23 August 2023

Government urged to release light rail Stage 2B business case but design must come first, says Steel

| Claire Fenwicke
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light rail stage 2A artist's impression

Light rail stage 2A has been approved, but finding out more about what stage 2B will entail is still a long way off. Photo: Artist’s impression, ACT Government.

The ACT Government has been given another push to get on with releasing the business cases for light rail stage 2B and beyond.

Among the 123 recommendations from the select committee inquiry into the 2023-24 ACT Budget, two related to light rail. One called on the government to release the preliminary business case for stage 2B “as soon as practicable” and the other suggested future budget papers should contain a “dedicated overview” of all budget aspects of stages 2A and 2B, as well as associated projects.

“This would include indicators on construction progress, budget and forward estimates’ expenditure provisions and projections, and estimated completion dates for budgeted activities and procurements,” the report stated.

This comes after a Canberra Liberals’ motion in June calling for the cost-benefit assessment of light rail stage 2B to be released, which was shot down as being a “radical disregard” for proper process.

READ ALSO Arboretum trial to find best route to greening light rail

When questioned about the recommendations, Transport and City Services Minister Chris Steel said the complexity of the project meant the business case was still not in a form where it could be released.

He explained the government needed the initial design of stage 2B to go through planning approvals, which were “required” to fully understand the scope of the project.

Only then could a business case be developed.

“This is a major complex infrastructure project, the largest in Canberra’s history, and it is going to be a different pathway to previous projects,” Mr Steel said.

“We need to undertake that level of design and planning approvals before we actually go through the development of a full business case, because if you don’t know the scope of the project, you can’t then cost the projects and you can’t then understand the full benefits of the project.”

The government previously stated it would release the business case publicly once both the design work had been completed and the relevant planning approvals had taken place.

Mr Steel said this would reduce “planning risk”, as the project would also be influenced by the National Capital Authority.

“We know that the Houses of Parliament will want to have their say, potentially through a joint parliamentary committee inquiry where they may make recommendations,” he said.

“We don’t want to go back to square one on the project by releasing a business case now and then having to completely redo a business case in the future if there are changes to the route.”

Mr Steel had told the committee hearings that business cases weren’t “typically” published, and were usually completed years before the procurement process.

However stage 2B had unique challenges.

“The level of risk is so high, because we literally have to go through four different planning processes, we need to understand what the scope of the project is and if there are any changes that need to be made to the route and an alignment of light rail stage 2B,” Mr Steel said.

“We need to consider what the options are in the business case and we need to go through this process first … that will enable the government to make better decisions about what we do and how we deliver stage 2B.”

Light rail stage 2B design and approvals have been costed at $27,750 for 2023-24 and $22,250 for 2024-25.

READ ALSO NCA must embrace higher density around Parliamentary Triangle, inquiry hears

Changes potentially could be made to the light rail’s route due to heritage, cultural and environmental values in the National Capital Area.

An environmental impact statement will be drafted over the next 18 months to assess potential impacts to these values, as well as to traffic and transport, biodiversity and socioeconomic impacts.

Crossing Lake Burley Griffin at Commonwealth Avenue Bridge is still subject to planning and design approvals, as well as timeframes of third parties.

Despite these challenges, Mr Steel said the government stood by its commitment to get light rail to Woden by 2030.

“The government has consistently said that stage 2B is more complex because it moves through the National Capital Area and is subject to more complex planning approvals,” he said.

“We expect stage 2B to be delivered this decade … we are determined to work milestone by milestone to bring light rail to Woden.”

Procurement for Stage 2A should be completed by the end of the year.*

*Clarification: A previous version of this story may have implied that procurement for Stage 2B would be completed by the end of the year by referring to the next stage of the project.

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I was at a presentation to a community council on 2B by people from the ACT Gov’s “Big Projects” team not long ago. I was shocked that the proposed route doesn’t go anywhere near the Jolimont Centre and the popular long distance buses to Sydney and the International Airport for people with, of course, suitcases. People in the south could cut their cab/ uber fares by a lot if they could easily jump on the proposed tram stop at Woden and easily get off near Jolimont. Also the proposed route we were shown has a tram stop in Commonwealth Park. This, we were told, was to service “future development”. Why is development even being planned for in one of our major parks?

I assume that the proposed (new) 2B route won’t go to Jolimont because the tram already stops at Alinga Street. Stages 2A and 2B are extensions of the current route.
While I am neither a fan not opponent of the tram, I’m glad I could address an obviously major concern for you.
As for the Commonwealth Park stop to service future development? Perhaps they are referring to the western side of Commonwealth Ave beside the lake?

The Government has its priorities all wrong. How about they fix the ailing health system before spending anything on this stuff.

“We need to undertake that level of design and planning approvals before we actually go through the development of a full business case, because if you don’t know the scope of the project”

So… your answer is that we don’t actually even have a business case for the multi-billion dollar mess that you are committing the taxpayer to?

How do these clowns keep getting voted back in?

releasing the business case would be good, but this is about as likely as me winning the lottery. doesn’t matter anyway, work has already started on stage 2 through the raising of London Circuit.
clearly the ACT Local Council led by Barr are making it up as they go.

The sooner Canberrans wake up and kick out this disgrace of a dictatorship of supposed “Labor values” the better! They’re a disgrace to the Labor Party of Australia.

They’re starving our hospital , stole the only other hospital, and now have full control of public hospitals in Canberra. NOT caring for patients- while health workers are doing their best, MANY Canberrans are NOT receiving basic care that they should be.

