Transportation Planning Casebook/Liverpool Trackless Tram

The Liverpool Trackless Tram project is a part of the larger FAST (Fifteenth Avenue Smart Transit) design network. The main aim of this transit line is to provide fast and regular public transport from the Liverpool CBD to the new Western Sydney International Airport. The project is still under a planning phase with the Liverpool City Council collaborating with Curtin University to develop a driverless, rechargeable electric vehicle system which is guided by GPS. The transit system is planned to operate at a fraction of the cost of light rails and will link the Liverpool City Council to the airport in just 20 minutes. The trackless tram transit system is anticipated to open by 2026.

Trackless tram has distinctive benefits when compared to its nearest competitors, light rail and bus rapid system. A report by the Sustainable Built Environment, National Research Centre outlines the following advantages of trackless trams over other systems. These advantages were observed from the trials in Zhuzhou, China.

  1. Trackless trams have the benefit of rubber tyres. This means that elaborate tracks will not have to be laid as is the case with light rail systems. This will cause less disruption in installing trackless trams on any route. Furthermore, there will be limited disruption to adjacent businesses, housing and traffic during initial construction.
  2. TT is being planned to be driverless and will be guided by autonomous guidance systems. The trams will be using virtual railways from optical sensing systems based on GPS and LIDAR. Lines will be pained onto the road for drivers and pedestrians to see. Furthermore, the trams will be electric running on lithium ion batteries located on the roof which will be charged by solar power. This ensures minimum impact to the environment and reduces energy costs.
  3. The major benefit of trackless trams is the cost savings. Light rails require a heavy investment in constructing the stations and tracks. These costs are not required for trackless trams. For instance, the Sydney light rail $AUD246 million per kilometre and the light rail is predicted to cost $AUD4 million per kilometre.
  4. Trackless trams have the potential to provide more comfortable rides. This is partly due to its navigation system as the autonomous system makes it more precise allowing for smoother transition in docking through stations.[1]

Key PointsEdit

  • 19 km corridor on the fifteenth avenue connecting Liverpool CBD to the new airport
  • 20–30 minutes trips to and from Liverpool CBD
  • Part of the FAST framework and the Aerotropolis plan
  • Trackless Trams for smoother, cost-effective and sustainable implementation
  • Intended to start operations in 2026.[2]
Liverpool City Council's vision for the FAST Corridor - artist's impression.[3]

Annotated List of ActorsEdit

Actor Concerns / Issues
Liverpool City Council
  • Led by Mayor Wendy Waller.
  • Signatory of the Western Sydney City Deal.
  • Proponent for the adoption of the trackless tram technology along the transit corridor.
Curtin University
  • Partnering with Liverpool City Council in undertaking research focussing on the opportunity presented by a trackless tram within the Liverpool context.
  • Project led by Professor Peter Newman who specialises in sustainability.
Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development & Cities (DIRDC)
  • Owner of the Western Sydney City Deal.
  • Commitment to deliver rapid bus services from the metropolitan centres of Penrith, Liverpool and Campbelltown to the Western Sydney Airport before it opens in 2026, and to the Badgerys Creek Aerotropolis.
Other Local Councils
  • Blue Mountains, Camden, Campbelltown, Fairfield, Hawkesbury, Penrith and Wollondilly.
  • All signatories and beneficiaries of the Western Sydney City Deal, which is to promote employment and investment within the respective local government areas.
Western Sydney (Nancy-Bird Walton) International Airport
  • Project catalyst and major employment centre.
  • 24/7 flight operations, requiring employees to be present at all times.
  • Will rely upon local and regional connections (road and rail) to service passengers and freight to the site.
Department of Planning, Industry & Environment
  • Responsible for decisions on land use planning and development matters within NSW, including the Western Sydney Aerotropolis.
Transport for NSW
  • Operator of public transport in NSW.
  • Responsible for the delivery of public transport and state road infrastructure.
  • Undertaking corridor preservation to secure land for transport infrastructure to/from the WSIA, including the route of the potential trackless tram.
  • Delivering the M12 Motorway project to provide a motorway connection to the airport, for use on opening.
Community & landowners
  • Affected by land acquisition and potential changes in land zoning.
  • Impacted by the transition from semi-rural to suburbia/urban environment.
  • Potential access to new public transport service.
  • Construction would impact their current way of living.

