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Beware light rail cost blow-outs

By Marcus Paul - 26 October 2015 181

lightrail

Well, what a debacle that mess in the ACTON Tunnel was. It’s hard to imagine in this city of ours how much of a headache an over-height truck can cause. However, due to the unfathomable use uf ‘asbestos’ tiles on the roof of this decades old structure it did indeed cause a headache. What this writer hopes, in the impending investigation, authorities perhaps consider the removal of these tiles so as to avoid lengthy disruptions in the future should another truck smash into this infrastructure.

What was surprising, in my view, was the suggestion the Capital Metro Light Rail could have avoided some of the traffic chaos and disruption. Really? I read with a wry grin comments such as “one could just imagine people whizzing by on a tram peering down on the bumper to bumper action below”. Last time I checked the Capital Metro was running from Civic to Gungahlin, and most of the traffic nightmare was centred on the inner and south of the city, while the north was spared. Sure, things were also slow along Northbourne Ave but again this was mostly in a southbound direction.

Today however, comes the announcement the ACT Government plans to extend the light rail through The Parliamentary Triangle, into Woden, Fyshwick and onto Canberra Airport. They’re calling it the 25 year ‘master plan’ and it highlights the current government’s plans to use this type of infrastructure to attract development.

In theory, this all sounds fine. After all, the G-Link on the Gold Coast is going extremely well, and there is little doubt this major regional Australian city is benefitting from light rail. Indeed, the Queensland Government is also in the planning and approval stages of their network extending toward the hinterland via the suburbs with support from the Federal Government announced last week. The ACT government will be hoping to attract similar Federal support for the second stage of its project.

What we do know here in the ACT is the first ‘controversial’ stage of Capital Metro will run via Northbourne from Civic to Gungahlin. It’s expected to cost in the vicinity of $780 million and should be operational within four years. Again, the Government will put this before the public and ask for commentary and consultation, and this is the right course of action. However, will Andrew Barr and the out-going Simon Corbell actually listen? Depending on which survey you believe (and there are many out there), Canberrans either want or do not want this infrastructure by a slim margin.

There are many factors to consider here. First and foremost from a rate payers perspective it’s almost horrifying to think of the costs involved. It goes without saying cost blowouts in major infrastructure and developments are almost inevitable. The big question remains – and may well be answered at next years ACT Election – will Canberran’s support this vision or not?

What’s Your opinion?


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181 Responses to
Beware light rail cost blow-outs
1
JC 11:35 am
26 Oct 15
#

Going to ignore most of your post, but cost lets put this into perspective for a second.

$780m sounds like a lot and it is a lot, it works out to be $65m/km. Over the 10 year cost cylce it also works out to be $228 per person per year, so maybe not so bad.

But also lets look at some road projects.

Gundaroo Drive duplication, 1km from Gungahlin Drive to Mirrabi Drive, $31m, so $31m/km.

Majura Parkway, 12km, $244m, $20.3m/km, also put that cost over 10 years and it turns out that every vehicle that drives on that road is costing $2 in direct cost.

Do you hear any uproar about the costs of these roads, nope what you hear is whinging they should have been done earlier, but when they do get done earlier (John Gorton Drive in Molongolo for example) people whinge that money has been built on roads to nowhere. But I digress.

Now these road projects are 1/2rd to 1/3rd the cost of light rail, but total construction cost is not the complete story. Take Majura parkway for a second. Yes each vehicle driving on that road is costing $2, based on cost along you could argue it should be a toll road, but no look at the bigger picture and that road is saving money elsewhere, so very much a worth while and affordable project.

Gundaroo drive duplication, yeah could argue it is needed, but economically, maybe not.

Light rail, yeah high direct cost, but what is the full economic picture. How much extra money will it generate in terms of land sale and rates? How much money will it save on not having to build extra or wider roads?

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2
Marcus Paul 12:54 pm
26 Oct 15
#

Thanks for your comment JC.

You make some great points, and it’s hard to argue with the figures you present.

