16 September 2020

ACT faces third light rail election after Libs throw doubt on Stage 2

| Dominic Giannini
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Gungahlin Light Rail

Light rail has been put back on the agenda ahead of the October election. Photo: Region Media.

The ACT is on track to have more light rail elections than routes after the Canberra Liberals committed to conducting an independent inquiry into where the next route should be built – with Belconnen a likely option.

Stage 2 of the current plan will see light rail extended from Civic to Commonwealth Park by 2024, and then from Commonwealth Park to Woden.

However, the Liberals’ transport spokesperson Candice Burch said people had been asking her about a Belconnen to the airport route.

“We still have not heard from the government as to why that is not the case,” she told an election forum last night (15 September).

Belconnen to the airport via the city is the third stage of the current light rail plan, while Stage 4 will then extend the line from Woden to Tuggeranong via Mawson.

READ ALSO Belco, Airport and Tuggeranong next stops for Canberra’s light rail journey

Chair of the Public Transport Association of Canberra Ryan Hemsley accused the Liberals of virtue signalling on the issue with no real clarity about where they stand after throwing the suggestion into the mix just weeks out from the election.

“At least at the 2016 election you knew what the party stood for … but to announce this weeks before the election – uncosted and with no timeline outlined – is really disappointing,” he told Region Media.

“They have had four years to come up with a light rail policy – we need real commitments with funding attached.”

READ MORE Another light rail election on track after Libs slam contract delays

Mr Hemsley said he supports the Belconnen to airport route but wants to see a detailed proposal from the Liberals.

“If they have a detailed Stage 3 proposal that would be great,” he said.

“They appear to oppose the Government’s plan but the frustrating thing is that they are all very hazy about it. But I would love to be proven wrong.”

Transport Minister Chris Steel also took a swing at the Liberals’ proposal, saying the study would cause substantial construction delays.

“The stance of the Canberra Liberals would undo years of planning work and likely mean that any new construction work would be put off for decades,” he said.

Candice Burch

Liberals’ transport spokesperson Candice Burch says a new study is needed into Stage 2. Photo: Region Media

The Liberals also tried to distinguish themselves from Labor on light rail in June when Opposition Leader Alistair Coe said the government had mismanaged the entire process and called for the complete business case to be released.

Asked where he stood on Stage 2, he said the Liberals supported the extension of light rail in principle but would not back the current project without knowing all the pros and cons.

The ACT Greens have also come out with their own light rail announcement ahead of the election, calling for express services between the city and Woden.

The Greens estimate an express service would cut around 10 minutes from the 25 to 30-minute journey.

They also say trams should be designed to allow for better technology to be installed over the coming years.

“The National Capital Authority is requiring long wire-free sections. These slow the trip because the tram has to limit its speed to conserve power and/or make extra stops to recharge,” a Greens spokesperson said.

“Battery and recharging technology are rapidly improving. We need to design the trams and infrastructure to allow better technology to be installed in the next few years.

“This would allow express services to miss even more stations and extend the time saving above five minutes.”

Bypass tracks and cross-over points at stations so express trams miss congestion on the tracks were also proposed.

You can keep up to date with the RiotACT!’s election coverage here.

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Greens highlighting the inadequacies of trams. Brilliant.

We’re is the government getting all this money from ? All this rail services are just going to raise rates again . The current act government is just raising more and more debt…. time to move this bunch of crooks on

Not sure Chris Steele has much credibility on public transport comments.

He’s been throwing around statements on delivering a faster and better bus network for over a year when it’s plain to any independent thinker or experienced commuter that the Transport Minister totally stuffed up the new bus network for half of Canberra.

Reduced bus users in Tuggeranong, Belconnen and Woden despite spending extra money.

love it that the Libs are committing political suicide….. they wont win third seat in inner north (ever) gunghalin, nor now in woden. thankyou for being so incompetent

Without being influenced by the notions of north vs south localisms in Canberra, especially when there are no mentions of east vs west localisms either, I think having the second stage of the Canberra light rail network built towards the south would be more appropriate due to the higher aging demographic of the south suburbs, revitalisation of south suburbs and provision for the existing greater urban expansion towards the south compared with growth in other directions. There’s no reason Belconnen and light rail routes towards the airport shouldn’t be left out or built simultaneously either unless cost was an issue, and the reclamation of funds could be reliant from potential light rail fares.

This is rather embarrassing for the ACT Liberals and I understand that they’ve already walked back from this comment. The indecisiveness is not helping their campaign and shows a lack of clear transport policy.

HiddenDragon6:54 pm 16 Sep 20

“They have had four years to come up with a light rail policy – we need real commitments with funding attached.”

