Jul 18

Get on board with state passenger train service

EARLIER this month a serious crash occurred just north of Perth; two people were trapped. Onlookers pulled a man from his overturned ute, and a woman lay motionless in her wreck.

Apparently, the woman had slowed to allow an echidna to cross, and stalled in the process on a two-lane section of the road.

So often the Midland Highway plays host to speeding drivers, inattentive drivers and erratic drivers.

Too often, the dangerous behaviour results in death.

Dangers of the highway notwithstanding, the pristine Tasmanian environment suffers from car emissions.

Wallabies, possums and various other animals lie dead along the highway.

Last summer, significant sections of the bitumen melted in the heat.

A return trip between Hobart and Launceston costs about $60 in petrol, which is already prohibitive for some.

For those of us who are forced to make the trip regularly, the financial strain can be overwhelming.

It is time Tasmania moved away from investing hundreds of millions of dollars in roads, and developed a safer, faster, more environmentally friendly alternative.

Although a feasibility study is yet to be undertaken, the viability of passenger trains in Tasmania should be investigated.

They once plied the Midland section, terminating at the Launceston railyards and at the station in Hobart where the ABC now has its headquarters.

They were dreadfully slow and in 1976 the state sold our trains and track to the federal government to solve a budget crisis.

Now, in the modern era, they can be fast.

Imagine walking off the Spirit in Devonport and catching a train to Launceston. Passengers could commute to Burnie and back for business, and tourists would have a much easier time getting to Launceston from the south.

The list of possibilities and benefits is long.

The Tasmanian government owns the tracks, and has already invested $40 million in the rehabilitation of rail infrastructure.

TasRail announced further job cuts in September. A spokeswoman from the rail, tram and bus union said at the time that the cuts would result in a loss of skills to the mainland.

Developing a passenger train system would not be cheap, but some of the $400 million being spent on the Midland Highway upgrade by the federal government would surely be a good start.

The federal government has also earmarked $119 million for the revitalisation of Tasmania’s freight rail network.

Advocacy group Future Transport Tasmania has said a passenger rail service between Hobart and Launceston would cost about $3 billion, recouped in reduced road costs.

High speed trains could run at up to 200km/h, and would slash the commute time between Hobart and Launceston in half.

A rail system would allow those who cannot drive to easily travel around the state, making them less reliant on others, and could also be used for freight.

A passenger train system would create jobs, and ticket prices would generate income for the state.

People may even be more likely to choose Tasmania as a holiday destination if they did not have to rent a car to get around.

It is time we stopped pouring money into roads, and started to think outside of the box in terms of Tasmania’s transport.

We are the clean green state, let’s look toward investing in the future rather than the past.

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