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Let’s can the tram (till October, at least)

By Greg Cornwell - 24 May 2016 210

An act of political bastardry saw the ACT Government sign off last week on the Gungahlin light rail project, almost five months to the day from the October Assembly election.

The proposal has generated massive argument throughout Canberra with a final price of $710 million (ha, ha) for 12km of line to service a small section of our population. A section, incidentally, which will not directly benefit from the tram because most Gungahlin residents will have to travel from their home suburb to the northern terminus. Car parks anyone and at what daily charge?

And it is so unnecessary at this time.

By signing off now the ACT Labor Government has committed the territory to the project and also committed the Liberal Opposition to cancel the contract as it has threatened to do. Thus either way the people of Canberra are up for money and perhaps big money on any cancellation with no idea available of expenditure to date.

Minister Corbell’s comments initial work would begin next month and substantial work in August could suggest Northbourne Avenue’s trees will be removed before the election, presenting a fait accompli that we might as well proceed, the damage is done.

This scorched earth approach also means if the project doesn’t go ahead the repair costs will add to our bill.

Canberra taxpayers are already facing higher charges for the tram, but if this is across the board is unknown. Should our rates rise, will those who pay no rates like ACT Housing tenants face a rent increase to compensate?

The mysterious area of union influence including a memorandum of understanding with the government carries the suspicion light rail will be a financial bonanza for its workers at the community’s expense. Figures vary as to numbers employed ranging from 500 in construction to an overall 3500 probably drivers, maintenance workers etc and including indigenous and long-term job seekers – something worth checking if the project proceeds.

Cost of the infrastructure is assumed. In Barcelona light rail runs openly between rows of tall trees, a situation in our nanny city hard to imagine without fences and signs stopping people crossing the tracks at random and markedly different from the artists’ impressions to which we have been treated.

Premature as was the signing of the contract we may still be able to cut our losses if we call a halt now. Despite its 2012 election commitment the government needs to provide much more information before taking further expensive steps.

Can the Tram is a catchy slogan and a correct one for what currently seems an indulgent extravagance.

 

What’s Your opinion?


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210 Responses to
Let’s can the tram (till October, at least)
Nilrem 2:05 pm 24 May 16

Leon said :

Just get on with building it. We are a city that should have a better public transport network and light rail can help with that. We are rich enough to pay for it. Bus rapid might be a more cost-effective option, but the Libs should have thought of that when they blocked it in the past. This is the result you live with when you make those choices.

The bus alternative is a furphy. Libs don’t catch buses. They just want to sit in traffic jams, getting angry.

betterdeadthanzed 2:03 pm 24 May 16

It’s unclear why Cornwell thinks the project wouldn’t go ahead, when the government was elected with light rail as part of its platform, and has just signed off on the contract. Unless he’s still pretending that, should the Liberals get elected, they wouldn’t proceed with the light rail. That’s like pretending that no roads should be built in Gungahlin, because people in Tuggeranong wouldn’t benefit from them, or no buses should service Molonglo Valley, or schools or pools or whatever be built. Or that trees replanted as saplings don’t grow larger over time. Stupid argument, isn’t it?

pajs 12:53 pm 24 May 16

Just get on with building it. We are a city that should have a better public transport network and light rail can help with that. We are rich enough to pay for it. Bus rapid might be a more cost-effective option, but the Libs should have thought of that when they blocked it in the past. This is the result you live with when you make those choices.

Dante 12:06 pm 24 May 16

Mordd said :

And realise that Canberra will have less traffic congestion as a result.

Everyone seems to be framing the light rail issue around “How does this benefit ME personally?”

What about interstate or international visitors to our fair city? Have you ever tried navigating ACTION as a brand new arrival to Canberra?

Once this light rail project is finalised and rolled out across the entirety of Canberra, the benefits will become more than apparent… you just have to step outside of your own existence (which I appreciate not everyone has the capacity to do).

It will be a real shame if the project is only half completed and not rolled out to all Canberra districts as planned.

Unfortunately the Liberal Party has the ability to do this if they win the next election, and in the process will be fulfilling their prophecy of Canberra’s “DOOMED TO FAIL” light rail.

