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Federal Government should help pay for the wire-free light rail it is demanding

Ian Bushnell 23 February 2020 92
Light rail

A light rail vehicle heads out wire-free from the Alinga Street Station. Images: ACT Government.

It should not have come as a surprise that the ACT Government would opt for a wire-free run to Commonwealth Park from the city for the next stage of light rail.

Both the business case and the EPBC documents lodged with the Federal environment department canvassed wire-free sections of the Stage 2 route in response to demands from the National Capital Authority that heritage vistas and the areas of national significance in the Parliamentary Triangle not be adversely impacted by unsightly poles and wires.

The EPBC documents in particular present the 1.7 km City to Commonwealth Park leg as a self-contained wire-free proposal, with light rail vehicles charging at the three new stops of City West, West Basin and Commonwealth Park.

The confirmation that Stage 2A will be wire-free means a higher price-tag as new and existing light rail vehicles will need to be fitted with onboard energy storage with regenerative braking capability, as well as a traction power substation connected to the system at Commonwealth Avenue having to be built in Commonwealth Park.

While tracks will be laid in the middle of London Circuit once the light rail turns into Commonwealth Avenue, they will be on the grassed median down to Commonwealth Park.

How much extra going wire-free will cost cannot be revealed as the ACT Government is still negotiating the deal with Stage 1 operator Canberra Metro to construct and run Stage 2A, although one expert put the premium at 20 per cent extra per vehicle.

Transport Minister Chris Steel insists it is not prohibitive, but Chief Minister Andrew Barr had expressed some caution at the cost, preferring that wire-free running be limited to sections where it was essential.

But in order to keep the NCA onside and secure approvals for the longer and more complex Stage 2B to Woden, the Government has decided it’s a price worth paying. It also makes sense to make the whole 1.7 km wire-free rather than switch at the Commonwealth Avenue turn.

Associate Professor Matthew Burke from the Cities Research Institute at Griffith University told the ABC the ACT Government had been wedged.

“The NCA’s made it pretty clear they don’t want an operation with catenary (the wires) and they’ve really forced their hand to run with a battery tram,” he said.

At this rate, we could see wire-free running all the way to the Lodge on Adelaide Avenue.

It is understandable therefore that the ACT Government should be looking to the Commonwealth, if it is making demands that will mean extra costs, to contribute to the bill.

Commonwealth Avenue from a raised London Circuit

The turn into Commonwealth Avenue from a raised London Circuit on to the grassed tracks for the run down to the lake.

This is besides the fact that a major public transport project in the nation’s capital that will serve the Commonwealth’s own workforce should attract some co-funding, particularly if the Morrison Government needs to stimulate a flagging national economy come Budget time.

The Canberra Liberals, while acknowledging the popularity of Stage 1, remain loath to back Stage 2, saying they want to see the numbers before making any commitment.

This has drawn the ire of the Public Transport Association of Canberra which called on the Opposition to outline their plans for bringing light rail to Woden ahead of the Territory election in October.

But the wire-free decision could see the Liberals flirt even more with the evolving trackless trams technology, touted to be a much cheaper option than rail after their transport spokesperson Candice Burch talked it up in the Assembly last year.

Promoted by Curtin University sustainability expert Professor Peter Newman, the Chinese autonomous rail transit, or ART, is an electric articulated vehicle on rubber wheels that runs in dedicated lanes.

PTACBR chair Ryan Hemsley has derided the technology as a novelty electric bus.

“Once you factor in the costs of constructing an exclusive right of way, inclusive of utilities relocation, concrete trackbed, accessible stops and recharging points, what you will be left with is an unproven piece of technology, locked into a single supplier with no discernable cost advantage over light rail. These ‘trackless scams’ offer the worst of all possible worlds and should not be given serious consideration by the ACT Government,” he says.

There are also concerns about how the lack of route permanence impacts on the residential and commercial development potential that light rail is designed to unlock.

But there is no chance now that the Government will change tack and it will want to have contracts in the bag before its October date with the electorate so it can go into the campaign with  Stage 2A locked down and maybe even underway.

