Skip to content Skip to main navigation

Opinion

Expert strata, facilities & building management services

Were alternatives to light rail fully considered?

By Arthur Davies - 29 April 2015 170

light-rail

Late last year a caller to 666 Chief Minister Talkback asked then Chief Minister Katy Gallagher why letters the caller had individually addressed to each Legislative Assembly member had not been received. Ms Gallagher’s response was that the letters were opened and forwarded to the appropriate minister, as per standard practice.

These letters each contained technical information on an alternative to Canberra’s light rail system. The intention was to make each member aware that there were other options and at least one of these was both faster and cheaper than trams. If the individual members had such information, they could have participated much more meaningfully in the debate over transport options.

The interception of this information prevented meaningful and knowledgeable debate on what is a very expensive proposal. The implementation of a new transport system will inevitably change the face of Canberra permanently for good or ill, so coming to the optimum solution is imperative.

This is just one example, but it leads me to question how much primary data has been diverted away from our elected Assembly members over the years. This must be seriously affecting the quality of the decisions being made by our governing body and the consequences which flow on result in our having a poorer governed community. Good decision making is only possible when all the facts are known. One can only wonder about the reasons for diverting information away from Assembly members, so that they generally have to work only on the information provided by the relevant ministers.

Subsequently the same person called 666 Chief Minister talkback earlier this year and spoke to Chief Minister Andrew Barr. The caller asked him about the lack of due process in selecting a transport system for Canberra and why transport solutions other than trams or buses were not considered.

Minister Barr appeared somewhat surprised and asked if there were alternatives. When told there were, he asked for details which the caller provided to the assembly entry that afternoon. The folder of technical information was handed to someone purporting to be from the Chief Minister’s office, who said he was aware of the Chief minister’s on-air request. On checking with the Chief Minister’s office several days later, the caller was told that the folder had disappeared.

Minister Barr’s office responded to the caller’s on-air query regarding the lack of  due diligence in the selection process, but the letter did not address that issue at all. The caller then wrote a detailed answer to that letter which was then included in a third copy of the technical information folder. This folder and the letter were taken down to the ABC office in Dickson during a subsequent Chief Minister talkback. It was taken into the studio and presumably handed to the Minister Barr or his staff by an senior ABC staff member, but no acknowledgement for the technical information nor to the letter has been received to date.

As noted above, all the disappearing folders contained technical information on an alternative to the tram.

The example included in these folders was for a light weight overhead rapid transit system which would suspended on poles above the roadway. Hence it would not be slowed by other traffic, nor would it interfere with the flow of other traffic on the road below. But this is just one alternative of several which could do the job better and cheaper than trams or buses.

Any project of this magnitude should have been fully investigated before committing to any one technology. After all, the electric tram dates back to the mid 1880s, surely there has been some technical advances since then, real advances, not just jazzed up fancy bodywork on essentially 130 year old bogies.

Detailed searches did not uncover any technical investigations of transport options having been done in the past, only financial viability reports done by accounting firms on tram/light rail systems, with a bit also on the cost of express buses on bus lanes (which were a cheaper option and had similar trip times). Nothing else showed up in this search and various ministers in the past have confirmed in public meetings that trams were the only option considered.

The whole tram/light rail is saga is a dark, mysterious, dismal, impenetrable swamp. The secrecy is very likely to be hiding all sorts of hidden pitfalls and quicksand pools. The problem however is that the hidden dangers will not really affect those responsible for the pitfalls, which could well bring the project down. The defects and costs will all ultimately be sheeted home to the ACT taxpayers, who will have to pay for the flawed transport decision making process, not the perpetrators! All too often these perpetrators move on leaving the mess behind for others to face.

Before committing to any transport mode a full independent investigation of all available options available should have been carried out.

Capital costs, running costs, noise, convenience, speed/ travel times, environmental impact etc. should all have been evaluated for each transport mode and the results for each published for all to see before moving on to the design stage.

Only by fulfilling these due diligence investigations can the best solution for the long term be implemented. If a private institution were to embark on a project of the magnitude of the tram system without doing due diligence investigations and picked an inferior system which resulted in the shareholders later having to shoulder unnecessarily large debts, there would be serious consequences. The fact that far better and cheaper options were available would cause the financial watchdogs to come down on the institution’s management like a ton of bricks, large fines would be likely to be levied at the very least.

