Balance Research
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"In looking ahead many decades, to the time when total transport tasks will have doubled and redoubled, Balance Research believes that society, if it has been well informed, will not allow the volumes carried by road to be much greater than they are today."

-- Balance Research 1999

Our leaders, at all levels of government, are taking positions on the importance of infrastructure for road and rail.

Balance Research would like to say to those leaders who are promoting major road infrastructure: "Don't lock yourselves into a position where you must go ahead with major road infrastructure even if you discover, in time, that rail would be better value".

"You may, on reflection, realise that rail will use less resources and provide more passenger capacity for the same money."

Rail tunnels and road tunnels are both very costly per kilometre (e.g. four road lanes, or two rail tracks) but when compared "per thousand passengers per peak hour" there is just no comparison.

The number of vehicles that might use a particular facility over a 24-hour period would not usually be an important indicator of how it might improve traffic flow. It is the peak capacity that really indicates what difference it will make. And increasing peak capacity of highways involves a lot of land, a lot of disruption, enormous costs, and in the end, will always be used up until the facility congests as before.

Balance Research has maintained over the years that increasing highway capacity to eliminate congestion is not a viable policy. The highways must, unfortunately, be allowed to congest provided that public transport and rail freight are continuously improved to meet the needs of travellers and shippers. Appropriate charges for use of the facility, to be borne by the person who decides to use it, are an important part of the equation. The "appropriate charge" is not the average of all costs but the marginal cost of additional resources engaged (per extra million vehicle kilometres or per extra million passenger kilometres on public transport).

A road lane, operating at safe separations, can carry about 1800 vehicles per hour, assuming normal speed range and no large vehicles. With typical occupancy, this could equate to 2000 persons per hour per lane. This could rise to 2500 with more sharing of car rides.

The examples below are based on current proposals in Melbourne for a road tunnel and a rail tunnel, on different corridors. But these principles would apply to other possible projects.

A rail track, using modern separation methods and longer trains, can carry between 20,000 and 40,000 passengers per hour.

Two additional road lanes, per direction, in tunnel, where the present three open-air lanes are congested in the peak, will provide for an increase from about 5000 vehicles per hour to about 9000. That capacity is expected to be fully used by increased traffic, resulting in similar levels of congestion, within a few years.

Two additional rail tracks in tunnel are proposed, providing relief for the present four tracks and also providing improved travel opportunities with new stations in several busy locations. They will link both eastern and western locations into the city area and provide, ultimately, for up to 80,000 journeys per hour.

That is the equivalent of about 20 additional road lanes into and 20 out of the city on the east and the same again on the west.

Road safety statistics (as collisions per million vehicle-kilometres travelled) are improving. But the actual number of collisions is not improving at that rate because total traffic is growing. It is desirable that infrastructure investments be designed to reduce the growth of road traffic, so directly lowering the toll of road trauma.