JC 12:06 pm 24 May 16

HenryBG said :

Well said, Greg.
The Territory’s finances are on the edge of a precipice right now and any further cost blowouts on the light rail or the Constitution Avenue cock-up together with a drop in revenue could tip us over the edge.

The Constitution Ave upgrade is Federally funded and pray tell what is the cock-up?

JC 12:03 pm 24 May 16

So Greg how far out from an election should a government stop making decisions?

Should there be a rule that says if you want a project to straddle the electoral cycle that you can only sign in say the first year?

Oh what a great way to have governments that only work to an electoral cycle rather than, shock horror thinking ahead.

pink little birdie 11:49 am 24 May 16

pink little birdie said :

The tram supporters keep harping on about the fiscal benefits to the community, but there are losers too. If the predicted 15,000 journeys per day come to fruition, meaning 7500 people won’t be needing their cars, that means about $100,000 worth of petrol sales per week will not happen. About $6 million per year in vehicle registrations won’t be pocketed by the government. Local car dealerships will lose customers, mechanic workshops find business in decline as will spare parts businesses. Insurance companies will also lose millions in insurance policies and CTP.

I would hazard a guess that the majority of tram users would also still have cars and pay for rego, insurance, services and the like. It will also only replacement of cars.
I walk to work and I still have a car that is used most days (every second Tuesday is the only day we don’t use a car and Wednesdays and Thursdays we even use 2 cars). Our petrol bills are severely reduced though but I doubt that has much impact on jobs at petrol stations or in the production line.

henryans 11:43 am 24 May 16

Labor has no mandate for LR, apart from the deal Barr made with Rattenbury to form a minority government.
Liberal 86,032 votes
Labor 85,991 votes
Check the AEC if you like
Barr and co have to go, their dodgy land dealings, most expensive and worst hospitals in Australia is just madness.
He acts like a dictator rather than a public servant elected by the tax payer to represent all of Canberra, not just his mates
Haha less traffic congestion, says who? back it up with facts, not just opinions.
ACTION losses money hand over fist, Canberra cant support LR, look at gold coast even they struggle with passenger numbers and they have tourists and high rises all along the route

dungfungus 11:19 am 24 May 16

From Wikepedia, about Greece’s disastrous railway systems.
Financial problems:
Hellenic Railways operates at a loss of about $3.8 million per day, having accumulated a total debt of $13 billion, or about 5% of Greek GDP (2010). The bulk of this debt will mature in 2014. In 2008, the company reported a loss of more than $1 billion, on sales of about $253 million. Between 2000 and 2009, the cost of the company’s payroll soared by 50 percent even as overall personnel decreased by 30 percent. The average salary of a rail employee is over $78,000.[10] In the mountainous Peloponnese region, trains manned by drivers being paid as much as $130,000 a year frequently run empty. For the better part of a decade, Greece has provided sovereign backing to Hellenic Railways, thus allowing it to borrow billions even though the company’s finances are so skewed that it pays three times as much on interest expenses than it collects in revenue. As the debt of state-owned enterprises was not counted toward Greece’s official debt, Greece has been able to use the rail system as a means to support employment while not adding to its official debt number; basically an accounting trick to hide debt.[10] The Greek government is aware that only the closure of a substantial number of loss-making routes and large employment cuts (between 2500-3500 of the 7000 staff) will make Hellenic Railways attractive to foreign investors. But the Railway Union opposes privatization and threatens with strikes if jobs and benefits are threatened.[10] Nevertheless, some lines have been closed since 2010.

This is what Canberra will be like if the light rail madness continues.

wildturkeycanoe 11:18 am 24 May 16

Mordd said :

Yes it comes back to the original issue of did they get enough of a mandate at the last election to do what they have done – and that’s a matter of personal opinion for many on here. But ultimately, Governments need to be allowed, where reasonable, to get on and govern, even when an election is on the horizon.

If it was a clear mandate with the support of the constituents, why is there so much backlash and anger over this project? Did the details change? Did the cost change? Did Labor win the election? As it is, the legislative assembly has 8 Labor and 8 Liberal seats, with Greens holding the reins. Labor got no more than 40% of the vote in any electorate, which isn’t a majority anyway, so it is possible that more than half of Canberra is against the tram and Labor party. This is the folly of our electoral system where losers end up winning.