The only issue is (perhaps) while roadways do from time to time require maintenance … light rail will require on-going running costs.

While I am actually a fan of this infrastructure, I personally believe we should wait at least another five or so years and could better spend the money in health and schools.

Light Rail long term is certainly a good idea, however if we rush into it over the next few years I hope we don’t have an expensive white elephant siphoning rate payers $$.

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3
OpenYourMind 1:02 pm
26 Oct 15
#

JC said :

Going to ignore most of your post, but cost lets put this into perspective for a second.

$780m sounds like a lot and it is a lot, it works out to be $65m/km. Over the 10 year cost cylce it also works out to be $228 per person per year, so maybe not so bad.

But also lets look at some road projects.

Gundaroo Drive duplication, 1km from Gungahlin Drive to Mirrabi Drive, $31m, so $31m/km.

Majura Parkway, 12km, $244m, $20.3m/km, also put that cost over 10 years and it turns out that every vehicle that drives on that road is costing $2 in direct cost.

Do you hear any uproar about the costs of these roads, nope what you hear is whinging they should have been done earlier, but when they do get done earlier (John Gorton Drive in Molongolo for example) people whinge that money has been built on roads to nowhere. But I digress.

Now these road projects are 1/2rd to 1/3rd the cost of light rail, but total construction cost is not the complete story. Take Majura parkway for a second. Yes each vehicle driving on that road is costing $2, based on cost along you could argue it should be a toll road, but no look at the bigger picture and that road is saving money elsewhere, so very much a worth while and affordable project.

Gundaroo drive duplication, yeah could argue it is needed, but economically, maybe not.

Light rail, yeah high direct cost, but what is the full economic picture. How much extra money will it generate in terms of land sale and rates? How much money will it save on not having to build extra or wider roads?

You are making a terrible assumption here. People use these roads; you think people will use light rail? That’s an awfully big gamble to take. We have a bus system that in its own struggling way at least covers the geographically disperse city that is Canberra and which has enormous ongoing cost and low levels of utilisation. Canberra is not the Gold Coast or a tight little European city. Whether we like it or not, it’s a car oriented city and will be for the forseeable future. Most of us ratepayers have configured our lives around it, the schools we choose, the daycare, our workplaces our real estate selection. The tram cannot cater for this in the near term, it simply can’t. Even if we spent the $9878billion and built the tracks seen in the diagram, people still wouldn’t use it as they would still have to drive and park at a tram station…that’s the kind of city Canberra is.

Personally, I’d love to see fractions of that money spent on better cycling infrastructure than we have now. But I’m also realistic (unlike tram people) and accept that the choice of cycling (or trams) is not acceptable to many Canberrans.

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4
Postalgeek 1:35 pm
26 Oct 15
#

JC said :

Going to ignore most of your post, but cost lets put this into perspective for a second.

$780m sounds like a lot and it is a lot, it works out to be $65m/km. Over the 10 year cost cylce it also works out to be $228 per person per year, so maybe not so bad.

But also lets look at some road projects.

Gundaroo Drive duplication, 1km from Gungahlin Drive to Mirrabi Drive, $31m, so $31m/km.

Majura Parkway, 12km, $244m, $20.3m/km, also put that cost over 10 years and it turns out that every vehicle that drives on that road is costing $2 in direct cost.

Do you hear any uproar about the costs of these roads, nope what you hear is whinging they should have been done earlier, but when they do get done earlier (John Gorton Drive in Molongolo for example) people whinge that money has been built on roads to nowhere. But I digress.

Now these road projects are 1/2rd to 1/3rd the cost of light rail, but total construction cost is not the complete story. Take Majura parkway for a second. Yes each vehicle driving on that road is costing $2, based on cost along you could argue it should be a toll road, but no look at the bigger picture and that road is saving money elsewhere, so very much a worth while and affordable project.

Gundaroo drive duplication, yeah could argue it is needed, but economically, maybe not.

Light rail, yeah high direct cost, but what is the full economic picture. How much extra money will it generate in terms of land sale and rates? How much money will it save on not having to build extra or wider roads?

