Light rail construction ride has lessons for Stage 2, report finds

Ian Bushnell 10 July 2019 13
Light Rail

Light Rail Stage 1 project was delivered largely on time and under budget. Photo: George Tsotsos.

Minimising disruptions to business and traffic, coordinating better with other agencies and retaining a skilled workforce are key take-outs from a report on the delivery of Light Rail Stage 1 between the City and Gungahlin released by the ACT Government.

The report confirms the project was delivered largely on time and under budget, but acknowledges lessons learned that need to be applied to further stages.

The final cost of construction was $675 million, $108 million under the design and construction cost estimated in the project’s approved business case of $783 million, and about $32 million less than the project’s anticipated design and construction cost at contract signing ($707 million).

The Benefit Cost Ratio increased from 1 : 2 to 1 : 3, which the Government says could be improved even further as future benefits are realised.

The Territory held a construction-phase contingency of $117 million, of which $85 million went to Canberra Metro for their claims during the project and modifications to the project’s scope.

With Stage 1 not starting operation until April 2019, four months later than agreed, Canberra Metro was not granted an extension to the 20-year operating and maintenance period, foregoing about $21.9 million of availability payments in the 2018-19 financial year.

Under the terms of the settlement of outstanding claims reached with Canberra Metro, $245,000 a year, indexed, is to be paid to Canberra Metro due to increased operations and maintenance costs.

The report lists a large number of benefits that are on track or still to be assessed including development along the corridor, higher property prices and a superior travel time of around 24 minutes compared to that of cars.

It says that the average Gungahlin to City morning peak car travel time by 2031 would be 42 minutes with light rail but 57 minutes without.

While the project, which employed about 5000 people, has been deemed a success, it caused considerable pain to business impacted along the route.

A survey of businesses was told that the project could have strategically spread works over a longer period but limited to smaller areas; provided greater certainty about the timing and extent of road closure, noisy activities and delays; assisted with better wayfinding signage for customers; and practical measures like window and façade cleaning where construction activities generated excessive dust.

The Government says it will incorporate these findings when planning for future construction activities.

The report also says that delivery agencies need to be aware of other Territory projects nearby and the potential for extended or excessive construction disruption to the community and business.

“Early engagement with other Territory directorates and agencies to understand planned projects and co-ordinate them in a manner that minimises the disruption to the community and business is critical,” it says.

Retaining a skilled workforce and providing local work opportunities were also identified as issues, with the report saying that the Government should stay in touch with local subcontractors in advance of future stages of light rail.

Acknowledging the impact ongoing traffic disruptions had on commuters, the report says that contractors need to be more flexible and be held to account to minimise street and lane closures, and the public kept informed.

Although the report says the Public Private Partnership model of delivery has proven beneficial, a PPP approach may not necessarily be the optimal approach for all future stages of light rail, and each project stage must be considered in its individual context.

Meegan Fitzharris at the now-operational ticket vending machines. Photo: Transport Canberra.

Meegan Fitzharris said the project had many challenges as well as successes to overcome. Photo: Transport Canberra.

Minister for Transport Meegan Fitzharris said the project had many successes as well as challenges to overcome.

“It is important to be open about these challenges as they present valuable lessons that will not only inform future stages of light rail, but infrastructure development more broadly,” she said.

The work would now continue with the second stage of light rail, she said.

“The funding delivered in this year’s Budget will allow us to continue the important planning and design work that is needed, including work on a new Woden Bus Interchange that will integrate with light rail, to ensure the project keeps moving ahead while we progress route design and approvals,” she said.

“We are also in the process of referring Stage Two for assessment under the Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act – a key step to clarifying heritage and environment considerations for the project.

“We look forward to working with the Commonwealth Government, the National Capital Authority and the community more broadly as this work progresses.”

Further work would take place over the next 12 months to assess the benefits of light rail for Canberra.

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13 Responses to Light rail construction ride has lessons for Stage 2, report finds
Stephen Matthews Stephen Matthews 5:48 am 26 Jun 19

Public transport never runs a profit.Queanbeyan and Wagga bus operators run buses for public transportation but these never run at a profit.These operators profits come from their school run contracts,rail coach contracts and coach charters

Capital Retro Capital Retro 9:16 pm 25 Jun 19

I said the Gold Coast light rail had failed to increase public transport patronage which was a key target of the proposal.

So what if they are extending it – Canberra will do the same irrespective of the cost.

By the way astroboy, do you have any new times on the tram run between Civic and Gunghalin? Is Civic to Woden by tram going to be faster than the busses it is going to replace?

Capital Retro Capital Retro 8:29 am 25 Jun 19

Ashley Wright says: “whether those figures are to be realised is another matter”.

A study of Brisbane’s Clem 7 road tunnel (which ultimately went broke) would have been timely before the decision to go ahead with Canberra’s light rail.

And the Gold Coast Light Rail has failed to increase patronage on public transport as it was planned to do. Then again, Canberra’s light rail wasn’t about public transport; it was about “urban regeneration” so all’s good there.

Lin Van Oevelen Lin Van Oevelen 7:37 am 25 Jun 19

I drive Casey to Lyneham most mornings and the traffic is so much better because of the light rail. Crossing Northbourne can take a bit longer, but the congestion, especially on Northbourne, isn't anywhere near as bad as it used to be. And my child uses the light rail when she doesn't persuade me to drive her...

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 12:23 pm 25 Jun 19

    Lin Van Oevelen the Northborne intersection (though assuming you come down the Barton it is actually Federal Highway at that point) is an odd one.

    Same time of day sometimes it is awful with traffic banked back past Randwick road other days nothing. Still cannot work out why so much variation.

    Though I have noticed that the light sequencing at that intersection doesn’t work like the others along the light rail route. In particular when a tram comes the Barton Highway gets a red regardless of how long it’s been green for (which I understand) but when the tram passes unlike other intersections along Northborne that go back to the previous state the Barton lights seem to always go back to the same state which is green city bound on the federal and right turn onto Barton. Then after that green city, green outbound and finally green Barton onto Federal. And if another tram passes it resets again.

    This morning I was about 10 cars back, got green but only long enough for 5 cars, then tram comes through and by the time the Barton could go again traffic was building up towards Randwick road as it took so long.

    Lin Van Oevelen Lin Van Oevelen 12:36 pm 25 Jun 19

    I've actually noticed this at the turn off into Phillip Ave from Northbourne too. If a tram comes at the wrong time, it just skips that light in the sequence altogether. But I don't think they work the same way at the Dickson intersection?

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 1:22 pm 25 Jun 19

    Lin Van Oevelen don’t normally head up that way so not noticed Phillip Ave. But Antill Street, McArthur Ave and Barry Drive they appear to give priority to trams, but either go back to the last phase prior to the tram if it was cut short or go to the next phase in sequence.

    Whereas Barton Highway mostly seems to always go back to the same phase.

Doris Andrews Doris Andrews 1:24 pm 24 Jun 19

Get stage 1 right first. There are still so mnay problems with and due to the tram. There are still lessons to bea learned.

    Doris Andrews Doris Andrews 9:14 am 25 Jun 19

    Tanya Louise There so many problems with the bus timetable since 29th April and the infrastructure for bus travellers.

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 12:24 pm 25 Jun 19

    Doris Andrews so what does that have to do with light rail then?

    Russell Nankervis Russell Nankervis 1:22 pm 25 Jun 19

    Light rail *

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