22 March 2023

Light rail stage 2A gets to business end: what we'll soon know

| Ian Bushnell
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artist's impression of light rail through the Canberra CBD

An artist’s impression of an overhead view of light rail stage 2A. Photo: ACT Government.

Plans for extending light rail from the city to Commonwealth Park are heading toward the pointy end with Work and Development Applications lodged. Now the hunt is on for a consultant to arm the government with its own project cost for when it goes into final contract negotiations with the Canberra Metro consortium.

It means Canberrans may know just how much the light rail stage 2A will cost late in 2023 when a contract is expected to be clinched.

As work ramps up on the raising of London Circuit to pave the way for light rail stage 2A, the ACT Government has released a tender for a consultant to prepare cost estimates for the expansion of the existing light rail network and support Major Projects Canberra with the assessment of the light rail stage 2A proposal.

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The tender document says Major Projects Canberra has asked Canberra Metro for its proposal and costing to extend the light rail network through City West to Commonwealth Park, involving 1.7 km of track and three additional stops.

It says Canberra Metro’s proposal is expected at the end of June and the government hopes to sign a contract in late 2023.

The consultant will be critical to this, providing capital cost estimates to compare against Capital Metro’s costings, assessing the light rail operator’s proposal and advising Major Projects Canberra.

An MPC spokesperson said the expected timeframes for the receipt of the proposal from Canberra Metro and contract signing were subject to commercial negotiations and receiving the necessary planning approvals.

In December 2022, a Light Rail Stage 2A Works Approval (WA) was submitted to the National Capital Authority (NCA) and a development application (DA) to the ACT Planning and Land Authority (ACTPLA) for approval.

“The Works Approval is expected to be released by the NCA for public exhibition and community consultation in the near future,” the spokesperson said.

“Canberrans will be provided with updated information on the costs of stage 2A once commercially sensitive negotiations have finished and contracts are signed.”

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Pending approvals, construction on light rail stage 2A would commence soon after the two-year raising London Circuit project was complete.

According to the tender document, the consultant will assist MPC in evaluating Capital Metro’s proposal, including how it compares with the rates and costs of similar projects and whether it represents value for money, is a reasonable representation of the construction cost of the works and is in line with MPC’s requirements.

On 2 December, the government closed London Circuit between Edinburgh Avenue and Constitution Avenue, including the permanent closure of the two western cloverleaf ramps leading into the city, to begin reshaping the southern entry to the city to accommodate light rail.

It was described as the start of the most significant change to the road network in central Canberra since the 1960s, designed to raise London Circuit to the same height as Commonwealth Avenue so stage 2A of light rail has a clear passage to Commonwealth Park and then eventually as stage 2B across the lake to Woden.

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Light rail will again be a key election issue with the Canberra Liberals dropping their support for extending the network beyond Commonwealth Park.

They acknowledge work is too far advanced to stop stage 2A, but have decided to pursue a bus-only public transport system, although they are yet to announce a detailed alternative plan.

The Liberals have long been critical of the government for not saying how much the next stages of light rail to Woden will cost. But the government has always said it could not show its hand ahead of contract negotiations.

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thoughtsonthesubject2:23 pm 23 Mar 23

Great planning! We get constant reports on how near fatal accidents are happening with the tram and here they plan a major crossing where pedestrians, cyclists, scooters, cars and the tram all have to wait at the same traffic lights. It is predictable that there are long waits for lights to turn green and people will attempt crossing at red when they see the tram a good distance away. As has been explained in a number of articles, the tram on its rails cannot stop as fast as vehicles with rubber tires. Do we have to just sit there and wait for the first fatality while the local government destroys a well-working road system?

Garry Johnson12:18 pm 23 Mar 23

Why have they closed roads and lanes allready? The construction is not even aproved but they have slowed traffic for no reason. Management of the process is terrible. This is just one example. Thanks.

Not to mention closing roads for at least 2 months before a shovel touched dirt. Don’t start me on the genius lane closures that aren’t even close to the bridge or tram in City East

brucewantstobecool6:36 am 23 Mar 23

We should call this stage what it is – 1B, not 2A. I get why the Government chose 2A, but we all know the Woden leg doesn’t really begin until work commences on a bridge over the lake.

