5 June 2024

Government yet to 'definitively determine' battery light-rail vehicles will make it from city to Deakin on a charge

| James Coleman
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light rail vehicles

The 14 existing light-rail vehicles (LRVs) came ready to receive batteries. Photo: ACT Government.

The ACT Government has confirmed the city’s fleet of 14 light-rail vehicles (LRVs) won’t have to go back to the manufacturer in Spain to be retrofitted with batteries, but they’re slightly less certain how they’ll fare along the wire-free leg of the route between the city and Deakin.

The first of five new ‘wire-free’ battery-powered LRVs ordered by the government in 2022 left the Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF) factory on board a Norwegian cargo ship last week.

Once it arrives and passes a testing and commissioning process, it will take the place of an existing wired LRV while the entire fleet is progressively retrofitted with Onboard Energy Storage Systems (OESS) – aka, batteries – over several years.

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The original $710 million contract with Canberra Metro to build Stage 1 from Gungahlin to Civic included 14 ‘Urbos’ low-floor LRVs from CAF in Spain, which were originally envisioned to run all future stages of light rail.

However, the National Capital Authority (NCA) requires the first leg of Stage 2B – from outside Commonwealth Park through to Adelaide Avenue – to be wire-free in a bid to preserve “heritage vistas” through the Parliamentary Triangle.

The new $577 million contract covers five new battery-powered LRVs, as well as retrofitting the existing ones and expanding the Mitchell depot to fit them.

light rail vehicles on a trailer

The first of five new battery-powered LRVs destined for Canberra over the coming years. Photo: Chris Steel, Facebook.

However, the ACT Government has yet to confirm the exact costs for Stage 2B, leading the Canberra Liberals to release their own estimates on the total cost of Stage 2A*. During a budget review committee inquiry in March, opposition leader Elizabeth Lee said it would be $1.46 billion, $149.7 million of which she said would need to be earmarked for the new LRVs, depot expansion and retrofitting process.

The government has confirmed with Region the true cost of the “Light Rail Vehicle Procurement, Retrofit and Depot Expansion Project” would be $129.6 million.

In response to another question on where this process will take place, the government spokesperson confirmed the current fleet will not have to go back to CAF in Spain for the retrofit, but the work will be carried out here in Canberra, at the upgraded Mitchell depot.

Each LRV will take two OESS units, and those for Stage 1 “were procured with a design allowance for the weight/loading of the OESS units”.

The LRVs will rely on battery power between Alinga Street and Commonwealth Park in Stage 2A, with charging to be provided by the overhead line between Alinga Street and Gungahlin.

However, how they’ll cope between Commonwealth Park and when the wires return on Adelaide Avenue is more of an unknown and “will depend on the specific attributes of the Stage 2B route”.

The government says how far the LRVs can travel on battery alone is “influenced by factors including how many stops there are along the route, delays at intersections, and the vertical gradient of the track, all of which require increased effort and therefore battery drain”.

“It is expected that LRVs would not need to be re-charged on their journey from Alinga Street until such time as they reach the Hopetoun Circuit on Adelaide Avenue. However, this will be definitively determined as the Stage 2B design is further developed,” the spokesperson said.

The wire-free section of the route runs from Alinga Street in Civic to Hopetoun Circuit under Adelaide Avenue. Image: ACT Government.

The preferred route travels down Commonwealth Avenue onto State Circle and past the front of Old Parliament House along King George Terrace on its way through Barton via Kings Avenue and Windsor Walk.

But the engineering challenge of getting the track to take the tight turn from Commonwealth Avenue onto State Circle has birthed an alternative ‘dog-leg’ route. This would take Sydney Avenue onto State Circle and then Adelaide Avenue.

But this, too, comes with heritage issues, and the government is still working through all the implications.

The first battery LRV is expected to be on track by early 2025.

*CORRECTION: This article previously implied the Canberra Liberals released estimates on Stage 2B. This has been corrected to read Stage 2A.

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The sh*tshow continues.

This is one of the best things to ever happen in Canberrra. It means people can go out without needing to drive and be able to rely on their transport mode, something the buses habitually let us down on. Also means the moribund wasteland between Parliament House and the Woden CIT will see some reasonable housing development to cater for the growing population. Exciting times, no need to be afraid!

People were able to go out in Canberra before as well. We used taxis. We didn’t make rate payers fund a benefit to property developers.

The government should put the money where it is needed and use new technologies to improve the bus network.

Places that have no parking and need to rely on the LR are likely to become slums eventually.

Taxis? You mean shabby vehicles driven badly by people of questionable integrity looking to squeeze as much revenue from the hapless traveller? If so, no thanks!

