24 February 2021

Feds come to party on light rail Stage 2A with $132.5 million funding boost

| Ian Bushnell
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Alinga Street terminus

The next stage will extend from the Alinga Street terminus to Commonwealth Park. Photo: File.

The ACT Government has welcomed a funding injection of $132.5 million from the Commonwealth for the next stage of the light rail network, the first section of an extension of the line to Woden.

Stage 2A will add 1.7 km of track and three new stops, operating wire-free from Alinga Street through to Commonwealth Park. An additional 2,500 to 3,000 passengers a day are expected in the first operating year.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack announced the funding on Wednesday morning, saying it would help make the project a reality for Canberra.

“Extending the light rail will also create jobs and bust congestion in the ACT by improving public transport and pedestrian and cyclist safety,” he said.

“This is what the Australian Government’s $110 billion investment pipeline is all about – getting Australians home sooner and safer whilst boosting local economies as we bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the contribution from the Federal Government emphasised the importance of the project for the Territory.

“The Commonwealth’s support for the project is welcomed, and it follows in the footsteps of the financial support received for Stage 1 of the ACT’s light rail network,” he said.

“The project is critical to the Territory’s Jobs and Economic Recovery plan, and I look forward to working with the Commonwealth on progressing the approvals for the entire Stage 2 project.”

Light rail on Commonwealth Avenue

How light rail on Commonwealth Avenue will look. Image: ACT Government.

ACT Minister for Transport and City Services Chris Steel said the ACT Government had already seen great results for local jobs, transport and the economy with Stage 1 of light rail, with further benefits from Stage 2A.

“Light rail is seeing more Canberrans choose public transport, with more than 43 per cent of people surveyed stating they had never used public transport before catching light rail,” Mr Steel said.

“Stage 2 of light rail will extend the benefits of better public transport by extending the line to create a north-south spine for our city-wide light rail network.

“Whilst this project will be very disruptive during construction, it will deliver long-term transport and economic benefits for our city, with better quality, mass transit, powered by 100 per cent renewable electricity.”

The Public Transport Association of Canberra (PTCBR) says the funding is more than double the Commonwealth’s contribution towards Light Rail Stage 1, and a very welcome sign the Commonwealth has realised that public transport investment keeps cities vibrant and moving.

“We hope this signals an ongoing partnership between the ACT and Federal Governments as light rail rolls out through the parliamentary zone and towards Woden,” chair Ryan Hemsley said.

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ACT Liberal Senator Zed Seselja said that for Canberrans, extending the Gungahlin-City light rail made sense.

“It is important we get light rail right for Canberrans. Today’s announcement boosts the Australian Government’s infrastructure bonanza in Canberra to more than $1.4 billion in recent years,” he said.

The funding boost doesn’t appear to have altered the timeline, though, with construction of the first works, involving raising London Circuit to meet Commonwealth Avenue, expected to start next year, with the first track laid before the next election in October 2024.

Master Builders ACT CEO Michael Hopkins said local contractors were looking forward to the opportunity to help deliver the project.

“This project has the potential to create thousands of local jobs, and the MBA is pleased to see the ACT and Federal government working together to deliver infrastructure and support the local construction industry,” he said.

“Twelve months ago the MBA had called for major projects to be brought forward as an economic stimulus initiative. We are pleased to see the ACT and Federal government support infrastructure building as a key driver of the ACT’s economic recovery.”

Stage 2A has cleared the EPBC hurdle but still requires NCA and ACT planning approval.

The longer and more complex section across Lake Burley Griffin to Woden is still going through the various approvals processes and will require federal parliamentary approval.

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Stephen Saunders8:14 am 25 Feb 21

Here we go again. Light-rail election means nix. Successful build and fast commuter embrace mean nix. Canberra’s instant MIT urban-transit PhDs still know best. You extra 43%, get back onto charabancs, or else.

Meantime, does Ian or anyone else know the real reason for Bad Scotty’s uncharacteristic largesse to the hated “Bubble”? Could it be a subtle reward for Andrew being a good sport in the COVID cabinets?

I agree. as long as people use something it doesn’t matter what it costs. And the expenditure will never affect the ability to deliver other essential government services because the money comes from different buckets which are bottomless.

Canberra’s instant progressive PhD Economists still know best.

HiddenDragon7:22 pm 24 Feb 21

Rather than encouraging the ACT government to go ahead with something which it can’t afford and which the community does not need (things that some affluent neophiliacs would like to have are not public “needs”), it would have been far better if the federal government had dreamt up a “this is not a precedent” excuse for kicking that money into the Canberra hospital.

The other thing it could – even more usefully – have done with this money is fund a social housing pilot project in the ACT (that much easier in a jurisdiction where state and local government functions are combined).

Either of these options would have done more for Zed’s re-election prospects than a token contribution to a project which will be burdening Canberra ratepayers for many years to come – although I’m sure today’s announcement and elbow-bumping media event had absolutely nothing to do with such crass considerations……

A social housing pilot – like Common Ground?

Capital Retro11:11 am 25 Feb 21

“…….a project which will be burdening Canberra ratepayers for many years to come…….”

It occurred to me that this could be “Zed’s revenge” and who would blame him for that?.

Considering light rail stage 1 has only averaged 8,500 passengers a day, I’m certainly surprised this extra 1.7km will add more than 2,500 additional passengers per day.

Surely you can’t doubt that an additional 2500 people per day will want to go to commonwealth park, full of such sights as the passed out heroin addict, the screeching, drunk by 10am homeless people, and the open air hobo toilet? Not to mention the lovely blue green tinged sullage pond we call a lake.

Try 15,000 boardings per day prior to COVID.

