Coe accepts reality and commits to light rail Stage 2, in principle

Ian Bushnell 14 June 2019 62
light rail

Canberrans have embraced light rail, and it now looks like the Liberals have too. Photo: George Tsotsos.

The Canberra Liberals have decided it’s time to climb on board light rail, now that Stage 1 is up and running and has been embraced by northside commuters.

Opposition Leader Alistair Coe signalled a significant shift in the party’s position on light rail in an interview with the ABC in which he backed, in principle, light rail’s extension not just to Woden but other centres in the ACT.

But he questioned whether the Government was still committed to Stage 2 in the wake of the federal election loss and the evaporation of Bill Shorten’s $200 million pledge to light rail and the infrastructure cooperation promised by a Federal Labor government.

“It seems now Stage 2 is on the backburner and they’re more interested in the stadium. A few years ago they were more interested in the convention centre. We also heard a few years ago they’re more interested in a new theatre. What is actually the intention of the Government in regards to Stage 2?” Mr Coe said.

Accepting the reality of Stage 1, Mr Coe said a government should be looking at taking light rail elsewhere but criticised the lack of information on which to base any decisions.

“There is no business plan, we don’t know what it’s going to cost, they haven’t released anything about the engineering of this project,” he said.

“As a principle, the idea, given we’ve already got light rail, of having an expanded network I support.”

Opposition Leader Alistair Coe.

Mr Coe said Woden should be a destination but also Belconnen, the airport and eventually going all the way to Tuggeranong.

“We should look at this in a very strategic way, absolutely it does need to be analysed but you can’t make a decision on a whim, especially from Opposition, not being privy to the engineering studies, not being privy to a business case, it makes it very hard for me or anyone in Canberra to make an informed decision about something that could cost a couple of billion dollars,” he said.

He acknowledged this was a change in the Liberals’ stance on light rail, if qualified.

“Stage 1 has happened, that’s a fairly significant change to the ACT. Of course we were sceptical about Stage 1, we were sceptical about the cost, sceptical about the impact it would have on the bus network,” he said. “Stage 1 is here, are we going to leave the light rail network as they call it to be a 12-kilometre line or are we trying to actually connect town centres and try to make it service the entire city?

“As a principle that’s what it should do now that we have it but you’ve got to make these decisions strategically and you’ve got to do it with all the stats and figures.”

Chair of the Public Transport Association of Canberra, Damien Haas welcomed Mr Coe’s comments as a positive move but said the public needed to hear more from the Canberra Liberals about public transport ahead of next year’s elections.

“It’s a year out from the 2020 Assembly elections and the Canberra public are yet to hear any public transport policies from the Canberra Liberals – except that they want more school buses,” he said. “We need to hear more from the alternative government on their long term public transport policies and plans, and how they see light rail as a future of that, or if they will leave stage one as the sole light rail service in the ACT, if they are elected.”

He said the cost won’t be known until the business case is released but he was concerned that the Liberals did not understand the Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangements that financed Stage 1 and will do the same for subsequent stages.

Stage 2 is still on track.

“Future light rail stages will almost certainly be financed in a similar way to Stage one – with twenty-year PPP arrangements. That shifts the borrowing and debt from ACT residents to a consortium – with the ACT Government obligation limited to annual payments for the duration of the contract,” Mr Haas said.

“The Canberra Liberals’ previous form on public discussion about light rail cost indicates that they don’t really understand the way a PPP works, or the impact of light rail on the ACT Budget. It’s a very small percentage of Territory finances and produces an incredible return. It’s a city-changing investment.”

Despite Mr Coe’s comments, Mr Haas does not see a new era of bipartisanship on public transport, calling them begrudging acceptance of a reality at best.

“Bi-partisan support would include public support for light rail stage two, and taking part in the future discussions on the way the route will serve the communities adjacent to it, for example, do they have a view about where light rail stops could be located? They have been silent on many of these issues, and they need to let the community know what their views are,” he said.

He rejected Mr Coe’s doubts about the Government’s commitment to Stage 2, saying the timetable for Woden light rail still looked similar to the timetable for Stage 1, and the PTCBR expected Stage 2 operations to begin in 2025 or before.