Walnut Canberrans and vote out this ridiculous joke of a government.

BarrLaborGreens is in bed with the developers of Canberra, so any and all development ideas such as the tram will steamroll ahead with or without the public.

Meanwhile, the BarrLaborGreens government amassed a massive cohort of “communications” staff and using YOUR money to pay for it. So government information/ propaganda is eating up ACT rate payers dollars in the multi millions.

Wake up Canberra and kick these cronies to the kerb

@R Green
“Wake up Canberra and kick these cronies to the kerb”

And replace them with what?

The reason Labor and Labor/Greens coaltition has formed government in the ACT for over 20 years is the lack of a credible (to the voters) alternative.

Yes, there are a myriad of reasons why successive ACT Labor Chief Ministers should have been voted out – but when push comes to shove, the ACT electorate could not bring itself to install a Liberal Chief Minister.

Until such time as the ACT Liberals rid themselves of their right wing hierarchy and run candidates who present a more moderate platform of policies, that are in line with the thinking of the ACT voters, they are destined to remain a toothless opposition. The ACT Labor think tank knows this and that’s why Barr continually thumbs his nose at the electorate and does what he pleases.

Democracy isn’t always smart but it generally delivers the representatives we deserve.

The reason they can’t release a business case for 2B is because they still haven’t got a clue how their tram is going to go around Parliament House and onto Adelaide Avenue without raising State Circle like London Circuit and then when they get onto Adelaide Ave there are problems with levels in the median strip and bridges to go over and Under. That’s always the problem when you promise big new projects without even considering how it can be done.

thoughtsonthesubject11:09 pm 22 Aug 23

All the problems mentioned in the article above would be solved if we adopted the “Metro” Brisbane has decided upon. It looks like a tram and provides the same experience for passengers. There are just a few differences. It requires neither rails nor overhead wiring, and hence is flexible where it goes: a great advantage when the “scope of the project” has not been decided upon and might change. No rails embedded in concrete would save large amounts of CO2, plus years of roadworks and traffic disruption. Also, no problems crossing the Commonwealth Bridge. Not limited by rails, there can be express services, transporting passengers between Civic and Woden or the airport and Fishwick, for that matter, far faster than the Light Rail would. It could even run the 333 routes, connecting Woden and Belconnen without going via Civic. Brisbane’s Metro has dedicated lanes which can be used by emergency vehicles when the need arises. When storms cause fallen trees to block the road, it can take a different route, and when an electricity stoppage occurs in one part of town, the Metro can charge its batteries elsewhere. It stops at the side of the road, which means passengers do not have to cross car traffic, and when roads cross each other at different levels, like Adelaide Avenue at Deakin, the Metro can exit to pick them up, rather than passengers having to be ferried by lifts to the middle of the road above. Last but not least, the cost would be far less than that of the Light Rail and a fast and efficient network linking suburbs and town centres could be established much earlier. With all these advantages, no doubt the business case would look much better too. Surely, a comparison of the Metro and the Light Rail is imperative at this stage.

Why worry about the business case? They’re going to build this regardless.

HiddenDragon8:36 pm 22 Aug 23

The extension of light rail is a faith-based initiative – albeit from a government which is self-consciously, and at times militantly, secular.

The parting of the Red Sea (a metaphor, perhaps, for the challenge of getting light rail over the Lake and through the Parliamentary Triangle) was not preceded by a detailed business case and there will never anything genuinely amounting to such for light rail.

Inner South Light Rail Loop

Barton/Fyshwick / Airport/ Civic

Utilising the existing Kingston Station TrainRail corridor has five star MERIT status underpinned with a watertight ‘Business Case’ supported by a WorldClass Town Plan Design drawing on Urban Renewal and Reinvigorated Rail corridors.
Worth another look.
Collaborative Planning can bring synergy..

This route makes more sense to leverage recent decisions for new precincts.

If the LR is taken down King Edward Terrace and on to Bowen Drive, it would have a clear run to the existing station. The station is long overdue for update, but would be best re-established as a hub further down the heavy rail corridor.

The only case the ACT government considers is the retention of their position as the political power and to maintain that they must bend over backwards to meet the demands of the greens.

I don’t think Canberrans expect a Business Case to be totally accurate. But surely there’s some sort of estimate of the costs / benefits to the nearest $250 million.

Mr Steel said he couldn’t release a business case for the West Basin infill because it would provide the tenderer with negotiation insights. Then a couple years later after the Audit review of that project, we find that contract price almost doubled after signing and it only delivered a bit over half what was promised.

Chris Steel is continually proving to be the George Costanza of ACT contract negotiation.

Stephen Saunders5:14 pm 22 Aug 23

I agree, Claire, Labor are their own worse enemies. I’m amazed, that punters even got the Gungahlin line they voted for, in 2016. This can only be a “system error”.

It’s time, to revert to the usual Australian mediocrity. Let’s go back to the buses, because Jon Stanhope said so. We are one of the poorest countries in the world, there’s no way that we can afford light rail.


If anyone needed further evidence of the government’s attempts to retrospectively justify a political decision, you need to go no further than Mr Steele’s comments here. He’s freely admitting that the government doesn’t know the details about a multibillion dollar project that they’ve committed to blindly.

Perhaps if they actually completed the proper options assessments, planning and business case development before making the decision to move forward, they wouldn’t look like such absolute incompetents when they talk about the project.

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