Transport Minister backs Riverlea rail link – but says more population growth needed

Transport Minister Tom Koutsantonis says there should be a passenger train service to the Riverlea housing estate in Adelaide’s north, but the area is “not developed to the point yet where you could justify a rail line”.

Feb 09, 2024, updated Feb 09, 2024
Public transport advocates have been pushing for a rail link to Riverlea in Adelaide's northwest. Left photo: Walker Corporation; right photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Public transport advocates have been pushing for a rail link to Riverlea in Adelaide's northwest. Left photo: Walker Corporation; right photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

The Riverlea master planned community is projected to deliver 12,000 new homes and 40,000 new residents to a greenfield area roughly 30 kilometres north of the CBD near Buckland Park.

But the $3 billion estate is currently only served by an hourly bus to the Elizabeth and Salisbury interchanges, with new residents otherwise dependent on car travel.

Public transport advocates, Labor MPs and independent MP Frank Pangallo have called on the government to build a spur line off the current Gawler train line to service Riverlea and Adelaide’s northwest spine.

Riverlea map

The location of Riverlea in comparison to Gawler and the Adelaide CBD. Image: Google Maps

Asked on FIVEaa Mornings today whether there should be a spur line to Riverlea, Koutsantonis said: “Yeah, there should be.”

Asked why one is not being built, Koutsantonis said the government needs to first undo the privatisation of Adelaide’s passenger rail.

But he said planning was underway to examine what power source a future northern suburbs rail extension would need.

“What we are doing right now is we are doing a lot of planning,” Koutsantonis said.

“We are doing planning in Mount Barker, we are doing planning out north and we are doing planning out south – we are asking people what services they want.

“Now rail lines are inherently very, very expensive and you want to electrify these lines and we are also doing studies about whether or not you would need to put the gantries up or you would just use electric battery trains.

“So, you have got the gantry up to Gawler, if you go to Concordia and Riverlea do you need to actually build the electric infrastructure all the way… to those suburbs?

“Or do you just have it being charged up until Gawler and then going by battery for the rest of the distance?

“So, we’re doing all of that work.”

Riverlea masterplan

The Riverlea masterplan. Image: Walker Corporation

The state and federal governments jointly invested $842 million to electrify the Gawler line in a project that suffered numerous cost blowouts and delays.

The Transport Department has also hired consultants to investigate how to shift Adelaide Metro’s remaining diesel trains – which run on the Belair, Outer Harbor and Grange lines – to zero-emissions technology.

The first residents moved into Riverlea in October 2022. Koutnsatonis said the area’s population did not yet justify a rail link.

“Trains can carry 500 people. Right now, our transport is not at capacity, there’s a lot more space on our trains for a lot more people,” he said.

“So, Riverlea’s not developed to the point yet where you could justify a rail line.

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“But when it is, that’s when the argument starts to get coming a lot harder.

“We started our bus services from Riverlea to train stations and to Adelaide. That’s what we’re attempting to do, so it’s a gradual incremental increase.”

Asked if the state government should build the transport infrastructure and then the residents will come, Koutsantonis said: “If you’ve got an existing population centre where there is no train, yes potentially.

“But if there aren’t any houses there, or aren’t enough houses, then no you would not fill it.

The distance between Riverlea and the Adelaide CBD can be covered by a 25 minute car journey, according to developers Walker Corporation.

The state government last week began a 12-month transport study for the northern suburbs, which are growing at a faster rate than the rest of Adelaide.

The area is also more car-dependent than the rest of Adelaide. According to government figures, 5.7 per cent of commuters in Adelaide’s north catch public transport to work, compared to the Greater Adelaide average of 6.4 per cent.

Further, 93 per cent of residents in the northern suburbs own a car, slightly higher than the Greater Adelaide average of 92.4 per cent.

Northern suburbs Labor MPs John Fulbrook and Matt Burnell have also urged the government to consider increasing housing density near train stations along the Gawler line, rather than on greenfield land unconnected to infrastructure.

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