Identification of Policy IssuesEdit

Justification, need and cost of the service typeEdit

Liverpool City Council has yet to put forward a business case demonstrating feasibility and cost of the project. The costs to construct the infrastructure and operate the service are largely unknown with the only known trial service in Zhuzhou, China from 2018. This process is a determining factor to understand the true potential cost savings against conventional LRT systems that it is being compared against.

In Sydney, two recent light rail projects that costs could be compared to would be:

  • Sydney Light Rail project: Final cost $2.96 billion for 12 km of track length ($246M/km).
  • Parramatta Light Rail project: Estimated cost at $2.4 billion for 12 km of track length ($200M/km).[4]

However, the above project costs reflect factors of repurposing land in built-up urban areas such as extensive utilities relocation as was seen with the Sydney Light Rail Project and enabling works to re-route traffic for the Parramatta Light Rail. The Liverpool Trackless Tram project would unlikely experience these complications and challenges being mostly a greenfield project. Therefore, any cost estimate at a per/km rate likely be much lower.

Perceived benefits of ride qualityEdit

The ride quality benefits of the service aren't necessarily unique. Ride quality is impacted by factors such as:

  • Track gauge
  • Axle loads
  • Alignment geometry, smoother gradients and curves provide better ride quality
  • Pavement quality
  • Vehicle acceleration and deceleration (harsh braking)
  • Level of vehicle priority on right-of-way (such as traffic signals and congestion)
  • Driver training

Existing systems such as bus rapid transit could achieve the same outcome with the right adoption of technologies and bus priority with the right-of-way, such as electric buses within a T-way system designed with smoother gradients and curves.[5][6]

Public transport network designEdit

The vehicle type limits the service offering to origins and destinations along the specific corridor, reducing the ability for feeder services from other suburbs without the need to interchange. The policy issue that arises is whether the state transport agency would want bus-trackless tram transfers. An alternative would be one-seat services on a bus from many origins that converge on the corridor to move people to the airport.


The optical guidance and vehicle systems have been developed by the China Railway Construction Company (CRCC). This technology currently remains as proprietary and there are risks that arise when locked-in to a single supplier.[5]

The technology still requires a driver with the optical guidance systems only to provide assistance to the driver in manoeuvring the vehicle in turning, acceleration and deceleration. As such, it cannot be classed as a fully autonomous service.

Timeline of EventsEdit

Time Event
Jun 2016 Western Sydney City Deal is announced.
Dec 2016 Western Sydney Airport plan finalised by the Minister for Urban Infrastructure. It briefly identifies the intended future ground transport connections to the airport site
Mar 2018 Western Sydney City Deal is signed by the Australian Government, NSW Government and the 8 Local Councils surrounding the Western Sydney Aerotropolis.
Mar 2018 Future Transport Strategy 2056 document released by NSW Government identifying future plans to provide rapid bus connection between Liverpool and the Western Sydney Aerotropolis, for implementation within the next 20 years.
Aug 2018 Western Sydney Aerotropolis Stage 1 Land Use and Infrastructure Implementation Plan exhibited by the Department of Planning, Industry & Environment. It identifies the potential for the extension of the existing Liverpool-Parramatta T-way to the airport via Fifteenth Avenue.
Dec 2018 Western Sydney City Deal Implementation Plan is released, detailing the actions and responsible agencies who would be delivering upon the deal.
Mar 2019 Liverpool City Council announces joint partnership with Curtin University to investigate a trackless tram system between the Liverpool CBD and the Western Sydney International Airport.
Oct 2019 Liverpool City Council unveils their vision for the Fifteenth Avenue Smart Transit (FAST) corridor, which will have a trackless tram service running along it.
Dec 2026 Liverpool Council’s intended completion date of the project.

