23 April 2020

Slowdown perfect time to fast-track light rail Stage 2, says Public Transport Association

| Ian Bushnell
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Commonwealth Park stop for Stage 2A

The proposed Commonwealth Park stop for Stage 2A. Construction is still due to start next year. Image: Supplied.

Plans for the extension of light rail to Woden should be accelerated to boost the ACT’s coronavirus-hit economy, according to the Public Transport Association of Canberra.

As the ACT marked a year of operation for Stage 1 between Gungahlin and the city, association chair Ryan Hemsley says the government and the National Capital Authority should seize the opportunity presented by the economic shutdown to bring the project forward.

Despite patronage falling off a cliff due to the COVID-19 stay-at-home measures, Mr Hemsley said Stage 1 had exceeded all expectations and pointed to the prospects of further stages such as City to Woden.

“This project has proven that there is an untapped demand for high-quality public transport services in the ACT,” he said. ”We believe that similar patronage increases can be expected as future stages of the network are rolled out in the years ahead, providing benefits to both current and future generations of Canberrans.”

Mr Hemsley said the economic slowdown meant moving ahead on light rail to Woden had become all the more urgent.

”This project will have the double benefit of stimulating the economy in the short term, while providing improved public transport options in the medium to long term,” he said.

“It will also help the ACT meet its planned reductions in carbon emissions by being powered solely by electricity from renewable sources.”

Mr Hemsley said social distancing measures also presented an opportunity for the ACT Government and NCA to conduct important works during a period of reduced traffic, such as upgrades to London Circuit as part of Stage 2A and the modifications to Commonwealth Avenue Bridge that will future-proof it for Stage 2B.

“We call on both the ACT Government and National Capital Authority to work collaboratively so that these projects can be fast-tracked in a manner that provides the greatest long-term benefit while minimising disruption to road users in the short term.”

Master Builders ACT also has been pushing for the ACT Government to fast-track infrastructure projects, including light rail.

”Light rail is a great opportunity for local civil contractors but also all the suppliers that would service them as well,” CEO Michael Hopkins said.

Transport Minister Chris Steel

Transport Minister Chris Steel at the Alinga Street terminus, Stage 1’s most popular stop. Photo: File.

Transport Minister Chris Steel would not say if the government was actively pursuing talks with the NCA to expedite the approvals process but the Commonwealth would continue to be pressed for a funding contribution.

He said site investigations had commenced on Stage 2A, with findings to be used to inform the project’s detailed design.

Commonwealth and Territory works and planning approvals would be sought later this year and construction work was still scheduled to begin in 2021, he said.

“The ACT Government has previously sought Commonwealth Government funding commitments to the project and will continue to do so. It is a project that is of direct benefit to the Commonwealth Government,” Mr Steel said.

He said that in the first year of light rail the community had shown massive support for the project with more than 4.2 million boardings.

While the number of weekday journeys was down by 88.5 per cent in the week ending 12 April compared with the same week in 2019, Mr Steel said that before the pandemic there were, on average, 15,047 passenger boardings each day, numbers not expected until 2021.

According to the latest customer survey, 94 per cent of customers were satisfied with the ease of use of the light rail and it is now making up around 20 per cent of all public transport boardings (bus and light rail).

“Light rail hasn’t just benefited public transport users, it has reduced traffic on our roads with data showing up to a 20 per cent reduction in vehicles travelling along Northbourne Avenue during the morning peak period,” Mr Steel said.

The busiest month in the first year of operations was May during the free travel period with over 460,000 customers travelling, followed by October 2019 with over 411,000 boardings.

The most frequented light rail stop was Alinga Street in the City with nearly 40 per cent of light rail trips commencing at that station.

“We are committed to building on this success and extending the benefits of light rail to Woden which will create a north-south spine for the network,” Mr Steel said.

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Light rail is EXACTLY what Canberra needs! It has already shown that there is a positive economic benefit from the tram. The objective of building light rail isn’t to increase travel times now, but to increase it in the future. We will soon have significant traffic congestion and buses won’t cut it anymore. Bus lanes aren’t enough because a bus carries about a quarter of the people light rail can carry. It will be powered with clean energy and will benefit Woden economically. They should be fast tracking the light rail to Tuggeranong instead of planning to build a tram there in 2041. Part of the light rail can even go underground. If you’re in doubt about trams, just look at Melbourne! The only city in Australia to keep its trams and now has the largest network in the world. Trams work really well there, so why Can’t they work here.

Capital Retro9:58 am 11 May 20

Yeah, the trams in Melbourne are really fast – about 11 kmh on average. You have confirmed that they increase travel times in your second sentence actually.

