Light rail is finally starting (or returning) to cities across Australia! The latest project to launch was in the Gold Coast where the light rail system has "exceeded expectations with bumper passenger numbers".
Guest contributor Nicole Willis, takes us through the experience of launch day.
It was 5:30am on Sunday, in the middle of winter, and we were preparing to leave the house. We quickly made our way to Southport, but had intentions of enjoying breakfast in Broadbeach, some 10 kilometres away south. We walked through the CBD towards one of 16 new Light Rail stations; Scarborough South station. The platform was buzzing with awaiting passengers, and friendly staff. Everyone was snapping photos of the station, the route map, the tracks and everything else that seemed novel about this new experience. Mind you, the average Gold Coaster doesn’t use public transport; everything about this experience was novel.
Sunday was opening day of the Gold Coast’s brand new Light Rail system, which connects the Gold Coast Hospital in Parkwood, through Southport, Main Beach, Surfers Paradise and finishes at Pacific Fair in Broadbeach!
After decades of planning, many years of construction and months of testing, passengers were finally welcomed onto the carriages of our new Light Rail system.
In the distance we saw the tram approach from the north, and everyone quickly turned their heads and starred as it approached. It was a feeling of pure excitement and anticipation; Will it be a bumpy ride, will it screech around corners, how fast will it go over the Sundale Bridge?
I was with my best friend and her 15 month old daughter. I felt great satisfaction in ensuring baby Ella was one of the first to experience the beginning of a new era on the Gold Coast, and one which will ensure we continue to develop into a world class city.
Tram # 10 arrived on the eastern side of Scarborough South Station and the doors pushed open to a brand new rail carriage. It looked amazing, world class, and there were plenty of seats available so we hopped on and found prime window seats to enjoy the view.
We were swiftly on our way, stopping first at Broadwater Parklands Station briefly and then scooted (approx. 60-70km/hr) across the Nerang River via Sundale Bridge, stopping at Main Beach Station, then Surfers Paradise North station to let a few more excited passengers on board.
It was beautiful to see the diversity of locals supporting such an important milestone in our city’s future. Everyone was chatty, very friendly and with their own tales to tell – it seemed everyone had played a part, made a sacrifice or contributed in some way to our new piece of infrastructure. We made our way past Cypress Avenue Station to Cavil Avenue Station and then Surfers Paradise Station (which is actually outside the Q1 – likely to catch unsuspecting tourists out being hundreds of metres from the centre of Surfers).
It was a unique experience, sitting back to relax as the tram eased its way through the central strip of the Gold Coast, not having to wait at traffic lights, not having to fight the traffic. High densities are visible right alongside the tracks, with the residential and commercial catchment existing to see the light rail become a success.
But, the $1.2 billion private-public partnership project has come under severe criticism, at all stages of its life due to its questionable cost benefit analysis, poor timing of significant construction works in centres aligning with GFC, and anticipated poor patronage expected to make the system run at a loss for decades.
However, it seemed the entire Gold Coast was celebrating today. Business owners along the route organised entertainment, streets were temporarily closed to cars, markets were setup, and tens of thousands of people celebrated the launch of a new mode of public transport for the Gold Coast.
After breakfast, we enjoyed the arts and crafts market in Victoria Park. We then decided to head back to Southport. It was about 9:30am and we could see as we approached Broadbeach North Station that the station was filling up with people. There was a brass quartet performing on the platform as we crossed the Gold Coast Highway and waited for the northbound tram to come. The trams have been permanently scheduled for every 7.5 minutes so it wasn’t long before she arrived. This time she was packed! Each tram can cater for 80 seated passengers and 200+ standing. As the tram stopped, the voice over the loudspeaker attempted to coax people off the tram to allow others to enjoy a ride, but most stayed budge as they revelled in the experience of completing a full loop. (I later found out, officials were completely clearing the carriages out at each end of the system and a large queue of awaiting passengers had formed at each end wanting to have a ride, reportedly many waiting for hours).
The trip back was just as enjoyable, and the buzz within the tram unbelievable. I will remember this experience for many years to come, and use the enthusiasm of the community as we help Stages 2, 3, 4… come to fruition, and therefore realise the full potential of a fully integrated public transport network linking the new light rail system to the Queensland-wide heavy rail network, to the Gold Coast Airport and to Northern NSW, and creating public transport links to key nodes across the city. The pending Commonwealth Games in 2018 should be catalyst enough to seek this legacy for our city.
Nicole Willis is an Urban Planner based on the Gold Coast. http://www.taylorwillis.com.au/