20 November 2022

Fyshwick light rail proposal has plenty to get on board with

| Ian Bushnell
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Fyshwick light rail concept

The Fyshwick light rail and active transport concept provides many ideas for applications across the ACT. Images: Stewart Architecture.

There will be plenty of people who will dismiss the plan for a Fyshwick light rail stage and cycleway using the existing heavy rail corridor as just another pie-in-the-sky proposal that will never be built.

Or that it is a real estate development project, not a public transport initiative, that taxpayers will help fund.

Or that buses are a better bet than light rail.

Like any high-level concept, there will be a lot of detail that needs to be worked out, but overall, Stewart Architecture’s imagining of what could be possible in the inner south is not only worth considering but commendable for how it attempts to transform what is the mess from the Kingston Railway Station to Fyshwick into a cohesive new residential district with public and active transport.

READ MORE Transformative Fyshwick light rail plan proposed – and how to pay for it

It shows what might be possible, and vision is required if that part of Kingston and Fyshwick is to contribute to Canberra’s desperate need for more housing.

The ACT Government is already planning for 8000 to 9000 dwellings in East Lake, which will need transport links, but the space is there for much more, and why not along a light rail route, the textbook method of densification?

The rail line is hardly used and the corridor is ready-made for a development like this.

A schematic plan for East Canberra precincts and light rail.

Removing the embarrassment that is the Kingston Railway Station and replacing it with a modern multimodal transit hub with park-and-ride in east Fyshwick makes sense.

Real estate and transport are not mutually exclusive and selling land for development along the route to offset the cost is a long-held way of financing rail ventures.

The proposal envisages buildings of up to five storeys, concentrated at stops, that would likely be mixed-use to provide residents with the meeting places and services they will need.

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Those opposed to high density will never be on board, but this is the appropriate type of housing for a project and location like this and doesn’t have to mean soulless blocks.

In fact, the vision of Stewart Architecture’s Felicity Stewart and Marcus Graham for a treelined carless avenue, the Greenline, takes its inspiration from linear parks and people-friendly transit ways from overseas. These include the Arbutus Greenway in Vancouver and the New York High Line. This sort of green infrastructure has had a dramatic and positive impact on neighbourhoods and the cities themselves.

What city in Australia would be better suited than Canberra to create such a link?

Map of proposed light rail

The Fyshwick route and loop to Canberra Airport and back to the city and the Parliamentary Triangle.

When it comes to the buildings, Stewart is thinking more Paris than Northbourne Avenue. But that’s for the designers and ACT planning authority to settle.

For those who argue buses offer better value, tell that to the people who use light rail already, who love its quiet, clean, direct running or those clamouring for it across Canberra.

But really, both light rail and zero emissions buses, including busways, can be part of a multimodal network, and the principle of what the Fyshwick proposal is trying to achieve remains.

For Fyshwick itself, the plan brings it properly into the inner south and connects it to what are at present disparate parts.

Anyone who visits Fyshwick will, at times, be lost in its maze of winding streets, and catching a bus will take at least half an hour to get out of the place, depending on where you board.

A north-south link will bisect the area and provide a central spine and direct entry and exit points.

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The Fyshwick Business Association obviously sees a benefit for the district as it continues to evolve and diversify, including greater visitation through a direct public and active transport link.

A loop back to Canberra Airport also makes sense.

It will be easy to pick holes in such a high-level concept, but the better way will be to take up the urban renewal challenge that it issues and ideas that fit with the livable city ideals.

Government is taking it seriously and light rail is included in the draft inner south district strategy for the new planning system.

What government needs to do is somehow get on with its light rail plans and get across the lake so a Fyshwick line can actually be an option.

It needs to build a network, but a stage every decade is too long to wait, so the big question is, does the government have the capacity to build concurrent stages?

Otherwise, light rail for all is going to be a very slow train coming.

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Clever Interrobang9:30 pm 22 Nov 22

It seems like this type of looped design as proposed would make it more difficult to connect Queanbeyan to the public transport network in the future.

As more of the region continues to live across the border over the next several decades, integrating the broader area in both sides of the border into a single public transport system makes a lot of sense (although such an idea would require the NSW government to come on board)

HiddenDragon8:05 pm 22 Nov 22

“Anyone who visits Fyshwick will, at times, be lost in its maze of winding streets, and catching a bus will take at least half an hour to get out of the place, depending on where you board.”