For ACT taxpayers, it would be a good thing if the Feds cough up part of the bill.


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92 Responses to Federal Government should help pay for the wire-free light rail it is demanding
John Hynes John Hynes 10:41 pm 28 Feb 20

Why isnt the fedral government helping? Simple. We have a bunch of people in Canberra who point blank refuse to vote liberal under any circumstances. The Labor party doesnt need to buy your vote and the Liberals couldnt buy it so why spend anything. Squeaky wheel gets the grease. Vote liberal in one federal election and see how much cash both parties would magically 'find'

rationalobserver rationalobserver 7:01 pm 28 Feb 20

Struggling to follow the logic here.
NCA has requirements it needs people to meet if they want to develop something on land NCA control, and everyone things NCA should pay.
ACT Government has requirements it needs me to meet when I want to develop a house on land I lease from the ACT Government. Who should pay for that?

    astro2 astro2 11:39 am 29 Feb 20

    I think the point is that the “requirements” do not relate to health or safety and that they are actually being rather precious little snowflakes objecting to a few wires and poles, considering all the infrastructure for their motor vehicles to tootle around the Hill. To witness the visual horror of a tram wire next to a real heritage building try googling the image of “tram going past Melbourne Parliament House” and see what comes up. (Or try melbourne-australia-is-home-to-the-worlds-largest-tram-network). Perhaps they could just put up signs advising all people with delicate aesthetic sensibilities to avert their eyes near a light rail so as not to have people swooning in terror at a (gasp) wire.

    JC JC 7:42 am 01 Mar 20

    The requirements are basically plucked out of the NCA’s backside. I’m willing to bet there is no book of rules that states there is to be no tram wires on NCA controlled land. Good case in point is Northborne Ave which is under NCA control and there are wires. .

    Instead when a development application like this comes in it is up to negotiation between parties to get the required result.

    And in this case the NCA has changed direction. Originally staging wire free was only required south of the lake (and constitution Ave for earlier “plans” but is now also including London cct in wire free.

    So guess the real issue is how an unelected body has so much control to be able to flip and flop to meet their arbitrarily rules even if that costs a lot more.

William Taylor William Taylor 1:16 pm 26 Feb 20

There is an easy solution. Don’t go round the parliamentary triangle. Go east to the airport first, then branch south along the old dairy road. Link up with the rail station, then head back through Kingston, Talopea, Manuka and then out on Adelaide Avenue towards Woden. No need for wire free and something that looks almost like an ‘integrated transport network’.

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 6:00 pm 26 Feb 20

    William Taylor that doesn’t solve a thing. The NCA controls the CBD around London Cct it also controls constitution Ave up towards Russell.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 9:32 am 26 Feb 20

“……….why are we investing so much money in an old fashioned light rail system? …..”

Those Euro-tram salesmen are very good, that’s why.

Darren Scrivener Darren Scrivener 8:59 pm 25 Feb 20

What a bloody waste a money

tfx1 tfx1 8:24 pm 25 Feb 20

It is a pity that the ACT government and Canberra people generally do not look elsewhere for successful models in anything. I would give the design of busways, big and little, and the running of the buses to Brisbane City Council. Have a look at how successful they are and they don’t waste money on big capital projects that will never pay for themselves. It’s not too late to build a much cheaper more effective busway and bus system than expanding the ego project of the tram.

Bill Arnold Bill Arnold 4:45 pm 25 Feb 20

A sensible Government would have been wire free from Day 1.

    David Aked David Aked 5:21 pm 25 Feb 20

    No. A sensible gov does wired as much as possible. The only thing wrong with it is aesthetics.

    But given all the ugly buildings and developments going on in Canberra City, a few overhead wires are the least of our concerns.

Tijana Delov Tijana Delov 4:42 pm 25 Feb 20

We are a small enough city to implement new innovative technology...why are we investing so much money in an old fashioned light rail system? Such short sighted thinking.

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 5:58 pm 26 Feb 20

    Tijana Delov here is a tip. It’s not as old fashioned as many nay sayers would have you believe. Sure the basic technology is, but so is the basic technology that powers every car, truck and bus on the road.