Generally speaking an economic downturn is a good time to invest in large infrastructure projects and and Australia is known to need improvements to its rail network, both light and heavy.

Yes, it is a good time to invest in large infrastructure projects.

But only ones that have solid business cases that show clear benefits to the economy and society on an ongoing fashion with large cost benefit ratios.

You don’t just spend money for the sake of it.

And seeing as even the first stage of light rail had a woeful cost benefit ratio, was assessed by Infrastructure Australia as not being a priority project and received no federal funding, why would you waste precious infrastructure spending on exacerbating the folly on future stages that are going to be even less viable?

The opportunity costs are far too high.

Capital Retro10:53 am 11 May 20

Seriously, is anyone going to loan money to any ACT government? Barr went overseas last year to borrow money and as far as I am aware he came back empty handed. That was BC (before coronavirus) and now that the territory’s real financial position has been revealed there is no chance of any funding coming from anywhere for anything.

An extension of the light rail trolley folly is the last thing we need to spend money and resources on. A statue of Barr as suggested in another comment would benefit the local pigeons.

ChrisinTurner3:41 pm 23 Apr 20

Jon Stanhope has blamed stage 1 for the rundown of financing for our hospitals. Why spend $billions on replacing our express buses to Woden with slower trams with only half the seats. Just the maintenance and operation budget for Stage 1 would have been enough to run the entire ACTION network fare-free. We need more bus-lanes, more buses, segregated cycle lanes, traffic signal priority for buses and eliminate their early running.

This article certainly raises a lot of question marks. Surely, a huge statue of Barr would be a better way to spend public money ????????????.

HiddenDragon7:49 pm 22 Apr 20

“Slowdown perfect time to fast-track light rail Stage 2”

Only in the snowflake’s-chance-in-hell event that the federal government agrees to fully fund construction costs, and at least the first ten years of operating losses.

We have little real idea what the ACT Government’s budgetary position will be in the medium to longer term because all the comfortable assumptions about the Territory’s future are now in doubt. Significant segments of the ACT economy may not “bounce back” when the worst of the virus impacts have passed, and federal spending will be seriously constrained, particularly if the prospect of serious further deterioration in relations with Australia’s No.1 trading partner becomes a reality.

My organisation is looking at making work from home permanent, as is many other places throughout the world,

Do we won’t need as many expensive congestion fixing projects like this.

And if they do, I’ll probably have moved to a regional area so you lot can all pay for it,

Yes now is the perfect time to spend money the govt has just printed on something that:

1. We don’t need
2. Will do nothing for the productive capacity of the economy
3. Is an identified mode for transmitting covid 19.

There are far better reasons for not adding more non-essential costly tram tracks:
– ‘Barr faces budget wipeout’
– ‘Barr’s $3 billion budget black hole’
– ‘Rates danger looms for Government’
plus something called COVID-19 which means more people working from home and commuters avoiding cramped trams like the plague.

Tell them they’re dreaming.

There’s NO WAY to fast-track construction for 2A. All the prelim internal work has to be done by the bureaucracy, then market soundings, then going to tender, then awarding tender, then contracts w deliverer, then subcontracts…

… but by the time all this was done, COVID19 (hopefully) will have passed and (quasi) normal traffic flows resumed…

… and remember that you’re asking the ACT Govt to do all this under faster timeframes, AND GET IT RIGHT. Not a chance.

michael quirk11:23 am 22 Apr 20

Not a good idea as:
(a) The financial debt generated by the pandemic makes it essential funds are used to maximise benefits to the community. Funds devoted to a light rail extension would not be available for other purposes including health, education, the road and bus system, housing and “screwdriver” ready projects.
(b) Health in particular is likely to need substantial investment. Jon Stanhope and Khalid Ahmed highlighted the chronic under-investment in health and the parlous state of ACT finances before the Covid-19 pandemic.
(c) The extension has not been assessed against alternatives including a busway. It could provide an even poorer return than LR1 given the cost of crossing the lake and fewer opportunities for value capture along the route. The ACT Auditor General, Infrastructure Australia, the Productivity Commission and the Grattan Institute found LR1 was a poor use of public funds.
(d) Electric bus technology is rapidly improving e.g. The Brisbane Metro, to commence operation in 2023, will utilise electric buses each with a capacity of 150 passengers. Professor Peter Newman suggests the trackless tram can replicate the light rail experience for a fraction of the cost. Time will tell.
(e) An ongoing significant shift towards working from the home would reduce travel demand and consequently reduce the justification for light rail. The findings of the 2021 Census should be used to inform decisions on major transport infrastructure.

There is time to undertake a review, as the need for the extension is not urgent with the R4 bus providing a fast and frequent service along the inter-town public transport route.

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