Fyshwick, probably more so than any other place in Canberra, is a graphic illustration of the utter irrelevance of light rail to transport needs other than those of Monday to Friday workers in the major town centres.

Anyone who thinks otherwise should remove the light rail goggles (and possibly leave the hash cookies in the jar), and go out there on any day of the week, observe what is actually going on, and ask themselves “how many of these people are going to be willing and able to get out of their cars/vans/trucks etc. and trek to and from a light rail stop somewhere on Canberra Avenue”.

By all means, spruik light rail as a solution for some of the transport needs of people who might end up living in the “Parisian-inspired lofts and apartments” along the Boulevard Gare Perdue, but pretending that it would also do wonders for the existing transport needs of Fyshwick is fantasy.

Why is Kingston Railway Station an embarassment? It is practical, well-staffed, well located on current bus routes and has green space outside with amazingly beautiful huge old trees under which people can sit whilst awaiting their train. I’m sure the developers would love to get rid of those trees, the birds and grass to put up more concrete towers that increase heat in summer. Just what Barr would want, especially if it pleases his commercial mates.

I’m not seeing the logic for moving the train station – surely the station can cater to trains, busses and trams and become more important, with high speed rail too?

I’m with you Domo’
There is enough room to run three tracks (and i think there is 3 tracks now)side by side through Fyshwick. Heavy rail and light at the same time.
The proposed link through to the airport is good, a link from QBN can use the existing line and change over at the southern transit hub or the existing train station.
The light rail makes much more sense when it is connected to the airport and the heavy railway line to Sydney. Sooner or later they will upgrade it so that the Canberra -Sydney trip is quicker (not hi speed). Most of the infrastructure for the link to Fyshwick & QBN is there already. Once QBN is connected watch people jump on board with busses to and from civic about $4+ each way.

Leon Arundell9:07 am 22 Nov 22

The ACT Government confirms that “buses are a better bet than light rail.” It estimates that bus rapid transit will return $1.98 worth of benefits for each dollar invested, compared with benefits worth only $1.02 for Stage 1 of light rail, forty cents for Stage 2A, and sixty cents for Stage 2 as a whole. The government can get more Canberrans to work more quickly, sooner and at even less cost, by converting under-utilised bus lanes to T3 transit lanes, and extending Adelaide Avenue’s T2 lanes. That will also reduce transport emissions.

Hi Leon, Can you please provide a citation for the claim in the first sentence of your post. (Where you’ve used quotation marks). thx.

Search through the ACT Auditor General’s various reports into Light Rail and references to different papers contained therein. It’s never all in an easy to consume place. Unfortunately for anyone interested.

ACT Government site has a lot of broken links to previous reports and papers on transport. A lot seemed to be lost in the move from ACTION to Canberra Transport.

Nup that doesn’t make a lot of sense. There was a specific quote referred to in Leon Arundell’s post, claiming to be from the ACT Government, that definitely doesn’t pass the sniff test. So unless he can provide a reference source for the supposed quote, we can only assume he’s telling whoopers. Certainly doesn’t do any good for his cause.

It’s definitely more important to focus on someone’s quotation marks more than a robust business case for

I think you’re misreading the quote as if that’s what the ACT Government said, where I read it as that’s what Leon says.

I presume he’s based on the Auditor General, Infrastructure Australia or the other published .

No, if you go back to the post and read the first sentence you’ll see that he has used quotation marks so that it appears there is a quote attributed to someone from the ACT Government. It appears that there is no such quote so that the sentence is misleading.

No I am pretty sure you are misreading it and he’s quoting himself.

I think it’s clear that it’s not a likely quote from an ACT government document.

Clever Interrobang9:23 pm 22 Nov 22

It’s not misleading, you’re just trying to embarrass him and it’s manipulative.

Oh yeah right….he’s quoting himself – looks like he’s in furious agreement with himself then and the ACT Government has nothing to do with it so best he doesn’t include them as it would appear to be misleading.

