By TONY FOSTER*
WITH the proposed light rail service as part of the Northern Suburbs Transit Corridor project, now back in the headlines, the reality is that the link must extend to Brighton if it is to have any chance of success.
A light rail service running along the old rail corridor, essentially alongside the Derwent River edge, from Glenorchy, or even Claremont to Hobart, will never be sustainable unless it can collect passengers from Bridgewater and Brighton.
With the replacement Bridgewater Bridge now looking more and more like a reality, with a promised opening date of 2024, we now have a one-off opportunity to get it right and maximise the chances of a light rail service being successful.
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, or simply pandering to the self-interests of those shouting loudest in support of light rail.
Current thinking appears to be that the light rail should only connect Glenorchy and maybe Claremont, 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’.
The big question remains unanswered. With the light rail service running along the old rail corridor, will people living in the upper areas of Springfield, Glenorchy, Berriedale, Chigwell and Claremont even bother to get out of their cars and get onto a train? Of course, even that will also require extensive parking areas and potentially costly property acquisitions to enable this.
Meanwhile, a captive population, available lower-cost land for stations and park-and-ride facilities, and, importantly, demand exists at Bridgewater and Brighton. Right now, Brighton has 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 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.
From an economic sustainability, social infrastructure and community wellbeing viewpoint extending the light rail service to Bridgewater and Brighton is a no brainer. In fact, it is likely the only option to ensure the project’s long-term sustainability.
Now is the time to act. With planning underway for the Bridgewater Bridge replacement, the design must include a provision for light rail. If we miss this opportunity, it likely won’t come around again.
As well as providing for light rail in the bridge design, the initiative will need a much more significant contribution from the Commonwealth and State Governments if it is to get off the ground.
The Hobart City Deal includes just $300,000 in funding from the Tasmanian Government to “activate the Northern Suburbs Transit Corridor” and a $25 million congestion initiative from the Federal Government.
This may well fund some studies and perhaps initial works, but the cost of establishing a light rail from Glenorchy to the Hobart CBD alone is expected to be in excess of $100 million.
Let’s hope the project doesn’t follow the example of the Macquarie Point Development Corporation. If that’s the case, chances are the $25 million will be fritted away on studies, investigations, ‘expert’ analysis, board and executive salaries and the like, and after the five to 10-year timeline has passed, light rail will be no closer.
In any event, comments I have received from transport experts is that all this will be problematic and the $100 million-plus to build a light rail link between Glenorchy and Hobart will prove to be a serious underestimation. When the required significant land acquisition and other development expenses are taken into account, the cost will balloon substantially, long before the first rails and sleepers and laid, if they ever are!
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 passenger market and the land for stations and parking lots is available and will be much cheaper to acquire. But the decisions have to be taken now.
It is why Tasmania must look to the future, determine what the community may look like in 20 or 30 years time, and plan and build the infrastructure that will meet those needs, not just today’s needs.
So, the requirement is to extend the light rail proposal to the Brighton Municipality and accompany this with detailed planning for park-and-ride facilities on the route. I support the initiative. Extend it to Bridgewater and Brighton and I will become its most fervent and vocal supporter.
* Tony Foster is Tasmania’s longest-serving mayor. He was first elected Mayor of Brighton in 1993 and has served continuously since then.