20 November 2023

No light rail stage 2B business case until after next election, Steel confirms

| Claire Fenwicke
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light rail stop at EPIC

The ACT Government has committed to releasing the light rail stage 2B business case once it’s been developed, which won’t happen until after the 2024 election. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

A business case for light rail stage 2B won’t be available until the next term of government, Transport Minister Chris Steel has confirmed today (20 November).

As previously outlined, a business case cannot be formulated until the planning approvals have been given the green light by the National Capital Authority (NCA), which Mr Steel reiterated during annual reports hearings.

“That’s because the planning approval for stage 2B is uncertain in terms of the scope, which is obviously out of the ACT Government’s hands,” he said.

“We will need to first determine what the outcome of that planning process is, and then we’ll use that final scope to develop the stage 2B business case.

“We expect it will be in the next term of government.”

This is mainly due to the processes undertaken by the Federal environment department, working through the Parliament’s approval process and the ACT’s planning approval process.

“That will take some time, and we’ve always been upfront about that,” Mr Steel said.

This was why the government split light rail stage 2 into two sections, given that part of the route needs to go through Commonwealth land.

$50 million has been allocated in the recent ACT Budget to progress the planning and design phases, with community consultation slated for 2024.

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The news came as procurement of the main works for stage 2A is reaching its final stages.

Light Rail Stage 2 project director Ashley Cahif said negotiations for the two-way main works were almost wrapped up, while the procurement of the vehicles for the line and depot modifications had been completed.

“Depot work is currently underway and expected to be completed by the end of the year,” he said.

“The LRVs [light rail vehicles] are procured and are being constructed in Spain. When those vehicles come across, which is expected mid-next year, there will be a series of switch-outs so that the stage 1 service is not impacted while we retrofit the existing fleet for wire-free running.

Mr Steel pointed to the 50 per cent increase in public transport patronage between Gungahlin and the city since 2017 as the reason light rail construction needed to continue.

He said while buses were part of the solution, light rail was the “mass transport solution” needed for the expanding city.

“With a larger population [projected], with more congestion on the roads, buses are simply going to be caught up in that congestion,” Mr Steel said.

READ ALSO Feds put extra $25 million into Molonglo River Bridge as ACT weathers infrastructure cuts

The government also faced questions over a contract titled Transport Canberra Future Light Rail Network: Plan, Refresh and City Proofing.

Mr Steel said that contract was to help inform the district planning process to make sure city development was taking into account future potential light rail routes or corridors, particularly along the likely East-West line and to the airport.

“While the absolute route has not been determined, that process was looking at what potential routes [light rail] could take and ensure that, in our planning system going forward, that’s taken into account so that we don’t block future stages of mass transit from occurring,” he said.

The outcome of that has formulated part of the district strategy.

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brucewantstobecool11:35 pm 21 Nov 23

I am keen to see a change in terminology for the current work in the city – it should be stage 1B, not 2A. Until they get approval for a bridge and any works over the lake, it’s misleading (but clever) to refer to the current work as being stage 2A. The change in terminology will never happen, though

ChrisinTurner3:23 pm 21 Nov 23

The government ignored the business case for Stage 1, despite it being skewed incorrectly (according to the Auditor General).

Leon Arundell12:02 pm 21 Nov 23

Does our Transport Minister ever use public transport? The Business Case for Stage 2A says that when Stage 2B is completed the trams will take more than 27 minutes to travel between Woden and Civic. Adelaide Avenue’s 4 km of T2 lanes allow buses to zoom past congested traffic and get from Woden to Civic in less than 20 minutes, even in peak hours. Extending the T2 lanes would make bus trips even faster. The Transport Minister says, “buses are simply going to be caught up in that congestion.”

The route is Civic to Woden. You simply model a couple of alternative paths.

That’s what businesses do for business cases all the time. The excuse that you don’t do a business case until everything is locked in place goes against what they’re for.

Does our Transport Minister ever use public transport? I believe the answer is No!

