Light rail blueprint collects dust until poll

At its peak after World War II, Perth's tram line network extended 50km in radial lines linking Perth's CBD with the surrounding suburbs.

The first Perth tramway, according to the Perth Electric Tramway Society, opened in September 1899.

It ran almost 5km from near the WACA Ground in East Perth along Hay Street to Thomas Street in West Perth.

Between the 1920s and 1950s, it serviced Nedlands, Inglewood, South Perth, Como, Maylands, Mt Lawley, North Perth, Leederville, Wembley, Osborne Park, Victoria Park and as far as Welshpool.

Fremantle and surrounds also had a tramway, built up between 1905 and 1953.

By 1958, the tramways were shuttered, replaced in some places by trolley buses, a victim of the increasing popularity of the private motor car in a society of growing post-war affluence and changing values.

More than 50 years later, the first serious proposal to reinstate light rail as a component of Perth's transport mix is on the table.

Dubbed MAX by former transport minister Troy Buswell, the proposal is for a wishbone-style system - a northern spur from Polytechnic West at Mirrabooka to the CBD, and an east-west route linking QEII medical centre and Victoria Park.

Much of the east-west route would follow the original Hay Street line from 110 years ago.

First put at "somewhere north of $1 billion" when Mr Buswell announced the name in 2012, the project rose to $1.8 billion when it was costed during last year's State election campaign, when the Government formalised a promise to build the project by 2018 - albeit with 80 per cent of the assumed funding coming from the Federal Government.

With the unpopular Federal Labor government facing near-certain removal from office within six months and with Tony Abbott as Opposition leader making clear that funding urban public transport was not in the coalition's "knitting", the funding plan always looked dicey.

The State Government committed to doing the project by 2019 anyway in its 2013-14 Budget but then reversed that in the mid-year review last December.

The Government's official position is that it remains committed to the project but that it has been put on hold because of budgetary circumstances.

It has said it will not commit to a decision before mid-2017, which is after the next State election, meaning the project is likely to be at the centre of a second consecutive election campaign.

Labor, which made no provision for MAX in its Metronet public transport plan last year, has never committed itself to build the project - and that appears unlikely to change given the 2017 campaign will be fought in a fiscal straitjacket.

The West Australian

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