Government needs to be clear on light rail timetable

Ian Bushnell 4 February 2021 20
Alinga Street light rail station

The Alinga Street light rail station. Next stop, London Circuit. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

Understandably, the ACT Government will want to give itself some wiggle room for the construction of light rail when it comes to timeframes.

There are a lot of unknowns to take into account, but at least the major hurdle of federal environmental approval for the 1.7 km Stage 2A from Alinga Street to Commonwealth Park has been cleared.

Canberrans, especially the businesses along the route, now want to know when construction will start and when we will be able to catch the tram down London Circuit.

But the pandemic has already wreaked havoc with the government’s timelines for signing contracts, supply chains and skill needs, and there are still two more hurdles – the National Capital Authority Works Approval and the ACT’s own planning authority.

READ ALSO: Light rail Stage 2A track down by 2024 election despite delays, says Steel

The best the government could come up with on a timeline was a start on the two-year raising of London Circuit sometime in 2021-22, and both Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Transport Chris Steel were unwilling to be pinned down on specific milestones.

Mr Barr did not respond well to suggestions that this could mean light rail may not become a reality until after the next election, considering that actual work on light rail apparently can’t begin until the London Circuit raising is completed.

He insisted that if all went well, the London Circuit project could be underway later this year, with a start on light rail in 2023.

After repeated questioning, Mr Steel finally committed to tracks being laid by the next election.

Maybe, but these projects have a way of getting away from governments, although the 12 km Stage 1 was only four months overdue and came in slightly under budget.

It would be better if the government forgot about political timetables and was more upfront with the community, rather than deliberately being vague and then evasive.

It does not really matter whether the project is delivered in time for an election. The question of light rail has been well and truly settled after three elections, and it is now accepted as the way forward for expanding public transport in the ACT.

READ ALSO: Is ‘neighbourliness’ another social nicety that’s about to die out?

The issue for the government is now about managing the project well, and keeping public expectations realistic, not managing the politics.

Mr Barr, when pressed, also says more announcements are on the way that will provide more clarity. Good.

But Stage2A is the little one, wait for Stage 2B to Woden across Lake Burley Griffin through the Parliamentary Zone.

The government is now preparing the required EIS for federal environmental approval, a process that may take 18 months, and then there is still NCA and parliamentary approval.

Whether the timetable for Stage 2B, which Mr Steel says the government is determined to deliver, blows out may come down to how many parts of the project can be synchronised, so the staging is not overly extended.

There are a lot of moving parts and the pandemic, no matter how limited the fallout has been in Australia, has complicated things.

The government should be bluntly honest and crystal clear with the community because the light rail network is a complex piece of infrastructure subject to many variables that will take many, many years to complete, no matter which party is in government.

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20 Responses to Government needs to be clear on light rail timetable
bd84 bd84 9:58 pm 06 Feb 21

Stage 2a the line to nowhere that nobody wants. The line goes the opposite direction along London CCT away from the majority of the population and work places. Just stinks of Barr’s insistence on doing whatever he pleases. Someone will need to go back and fix all the poorly designed sections of stage 1 sometime and they still can’t get the sequencing of the traffic lights right after almost 2 years. Incompetence at its finest.

Ol L Ol L 10:11 am 06 Feb 21

Didn’t want it to start with. But given it’s here to stay then you might as well bring it to Woden. Why not ? I pay taxes as much as those in Gungahlin.

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 9:00 pm 05 Feb 21

Rather than being prodded and poked to come up with a firm timetable for things which are not completely within their control, it would be much better if Messrs Barr and Steel were given the space to do a bit of crab-walking on this subject, and focus on the things which the Canberra community really needs and can (sort of) afford. There would be some flak from tram enthusiasts, but they’ll still vote Labor/Green in 2024, regardless of delays and uncertainty.

A force majeure excuse for indefinite delay would be a truly great thing, but that seems unlikely when central bankers are wandering around saying that governments can’t spend enough, as long as it’s not “baked in” – even though an open-ended commitment to an infrastructure project might, in practice, amount to that.

JC JC 8:27 pm 05 Feb 21

I’m trying to work out what businesses would be significantly effected. The line is going on the inside lanes of London cct so directly effected would be the police station. Indirectly would be business on the outside, but only effected by potential noise and dust rather than foot traffic to their business.

Much the same with stage 1 too. Lots of noise about disruption to business, except for a handful in the town centre the effect on the rest was minimal. Some Flemmington Road traders in Mitchel were complaining despite access to their business not being effected (they are on separate access road) and they not being subject to foot traffic as everyone drives anyway.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 9:20 am 06 Feb 21

    Knowing that the work will be going on is a disincentive for the people who periodically have to travel (by car) to or through the affected area too. That will affect the flow of trade to businesses in the area.