Also, as someone says above, why is it that that they don’t already have a contract for this stage signed? All that work to raise London Circuit, and screw over every driver travelling through the city, and they are only just now trumpeting they will conduct a closed tender and pay whatever the consortium demands?

Trevor Willis9:53 pm 22 Mar 23

It is time Barr and his mob were honest with us about this debacle. The opposition should show some grit and demand that all the info and pricing be released to the public. It is a waste of time and money as it stands just now.

Waste of time, effort and money. A

HiddenDragon7:47 pm 22 Mar 23

Less than a week ago, we were told that federal funding will be required for stage 2B, along with more than a hint that further federal funding for stage 2A would not go astray, either –


The rather defensive comments in that article about the extent to which stage 2B will be for the benefit of the Commonwealth suggests that the hoped for federal funding is by no means guaranteed.

If stage 2B is still conditional (and not just because of the fairly long odds possibility of the ACT Liberals winning the next ACT election), it does raise further questions about stage 2A – in addition to the points made earlier by GrumpyGrandpa.

There is now the serious possibility that the nuclear subs deal (on top of the other burgeoning commitments in the federal budget) will squeeze federal support for projects such as this to the point that they simply won’t be doable.

GrumpyGrandpa5:54 pm 22 Mar 23

Why has the ACT Government commenced raising London Circuit, before getting costings for constructing 2A?

How is the Government going to get a competitive tender, when their is only one company involved and they have already shown your hand by commencing raising London Circuit?

To me it sounds like the Government will proceed, regardless of the cost.

Exactly! Cost is no object, its all about playing with shiny new trams.

Raising London circuit was always planned separately to the light rail extension. Indeed the initial plans for phase 2a didn’t include it. It’s there to enable development of the land that was in the clover leaves, and to better integrate the whole CBD, not just to run the tram along. The fact that they’re doing it now is so they don’t have do the light rail twice, but the fact that they’re doing it all is unrelated.

GrumpyGrandpa1:25 pm 23 Mar 23

You are suggesting that the ACT Government intended to raise London Circuit and remove the clover leaves anyway. Regardless of LR, to better integrate CBD traffic.

I’m no town planner but from what I’ve observed, the clover leaves as they previously existed, didn’t hinder traffic into the CBD. Their purpose was in fact, to funnel traffic that didn’t need to go into the City, away from it and obviously, to reduce congestion.

How crazy would it be if the Government intended to force traffic through the CBD, that was otherwise was heading to – say Russell or Belconnen?

There have been lots of plans, revisions and headaches about how to get LR over the lake and original ideas / “plans”, are nothing more than “fart bubbles” over the entirety of a large complex project. If the original “plans” didn’t include raising LC, to me that just means the “plans” were very preliminary and meaningless.

Of course none of these issues you raise really make any difference to the situation we have, where the Government is now calling for costings from THE tender, having already shown their intent to proceed, by starting the ground work for the intended route.
If we go even a step further, the Government’s redevelopment of the Bus / LR facilities in Woden are all have their origins in their intent to get LR to Woden, after 2A.

michael quirk4:19 pm 22 Mar 23

It’s time to stop the light rail foolishness.

Bus Rapid transport (buses on their own right if way) should be analysed.

For Civic to Gungahlin it was found to provide similar benefits to light rail at half the cost.

Our numerically challenged incompetent politicians chose light rail despite the opportunity costs of the project.

Let’s hope the Liberals along with any independents elected can restore sanity to the city’s transport planning by documenting an appropriate electric bus-based system.

Do you have a source for that? The last such study I’ve seen was over a decade ago for a much smaller Canberra and showed that while BRT was cheaper it had a worse ride quality, cost more to run and didn’t drive public transport or urban renewal.

The report you seem to have read would be the 2012 URS concept design report, which considered a number of growth and development scenarios. It can be found online.


It didn’t find what you claim around the differences and its assessment was more qualitative.

Whilst ride quality is always going to be worse for bus options, operation and maintenance cost differences were negligible and public transport benefits were similar.

You are right that light rail is more beneficial for land development but I fail to see why that would be a great selling point for public expenditure, particularly when so much of the land is held by private interests.

The considered options were also always that light rail or higher capacity modes would be implemented eventually when needed, which partially negates that issue.

Interesting that these analyses showed that the cost benefit for Bus Rapid Transit was double that of Light Rail, 4.78 to 2.34.