Need to factor in freight and services i.e. trucks and commercial vehicles that will never be replaced by light rail. Yes, by pushing commuters off the road wear and tear can be reduced and expensive duplication may not be needed and I think there are arguments for that, but if you’re buying food at a store, it is not going to be supplied to you by public transport.

Roads facilitate passengers, freight, and services. The light rail will facilitate passengers AFAIK.

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5
ffisher 1:51 pm
26 Oct 15
#

No right answer but it seems like too much money for Canberra.
For Gunghalin drive they should first remove the two traffic lights at Franklin and Mitchell and put the turning traffic on merging lane and overhead road; its the traffic lights that slow down that road.
Unless they are proposing carparking for 5000+ cars in Gunghalin who do they think is going to use the light rail; it will only be those who live a 10 min walk from it. 60,000 residents in Gunghalin. It will be white elephant.
Gundaroo drive needs duplication also from Crace to Barton Highway otherwise what will be the point; traffic is slow at Crace and on Gunghalin Drive.
Hoskin Street at Mitchell should continue thru and join up with Randwick Road to allow another route to ease traffic.
Surely these solutions would be cheaper than light rail. Do you really want to bus/walk/wait or drive/park/walk/wait, standing around in minus 5 in winter or 30 in summer to catch a train when you could be in your nice warm/cool car and already well on your way before the train arrives.
Why should all of Canberra pay to fix a problem created by bad planning – the planners have done a bad job of planning the Gunghalin region (including the town centre), perhaps their pay should be docked to fix it.

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6
dungfungus 2:18 pm
26 Oct 15
#

JC said :

Going to ignore most of your post, but cost lets put this into perspective for a second.

$780m sounds like a lot and it is a lot, it works out to be $65m/km. Over the 10 year cost cylce it also works out to be $228 per person per year, so maybe not so bad.

But also lets look at some road projects.

Gundaroo Drive duplication, 1km from Gungahlin Drive to Mirrabi Drive, $31m, so $31m/km.

Majura Parkway, 12km, $244m, $20.3m/km, also put that cost over 10 years and it turns out that every vehicle that drives on that road is costing $2 in direct cost.

Do you hear any uproar about the costs of these roads, nope what you hear is whinging they should have been done earlier, but when they do get done earlier (John Gorton Drive in Molongolo for example) people whinge that money has been built on roads to nowhere. But I digress.

Now these road projects are 1/2rd to 1/3rd the cost of light rail, but total construction cost is not the complete story. Take Majura parkway for a second. Yes each vehicle driving on that road is costing $2, based on cost along you could argue it should be a toll road, but no look at the bigger picture and that road is saving money elsewhere, so very much a worth while and affordable project.

Gundaroo drive duplication, yeah could argue it is needed, but economically, maybe not.

Light rail, yeah high direct cost, but what is the full economic picture. How much extra money will it generate in terms of land sale and rates? How much money will it save on not having to build extra or wider roads?

This trend of setting off the cost of light rail against roads is totally spurious.
How many people use the GDE and Majura Parkway daily for example compared with the 5,000 (if they are lucky) that will use the City to Gungahlin light rail?
You do realise that when the trams are delivered to Canberra they will come by road transport?

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7
cbrmale 3:01 pm
26 Oct 15
#

The tram journey time from Gungahlin to Civic will take longer than at present by bus. The end to end journey time by bus to Gungahlin and then tram to Civic will take substantially longer than now. As a former resident of Melbourne who commuted by train to their city centre for many years, I know that the rail component of a home to work journey is only a percentage of the total journey time. This is one failing of fixed rail, and the other failing is our city has a very low population density compared to most cities which have built light rail networks over the past few decades. This low population density and the proliferation of work destinations means that a large percentage of commuters will rely on car or bus for their commutes, which often are not to the city centre. I have found tram networks in cities like Amsterdam to be excellent, but these cities are compact compared to Canberra.

