27 February 2024

Peak body backs light rail to Woden for its long-term benefits that buses can't match

| Ian Bushnell
Join the conversation

What light rail on Adelaide Avenue could look like. It will have huge, long-term economic benefits, the Australasian Railway Association says. Image: ACT Government.

Australia’s peak rail body has gone into bat for the ACT Government’s proposed light rail line to Woden, saying it will bring significant economic, social and environmental benefits to the community.

The support from the Australasian Railway Association is welcome news for the government in a year in which the project will be riding on an election.

The Canberra Liberals are committed to scrapping light rail beyond the contracted Stage 2A extension to Commonwealth Park but are yet to reveal its public transport policy.

READ ALSO Molonglo Valley earns its own town centre with growing population

Last week, a group of former public servants and community advocates argued light rail would be too costly, saying a mix of trackless trams, electric buses and greater use of transit lanes would be more economical.

But ARA CEO Caroline Wilkie said claims that the Light Rail Stage 2B was not cost-effective do not take into consideration the huge, long-term economic benefits light rail delivered well beyond providing an efficient public transport solution.

“Light rail projects in Australia and across the globe have been consistently shown to dramatically transform communities, driving urban renewal and growth along its corridor, supporting better housing and job opportunities,” Ms Wilkie said.

“As with heavy and metro rail, investment in light rail infrastructure provides certainty to the community and local businesses, encouraging land development and increasing property values.”

Ms Wilkie said the first stage of light rail facilitated hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment and completely transformed the gateway corridor into the nation’s capital.

“This level of revitalisation simply does not happen without the investment certainty that light rail infrastructure provides,” she said.

“Light rail delivers the kind of significant economic, social and environmental benefits that buses cannot, whose routes can easily be stopped or altered at any time.”

Ms Wilkie said the revitalisation of Northbourne Avenue and around the Dickson interchange due to light rail were a testament to the positive impact of permanent public transport infrastructure on investment and urban development.

“If we want to ensure continued investment and urban renewal in the nation’s capital, as well as an efficient and environmentally friendly public transport system that can manage our growing population and support tourism, then light rail will form a critical part of the solution,” Ms Wilkie said.

“Furthermore, light rail will greatly contribute to Canberra’s journey to net zero emissions and offers an accessible, safe, easy-to-use transport solution.”

It was also a more efficient people mover, she said.

According to the ARA’s report, The Renaissance of Light Rail, it could move between 4000 and 20,000 people per hour in one direction in space, equivalent to one lane of road traffic.

The same space dedicated to an arterial road lane could move only 800 cars (or less than 1,000 people) per hour, while the same space dedicated to buses would move between 2000 and 8000 people per hour.

READ ALSO Value of Canberra’s agriculture and food production under the microscope

“The ‘stop-and-go’ service of a light rail can move larger numbers of passengers, potentially carrying triple the number of people on buses. And anyone with a scooter or a bicycle can jump on a light rail and extend their journey, making it a very sustainable option,” Ms Wilkie said.

She said that while light rail might be more expensive to construct than introducing a new bus route, operationally, it is comparatively cheaper to run than other modes, resulting in reduced whole-of-life costs, including lower operating costs per passenger.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments
Rob Chalmers7:49 pm 25 Mar 24

Just a vested interest telling us we should throw more good money after bad. This light rail is getting more unsustainable month by month. It doesn’t stack up never did.

To all the ‘chicken littles’ ……I say we should bring back the horse and buggy for the Woden route. By doing this you will able to save horses from the nackery, their manuar will fertilise the surrounding route, Cobb n Co can be resurrected, employ Street sweepers (along the route to sweep up the fertizer), there will be minimal impact on the environment and etc etc etc

what are the environmental benefits that the ARA CEO claims? Not clear to me in reading this press release.

Leon Arundell10:26 pm 28 Feb 24

The ARA’s “Renaissance of light rail'” report uses outdated information. Guangzhou built a bus rapid transit line in 2010 that carries 25,000 passengers per hour in a single direction. The ARA report’s estimates of 2,000 to 8,000 people per hour come from a book that was published in 2007.

