30 August 2022

Greens and Liberals press government on timetable for light rail to Woden

| Lottie Twyford
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Sandford Street light rail stop

There will be light rail in Woden, but when it will pull up for the first time remains a mystery. Photo: John Mikita.

The Territory government won’t say when light rail to Woden will be finished, with Minister for Transport and City Services Chris Steel warning any dates provided now would be “rubbery” at best.

In a show of solidarity across the political divide, the Greens and the Liberals both pressed Mr Steel to offer something more concrete in budget estimates hearings earlier this week.

Mr Steel wouldn’t commit.

“We’re currently in negotiations with Canberra Metro for the procurement of Stage 2A for light rail, and through that process, we will be determining the timeframe for the construction of the project,” he said.

“We want to provide clear, up-to-date information about when we will deliver these projects – not rubbery figures,” he said.

Chris Steel

Minister for Transport and City Services Chris Steel won’t put a date on when passengers will be able to disembark from the light rail in Woden. Photo: ACT Government.

Mr Steel would not even go as far as to set a 10, 20 or 30-year deadline, instead stating the government was “committed” to bringing it to Woden.

That’s despite the fact in 2021, Mr Steel was quoted as saying light rail tracks would be laid on London Circuit by the 2024 election.

A previous timeline, provided on notice in response to a question from ACT Greens spokesperson for transport Jo Clay, said the ACT Government planned to deliver one stage of light rail per decade.

But Mr Steel wouldn’t confirm that when questioned on Thursday (25 August).

Before Stage 2B (to Woden) can commence, the government must develop a business case for the project. Mr Steel said part of this included determining the “optimal timeframes”.

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Mr Steel said the government’s focus was currently on Stage 2A and a works application for that was expected to be submitted to the National Capital Authority by the end of the year.

That application must be approved before a contract can be signed for the construction.

Major Projects Canberra chief Duncan Edghill said it was important that a contract wasn’t signed too far in advance of the works being approved as this could carry risks for the government.

The physical works to raise London Circuit must also be done before construction.

Mr Edghill confirmed that work will begin “shortly” and will take around two years.

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In estimates, Mr Steel confirmed some elements of the broader light rail project had been delayed.

The pre-feasibility work for Stage 3 (Belconnen to Civic, Airport) – expected to be completed in 2021 – had now been delayed until 2023.

However, a contract for retrofitting the batteries to the existing light rail vehicles and for the delivery of five new vehicles was signed earlier this month.

Officials confirmed that work is underway to build a light rail-ready depot in Woden, and some work on the initial design and environmental approvals for Stage 2B has commenced.

Planning for 2B is expected to be complicated from a heritage perspective as it will travel through the Parliamentary Triangle.

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For Canberra Liberals spokesperson for transport Mark Parton and Ms Clay, the lack of a timeline isn’t good enough.

“It is ludicrous to believe that the Transport Minister isn’t working on an estimated completion date behind closed doors,” Mr Parton said.

“The ACT Government has glossy pictures, headlines and election commitments on the tram, but no delivery date or cost estimate.”

Ms Clay said she is now concerned that light rail won’t arrive in Woden until 2030, meaning the rest of the city won’t get it until after that.

Both Mr Parton and Ms Clay have also called for the reinstatement of the normal bus timetable and hourly weekend services.

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Its funny that the Greens and Labor support of light rail has become almost like a religious belief.

They can’t consider alternatives because that would be to question their unwavering belief in the chosen solution.

However you can at least see that some people in the ALP recognise that the current finances cannot stretch to new stages that have little to no benefit over existing public transport options.

But instead of walking back on their promises, their action is just to delay the project and pretend they are still moving forward as fast as they can.

The current usage on the first stage of light rail is way below their optimistic predictions for patronage and is unlikely to return due to significantly increased working from home arrangements.

Perhaps someone in the government will be brave and admit the emperor has no clothes, but it’s doubtful.

Labor need to do some more polling for the election before they decide when the timetable is.

michael quirk9:49 am 27 Aug 22

The government has not assessed alternatives to light rail and lacks transparency and accountability.

It has ample time to commission an independent analysis. The extension is not urgent given reduced peak hour public transport by increased working from home.

The shortage and hence high cost of skilled labour is another reason to delay the decision.

The Productivity Commission, IA and the ACT Auditor General all found light rail is not a good use of public funds. There are currently unmet needs in health, housing, education and city maintenance that need to be met perform before even considering the extension of light rail

ChrisinTurner10:16 pm 26 Aug 22

Should Stage 2A go ahead if there is doubt about Stage 2B happening?

