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

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.

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.

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?

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

Maria Greene Maria Greene 11:29 am 16 Sep 19

ACT should use MODERN flexible transport AND bring back our buses in the meantime. It's 2019 not 1890

    Guy Manton Guy Manton 12:50 pm 16 Sep 19

    Maria Greene flexability comes with the cost of inefficiency. I love my swiss army knife, but I dont use it to prepare dinner at home.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 4:43 pm 16 Sep 19

    LOL, you mean so flexible that they can close bus routes as they like. Wait, isn't that what they recently did and is causing all the complaints now? Yes, bus routes are flexible; their route can be changed easily and even removed all together. One advantage of light rail is that it gives more certainty that it won't have its routes changed on a whim.

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 6:05 pm 16 Sep 19

    Julie Macklin I think it is more correct to say they modified the bus network. Whilst routes went, routes came and others were modified.

Ivan Slavich Ivan Slavich 8:43 am 16 Sep 19

No political incentive for a Coalition Government to support this, all funding goes to marginal seats and to seats loyal to the party in government.

    Alex Thomson Alex Thomson 12:05 pm 16 Sep 19

    Ivan Slavich, I don't remember any federal spending in the ACT when Labor was in power in federal government. Pretty sure it all just goes to marginal seats

    Peter Major Peter Major 12:41 pm 16 Sep 19

    Ivan Slavich hopefully after the next ACT election the federal govt may be willing to invest 😁😁

Michael Choppy Elliott Michael Choppy Elliott 8:29 am 16 Sep 19

Except that they use slightly more reasonable analysis to determine cost/benefit which the mono-tram so it'll never make sense.

    Justin Watson Justin Watson 9:18 am 16 Sep 19

    By reasonable you mean under value the social and environmental values. That's the issue with CBA's. They can be tweaked to suit one's purpose and as a society, we tend to undervalue a lot of things because they don't generate income. Its why things like our telecommunications network and now the NBN are so rubbish, because they only looked at revenue raising aspects and not the gains in efficiency in other areas of society and put a value on that. Its why an emissions trading scheme is a good idea. It puts a value on pollution. If you want to pollute you pay for it. If you don't then you don't pay for it, but right now, people can p[ollute and damage the environment and it costs them nothing.

    Michael Choppy Elliott Michael Choppy Elliott 9:29 am 16 Sep 19

    Justin Watson I don't write them rules. I'm suggesting there's better ways of spending limited infrastructure budgets.

    But I don't think the mono-tram would've been built if Labour didn't rely on a green coalition because with the small population is doesn't make sense

    Alex Thomson Alex Thomson 12:07 pm 16 Sep 19

    Mje Mje, there are much smaller cities around the world with tram networks

    Michael Choppy Elliott Michael Choppy Elliott 1:38 pm 16 Sep 19

    Alex Thomson smaller in surface area and higher population density.

    Alex Thomson Alex Thomson 2:19 pm 16 Sep 19

    Smaller in both ways, yet still feasible and popular

    Michael Choppy Elliott Michael Choppy Elliott 3:14 pm 16 Sep 19

    Alex Thomson not alright to the Fed Gov analysis. Hence theory lack of support

James Daniels James Daniels 8:01 am 16 Sep 19

The feds look at proposed infrastructure projects and assess them on value and need and allocate funding accordingly. That's why stage 1 didn't get any funding and stage 2 looks like its even worse value for money. Even with the new slower bus routes for Tuggeranong, LR stage 2 would lengthen travel times even further, so it won't deliver improved public transport and unit prices in Canberra have been flat for some time so there's not a huge unmet demand for a whole new corridor of them.

    Justin Watson Justin Watson 9:09 am 16 Sep 19

    Actually the Feds have suggested they might help fund stage 2. Also value can be a very subjective thing.

Russell Nankervis Russell Nankervis 7:57 am 16 Sep 19

Building infrastructure stimulates the economy and if we wait too long we will lose the knowledge gained during construction of stage 1.

    Russell Nankervis Russell Nankervis 8:58 am 16 Sep 19

    There are better routes but unfortunately due to politics they have to go South. Tuggers is fed up with being ignored.

    Justin Watson Justin Watson 9:15 am 16 Sep 19

    Russell Nankervis Reality is though we do have great infrastructure in Tuggers. It is just the politicians p[laying the politics of envy. Sure there are things that need to be done down south like fixing Lake Tuggers, But traffic jams is a daily occurrence in Gungahlin and we are lucky to get one once a month in Tuggeranong. Also our rates are lower and we have bigger blocks of land. There is just too much whinging in Canberra fullstop and people not realising how fortunate they are to live in one of the best places in the world.

    Russell Nankervis Russell Nankervis 9:16 am 16 Sep 19

    Wow, I didn't know that about Tuggeranong. It must have been the libs poisoning their minds

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 4:22 pm 16 Sep 19

    Kerry Dent other than Russell offices which is a low transport user anyway (despite regular buses) what else is on the airport line that isn’t on the line to Woden?

    Jeff Smith Jeff Smith 10:45 am 17 Sep 19

    Justin Watson You must have fluked to live in a part of Tuggeranong that didn't get a worse bus services since the new network. A part of Tuggeranong that didn't have Mr Barr close a a public school. A part that didn't lose its local supermarket or have boarded up shops. A part that didn't lose government services and facilities. A part that hasn't seen ovals and playgrounds converted to high density housing. Unlike what you claim, there are traffic jams everyday on some main roads and roundabouts in Tuggeranong. You stick up for the ACT government more than your fellow Tuggeranong neighbours who you call whingers. Some great neighbour you must be.

