21 April 2020

Belco, Airport and Tuggeranong next stops for Canberra's light rail journey

| Ian Bushnell
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Light rail will be extended

Construction of light rail Stage 2 may not have even started but the government is preparing for the rest of the envisaged network. Photo: File.

Further stages of light rail will include an east-west link from Belconnen to the Canberra Airport, and continuing the already planned line to Woden further to Tuggeranong, the ACT Government’s $14 billion Infrastructure Plan has confirmed.

The plan, launched today by Chief Minister Andrew Barr, outlines already announced projects such as the $500 million Canberra Hospital expansion, Stage 2 of light rail to Commonwealth Park and Woden, and a new Canberra Theatre, but it also takes a longer-term view of what the ACT requires to service a population of half a million people.

It looks at projects to be considered over the next five years and beyond, including developing the light rail network, duplicating major roads, extending cycling paths and lanes, expanding northside hospital services, new schools and works to support more residential land releases.

Mr Barr said the plan was all about health, education, housing and transport, but the building of the light rail network will likely be the most expensive project government will have to fund over the coming decades.

The plan says that with light rail Stage 2 to Woden up and running by the mid-2020s, Stage 3 would first connect Belconnen to the City and then extend to Canberra Airport via the Russell Defence precinct.

It says a line to Belconnen will link key facilities like Calvary Hospital, the University of Canberra, the Australian Institute of Sport and the Australian National University, and with 30,000 new residents at Ginninderry in the coming decades, it was the ‘natural choice’ for Stage 3.

Stage 4 to the Tuggeranong Town Centre will travel via Mawson, and will set off a new round of development along the line that the plan says will support local businesses and provide an economic boost for group centres in Mawson, Wanniassa and Kambah.

The ACT Government’s light rail master plan aims to deliver a new stage of light rail roughly every five years, and Mr Barr said the timeline for Stage 2 remained realistic.

He said Stage 2 was still on track to be running by 2024, and there were indications from the Prime Minister that the Commonwealth was ready to assist state and territory infrastructure projects, encouraging them to bring suitable projects forward.

“I don’t see the kind of political interference that was the case in 2016 repeating itself in the 2020s,” Mr Barr said.

He said the Stage 3 and 4 routes reflected a sensible approach to the progressive expansion of the light rail network as Canberra’s population moves beyond half a million people.

“People want to know that there is a long-term commitment to the light rail network and that we are doing the forward planning and thinking about future stages,” Mr Barr said.

The light rail network

The planned light rail network as set out in the Infrastructure Plan. Image: ACT Government.

Mr Barr said the government would be borrowing to pay for many of the projects but with interest rates at record lows “there has never been a lower cost of borrowing in global history, so it is a good time to be in the market for new infrastructure financing”.

Mr Barr said the Budget remained on track to return to surplus over the forward estimates.

Already budgeted items include the Surgical Procedures, Interventional Radiology and Emergency (SPIRE) project which aims to future-proof Canberra Hospital, but long term the government is looking at beefing up services in the north to meet demand from a growing population.

This could mean upgrading and expanding the existing public hospital facilities on the northside and/or delivering a new hospital.

In the city, the government is prioritising redeveloping Canberra Theatre, which was built when the ACT’s population was only 80,000, and repurposing it with a flexible flat floor to seat about 2000 people at a cost of $100-250 million.

“Our preferred order for new infrastructure of that social and cultural kind is the Theatre Precinct first, the stadium second and a convention centre third,” Mr Barr said.

The only thing that would change that order would be a funding partner coming forward with a viable offer, he said

Longer-term, the government is looking at a 7500 seat enclosed arena, either as part of a new stadium, convention centre or a stand-alone facility.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr

Chief Minister Andrew Barr at the Canberra Hospital before launching the ACT Government’s Infrastructure Plan. Photo: Ian Bushnell

The convention centre remains on the government’s wishlist with land set aside, but it will only go ahead with private sector and Commonwealth support. Without that, the current facility will need to be upgraded.

The plan outlines works to support the ongoing development of new suburbs in Gungahlin and the Molonglo Valley, including new schools, but also new housing in central Canberra on the Acton Waterfront in West Basin, and in the former industrial area of East Lake in Kingston.

It says the first land releases for East Lake are expected in 2022-23, with more to come over the following decade.

The plan also points to the CSIRO-owned, 700-hectare Ginninderra Experiment Station in Belconnen as a prospect for future residential housing.

Over the next five years, the government will also spend $600 million on public housing to replace and upgrade 1000 existing homes and build a further 200 new dwellings, funded directly with $100 million through the Budget and $500 million from the sale of aged homes no longer fit for purpose.

