23 May 2023

ACT calls on feds to clear approvals path for light rail to Woden

| Ian Bushnell
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Light rail to Woden has a lot of hurdles to clear. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The ACT Government wants the Albanese Government to not only help pay for light rail to Woden but also clear the tracks of the multiple approval hurdles the project faces.

In a submission to the parliamentary committee inquiry into the National Capital, the ACT says light rail Stage 2B across the lake and through the Parliamentary Zone requires a larger number of planning approvals, which are also more complex than any other equivalent projects around Australia.

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Calling the project critical for the National Capital, the submission says the ACT would welcome working with the Australian Government to develop a streamlined approval process that can respond to design development as the project progresses and any changes due to technical challenges.

It says that as well as the various ACT Government planning approvals, the project is also subject to numerous Commonwealth approvals with multiple stages of community consultation.

These include a referral to the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water under the EPBC Act, undertaking an environmental impact statement (EIS), a works approval from the National Capital Authority, a National Capital Plan Amendment and approval from both Houses of Parliament, with the last three possibly triggering Joint Standing Committee inquiries.

The submission says the ACT will also need a land access licence from the Australian Government.

It says smoothing this process would “ensure a timely delivery of this critical project for the Nation’s Capital City”.

The submission does not suggest how it could be achieved or which hurdles could be removed, but the ACT Government is clearly concerned by the arduous and time-consuming path to getting the project approved.

It says light rail Stage 2B will bring significant benefits to the Parliamentary Zone, including for the national institutions within it.

“Completion of light rail Stage 2B will greatly improve access to these institutions for both the local and visitor communities,” the submission says.

It says it will also improve connectivity with large employment centres in Canberra’s south.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr has also argued that with the expansion of the public service in Barton, particularly the proposed national security precinct, the Federal Government should help fund public transport to move workers in and out of the Parliamentary Zone.

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The submission says light rail is one of several key infrastructure projects for which the ACT Government will continue to seek Federal Government support, both in the planning and delivery stages.

The Federal Government has backed the 1.7 km first leg of Stage 2 from the city to Commonwealth Park, and Federal Labor has made all the right noises about supporting the longer and much more challenging stage to Woden.

The two-year Raising London Circuit project underway is a prerequisite to building Stage 2A to Commonwealth Park in 2025.

The ACT Government refuses to confirm a timeline for Stage 2B or put a figure on how much it will cost.

Stage 2B will not only have the many approvals hurdles to clear but the 2024 ACT election as well, with the Canberra Liberals pledging to can the project and linking most of the ACT’s budget and service issues problems to the cost of the “tram”.

They say Stage 2B will cost $3 billion.

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Clearly, electric powered large vehicles operating on still tracks and on their own right of way is the optimal solution and provides certainty for individual transport planning. Anybody who thinks a bus, or a rubber tyred vehicle masquerading as a tram, will be the most effective solution doesn’t actually use public transport.

The future is coming, no need to be afraid!

If you call 19th century transport solutions the future, then yes

Not sure they had invented reticulated 750 volt electricity then or regenerative braking or air conditioned vehicles or …

Happy to be corrected, or you can go on believing the mythology

High voltage AC and DC and regenerative braking was around in the later 1800s.

Not on a light rail system, as far as I can tell

Where were these 24 volt tramlines, or are you referring to the horse drawn ones?

So it’s the No True Scotsman of light rail technology?

Electric buses are more flexible and cost effective. You can have a mix of all stops and express buses on Adelaide Ave. can’t do that with trams. Want to route every second one on to Canberra Hospital? No problem. Can’t do that with trams. Going home at night from Civic? Want to wait out in the cold for up to 30 minutes for a bus after taking the tram?

The thing is John, Andy Barr has rubbed up to developers on the basis that we have fixed transport infrastructure which doesn’t include buses. Andy needs the rates from these ugly monstrosities to waste on other nonsense that we don’t need. Buses win the argument every time but apparently logic has no place in this dystopian nightmare.

If you actually used public transport regularly you’d be aware that electric buses are being rolled out as we speak. I’ve caught three in the last week They’re quiet, comfortable and an important part of the future transport network, along with light rail for major fixed routes.

