Time for Feds to include ACT light rail in infrastructure spending plans

Ian Bushnell 16 September 2019 97

Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Transport Minister Chris Steel announce the go-ahead for light rail to Commonwealth Park. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

No matter where one stands on the light rail issue, everyone agrees that the next stage to Commonwealth Park and beyond to Woden is going to cost a motza.

Last week’s announcement that the Cabinet had backed the business case for Stage 2A and the Government was getting on with extending light rail didn’t come with a price tag due to commercial negotiations with the operator of Stage 1, Canberra Metro.

It makes sense to stick with Canberra Metro and maintain continuity and consistency along the light rail route. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel but the Government rightly wants to get the best deal it can, so it can’t logically flag how much it thinks the project, including the raising of London Circuit, will cost.

The question is, and the Canberra Liberals will no doubt be raising it, can the ACT afford it?

The Government believes it can, and, with the community on board for Stage 1 and the cost benefit ratio tipped to be the same for Stage 2 (1:2), it sees light rail as a long-term economic generator and electoral winner.

But we are a small jurisdiction, with limited revenue options and growing demands on services.

So it would be to the ACT’s advantage for it to get all the help it can to roll out light rail, which many should remember was aided in Stage 1 by the Abbott Government’s asset recycling scheme.

The May election dashed the ACT’s hopes of a Commonwealth windfall from a Shorten government, but the parlous state of the national economy and calls for more infrastructure spending offers a fresh opportunity for some of that possible treasure to come our way.

Perhaps there was something in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s reported supportive nod to Chief Minister Andrew Barr last week on light rail.

The proposed City South station and the level intersection of London Circuit and Commonwealth Avenue. Image: Supplied.

The trip to Woden will go though Commonwealth land and service Commonwealth employees, and with its popularity no longer in doubt, the case for an economy-boosting infrastructure project is strong, even if it is in the ‘Canberra bubble’.

The raising of London Circuit to create a new level intersection with Commonwealth Avenue will also provide a new gateway entry to the City and assist with the long-sought re-imagining of its southern flank, and is worthy of support from a national capital perspective.

The other way the Commonwealth can come to the party on cost is to minimise some of the conditions it might attach to the project, particularly the amount of wire-free running required, at least in the City to Commonwealth Park leg.

Nobody wants to see the project waved through and the legitimate heritage and environmental concerns ignored, but a cooperative approach would save time and money.

With the success of Stage 1, and the Government rightly points to passenger numbers being way ahead of expectations, communities across Canberra now recognise light rail’s benefits and are clamouring for their own lines.

The Commonwealth should help facilitate through its planning arms the next stages and the Morrison Government should come to the party as part of a much-needed infrastructure boost to the national economy.

Locally the Canberra Liberals should keep the Government honest and accountable but accept the fact that light rail is now the public transport future of the ACT and stop being a drag on progress.

ACT Senator Zed Seselja should be talking to his leader about a light rail deal that would be good for ACT taxpayers and the future livability and prosperity of the national capital.

It is right that light rail is moving forward but the ACT shouldn’t have to go it alone to get the job done.


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97 Responses to Time for Feds to include ACT light rail in infrastructure spending plans
qjprygka qjprygka 8:05 pm 23 Sep 19

The Federal Government should be putting in money where it makes sense. Have a look at the high priority list from Infrastructure Australia :https://www.infrastructureaustralia.gov.au/sites/default/files/2019-09/infrastructure_priority_list_2019.pdf

The high priority list include
1. M4 Motorway upgrade
2. Sydney Metro City and Southwest
3. Western Sydney Airport
4. M80 ring road upgrade
5. Monash Freeway Upgrade Stage 2
6. North East Link

Shorten’s commitment to Canberra was only 200 million, pocket change. In place of that Australia is getting a commitment of somewhere around over 1 billion from what i can recall on the St Marys to Badgerys Creek metro as part of the Western Sydney Airport works, which is listed on number 3 of the high priority list. Canberra just doesn’t have any high priority infrastructure as per the list, and swapping a slow light rail for a fast, grade separated metro is a win for all of Australia.

    Ian Ian 10:17 pm 23 Sep 19

    I’d expect the Commonwealth to be spending its $ on the most valuable projects providing benefits nationally. If they all happen to be in Sydney and Melbourne, as I think would be likely, then that is where the money should be spent. Sharing it around to less beneficial projects so everywhere gets a bit, is not the right or responsible thing to do. ACT light rail should only be funded when it stacks up favourably in the list of nationally beneficial projects

Lucy Baker Lucy Baker 5:09 pm 23 Sep 19

“Gungahlin to Commonwealth Park” is downright weird for light rail. The extension should go Russell, Airport, Queanbeyan.

Peter Hatfield Peter Hatfield 1:49 pm 23 Sep 19

The Commonwealth'Productivity Commission advised against light rail. Why should the Commonwealth go against the advice of its own agency? Why should the rest of Australia fund the Act's choice to waste money when rapid buses could do the job better and cheaper. Why should people in NSW subsidise public transport for high income households in ACT when many rural areas suffer poor public transport.