In education, apart from new schools and college modernisations, the big-ticket item is building a new CIT to replace the Reid campus, with Woden a mooted site, at a cost of $100-250 million.

The government continues to work with UNSW on its plans for a new campus for 6,000 students in the city on Constitution Avenue that would create a Defence and Security Innovation Precinct.

Mr Barr said the government would certainly be taking the plan’s contents to next year’s election but denied it was a political document, saying many of the proposals were above politics.

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Wow! Not everything (but almost everything!) going to the north. Tuggeranong to actually get a tram some time in the very distant future. So the north needs a third hospital and Tuggeranong none? Thank you our concerned Tuggeranong members of the ACT Labor/Greens Government. Hope you all remember the names Gentleman and Burch at the 2020 elections!

Julie McIntyre8:34 am 25 Oct 19

The South doesn’t want it or need it. Good luck getting across the lake

If light rail stage 1 was any good it would pay for stage 2, etc. Like any real business. The fact that the government needs to keep borrowing means it isn’t.

This labor government came to power during the dotcom era and they still think that way. Borrow to inflate an idea then sell it off to the public who will take the loss when the bubble bursts.

A transport design expert told me that Light Rail lines can only carry an absolute maximum of 20,000 people per hour.

This proposal with a two ‘shared trunk’ design and taking in the population spread and workplace locations of Canberra would mean the proposed design could probably only move 30,000 passengers per hour in peak. He thought that based on other cities passenger data, even this figure is unlikely.

This is not an effective public transport design for the build cost and operating cost. It won’t actually be able to move enough canberrans in peak hour. No wonder the ACT auditor general said the real cost benefit of stage 1 was only 0.5 and therefore one of the lowest ROI infrastructure work ever undertaken in Australia.

Capital Retro3:50 pm 18 Oct 19

The light rail we have is struggling to carry 20,000 people a day. There will never be a time when Canberra can muster 30,000 passengers in a peak hour. The reality is we have a low population with equates to low density which is not where trams thrive. People still prefer to drive and nothing beats that.

Capital Retro10:26 am 18 Oct 19

“Why not have an express line linking city centres along the Expressway.”

Express speed for a tram is 70 kph. How would that look next to cars and busses doing 100 kph along the Tuggeranong Parkway?

Forget about the bridge cost and disruption of a city to Woden track. Better, cheaper and more practical because of tourism to focus on city to airport.

michael quirk7:47 am 18 Oct 19

There is no justification for the relative priorities of the big ticket items. Why for example is light rail a higher priority than a new theatre, social housing, a new stadium, health and road infrastructure? .Unfortunately the ACT does not have a government that bases its priorities on evidence. The Infrastructure Plan is not built on a sound planning strategy. The ACT Planning Strategy provided little justification for the distribution of the population and employment being pursued or the transport infrastructure required to accommodate the projected growth.

For $14 BILLION, Canberra could have bus services going past every house!

You obviously didn’t bother to read far enough to realise the $14 billion is not solely for light rail. Its the entire infrastructure plan, across a whole range of things…..

HiddenDragon8:33 pm 17 Oct 19

Pretty much what you would expect for the Big Canberra component of the Big Australia project and, like the larger project, it assumes that the money to pay for all of this will keep raining down from the sky (so to speak) because a growing population somehow magically increases aggregate and individual wealth (in spite of clear evidence to the contrary in recent national statistics).

A Government which loves to talk about sustainability should be saying somewhat more about water. The Plan has a few fairly general references to water reticulation, but nothing that I could see about where we get it from – so is the longer term plan desalinated water pumped from the coast (all by renewable power, of course….) or recycled sewerage, or what….? Note the trend of dam levels over the last three years –


Canberrans have become such whingers. Good on you Andrew Barr. What a progressive, livable city we have. Election next year, let’s see what the conservative, backward Liberals have to offer. A young fogey as leader and no ideas.

Capital Retro5:02 pm 17 Oct 19

“Mr Barr said the government would be borrowing to pay for many of the projects ….”

Full details now please, Chief Minister.

City to Gungahlin Light Rail at 1% of budget has proven to impact ACT government decisions, I can’t imagine what 10% of annual budget on Light Rail would look like?

When Mr Barr has sold off a huge proportion of the ACT governments land holdings to private developers in such a short space of time, I’m not sure what assets will be left for future governments to fund infrastructure development. Borrowing money at low interest rates are easy, but you still have to pay it back sometime.

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