Same Opportunities – Same Excuses

Light rail is not a panacea, but it is a proven method in reducing auto traffic, something those promoting SkyTrain cannot claim.

Building with trams opens an opportunity for not only providing a user-friendly and environmentally- friendly alternative to the car, the mode offers an almost universal transit mode as the modern tram can operate as a streetcar, operating in mixed traffic; as light rail, operating on a dedicated rights-of-ways; as a light-metro, operating on a totally segregated R-o-W’s; and as a commuter rail train on the railway mainline: all on the same tram route!

The main issue in Australia and Canada is the same, if one wants to reduce auto use, one must have a user-friendly and taxpayer-friendly public transit alternative. The modern tram fits the bill, if designed and operated properly.

Though the price tag of $1.2 billion(CAD $1.08 billion) for 6.7 km of tram line seems excessive but it does include the cost of rebuilding 6.7 km of highway. Many city engineers hide the cost of road construction onto the cost of the new LRT line!

One hopes Australian politicians can see 20 minutes into the future, unlike their counterparts in Canada who firmly believe an ever higher carbon tax will cure Global Warming and cannot see past the next election window.

From down under………………

A modern tram can economically adapt to almost any situation.

A modern tram can economically adapt to almost any situation.

Is light rail a ‘magnificent’ opportunity?

These community groups don’t think so

A tram passing with two people walking next to it
The latest extension to the Gold Coast line will cost $1.2 billion — $500 million more than initially expected.()


They increase property prices, take cars off the road and governments seem keen to splash billions to roll them out in rapidly growing cities.

But light rail is facing increasingly passionate opposition in some of the very areas it’s meant to benefit.

What’s happening with light rail?

Light rail has sprung up in Canberra, Newcastle, the Gold Coast, and Sydney — where an additional line is expected to open in Parramatta next year.

Studies are also underway for potential new lines on Queensland’s Gold and Sunshine coasts, both rapidly growing cities north and south of the capital, Brisbane.

A light-rail vehicle during sunset.
Canberra is one of several cities to embrace light rail in recent years.()

South-east Queensland’s population is set to balloon with 1.4 million new residents by 2040, so all levels of government are looking at ways to improve the liveability of cities.

Right now, the only Queensland project under construction is stage three of the light rail on the Gold Coast — a 6.7-kilometre extension of the existing 20km track, which has been in operation for almost a decade now.

Sunrise over the ocean with paddle surfer in the foreground
The latest stage of the Gold Coast light rail line will run to Burleigh Heads.()

The latest extension will cost $1.2 billion,  $500 million more than expected. So it’s not cheap.

A $5 million business case is underway looking at the feasibility of extending the line further south to the Gold Coast Airport.

On the Sunshine Coast, north of Brisbane, similar investigations are being made to improve public transport offerings.

Why light rail?

Queensland Transport Minister Mark Bailey shared a summary of a study into the southern Gold Coast on social media recently.

These two lines from the report give an insight into the state government’s approach:

“Current urban policy is focused on creating more sustainable and liveable urban areas by consolidating land uses within existing urban areas (reducing urban sprawl) in particular around town centres and high capacity public transport nodes.

“The study found the Gold Coast Highway from Burleigh Heads to Tugun could be transformed into a high amenity community focused boulevard with priority given to walking, cycling and a world class light rail system that enhances the livability and character of the southern coastal suburbs.”

Mr Bailey has said light rail was an increasingly popular transport solution globally and pointed to the roughly 69 million trips that had been made on the first two stages of the Gold Coast light rail so far.

Is light rail just an excuse for increased development?

That is a big concern for those who don’t want it running through their areas.

But public transport works best when it is located near where people live, Cairns-based independent town planner Nikki Huddy said.

“The best public transport has density along it, that’s true,” said Ms Huddy, who recently travelled to the US to look at public transport solutions as part of a Churchill Fellowship.

“I think it’s a magnificent opportunity.”

She said light rail could help reduce traffic without impacting existing roads.

“You can run it parallel to roads and still have your traffic running its own way, so there’s no real interference between those two modes of transport,” Ms Huddy said.

“You’ve just taken how many cars off the road. It’s going to make driving better for those who want to drive. I think it’s a really good idea.”

Why don’t locals want it?

More than 600 people packed a hall on the Gold Coast at a recent light rail meeting organised by Liberal MPs Michael Hart and Karen Andrews.

The vast majority of the group was against the proposed route to the Gold Coast Airport.

A group of people seated at a town hall meeting.
Residents gave passionate arguments against the light rail at a recent community meeting.()

Among them was Kath Down from community group Save Our Southern Gold Coast.

She said light rail would cut off access to the beach, despite most people currently having to cross four lanes of highway to get to the surf.

“They’ll lose access to things like the beaches, nippers, surf clubs, but they’ll also lose access to the trams. It really doesn’t service the majority of the population,” Ms Down said.

“It’s a ruse for overdevelopment and urban renewal to support high-rises.”

Four lanes of road with a traffic island in the middle, and a Norfolk pine visible on the right-hand side of the road
Light rail will run down the middle of this section of the Gold Coast Highway as part of stage four of the roll-out.()

Despite the light rail running down existing sections of the Gold Coast Highway, Ms Down said the project was not suitable for the southern Gold Coast.

“If you put a tram through Palm Beach, number one, it doesn’t fit,” she said.

