By TONY FOSTER AM OAM JP
Mayor of Brighton
THE proposed light rail service, part of the Northern Suburbs Transit Corridor project, that received $25 million funding in the Prime Minister’s much-vaunted Hobart City Deal, must extend to Brighton if it is to have any chance of success.
But to achieve this, our politicians and infrastructure planners will have to start thinking 20 to 30 years ahead, instead of taking the current three-year election cycle approach.
It seems that those making the decisions can only think of today’s needs and what may secure votes at the next election, rather than looking to the future and planning for the community’s needs over the next two or three decades and beyond.
Current thinking appears to be that the light rail will only connect Glenorchy to central Hobart. If this is the extent of the project, it will be nothing more than a monumental wasted opportunity and a likely costly ‘white elephant’.
Even the promised Commonwealth funding in Prime Minister Morrison’s ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ city deal will not be enough to get the project off the ground, with the total cost of establishing a light rail from Glenorchy to the Hobart CBD expected to be in excess of $100 million.
If we take Macquarie Point as an example, chances are the $25 million will be fritted away on feasibility studies, investigations, ‘expert’ analysis, board and executives’ salaries and the like, and after the next three years have passed, light rail will be no closer.
The simple reality is that any light rail service through the northern suburbs must extend to Brighton if it is to have a chance to succeed and provide a sustainable public transport option for southern Tasmania.
Brighton Municipality already boasts one of the fastest growing populations in the State and with the transport issues confronting Hobart’s southern and eastern suburbs (and there were no ‘silver bullet’ solutions contained in the city deal), undoubtedly, future growth will be to the north of the city.
Right now, Brighton has the land available to establish a comprehensive park-and-ride service, for the necessary car parks and associated facilities as well as a young population that would use light rail to travel to and from Hobart for employment, education and the like. This and anticipated future population growth, could feasibly underpin a sustainable light rail service.
The key questions to be asked about the current limited proposal are: where will the light rail track run, will people drive from upper Glenorchy, Springfield, Chigwell and Berriedale to catch the service presumably running along the former river-side rail corridor, and if they do, where is the extensive vacant land required for car parks, stations and service facilities? This information is fundamental and must be provided to enable any reasonable assessment of the viability of the proposed light rail service.
My suspicion is that all this will be problematic and the $100 million plus to build a light rail link between Glenorchy and Hobart will be a serious under-estimation. When the required significant land acquisition is taken into account, the cost will balloon substantially, long before the first rails and sleepers are laid.
However, extending the proposal to the Brighton municipality paints a far different picture. Yes, the cost of constructing the extended rail infrastructure will be greater, but so too will be the potential market and the available land for stations and parking lots, and both will be much cheaper to acquire. But the decisions have to be taken now.
It is why we have to look to the future and abandon the three-year, attempted vote-winning infrastructure planning cycle. Let’s determine what the community may look like 20 or 30 years into the future and plan and build the infrastructure that will meet those needs as well as today’s requirements.
As it stands, the light rail service and the Northern Suburbs Transit Corridor project appear built on political spin and election pork-barrelling for today, a recipe hardly worthy of enthusiastic support.
But look to the future. Extend the proposal to the Brighton municipality and accompany this with detailed advice of the planned park-and-ride facilities on the route and I will become its most fervent and vocal supporter.