30 June 2023

NCA to investigate light rail route switch back through parliamentary zone

| Ian Bushnell
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Is another twist looming in the city’s light rail saga? Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Light rail may yet find its way through Parkes and Barton, with the National Capital Authority open to a change in route after advice that there may be technical problems with the current one.

NCA CEO Sally Barnes said ACT officials working on the project had flagged that the narrowness of the road veering left into State Circle from Commonwealth Avenue could pose engineering and cost challenges.

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She said they had asked the NCA if an alternative route across the parliamentary zone could be looked at, and it would.

“The heritage aspects of going across the parliamentary zone would need to be addressed carefully,” she said.

Her comments come ahead of the imminent approval from the NCA of Stage 2A from Alinga Street in the city to Commonwealth Park, with a consultation report expected in days.

The original 2B route proposals had gone along King George Terrace past Old Parliament House and into Barton, but the hurdles posed by the area’s heritage values prompted the ACT Government to opt for a more direct route along State Circle past Parliament House on the edge of Barton.

But Ms Barnes said a lot had changed since 2018, specifically the coming move of thousands of public servants into Barton for the national security precinct and new agency buildings such as the Tax Office.

She said these new workers would need efficient public transport to serve them as quickly as possible.

map of possible light rail routes

Engineering, cost and transport needs could see the light rail take a detour. Image: Supplied.

It was also part of the NCA’s remit to encourage public transport to make it easier for people to get to the national cultural institutions, Ms Barnes said.

“We really need to get the public transport system working efficiently for all the people who both want to work in this area and also want to come to the national cultural institutions,” Ms Barnes said.

So if the ACT Government was having difficulties with the current route, the NCA would see if there was another way to get it closer to the institutions and where people worked in a way that protected the heritage value, she said.

“We need to do the work now to get it to the best possible standard because its such a huge investment, and if it’s not done properly it could be such a scar on the landscape or an inefficient system,” she said.

Ms Barnes also confirmed that the under the current plans, the nearly 100-year-old cedar trees in the median of Commonwealth Avenue would have to make way for the light rail tracks.

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Ms Barnes said that when the ACT Government finally lodged a Works Approval, the NCA could assess it relatively quickly, given the WA for 2A came in last February, went out to consultation on 28 March and was now almost ready for approval.

“Once we’ve got all the documents, all the technical details are worked through, the heritage aspects worked through, we can be very efficient and do the public consultation and work through any of the issues as quickly as possible,” she said.

But that may be years off, given the complexity of the project and the multiple approvals required.

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Here we have Ms Barnes, the local paper-thin fan of heritage. In one breath she wants to make sure that the ‘heritage aspect of going across the parliamentary zone would need to be addressed carefully’, then completely forgetting that monumental piece of advice she comes up with ‘confirmation ‘ that the nearly 100yr old cedar trees in the median of Commonwealth Ave would have to make way for the light rail tracks !….you don’t say!!…..maybe there was an alternative she was aware of that the rest of us weren’t.
Those trees are one of the everlasting great memories of Canberra, but obviously the big red trundler has much more heritage value, again, something the rest of us have been unaware of.
As for the narrow space turning left onto State Circle, again, I’d bet at least half the population noticed that problem at least two years ago.

If light rail between Civic and Woden will be slower than the current bus system, why do it?

A much better idea would be to forget about Woden for the moment. Instead we could have a line running from Civic to Tuggeranong, more or less following the Parkway, and servicing the new suburbs of the Molonglo Valley along the way. For context, currently a bus journey from the suburbs of Tuggeranong to Civic will take a whole hour out of your life. We have to do better than this.

Investment in a Civic-Molonglo-Tuggeranong line would be quite expensive, but it would take a lot of cars off Canberra’s roads and it would greatly reduce commute times. Also, a follow-on light rail project could run east-west, from the Molonglo Valley through Woden and on to the Canberra Hospital.

GrumpyGrandpa11:27 pm 01 Jul 23

Hi LanyonRegis,
LR, Gunnas to the City is time efficient because the traffic lights sequences are managed to prioritise LR and that road users on Northbourne are restricted to 60kph.

Tuggy Parkway in places is a 100kph road. Buses are speed limited to 85 kph. LR’s maximum speed is 70pkh and no crossroad traffic lights to stop road users and give LR an advantage.

Under the propsed LR, Woden into the City, the estimated travel time is considerably longer using LR than the existing bus service.