He said the holdups to date had been due to the parliamentary inquiry and inconsistent NCA stances on routes, technologies and Commonwealth Avenue Bridge.

“I’m advised the Transport Canberra and NCA public servants have been working away on the environment and heritage reports needed so the route can be approved, and the business case finalised. I’ve seen no signs the Government is wavering.”

Transport Minister Meegan Fitzharris reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to Stage 2, saying there was money in the Budget for planning and design work and to redevelop Woden Bus Interchange to ensure the project kept moving ahead while route design and approvals were finalised.

“We will soon refer the Stage 2 project for assessment under the Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act – a key step to clarifying heritage and environment considerations for the project and involving the community and stakeholders in a detailed understanding of the project through formal consultation,” she said.

But Ms Fitzharris did not say when the business case would be ready.

She questioned Mr Coe’s sincerity, saying he had been the biggest opponent to light rail in this city for years. “He opposed it as Shadow Minister for Transport. He said he would tear up contracts. So why should we believe him now?”

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62 Responses to Coe accepts reality and commits to light rail Stage 2, in principle
Nadine Neilson Nadine Neilson 9:51 am 15 Jan 20

For just a little while could we get a break from expensive projects like light rails and stadiums for a little bit and focus on stabilising rates and general maintenance whilst the coffers get built up, We've barely had time to recover from the light rail.

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 8:20 pm 15 Jan 20

    Nadine Neilson reality is that unless you are investing you don’t build coffers as they are the times the economy is running slow anyway. Just like now.

    They are also the times where it is cheap to borrow money. So actually no now is the time to invest not kill the economy further.

Leon Arundell Leon Arundell 9:16 am 17 Jun 19

Will the Liberals commission a business case for faster public transport using transit lanes?

I estimate that transit lanes, on selected parts of the Gungahlin-Civic-Woden route, would do more than light rail to reduce traffic congestion, and would cost only about as much as a feasibility study for light rail!

Leon Arundell Leon Arundell 9:10 am 17 Jun 19

Will the Liberals also match Labor’s commitment to “increasing the public transport share of all work trips to 10.5% by 2016 and 16% by 2026?”

Labor managed only 8.3% in 2016. Initial results indicate that light rail stage 1 hes brought that figure to only 9%.

    astro2 astro2 5:22 pm 16 Jan 20

    “Will the Liberals also match Labor’s commitment to ‘increasing the public transport share of a all work trips to 10.5% by 2016 and 16% by 2026?” I don’t know Leon, you could try asking them.

Alicia Welsh Alicia Welsh 8:34 pm 16 Jun 19


Sistine Barretto-Daniels Sistine Barretto-Daniels 5:56 pm 15 Jun 19

O-Bahn !!!

Leota Patterson Leota Patterson 3:29 pm 15 Jun 19

Transport Canberra has made an absolute mess of our bus service. The tram doesn't work for me I don't live in Gungahlin. So before transport Canberra screwed with the buses I could get to work in 40 minutes now it takes me an hour & a half. Please explain to me how this is an improvement? Transport Canberra screwed the bus routes to have a tram. I will not be voting for this current government

Peter Stevenson Peter Stevenson 2:21 am 15 Jun 19

I maybe biased given I work for TC as a humble bus driver. Apart from that I think the ACT has planned the present light rail as best as they could given various obstacles a long the way.

Initially I came to Canberra from Newcastle (NSW) in 1998 where most of my family lives. From what I can gather Newcastle has also just introduced a light rail system up there. In comparison Newcastle seems to have less separation from traffic as their rails appear to be running along the roads the cars drive on. From a safety aspect Canberra seems more safer from that aspect as our trains crossover on various intersections.

From my earlier occupation with State Rail NSW I was working on freight and passenger trains from 1985-1994. In Newcastle during those years they introduced electrification between Gosford and Newcastle. Once that track work was complete it provided a faster transport service in that area. It also boosted property prices in some of the areas around the Central Coast as commuters gained easier travelling times compared to driving or the diesel hauled passenger trains.

Have a pleasant weekend :)

    Peter Gersbach Peter Gersbach 4:25 am 15 Jun 19

    Peter, Canberra had the advantage of being designed to include trams from the start. Those "wide boulevards" are really the tram easements.