    Tijana Delov Tijana Delov 3:34 pm 28 Feb 20

    Ashley Wright true.. but why is that? The technology is there to move away from petrol. Could have built dedicated lanes for driverless electric or hydrogen cell vehicles to encourage people to move away from the old fashioned petrol cars. The light rail takes me 30 mins longer to get home than when I just had 1 bus so i prefer to drive. At least Melbourne is piloting uber air as a new innovative solution.

Kiriel Kiriel 1:50 pm 25 Feb 20

The whole thing should have been wire free in the first place really. It is one of the most disappointing things about the line. They could put solar panels on the roof of each stop to help support the energy costs. Newcastle has a line like this, and it is clean looking and seems to work like a dream.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 1:50 pm 25 Feb 20

“The RBA should issue the money ….”

Code for printing money and this will destroy what’s left of the economy.

Mark Flynn Mark Flynn 11:50 am 25 Feb 20

The light rail on George St Sydney is wire free.Its not a problem.

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 1:40 pm 25 Feb 20

    Mark Flynn George Street in Sydney uses a very expensive Alstom propriety system.

    Mark Flynn Mark Flynn 3:16 pm 25 Feb 20

    Ashley Wright It's light rail.The teams have pentografhs as well.trams were in Sydney when I was young.I am 65,I can remember going up George St on one.I was 3.They put them back.You have a better solution to the horrendous traffic problem in Sydney.I was there last weekend.The teams,no matter what they cost,are a godsend.

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 5:57 pm 26 Feb 20

    Mark Flynn care to translate that rant? Or how my comment that George Street uses an expensive proprietary system translates into that rant of yours?

    And btw not sure if you have noticed my posts but for the most part I am very pro light rail.

Matt Gard Matt Gard 7:18 am 25 Feb 20

Send them a note.

"It's wired to the node."

David Jenkins David Jenkins 1:38 am 25 Feb 20

Why? That's just the cost of the works in imposing this thing on a national heritage precinct. Just wait until all the cedars start coming down on Commonwealth Avenue.

James Balean James Balean 11:33 pm 24 Feb 20

The issue can be resolved by asking “who’s the customer?” According to the light rail website, “Canberra's Light Rail PPP is between The ACT Government and The Canberra Metro consortium.” The Fed Gov is NOT the customer! The customer pays! It’s just a stakeholder with the right to impose a constraint.

Michael JF Michael JF 11:04 pm 24 Feb 20

The RBA should issue the money and give it to the gov and the States debt and interest free

    Michael JF Michael JF 11:05 pm 24 Feb 20

    Investing in infrastructure does nothing but good, the inflation it causes is peanuts compared to the inflation caused by retail Banks doing fractional-reserve lending

Ian Ian 10:56 pm 24 Feb 20

Why would the Feds pay anything? They wouldn’t care if it was built or not. And its not like their requirements were unknown right from the outset and should have been factored into the business case for the whole project.

Monica Tiffen Monica Tiffen 10:20 pm 24 Feb 20

Why? Don't they get money as a State? And also the rise in all Rates is money going some-where in the A.C.T.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 9:58 pm 24 Feb 20

Check out Helsinki Metro.

Check out Helsinki debt while your at it.

Rob Chalmers Rob Chalmers 9:49 pm 24 Feb 20

Stage two should have sorted before stage 1 was begun. The ACT Liberal party is not responsible for the lack of preparation by the local government. The Public Transport Association of Canberra is what exactly ? a pro light rail marketing tool disguised as a pseudo public interest forum. It should not have come as a surprise to the ACT government that the NCA would not allow poles and wires in the Parliamentary Triangle. The original planning and budgeting should have been done on that premise. Local Labor put all their eggs in the one basket. That basket being the expectation of a Federal Labor win last year. Should have been doing more to win support from the Federal Government. It is politics remember.

John Hutch John Hutch 9:24 pm 24 Feb 20

I don’t understand why the federal government should pay extra for non-essential aesthetics. The irony is that the poles and overhead wires have a greater retro and heritage aesthetic than the modern hidden wires and components that the wire-free proponents don’t want.

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