In other words I truly hope we don’t have an expensive white elephant siphoning ratepayer dollars. At the moment rates are so expensive in Canberra that I am seriously thinking about selling up and moving out, and I don’t believe there is any scope to increase rates above that which is being charged at the moment.

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8
watto23 4:07 pm
26 Oct 15
#

Marcus Paul said :

Thanks for your comment JC.

You make some great points, and it’s hard to argue with the figures you present.

The only issue is (perhaps) while roadways do from time to time require maintenance … light rail will require on-going running costs.

While I am actually a fan of this infrastructure, I personally believe we should wait at least another five or so years and could better spend the money in health and schools.

Light Rail long term is certainly a good idea, however if we rush into it over the next few years I hope we don’t have an expensive white elephant siphoning rate payers $$.

I have an issue with this idea that we should spend more money on health and schools. Its the same argument used anytime something looks expensive. The ACT budget allocated 56% of the budget to health and education. So over half my rates and taxes already go to health and education and yet yourself and others say more should be spent on them. I’m all for free healthcare and education and agree its a valuable thing to spend money on. But we can’t just keep putting more money into these bottomless pits. No amount of money is going to make the health and education systems flawless.

The health system needs an overhaul. Private medical insurance is a con we are forced to pay for, yet i can’t afford to use due to the gap. I’m happy to pay when I can afford it. Recently I needed after hours medical attention. I went to the hospital and it was packed with people coughing. I’m not sure how many were emergencies but the queue was at 40+ people. I asked if there was anywhere else I could go and there was a doctors in the hospital and would cost me $90 before medicare rebate. I went there and paid my money and was out within an hour. Yet I hear of people who complain about emergency and they tell me they took their child there because they were ill and there are no bulk billing doctors around. Clearly we could improve the health system and part of the problem are Canberrans themselves.

I’m waiting for when the government will want to build a new convention centre and stadium. I’m sure the same argument will be used then. Back to the light rail, the current plan makes a lot of sense. Extending it all over Canberra doesn’t. Creating the high density corridors, enabling people to live in Canberra and not need to own a car if they choose not to or only owning one car between 2 or more people will help. More housing with suitable transport options is a good plan. Sure the upfront cost is high, but infrastructure costs money and usually benefits the economy in many ways. It probably should be extended to Russell and the airport as part of stage one. Then extended to the triangle, Kingston and Manuka (Maybe Fyshwick with a big park and ride station). But that is as far as I think it needs to go in the medium term. Those who want their suburbs, backyards and cars can still do so. There are benefits to the community, it should reduce traffic on the roads, compared to no light rail in 10-20 years, provide more housing and lifestyle options, keep carparking costs down in the city and also reduce the amount of roadworks and improvements.

My only observation of road maintenance is it must cost a fair bit, there are many roads needing maintenance and not the budget to fix them properly.

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9
HiddenDragon 5:40 pm
26 Oct 15
#

“….The ACT government will be hoping to attract similar Federal support for the second stage of its project….”

All the public comments I have heard from our shiny new public transport-friendly federal Ministry have included a caveat along the lines of “if it stacks up” – so substantial federal assistsance would be very nice, but with all the other calls on federal funding (and that deficit which just won’t go away), anything more than token assistance will be miraculous.

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10
MERC600 6:33 pm
26 Oct 15
#

JC said :

Going to ignore most of your post, but cost lets put this into perspective for a second.

$780m sounds like a lot and it is a lot, it works out to be $65m/km. Over the 10 year cost cylce it also works out to be $228 per person per year, so maybe not so bad.

But also lets look at some road projects.

Gundaroo Drive duplication, 1km from Gungahlin Drive to Mirrabi Drive, $31m, so $31m/km.

Majura Parkway, 12km, $244m, $20.3m/km, also put that cost over 10 years and it turns out that every vehicle that drives on that road is costing $2 in direct cost.

Do you hear any uproar about the costs of these roads, nope what you hear is whinging they should have been done earlier, but when they do get done earlier (John Gorton Drive in Molongolo for example) people whinge that money has been built on roads to nowhere. But I digress.

