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Adelaide tram promise: suburban routes up for grabs

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Federal Labor’s promise of $500 million to kickstart the rebuilding of Adelaide’s tram network is likely to set off intense lobbying, with previously announced routes up for grabs and doubts about whether one proposed suburban line will go ahead.

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Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, like the Prime Minister last week with his Flinders University rail plan, filtered the announcement through the Murdoch media today before fronting up in person for the TV cameras.

But, as with last week’s announcement, the realities are more complicated than a first reading would indicate.

The State Government says the funding will allow for the “first stages” of the so-called AdeLINK network of trams through the CBD, inner east, western, northern and southern suburbs, creating up to 2000 jobs.

However, questions remain about whether the proposed routes are in the right place.

The Government produced a map of the network (scroll down to view) in its Integrated Transport Plan produced in 2013, but little has happened since, apart from the announcement in February this year of a $4 million study to plan for the roll-out.

Transport Minister Stephen Mullighan told InDaily today that the previously announced routes were “completely contestable”.

He said he had written to mayors asking for input about the proposed routes and whether they served the community’s needs.

Mullighan indicated that an argument could be mounted that Sir Donald Bradman Drive, for example, was a better option than Henley Beach Road, and similar arguments could be mounted about the southern tram link, currently slated for Unley Road.

“There are two viable alternatives there [in the west] – each have benefits and some drawbacks,” he said.

“That’s why we want to sit down with the councils through the planning study, because they will have a view about the best option for their communities.”

InDaily has previously reported that the long-mooted Port Adelaide tram line is no certainty to go ahead due to concerns about the lower speed and passenger capacity of light rail compared to the current trains.

Mullighan agreed the Port tram idea wasn’t set in stone: the question was whether light or heavy rail was the best option to serve the Port.

“That’s more contestable in terms of the mode, rather than the route,” he said.

He said he understood the time and capacity advantages of heavy rail, but, on the other hand, light rail could extend further than the current Outer Harbor line corridor into local communities.

InDaily understands there is a push among some in the Port to reactivate the heavy rail spur to the rail museum – a move which would bring trains within a short distance of Dock One, which is slated for significant residential development.

The head of the Urban Development Institute of Australia, Pat Gerace, also called on the Government to closely examine its proposed routes to ensure future light rail provides “urban uplift” rather than just servicing popular corridors.

Gerace used Goodwood Road as an example of his point. Under the current plan, a tram line to Mitcham would run down Unley Road from the CBD, however Gerace says that route is already bustling and busy.

Goodwood Road, however, could become a more appealing residential road, with medium-density mixed residential developments – of four to five storeys, for example – if a tram was routed along its length.

“Then you get a Chapel Street [one of Melbourne’s most vibrant streets], you get rejuvenation,” Gerace told InDaily.

“We need to make sure there’s maximum urban uplift from this investment.

“A tram might go to a place like The Parade – and that’s wonderful. It’s not a bad idea… but we shouldn’t just put the trams where it’s busy.”

The Government shouldn’t “squander the opportunity” to regenerate under-utilised areas of the city that would attract appealing new development if serviced by popular light rail.

Mullighan said he agreed with Gerace’s comments and indicated every proposed route was open to re-examination, with the possible exception of Prospect Road.

The State Government's map of the five proposed tram route extensions that make up AdeLINK.

The State Government’s map of the five proposed tram route extensions that make up AdeLINK.

As for what Adelaide could build with a $500 million federal investment, Mullighan said the Government believed it could either start work in more than one direction, or make a significant start on one major route.

He said the Government was confident it could build a tram link to the airport for that sort of money, or complete much of the eastern link down The Parade.

As InDaily reported last week, the State Government has received conflicting consultants’ reports on the proposed Port tram link, which the Integrated Transport Plan indicates would replace trains on the Outer Harbor line.

One of the reports raised concerns about the extra time that would be taken on light rail to reach the city from the outer reaches of the line, as well as the smaller carrying capacity of trams compared to trains.

Last week, the state and federal governments committed to spend more $238 million – almost half the cost of today’s announcement – to build a lowered rail line and underpass in the north Parklands to separate the Outer Harbor line from the freight route.

This project would be mostly redundant under the current PortLINK tram concept, which envisages running the tram from the Entertainment Centre across Port Road to link with the current rail corridor at Bowden Station. Under that plan, there would be no need to separate the freight and passenger routes in the north Parklands because that section of the passenger line would no longer be needed.

The Government is talking about an option to run trams on the new lowered corridor by building a tram line extension past Adelaide Oval, but there is scepticism among transport planners about the value of that idea.

For this reason, the decision to go ahead with the Torrens Junction project seems to suggest that the Port tram idea is on shaky ground.

Meanwhile, one of the local mayors whose area is slated for a tram, Unley’s Lachlan Clyne, today argued the tram line should be underground if studies showed traffic on Unley Road would be impeded.

“Our main roads leading into the city were never designed for the volumes of traffic they now carry and the only options are to build overpasses or underground tunnels,” Clyne said.

“I don’t think an overpass would work but an Unley underground seems to have merit.”

He said undergrounding, which he estimated would cost $100 million a kilometre, should also be considered for the Prospect tram line – making it many times more expensive than a surface tram.

 

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