Maps of LocationsEdit

Liverpool Trackless Tram corridor along Fifteenth Avenue and Hoxton Park Road, providing a connection between the Liverpool CBD and Western Sydney International Airport.[7]

Narrative of the CaseEdit

As part of the City Deal commitment, Liverpool City Council’s goal for development of the FAST corridor to connect the Western Sydney International airport and (at least 70% of its future airport workers) to the Liverpool LGA (Local Government Area) is still in the planning stage. Operation of the corridor before 2026 is still in line with Liverpool City Council’s goals of improved connectivity for suburbs west of Liverpool LGA. Other than the trackless tram, a light rail and autonomous bus system are still considered as possible modes for the rapid transit corridor.[8]

Opinions regarding the installation of a trackless tram for the FAST corridor are generally favourable because of the many benefits it provides. However, the stations for trackless trams will attract development (similar to LRT systems) and encourage urban regeneration. Potential for urban regeneration using trackless tram systems is being realised in Townsville, Sydney and Wyndham, Melbourne. The trackless tram system would also aid visitors and residents of Liverpool to navigate through the CBD. As Liverpool City Council continues its work on the FAST corridor, opportunities of how the Western Sydney Aerotropolis could be linked to the Liverpool CBD with a trackless tram system are being realised.[8][9][10]

The trackless tram would provide the Liverpool City Council to reclaim spaces for shared mobility using rapid transit. Indeed, part of the FAST corridor project is the integration of the rapid transit service with an active transport (which includes walking, cycling and micro-mobility) infrastructure. However, this integration is subject to the upgrade of Hoxton Park Road. The Hoxton Park Road is a link between the Liverpool CBD and new airport currently undergoing the design stage. The section design chosen for the road (centre-running or side-running) will affect active transport infrastructure e.g. stop locations for along the FAST corridor and the design of public domain.[8][10]


  1. Would airport customers want to use this type of service? Why/why not?
  2. Could a “gold standard” bus rapid transit achieve the same outcomes? What differentiates this service from a BRT?
  3. Would this service be critical to the success of Western Sydney International Airport from the start? Why/why not?
  4. Would this specific service offering be necessary to catalyse development along the corridor? Could development occur regardless of this specific service type?
  5. What other ingredients would be required for Liverpool Council’s vision to be realised?

Additional ReadingsEdit

Fifteenth Avenue Smart Transit Corridor Design Framework. SJB (2020).
This document outlines Liverpool City Council’s vision to deliver a place-led transit corridor between Liverpool city centre and the Western Sydney International (Nancy-Bird Walton) Airport (WSIA).

Delivering Integrated Transit, Land Development and Finance – a Guide and Manual: with Application to Trackless Trams. Newman P., Mouritz M., Davies-Slate S., Jones E., Hargroves K., Sharma R. & Adams D. (2018). Sustainable Built Environment National Research Centre (SBEnrc), Australia.
This report shows how transit-land development integration has been happening around the world using funding and finance as the glue to deliver transit, such as a Trackless Tram, with a focus on the Australian context.


  1. Sustainable Built Environment National Research Centre, 2020. Delivering Integrated Transit, Land Development And Finance A Guide And Manual With Application To Trackless Trams. Sydney: Sustainable Built Environment National Research Centre, pp.83-87.
  2. Coronation. (2019). Liverpool’s Fifteenth Ave Rapid Transit Corridor. Retrieved from [Accessed 4 May 2020]
  3. Liverpool City Council. (2019). NSW Government on the right track with Trackless Trams. Retrieved from:
  4. Transport for NSW. (2018). Parramatta Light Rail contracts signed. Retrieved from:
  5. a b Wong Y. (2019). Debunking the myths around the optically-guided bus (trackless trams). Retrieved from
  6. Levinson D. (2019). On Trackless Trams. Retrieved from
  7. Liverpool City Council. (2018). Rapid Transit Corridor: Liverpool CBD to Western Sydney Airport. Retrieved from:
  8. a b c
  10. a b