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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.