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IT’S the Gold Coast’s favourite form of public transport and it’s celebrating its 20th anniversary.
The light rail system began running three years ago and has proved to be a big success with its second stage due to open early next year.
With planning for its third stage now well advanced, attention this week turned to western routes which would see the trams travel to Robina and Nerang.
This latest advancement in the system comes 20 years after the rapid transit system was first unveiled by city leaders.
It was late 1997 — Gary Baildon was mayor and the Gold Coast was preparing for the end of the 20th century and a booming population.
Cr Baildon unveiled the $450 million state-of-the-art “supertrams” which were said to be capable of 100km/h with a target start day of 2001.
1997: Gold Coast Mayor Gary Baildon launches plans for tram system Picture: Paul Riley.The proposal along with a ferry system formed part of a long-term transport master plan developed by the council to “establish the Gold Coast as a world leader in transportation”.
The world-class, ultra-low-floor supertrams were to be modelled on a similar Sydney proposal and would be fitted with rubberised noise controls on the wheels.
The trams, which can carry up to 200 people, would have run on a specially-dampened 30km track linking Helensvale, Southport, Surfers Paradise, Broadbeach and Nerang with a possible later line extension to Coolangatta and Robina.
They were to be so quiet a horn would be needed to warn pedestrians of their approach.
According to the plan they would operate similar to trains in cross-country areas, travelling between 60 and 80km/h, then run on streets at 20km/h where there is no dedicated corridor available.
The project was backed by city leaders, with leading early supporters including Crs David Power and Jan Grew.
Looking back this week, Cr Baildon fondly remembered the decision to pursue the tram system.
“I remember coming out of the meeting in which it was presented to us and telling something how significant a decision it was and how glad I was it was carried unanimously,” he said.
Then-mayor Gary Baildon (pictured in 1997) was an early supporter of light rail.“It was a transport plan for the future and people were initially worried there was going to be an elevated railway which would have allowed tram passengers to look into their windows.
“I am proud of this program and how it started given the significant impact it had.”
Councillor David PowerHowever, the 2001 start dated proved to be optimistic and it was not until that year in which a feasibility study was even funded, after Cr Baildon secured the support of Premier Peter Beattie and a reluctant Prime Minister John Howard.
It was another eight years and one prime minister later that the trams were finally funded and 13 years until the first passengers came aboard.
This week, Mayor Tom Tate paid tribute to the long-term planning which led to the tram’s success.
Mayor Tom Tate. Picture Glenn Hampson“I was living here in 1997 when light rail was first mooted for the Gold Coast so I remember the early discussions,” he said.
“It’s ironic that 20 years later, cities such as Newcastle and Sydney are starting to deliver their own light rail. Sydney’s first stage is for around 12.8km so like ours, all good things have to start small.”
This article first appeared on www.goldcoastbulletin.com.au
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