22 November 2022

Transformative Fyshwick light rail plan proposed - and how to pay for it

| Ian Bushnell
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Fyshwick light rail concept

The Greenline concept along the existing heavy rail corridor, looking towards the city. Photos: Stewart Architecture.

A section of a future light rail link to Fyshwick would be Canberra’s first carless avenue with bicycle lanes and pedestrian paths alongside under a visionary urban renewal plan unveiled by the Fyshwick Business Association.

The high-level concept plan developed by Stewart Architecture would be paid for through the uplift in the value of land along a 4 km stretch of the existing rail corridor from the Kingston Railway Station, which would be moved to the edge of Fyshwick and become a multi-modal transit hub befitting the national capital.

The land, conservatively valued at $570 million, would be developed for high-density housing up to about five storeys, and ground-floor retail and commercial uses.

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The plan was launched yesterday (17 November) at the Capital Brewing facility in the innovative Dairy Road precinct.

It calls for a light rail leg through Barton and Kingston along Wentworth Avenue that then proceeds along the existing rail corridor into Fyshwick and the interchange, continuing to Canberra Airport in a loop back towards the city and the Parliamentary Triangle.

The heavy rail corridor – 80-metres wide at its narrowest – would be wide enough for light rail, a cycle way and pedestrian paths, as well as development along both sides, mainly concentrated near the stops.

The loop route via Canberra Airport as envisaged in the plan.

FBA president Rob Evans said the Eastwick Greenline Light Rail and Active Travel Corridor Concept plan had been in the works for 18 months and had been positively received by government, industry and the community.

Mr Evans said the plan would connect the “string of pearls” in the inner south – Manuka Oval, the coming Kingston Arts Precinct, Kingston Foreshore, the soon-to-be-developed East Lake, Jerrabomberra Wetlands, Fyshwick Markets, CIT Fyshwick, Dairy Road, central and east Fyshwick, and then on to Canberra Airport and possibly Queanbeyan.

It would also provide clean and safe transport options to Fyshwick.

He said the ACT Government wasn’t being ambitious enough with light rail, saying one stage every decade was way too long to wait.

“The beauty of our Eastwick Greenline concept is that the land is going to uplift and could go a long way to paying for it,” Mr Evans said.

He said $570 million was a sizeable deposit on an infrastructure project where half the route was already formed.

Fyshwick light rail concept

The view from the current site of the Kingston Railway Station. Photos: Stewart Architecture.

Stewart Architecture’s Felicity Stewart said the idea of green corridors and linear parks was taking off in cities around the world, such as New York with its High Line, and Canberra could be a pioneer in Australia.

“Now is the time for big ideas as we face an uncertain future with climate change and the huge challenges that presents,” she said.

“And Canberra is uniquely positioned to tackle that problem. Canberra is spread out and there is space to make dramatic changes in the landscape.”

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Ms Stewart said the hardly used rail corridor was a hostile and barren place, but it was incredibly close to the centre of Canberra and had huge potential to be rethought.

“This is really as good as it gets in terms of transit-oriented development,” she said.

“We do think we can unlock a series of very exciting connected precincts that brings together culture, a natural habitat like the Jerrabomberra wetlands, build on the success of the Kingston Foreshore, and … transform Fyshwick from a mono industrial state into an exciting, vibrant place.”

Ms Stewart said this plan made more economic sense than a Belconnen stage which would be hard-pressed to find as much developable land along the corridor.

She said the line could be developed in stages and there was no reason why the easiest part, the bicycle paths, could not be done first to safeguard the corridor.

Using the rail corridor would also minimise disruption during construction.

Ms Stewart said that, eventually, the line would service tens of thousands of people.

Fyshwick light rail concept

The Fyshwick light rail corridor – a clean, safe active transport link to a district with 1500 businesses and 15,500 workers.

Mr Evans said it would connect the south and north of Fyshwick and make for a much better experience for people who work and visit there.

“This will open Fyshwick right up,” he said.

He said the Greenline concept would also help cool Fyshwick, which suffers from little greenspace and, according to the CSIRO, is the hottest place in Canberra.

The concept would not just benefit the inner south and Fyshwick but be a legacy project for the whole of Canberra.

Ms Stewart said she hoped the idea would be taken up in other parts of Canberra.

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The Public Transport Association of Canberra (PTCBR) backed the plan.

“We are pleased to see the local business community put forward an exciting, future-focused vision of Fyshwick that has a strong emphasis on public and active transport,” said PTCBR chair Ryan Hemsley.

“Light rail is a proven mode shifter and perfectly suited to meet the future transport demands of Fyshwick and East Lake as they rapidly transform from pure industrial to a vibrant mix of commercial and residential uses.”

Mr Hemsley called on the government to get serious about delivering the full Stage 2 extension to Woden.