He made a big song and dance of positivity about what everyone else thought was the dubious value of diverting Kambah buses via Cooleman Court, yet he drives his car straight from home to Cooleman court past his neighbours waiting for a bus.

thoughtsonthesubject9:52 am 21 Nov 23

Amazing. No consideration on the part of our Greens/Labor administration of the greenhouse gasses the laying of rails and the transport of fully fitted carriages from the other end of the world will produce. Add to this that of the construction and maintenance of a complicated system of lifts to bring passengers to stops of the tram when they must be located on an overpass as at Deakin. No consideration of the effects of climate change when one fallen tree during the expected frequent storms will stop the operation of the whole line, as will regional blackouts. Buses can cope with all that and their dedicated lanes will permit emergency vehicles to move faster to areas of distress.
Congratulations to Brisbane for having chosen an electric bus transit system to solve their transport problems that will take on new dimensions with the Olympics. And those clever Swiss designers made sure that the shape of the buses are undistinguishable from the carriages of a modern tram, well aware of the cherished conviction that trams are high-class, and buses are for the unwashed rabble.
Finally, could someone explain to me how the Spanish tram will manage the gradient between Civic and Belconnen? More moving of soil or maybe a tunnel this time? And while we are at it, why would anybody looking for transport between Civic and the airport want to ride a slow tram, which will have to stop frequently to collect passengers in an attempt to reduce the cost?

Hey Buddy, that wasn’t the scope of this article and you know it. However, since you’re obviously so intersted in the environment I encourage you to google ‘canberra light rail 2A environmental assessment’. There you will find 279 pages of considerations about the impact to the environment, including climate change. You will also find one for stage 1, and you will also find one for stage 2B once the business case is finalised and approved.

Surely this will end the claims of the light rail spruiker that Canberra votes for light rail.

Of course they don’t want to prepare a business case before the election. The billions of dollars of expenditure for almost zero benefit would look horrendous.

How do you propose a business case is published when the route hasn’t been approved yet? Talk about putting the cart infront of the horse…

Easily Adam.

Because the route us already chosen and any competent government would have completed the due diligence before committing to the project.

Any changes through the approval process would then be incorporated into updates to that business case.

Laughable that you think the government should spend millions of dollars on seeking planning approvals before completing a business case on the merits of the project.

The route is Civic to Woden. You simply model a couple of alternative paths.

That’s what businesses do for business cases all the time. The excuse that you don’t do a business case until everything is locked in place goes against what they’re for.

Very easy. You make estimates of the range you expect it to cost under different options and do your cost/benefit analysis on those. That is what other governments and business do all the time. The other thing you do is when the analysis shows that the project cannot possibly provide benefits that exceed its costs, is abandon the project, on the grounds it is stupid to proceed.

Actually, they should have done an analysis of the whole intended network before even starting any work, based on the best estimates of costs and benefits available at the time. That is what a competent organisation would do.

How many more excuses can the ACT Govt come up with for not releasing the Stage 2B business case?

I bet it will magically appear just before the October 2024 election if it contains good news (from the Govt’s perspective).

Leon Arundell6:57 pm 22 Nov 23

The ACT Government’s August 2012 submission to Infrastructure Australia came up with the good news that bus rapid transit was twice as cost-effective as light rail. The government didn’t release that submission before the October 2012 election. They waited until the middle of 2013!

Leon Arundell2:16 am 21 Nov 23

The Auditor-General’s Report 8 of 2021 revealed government estimates that Stage 2B will cost more than $905 million and – even if you include questionable “wider economic benefits” – will generate less than $269 million worth of net benefits. If you don’t include WEBs, the net benefit is worse than MINUS $149 million.
Published government figures indicate that, compared with light rail, bus rapid transit would be eight minutes faster between Woden and Civic, would cost half as much, and would deliver net benefits worth between $400 million and $1.6 billion.

Sure it does… are these government figures sitting in the room with us?

They’re going to need to ride the business case to get them though the election.

When your not in government its called theft, when you are the act government its business as usual.

I assume all these projects have a business case, however the title of such documents is ‘How can this help my or my party’

HiddenDragon8:50 pm 20 Nov 23

In others words, it wasn’t the cavoodle that ate my homework, it was the NCA – more of the usual intelligence insulting blather.

The truth is that we are well past the point where a business case analysis produced by this government for this project would have any real meaning or consequence.

Light rail (or “the tram” for the unbelievers, deniers and assorted other deplorables) is now well-established as a central article of faith of the ACT Labor-Green state religion. In that respect, its direct and opportunity costs are irrelevant because it serves as an almost magical political distraction for a very ordinary government by pandering to the delusions, small town insecurities, and cargo cult mentality of many ACT voters.

A genuine cost benefit analysis of light rail to Woden is about as likely as a cost benefit analysis of continuing to provide public schools and health services in the ACT – which may be one of the reasons why many of the same people who were, a few weeks ago, fraught about where the $100m. (in an $8bn. ACT budget) would come from to fund the ACT Liberals’ plans to improve urban services and facilities, have accepted today’s condescending announcement without a murmur.