Nilrem 11:14 am 24 May 16

Grail said :

*yawn* stopping light rail is still a thing? Even after it’s been taken to elections, massive tranches of planning commenced and build contracts signed?

It’s happening. Come to terms with it.

And realise that Canberra will have less traffic congestion as a result.

wildturkeycanoe 11:11 am 24 May 16

Why did this have to be a decision between “pro-tram” and “no tram”? Why could it not have been an election decided over a light rail network or expansion of the bus network and infrastructure? When Liberals win, the result of the tram fiasco means Gungahlin will not also be without a tram, but also won’t get a better bus service because Labor’s poor decision making will cost our economy for years to come.

The tram supporters keep harping on about the fiscal benefits to the community, but there are losers too. If the predicted 15,000 journeys per day come to fruition, meaning 7500 people won’t be needing their cars, that means about $100,000 worth of petrol sales per week will not happen. About $6 million per year in vehicle registrations won’t be pocketed by the government. Local car dealerships will lose customers, mechanic workshops find business in decline as will spare parts businesses. Insurance companies will also lose millions in insurance policies and CTP.
Will there be any economic loss compensation for these organisations who will suffer because of the light rail, in the event the proclaimed patronage figures ever become truth? What of the rest of Canberra whose cars will lose value as the market is flooded with all these used vehicles that are no longer necessary? Will registrations increase for everybody else to make up the shortfall? Will insurance policies in the A.C.T only, suddenly see a sharp rise?
It is easy to look at land use benefits, infrastructure efficiency savings [whatever that is suppose to mean], transport time savings and construction jobs, but there are losers in this game and I don’t think they have been taken into consideration. Unfortunately, everyone in the A.C.T will be losing as they fund this unnecessary 12km long amusement ride.

dungfungus 11:08 am 24 May 16

Well said, Greg.
The Territory’s finances are on the edge of a precipice right now and any further cost blowouts on the light rail or the Constitution Avenue cock-up together with a drop in revenue could tip us over the edge.
I don’t believe the full cost of the light rail has been calculated yet. The cost and extent of relocating services under Northbourne Avenue is yet to be made public and the cost of capital works to deliver electricity has never been discussed. Indeed, if it these costs were revealed the ACT Labor government would have to activate the “cost too much” clause in the business plan and gracefully exit.
It is noted that the usual apologists for the “light fail” on this blog are totally silent about this costing black hole.
The opportunity to restore some common sense and dignity to our current government passed last week with the signing of the contracts.
Some time in the future we will need a new coat of arms to reflect how vibrant and progressive Canberra is.
I envisage a treeless, dusty Northbourne Avenue with rusty stanchions and fallen wires leading to the smoking remains of the Westside Hipster Container Village.

Dante 10:23 am 24 May 16

*yawn* stopping light rail is still a thing? Even after it’s been taken to elections, massive tranches of planning commenced and build contracts signed?

It’s happening. Come to terms with it.

mcs 9:34 am 24 May 16

I don’t have a particularly strong view one way or the other on the tram – I can see the obvious faults with it, but I can also see the potential benefits as well.

However, I do think there is an important issue at play here that is just being highlighted by the tram issue – just when is a Government allowed to govern up until? Is it until caretaker starts, or 6 months before an election, or 12 months – or just when is it?

Ultimately, while all the details were not there in the 2012 election, I thought it was pretty clear that a vote for Labor/Greens meant a vote for a tram project to progress and begin during the current term of the parliament.

To me, that means they should be free to pursue (within reason of course) their political agenda until the caretaker period starts. That shouldn’t mean signing crazy contracts the day or week before (there needs to be some reason), but if it is a committed policy position, that was taken to the electorate, then its hard to argue they are acting outside their political mandate. My question therefore is – just when was the cut off date that the contract should have been signed for it to be ‘acceptable’?

Yes it comes back to the original issue of did they get enough of a mandate at the last election to do what they have done – and that’s a matter of personal opinion for many on here. But ultimately, Governments need to be allowed, where reasonable, to get on and govern, even when an election is on the horizon.

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