Now these road projects are 1/2rd to 1/3rd the cost of light rail, but total construction cost is not the complete story. Take Majura parkway for a second. Yes each vehicle driving on that road is costing $2, based on cost along you could argue it should be a toll road, but no look at the bigger picture and that road is saving money elsewhere, so very much a worth while and affordable project.

Gundaroo drive duplication, yeah could argue it is needed, but economically, maybe not.

Light rail, yeah high direct cost, but what is the full economic picture. How much extra money will it generate in terms of land sale and rates? How much money will it save on not having to build extra or wider roads?

I still have this trouble with the idea that extra money will be generated in terms of land sale and rates.

Couldn’t they still go ahead and build all these high density joints without a tram.?
Are people going to rush to buy the things so they can sit out on the balcony just to watch a blessed tram trundle by ?
Will they be yelling out “hurry come quick a tram is going to be going past shortly !! , (something those would be uppitty southsiders don’t have) , and don’t spill your shardy on the carpet !! “

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11
Fastdaps 8:02 pm
26 Oct 15
#

JC makes very excellent points far better than the article above with evidence to back it up. JC highlights the often forgotten point in the consideration of PT infrastructure, the other important point to note is that LR also brings about corridor development it builds communities! Roads don’t and never will, they just become a barrier in the development of an area. Marcus the point you make around running is just unfounded and rubbish, there is no way the ongoing running of the tram will compare with the upkeep of the Majura parkway. The longer we leave the infrastructure the more it will cost, you’re moaning about the cost now imagine in 5-10 years when it doubles you will be moaning even more. We need to bite the bullet and just build the thing.Having lived most of my life commuting by rail, it’s a different mentality, it will change behaviours and it will rejuvenate the corridor this is not about a transport solution this is about building a future, building communities and creating a sustainable future. Delivering the infrastructure through a PPP also gives the ACT Gov certainty over the price, if there are blowouts they are on the consortia not the government so again your point is invalid. Finally, this is master plan is not about the gungahlin to city corridor it’s about the role out accross the ACT, therefore your point again is incorrect.

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12
dukethunder 9:11 pm
26 Oct 15
#

“bottomless pits” this is the cost of an ageing population. There’s no ethical way to prevent the escalation of healthcare costs…. Light rail or not, the government needs to maintain health and education. Both federally funded- state/territory administered BTW.

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13
wildturkeycanoe 10:23 pm
26 Oct 15
#

ffisher said :

Do you really want to bus/walk/wait or drive/park/walk/wait, standing around in minus 5 in winter or 30 in summer to catch a train when you could be in your nice warm/cool car and already well on your way before the train arrives.
.

This is exactly right. Anyone who believes that a majority of Gunners people will use the tram on a daily basis is deluded. Only those who are in close proximity will walk to a stop to catch the tram whilst the rest will drive or catch a bus [either to the tram stop or to their destination], so there will be more demand for buses and only a little less demand for cars. The tram also seems to rely on everyone needing to travel from Gungahlin to Civic. Has anyone actually done a study to see where all the traffic that runs along Northbourne avenue has originated from and is going to? Surely they aren’t all going to the town center.
Whilst buses take a shorter time to travel the same distance as the tram, people will still prefer the faster alternative, though my guess is that ACTION will remove the rapid bus services in order to attract more tram passengers.

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14
Masquara 10:38 pm
26 Oct 15
#

That’s about six billion dollars worth of light rail pictured there, folks. The ACT Labor Government is incontinent!

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15
miz 7:28 am
27 Oct 15
#

Acton tunnel is what would happen if light rail broke down or was involved in an accident! I noticed how flexible our buses were, being easily able to keep on the road and bypass the problem area – this flexibility could not happen so efficiently in a post light rail Canberra, as so many present bus routes are going to be re-routed to the light rail line. My bus home was only 10 mins late that day, which I thought was impressive.
Light rail may appear to be ‘cool’ to the decision makers (who clearly never use public transport), but the proposed light rail venture is a disaster in so many ways.

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