5 February 2024

Barr says Canberra Hospital expansion shunted light rail to the siding, but it is happening

| Ian Bushnell
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commuters on light rail

Light rail in the city. The first track for the Commonwealth Park stage will be laid next year. Photo: Region.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr has defended the slow pace of progress in extending light rail, saying all projects cannot be built at once and the Canberra Hospital expansion came first this term.

Asked how the government could maintain public support for light rail when the next leg, Stage 2A to Commonwealth Park, would not take passengers until 2028, Mr Barr said people had told the government that it should prioritise health infrastructure in this term and that research had backed up that belief.

“We had a choice: either we completely put all future public transport infrastructure on hold and just say no, that’s the Liberals’ path, or we recognise the reality of what can be delivered in any given year in the Territory,” he said.

“And so yes, we did prioritise the Canberra hospital expansion. And that project will be completed this year. It’s a big project. It’s bigger than light rail Stage 2A.”

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Mr Barr acknowledged there was significant opposition to light rail but said a majority supported the extension of the line, eventually to Woden, and the construction of other routes.

The ACT faces another light rail election with the Canberra Liberals vowing to scrap Stage 2B to Woden and not pursue other lines in what is shaping as the pivotal issue of the campaign.

They are yet to announce an alternative public transport policy.

Mr Barr also said all jurisdictions in the East Coast infrastructure market were competing for resources and labour, so timing was important.

“We’re not the only jurisdiction seeking to procure hospitals [and] public transport infrastructure, so we’ve also had to be prudent about when we approach the market.”

Light rail also clearly needed assistance from the Commonwealth, and the government succeeded in securing a 50 per cent funding contribution, Mr Barr said.

“Then also there were enabling works [raising London Circuit] that needed to occur and they’re well underway. So, on light rail, people are seeing progress. They know we signed a contract. It’s happening.”

An artist’s impression of the Commonwealth Park stop. Light rail will service the park and the Acton Waterfront. Image: ACT Government.

Mr Barr said track would be laid early in the next term and all the initial works were underway.

He said light rail should not be seen in isolation but in the context of other projects, such as the Acton Waterfront.

“What comes with this transport infrastructure investment obviously is new infrastructure, so it can represent our next step in the City to the Lake concept,” he said.

“We’ve funded the public park that will be built there [at Acton Waterfront] and have new light rail stops by 2028, and we’re undertaking the land release and some further pedestrian connectivity that will support that precinct.”

Light rail would also support a redesigned Commonwealth Park, which would be much more accessible for events and other uses.

The government remains convinced that light rail, electric buses and active travel were the right way to make a growing city easier to get around.

“It, together with electrifying the bus fleet, is the answer to Canberra’s medium and longer-term public transport needs,” he said.

“Light rail and buses are part of the solution. We need both. So we’ll get lots of calls for trackless trams and all the rest. We will have hundreds of such electrified vehicles running around the city. They won’t all be articulated. But some will.

“There will be standard-size electric buses as well. That’s part of the public transport provision.”

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The cost and route of Stage 2B, through the Parliamentary Zone, is still not known, but design work is continuing, and the development of an environmental impact statement will go out to the public for feedback at the end of the year, at a cost of $50 million.

The ACT will be seeking 50:50 funding with the Commonwealth and Infrastructure Minister Catherine King has indicated that an application would be considered favourably.

Light rail and the other infrastructure projects in the pipeline are part of a big-picture vision for the ACT, which Mr Barr said people did want.

He acknowledged they also wanted outcomes in the short term.

“But the alternative is no bigger picture,” he said.

“The alternative government are saying no to most of these significant infrastructure projects.”

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Interesting that Chris Steel has also come out to apologise over his $78 million failed HR system.

ACT Government seems to be trying to clean house early in the election year and try and start afresh.

There’s been a lot of airbrushing on delayed major projects and past failures over the last fortnight.

Surprising to see that they’ve just started works on the lake Tuggeranong foreshore to give it a facelift.

The timing is obviously just a complete coincidence of course.

It’s funny how Andrew Barr always says “it’s possible to walk and chew gum at the same time”, but he can’t seem to undertake multiple infrastructure projects without either massive cost overruns, delaying or cancelling the build.

If a hospital expansion and the tiny 1.7km light rail extension can’t be done at the same time, what hope do we have for all his other key projects such as the Ice Rink, Hydrotherapy pool, etc once 2b gets underway.

There’s a reason mid sized cities don’t put all their infrastructure budget, resources, workmen and workwomen primarily into the one huge project. It kills the rest of your city who are trying to compete for more regular work such as housing construction, etc.

Another day, another bit of spin by Mr Barr on why infrastructure projects haven’t been completed or even started.

so Mr Barr, what has caused the 7-year delay to the Athllon Drive duplication?

Also, why is Mr Barr featured in these stories instead of the responsible Minister (Steel)?

Leon Arundell6:14 pm 05 Feb 24

Canberra needs more rapid public transit, more than it needs a gold plated slow tram to Woden. The $800 million that was spent on light rail stage 2A, plus the estimated $100 million spent on unnecessarily acquiring Calvary Hospital, would have been better spent to provide bus rapid transit to Woden and to Belconnen.

“The ACT will be seeking 50:50 funding with the Commonwealth and Infrastructure Minister Catherine King has indicated that an application would be considered favourably.”

Isn’t it funny those claiming to bring “integrity” back to politics and wanting to stop wasteful government expenditure and pork barrelling suddenly change their tune once in power.

No business case currently exists for the project and the previously released economic assessments show its not remotely viable for inclusion in Infrastructure Australia’s priority funding list.

But hey, if we can get other Australian taxpayers to fund it, great. LOL.

The hospital expansion from 2010, which was delayed until 2023, originally due to light rail priorities.

Barr said at the start of the light rail, that we shouldn’t think about the budget and funding light rail like we would our home budgets. We had an amazing credit rating and interest rates were record low.

Now he says we have to choose between a hospital and light rail?
Its an easy choice because there is was a business case for the hospital.

The business case for light rail is that you have to keep voting Labor at both levels to fund it.

Clever Interrobang6:15 pm 05 Feb 24

You said ‘you have to keep voting Labor at both levels to fund it’

You mean we have to keep voting greens.

Katy Gallagher’s government was against light rail, as was Jon Stanhope before. The Canberra liberals supported light rail back in 2008 – people forget all of these things

The reason we have light rail is so that ACT Labor can keep a healthy power sharing arrangement with the Greens. It’s Greens policy.

Patrick ALLEN2:11 pm 05 Feb 24


I think… your caps lock key is broken.

It’s a shame that after the upcoming election, Canberra will be left with just one tram track due to the broken promises of Barr. His track record shows a worrying penchant for making promises he can’t keep, much like his Federal counterpart. Let’s ensure the next elected official commits to delivering real results for our city.

Bar Barr

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