    Shane Jasprizza Shane Jasprizza 9:37 am 15 Jun 19

    Peter Gersbach, apparently they didn’t plan the bridges too well...

    Trish Roberts Trish Roberts 11:40 am 15 Jun 19

    Rock, thanks for posting. I have several criticisms, not of the light rail itself, but of the massive upheaval to Transport Canberra that happened around it. It must be a trying time for drivers and others; I certainly don’t blame the drivers! I don’t have a car so travel on buses constantly. Every driver and employee I’ve come across has been pleasant and helpful.

Maya123 Maya123 12:26 am 15 Jun 19

Stadium has no interest for me.

Yuri Shukost Yuri Shukost 12:21 am 15 Jun 19

We need a new stadium more than stage 2. What a great alternative government option😤

Bill Orr Bill Orr 10:07 pm 14 Jun 19

Not much of a surprise. 😂

Peter McDonald Peter McDonald 10:03 pm 14 Jun 19

Well that should save some money.

Trish Roberts Trish Roberts 8:06 pm 14 Jun 19

Rebecca Roberts, am I correct in guessing that I know these people?

Michael Ahern Michael Ahern 6:51 pm 14 Jun 19

Or they could add some extra bus lanes from Civic to Woden for the same effect at a fraction of the price

    Bubba Zanetti Bubba Zanetti 7:14 pm 14 Jun 19

    and for a fraction of the customers !!!

    Phillip Scharf Phillip Scharf 9:21 pm 14 Jun 19

    Bubba Zanetti pretty sure the operational cost of a bus is far higher than a tram and by pretty sure I mean that really smart economist state that. Sure, buses have a lower upfront cost but how many tyres does a bus need over its life time compared to a train... and that is just the tip of the ice burg

    James Daniels James Daniels 9:43 pm 14 Jun 19

    Phillip Scharf the ACT government's own comparison of LR vs BRT along the stage 1 route showed BRT would have delivered almost the same level of benefits for less than half the cost. That's over a 20 year time frame so they would have factored in the bus operating costs.

Stephen Page-Murray Stephen Page-Murray 6:26 pm 14 Jun 19

Civic-Woden-Tuggeranong, and airport links ASAP please

    Sarah Rollings Sarah Rollings 8:48 am 15 Jun 19

    Yes....with a link to Canberra Hospital. It's essential for older people- not just to the centre of Woden. Or put in a dedicated shuttle service from the light rail to the hospital.

Dale Wynn Dale Wynn 6:23 pm 14 Jun 19

So the ACT No Party is actually saying Yes to something? :o

    Stephen Esdaile Stephen Esdaile 7:09 pm 14 Jun 19

    Sounds like they'd like to win an election! The 'no' approach hasn't got them out of opposition in decades.

    Problem is, being Liberals, they've learnt to say one thing in opposition and do the reverse in government....

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 6:20 pm 14 Jun 19

In Budget Paper 3 – Budget Outlook – for the recently delivered 2019-2020 ACT Budget, there is the following sobering statement on page 57, about the two areas which currently consume 55% of ACT Government spending –

“Government expenditure on health services has increased by around 7.5 per cent per year over the decade to 2017-18, and spending on education grew by 6.3 per cent per year over the same period. This means our investment in these essential services has grown more than 3.6 times as fast as our average population growth”

With that rate of growth in health and education spending presumably likely to continue into the future, all other areas of spending will be under serious pressure, and the reservations which have been raised (by the likes of the ACT Audit Office and Infrastructure Australia) about the true costs and benefits of light rail will need to be considered very carefully.

    astro2 astro2 10:47 pm 14 Jun 19

    Governments have to balance a number of priorities but must also plan for future needs of its citizens. Education, transport and health are all important. Seems they have the balance right in this instance and both parties agree to establishing a light rail network which will take the pressure off traffic so a win-win.