    Mark Dando Mark Dando 3:56 pm 23 Sep 19

    Economic advisers, including the Reserve Bank, are stepping up calls for the federal government to invest in infrastructure, including public transport. The Productivity Commission (which has historically adopted a economically dry position in advising against funding all sorts of projects that the federal government still goes ahead and funds) may have a different view after the success of stage 1, with patronage figures way above what was projected when light rail was being rated against a busway. In any event, the federal government decided that buses weren't good enough for the Gold Coast, with Canberra taxpayers, along with everyone else around Australia, having already contributed $460 million to the Gold Coast light rail stages 1 and 2, with the promise of another $112 million for stage 3.

    Bill Gemmell Bill Gemmell 3:57 pm 23 Sep 19

    Peter Hatfield really? Please share the link

    James Daniels James Daniels 5:08 pm 23 Sep 19

    Bill Gemmell not sure about the Productivity Commission but Infrastructure Australia rejected an application for funding in 2013 and part of the problem was that the ACT government's own submission said that BRT had twice the cost effectiveness of light rail. https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6153132/canberra-light-rail-plan-not-enough-traffic-says-infrastructure-australia-report/

    Peter Hatfield Peter Hatfield 5:20 pm 23 Sep 19

    Mark Dando The Productivity Commission did not advise against investment in public transport, it advised buses could do it better and cheaper. ACT transport managers, the Gratton Institute and ACT Auditor General found similarly. Canberra is not a linear city like the Gold Coast which is larger and with linear tourist development. The comparison with buses did not compare with rapid buses running to lower income outer suburbs offering one seat journeys to Civic and beyond. The light rail is over priced, involves more changes much longer roll out and is less equitable. It's a turkey that my Hawker rates pay for though it will never go near there and since ACT unlike NSW does not give a vote to interstate ratepayers I have no say in.

    Peter Hatfield Peter Hatfield 6:19 pm 23 Sep 19

    Bill Gemmell This letter from the Commissioner to the ACT Government in 2018 is a good brief summary: file:///C:/Users/Peter/AppData/Local/Temp/sub042-1.pdf

wottaway wottaway 11:57 pm 19 Sep 19

You characters came up with this crazy idea. That means you can pay for it yourselves.

chewy14 chewy14 6:46 pm 17 Sep 19

Stage 1 isn’t a success.

The fact that people are using the service doesn’t negate the fact that there were far cheaper options and that the business case didn’t stack up.

If the government provided a cheap door to door limo service, I’m sure it would also be popular.

The project didn’t receive federal funding because it was assessed by Infrastructure Australia and not deemed a priority because of the woeful cost benefit ratio.

” the cost benefit ratio tipped to be the same for Stage 2 (1:2), it sees light rail as a long-term economic generator and electoral winner.”

On what possible grounds could anyone think that Stage 2 would have the same cost benefit ratio as the already woefully low stage 1?

There are far less government owned land development sites for stage 2 and the technical difficulties and requirements for wire free running ensure the costs will be markedly higher.

Which is why no sensible Federal government should ever look at funding it. It is a massive waste of money that provides almost zero additional public transport benefit compared to what is available now. And in fact, is likely to be far slower.

Michael Quirk Michael Quirk 1:33 pm 17 Sep 19

the spine infrastructure can be serviced by buses. No necessity for the grandiose light rail. Use the money saved to spend on needed orojects not the light rail vanity project

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 2:59 pm 17 Sep 19

    To do that buses would need their own dedicated route all the way; not shared with cars, including, and especially, across Commonwealth Bridge. The buses without that can be blocked by cars in peak hour, or any event that is on. I was almost an hour late to Woden one evening because of an event, travelling on a bus over Commonwealth Avenue. It was a car park over the bridge and this blocked the bus. If one of the road lanes was made exclusively bus only, that's the only way this might work. But then listen to the squeal from car drivers.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 8:11 am 17 Sep 19

If the ACT Government invested $5 million in a couple of “off the shelf” made in Australia 3 car diesel-electric rail-cars and operated them from Bungendore to Kingston on existing rail lines daily they would reduce some of the havoc caused by the 10,000 cars that come into Canberra via the Kings Highway, park all day and then return to the east in the evening.

Then again, common sense and ACT Government doesn’t usually go together in the same sentence.

Andrew Ford Andrew Ford 8:09 am 17 Sep 19

Or, they can just not worry about building the rest of the lightrail because it's a huge waste of money and somehow goes even slower than a bus. You can almost guarantee that by building it down to Woden, it'll interrupt more people's routines than it will to help them. They'll cut down on pre-existing bus routes thinking that the light rail will be able to make up for it, even though there's only two trams that won't arrive regularly enough.

Rob Chalmers Rob Chalmers 10:46 pm 16 Sep 19

Stage 2A is a lemon what business case is there to run to Commonwealth Park. No wonder they won't release the costings of the Floriade Express.

    Colin Vivian Colin Vivian 10:16 pm 17 Sep 19

    Rob Chalmers “business case” a farce with return of 40c in the $. It’s all about meeting developers demands for land around city hill & the lake - the costs not an issue as they push the repayments out for 30 years so someone else’s problem.