I agree with Richard Scherer. Some very careful thought needs to go into the location and development of the Canberra Railway Station. This is a major strategic matter. The current location would be far more effective as a transport hub than one exiled to the nether regions of Fyshwick.


The people who often use the railway station are pensioners going up to Sydney and back for medical appointments, as well as travelling to see relatives all over Australia, often getting off at other stations to get to their destination. Many with disabilities are better accommodated on the train than on the bus service, although the bus companies would love to see their competition gone, no matter the cost to those who need the train.

The various governments involved attempted to cut trains to one a day from 3 per day, but this didn’t meet the need of passengers so they had to go back on that decision. Older people and those with disabilities are better served by the current location, especially when returning at night. Really, what vulnerable person wants to be in Fyshwick after dark?

This is all about grabbing valuable land that is well located to make more money, whilst relegating pensioners and disabled people to the depths of Fyshwick and a need to transfer to other transport means to get back into a residential area to get home, rather than an industrial one that is inhospitable and patently dangerous at night. There is no regard for the transport needs of passengers, or those people who bought or rented properties near the railway station because of its proximity.

Richard Scherer12:45 am 22 Nov 22

It’s high time we had a proper discussion about how to use the district’s existing rail assets rather than just handing them over to developers to build even more blocks of flats (sorry, apartments).

Taxpayers would, presumably, pick up much of the tab for destroying the existing rail corridor and replacing it with very expensive light rail. The idea of financing public infrastructure by selling off land doesn’t seemed to have worked in the case of Kingston Arts Precinct, for example.

Moving the rail terminal to East Fyshwick would put a further nail in the coffin of rail services to Canberra, making the station even more remote . It would destroy the possibility of again using rail (electrified?) to service industrial sites in Fyshwick, not to mention the prospect of commuter rail to Queanbeyan and Bungendore and even along part of the disused line past Hume.

ChrisinTurner10:27 pm 21 Nov 22

Previous plans to move the Kingston station and associated yards were prohibitively expensive due in part to contamination. However the latest planning districts proposals include high speed rail terminating at Ainslie Ave/Cooyong St.

The expansion of light rail to Fyshwick and the airport is a win-win for all stakeholders. There are many supporters of the light rail’s expansion. What could be better than a multi-modal transport precinct of light rail, train and bus to benefit all Canberrans. This plan opens up a “green spine” in a neglected and underutilised section of Canberra. It will stimulate business, employment, housing, pedestrian, shopping and cycling. The hub is within walking distance to some of Canberra’s most significant venues including education, stadiums, shopping centres, parks, arts and markets, the list goes on. This new and visionary proposal has been developed by business and community leaders and provides a plan that can be embraced by all Canberrans. However, the expansion of Canberra’s light network is simply taking too long. I have concerns with Chris Steel as Transport Minister. He seems to lack interest. I am disappointed in the project’s lack of progress and its potential expansion to change the city, the sparsity of information and Mr Steel’s unwillingness share information. Work is under way on the City to lake section but we still have no information on progress past this point. Chris Steel just keeps plodding along! Maybe someone else heading this portfolio can get a kickstart to this monumental and city changing project.

Capital Retro7:30 am 23 Nov 22

I don’t think there are tram services to any airports in Australia and very few world wide so your claim has no relevance.

“What government needs to do is somehow get on with its light rail plans and get across the lake so a Fyshwick line can actually be an option.”

This is the fundamental problem though.

This article talks a lot about the “potential” benefits of light rail on this corridor but glosses over the alternative transport options and the economics of why the second stage of light rail is being delayed.

That being because it simply doesn’t stack up and is unaffordable without the government actually making the direct beneficiaries pay through a value capture tax. But of course they don’t want to do that because as a politically based project, that would cost them votes.

The government has stated that it will build one light rail route per decade. Its not remotely reasonable to expect all taxpayers to fund a project that benefits so few over such a long timeframe when there are better and cheaper options available for the public transport component.

It is a land development project, not a public transport one. And it should be treated and funded as exactly that.

Oh Chewy Chewy, always there to argue against any proposal to expand the light rail. Flip flopping from one argument to the next. Now he is arguing against the project because the government won’t implement a value capture tax. There are many limitations with a VCT. One clearly defined limitation is that the tax is difficult to measure, particularly with projects of this small scale. This and many other limitations have been clearly outlined in the government inquiry into the role of transport connectivity on stimulating development and economic activity. I know you love links and I have linked it below. Happy reading!!