    Kent Street Kent Street 11:05 pm 14 Jun 19

    I’m still waiting for someone to tell me what specific problem is solved by the implementation of light rail.

    nothappyjan nothappyjan 9:55 am 15 Jun 19

    ACT Labor not being able to form government without agreeing to the Greens demands for a toy tram was the problem it solved. As most intelligent Canberrans know, a rapid bus, or temporary on road bus lane during peak times would deliver a cheaper, quicker, more direct, flexible and future proof form of public transport, which is exactly the opposite of what a tram network can do.

    astro2 astro2 8:11 pm 15 Jun 19

    They already have a rapid bus system – all the route numbers preceded by an ‘R’ are part of the rapid bus network. The light rail network is in addition to this. Other capital cities have the same, or similar, multi-modal transport. Canberra needs this as well due to the population growth which, in turn, reflects the nation’s population growth.

    bj_ACT bj_ACT 10:21 am 16 Jun 19

    Health and Education get huge Federal Government grants which account for that percentage growth. I think the Federal funding for these two areas should be made clearer in the Budget tables.

Tim Cole Tim Cole 6:18 pm 14 Jun 19

Oh Coe you hypocrite. Now get your buddy Zed to get some Federal cash to assist

Allister Roger Allister Roger 6:18 pm 14 Jun 19

I'll consider voting for them if they commit to bring it to Tuggeranong and get some buy in from the Feds. Oh yeah and chill out on the rates rises. Private public partnerships, regeneration near stations and increased tax base from development to fund.

    Tim Cole Tim Cole 6:19 pm 14 Jun 19

    Be careful what you wish for. If it's done the same way as stage 1, it'll be even slower than the bus.

    Totally agree with getting the Feds on board.

    Russell Nankervis Russell Nankervis 6:39 pm 14 Jun 19

    It is coming to Tuggeranong eventually. Let's say they just jump to Tuggers for stage two. They would need to build a new depot and could only go to Woden as there would be no way over the lake.

    デ スティーブ デ スティーブ 6:39 pm 14 Jun 19

    The rate rises have all come from the Labor government

    Allister Roger Allister Roger 6:41 pm 14 Jun 19

    Do what they do in the USA and just build both at the same time. Infrastructure is what's lacking in Australia. Now I admit you need some funding, should of bean a future fund from the mining boom, oh wait...

    Nathan Bennett Nathan Bennett 7:05 pm 14 Jun 19

    Do you wanna pay stamp duty again?

    James Stephen James Stephen 7:29 pm 14 Jun 19

    Nathan Bennett pretty sure most people are paying stamp duty either way

    James Daniels James Daniels 9:54 pm 14 Jun 19

    From what I've read, bus trips from the Tuggeranong suburbs to Civic take longer now with the new timetable and once LR replaces buses on the Woden to Civic route, the journey will get even longer again. And that's before we're slugged with billions more to pay for it. Stage 1 is costing about $80m p.a. for 1 trunk route when ACTION was servicing all of Canberra for about twice that amount. The other LR stages will cost at least as much and probably more than stage 1, so we're looking at having to pay at least $400m p.a. just for the trunk services of a full LR network, and would still need to subsidise buses on top of that to get people from the suburbs to LR stops. The LR vision may look wonderful, but we're looking at increasing our public transport costs by at least 300% to get it. We don't live in a world of unlimited money and when health and eductaion outcomes are on a downward slide its simply unaffordable.

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 8:09 am 15 Jun 19

    James Daniels stage 1 is NOT costing $80m p/a.

    Availability payments in 2020 are $54m that increases each year with inflation up to a maximum* of $75m in year 20. Though that $75m buys what $54m buys today so if you are thinking of it in terms of today’s dollars the cost is $54m per year. That pays for all running and maintenance costs plus the cost of finance. All fares go to TC so the cost to budget is actually less by the fares.

    * 2033 has a payment higher than $75m but that is because the vehicles are scheduled to be refurbished in that year and that cost has already been factored in.

    Allister Roger Allister Roger 8:59 am 15 Jun 19

    But you are not taking into account the benefits to the economy of regeneration, housing construction, new businesses etc. It's an investment sure but there certainly are benefits.

    James Daniels James Daniels 10:15 am 15 Jun 19

    Ashley Wright the auditor general costed it at $1.78b over 20 years = $80m p.a. You're forgetting about the $375m lump sum up front payment, the interest we have to pay on it and the additional government planning and management costs that were incurred prior to work starting.