Stephen Saunders1:47 pm 24 May 23

Has Chris even been to Perth, which has built massive fixed rail? Unlike other Oz cities.

Out in the world, rail is coming back in spades. Southside Canberra thinks buses are big the trend.

Of course the ACT govt doesn’t want too much scrutiny of Stage 2B. It would have a bigger environmental impact than the electric bus alternative. It would also cost 10 times as much, take twice as long and be much less flexible than an electric bus. But the most serious problem is the cost of servicing the loans required to pay for it.

An electric bus is still a bus and over the one hundred years, more expensive when full operating costs including wages are taken into account. A bus can only take so many people and many will not use a bus. Electric buses have a role in the less busy routes.

Stephen Saunders9:19 pm 23 May 23

NCA chief Sally Barnes seems to accelerate, to expedite boutique improvements like the sea-plane service and glamping on the lake.
For this nationally significant transit upgrade, all she seems to do is throw logs under the tracks, tell us how immensely hard it all is.

So your two comparisons are things that don’t cost anything and could be removed/stopped inmediately with no impact?

Talk about an own goal.

Stephen Saunders1:44 pm 24 May 23

Your point has got nothing to do with mine

In NCA’s submission to this parliamentary inquiry, they don’t even mention light rail once! In spite of the fact that it’s the most significant upgrade in the Parliamentary Triangle in decades. They claim that they’re working so cooperatively to get it approved, yet they don’t care enough to even mention it when the federal parliament is specifically asking about infrastructure to support the national institutions. Astounding.

Actually it does. Perfectly.

Or are you suggesting that it’s unreasonable for planning authorities to have different approval pathways and requirments for projects with completely different impacts?

Perhaps you should take that up with the ACT Government who have the exact same approach.

HiddenDragon8:43 pm 23 May 23

Aside from the implausibly remote possibility that the federal government is hastening slowly with approvals etc. just in case the Liberals win the 2024 ACT election, the fact that it has not already been sorted out and heralded with the usual eye-glazing media campaign is very interesting, to say the least.

Just as interesting is this wonderfully telling (and absolutely true to form) insight into the mentality of a government which never seems to be able to make up its mind about whether it’s basically just a glorified strata manager providing services for a company town, or whether it’s something more than that –

“Chief Minister Andrew Barr has also argued that with the expansion of the public service in Barton, particularly the proposed national security precinct, the Federal Government should help fund public transport to move workers in and out of the Parliamentary Zone.”

I mean the ACT Government themselves are clearly deliberately not moving fast on Stage2B because of the clearly enormous cost that they don’t have the funds for at present. The budget is in a woeful state that this burden would make significantly worse.

Particularly when they don’t want to release any costings that might hurt their 2024 election prospects so it does become a bit of a moot point around Federal approvals at present.

Although yes, you do have to laugh at Barr’s statement around Federal Funding because of parliamentary triangle transport needs. Surely if that was the case, the business case and cost benefit ratio would be rock solid and easily submitted for funding under the Infrastructure department’s priority assessment framework.

Oh wait……

William Newby8:10 pm 23 May 23

Just what Australia needs, call on the Mansplainer to flick us some extra cash.
Australia’s only woke theme park won’t be complete if the ride can’t complete a loop of the full enclosure.

They need some serious help to keep this going that’s for sure. Stage 1 was a disaster

Stage one tram was a success in every way; under budget, on time delivery and exceed passenger patronage. Have you been on it?

Patronage numbers for the first stage of light rail are not exceeding those included within the government’s business case, Covid has fundamentally changed work patterns.

It also cost far more than equivalent alternatives, so is being under a budget (that also deliberately pushed costs to other areas) really a win?

GrumpyGrandpa5:48 pm 24 May 23

Stage One had a couple of things going for it: The Government removed the competition by removing buses and forcing them to stations along the line to feed LR AND traffic light sequencing, giving priority to LR and a similar travel time.
LR to Woden is predicted to be a fair bit slower in comparison, because unlike the bus service, LR is limited to 70kph; 10 kph slower than a bus and unlike Northbourne, there are hardly any traffic lights on the route.

I’ve been on LR and it’s good, but to me and I expect most people, travel time is paramount.

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