheel when travelling on the O-Bahn because of the guide-wheel, safety procedures require the driver to be alert to their circumstances at all times. A rumble strip before stations is a reminder that they need to resume control. The guide-wheel is the most delicate part of the system and is designed to snap off upon sharp impact; before the O-Bahn was in place, a number of buses were fitted with guide-wheels for their ordinary routes to test their durability. Drivers were forced to be more cautious on their normal trips after numerous guide-wheel-to-kerb impacts.
Klemzig Interchange is the first station, three kilometres (1.8 mi) from the city centre in the suburb of Klemzig, Payneham. It was built as a connector to the city loop 'Circle Line' bus service, which follows the Adelaide outer ring route, not as a bus interchange. Many bus services bypass Klemzig and the station has limited capacity. It contains a "Park 'n' Ride" carpark with 215 spaces.
Paradise Interchange is the second station, six kilometres (3.7 mi) from the city centre, in Paradise, Campbelltown. The terminus before the completion of Stage 2, it is now served by buses from suburban streets, and has 475 carparking spaces.
Tea Tree Plaza Interchange is the terminus, 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) from the city centre, in Modbury, Tea Tree Gully. Adjacent to the Westfield Tea Tree Plaza, it is the largest O-Bahn station. Bus services from this interchange connect to areas as far away as Elizabeth and service the Golden Grove area. It has 700 carparking spaces, after a multiple level carpark was built during a redevelopment in 2013 .
Effects on local development
The O-Bahn has caused a clustering of commercial and community development near the Tea Tree Plaza Interchange, as service-providing organisations and businesses have sought to exploit the area's easy accessibility to public transport and the city centre. Market imperatives have also been aided by the zoning of the land around the area as commercial rather than residential. The area around Tea Tree Plaza is one of five designated regional centres within the Adelaide metropolis. According to Robert Cervero, the O-Bahn has "accelerated the conversion of Tea Tree Gully from a somewhat sterile new town designed around a regional shopping mall to an emerging urban village featuring a wide range of land uses". The large Modbury Hospital is located adjacent to the interchange, and the Torrens Valley campus of TAFE was built directly to the east of the busway after it opened. One government high school, three primary schools, one Christian school and three retirement villages are within a kilometre of the interchange. In contrast, there has been opposition to the area surrounding Klemzig Interchange and Paradise Interchange being used for any purpose other than low-density housing and no transit-oriented development has occurred.
The O-Bahn uses the standard Adelaide Metro ticketing system. Single-trip adult tickets are subsidised by $2.90 by the South Australian Government, compared with the $8.80 subsidy for a journey on the rail system. Tickets are sold at interchanges and on buses. There are different fares for students and concession-card holders and at off-peak times.
A standard peak ticket costs $5.00 and an off-peak single-trip ticket costs $3.10 and is valid for two hours. Unlimited day tickets ($9.40 regular, $4.70 concession) and Metrocards are available. Single-trip concession tickets are $2.60 peak ($2.50 for high school students) and $1.30 off peak. Tickets can be used across all Adelaide Metro services, including trams and trains; they require validation upon entry to a vehicle. Failure to produce a ticket incurs a $220.00 fine. Note - Metrocards are not available for purchase on buses.
The construction of the O-Bahn, rather than the previously touted Modbury Freeway, was motivated by a desire to reduce car dependency. $6 million was used for the redevelopment of the Torrens Gorge, in which the Torrens Linear Park was created. About 150,000 trees, plants and shrubs were planted alongside the track for aesthetic, environmental and noise-reduction purposes; planting was completed in 1997. Walking trails and cycling paths were built along the park to encourage public use. Torrens Linear Park rejuvenated the river, which had deteriorated to the extent of being a de facto "urban drain, littered with rubbish and inaccessible to the public". Arising from environmental considerations, the O-Bahn is carbon-neutral due to the absorption of carbon dioxide by the trees alongside it. The track itself is situated in a valley due to it being near a riverbed and the elevation was further lowered by digging further depressions in order to reduce the noise impact on adjacent dwellings.
The original buses ran on diesel fuel, but the system allows for buses that run on alternative energy sources. Biodiesel fuel was trialled between July 2005 and May 2006. Buses using natural gas have been trialled, although they have not seen regular usage due to a perceived lack of power, especially on the section of the down track immediately after Paradise Interchange where the track rises sharply. The design of the O-Bahn provides for the installation of overhead wires for trolleybuses.
Geographic map from Adelaide Metro official website.
- Other busway systems
- Bus rapid transit
- List of bus rapid transit systems
- Implementation of bus rapid transit by country
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to O-Bahn Busway.|
- Adelaide's Freeways – A History from MATS to the Port River Expressway, Ozroads
- The Adelaide O-Bahn, Adelaide Metro
- Adelaide O-Bahn (Northeast) Busway, Australian Towns, Cities & Highways
- Government of South Australia, Legislative Council Hansard, 15 October 1996 (Southern O-Bahn debate)
- Government of South Australia, Legislative Council Hansard, 11 April 2000 (Southern O-Bahn debate)
- Government of South Australia, Legislative Council Hansard, 3 May 2006 (Mark Parnell on MATS)
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- North-East Facts, northeast.net.au
- On the O-Bahn with Keith Conlon, Postcards
- Adelaide Metro