HiddenDragon9:45 pm 26 Aug 22

People who care about practical things such as having an effective, affordable and equitable public transport system in the ACT might be concerned by this vagueness, but whatever the original intentions, light rail has long since stopped being primarily about those considerations.

It is now an article of faith, a pseudo-religious test dividing believers and non-believers, adherents and deniers, “progressives” and “conservatives” (and various other confected and exaggerated dichotomies). It has become a symbol – in fact, the symbol – for growing up (in a suitably green and fashionably PC way) by a small city which has many insecurities bubbling away just below the surface along with a lingering sense of unfulfilled entitlement in the relatively parsimonious years since self government.

All of this means that the vision and the concept (which is all that really matters to many ACT voters – who will never actually use it) of light rail is the political gift which just keeps on giving for ACT Labor – they just have to keep waffling on about it in a vaguely plausible way and be seen to be doing preparatory stuff which might eventually translate into reality.

That’s all there is to it – unless/until something inconvenient like insolvency intervenes.

You’re silly to believe any politician when they promise that things will occur in a timely manner. Great that it’s happening though, but it’s frustrating that they’re putting all their eggs in one basket with this tram that’s not really going to make things any better for the commute from Woden to the City. Given the timeframes that are being suggested, is there any intent in the short term (say the next 3, 5, 10 years) to focus on and improve the already implemented public transport system, or is it just going to stay stagnate and forgotten until the unveiling of the shiny new trams they hope will save our public transport woes? The bus network has some great potential to be really efficient and effective and I don’t think it’s either of those currently.

Capital Retro2:51 pm 27 Aug 22

It’s not about transport Paul, it’s all about urban renewal.

There are a couple of issues I don’t understand;
1. Why is the Government building 2A and a LR-ready depot in Woden, if LR to Woden is still subject to a business case approval. Logically, a shovel shouldn’t be placed in the ground until the business case has been proven.
2. Mr Parton and Ms Clay, the Libs and the Greens have the numbers to roll the ALP on any issue you chose? If you want to reinstate the full bus network or weekend timetables, just do it.
What is stopping you?
Go on, reinstate a decent public transport system.
Or, are you just all talk?

Doesnt quite work like that. There is an ‘arrangement’ between the ACT Greens and ACT Labor regarding voting.

They all say they vote independently and that the ACT Greens backbench are a cross bench, but yeah, that really isn’t the case.

There is no depot being built at Woden. When stage 2B goes ahead Mitchel depot will be enlarged.

You are probably talking about the interchange. Which is being done now so CIT can use the old interchange site. Even if lightrail never makes it to Woden that won’t be money lost as a new bus interchange is needed anyway.

To be honest I’m not across the details of their alliance. But by the way Greens champion causes that aren’t Government policy, such as reinstating the full bus network, you would think that their alliance is simply an agreement not to block a budget.

It would be scary to argue against the Government, yet vote with them on issues you don’t support. But maybe that’s how they roll?

From my simplistic perspective, if the Green’s spokesperson for transport calls for a change to the bus network, surely she would be speaking on behalf of her Party. If that is the case, all Ms Clay needs to do is have a chat to Mr Parton and get it done. ?

Ken government doesn’t work like that. Not all decisions of government are put to a vote in the assembly. Not do I believe the opposition and other parties can vote to force the government to make what are essentially day to day functions of government. The best would be a motion to encourage the government to consider it.

That said it’s maybe not such a bad idea to put the buses back the way they were. The government can the get rid of 40 buses and not have so much staffing issues. Get rid of 40 buses you say, yeah you do realise the current turntable actually has 40 buses worth of extra services OVER the old network. So it would actually be a service cut to go back.

Sometimes I wish Chris Steel wasn’t so “rubbery” with information! Why can’t you just be straight forward Chris Steel? People aren’t stupid. But Jo Clay and Mark Parton? Two of the most irritating MLAs in the Assembly!

Mark Parton MLA3:10 pm 26 Aug 22

Thanks Jack. Are we the actual 2 most irritating, or are we just among the most irritating ? And who else makes the list ?

Well Mark both major parties need a total rehaul.

Linda Seaniger1:59 pm 26 Aug 22

If we are to get only one tram stage per decade then I hope the Labor /greens are not locking us into contracts and expenditure before the next election. The total tram Network stages should be costed allowing for increases in project delivery. But we should also take into consideration that technology is changing all the time and these trams are already obsolete. So if we are to get any benefit out of this means of travel we need to do it quickly. The government needs to outline how they intend to meet the total project cost without just increasing property taxes or limiting housing options by them getting smaller and amenities like health, education Etc diminishing accordingly.

By the same reasoning cars are already obsolete so we could save a lot of money on road building and maintenance and divert it tot he health and education which you are so passionate about.

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