So why is the ACT Legislative Assembly able to adopt a scheme when their shareholders, the residents, have to shoulder unnecessarily large debts when a full investigation has not been done to compare all options, some of which appear to be cheaper, less damaging and faster? The system referred to above is only one of the available options which could meet our transport needs into the future & whatever we do, will transform our city forever. Without a full, transparent, independent investigation we will never know just what we may be missing, nor how much money we may have saved.

What’s Your opinion?


Post a comment
Please login to post your comments, or connect with
170 Responses to
Were alternatives to light rail fully considered?
Arthur Davies 3:09 pm 29 Apr 15

Thanks for the thoughtful comments so far.

The system I found is called SkyTran, easily Googled. It is a new system currently being installed in Tel Aviv. It is an elevated light weight system suspended from poles like light poles, by moving above the traffic it can go much faster as it is not held up by intersections. Also any user of it is someone who would otherwise be on the road, it will reduce congestion. Travel time stage one should be less than 5 minutes (tram 27 minutes). Capital cost for stage one should be less than $300M. It is very efficient, energy used for a stage one trip a bit over 1kWh, 20c or so. It operates on demand not to a timetable, just like a lift does. It is wheelchair, bike & pram friendly.

There are obviously risks in new technology, so build a small section initially & expand it as needed, but with such benefits it may just be worthwhile. When it is so fast & efficient how proud Canberrans would be of something so much better than Sydney traffic jams.

The comment on being a political decision is spot on, the govt has stated several times at public meetings that the primary purpose of the tram line is to alter land use patterns along Northbourne & allow redevelopment. Transport was a poor secondary consideration. At the last election the Govt set aside $30M to do the detailed planning of the tram system & for the contracts to be let after the next election, not to commit now.

There was no “due diligence” checking of all options, as you say the results would have then been published for all to see, they were not checked nor published. SkyTran is only one example of an alternative, there are many others & they must all be examined, costed & published before any contracts are signed.

Arthur

damien haas 2:32 pm 29 Apr 15

HenryBG said :

pajs said :

You seem to assume the processes of government and the processes of political parties somehow use the same base in evidence. Light rail was a political decision, by parties, taken to an election, voted for, and now being implemented. Full costing of alternative options and then choosing the best of these… you are missing the point. It was a democratic, not a technocratic, decision.

Bugger!
Was the referendum question on Light Rail on the other side of the paper at the last election?
I must have missed it.

You must have missed the entire election period, including the numerous TV and media items covering the light rail proposals.

This might assist your memory:

http://www.actlightrail.info/2012/10/light-rail-policy-from-parties-in-2012.html

dungfungus 2:31 pm 29 Apr 15

HenryBG said :

We need a new political party – the Evidence-Based Policy Party.

Regardless, people who drop off a Folder full of “technical” details of their wonderful invention – be it about the latest iteration of the perpetual motion machine, chemtrails, how climate change is a hoax, etc… – are nothing new in politics and are almost always extremely cranky and hence almost always ignored by default.
Calls to talkback radio are probably not the way to engage with government on policy issues.

Having said that, this sort of project should have been informed by a properly-formed committee to invite proposals and analyse all options. Was this actually done?

Do you know how hard it is to seek an audience with out vibrant, visionary leaders?
I reckon it would be easier to see El Papa.
BTW, climate change isn’t a hoax.
Man-made climate change is a hoax, however.

damien haas 2:29 pm 29 Apr 15

The idea that light rail appeared out of nowhere in 2012, and that other forms of mass transit public transport hadn’t been looked at, is a myth easily disproved.

http://www.actlightrail.info/p/act-transport-studies.html

Damien Haas
Chair, ACT Light Rail

dungfungus 2:27 pm 29 Apr 15

Grail said :

I look forward tomhearing about this suspended aerial mass transit system which manages to be more cost-effective than trams.

Do you have examples of such systems already in place, or is this a new technology yet to be commercially developed and proven?