Leon Arundell10:12 pm 28 Feb 24

If you include Wider Economic Benefits, Bus Rapid Transit is a far better investment than light rail. The ACT Government estimates that bus rapid transit offers $1.98 to $4.78 worth of benefits for each dollar that it costs. In the unlikely event that the cost of Stage 2B does not blow out from $905 million, it will produce benefits worth $1,067 (including Wider Economic Benefits worth $418 million), for a benefit-to-cost ratio of only 1.18. Stage 2A was expected to generate 56 cents worth of benefits (including Wider Economic Benefits) for each dollar that it cost, but its cost blew out from $296 million to $839 million. When you combine Stage 2A and Stage 2B, it’s like flushing half a billion dollars down the toilet.

I have measured the “service speed” of the existing tram as 27 kph. Bicyclists certainly do not want to “jump on the tram” as it is slower than a bike!

Robert Dunn wrote, “Bicyclists certainly do not want to “jump on the tram” as it is slower than a bike!
Really! Do you cycle? I would certainly put my bike on the light rail.

HiddenDragon8:12 pm 28 Feb 24

Lots of airy generalisations and assertions which could just as well have come from any of the other mouthpieces of the many-headed Hydra which is the Big Australia noise machine, but nothing about the here and now practicalities, including getting over the Lake and through the Parliamentary Triangle and how a fiscally challenged little polity can afford Stage 2B for assumed future needs when it apparently can’t afford adequate bus services for current needs.

Tom Worthington4:34 pm 28 Feb 24

Hard to see how having steel tires on steel rails confers a significant economic and social benifit over rubber tires. Admittedly there is an environmental benifit, with steel tires being slightly more efficient.

Also it is not clear how light rail’s lack of flexibility with routes is a benifit. One incident at one point on the Civic to Woden line will stop all trams. In contrast battery powered double bendy busses would be able to divert around the problem on ordinary roads.

Also it might be added that steel ‘tyres’ have precise lateral profiles and flanges for precision guidance and thus consistent lateral positioning.

My anecdotal experience is ad-hoc flexibility is more promise than fact. Passengers (some may have very limited mobility), if at all possible, still need to be delivered to intended stops, and passengers waiting at stops shouldn’t be randomly abandoned. A recent example was an accident in Belconnen Way simply resulted in buses bottled up in Haydon Dr..

Flexibility is too easy to take advantage of to enable pre-planned changes for the mere convenience of private and public works. Too often this results in bad service. Egregious examples being the years long term closure (to convenience building works) of the Hospital Road stop at Canberra Hospital’s main entrance, and the closure of the bus stop at one end, and the movement further away of the bus exchange at the other end of the Woden Mall. Sadly, in Canberra, customers and especially the mobility impaired and associated security for women, too often come a last,

Michael Hoolahan2:39 pm 28 Feb 24

clearly what Canberra needs is a monorail

ChrisinTurner2:39 pm 28 Feb 24

Just a reprinted media release.

Of course the Australasian Railway Association would support the tram. What else would you expect? How it will help Canberra to be carbon neutral is ridiculous. Look at the cement that will have to be used and the trees that will be demolished.

GrumpyGrandpa1:59 pm 28 Feb 24

Well, blow me down. The Rail Lobby, supports Light Rail to Woden.

If the transit oriented development along Northbourne Avenue is anything to go by, imagine similar all the way to Woden. The business case would be dodgy if it wants to include wall to wall characterless grey buildings. Seems like this rail lobby group are committed to high population growth scenarios, and completely out of touch on the ecological front. One wonders what connections they have with the developer lobby.

ARA also backed heavy rail. Did they have a prefernce for which they back for the ACT if it was light or heavy rail?

Reading the report they did, they claimed that light rail was cheaper to run per person.

Clearly thats not the case. The operating costs to transport 5% of the network are the lions share of the costs of running public transport in canberra.

It also mentioned that light rail facilited development but also didnt account for the fact that development didnt occur elsewhere.

It also mentioned better housing quality. Apparently the tiny shoebox apartments are better than any household elsewhere in Canberra.

Ian Bushnell effectively just publishing a Rail Lobby groups media release. Even the most average journalist would try and add a little bit of balance or at least question some of the very dubious claims within the publication.

Efficiency of public transport and cost don’t seem to matter at all apparently, and the property development claims seem to completely ignore dense property development in Molonglo and Belconnen that happened without any Light Rail influence. .

What are they basing the analysis on? where is the business case?

Do real people care that there is more development when it makes their life harder? are we trying to increase profits for developers (“the economic increase”). Or trying to make the voters lives better?

