O-Bahn ; TRAFFIC! - what's TRAFFIC?


Apr 25, 2002


The Bottom Line Fortunately here in Adelaide all buses for public transport are designed for the purpose

We really do it tough here in Adelaide, South Australia. Two thousand miles of Outback to our north and west, about five hundred to the east and several thousand miles down to Antarctica across the Southern Ocean to the South.

Thanks to that lousy Antarctica we suffer horrendous winters where the day time temperature can be right down in the sixties and at night an Eskimo shivering forty! Then in summer the prevailing winds swing around to the North so it warms up a bit but it only gets moderately hot about twenty to thirty days when it reaches our 40C or about a hundred and five. Admittedly sometimes it tops 110F but not very often.

Now even though we are a small City, in fact the Mainland's smallest capital, there are still over a million of us enduring this place.

That means we have pretty much the same desires and needs as people living in any city - principally the desire to get to work before it's time to come home and vice versa - especially vice versa! If you live in a city you don't need me to tell you that driving downtown is not only time consuming but by the time we have parked the car for a week the parking station owns the rotten thing!

So many living in cities revert to public transport. The operative word of course is public. Now a "public" can be someone who never speaks, someone with the bubonic plague, a pick pocket or an all round nice person who changes to suit the sombre mood of the pack for that part of their lives. Nobody is natural when they are a "public".

Nevertheless, suffering the public lets us keep our cars for the weekend so most think it's worth it as long as they are suitable covered with antibiotics and armed with a deadly weapon.

Choosing our mode of Public Transport is all we have to do. If we catch a bus we just take up more space in the traffic jam. If we choose a train there are no traffic jams but you can bet your sweet bippy the nearest station is in Africa. So surely there must be a better way.

Here in Adelaide we are always looking for ways to make life bearable, given our terrible conditions. And have a guess what! We found one and we even gave it a funny name and put it in a special place!

Running, well walking, well actually crawling in to downtown Adelaide is a river that competes with the almighty Onkaparinga as the second biggest river in the State. Yep, that's right - they hardly ever flow and when they do it's a manageable few feet deep and maybe six, even eight feet wide and they can do that for hours! But what matters is that the river that goes right downtown, The Torrens, has got a bank on each side and some trees! That means there is a little tiny piece of land each side doing nothing!


So we smoothed out both banks of this huge river, planted lawn and shrubs and it looks fantastic! Then we installed a piece of sheer magic!

See we looked at the advantages and disadvantages of trains and buses. The obvious answer is to have a bus for the very start, turn it into a train and then turn it back into a bus so it can take us near our house! All we needed were the magic words!

Now there is only one magic word and it is O-Bahn.

What this really is came from an idea in Germany, which is a little place somewhere in the United States of Europe I think. Anyway they had the idea of using an ordinary bus to get out of the heart of downtown and then running it along its own guided roadway or busway where it wouldn't have any traffic to worry about. At the end of the busway it would simply continue on as an ordinary bus for the remainder of the journey delivering it's passengers at or near their homes. They built a demonstration model but that is as far as it went in Germany.

Fortunately here in Adelaide all buses for public transport are designed for the purpose and made here. They are actually a little oversize for any vehicle width wise, rectangular in shape and with virtually square edges. This was actually to enable better manoeuvring through traffic but it also happened to be ideal for a proper O'Barn. The only difference with an O'Barn bus is that small guidewheels pop out the sides when on the busway making contact with concrete edging so that no steering is required. The bus follows the busway the same as a train follows it's track. All the driver has to do is accelerate or stop - no steering whatsoever.

Ten years and almost a hundred million dollars ago the O'Barn was complete. It is the world's fastest guided busway and extends a bit over seven miles. It carries thirty thousand passengers a day into the city in half the driving time and as an added bonus all they see is the sixty thousand trees that were planted amidst lawn along the entire route.

It only takes twelve minutes to cover the distance on the busway plus several minutes downtown plus the time it takes to reach the busway from your home. Whatever that may be, usually a total of not much over twenty minutes, it is far faster than driving or catching a road bus. Admittedly it is a little unnerving to watch the driver, arms folded and often talking to a passenger as we hurtle along at sixty five miles per hour. They can go faster but that is considered a safe speed overall.

At the end of the busway on the homeward journey the buses actually fan out into fifteen different routes covering much of the north east area. Twenty four bridges were constructed over roadways, there are two hundred drivers and about a hundred buses of two types. One is a larger than average but nonetheless single bus - the other that bus towing effectively another bus minus driver/engine etc. and they are joined as one completely sealed unit. Because they bend when turning like a semi trailer they are commonly referred to as "Bendybuses". They carry about a hundred people seated. These buses are also used on ordinary roadways and the wheels of the trailer unit are co-ordinated with the steering of the towing bus so they can turn sharp corners and at intersections with ease.

Outside of the peak hours tourists and locals can buy a two hour pass for $1.60 so it is easily possible to go downtown and back again with about an hour to spare for a pittance. In peak hours the cost jumps to $2.60, still very reasonable and a tenth of the cost of using the car and parking fees.

The O'Barn becomes busier every year as the population increases and it is now a major tourist attraction. Many overseas engineers, particularly from the USA, Europe and Japan have been to study it in the last year or two so we expect we won't have the longest and fastest forever!



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