Michael Ahern Michael Ahern 7:55 am 16 Sep 19

Federal government has seen the cost-benefit analysis..... The tram was never about better public transport, just about raising real estate revenue along the rail corridor.

    Leigh Brady Leigh Brady 8:14 am 16 Sep 19

    more likely they’ve done the cost benefit analysis on how many votes investing in infrastructure in Canberra would get them.

    Justin Watson Justin Watson 9:11 am 16 Sep 19

    It was actually about building a high density corridor. The fact that property values increase due to light rail is actually justification for doing it. People will pay to live near a light rail line, but not near a bus stop.

    Leigh Brady Leigh Brady 11:30 am 16 Sep 19

    Exactly Justin, and that drives additional businesses in those areas, who now have a higher density population supporting them.

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 4:20 pm 16 Sep 19

    Leigh Brady and saves money by not needing to build longer and bigger roads into the Bush to support urban sprawl plus a whole heap of other savings that having a more compact city delivers.

    Brady Daw Brady Daw 4:53 pm 16 Sep 19

    Finally some intelligent commentary.

Veceslav Stanuga Veceslav Stanuga 7:49 am 16 Sep 19

It looks like Mr Barr’s fund raising adventure overseas came to nothing and foreign investment institutions have not come to the party to prop up the huge debt that Barr has created , he is now running to the Federal government for support to pay for his ill measured spending spree. Of course this is connected with rates as well, it will be the major issue when the next election comes around as Barr increases the rates to an unbearable amount which could be the final straw which will oust this corrupt party

    Sher Young Sher Young 9:35 am 16 Sep 19

    Veceslav Stanuga spot on. We need to vote him out before he destroys the bush capital.

Vanessa Jones Vanessa Jones 7:29 am 16 Sep 19

Kippax-Belconnen-City/Civic-Airport-Queanbeyan seems the route with the most population, the most unis/hospitals/facilities, a NSW rail line & the most businesses and the most COMMON SENSE. But when did common sense ever dominate this "Greens power deal-light rail-build it where ACT ex leader and deputy live-build units for rates" tram line debate?

    Russell Nankervis Russell Nankervis 7:58 am 16 Sep 19

    That does make sense but Tuggeranong is feeling left out so they have to build towards them first.

    Vanessa Jones Vanessa Jones 8:03 am 16 Sep 19

    Russell Nankervis I think it should have been built based on logic, facilities, businesses, unis, populations, and then it would have made sense!! But no, it was built where ex ACT leader Katy Gallagher, deputy ACT leader Barr and Greens Rattenbury owned real estate.... funny that....

    Vanessa Jones Vanessa Jones 8:26 am 16 Sep 19

    Kerry Dent Queanbeyan & West Belco have similar populations. Link them up!

    Russell Nankervis Russell Nankervis 9:00 am 16 Sep 19

    Gungahlin is the fastest growing suburb in the country. This route made sense for stage one.

    Vickie O'Malley Vickie O'Malley 9:07 am 16 Sep 19

    Russell Nankervis light rail will never come into the valley. The terrain isn't suitable.

    Justin Watson Justin Watson 9:09 am 16 Sep 19

    Vanessa Jones I think you'll find it is because of the divisive politics at play that they want to build south. If they don't the ACT Liberals will keep playing the Southside never get anything card, even though the infrastructure on the southside is a million times better than Gungahlin, albeit older. They did the most populated corridor first and the second most corridor would be Belconnen to Airport, but instead, the government is playing politics to keep people happy rather than build what is needed now. Parkes Way is a car park everyday, so anythin g to get a few cars off the road in the East West direction would be useful.

    Justin Sev Justin Sev 10:16 am 16 Sep 19

    100%, people at Russell would no longer get violated for parking everyday airport link to the city, possible stadium etc etc.. Woden hardly a prority.

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 4:12 pm 16 Sep 19

    Vanessa Jones stage one was built based on that criteria. A look at the population heatmap on the territory plan would be a good start to see why.

    Stage 2 should be belco but not as far as Kippax.

    Amanda Evans Amanda Evans 8:16 pm 16 Sep 19

    Vanessa Jones is there land to sell along that route?

    Roderick Saunders Roderick Saunders 7:58 pm 17 Sep 19

    Amanda Evans new development at Ginnindery

    Paul Wylks Paul Wylks 9:04 pm 17 Sep 19

    Spot on Vanessa, I've always said this was the first route they should of done, it includes an airport, defence forces, city centre, bus interchange, 2 uni's, a school, shopping centre, Bruce Stadium, a hospital, two of Canberra's biggest tourist attractions; floriade and the war memorial. A virtual no-brainer really. And people would have used it in both directions..

    Vanessa Jones Vanessa Jones 7:14 am 19 Sep 19

    Roderick Saunders And too many units in Belco....

    Vanessa Jones Vanessa Jones 7:16 am 19 Sep 19

    Paul Wylks Yes, me too, Belco to Civic was the logical first tram line, too many "pearls on a string" facilities along the route. But it was never about logic. It was a big waste of money making the wrong first choice, but that's the ACT govt....spoiling some areas and ignoring safe Labor electorates....tragic.

    Peter Hatfield Peter Hatfield 6:21 pm 23 Sep 19

    Vickie O'Malley It was also denied the benifts of popualr direct buses to the city so they would not complain at having to change at Gungahlin town centre after the light rial was introduced.

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