    James Daniels James Daniels 10:44 am 15 Jun 19

    Allister Roger all those factors were taken into account in the government comparison reluctantly released to the CT under FOI in 2016 after 2 years of requests. It showed LR with a cost benefit of $1.02 and BRT with $1.98. Under a much higher density scenario LR increased to 2.34 but BRT increased even more to 4.78. Seeing that the public transport benefits of LR are only about 0.50, they have included the wider economic benefits you're talking about. The opportunity cost of stage 1 has already been massive and stage 2 to Woden will be even worse due to the increased construction costs in getting it over the lake.

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 7:57 pm 15 Jun 19

    James Daniels here is a link to that report.

    Over 20 years the average cost is $64m but that factors in inflation etc in 2016 terms the cost is $54m pa.

    Correct it doesn’t cover the up front cost, though if you want to add that to make you figure more scary you should remove the land use benefits light rail brings and fares. Certain the later will reduce the $375 to Well below zero.

    And here is a link to said report. Cherry pick as you like.

    James Daniels James Daniels 12:13 am 16 Jun 19

    Ashley Wright using the ACT government's own comparison between LR & BRT, the additional wider econcomic benefits of LR are in the range of $75-105m, in 2014 dollars, and for that we're paying more than $300m extra, in 2014 dollars. The land use benefits you're referring to are included in the government's comparison. The auditor general also said it was questionable to include all the wider economic benefits and LR experts interstate said they were massive compared to other LR projects. IIRC the average was something like 17% of the public transport benefits while our final business case had them at 140%. Even using the government's optimistic wider economic benefits, they don't come close to covering the up front lump sum. As for the fares, they were going to be collected anyway from bus users in the corridor, so it would only be any additional fares generated by LR, and that's factored into the business case anyway, so its still a massive loser for ACT taxpayers. There would have to be extraordinarily large synergies created through having a larger LR network to make the future stages cost effective to build.

Jenny Bolin Jenny Bolin 6:14 pm 14 Jun 19

Only Northside commuters? 😀 Sorry couldn’t resist!

    Russell Nankervis Russell Nankervis 6:39 pm 14 Jun 19

    Well, yeah. It is built from Gungahlin to Civic.

    Doris Andrews Doris Andrews 6:50 pm 14 Jun 19

    It is the only public transport option if you live in Gungahlin, so of course it is going to be utilised.

    Jenny Bolin Jenny Bolin 7:10 pm 14 Jun 19

    Russell Nankervis, Dories Andrews - I know that! That’s why the big grin and couldn’t resist! Of course I live in the Deep South where we probably won’t ever have the tram!

    Doris Andrews Doris Andrews 8:07 pm 14 Jun 19

    Jenny Bolin yes, I am in the Deep South too. And struggling with a very poor bus service.

    Denis Svob Denis Svob 11:07 pm 14 Jun 19

    Jenny Bolin *light rail. But be patient, we will get it.

    Jenny Bolin Jenny Bolin 11:43 pm 14 Jun 19

    And the route will be Woden to Tuggeranong! Still no use to me! Might then extend to Lanyon, maybe even Tharwa? Won’t ever come near Chisholm! By the time all that happens I will probably be retired or dead and have no need anyway! 😀

    Jenny Bolin Jenny Bolin 12:30 am 15 Jun 19

    Before someone out there decides my attitude is sour grapes, I just want to say I have a strange warped sense of humour! But I just had an idea, maybe I’ll get lucky and the route will come through erindale or Caldwell and I can jump on my souped up nanamobile scooter (no point having a scooter unless it’s souped up a bit!) and meet the tram, and as people have said there isn’t much room on board, maybe they can add a carriage without seats so us oldies can just ride on, park our scooters ready for a quick getaway at our stop! Who is with me! 😀😀

michael quirk michael quirk 4:40 pm 14 Jun 19

The Labor, Green and Liberal Parties all need to investigate whether the extension of light rail is justifiable given the fragile state of the ACT budget. Its development needs to be assessed against other calls on the public purse including health, housing. bus based public transport, a football stadium and a convention centre. All parties seem to have their heads in the sand and fail to acknowledge that funds are limited and need to be used wisely to maximise benefit to the community..

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