She said the rail lines would also change the feel of the area, which was already undergoing increased development.

“We’re losing the vibe of the southern Gold Coast, we’re losing why we live here and quite frankly, locals would like excellent public transport. Light rail just isn’t excellent transport.”

What about the Sunshine Coast?

Tracey Goodwin-McDonald helped found the Sunshine Coast Mass Transit Action Group after plans were announced for improved public transport in her city.

She said a mooted 13-kilometre transit line from Maroochydore and Caloundra “starts nowhere and ends nowhere”.

Like some of those opposed to light rail on the Gold Coast, Ms Goodwin-McDonald said she supported an extension of heavy rail.

She said heavy rail on the Sunshine Coast would take pressure off the clogged Bruce Highway.

She said she was concerned that the Sunshine Coast would become more like the Gold Coast — renowned for high-rise towers near the beach.

“Light rail with the overhead wires came out in the business case, surprise surprise at 10 out of 10 and the most preferred option. The reason it [won] is because of its ability to change the urban structure.”

Ms Goodwin-McDonald said she also supported higher-density development, just not on the coastal strip.

“We do need some higher-density living, yes, but when you’re living with two-storey housing, and then they’re now looking at six-storey apartments, that’s a radical, radical change,” she said.

“So what we’re saying is that there’s land masses, that in our case is the town of Nambour which is crying out for investment, and people and business, that could take some of the load. But that’s not even been considered.”

Back to the future

Australian cities used to be well serviced by tram networks.

Trams running down Stanley Street looking toward Mt Coot-tha in the late 1960s.
Trams running down Stanley Street on Brisbane’s southside in the late 1960s.()

According to studies, Australians made more than one billion annual trips by tram in 1945.

But Ms Huddy said things started to change in the decades that followed.

“California highway engineers came to Australia to teach us how to build highways like they did. Overnight, the tram tracks were bitumened,” she says.

“So for the last 70 years now we’ve been planning only for a car and the opportunity truly to retrofit light rail in is magnificent.”

She said it was a rare opportunity for regional cities, adding that other cities around the state could be in line for similar projects.

“The ability to get around in multiple modes is one of the greatest gifts that you can give to your community.”

“I think Townsville would be primed for it, and I bet you Queensland Transport thinks the same.”


2 Responses to “Same Opportunities – Same Excuses”
  1. Haveacow says:

    I will TRY to keep things brief.

    The problem isn’t transportation policy, this is a land use, housing and great big dose of NIMBYism combined.

    1. Most of these people are upper middle income and higher, complaining about buildings built for the very wealthy people, most of them probably not Australians. The Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast (been in both communities, very nice) are mainly low density housing, located beside some of the best beaches on planet Earth, period bar none! LRT or not, big buildings are going in, the land is just too valuable. The existing residents may look middle class, they aren’t, they will be just fine. They do have a right though to not have access to those wonderful beaches not cut off, they are trying to fight change, they will loose. This is where good land use planning policies come in by guaranteeing public access to those beaches.

    2. Single family homes with a few town home developments sprinkled in, spread linearly along a beach front, which is what is actually there, isn’t and will never be enough to support the existing infrastructure financially, with the existing property and local taxes. Especially, if you plan to move them all by private car. The same can be said about existing Canadian, American and other cities in Australia. I know no one likes drastic change but the existing piped and cable infrastructure is already in bad shape in the older parts of both the Gold and Sunshine Coast inner beach front neighborhoods. Higher density is desperately needed to pay for new infrastructure. Planning policies that support higher density, without public beach access is a part and parcel of bad general land use and transportation policy. Changing that requires a situation where residents must also face the reality that the existing built form with all its social and infrastructure inadequacies baked in, must change as well. Whether it is Canada, US, New Zealand or Australia areas with nothing but single family homes, two car garages and low density, has to go, its unsustainable both financially and environmentally

    The desire for cities wherever possible to build super tall condos and shoehorning in rapid transit to solve the above problem, is also unsustainable and is one of the primary reasons rapid transit projects are so expensive. You can’t inexpensively force in rapid transit when you have left little space for it. Then force said transit project to quietly build massive infrastructure inside an already functional, in this case, well healed community. Again this is a land use policy mixed with transportation policy failure.

    3. Cost of the project, is a problem because of the time it takes just too pass it through a planning process. By the time you go through all that, inflation kicks in. Add in legal conditions around the public’s unreal expectations about mitigating, the noise and disturbance of the construction process within the existing community and this is what you get. Add in on top of all of this is the HUGE, MASSIVE increase in non construction related building costs for anything. For example, I checked, just the construction insurance cost for the project and extra site insurance costs are over $146,000,000 (Australian dollars).

  2. Paul McGown says:

    This Australian issue sounds a bit like the nimbyism in Point Grey to the UBC extension. Hoi poilloi coming through my neighborhood, I think NOT!!

    Zwei replies: Oh, I agree. The subway extension to UBC, will never have the ridership to justify the expenditure and those massive maintenance costs will amount to $100 million annually. I have been told that TransLink is extremely worried about future costs as I think the provincial government has quietly told them no more money and why the FAM trips to Ottawa.

    The more that Zwei hears locally, especially after the letter that was sent to municipal politicians, pointed questions are being asked, even those politicians who support SkyTrain publicly are very worried privately that the R/T system is unsustainable.

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