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What Canberra can learn from the Gold Coast's light rail system

Lights flash, speakers beep, the doors slide shut and the tram slides forward with a noise akin to air escaping a balloon.

I'm on the G:Link, or 'the G:', the Gold Coast's light rail system that serves in many ways as a glimpse of Canberra's future if Capital Metro is rolled out.

While on a visit north of the Tweed, I thought I'd try out the public transport centrepiece on the holiday strip, which opened in mid-2014.

The 32-minute journey, travelling in a roughly north-south 13km path from Southport to Broadbeach, is close to the 12km length of the Capital Metro's first stage from Gungahlin to Civic.

The track runs along a mix of integrated road and separate rail, with 16 stations along its existing route.

All station platforms are level with the trams, making wheelchair access easy, while an automated voice announcing the name of the next stop and closest attractions some 20 to 30 seconds before arriving gives the vision impaired time to prepare for their destination.

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The ride is smooth, or at least it was when I took it late on a Sunday afternoon at the beginning of school holidays; something of a peak time for a tourist destination.

While fast when it ran along a segregated track, the tram did not jolt when stopping or starting, making it more comfortable for passengers during standing-room only times.

There are few seats on the trams, with many allocated to people with mobility issues, pregnant women or the elderly.

But the rolling stock, which is of a different design to the planned Canberra model, is spacious and wide, leaving plenty of standing room during peak times.

Ticketing machines are available at every station, but unless you have a pre-purchased gocard (Queensland's MyWay counterpart) you have to pay a premium for a paper ticket.

There are plenty of places that sell gocards close to the light rail line, but it could be worthwhile exploring the possibility of machines dispensing both paper tickets and new MyWay cards at Canberra stations.

Full-fare myki cards can be bought at some Melbourne tram stations on similar machines, setting a precedent for the ACT government to consider.

Though the G: appears to have had a successful first couple of years, a few fundamental differences mean it is difficult to use as a barometer for the prospective popularity of the Canberra project.

The G:Link's busiest station, Cavill Avenue, is about midway along the first stage of the light rail, while Canberra's terminus will be in the centre of Civic.

Similarly, the Gold Coast's light rail caters to a major shopping centre, hospital, university, convention centre and casino, of which the first stage of Canberra's network will service only a few.

And as choppy as Lake Burley Griffin can get, its unlikely Capital Metro will retain the Gold Coast's surfboard racks on each tram.

It will be interesting how the success or otherwise of Capital Metro, a suburban commuter system, compares to the success of a tourist precinct-oriented network.