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Buswell questions transport guru
The West Australian

A rail spur line to Perth Airport would do nothing to ease the city's traffic congestion, public transport expert Peter Newman said yesterday.

Professor Newman denied suggestions by Transport Minister Troy Buswell that he is too close to the Labor Party as the Liberals unveiled the $1.8 billion cost of their light rail plan.

A day after announcing a $1.9 billion spur line to Forrestfield via Perth Airport, Mr Buswell revealed the price tag of the MAX project that the Liberals say will start construction in 2016 and be running by 2018.

Like Labor's Metronet public transport plan, which the party claims will cost $3.8 billion over eight years, Mr Buswell is yet to explain how the pledges will be paid for but insists his costings for the "transformational" project are "realistic and accurate".

"I am very confident we can deliver the project for that amount of money and I contrast it completely to the Labor Party approach to planning their rail system," he said.

Shadow treasurer Ben Wyatt described the light rail plan as a hoax announced because the Government was panicked over Labor's "integrated and co-ordinated" public transport plan.

Mr Buswell has in recent days claimed Metronet is heavily influenced by the work of Professor Newman, a public transport advocate who heads Curtin University's Sustainability Policy Institute, and called on him to clarify his role in the Labor campaign.

Mr Wyatt said Professor Newman had no role.

Professor Newman said he had had conversations with both sides of politics, and said Metronet's "ring rail" and the MAX light rail plan both drew heavily on his concepts. He welcomed pledges from both sides of politics for an airport spur line but said it alone would not ease congestion.

"The airport link is important only if we get that whole ring rail built," he said.

"It needs to be part of that broader picture. I just saw it as important because it is part of that link but I don't think it's the number one priority."

Professor Newman said at $1.9 billion, the Liberals' proposed line would be one of the most expensive rail lines in the world.

RAC advocacy general manager Pat Walker said its State election wish list included an airport link as well as extending the Thornlie line to Cockburn Central and delivering light rail.

"A heavy rail link to the airport is only one part of the congestion solution," he said.

"There is a need for more than one new rail line. We need sustained and widespread investment in public transport."

Trent Zimmerman, acting chief executive of Sydney-based think-tank the Tourism and Transport Forum applauded the bipartisan commitment to build a Perth Airport link but also said it should not remain isolated.

"Public transport is always best when it is part of a long-term, integrated plan," Mr Zimmerman said.