VISITING Sydney last month, I noted that the light-rail project that has rent the CBD asunder and created traffic havoc along virtually its entire length still is nowhere near finished. It’s just possible that by the time the first light-rail vehicle runs from Circular Quay, we’ll all be in automated cars already and the public transport system will be redundant – especially one that can only go from point A to point B on one predetermined route with no detours possible.
Sydney is facing what one might describe as a “trolley problem”, trolley being an old-fashioned term for “tram” – like those commonly seen in Melbourne – which seems to be fast becoming an old-fashioned term for “light rail”. You might be familiar with the philosophical “trolley problem” thought experiment. There is no right or wrong answer to this, but how you respond says a lot about your view of the world, and your moral and ethical outlook, so here we go.
There’s a trolley hurtling down a track, quite out of control, with 10 passengers onboard. If the trolley keeps going, it’s going to run over the edge of a cliff and kill every passenger. As an aside I’ve never understood why anyone would build a trolley track that runs over a cliff, but that’s beside the point. And speaking of points, there’s a set that you can operate by pulling a lever that will send the trolley on to another track and to safety, but on that track there’s a child playing with toys, and the trolley will run them over and kill them. Do you pull the lever?