Aimed at the ACT Liberals (what a surprise), but in truth, a criticism of both sides – unless I have missed an absolutely firm, detailed commitment from the Labor/Green government of the billion or two required to make the Woden line happen.

That money might magically materialise in next month’s federal budget, but in the meantime, the current Labor/Green commitment of funding appears to be limited to the approx $47m. of capital funding over four years set out in the 2019-20 ACT Budget (Budget Paper 3, p. 164 refers) –

“The Government will progress detailed design, planning and enabling works for Stage 2 of light rail from the City to Woden. This will include starting work on a new Woden Bus Interchange to integrate with light rail, to ensure the project keeps moving ahead while we continue to engage with the Commonwealth Government on the route alignment and approvals process.”

Shhh, we’ll have none of those “facts”.

It’s almost like even the ALP know that the 2nd stage isn’t viable but obviously can’t freely admit it due to their irrational rhetoric for the last few years. Kicking the can down the road a few years is much easier.

And the Libs are now backing it.

Assuming the intent is for a PPP like Stage 1, there won’t be too much on Budget yet, given they are talking about 2024 for start of services aren’t they? They aren’t going to have a massive pile of $$$ from selling stuff this time to make a contribution upfront like they did for stage 1, so a large majority will get paid off through the PPP over whatever length contract. So its not entirely suprising there isn’t a whole lot on Budget. Will probably start to appear from the next Budget to be released as the equivalent of availability payments.

Stephen Saunders3:08 pm 16 Sep 20

It’s something, that for once, ACT Libs aren’t flat-out opposing a service that was clearly backed in by voters in 2016.

Federal Libs have consistently undermined the Woden link, instead of backing at as priority for the national triangle.

ACT Labor should be saying to federal and ACT Libs, darn right, if you keep on undermining it, we will switch to Belco.

Firstly, light rail wasn’t clearly backed by voters at the last election. You could probably claim general support in the areas most likely to benefit from (Gungahlin and Inner North) it but it would be a massive stretch to say that support existed elsewhere. Vote bribes often do work like that.

And the Federal Libs haven’t undermined anything, the appropriate national planning authority have simply made reasonable design requests such that it fits in with the overall planning of the designated areas.

And why would the federal government make it a priority?

The local government are free to apply for it to be included in the national priority infrastructure plan where it would be objectively assessed for viability and potential funding.

But everyone knows why the ACT government won’t see a cent from the independent assessment process, because just like the first stage, the business case doesn’t remotely stand up as in investment grade project.

Objectively assessed? Like sports grants on a colour coded spreadsheet of which electorates needed shoring you prior to an election?

And the NCA has form on this kinda thing too. Heading back to GDE.

Funny that you bring up the sports rorts, is that the type of assessment you’d prefer?

I mean people voted for the Federal Libs after it right? As Stephen Saunders would say, the vote buying was clearly backed by voters, just like the light rail pork barreling.

Lucky for us though, that Infrastructure Australia’s assessment criteria for priority funding is published and far more rigorously objective. If you’ve got any specific issues with their methodology, I’d love to hear it.

Anyone with even a basic understanding of Infrastructure knows why the ACT Light rail project has so far garnered zero federal funding. Because it’s not remotely an investment grade project that meets any major identified need.

And yes, once again the GDE is another perfect example of the NCA acting appropriately to fulfill their role as the appropriate planning authority. In that case to rein in an ACT government trying to act outside of their powers. Good point.

And in both cases a liberal (federal) government playing politics which is all they seem to know how to do. Not that it has helped their local counterparts as intended.

Politics had nothing to do with either decision which had extremely solid planning reasons behind the decisions.

If you neighbour proposed to build something on their land that didn’t comply with the planning regulations, I’m sure you would want the planning authority to reject it too.

That is all that happened.

Neither had any solid ground except politics. Though the act had benefited from the decision as it has allowed them to develop housing on the eastern side of Bruce where the road would have went.

Sorry but that’s just ridiculous.

With the light rail, the NCA requirements have been known since day dot and is completely consistent with every other planning requirement and decision in the parliamentary triangle.

You can’t build on any of the hills around Canberra in view of the parliamentary triangle, you cant put up billboards or other advertising. Why would you think they’d now allow catenary wires right through the guts of it? And the route selection was already on existing planning documents, it was the ACT government trying to change the preselected route.

And with Bruce, the national requirements and issues were well known. The local government simply thought they could jam through their preference despite it clearly being unfavourable.

Zero to do with politics. Well except for the local ACT politicians trying to operate outside of their lane (pardon the pun).

