Push to consider future tram services across Ballarat

Trams outside the Provincial Hotel. Picture: From Max Harris' Collection, Ballaarat Mechanics' Institute

Trams outside the Provincial Hotel. Picture: From Max Harris' Collection, Ballaarat Mechanics' Institute

Ballarat may have to look back to its past to guarantee a successful future public transport network.

A local transport consultant believes a tram and light-rail service is a viable option to cater for the city’s population growth – predicted to be 160,000 by 2040 – and should be considered within the next five to 10 years.

AWTY Transport Consulting managing director Jeff Moran has penned a letter to City of Ballarat chief executive Justine Linley urging council to investigate a light rail and tram system along a north-south corridor through the heart of the city as well as reinstating rail services along Sturt Street.

Central to the plan would be a north-south rail system right through Ballarat that could include the Ballarat West Employment Zone and Ballarat Airport to the north of the city as well as Federation University and even Buninyong to the south.

He said expansion suburbs such as Lucas and the upcoming completion of the Delacombe Town Centre also warranted a rail service out to the city’s west.

“The premier line would be north-south,” he said.

“It could include Federation University and the two railway stations (Ballarat and Wendouree), and there’s a fair amount of shopping and recreation in there already.

“You factor in medium density housing and this is as good as any corridor in Melbourne for trams.

“You could push this line into the uni off the road and then set up the light rail corridor out to Buninyong and I could see the same thing up to the (Ballarat) Airport but you probably wouldn’t build it day one.”

A tram ploughs into Dickins' store. Date unknown. Picture: The Gold Museum, Sovereign Hill

A tram ploughs into Dickins' store. Date unknown. Picture: The Gold Museum, Sovereign Hill

Similar cases have been mounted to reinstate rail services across the city in the past but were dismissed due to excessive costs, however, Mr Moran said there are a number of enticing factors for such a project.

“I’ve seen lots of good decisions just pushed to one side because of a particular interest group doesn’t like it or because treasury or finance group says it costs too much money,” he said.

“As a professional engineer I understand too much money, but the benefits side gets ignored. You put a bit of work in to suss out the benefits and I think the benefit for this in Ballarat (return for investment) could be two or three to one.”

An incident on Ballarat's tramline.

An incident on Ballarat's tramline.

At its peak in 1936, Ballarat’s tram network covered 24.6 kilometres in total and featured seven main routes,  including along Sturt Street, around Lake Wendouree, out to Mount Pleasant as well as down south to the Sebastopol area.

In his letter to Ms Linley, Mr Moran said there were “obvious markets” for light rail services in the city, including commuters travelling to jobs and students heading to school, the elderly accessing retail outlets and medical services and tourists accessing entertainment, cultural, gastronomic and recreational services.

“There have been a number of subsequent proposals to reinstate trams in Ballarat,” he wrote.

“One major push in 2001 sought to establish a tourist tram route between Ballarat Station and Sovereign Hill.  Another sought to re-establish a public transport route along Sturt Street in 2009.  Both proposals failed to get the support of xouncil as they were deemed to be too expensive and lacking in critical demand.

However, we are seeing in current times a revival in trams and light rail in Australia due to their capacity to support medium density housing and mixed use development.”

Mr Moran said as a general rule, light rail infrastructure costs around $5 million per kilometre of track, but maintains there is significant return for investment opportunities.

Most recently, Ballarat residents called for a historic tramline to be reinstated in the city’s centre in 2014 following the revelation that Bendigo had commissioned a $120,000 feasibility study to reopen a historic 4.1-kilometre tourist tramway.

Consultants undertaking the study were examining whether it is possible the tramline could serve tourists and commuters in the same way that cable cars and other trams do in cities such as Melbourne, New Orleans and San Francisco.

Ballarat's tram network in 1971. Picture: Chris Brownbill and www.railpage.org.au

Ballarat's tram network in 1971. Picture: Chris Brownbill and www.railpage.org.au

Public Transport Users Association Ballarat convener Ben Lever supported the concept of light rail in Ballarat, pointing to the recent success with a similar system in the Gold Coast, however, said the inclusion of such a service would likely be decades away.

“It would be fantastic to see trams return to Ballarat in the future,” he said.

“The Gold Coast's Light Rail system, which opened in 2014, has been a huge success, with 10 million trips in the first 18 months of operation, and extensions to the network already in progress.

Light Rail systems will become increasingly viable in larger regional centres like Ballarat as their populations grow.

People do tend to prefer using trams to buses, so if our major transport corridors were served by trams, it would be much more likely to entice people to leave the car at home, and reduce traffic. If they served our major tourist destinations, it could also provide a big boost to tourism in Ballarat. 

“It'll become more and more viable as Ballarat's population grows over the next few decades, but the main thing we need to do in the meantime is make sure that we get the bus network and the land use planning right, so the growth is happening in the right places. 

“We have to focus residential and commercial growth along key public transport corridors, so that the state and federal governments can plainly see why a tram would work there.”