Arthur Arthur 8:56 pm 16 Sep 19

“the Government … can’t logically flag how much it thinks the project, including the raising of London Circuit, will cost.” And then “the cost benefit ratio tipped to be the same for Stage 2 (1:2)”

What a load of incoherent piffle and nonsense. No wonder there’s no business case. It’s a tipping contest.

Besides, it’s not “Feds” money, it’s ours as taxpayers.

We currently see Crossing Supervisors and station/tram greeters standing around doing absolutely nothing of value. What’s the cost:benefit in that?

The only value is to the people stupid enough to buy into the forest of Opal Tower look-alikes along the tramway route.

Let the developers pay for it!!

Lucy Baker Lucy Baker 8:49 pm 16 Sep 19

Time for a low-rates Liberal local government – and light rail to the airport with help from the feds. Let Geocon wallow in its own muck out at Woden.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 8:13 am 17 Sep 19

    Why do we need a tram to the airport? No one lives there (yet).

Trevor Watson Trevor Watson 7:29 pm 16 Sep 19

Well one thing is a certainty. Until the Government removes the Union grip on the bus drivers roster by either courageous action ( pardon the pun) or direct privatisation we need some form of reliable and efficient public transport. The light rail provides that along its corridor, provided you can walk to a stop. The Federal Policies dont give a damn simply because we supply cars and drivers but if those were withheld you would be knocked over in the rush to fund the ACT.

Harry Sotiropoulos Harry Sotiropoulos 6:55 pm 16 Sep 19

Lol. The libs are to busy giving all the money to their mates.

    Chris Jones Chris Jones 7:41 pm 16 Sep 19

    Guess you should hand back your tax cut then.

    Jim Jim Jim Jim 9:30 pm 16 Sep 19

    Harry Sotiropoulos you’d want Barr as a mate?

    Harry Sotiropoulos Harry Sotiropoulos 3:28 pm 21 Sep 19

    Tax cut what tax cut? Lol. The imaginary amounts that was meant to stimulate the economy ? Done well didn't it?

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 6:27 pm 16 Sep 19

“The May election dashed the ACT’s hopes of a Commonwealth windfall from a Shorten government”

The Shorten promise was for $200m. – so about 10% to 15% of the guesstimated cost of getting a tramline to Woden. That’s more of a gesture than a “windfall”, and it’s difficult to imagine an LNP government ever kicking in as much – one way or another, this is going to be borne by ACT ratepayers, and needs to be scrutinised very closely.

Angela M J Brown Angela M J Brown 5:35 pm 16 Sep 19

No just keep it north side, we don't want the ensuing chaos for years of their train.

Christopher Mawbey Christopher Mawbey 3:59 pm 16 Sep 19

Why should the feds come to the party?Did they help Melbourne and Sydney with their light rails and I missed it?

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 4:10 pm 16 Sep 19

    Christopher Mawbey they have helped with their heavy rail systems. And other transport projects in other cities.

    Mark Dando Mark Dando 5:15 pm 16 Sep 19

    Don't know about Sydney and Melbourne light rail, but the federal government stumped up $460 million for the Gold Coast light rail stages 1 and 2 and has promised another $112 for stage 3.

Colin Vivian Colin Vivian 3:00 pm 16 Sep 19

Alternatively, stop listening to CM developer spin and pause to consider if rail still is (or ever was) the answer. Trackless trams would provide the same benefits and be delivered sooner at a fraction of the cost, with change left over for an East West corridor. I thought Canberra claims to be the smart city - a bit hard when you’ve tied all your coin up for 30 years on 19th century technology.


Clive John Trenton Clive John Trenton 2:28 pm 16 Sep 19

Just make it happen... bloody politicians bickering like children.

Shayne Borger Shayne Borger 2:21 pm 16 Sep 19

The intent of a fully planned light rail is to run it as a spine infrastructure. Bus services are used to feed the light rail. Therefore the central spine over the lake and airport lines should be completed. The Feds will likely pay and support the Parliamentary Triangle zone

    Peter Hatfield Peter Hatfield 6:24 pm 23 Sep 19

    That was how the 333 operated. When it was replaced with direct buses form outer areas patronage rose. Teh ACT Government was told at estimate by transport managers that when people are forced to change at Woden patronage form outer areas would drop. LR is structurally inequitable, favouring high income inner households over lower income outer areas. .

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 11:10 pm 23 Sep 19

    Peter Hatfield the 333 was not replaced with direct buses from the suburbs. Rather it was extended at the Belconnen and Tuggeranong ends to take over a couple of suburban runs. None in Woden ever got taken over and Woden commuters still had to change for a 300 series/blue rapid bus.

    Whilst the lack of changing is indeed a plus only about 1/3rd the routes in (west) Belconnen and (southern) Tuggeranong benefited. The rest still had to change.

    Changing in itself is not a bad thing so long as the change over time is quick and the location convenient.

Lyndon Zoukowski Lyndon Zoukowski 1:05 pm 16 Sep 19

Feds to kick in

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