O-Bahn guided busway a novel addition in 1986 to Adelaide transport via a tortuous decision path

The O-Bahn guided busway through the River Torrens gorge replaced a previous plan to extend the Glenelg tram line.
Image courtesy Clayton Wehner

O-Bahn guided busway, opened in 1986, from Adelaide’s city centre to its north-eastern suburbs, had a torturous gestation.

With rapid growth in north-eastern suburb Tea Tree Gully (2,500 in 1954; 35,000 by 1971), land along River Torrens, originally bought for the Modbury freeway under the abandoned MATS (Metropolitan Adelaide Transport Study), was proposed as the route for a branch of Adelaide rail network.

A North East Adelaide Public Transport Review chose light rail or a busway as more viable. The state government decided to extend Glenelg tram beyond Victoria Square and through parklands to Modbury corridor.

 Adelaide City Council joined broad opposition to the project, saying it interfered with the city layout. The government altered the plan to put the line underground at big cost. Residents in inner suburbs such as St Peters had concerns about noise and disrupting Torrens Gorge.

The light rail project was halted in 1980 after premier David Tonkin appointed an opponent, Michael Wilson, as transport minister. The new government sent experts to look at an innovative O-Bahn (omnibus/bahn or path) guided bus developed in West Germany by Daimler-Benz for tram tunnels in Essen. 

State Transport Authority engineers saw O-Bahn’s advantages (less land, less noise, faster, cheaper). Plans were drawn up for 12 kilometres (initially, only three).

A new government in 1982 brought uncertainty but premier John Bannon continued with Stage 1 (City to Paradise) and in 1986 Stage 2 (Paradise to Tea Tree Plaza). Costing $98 million, including buses, the O-Bahn had more than four million passenger trips in Stage 1 in 1986, with 30% more the next year.

When the O-Bahn was completed in 1989, passengers rose another 17%.

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