Gozo’s population would have to explode to 150,000 people for a metro line on the sister isle to be deemed feasible, according to the consultancy firm working on the government’s mass transportation plans.

Government sources said the UK engineering firm Arup had in recent weeks informed Transport Minister Ian Borg that the sister isle’s population would have to increase fivefold for it to be economically viable to extend a metro service beneath the channel. 

Talk of a 20-year mass transport project has been swirling around in recent months with the government last month confirming that plans for a comprehensive system were at an “advanced stage”.

And, although some have questioned whether this would incorporate the Malta-Gozo tunnel, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat in February gave an indication that Gozo would not be part of his metro metropolis.

 “We need to ask ourselves – do we want more building on Gozo to facilitate this population growth?” he had told a political gathering in the Gozitan capital of Victoria. 

Meanwhile, Arup have told the Infrastructure Ministry that Mellieħa’s population would also have to grow significantly for it to make economic sense to extend the metro line even that far north.

“Mellieħa would need to experience a large growth from its current population of 10,000 to 50,000,” the company said. 

Do we want more building on Gozo to facilitate this population growth?

The preferred model

Government sources told The Sunday Times of Malta that the preferred model for a metro system would service what Arup have identified as the “Principal Urban Area” – which would include the densely populated North Harbour region of the island.

This line would service a residential catchment of around a third of the population, Arup estimate, running in a loop of about 30 kilometres.

By way of comparison, a Gozo line would have some 550 per cent fewer residents per kilometre.

The principal line would also cover around 70,000 workers’ commutes, while a Gozitan line would cover only around 6,000, the experts told the government.

Many metro plans  

In the run-up to the 2017 general election the Nationalist Party had proposed a “state-of-the-art” metro system of its own which it expected to cost at least €2.3 billion, saying it would be delivered over a period of four legislatures.

And, more recently, a detailed proposal was also put forward by Konrad Xuereb, a director at KonceptX, an architectural and structural engineering firm with offices in Malta and London.

He believes his proposal, which includes a Gozo link and would be carried out across three phases, is not only feasible but could solve many of the island’s traffic-related problems.

Based on the use of two tunnel boring machines, the first phase of the proposed metro could take just five years to be completed. The second and third phases would be anticipated to take a further two and three years respectively, he believes.

The government, however, is keeping its plans close to its chest, releasing few details on how its metro vision for the island would look. 

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