9 February 2024

Barton 'dog leg' back in running for light rail to Woden as government keeps options open

| Ian Bushnell
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light rail render

Back in the frame: A depiction of the light rail line and stop on Sydney Avenue in Barton. The line will be wire-free through the Parliamentary zone. Images: ACT Government.

The ACT Government is hedging its bets on the light rail Stage 2B route to Woden, adding the Barton ‘dog leg’ option to a new referral to the federal environment department.

This comes after doubts were raised last year about the viability of the preferred, more direct State Circle route, with officials advising the National Capital Authority of engineering and cost issues, including the narrowness of the turn off Commonwealth Avenue around Parliament House.

The government has also released a set of new renders depicting sections of both routes and stops along the way in the Parliamentary zone, including along Sydney Avenue in Barton.

It says adding an alternative route through Parkes and Barton will ensure the project remains flexible as planning work progresses.

But running through there will also raise complex heritage issues.

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The original 2B route travelled along King George Terrace in front of Old Parliament House and then to Barton via Kings Avenue and Windsor Walk. The new depictions show the line running along Sydney Avenue to State Circle and then onto Adelaide Avenue.

Other renders show the third span to be built between Commonwealth Avenue Bridge and the bridge over Hopetoun Circuit in Deakin.

light rail stop render

The light rail bridge over Hopetoun Circuit and stop. Also shown is the transition to overhead wire running onto Woden.

A government spokesperson said the revised EPBC Act referral would enable the government to consider alternative stops in the National Triangle and Barton.

The government would use this further investigation to determine the best alignment for Stage 2B, in terms of investment required and outcome delivered.

Proposed stops within the National Triangle and Barton were located at or near the Treasury building on King George Terrace, Bligh Street and Sydney Avenue.

“Each route presents different challenges and opportunities which will impact travel times such as road gradient, length of alignment, urban environment and stop location,” the spokesperson said.

“As part of the concept design and approval processes currently underway, technical and feasibility studies such as concept design, engineering, traffic, survey and utilities investigations have commenced. These studies will inform cost estimates and timeframes.”

Transport Minister Chris Steel insists the State Circle route remains viable and is the alignment identified in the National Capital Plan for Stage 2B, but the government was being prudent by covering all eventualities.

“By taking multiple options through the Environmental Impact Statement development process, we can compare the current preferred stops and alignment for Stage 2B on Commonwealth Avenue and State Circle with alternatives,” he said.

“This project is complex and requires multiple planning approvals from the Federal Government and Federal Parliament. A thorough approach, with a higher level of design and comparison of an alternative alignment, will help to reduce project risk as we work through each milestone on the way to Woden.”

Mr Steel told ABC radio that the last thing he wanted was for another issue to be raised and for the project to have to go back to square one.

“We want to present these higher levels of design so we can move through these processes as soon as possible,” he said.

light rail on bridge render

The third span of Commonwealth Avenue Bridge would take light rail across Lake Burley Griffin.

But he would not be drawn on whether light rail will be slower than the current Rapid buses which do the Woden-City run in 17 minutes.

He said it would depend on where you live and your destination, given that some areas, such as Hughes, North Curtin, Yarralumla and Deakin, did not have access to a Rapid route.

“This will provide you with rapid transit for the first time both into the parliamentary triangle and into Civic and the north,” Mr Steel said.

“We’ll get a greater understanding of the travel times once the design has been done around the stops and alignment, and we’ll be making that available to the community and engaging with them about the design, but it will be a different route to the current bus routes. It will have stops that don’t currently exist.”

Mr Steel said buses would still be running from the southside for those who wanted a quicker route.

“But this will be a mass transit line that will have high capacity that would deliver the same frequent reliable service that we’ve seen on the northside that has been embraced by Canberrans,” he said.

Kings Avenue light rail render

The Kings Avenue, Parliament House stop.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the light rail would deliver benefits for Canberra for decades to come and be a congestion buster.

“It will create thousands of jobs and make sure our growing city has the infrastructure it needs,” he said.

“Canberra’s population will grow beyond half a million people in the coming years. We need to progressively build the transport network a bigger city needs to avoid the congestion problems faced by other cities.”

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The Canberra Liberals say they will axe Stage 2B and not proceed with further light rail extensions, but they have yet to release their public transport policy.

Leader Elizabeth Lee said the project did not stack up and the government had refused to be upfront about the cost and how long it would take to complete.

She said it was alarming that Mr Steel repeatedly dodged questions about whether the light rail journey between Woden and the City would take longer than the Rapid bus.

“It is clear that Labor and the Greens are wedded to this project no matter what cost and that should ring alarm bells for many Canberrans,” Ms Lee said.

The government says preliminary work is progressing on the detailed Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which is expected to be required following the updated EPBC referral.

Consultation will occur this year on updated infrastructure, including new stops and active travel connections on the line to Woden, including the Parliamentary Triangle.

Feedback will be used to inform the EIS and the draft concept design for the extension of the light rail line.

To learn more, visit act.gov.au/lightrailtowoden.

