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.
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.
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.