Oh, here’s Jack D a newcomer to this website.

Seeing as I’ve only been calling for a value capture tax on the light rail corridors on this very website since the idea for the project was floated many, many years ago.

The point being that the project doesn’t stack up on its own, so if the government is intent on going ahead with it, alternative funding arrangements should be put in place, so that the beneficiaries pay. My argument has never changed.

And yes, I know there are limitations with a value capture tax, which is why it would be better that projects only go ahead if they are viable on their own, which light rail doesn’t. Thanks for highlighting its non viability again.

I also note your linked information explained the significant benefits and support for VCTs amongst experts when used correctly. Thank you also for highlighting them for other readers.

Also, the hilarity of you claiming that the government shouldn’t install value capture taxes because the benefits are too hard to measure and apportion appropriately is gold.

You mean the very thing that the Auditor General savaged in the Government’s business case for light rail stage 1 because they included benefits that are hard to measure and are notoriously wrong when used in economic assessments? And even then, their dodgy business case still didn’t stack up.

Thanks for the laugh Jack D, your illogical support for the project (no matter the scope or cost) provides genuine humour.

Ok chewy, you have been calling for a value capture tax despite being aware of its limitations. You seem to be signaling that you want projects to be cancelled if they don’t meet this threshold. You dismiss the light rail project as a land grab rather than a public transport system that will benefit all Canberrans. The light rail’s expansion will provide unlimited economic stimulus activity along a little used part of Canberra’s infrastructure. It will do this by reinvigorating and promoting business activity, employment, housing, pedestrian, shopping and cycling, just to mention a few. The hub will also be within walking distance to offices and some of Canberra’s most significant sporting venues. The extension of light rail is a win-win opportunity for the government and its citizens. It makes more sense than building new roads and creating extra congestion. I wish the ACT government would just get on with the job!

unsurprisingly you still don’t understand.

Ideally the project wouldn’t go ahead at present because the economics simply don’t stack up as a publicly funded project and there are far cheaper options to deliver the same public transport benefits. They could also engage in some long term strategic planning and allow corridors for future high capacity public transport options when and if they are required in the future.

But, if the government insists it should go ahead now for it’s own politically driven reasons then they should consider alternative funding methods such as value capture taxes. Particularly when the government’s own information shows that the main benefits are around land development and have little to do with transport.

“you dismiss the light rail project as a land grab rather than a public transport system that will benefit all Canberrans.”

Because that’s exactly what it is, the government’s own data shows it to be the case.

I’m not OK with the government expending billions of dollars of public funds where the main beneficiaries are private, mostly well off landholders along the route. That poorer people should be conscripted to pay for private profits for transport amenity that they receive little to no benefit from. You seem to be supportive of those outcomes.

You want to call it “visionary” but on that definition, any government and any politician can justify any expenditure. I highly doubt you would think that the previous Liberal government’s sports rorts, carpark funds or regional pork barrelling were “visionary”. But by your definition they are equally justified.

“The extension of light rail is a win-win opportunity for the government and its citizens. It makes more sense than building new roads and creating extra congestion.”

Except as outlined, it isn’t remotely “win-win”, the government’s funds are limited and if they waste money on unviable projects, other government services must suffer and we already see this in declining services in core areas like health and education. Light rail supporters want to ignore this to have their cake and eat it too but they should own their position that they think private land development is more important.

And once again, you can stop with the false narrative of light rail or nothing (or more roads). No one is suggesting that we shouldn’t improve public transport. Although ironically, more public transport is another key government service that must suffer if the government expends all it’s revenue on projects that don’t stack up.

Capital Retro7:53 am 21 Nov 22

You have just added more filling for the “pie” in the sky. The Territory’s finances are already unsustainable. We need a long period of consolidation and review of exiting commitments.

I mean when a local government can’t even manage to keep the roads and parks maintained (exception is the arboretum) and fix the failed health system there is no scope to embark on more corporate largesse which will only benefit a few people.

This latest beat up is more of a “look over there, is that a unicorn” exercise so pressure can be taken off the aforementioned issues.

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