OMG, Skywhale is back!

dungfungus 2:20 pm 29 Apr 15

It was a done deal before the election.
Ever heard that statement “the judges decision is final and no further correspondence will be entered into”?
There was at least one more suitable light rail proposal at half the cost of the one that has been chosen and this would have also provided an industry for Canberra but after countless fruitless attempts to get an audience with Simon Corbell the consortium gave up and went elsewhere.
Remember the many trips Mr Corbell made to the Gold Coast to check out their “surfboard carriers”?
There were also photos and articles in the CT with Mr Corbell talking to the representatives of major Euro tram companies who were “interested” in the Canberra proposal.
I was thinking that the $30 million that was committed after the election to get the project “investment ready” must have been totally expended by now – and they still haven’t discovered what is under the median strip in Northbourne Avenue.
The Rhodium Asset Solutions debacle will look like a petty cash discrepancy after the tram sham gets going.

Testfest 1:58 pm 29 Apr 15

HenryBG said :

pajs said :

You seem to assume the processes of government and the processes of political parties somehow use the same base in evidence. Light rail was a political decision, by parties, taken to an election, voted for, and now being implemented. Full costing of alternative options and then choosing the best of these… you are missing the point. It was a democratic, not a technocratic, decision.

Bugger!
Was the referendum question on Light Rail on the other side of the paper at the last election?
I must have missed it.

I really didn’t recall any of the parties mentioning light rail as part of their election platform either, so I did some googling and I managed to find a helpful site here: http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/BN/2012-2013/ACTElection2012

You can read the whole thing yourself, but here is the relevant excerpt:

“With respect to transport, Labor committed to establishing Canberra Transport Authority and announced a ‘Capital Metro’ policy based around a privately built and operated light rail link from Civic to Gungahlin. The Greens proposed a Canberra-wide light rail system using a mix of public and private funding. Seselja said that Labor, on its record, lacked the commitment and capability to deliver on such a major infrastructure project. The Liberals committed to increasing the capital road works budget by $125 million, along with a 12-month trial of a free shuttle service in Belconnen, Gungahlin and Tuggeranong suburbs to feed into rapid bus lines, and a study on intelligent transport systems for the ACT road and public transport network.”

So I have spent the past year thinking that they were only implementing light rail to make Shane Rattenbury happy, but it was actually their policy all along. I should really pay more attention to these sort of announcements in the future…

HenryBG 1:53 pm 29 Apr 15

I htink he may be refrring to this:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dm31tZsnqhE

Grail 1:42 pm 29 Apr 15

I look forward tomhearing about this suspended aerial mass transit system which manages to be more cost-effective than trams.

Do you have examples of such systems already in place, or is this a new technology yet to be commercially developed and proven?

HenryBG 1:26 pm 29 Apr 15

pajs said :

You seem to assume the processes of government and the processes of political parties somehow use the same base in evidence. Light rail was a political decision, by parties, taken to an election, voted for, and now being implemented. Full costing of alternative options and then choosing the best of these… you are missing the point. It was a democratic, not a technocratic, decision.

Bugger!
Was the referendum question on Light Rail on the other side of the paper at the last election?
I must have missed it.

rosscoact 1:12 pm 29 Apr 15

This is going to be great.

Pass me some popcorn please darl!

HenryBG 12:50 pm 29 Apr 15

We need a new political party – the Evidence-Based Policy Party.

Regardless, people who drop off a Folder full of “technical” details of their wonderful invention – be it about the latest iteration of the perpetual motion machine, chemtrails, how climate change is a hoax, etc… – are nothing new in politics and are almost always extremely cranky and hence almost always ignored by default.
Calls to talkback radio are probably not the way to engage with government on policy issues.

Having said that, this sort of project should have been informed by a properly-formed committee to invite proposals and analyse all options. Was this actually done?

VYBerlinaV8_is_back 12:21 pm 29 Apr 15

Light rail was the price Labor paid to get the Greens in their pocket. I guess it doesn’t matter what the cost is when it isn’t your money.

pajs 11:34 am 29 Apr 15

You seem to assume the processes of government and the processes of political parties somehow use the same base in evidence. Light rail was a political decision, by parties, taken to an election, voted for, and now being implemented. Full costing of alternative options and then choosing the best of these… you are missing the point. It was a democratic, not a technocratic, decision.

ungruntled 11:12 am 29 Apr 15

Thank you Arthur.
You seem to have gotten it totally covered. How scarey is it to think that this research is not only not done automatically, but appears to be being avoided systematically.

1 2 3 12

Related Articles

CBR Tweets

Sign up to our newsletter

Top
Copyright © 2017 Riot ACT Holdings Pty Ltd. All rights reserved.
www.the-riotact.com | www.b2bmagazine.com.au | www.thisiscanberra.com

Search across the site