16 September 2019

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

| Ian Bushnell
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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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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.

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

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

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

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.

Capital Retro8:11 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.

“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!!

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 Retro8:13 am 17 Sep 19

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

HiddenDragon6:27 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.

Capital Retro10:03 am 16 Sep 19

Jenny Bolin, you are right, there are more important things for the Feds to support if the ACT goes the same way as the Northern Territory has. We need a new hospital, new sewerage treatment works etc. Last thing we need is an extension of the useless light rail.

Morrison has already set the standard on territory handouts and Shorten said before the election he would do the same:


Without this stimulation, Woden will run to the ground. I am surprise that no one care about south side. And yes, the Feds need to give ACT a helping hand no doubt.

Stephen Saunders8:42 am 16 Sep 19

Here come the haters again. Labor won the election, built the rail, and everybody got on board. The haters, led by Jon Stanhope (*?@#), always know better.

In any other rich OECD nation, transit through the capital zone would be a project of national significance with national funding. No brainer.

“What do we want? Third world transit. When do we want it? Back then.”

Capital Retro11:03 pm 16 Sep 19

Are you inferring Australia is “rich”?

In any other country the government would assess infrastructure projects and prioritise those that made the most economic, social and environmental sense.

Oh wait, that’s exactly what happened with this project and why it got no funding.

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