“The FBA’s plan hinges on bringing light rail across the lake. It’s time for the ACT Government to knuckle down and get on with the job of extending the network south to Woden,” he said.

Independent Senator David Pocock, who has questioned the viability of extending light rail, attended the launch and offered cautious support for the project.

“I think it deals with a whole bunch of the challenges that we’re facing as a city,” he said.

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Canberra already has bicycle paths, but most cyclists still insist in using the roads.

And you survey to back up this spurious claim; where is it?

Not sure why people are getting worked up. Maybe just say “light rail’ and the over 50 year olds just start babbling and foaming.

I will type slowly. This is a concept plan being floated by a bunch of people who think the government might come to the party. Somehow, I just cannot see it happening seeing there has been little movement on even getting the existing line to the northern side of LBG.

So, to those aged over 50, just sit back and relax because it is a not in your lifetime thing.

Over fifty. I am over fifty and I am eager for light rail. Don’t be agist. It’s a small very noisy group against it. Likely the same noisy group against many things. Likely they were against buses too before light rail. But now suddenly buses are marvellous. Take away the train and give it time and suddenly buses will be no good either and a waste of money. They live to object.

I’d rather the light rail get to the places people live now, rather than get distracted on someone’s pipedream.

Sounds good. I have just spent two weeks in Melbourne and the trains, trams and buses (my order of like) have been wonderful. I have covered a wide area using them. Around the city, out to the last stations on train lines. So jealous. If we had that service in Canberra, with a bike (electric for me now as not young) I could get all over Canberra without a car. More exercise too, running up flights of steps at train stations.
Yes, I know population differences, so no need for someone to bring up the obvious.

HiddenDragon8:42 pm 18 Nov 22

Another plan which seems to assume that light rail is the magic ingredient that creates the property development equivalent of a self-funding perpetual motion machine for Canberra.

What this city needs is much greater opportunities for genuine wealth creation – most particularly of the exporting variety – which goes beyond the standard, lazy-minded, get-rich-quick(ish) formula of servicing the housing and other needs of the local captive market of people on the public payroll. This proposal looks like it could do some of that, but really only in a marginal, incidental way.

More likely, what is described here will create small, expensive commercial spaces which would only appeal to businesses confident that they can generate the necessary turnover from the outset and increase costs for the existing premises in Fyshwick (on the assumption that they are ripe for conversion to more lucrative housing) – thus pushing some businesses out and killing off others before they get a start.

Tom Worthington5:36 pm 18 Nov 22

Good plan but substitute trackless trams (that is: double articulated electric busses) instead of the steel rail kind. That will allow the project to go ahead quicker, at a lower startup cost. Last week in Singapore at a transport conference, I got onboard a driverless full size electric bus under development, and talked to the engineers. Canberra doesn’t really need a driverless system, but automated safety would be reassuring.

“Double-articulated electric buses”? I’m sorry, maybe you aren’t aware but LR Canberra-style, has absolutely nothing to do with public transport. It’s all about property development (aka apartments) along a fixed LR route.

Once the track is in place, completing bus routes will be cancelled and services created to feed passengers onto LR’s fixed route.

Trackless trams; not in this city.

Could you imagine trying to programme the busses for Canberra drivers? AI meltdown

So, “eventually, the line would service tens of thousands of people” .. but the many many tens of thousands of people that it would not service will be paying for it. Through the nose.
(As we are all doing now for a light rail service which the majority of Canberrans can’t use.)

I don’t have kids. Why are my taxes paying for schools and parks when I get no benefit out of them?

So the government halts all development to satisfy those who whinge and whine about progress because they won’t use it and don’t have children! Like honestly, everyone pays taxes. Our taxes support the common good – schools, roads, transport, housing, hospitals. Honestly, it is unbelievable that there are such miserable people out there who think like this!

Jack – I think Heavs’ comment was tongue in cheek, in reply to Lyndeelu’s comment, which unfortunately wasn’t.

I’m sure I’m paying for something you use. Don’t be so negative and ‘me only’. People will get the feeling that you think the world is only for you. Selfish attitude!

Your’re right astro2! Sometimes (I admit) I can’t see past my nose!!

Probably something to do with education being a fundamental essential service whereas a project justified on land development opportunities is slightly less important.