This article makes no sense

I am at a loss to understand why those opposing light rail consider trackless trams to be superior. Some days there are over 15,000 people using light rail to/from Gungahlin (https://www.data.act.gov.au/Transport/Light-Rail-Patronage/x7dn-77he/data_preview). The people I know who live in Gungahlin are quite happy using light rail and those who live further out of town use park and ride to travel on it.
Sydney, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Melbourne and Adelaide have integrated public transport networks and have all introduced light rail. All these cities have seen the technology’s benefits and are currently expanding their networks. They have all avoided introducing trackless trams because of the long-term impracticality and ongoing maintenance costs associated with them.

Trackless trams are an untested technology. Seen as a repackaged bus, the technology causes significant road damage. They are not fully autonomous, rough and uncomfortable to travel in and have numerous long-term maintenance costs. These are just a few of the known shortcomings associated with trackless trams. Many countries have stopped introducing or expanding their networks and trackless tram technology is not used outside China. China and France have stopped rolling out their networks due to the technology’s significant long-term costs. The trams cannot be bought through competitive tender with only one manufacturer located in Zhouzhou City. Zhouzhou has also stopped rolling out trackless trams and has only 11km of dedicated road for their use. Perth was the only city outside of China that has recently trialled trackless trams in November 2023 on loan from China. Despite all the hype, the results have not been published by the government that I know of.

Let’s see what the Canberra Liberals have to offer in the way of public transport for this city’s future growth when they can find the time to get off their lazy and indolent backsides and announce them!

Yes, on “some” days, light rail usage is just over 15000 people.

It’s a shame that the ACT Government’s business case for the first stage of light rail had the daily 2021 average patronage number as that same number. When the actual patronage in 2024 is far less as you’ve shown, noting that was for the most viable stage, future extensions have far lower identified benefits.

Also good to note that transport benefits are only a small portion of the claimed justification for light rail, with the vast majority accruing from land development. Which raises even further questions around why the public should be paying for so much private benefit that has little to do with essential service provision?

Thanks again for providing the info showing another failure of light rail to deliver to expectations in Canberra.

Felix the Cat12:37 pm 28 Feb 24

Patronage for 2024 still seems to be over 14K most weekdays with a few 15K days.
Patronage fluctuates with school holidays and weekends, same as it would on buses!
Publish a link showing bus patronage, pick a pre-tram year if you want a fairer comparison

GrumpyGrandpa2:51 pm 28 Feb 24

Hi Jack D.
I think we all know that LR Gunners to the City, is a different proposition to 2B.
Removing buses from Northbourne and re-routing services to feed stops along LR have been responsible for its patronage-ie by removing competition, LR numbers are good. The other advantage LR Gunners to the City has is that traffic lights are sequenced to give it priority and LR can travel at up to 70kph (faster than road traffic).

2B on the other hand, from day 1, was always going to be slower than a bus, because the bus can travel at 80kph and there aren’t any real traffic light sequencing advantages. Now that Minister Steele has raised the prospects of the dog-leg (further increasing travel time) and stated that buses would continue to run for those who preferred a quicker journey-aka most people

Felix the Cat,
A comparison with pre-tram buses would be meaningless because the government cancelled a whole heap of buses and now funnels the suburban buses through the town centre to force people into using light rail. It’s would be comparing apples with oranges.

But based on the actual light rail patronage numbers, we see that due to the lingering COVID impact and changed work practices, patronage is still well down from what was expected.

If you take the patronage from 2022-now:
Average Daily use is just over 10000 per day

For a comparison on higher and lower usage days
Weekday non school holidays 11700 per day
Weekend school holidays 6300 per day

But patronage has been higher recently as more people settle back into higher amounts of days in the office, so let’s look at the last 6 months only

Overall average 11400 per day
Weekday non school holidays 13250 per day
Weekend school holidays 7550 per day

Still well short of the forecast numbers around usage, not close to consistently hitting 15000 per day.

Meanwhile our Police are under staffed and the City watch house is not fit for purpose. Also, our hospitals are struggling to provide the services needed. Surely law and order, and health are higher priorities than transport. The ACT Government has its priorities all wrong.

Says the Australasian Railway Association. No wonder. A case of “When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. And the property value along the Adelaide Av is already prohibitively high.

Talking about rail, a national project of high speed rail from Sydney, via Queanbeyan, to Tuggeranong, and then through the Brindabella ranges, to Melbourne would bring certainty of benefits more.

Rail body backs rail.

Truly shocked by this revelation.

Perhaps we should hear more puff pieces from industry bodies discussing the benefits of their own products and services, very enlightening.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.