    As you know, I live in Tuggeranong and while the Stage 1 works were on I never once attempted to travel along Northbourne Avenue or the cross roads that were also affected. One of my favourite restaurants was in that area. It no longer exists.

    JC JC 2:59 pm 06 Feb 21

    Capital Retro knowing being the point. You mention state 1 for the most part the impact of that was actually minimal. At the time I commuted to work along Northborne Ave daily and there was no huge difference to my travel times. Lower speed limits and 1 less lane but traffic flowed especially with less ducking and weaving you see during peak hour before and on other roads to which is often the cause of traffic slowdowns. Aka the concertina effect.

    And as mentioned the businesses in Gunners and Mitchell were actually always accessible. Though do accept the point that perception may have drove some away, which is some ways is kinda my point here. People are already perceiving there will be issues when in fact there is next to bugger all business that relies on foot traffic on that part of London cct. But because people perceive then it is.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 10:08 pm 06 Feb 21

    You were driving in from the north – you should have tried it from the south.

    chewy14 chewy14 12:16 pm 06 Feb 21

    What makes you think this stage is going to run down the inside lanes of London circuit?

    JC JC 2:53 pm 06 Feb 21

    It’s been mentioned in several articles and renders over the last 12-18 months. Light rail takes inside (anti clockwise) lanes of London cct vehicles the outside lane.

    chewy14 chewy14 8:58 pm 06 Feb 21

    Got any links for that?

    The government released reports on their website shows pictures of it running down the middle of London circuit with traffic on either side.

James-T-Kirk James-T-Kirk 1:09 pm 05 Feb 21

I’m looking forward to catching light rail all the way from Gungahlin to Lanyon – sometime around the year 2165 – when we all have personal hoverboards…

I will never forget the local radio station commenting about the maths associated with the construction of the Barton Highway works – They extrapolated that 6km of road took, so long that if the Hume was built at the same speed, it would be completed some time around 2244 AD……

But it creates jobs… and that’s the role of government.

James Daniels James Daniels 11:57 am 05 Feb 21

Given the unbelievable neglect of hospital and school infrastructure over many years, this government needs to put luxuries like LR2 on hold until the fundamentals are being looked after properly. Due to the additional complexities of construction, this stage is set to cost at least twice as much as stage 1, and the route is already well served by the bus system.

    Lynn Bean Lynn Bean 4:06 pm 05 Feb 21

    Agree. It's nonsensical when TCH is not fit for purpose.

    Richard Cox Richard Cox 8:50 pm 05 Feb 21

    James Daniels it's a vanity project

Stephen Saunders Stephen Saunders 8:23 am 05 Feb 21

Fair comment, but under the circumstances, give them a break. The main reason the project will take “many, many years” is that the federal government hates Canberra and hates urban rail, and what tiny amount they do fund is ABC (anywhere but Canberra). In enlightened countries, the whole project could be completed in ten years.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 9:24 am 05 Feb 21

    “…..hates Canberra and hates urban rail,”

    Nothing to do with “urban rail” Stephen, it’s only about “urban renewal”.

    And I suggest you get up to speed with the many projects the Federal government is actually funding in Canberra.

    keek keek 11:27 am 05 Feb 21

    Or maybe the Federal Government won’t invest in something where the actual cost is being hidden, and the real cost to benefit is also being hidden.

    I wonder why…..

    hgak hgak 7:35 pm 05 Feb 21

    6o¢ in the $1 ?

    JC JC 3:02 pm 06 Feb 21

    That is for stage 2A as a stand-alone stage. Stage 2 is only being broken as a means of getting the ball rolling due to the hurdles the NCA puts in place.

    When coupled with stages 1 and 2b it isn’t even close to that.

    chewy14 chewy14 12:18 pm 05 Feb 21

    This literally has nothing to do with why the project will take many years to complete.

    The main reason it will take many years to complete (If it ever is) is due to the enormous cost that does not provide commensurate benefits. The same reason why the ACT government is so reticent to release the business cases and the information they do release show the project to be unviable from an investment perspective.

    The opportunity costs to the ACT community are enormous.

    The reason why Infrastructure Australia as the independent assessment body have not given the project priority status for federal funding is also due to this.

    Not even remotely close to your claims about the federal government “hating Canberra”.

    Seems some people still have no problems with government wasting billions of taxpayer dollars as long as they get something pretty at the end of it.

    Strange that there is also a huge overlap with these people that will then be complaining about a lack of funding for other social services, in areas like health, education and public housing. Hmm, wonder why.

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