At last! The government is talking about expanding light rail out to Kingston and the airport. This underutilised space stimulates transport links into and out of the city and other areas. The proposal envisages turning Kingston Railway station into a multi-modal precinct of light rail, train and bus. This proposal takes light rail within a short walking distance to Manuka Oval, the Kingston Arts and Foreshore precincts, Eastlake Markets, CIT, Dairy Road (which is being upgraded). Not to mention Fyshwick and the Airport and Queanbeyan on the different routes. There are many supporters of the proposal. However, we continue to have an opposition party sniping from the sidelines and those doom and gloomers who infest feedback posts and the local newspaper. These complainers are constantly there, whingeing, whining and rubbishing any progress of the light rail’s expansion. Supporters of this expansion include Kingston and Fyshwick business groups and residents. The development opens up a corridor which will provide opportunities to develop a “green spine” of housing, pedestrian, shopping and cycle paths. How good would it be to have a light rail system throughout Canberra which satisfies all Canberrans’ needs and combines bus, light rail and rail travel!

You did read the article right Jack?

This isn’t the government talking about anything, it’s private industry rent seekers promoting the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars of public funds.

Expenditure that will conveniently make themselves and their clients very rich.

Oh who would have guessed, Chewy14!! I based by comment on all media reporting today on this subject. It has been reported widely and has been an election issue for over a decade. All cities expand and develop, that’s progress. All Canberrans will benefit from the expansion of Canberra’s transport system to include light rail and bus. This leg of the proposal will open up an underutilised section of Canberra for employment, housing, pedestrian, shopping and cycling. However, you don’t like this because industry groups and their clients (who you claim are rent seekers) will benefit financially. You appear to have a chip on your shoulder Chewy! Weird thought processes indeed!!

What you just wrote is pretty much the most inane and inaccurate thing I’ve read here in a while.

I see you also conveniently ignored the points again to go off one of your patented ill informed rants.

Try again.

And perhaps start by understanding as has been pointed out to you previously that the choice isn’t between light rail and nothing.

I think you are getting excited, somewhat prematurely. The Government doesn’t even have a timetable for completion of LR to Woden!

From what I understand Belco was the project after Woden, so Fyshwick could be a while…….unless the self-interested parties can convince the Government to ditch Belco.

That said, the people behind the Fyshwick proposal know what they are doing; they are using terms like “car-free” which is bound to excite to the ACT Government.

An accounting trick.

An uplift in value along the route (at the determent of other city locations).

Instead of doing light rail in brownfields, they should light/medium rail through the district of Jerrabomberra and plan a new commercial area close to the airport.
Why compete with cars when you can start fresh. That area is due to be developed as it’s under the airport corridor.

The light rail couldn’t handle the gradients required to get from the Jerrabomberra district to Woden.

So you’re worried about the supposed uplift in land value along this route being an accounting trick but instead you want to spend many, many billions of dollars tunnelling from Jerra to Woden?

Where exactly would the funds come for that?

You get a tram, you get a tram, everybody gets a tram!

More seriously, this Labor-Green government have stated several times beginning in 2008, “The parties confirm their commitment to fiscal responsibility and the maintenance of a balanced budget though the economic cycle.” Analysis by Stanhope shows instead the budget is projected to have at least 14 straight years of net deficit by 2025-26, to reach a net debt of $10 billion in 2025-26.

They need to get the budget under control and pay down the debt, without treating the taxpayer as a money-tree, then we can talk.

Leon Arundell11:02 am 18 Nov 22

If the the Fyshwick Business Association and the Public Transport Association do some research, they will learn that bus rapid transit is a much better investment than light rail. The ACT Government’s “Gungahlin to City Transit Corridor Project update 3,” shows that an investment in bus rapid transit will produce twice the benefits of the same investment in light rail. Major Projects Canberra’s “City to Woden Light Rail: Stage 2A City to Commonwealth Park Business Case,” shows that the benefits of light rail from Civic to Woden rail will not match its costs unless you include large amounts of “wider economic benefits.” The Auditor–General’s Report no. 5 of 2016 raised serious doubts about the validity of “wider economic benefits.”

MJB Hamilton2:51 pm 18 Nov 22

🚨🚨nimby alert🚨🚨

Is uplift in property value something that the taxpayers of Canberra will benefit from, or is it just an artificial measure of value?

The ACT Auditor General and plenty of leading economists have questioned the rationale of including estimated property value increase in infrastructure cost benefit analysis when the money that the builds the infrastructure comes from the public purse.

Indeed. Inflating input costs to the economy is bad. The idea of paying for development by making land/housing more expensive is inane. Rob Evan’s “$570m deposit” ends up being debt on young Australians, or it’s provided by rentier interests who then exploit younger Australians to make a profit. Either way the cost is much higher than $570m – just not paid by Rob and his “mates”.

Depends on whether they are talking about the uplift in value of land owned by government or privately held land.

If it’s the former, it makes sense, if it’s the latter, then it should come along with a value capture tax to recognise the windfall gains of property owners in the area.

The exact option they considered for Stage 1 but rejected because of the political implications.

Bit hard to pork barrel when it comes along with a new tax.

Capital Retro10:07 am 18 Nov 22

I didn’t see the word “vibrant” anywhere – it’s doomed already.

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