There was a public meeting at Moorilla Winery at Berridale yesterday for a presentation on Ben Johnston's proposals on reviving Hobart suburban rail services. As I have had a bit to say about this proposal, I made sure to attend.
The most significant aspect about this meeting was the evidence that the proposal has obviously struck a chord politically. The meeting was convened by Federal Denison MP, Duncan Kerr, who has evidently taken the proposal to heart. With a State election due next year, a good cross section of state Denison contenders were there. Representing the State Govt and ALP were Lisa Singh MHA and candidate Scott Bacon. Representing the Liberals were Michael Hodgman MHA and candidate Elise Archer. Representing the Greens were Tim Morris MHA and Cassie O'Connor MHA. There was also a representative of the so-called "Socialist" Alliance. The Glenorchy City Council were represented by Mayor Adriana Taylor and Alderman David Pearce. Both southern rail preservation groups, the TTMS and DVR were represented.
Ben and Kristie Johnston did an excellent job in presenting their proposal to the audience. Afterwards all political groups enthusiastically endorsed the proposal, so whatever the outcome of the next state election, the political prospects for supporting a detailed study and potential implementation look positive. A copy of a motion put by Alderman Luke Martin to the GCC to support the proposal, which was carried, was available for perusal.
The one fly in the ointment that appeared during the public question and answer session was the possibility of an unsympathetic and intrangiscent bureaucracy (DIER) as the major unresolved issue was the current outstanding Major Urban Public Transport Study initiated in Oct. 2008 that has been due for release and subsequently failed to show up on at least 5 occasions to date. Another 'lost' study is one that was specifically undertaken on Light Rail Transit by Parsons Brinkerhoeff, that is yet to see the light of day. There was a representative of DIER in the audience, but when challenged by well known public transport commentator, John Livermore, about the missing studies, he could do little but offer some vague platitudes.
Getting back to the presentation, at least one of my issues on the proposal - the initial limit of Granton, which as a result, misses the fast growing population center of Brighton, was raised by Duncan Kerr. Ben's response was that Granton was selected as an initial terminus for simplicity sake to just get the proposal off the ground. Brighton is recognised as a major potential traffic generator and will probably be quickly added to the proposal, once momentum builds up, however in the initial stages, the complicating factors of Bridgewater Bridge's future and sharing the line between Bridgewater and Brighton with regular heavy freight needed to be set aside for the moment.
I am still a little skeptical about using battery powered rolling stock, but Ben put up a pretty convincing technical case in support of it. Obviously, when a full cost & viability study gets undertaken, the proposition of the use of battery powered stock versus other forms of motive power will likely get a detailed examination and if the battery concept passes muster in a detailed study, one could then have some confidence it may all work. Of course, if the battery option is found to be unviable cost wise - well whatever subsequent option gets the best numbers will obviously get the guernsey.
All in all I was pretty enthused by the meeting and presentation and think with cross party political support, there is an increasing chance this whole concept may actually get off the ground. Heres hoping!!