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Will create thousands of jobs?! Sure, just not for Canberrans for the most part… specialist engineering and construction crews shipped in for the duration of the project by a foriegn multinational company that will take their pay interstate as soon as they are done. Imported vehicles to run on the rails once they are built!

I know what you mean and it always gets me thinking, why is that the case? Are Australians too dumb to do these things that we have to hire people from overseas?

Gregg Heldon8:23 am 10 Feb 24

All these additional renderings and thought bubbles cost money. Money better spent on an additional nurse or two. An additional primary school teacher or a police officer.
Or several days filling in potholes.
Or building a social house for those on the waiting list.
Or an extra ride on lawn mower and the wage for someone to use it.
Or solar powered, buoyant mobile windmills to tackle the blue green algae in our lakes.
Or a couple of half basketball courts in our new suburbs for kids to use.

All the ‘nimbys’ would still be using ‘carrier pigeons’ for their internet, oil lamps, horse/buggy etc….CANBERAA is a CITY, not a little backwater country town (anymore).

You realise you are promoting a 19th century solution to 21st century problems? Maybe you would like Barr’s buds to throw up some pyramids to help power the things too?

Oh dear, you have missed the point. It’s all about a cost-benefit analysis and a decent business case. When another option is more efficient, more effective and less expensive as well as providing a better ROI, there is a logical solution that this government ignores.

HiddenDragon8:08 pm 09 Feb 24

“The original 2B route travelled along King George Terrace in front of Old Parliament House and then to Barton via Kings Avenue and Windsor Walk.”

No – we were told that the plan was to use National Circuit (which had problems obvious to everyone except the masterminds responsible for this mess), not Windsor Walk. That detail is set out in this article and was mentioned in other media reports at the time –


If the government is now pretending that National Circuit was never part of the plan it just adds to the strong impression that they are making it up as they go along and rewriting history where necessary – something which the Chief Minister seems to be attempting with his strengthening language which now makes Stage 2B conditional on a 50-50 funding split with the Commonwealth (that escape clause was not part of the original spin for Stage 2B).

There are other devils lurking in the detail of today’s update – we will doubtless get to them in due course.

GrumpyGrandpa7:21 pm 09 Feb 24

I can’t believe what I’m reading; Minister Steele saying that if the “dogleg” proceeded, buses would continue to run, for those who preferred a quicker service!

LR Gunners to the City was successful, because they scrapped the bus services and fed passengers onto LR. He’s now talking about duplicating services.
How is that viable?

Its utterly ridiculous that a better and faster transport mode will be slower and worse because of a dud route.
In the medium term continuing the buses would be required anyway, otherwise you end up requiring two changes of transport to get from Belconnen to Tuggeranong and one between Civic and Tuggers.

But with the aim of the tram seemingly being to get people between Barton and Gungahlin, rather than between Civic and Woden, even the Civic-Woden leg alone would require buses to continue. And then taking into account the longer R4 and R5 routes would otherwise require making a transfer.

This is not about what commuters need, but about what our politicians want to do. I used to catch one bus to Gungahlin, but now need to change transport modes twice (catching 2 buses and a tram) to get there, as bus routes have been discontinued.

They really have ballsed up management of a vital project. 2A should not have been begun without 2B approvals. Onstead move onto a line that can be built.
I get the desire to connect to the south, and Woden is the neglected town centre more often than not. But its a lot of money to spend on something that might not ever be allowed to happen where something tangible could occur elsewhere in the meantime. Any goodwill has been lost, along with expertise gained in stage 1, and actual benefit delayed, pursuing things in this order.
Buses cannot cope, and cannot be made to cope, with the current demand – much less expected (unfortunate) population growth of the ACT.

The delay has nothing to do with approvals, it’s because the government doesn’t have the money to build the project, so they are deliberately delaying it with spin around technical difficulties and approvals issues.

The spin is just an attempt to avoid admitting the obvious, all the while trying to get the Feds to cover for them (and pay for it).

Buses can and do easily accommodate the demand and will be much faster on the 2B route.

GrumpyGrandpa6:15 pm 10 Feb 24

Hi timf
The Canberra Libs eventually supported 2a, on the basis that (they couldn’t stop it) and the is an argument that there are office blocks etc that would be covered by 2a. I don’t necessarily agree, but the argument exists.

What is undeniable is that the without 2B approval, there is no justification for works underway at Woden in anticipation of LR.

Tom Worthington4:17 pm 09 Feb 24

A “trackless tram” (battery powered double bendy bus) would be simpler and cheaper.

I witnessed one of those tipping points last night when my brother in law, a staunch light rail backer and active Labor supporter said he was no longer on board with Light Rail for Canberra and that he would be voting for an Independent candidate at the next ACT election.

It was a Berlin Wall coming down moment for our family.

For the price we’d be better off starting in Tuggeranong with a tunnel boring machine and end up in Belconnen. Heading towards gunners and Queenbeyan. building out a mass transit system that will cater for millions of people. Would take 1/100th the time and probably cost around the same. However instead of some kiddie toy rail system, we’d have something actually used by 90% of Canberra.

You can’t build a hubs and spokes network where the hubs are half the speed of the spokes, that’s downright insane.

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