They can’t work out their business case because they still haven’t figured out if and how to go through the parliamentary triangle, get past Parliament House and then get the tram up to and then along Adelaide Ave.

Bring back the NCDC.
This mob is absolutely hopeless.
Just finished travelling and some areas i revisited in London from 7 years ago, completely unrecognisable. The amount of redevelopment in a city that has to contend with “proper Heritage every step of the way”, subways , sewers underground, the old postal train network, water tables that appear out of nowhere and on top of that keep on housing and operating in amongst millions of people, and the ACT government cant even do a “costing” of a simple light rail run. These guys should be sacked!
If liberal’s can make the most out of this to get elected, they need to be dumped as well.

Umm, not sure about London example. A major project was the Elizabeth Line approved 2007, Royal Assent 2008, work started 2009 for completion 2018. Estimate !4.8 billion quid. Outcome cost by end 2020 was 18.8 billion and actually fully opened for use in May this year (Ref Wikipedia). Doesn’t seem exceptional.

You are right, you are not sure.
Wasn’t talking about the Elizabeth line.
You seem to know London (at least by using Wikipedia), so you know its quite large with a myriad of works going on at any one time.

I expect many of us have worked in government and/or private enterprise where you do a business case before all the technical details and contracts are locked in place. That’s what a business case helps you determine.

Surely you can lock in a big chunk of the business case and then have 3 or 4 options for consideration.

This smacks of Chris Steel again trying to hide costs and benefits from voters, just like he did with the West Basin stuff up he oversaw. Cost $50 million, almost twice what he estimated, it didn’t deliver a third of what was promised in the tender and took 6 years longer than first promised.

I’d forgotten the terrible details of yet another Chris Steel stuff up until I just did a web search. Geez he’s stacking up quite a list of expensive mistakes.

Yes, usually a business case comes before any decision to proceed on a project.

I find it hilarious that even with their dodgy attempts to justify the project, they still can’t put something together.

richard stone4:58 pm 20 Nov 23

This project is a criminal misuse of our rates and taxes.

Would you care to enlighten us on what law has been broken?

ChrisinTurner2:59 pm 20 Nov 23

I think they are buying the extra trams needed for stage 2A and retrofitting the stage 1 trams.

Stuart Howie2:53 pm 20 Nov 23

The ACT Government CANNOT form a business case? The scope is OUT of the government’s hands? Surely, you can’t be serious. The government is going about locking us into a vanity project without establishing a cost base, scope, or design. How are we letting the government get away with this? And any frequent user of public transport in Canberra will tell you that more buses will be a much more cost-effective solution. #LightRailBigFail

What exactly are we locked into? There have been no contracts signed for stage 2B.

GrumpyGrandpa2:00 pm 20 Nov 23

How is it that the Government can entering into contracts to build new the LRVs in Spain (to enable 2b wireless retrofitting to the existing fleet), prior to getting approval from the NCA and prior to developing and releasing the business case?

Two possibilities concern me. Firstly, if the NCA approval doesn’t come, we have bought LRVs we can’t use and secondly, if the NCA approval does come and adversely impacts the business case, having committed to buying the LRVs (and having invested into 2a), the ACT Government will proceed, regardless of the economics!

I can’t imagine the ****storm, if the Opposition wins the 2024 election and as per their policy, cancels Stage 2b. What do we then do with Minister Steele’s new LRVs?

Steady on tiger, you have the bull by the horns.
Stage 2a to Commonwealth Park is to be wire free. Additional vehicles (5) are required just to maintain the timetable when 2a is in use. Also to enable existing vehicles to be out of service for retrofitting, so they too can operate to Commonwealth Park. Suitability for stage 2b, as presently envisaged, is just a good side benefit.
Other potential side benefits include increased service frequency and cover for major vehicle refits when they become due.
Another new vehicle order will be necessary to service stage 2b.

GrumpyGrandpa4:36 pm 20 Nov 23

Hi Roger,
Thank you for the clarification that the new LRVs being purchased are for 2a and that 2a, will be wireless.

I have NEVER had a client who would let you do this!

I take it you’ve never had a complex client where a territory infrastructure project interfaces with commonwealth land requiring the insight and approval from the NCA? Let me guess, you deal with this all the time?

How incompetent can this useless government get. You’d expect the entire project would have a business case, be costed and a return on investment known before any soil is turned.

Oh but of course it’s not your money is it. Hopeless, just hopeless.

Soil has not been turned for stage 2B but thank you for your feedback, valuable voter.

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