ACT Labor has today announced a City to Woden connection as the Stage 2 light rail commitment they will take to the election. Having made the decision on this in their final cabinet meeting before entering Caretaker period, they have set up the seat of Murrumbidgee as the real battleground electorate for this election. Gungahlin is already getting its own slice of light rail, and despite the heated contest emerging in Tuggeranong (the Brindabella electorate), by committing to extending light rail to Woden if re-elected, Labor has just turned Murrumbidgee into the real contest.
This decision opens the door to an extension to Tuggeranong as a stage 3 in 2020, which works for Labor in Brindabella to some extent also. I suspect that this played a small part in their decision to go with Woden as the Stage 2 instead of an Airport-City or Airport-City-Belconnen connection.
The new light rail leg to Woden will see trams “cross the lake over the Commonwealth Avenue bridge, travel through the Parliamentary Triangle, and down Adelaide Avenue to the Woden town centre”. Labor decided at the last minute for reasons unknown to jettison the proposed end point of Mawson, though, and will terminate the tram at Woden itself for the stage 2 build. The stage one and two combination is being dubbed the “north-south spine”, from which branches can grow out to connect all of Canberra eventually. This makes extending to Woden as the stage 2 logical from this perspective, even if ending at Mawson would have been desirable to take advantage of the park and ride facilities there. I hope Labor now commits to exploring options for expanding park and ride access at Woden to match the new service.
Labor and the Greens have today made election pledges to sign the contracts for the stage 2 during the next term of government. The bridge over the lake may require strengthening work, and the approval of the National Capital Authority will be required (for the section that travels through the Parliamentary Triangle). It is not clear exactly when construction of the stage 2 would commence if Labor is re-elected, but the Government is keen to minimise any delay between stage 1 finishing and stage 2 commencing. I expect that we will learn of their estimated start date later in the election campaign itself.
The head of lobby group ACT Light Rail, Damien Haas, released a statement regarding the stage 2 announcement that read in part:
By declaring a bold stage two of light rail, the ACT Government firmly indicates to all of Canberra that the light rail project will eventually reach their town centre. Crossing the lake and travelling through the Parliamentary Triangle are the two big factors that the rest of the network depend upon.
Future extensions to Tuggeranong, or even Queanbeyan are now extremely feasible. A Civic-Russell-Airport route would connect to a light rail network that travels to many national attractions and hotel/entertainment precincts. Going across the lake opens up the other routes from the Light Rail Network Plan for realistic implementation.
The ability of light rail to act as an urban renewal catalyst, as well as a tool to deal with road congestion and increase public transport patronage is well known, and the main reason Canberra chose light rail over BRT.
This announcement is well timed, and politically savvy. It will appeal to voters in the south of Canberra and provides an overwhelmingly superior policy when compared to the Canberra Liberals’ bus only policy.
With this plan in place, Labor is clearly demonstrating their commitment to a Canberra wide Light Rail network and are demonstrating they will proceed to build it out piece by piece with that goal in mind at all times. Once the spine is established, from there the branches will grow.