|Light Rail Transit Association - UK Development Group
FACT SHEET No 104
After years of preparation and support for the Brisbane light rail schemes, the subsequent failure at the final barrier must have come as a shock to its supporters. The anguish will probably have been more acute amongst the consortia actively engaged in bidding for it. Not surprisingly, legal action is possible in an attempt to recover some compensation for a year's work and money spent on preparing the tender documents (1). The State Cabinet's surprise announcement, followed by a decision to continue with the controversial busway project, will no doubt please "some" but conversely upset "others".
SURROUNDED BY CONTROVERSY FROM THE START
A late 1990s light rail scheme, better known as "Briztram", was born out of a 65 million dollar contribution promised from the Federal Government's Heritage Fund, to celebrate the Centenary of the Federation. Although there was considerable momentum at Federal and State Government levels in favour of the project, the Lord Mayor vowed not to contribute any local Government funding (2).
With Federal funding at stake, an election promise to drop "BRIZTRAM" was honoured and subsequently replaced by a smaller scheme accompanied with an understanding that the tram and pedestrian bridge across the Brisbane River to the University of Queensland would be dropped.
JUSTIFICATION FOR THE NEW SCHEME
The Brisbane Light Rail Project would be to the unusual tramway gauge of 1067mm to permit future integration with the railway network although present plans did not include any joint running. The hope was to get vehicles out of the city whilst at the same time being in line with the current global renaissance of light rail. Those advocating the scheme were adamant that it was not based on nostalgia but on a clear appreciation that it is the best mechanism as a people-mover, a distributor over short distances. The Royal Automobile Club of Queensland suggested that this idea would be better served by a free bus service into the CBD (3).
"BUSINESS" NOT IN AGREEMENT
The property Council of Australia has played a major part in opposing light rail and is on record as saying that no possible design changes to the Brisbane scheme would totally remove its negative impact on city amenities (4).
This was countered by strong light rail support from the Valley Business Association (5) who claimed that the project would bring more people to the Valley which meant more customers.
EXPERIENCE FROM UK
Manchester goes some way (6) towards demonstrating what would have been a likely outcome in Brisbane. There is evidence that the full METROLINK network will dramatically increase the gross domestic product and create around 5000 new jobs.
The new system in Croydon is performing well and reports from the Whitgift Shopping Centre have claimed 100 000 extra shoppers per week as a result of the new tram service. A valid suggestion from Railway Gazette International (August 2000) was that the Brisbane Authorities should perhaps call their counterparts in Croydon to see just what light rail will do for business.
OTHER CITIES IN EASTERN AUSTRALIA
Sydney, Australia's most populated city, opened its new light rail system in 1997, just over 3.5km through the Ultimo-Pyrmont area to Wentworth Park. With many similarities to London's Docklands, it is mainly over a brown field site and as such is starting from a very low patronage base. Now known as METRO LIGHT RAIL, and operated by CGEA Transport Management Sydney, a subsidiary of the French owned Vivendi Group, it is somewhat poorly integrated with Sydney's bus and rail networks. An extension through the CBD to Circular Quay, considered essential by the operator, was part of the original light rail proposal but, despite support from influential people, has been blocked by objections from retailers. The light rail vehicles would, they claim, disrupt their activities and as a consequence, the route could be revised such that it skirts the edge of the CBD. The monorail, built in 1988 on a 3.6km circular route, actually penetrates the CBD but is not liked by Sydneysiders because of its intrusion. Plans to extend it to Circular Quay have also been rejected (7).
Melbourne's citizens can make use of an extensive and continually expanding light rail system. However, people not particularly interested in passenger convenience, have suggested some changes that have caused concern for the new tram operators (8). A proposed extension (Mont Albert - Box Hill) has been delayed because of a disagreement between Yarra Trams and Whitehorse Council on the location of the new terminus. It is hoped that common sense will prevail with a terminus close to the bus and railway stations. Also from Melbourne is a call, actually from the Lord Mayor, to move the tram terminal point in Elizabeth Street which would add a 200 metre walk for those passengers transferring to railway services (9).
Adelaide, with an interurban tram service to Glenelg, may eventually find passengers subjected to an increase in the amount of walking needed to access the service because of threatened redevelopment plans at both ends
With so many transit moves "down-under" verging on being somewhat passenger unfriendly, and certainly anti-light rail, the timing of a visit to UK by an Australian Government Minister specifically to see how other cities are addressing public transport as a viable alternative to the car is fortuitous (10).
An Australian newspaper summed it all up very succinctly when It commented : "Brisbane's modern trams successfully moved people, but they impeded motor cars"(11).