Ah, yes, better to ride with the crazy homeless people and drunks looking for a fight on public transport. LOL

You clearly don’t use public transport.

No. I’m not poor.

ChrisinTurner2:05 pm 05 Jun 24

Seeing that rate-payers won’t benefit from Stage 2B, due to slower travel times, halving of the available seats and reduced service frequency, the project should be financed by the main beneficiaries, being the developers building on the Curtin horse paddocks.

Chris Steel keeps claiming how transparent the ACT government is about stage 2 Light Rail and then he obscures technical details whenever possible or hides associated costs amongst other government expenditure and BAU staffing.

All the more reason to scrap Stage 2B (and Stage 2A) and put in the more flexible, reliable and less costly electric buses, which are improved upon day by day. There is already technology out there to keep the car battery in appropriate temperature in winter.

Good decision by NCA to protect if just a little part of well-designed Canberra from those “overpaid latte-sipping midwit” philistines that are destroying Canberra by slashing the landscape and sh*t in-filling.

All this drama because of nonsense drivel about “vistas” from overpaid latte-sipping midwit but oh-so au-fait NCA elitist bureaucrats about overhead wires over the bridge. Contemptible.

The circus rolls on

Love to see a cold Canberra morning, few years down the line those batteries are going to run at 50% of their starting capacity.
Tesla owners are claiming their range drops 30% in the first year and that’s newer technology.

Really … and what is your source ???

Reply … source please … batteries will last in excess of 10 years …. Tesla batteries will last in excess of 300,000 kms

Capital Retro9:55 pm 05 Jun 24

Their batteries may last but Tesla won’t.

I’ve not heard of anyone with an EV, let alone a Tesla, having that experience – and I follow news on EVs avidly. I’d also be interested to know the source of that comment.

Otherwise, Teslas since 2021 have been fitted with heat pumps to ensure that impact of cold environments on the battery pack is minimised, and they have been fitted with places like Norway and Alaska in mind. I doubt that a Canberra winter compares to such locations…

I can’t comment on whether the new trams will be fitted with battery heat pumps (or equivalent) though, but it’d make sense as the solution is out there.

…and temperature. Wait till winter and see how much less range they get from the batteries. And the cycle time of the batteries will be? Replacement program in the outyears will be? Challenging times ahead.
The lack of transparency on costings is disappointing.

Just grow taxpayer money trees. They’re easy to grow, with an abundance of money ripe for the picking by Labor and Greens

Hopefully the wireless condition will be scrapped anyway. It would have been reasonable if it were going to pass in front of old parliament house, and maybe it is reasonable along commonwealth avenue and in between new and old Parliament House, but anything beyond that is a bit ridiculous.

“However, how they’ll cope between Commonwealth Park and when the wires return on Adelaide Avenue is more of an unknown and will depend on the specific attributes of the Stage 2B route”.
Wow … purchasing the ‘route servicing’ rolling stock before the route (and the potential non-wire issues) are fully known! LR SNAFU!

Perhaps this is something Independents for Canberra can weigh in on with their position.

Not really a major issue yet, the solution would involve additional electrical infrastructure for charging at an additional stop if the route proves more difficult.

Although you’re right in that it does highlight further the ridiculousness of making the overall project decisions without understanding the constraints and costs of the project in the first place.

But as we already know about this project, who cares about additional costs?

Capital Retro6:04 pm 04 Jun 24

Right on JS.

This will socialize “range anxiety” which is currently only available to wealthy EV owners.

The IFCs will still back Labor though.

Not at all, these trams are for the 2a, for which they’ll be fine and they will be needed before the 2b route is finalised. If the batteries aren’t big enough for the whole trip to Deakin, they’ll just add a charging point at one of the stops along the wire free section, as the light rail in Newcastle does.

@Capital Retro
“The IFCs will still back Labor though”
They may well do so.

The point I was making is what plan do they have to hold the government to account for decisions such as this – i.e as chewy14 put it “making the overall project decisions without understanding the constraints and costs of the project in the first place”

For stage 2b, if it goes ahead, they could charge at stops, but it might require a completely different battery setup to the type already ordered. The wire-free Newcastle tram has 6 stops over 2.7km, and uses fast-chargers of rooftop super-capacitors for a 30 second charge while at each stop. These super-capacitors are designed specifically for that application, and the batteries ordered for our trams may not be designed to be charged that way. The new tram at Parramatta uses batteries with an in-ground charger at the Westmead Terminus for the 4km wire-free section. If the trams they ordered are battery wire-free, that is a completely different system to super-capacitor wire-free. What type have they ordered, what type of charging will be required along 2b, do they even know?

Wonder what the excuses will be here….

Inb4 “Bloody scomo!” LOL

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