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Political and all about trees, those were the first things Roger Blakeley heard about Canberra's light rail system when he visited on a fact-finding mission.
Mr Blakeley, from the Greater Wellington Region Council, was visiting from New Zealand to help learn how Wellington could establish its own tram network.
"As I came into Canberra Airport, I had the conversation with three of your Border Force people .... one said it was 'contentious', the other said it was 'political', the other said it was all about trees," Mr Blakeley said.
The self-funded trip by Mr Blakeley and his fellow councillors had obviously made an impression, writing an opinion piece for the local broadsheet The Dominion Post.
Light rail in New Zealand's capital has also been a politically contentious issue, with cost estimates ranging from $NZ450 million to $NZ1.2 billion.
Mr Blakeley set estimates of a network in Wellington at about $NZ750 million.
Interestingly, he said, there are similarities between the two city's proposed networks: both about 12km long, both starting in growth suburbs into the city centre and both at similar construction costs.
Mr Blakeley said Wellington was slightly more constrained, lacking the wider avenues in Canberra which would easily accommodate a tram route.
He was joined by two other councillors from the Greater Wellington Regional Council and another from Wellington City Council.
"Canberra has shown that light rail is a winnable proposition, provided sound, professional analysis is developed in an open process that draws on community knowledge and political support," the four councillors co-wrote.
"The ACT government recognised that it needed a step-change in the capacity and patronage of public transport, which could only be provided by light rail and not by adding more buses on already congested roads."
"We have three councillors who have certainly been interested in light rail as a solution for mass transit in Wellington," Mr Blakeley said.
"We really wanted to report back on what we found on our visit to Canberra and present that back to the Wellington community and the wider public."
Mr Blakeley said light rail was a winnable, if not controversial, position if developed in an open process with community support.
This article first appeared on www.canberratimes.com.au
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