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PEOPLE power may be the only way to take a light rail passenger project for Hobart from a popular concept to a concrete, funded proposal, say those supporting the push.
Hobart is the only state capital without a light rail passenger system and advocates who back the move to turn the city’s existing rail corridor into a multi-station service say it’s time to get the project moving by applying public pressure on the State Government.
They say the proposed electric-powered service is vital for city growth and an easy answer to Hobart’s traffic problems.
But seven years after the project was first mooted, there is still no development application on the table, no proposed operator and no solid business case through which to secure potential Federal Government funding. However, a great deal of background work is under way.
The Glenorchy and Hobart City Council Rail Corridor Working Party is due to release its Public Transit Corridor Urban Utilisation and Economic Benefit report early in the new year.
This will come hot on the heels of a ReachTEL survey of Hobart residents which earlier this month showed overwhelming support for the new public transport option.
That enthusiasm is backed by business groups such as the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the University of Tasmania — which is moving much of its operations into Hobart’s CBD — demographer Bernard Salt and local town planner James McIntosh, who is working on two rail projects in Sydney for the NSW Government.
But Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in a meeting with Hobart Lord Mayor Sue Hickey that light rail might not be “for every capital city — yet”.
Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Michael Bailey said Mr Turnbull’s words were telling.
“To me that is saying that now is the time to get things moving,” Mr Bailey said.
“It should not be an argument about price.
“Canberra is looking to invest in good infrastructure projects and this one is not going to get any cheaper as the years roll by. The rail corridor is in place, it’s just a matter of final investment.”
Ald Hickey said the city “needs to have a light rail business case that stacks up and soon”.
“The momentum for a light rail service — preferably from Granton through to Macquarie Point — is building and it is obviously the transport option for the future, especially in a city already dealing with traffic congestion issues,” she said.
“But unless the resources can be found to make it happen, the chances of this project getting up are slim at this stage.”
Infrastructure Minister Rene Hidding said “not now” did not mean “not ever”.
“As confirmed by a number of studies, while light rail is not feasible just now, its time will come — and that’s precisely why the Hodgman Government has acted to ‘bank’ the rail corridor for future passenger transport use,” Mr Hidding said.
He said a report provided by Infrastructure Tasmania identified the same challenges as previous reports on a light rail service commissioned under Labor and the Greens.
“The fact is, to date, it has been a freight corridor with little adjacent residential development, which is necessary for the basic viability of a light rail proposal,” he said.
“Prime Minister Turnbull previously said, ‘We will support transport infrastructure in cities on the basis of merit’.
“So while light rail may not by feasible right now, its time will come.”
Traffic congestion in Hobart could be eased with good public transport. Picture: NIKKI DAVIS-JONESHobart Alderman Anna Reynolds, who is also a member of the Glenorchy and Hobart City Council Rail Corridor Working Party, said many Australian cities were looking for special growth deals with Canberra — and Hobart needed to compete.
“The rail corridor is already there and only a tiny investment is needed compared to say, Canberra, where a much more costly light rail proposition is firmly on the agenda,” Ald Reynolds said.
This article first appeared on www.themercury.com.au
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