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Despite ruling out the reinstatement of the Adelaide Hills passenger railway line, South Australia's Transport Minister has asked Engineers Australia to look into it after facing a hostile crowd in Mount Barker overnight.
Mr Wingard, who has ruled out reinstating a passenger railway line to reduce pressure on the South-Eastern Freeway, was among those who spoke to a crowd of more than 200 people in Mount Barker on Monday night.
He was answered with boos and shouts from the audience as he spruiked the state government's $10m business case for the Greater Adelaide Freight Bypass.
"I did face a very tough crowd up there," he told ABC Radio Adelaide.
"They're a very passionate people."
Peak-hour traffic jams are a regular way of life for freeway commuters on the stretch between Crafers and Glen Osmond.
It follows significant population growth since rural land — surrounding Mount Barker and Nairne in particular — was rezoned for housing with little supporting infrastructure last decade by the former Labor government.
Mount Barker itself has seen a population boost of 11,000 people in 10 years — representing just 10 per cent of what is to come.
John Hill said more than 200 people attended the forum held at Wallis Cinema Mount Barker.(Supplied: The Courier newspaper)Existing railway line useableThe forum was organised by the SA Transport Action Group, with chairperson John Hill saying a lack of Park'n'Rides that enabled commuters to park their vehicles and take a bus to the city was an obvious failing.
"There's also this thing called a railway, but for some reason in South Australia, we're adverse to rail," he said.
"Why on Earth are we leaving that rail unused, when we've got a freeway that's overused?"
A passenger service into the Adelaide Hills stopped in 1987, with today's trains only going as far as Belair in the foothills.
The rest of the track, which continues through the Hills and onwards to Melbourne, was converted into standard gauge in 1995.
The Belair passenger service continued onwards to as far as Bridgewater until 1987.(ABC News: Eugene Boisvert)Mr Hill said some people mistakenly believed this meant a new railway track would have to be laid to reinstate Adelaide's broad gauge passenger rail services.
He said the concrete sleepers were gauge convertible and could, in fact, support a dual gauge that would enable both passenger and freight trains to use the same track.
"The freight train only runs eight times a day, whereas the passenger line [City to Belair] does 88 trips a day, and other passenger lines do more than 100 trips a day," Mr Hill said.
"There are many people in Mount Barker that would rather go on a train than a bus."
Mr Hill added that when the Gawler Rail Electrification Project was completed, there would be a lot of spare diesel trains that could be used in the Hills, and even more when the Outer Harbor railway line was electrified as well.
He said the Belair line was unlikely to be electrified because of its tunnels.
"So you've got this huge capacity to move passengers up and down a railway line, which we're not even using," Mr Hill said.
The Gawler line's electrification has been in the works since it was announced in 2009.(ABC News)Wingard to revisit trainsMr Wingard said when he previously asked his department to look at reinstating the line, it claimed the cost would be "anywhere from $6 billion to $12 billion" and, at the lower end, "may not even save time in public transport".
Incoming Transport Minister inherits troubled portfolio[img]https://live-production.wcms.abc-cdn.net.au/19b23c0e8f4983566ea0fafa3e6919e9?impolicy=wcms_crop_resize&cropH=727&cropW=1293&xPos=0&yPos=0&width=862&height=485[/img]
How those figures for a 34-kilometre passenger service were reached, however, remains uncertain, with the 1,420km Darwin to Alice Springs railway line costing about $1.6 billion ahead of its completion in 2003.
Mr Wingard said he had now asked Infrastructure Australia to go over the department's work and "drill down on that a little further".
"When Mount Barker was constructed, so to speak, there was no real planning work done, so I understand and understood people's frustrations about that not happening over time," Mr Wingard said.
He said the government was committed to planning for solutions, starting with the bypass business case study, but also a "rapid bus transit" plan and the building of more Park'n'Rides.
Dan Cregan raises temperatureIn the audience was Glen from Wingfield, who said the tension in the room was "absolutely palpable" during Mr Wingard's address, due to his "inability to actually answer the questions rather than just give his political spill".
New Independent MP for Kavel Dan Cregan also attended the forum, after defecting from the Liberal Party only on Friday due to what he considered a lack of commitment to the Adelaide Hills.
He said he became an independent to create "competitive tension in a seat that is very, very safe for the Liberal party", because he wanted a "whole of government" approach to fixing the region's infrastructure shortfalls.
"There is no unified government plan to deal with the massive population growth we've got in the Hills," he said.
"There is growth everywhere between Littlehampton, Nairne, right up through Woodside, through Lobethal and particularly through Mount Barker of course as well.
"Restoring passenger rail services to the Hills is a matter that I have emphasised as being vital and must be considered by the government."
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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