Though I doubt the extension will generate much extra traffic, but that’s not the point anyway. The point is the Woden extension and getting the thing started. Also the reason why the much quoted business case doesn’t show a good return for stage 2A measured as a standalone stage.

The heavily redacted “business case” for the whole of stage 2 doesn’t break even either so it doesn’t really make much difference.

And when you consider the heroic assumptions made to massage the stage 1 cost benefit ratio over 1, stage 2 is an absolute horror show.

Capital Retro9:37 pm 24 Feb 21

Thanks to the COVID 19 pandemic, telecommuting is now well established and it will stay that way: https://theconversation.com/with-management-resistance-overcome-working-from-home-may-be-here-to-stay-144850

Accordingly, the dramatic fall-off in tram boardings will probably fall even further and there is no way they will return to 15,000 boardings a day pre-COVID.

I am amazed that given the success of telecommuting that has been the outcome, the ACT government is ignoring it and pushing on with the light rail which any expansion of should be scrapped.

Light rail will become the right fail.

Keep dreaming Capital Retro. Light rail has not been a failure far from it and delivers what was promised.

As for daily ridership, sorry to disappoint but usage is increasing and loadings are very healthy. And no not at pre COVID levels and will agree Tele commuting will of course change things, but still plenty of people using it. I would estimate they would match business case levels, which btw we’re exceeded within the first year of operation.

Capital Retro11:14 am 25 Feb 21

The only “dreaming” occurring is with people like you who relentlessly support this not-needed and unwanted vanity project.

Where do you get 15,000 per day average from?

Start of Light Rail to end Feb 2020, before Covid hits is 11,000 per day.

At a guess, I’d think JC is talking about the Weekday boardings, which are naturally brought down overall by the lower weekend patronage.

Bj so you went from 8500 up to 11,000! Make up your mind as to what the figure is.

Anyway the 15,000 are the figures reported in the news at the time they added extra peak hour services and extended peak “hour” times.

Even reported on this very site.


Just for the record, the light rail business case for expected daily patronage was quite low in 2019 and we beat that in the first year. So good work, the bar was set low however.

But according to the business case for 2021, patronage should now be at 15,120 a day average (full daily average, not just work day average).

So for 2020, patronage was below the business case assumptions (due to Covid, we can’t argue with that).

In 2021 however. Light Rail stage 1 is averaging 7,200 patrons per day, so about half the expectations. This should go up, I reckon. But doubling might be a stretch.

The problem is that patronage has to increase markedly outside peak travel periods to get the average up. Peak periods are averaging OK about 75% of pre Covid. After work time however is around just a couple of hundred people an hour.

We don’t need news reports, transport Canberra publish the patronage reports. BJ’s figures are accurate.


Learn to read. and stop making up straw men 8,500 was for the life of the light rail.

Check the Transport numbers published on the data portal and Forget reading reports on counts by the Transport Minister who spins every number possible and cherry picks data to suit (remember when he highlighted Calwell bus use grew by 20% and failed to mention bus use had dropped in every other Tuggeranong suburb). .

Even Minister Steele’s own daily figure of 15k doesn’t align with the 3.5 million over 10 months that he also quotes.

You aren’t meant to bring these things up.

The only information allowed is positive. It’s efficient, it’s modern, it’s vibrant and it’s progressive. Dissent is not allowed.

“The Public Transport Association of Canberra (PTCBR) says the funding is more than double the Commonwealth’s contribution towards Light Rail Stage 1, and a very welcome sign the Commonwealth has realised that public transport investment keeps cities vibrant and moving.”

Firstly, the “Public Transport Association” is nothing more than a self appointed light rail lobby group who have now changed their name so quoting them here is like asking Gina Rinehart if she’s supportive of mining subsidies.

Secondly, the Federal government did not provide 1 cent for the funding of Light Rail Stage 1, they and the ACT Government are trying to rewrite history. The Federal Government provided funding for infrastructure as part of the asset recycling program. The ACT government chose to use that funding on Light Rail, but it could have been used for any Infrastructure project.

Whilst it’s nice for the ACT to see some infrastructure spending from the Fed’s, it’s bad that the money is being spent on a project with such a poor business case, when there are far more pressing needs.

Seemingly the pandemic is allowing government’s at all levels to be far more profligate with their spending but without the usual level of scrutiny that would be typical. No doubt at the next Federal election, we will hear complaints about Pork Barreling left, right and centre.

I have to agree about the ACT Public Transport association. They are primarily Light Rail proponents who were very happy to support reduced bus services and slower travel times for a third of Canberrans at the 2019 network re-design.

You only have to look at their ridiculous historical press releases highlighting the many benefits of the new 2019 bus network. How well did that network transpire?

Even the Transport minister agreed they stuffed that design up and that they’d made 136 further tweaks in the first year alone to try and fix some of the problems.

The drop in bus patronage across large swathes of Canberra and the all time record in negative feedback to the ACT Government about that network, shows how disconnected the ptcbr are from everyday bus users.

Capital Retro5:42 pm 24 Feb 21

All-Bran keeps me “vibrant and moving” and it only costs a few dollars.

The bus network desperately needs some a ‘rethink’ completely – but if people think light rail is a drain, the bus network is every bit as bad. I assume the subsidy these days is probably approaching $200m per annum. For a city the size of Canberra, that is horrendous.

Yes the subsidy on the bus network is massive but the argument that comprehensive public transport is an essential public good has far more viability for buses than light rail.

Particularly when the Light Rail project wasn’t even justified from a public transport perspective but rather a land redevelopment one.

I think a lot of people are willing for the government to subsidise uneconomic expenditure when it delivers a significant public social benefit. Less so when it’s for politician’s grandstanding.

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