1 April 2023

Put transport - and a new station - on fast track in East Lake development

| Ian Bushnell
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East Lake aerial

An aerial view of East Lake. Many will find the location ideal. Photos: ACT Government.

There is much to be commended in the draft Place Plan for East Lake, but why is the transport hub, including a desperately needed new Canberra railway station, shunted down the road to being a long-term project?

The proposed Railway Precinct will be the heart of the new suburb, its commercial, cultural and transport centre, a multi-modal hub for light and heavy rail, buses and active travel.

It could be the key that unlocks light rail through to Fyshwick and even Queanbeyan, as proposed by the Fyshwick Business Association in Plan developed by Stewart Architecture and unveiled last November.

READ ALSO Transport hub and new station at heart of multi-storey East Lake in draft Place Plan

The light rail plan envisaged the project would be paid for through the uplift in the value of land along a 4 km stretch of the existing rail corridor from the Canberra Railway Station in Kingston to a new transport hub on the edge of Fyshwick.

It is a visionary idea with many working parts and unknowns, but the gist of it relies on securing and using existing corridors, and not just for rail, but cycling and walking as well.

So while some of the development required for the Railway Precinct could wait, the priority should be those corridors and the new station if the government is serious about developing East Lake as a transport-orientated locality.

The government’s indicative land release program shows the first release in 2025-26 of 650 dwellings at the Causeway and, with housing pressures growing, the temptation will be to focus on that at the expense of getting the infrastructure set – an all-too-common problem that residents in new suburbs regularly complain about.

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Relocating the railway station would serve several purposes at once – replacing the embarrassment that is the current Canberra terminus, establishing a focal point for East Lake and through that, laying out the links to the city, Fyshwick and Queanbeyan, and hopefully for a faster train journey to Sydney on a renovated line.

The government will no doubt say that the many complexities, including land remediation, of transforming the industrial and former landfill area into what it hopes will be a thriving community, mean some things will have to wait.


A map of the East Lake area showing the four precincts and the rail corridor.

But the risk is that parts of the Plan get shelved, and without giving transport the priority it deserves, what is finally delivered falls short of what could be achieved.

The government is right to say that the growing city needs the public transport infrastructure to meet its needs, but the timeframe for building it seems way too long.

There is momentum for a faster rollout of light rail, as evidenced by the Fyshwick proposal, which fits neatly with the East Lake Plan.

Some imaginative and innovative thinking is required to get things moving, including doing more than one thing at a time.

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Canberrans who want to live in the Inner South, close to all it offers and the city, will jump at the opportunity to live in East Lake.

There could be up to 9000 living and 3000 working there, but they will need transport connections, especially if some multi-unit developments limit car parking.

Transport is the first thing the government will need to get right or they will be left stranded or clogging the streets with their cars.

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Leon Arundell9:20 am 04 Apr 23

Canberra desperately needs a plan to address its main transport needs. 40% of local travel is made in multi-occupant cars that cause less emissions per person than Transport Canberra, which provides only 7%.

While i agree that the current railway station is in desperate need of an overhaul, moving it further away from the city is not the answer.
My idea is to turn the current rail yard into ‘intermodal’ transport hub. Heavy rail, meets light rail, meets bus/coach interchange…
The light rail could connect the airport to the city via the Kingston ‘hub’, throw in coach connections to regional NSW, it could benefit a lot of people…
But of course that means the developers miss out….

ChrisinTurner3:50 pm 03 Apr 23

Canberra needs its railway station next to the City interchange, not out in the sticks.

Couldn’t agree more!

The problem with this idea of a better transport plan is the same as with the other areas of Canberra, the favoured mode of Government is far too expensive to be feasible any time soon.

And even though there’s claims that it could be paid for by land value capture, the only way that could work is with significantly higher development than is currently planned and a value capture tax on any land in the vicinity of the transport corridor.

The first part being exactly what the developers and the proponents of ideas like this want and the second part has no chance of being instituted by the government because of the politics.

Sometimes I question whether Ian Bushnell is allied to the ACT government or to developers, certainly not to residents.

Putting a transport hub outside of currently busy public areas is dangerous for public transport users, as people should have learned from Woden interchange. Fyshwick is disconnected from people due to it being an industrial area isolated and mostly deserted at night and on weekends. Not an ideal entry point to our national capital for travellers or interstate visitors, especially given it’s ugliness and lack of trees and beauty. The current Kingston station is bordered by a public park full of beautiful ancient trees and could easily be made even more attractive for travellers. It is also a very short walk to the Kingston waterfront, cafes and other residential areas, so convenient for residents and visitors.

It is only safe for people to use transport hubs when there are lots of people moving around the entire time that public transport is in use. Without that, you have dark dangerous places that non-violent people avoid if they can and where they risk their personal safety if they can’t avoid such places at night or when few are there. That is what’s wrong with Woden and with Fyshwick.

Why not keep the transport hub more or less where it is now? A hub, by definition, needs to be central so transport radiates out from it. Not sure moving it to the edge of Queanbeyan passes the pub test. I agree that a light rail circuit that includes Fyshwick, the airport, Campbell and Kingston makes sense but this does not depend on moving the railway station (at massive cost). The railway land is heavily contaminated so that it might as well stay there. The Railway Museum will need to have a rail link and will form a special natural and cultural heritage precinct with Cargill’s Cottage, the new wetlands visitors’ centre and Causeway Hall.

This is clearly not about convenience for public transport users but to enable access to valuable land by developers.

Thanks, Ian. This is a timely and relevant reminder of the Fyshwick Business Association proposal, which included (from memory) moving the heavy rail terminus to the east of Fyshwick and reutilising the corridor to the west of that (the East Lake Railway Precinct) to establish a light rail link through Kingston/Manuka to the city. This option may be a greater “win” for establishing the benefit of light rail than the currently proposed City-Woden link.

Many may say that changing the plan for light rail now would be politically very brave, but it must be recognised that the East Lake proposal is a relatively new one and if it gets legs, then that would reasonably warrant reconsideration of light rail priorities. Trundling the carriages down King Edward Terrace to connect Kingston, for example, may even avoid some of the challenges with building around new Parliament House. It would also provide a convenient route for Barton office workers and tourists visiting key attractions on the lake.

Establishing a new light/heavy rail terminus east of Fyshwick would then put a link to the airport squarely on the table also.

thatsnotmyname8:29 am 03 Apr 23

The gov really should consider the proposed green line development. would make much more sense and be a game changer for our city.

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