I’m afraid if Tuggy to the City is wasting an hour of your life now, the very last thing you’d want is LR.

It’s interesting how they keep changing their minds about how the tram is going to get onto Adelaide Ave. First it was from State Cir. with a tight left turn onto Adelaide Ave, but then someone must have figured out that State Circle might have to be raised just like London Crt.
Then it was State Cir. swinging right across into Capitol Cir. just before Adelaide Ave and then left across the Adelaide Ave. bridge.
Now the latest maps show The tram track going straight into Capitol Cir. and trough the 3 lane tunnel under Federation Mall and then through the 3 lane wide Kings Ave. underpass.
Are the Feds really going to approve the tearing up of Federation Mall and the Kings Ave underpass so that a new tunnel and underpass at least 4 lanes wide can be built for 2 tram tracks and 2 car lanes or is Capitol Cir going to be reduced to just one lane for cars heading south.

ChrisinTurner3:10 pm 01 Jul 23

Avoiding the Parliamentary Triangle was a mistake. Talk to any public transport expert about “pearls on a string”. However, travel time will no longer be twice the bus but probably three times. I might even have to vote Liberal to stop this folly.

Nice slow route through Parkes and Barton! This will need to be supplemented by an express bus to/from Civic and Woden like we have now.

All LR Routes should be the fastest possible between town centres … hence Stage 1 being Gungahlin to the City … the route does not deviate into Civic, ie the last 500m being covered by walking.
The same should apply to Stage 2, ie Civic to Woden … the short distance to Barton being walkable, or shuttle buses.

There are now numerous reasons for a re-think of the southern route, and this issue should trigger that now. We now have decisions for the new security precinct in Barton, the proposed Kingston wetlands precinct, and the proposed re-purposing of the current heavy rail corridor by the Fyshwick Business Association. They can all be serviced by redirecting LR through Barton via King Edward Terrace, Bowen Drive and onto Wentworth Ave.
This is a much better path for LR than one to Woden, which can service people almost every metre of the way.

Hmm, technical amd cost challenges with the light rail that might make them review the route?

To make it even less usable for anyone not stopping in the parliamentary triangle?

Perhaps whilst they are considering other routes they could actually look at whether light rail is the best option in the first place?

Nah, that would obviously be too much for them.

HiddenDragon7:30 pm 30 Jun 23

Sounds like good news for the manufacturers of battery-powered buses – this really is turning into Canberra’s version of Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs railway.

I challenge everyone to look at how empty our busses are as the operate in the south 16 hours every day, most of them are empty, two passengers at most!

Take a look at the tram in the north, with the exception of one hour per day this tram is also empty.

Please go and confirm all these empty seats for yourself and ask: is this the most important concern for the ACT? Is it worth $2BILLION

You make some valid points. The story of public transport in Canberra is a story of peak period use, use that occurs during the few hours a day people are commuting to work and school.

The buses in the South didn’t used to be as empty when there was hundreds more local bus stops that the Transport Minister removed the day Light Rail started. The buses didn’t used to be as empty when Xpresso buses took people direct from their suburbs to work and back in peak hour. The local buses didn’t used to be as empty when they were reliable and ran more often than the current every hour or two, or when local buses weren’t unexpectedly cancelled so often.

I think Canberra Transport, the Minister or naive public transport academics don’t properly understand Canberra’s public transport use-case. You seem to honestly understand the use case, no matter how uncomfortable that may be.

Roger Shelton1:47 pm 01 Jul 23

The tram has over 20% of the entire Transport Canberra network boardings, in just one hour per day? Pull the other leg.

GrumpyGrandpa6:47 pm 30 Jun 23

In the ABC News, they say that there is no current viable route to get LR to Woden, (although options are being considered).

The NCA had initially argued against an going in through the triangle via Old Parliament House and through Barton and hence the route around State Circle was favoured. By now State Circle appears to be a no-go option due to technical issues (and cost).
I’m not sure what they do now? Do they go back the OPH option, having already rejected it?

The problem as I see it is that from a travel time perspective, Woden to the City was already excessive, in comparison to the existing bus service. Going back to the OPH and Barton option, might cover more worksites, but the commute time from Woden into the City would blow out further – maybe 10-15 minutes (my guess).

If LR isn’t travel time efficient, it’s going to be a very expensive lemon.

Woden to City via Electric buses is sounding an awful lot better option.

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