ACT News

Opposite sides of the track: light rail campaigners square off

Long before construction begins on tram tracks linking the city and Gungahlin, Canberra's light rail line has already divided public opinion and established a key policy fight for the 2016 election. 

Meeting at the proposed site of the terminus, Ian Ruecroft (left) says it’s time to commit to light rail while Dr John ...
Meeting at the proposed site of the terminus, Ian Ruecroft (left) says it’s time to commit to light rail while Dr John Smith says that’s a flawed approach.  

After decades of debate about the best public transport options for the capital, two opinion makers from opposite sides of the fight visited the proposed location for a Northbourne Avenue terminus at Alinga Street to share their views.

The meeting comes as The Canberra Times invites readers to give their opinions on the ACT Government's signature $780 million infrastructure project in a new online survey, ahead of the release of the project's business case on October 31. 

Light Rail for Canberra supporter and ACT Light Rail deputy chair Ian Ruecroft and www.CanTheTram.org moderator John Smith are among many Canberrans using websites, social media and public events to argue the merits of the tram line. 

Dr Smith, a public transport expert who distributes printed flyers and regularly pens letters to the editor, said basing light rail on the Transport for Canberra 2012-2031 plan was a flawed approach.

"The implicit problem with trams is that Canberra commuters travel long distances, thus requiring express services," he said. 

"Trams do not overtake, so the proposed service between Gungahlin and Civic is neither express nor local, but a compromise that is unlikely to satisfy anyone. The only solution will be to have alternative express bus services."

Arguing Canberra's best public transport development happened when patronage peaked between 1975 and 1985, Dr Smith called for technology including vehicle locations systems, wireless networking and computer controls to replace simplistic planning tools.

"The [bus] network was based on frequent inter-town express services, with frequent feeder services from the suburbs that were guaranteed connection.

"Light rail could be the basis for inter-town express services, but it is not needed for the present population and, when it is needed, heavy rail is likely to be the preferred option," he said.

"Rather than developing very high-density infill along corridors, most Canberrans would prefer to see medium-density infill more widely spread, in harmony with the present town-centre, secondary node and suburban-centre urban hierarchy."

Mr Ruecroft, a Gungahlin resident and one of about 200 members of the Light Rail for Canberra Facebook group, said trams represented the best way to maximise public transport use and it was time for the city to commit. 

He advocates for park and ride facilities alongside fast and effective tram services. 

"This is the time that we need to do something visionary with public transport, and light rail actually gives us something for the future." 

He said recent road infrastructure projects built in Canberra including the Gungahlin Drive Extension had struggled to keep up with population growth, and that the government's proposal would serve the city for decades.

Construction of the 12-kilometre line is due to begin by mid-2016 with services to commence by 2020 and Mr Ruecroft said it would benefit both ends of the city. 

"Gungahlin is going to be a town roughly the same population as Tuggeranong," he said.

"Where is the shopping centre the same as other places? You need to have a decent shopping centre and to build it you need light rail as a catalyst."

"Light rail should be looked at more like heavy rail, but not carrying goods. It shouldn't have a stop everywhere that is convenient for people to get on, it should be an express with buses radiating out from the line and major park and rides in place for people to use," he said. 

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