Which is slightly amusing that by the time the government had prepared its full LRT business case


that cost benefit ratio had dropped to 1.2 even if we accept it uncritically (which no one should). Benefits largely made up of land development and wider benefits not related to transport. Almost like the project had little to do with public transport and was more around government posturing and political factors.

And that’s before we even move onto the potential future stages that have far higher costs and far lower benefits.


A document that should give anyone interested in good governance and good planning massive cause for concern.

“LRT generates the best overall outcome for Canberra.”

That’s the conclusion of the document, and that’s without taking into account that study claimed that light rail would cost 700-860 million in 2012 dollars, when it only cost 675 in 2019 dollars, a difference of between a difference of between 125 and 300 million dollars when you take inflation into account.

It also massively underestimated territory population growth (as everyone did at the time), modelling a population of 500k by 2031, where as the current growth rate has 60,000+ more people by then.

Then you can get into the problematic details like assuming that route would be run on existing buses in existing depots, so that’s 10s of million of dollars they just paper over doubly so as buses don’t last as long as LRVs.

Of course the biggest problem is that while you claim that study showed “operation and maintenance cost differences were negligible ” the actual costs tables only included the build cost, not the operational cost. Light rail is significantly cheaper to run, both from a people perspective (needing less than half as many drivers to move the same number of people), energy (metal on metal, all electric uses way less power), and maintenance (embedded rails last much longer than roads carrying heavy vehicles and the LRVs are more reliable).

Plenty of the land along route was then owned by the government and even private land is covered by Lease Variation Charges, unlike the rest of the country.


So you’re going to ignore the majority of what I linked because it doesn’t suit your argument? It’s the government’s own evidence that shows it isn’t viable.

“LRT generates the best overall outcome for Canberra.”

Yes, if you ignore the actual facts and focus on the political aspects that were already decided. As above, the first study was a qualitative assessment that despite the evidence showing the opposite, made their political masters happy by claiming “social” benefits were higher.

Cost benefit 4.74 to 2.34. You can’t pretend this doesn’t exist.

And as for the total cost, BRT would have been far cheaper as the analysis shows.

“It also massively underestimated territory population growth (as everyone did at the time), modelling a population of 500k by 2031, where as the current growth rate has 60,000+ more people by then.”

Well no, as I already said, it considered a range of growth scenarios. And if you look at actual patronage rates compared to what they assumed for the final business case, they are well below expectations because Covid has fundamentally changed the way that people work. The transport benefits are not being met. And as I already commented, the assumption was always that light rail or higher capacity modes would be installed when needed. The population growth potential is already factored in.

“Then you can get into the problematic details like assuming that route would be run on existing buses in existing depots, so that’s 10s of million of dollars they just paper over doubly so as buses don’t last as long as LRVs.”

Completely false but expected spin from those who want to ignore the true costs of light rail. The real papering over is the expenditure on light rail that has been shifted to other areas of government.

“Of course the biggest problem is that while you claim that study showed “operation and maintenance cost differences were negligible ” the actual costs tables only included the build cost, not the operational cost.”

The report literally assessed the operation and maintenance costs and said there was no difference.

But if you want to take evidence from elsewhere, it also shows that light rail is more expensive to run. You realise all that additional infrastructure required for light rail doesn’t magically look after itself right? Catenary wires, tracks, electrical infrastructure. All things that BRT doesn’t require.


“Plenty of the land along route was then owned by the government and even private land is covered by Lease Variation Charges, unlike the rest of the country.

On the first stage, the government did own a significant amount of land, future stages not so much. And the lease variation charge only applies after a change. The property prices along the route increased hundreds of thousands of dollars per block without any landuse change, straight windfall gain to landholders. Paid for by every ACT resident.

And as the clear economic evidence shows, light rail doesn’t nearly deliver enough benefits to justify the cost now.

You can attempt to spin it any way you want, but the reason why Infrastructure Australia didn’t add the project to its priority list for funding is because it costs far too much and isn’t needed yet. 1.2 cost benefit ratio, where the majority of benefits have nothing to do with transport is not remotely investment grade.

Which is why Barr is out cap in hand pleading for Federal Funding outside of the normal processes because it’s a political decision, not a transport or infrastructure one.

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