Care to point us all to a link where these known requirements are located?

You mentioned some that I will agree are very well known high level things which the NCA rightly has a say in, but where does it say the act government cannot propose to run a road to the west of the AIS or where the specific requirements about light rail in the parl triangle can be found?

About the only document I know of with light rail is this document that says capital circle is a designated inter town transport route, but begs the question why does such a document even exist? Why does the NCA dictate where an elected government runs their public transport?

The only day the NCA should have is about a aesthetics, speaking of which, no overhead in the triangle was a known even back in the stage 1 days which is fair enough. And that’s one of the reasons the operator of stage 1 got up as their trams can be basically have a battery or supercapacitor pack dropped in.

The requirements are outlined in the National Capital Plan and both supporting documentation and the legislation. This also provides clear delineation of roles, responsibilities and governance for planning in these areas.

What you seem to be arguing against is the fact that the NCA has these roles at all.

But the ACT is not an autonomous body, we aren’t a state. The local government only exists because the Federal government decides it to be so. And as we’ve seen, they still have the power to overturn local laws, if they want to.

The NCA has been clear on its requirements for these projects as the responsible planning authority in control for these matters. Of course the ACT government can propose things in these areas, but why would they possibly think they would get approved when the NCA has outlined that they aren’t acceptable and why they aren’t in line with their planning strategy?

Just like I don’t get free rein to build whatever I want on my block of land, neither does the ACT government. You can rail against that as unfair if you want but it is reality and has very little to do with politics.

“At least at the 2016 election you knew what the party stood for … but to announce this weeks before the election – uncosted and with no timeline outlined – is really disappointing,” he told Region Media

LOL, what’s really disappointing is that people will support an extension to light rail without detailed business cases showing it’s economic viability.

Particularly when the government’s own highly redacted cost benefit analysis shows that future stages can’t be reasonably justified and cost far too much for little public transport benefit.

Roads cannot be justified on transport benefit alone either.

That’s why ALL benefits are taken into account when projects are assessed.

Firstly, I said it cost too much for too little public transport benefit. I didn’t say it needed to be solely justified by that public transport benefit.

And you can freely read the ACT auditor’s report on light rail to see the criticism of the cost benefit analysis methodology used. The major one beong that they included benefits that are typically excluded from the assessment because they are typically too difficult to quantify adequately.

Considering the overall very low cost benefit ratio and the fact that such a small amount of it was related to a public transport benefit, my comment stands. It’s a land development project, and a poor one at that.

And as for roads projects, I would strongly disagree with your opinion. Unless there is something like a large safety risk, most major road upgrade projects are justified by the transport benefit alone through increased economic efficiency.

I won’t reply to much of what you wrote, but will comment on your last line.

You say roads can be justified on transport benefit alone through increase economic efficiency.

Sorry but that’s a bit of a contradiction. Transport benefit and economic efficiency are two seperate benefits.

I would agree wholeheartedly that most road projects are fully justified through economic efficiency but that is seperate from transport benefit.

Which gets back to the point about using transport benefit to judge public transport projects as they are about all benefits not just transport. Like roads.

Convenient that you won’t reply to the detail, it’s understandable when you’re backing something so logically indefensible.

But regarding road projects, the transport benefit IS the economic efficiency it provides. And they are typically justified almost solely on that transport benefit, without the need for wider benefits.

Now public transport projects are slightly different in that there are often significant social benefits that also can be derived outside of the pure direct economic benefit. But even including those, the light rail didn’t remotely stack up.

The majority of the claimed benefit for light rail comes from land re-development and a large portion of those types of benefits would normally be excluded from such an assessment. And then, even with the dodgy methodology it barely breaks even. The sunk opportunity costs of such a project are enormous.

And if that wasnt enough to horrify people, because the majority of the project benefits are land development ones, it raises serious equity issues of how the project is funded. All residents are paying, not for a public transport project but for large windfall property gains accrued to mostly well off owners along the route. Good for some who live in those areas. Not so good for everyone else.

All delivered by a supposedly progressive ALP-Greens government.

Again transport and economic benefit are two different things.

Basic stuff really and is why I am not going to debate every sentence you wrote. This point says it all really

Of course you won’t debate it.

And yes, it is basic stuff, which is why I’m surprised you can’t grasp the concept.

The benefits of major road projects are usually grouped in a few areas, namely reduced travel time benefits, vehicle operating cost benefits and reductions in accidents.

These are the transport benefits im talking about, and almost exclusively are used to justify major road projects without the need for the inclusion of wider economic, social or environmental factors.

I’m not sure what you think the transport benefits of a major road upgrade is beyond that?

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