Fast-Tracking Green Cities

Light rail tracks offer an unexpected opportunity to add greenery to cities.

Planting vegetation along light rail tracks could add the equivalent of two football fields of green space to the middle of Parramatta, according to Western Sydney University research.

In a viability study commissioned by Transport for NSW for the Parramatta Light Rail project, Western researchers found that installing what will be Australia’s longest green track will have multiple benefits.

After receiving the team’s report, Transport for NSW committed to adding three separate sections of green track totalling 900 metres, as part of the Parramatta Light Rail project which is expected to open in 2023.

Lead researcher Dr Sebastian Pfautsch, from Western’s School of Social Sciences, says that replacing hard surfaces such as concrete and bitumen along light rail with grasses and groundcover offers a rare opportunity to green Parramatta city, where land is in high demand.

“If you put it together, we are adding more than one hectare of green space in Parramatta downtown,” says Pfautsch. “It’s amazing!”

The Parramatta Light Rail program director Mr Anand Thomas agrees, adding that the “green track will make the light rail blend in better with the existing local landscapes”.

They also found that greenery along light rail tracks not only provides habitat and biodiversity, it filters and reduces stormwater runoff. The team’s report notes that in Parramatta, where annual rainfall is 960 millimetres, between 480-670 litres of stormwater would be retained yearly for each square metre of green track. Any runoff would be filtered by the vegetation and contain less pollutants than if it had fallen on hard surfaces such as concrete.

Need to know

  • Western researchers conducted a viability study on green tracks for the Parramatta Light Rail Project.
  • After receiving the report, Transport for NSW agreed to add 900 metres of green track.
  • This will add more than one hectare of green space in Parramatta.

Pfautsch says green tracks can even increase property values and viability of businesses along the tracks, such as cafes, because they create pleasant streetscapes.

While green track is found all over the world including Spain, France and Japan, it has never been tried in a hot, dry climate like that of western Sydney. Pfautsch’s review found that green track is suitable in western Sydney if appropriate plant species are used.

“We proposed ground covers which had low mowing, nutrient, and watering requirements,” says Vanessa Howe, PhD student and co-author of the report.

“The species are native to western Sydney and are pretty tolerant to being walked over,” she adds.

The team also identified the need for proper irrigation and maintenance. As temperatures in Parramatta may regularly reach the high 40s in the next five to ten years, irrigation will be essential.

“Without regular maintenance it will look ugly and people won’t like it,” says Pfautsch.

Pfautsch is confident that the Parramatta green track will become a model for the rest of Australia.

“The positives are so overwhelming and the risks are manageable once you have the right strategies. Green track is a good example for progressive, functional urban design,” says Pfautsch.

Meet the Academic | Dr Sebastian Pfautsch

Dr Sebastian Pfautsch is a Senior Research Fellow at Western Sydney University. In 2007, Sebastian received his PhD (summa cum laude) in forest ecosystem science from the University of Freiburg, Germany. In his research he investigates the effects of global change and extreme climate evens on plant and ecosystem functioning. In his role as Research Theme Fellow (Environment and Sustainability) he develops applied science projects that allow government and industry to optimize strategies and practices to mitigate urban heat. He uses his detailed understanding of trees, microclimate, ecohydrology and natural ressources management to deliver evidence-based concepts for cooling in parks, playgrounds, schools, carparks and many more components of the urban fabric. Sebastian uses his research to inform government agencies, politicians, industry and the public how to ‘future-proof’ our cities. 


This research was funded by Transport for NSW.

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Future-Makers is published for Western Sydney University by Nature Research Custom Media, part of Springer Nature.