9 December 2022

Years to process approvals not a debate on whether light rail is fundamentally good: NCA

| Lottie Twyford
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artist's impression of light rail interchange woden

The ACT Government says it is committed to getting light rail to Woden – this is what that might look like. Image: ACT Government.

A works approval for light rail to Woden won’t be approved for many years, but it’s not going to be a debate on whether or not the project is a fundamentally good idea or not.

That’s the message from the National Capital Authority, which appeared before a Federal Parliament inquiry on Thursday (8 December) afternoon.

Chief executive Sally Barnes was questioned about the progress for light rail Stage 2B, which will take the light rail from Commonwealth Park, across Commonwealth Bridge and through the Parliamentary Triangle.

Most of that is Commonwealth land, which means the NCA manages it.

Sally Barnes at inquiry

NCA Chief Executive Sally Barnes said light rail was not coming to the authority for a debate about whether it was fundamentally good. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Ms Barnes said a works approval was expected to be submitted next week, but this would not be approved for “many years”.

But that didn’t mean the fundamental aspects of the project would be up for debate, as she said that decision had been made by the ACT Government already.

Ms Barnes said the NCA was only interested in ensuring the finished product was of a high-quality “fitting” for the National Capital.

“We support [that decision] from a public transport perspective … we can’t really be looking at whether it’s a waste of money … that’s got nothing to do with us,” she told the committee.

“There will need to work on finalising the route and [looking at] the impacts on Commonwealth Avenue, on the trees and a whole range of things that really haven’t progressed to a stage yet where the light rail can be presented to the board or even to us.”

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That’s a similar timeframe to what Transport Minister Chris Steel told budget estimates earlier this year.

He said work had commenced and the government would submit it to the NCA by the end of this year.

Mr Steel has stressed the second part of Stage 2 is the most complex of the entire project and that was why it had been separated into two sections.

But despite hounding from the Opposition, and even the Greens at times, he’s kept quiet on further details, including timeline and cost, arguing revealing those would compromise the procurement processes.

London Circuit project

The proposed route light rail will take around London Circuit. Photo: ACT Government.

Early works to raise London Circuit have now begun with parts of that road shut.

It’s anticipated to take around two years and is needed to enable the light rail’s right-hand turn onto Commonwealth Avenue.

The Canberra Liberals, claiming Stage 2B could cost more than $3 billion, this week pulled their support for light rail to Woden.

That’s despite running on a pro-light rail platform at the last election.

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Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee argued that money could be better spent on basic service delivery and has accused the government of neglecting health, education and policing to pay for the light rail.

The party has promised to release a comprehensive public transport strategy ahead of the next election.

They have hinted at the inclusion of both trackless trams and electric buses as part of that.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr brushed off the announcement from the Opposition, describing them as “stale and conservative”, unlike his own “experienced and mature” government.

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Leon Arundell4:13 pm 15 Dec 22

These years are an opportunity for a forward-looking government to reduce traffic congestion and emissions by providing more T2 and T3 transit lanes, by building bus rapid transit between Civic and Woden, and by accelerating the replacement of our polluting fossil-fuelled buses. In the unlikely event that light rail becomes cost-effective, the busway can be upgraded to light rail.

brucewantstobecool10:54 pm 11 Dec 22

I know the Government has its terminology, but could we start calling a spade a spade – the new Acton extension is really stage 1B, and the line to Woden is stage 2. Just 2.

Is there the potential for the tram to go under Capital Hill rather than around it? Going around Capital Hill takes passengers away from Parliament House and buses need to fill this gap. If the tram went under the hill with a station providing access for passengers to get up to the grounds of Parliament House. I am thinking of Washington DC which is not unlike Canberra in many respects and its wonderful transport system. Just wondering!

Capital Retro10:27 pm 11 Dec 22

Damned good idea Jack D. A lot of people work there and there isn’t much car parking.

It wouldn’t be possible at City Hill on the other side of LBG as rabbits have already invaded and colonised the underground there.

Of course it’s possible. But only if you want to add hundreds of millions of dollars of tunnelling costs to a project that already doesn’t stack up.

Ah, but funding and economics don’t matter, we can and should do everything.

Maybe you should broaden your horizons chewy and visit Washington DC. Maybe just to see how good public transport can be done. Washington DC is a city very similar to Canberra. The city provides a 24hr transport system which utilises a number of travel modes. It is embraced by all of its citizens. Canberra’s light rail project has always been about providing a transport system to take the city into the future and adapt to an ever increasing population. Unfortunately the project has turned into a whingefest for many people.

Jack D,
I’ve been there. It’s not remotely similar to Canberra as a city and its truly outlining your ignorance to use them as a comparison.

“Canberra’s light rail project has always been about providing a transport system to take the city into the future and adapt to an ever increasing population.”

Except even the government’s own data shows it isn’t needed. And that there are far cheaper alternatives to light rail that could be implemented now with space allowed for upgrades to higher capacity modes when and if needed.

It’s truly baffling how many so called “progressives” are completely wedded to a project that is degrading other government services in Canberra (including the rest of the public transport network) for such a small benefit.

That these people are slavishly supportive of the expenditure of billions of dollars of public funds that will largely lead to already wealthy landholders reaping even greater windfall gains.

It’s literally the opposite of a progressive policy but they can’t see beyond the fact that the ALP/Greens support it and the so called conservatives oppose it

You have been to Washington DC and claim that it is a city not remotely similar to Canberra? Have you really actually been there chewy?

yeah wouldn’t be a terrorist nightmare at all…

Jack D,
Have you?
In what way do you claim its similar?

What is the population of Washington DC?

What is the wider metro area population?

What is the population density?

Yes chewy I have been there and love the city. I would live there if I could. Both capital cities are central to their governments’ activities. Both cities were planned and have similar layouts.
Unfortunately, there are many Canberrans who are unable to think big enough to imagine a better city to match population growth and take us into the future. This includes expanding our transport system to match other cities around Australia. Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane are also progressing plans to expand their light rail networks to integrate them into their other existing transport modes. But chewy you have always hated progress. You will always be there snapping and whingeing away in the background complaining with you ingrained sense of resentment that someone else is benefiting.

Strange for someone who’s been to the city so regularly and who can write so many words in response to not be able to answer the most basic questions.

No worries, I’ll help.

Washington Metro area has well over 10 times the population of Canberra.

Population density is also well over 10 times that of Canberra.

Their city layouts and its inherent design is not remotely similar to Canberra.

They are the centre of government for both countries although the USA has once again over 10 times the total population of Australia and their GDP is 15 times ours.

Wow, those similarities really are extensive.

And it’s hilarious to see someone so bereft of an argument attempt to strengthen their position with baseless ad hominems.

You still don’t even recognise that yours is the position that is not progressive. So much of our budget is and will be eaten up by light rail that other city services necessarily will and are suffering.

And that includes the public transport network as a whole because so much is expended on one tiny part of it.

So in response, why do you hate poor people Jack?

You’ve always been against good health and education outcomes for

Stephen Saunders10:11 am 11 Dec 22

I find unelected Barnes’ attitude appalling, her self-serving NCA “planning” nonsense. It’s a not an experimental project of unproven technology, it’s a basic and long-overdue transit upgrade for the capital of a major OECD nation – she should be falling over herself to run it through the hoops.

If it’s an appalling political intrusion like ASIO HQ or QEII Island, NCA gets it sorted fast, not “many years”. 400 cities round the world have got light rail, without this kind of malarkey.

The NCA represent the federal government interest in the parliamentary triangle and other areas in their control as the responsible planning authority.

You do realise that all of the ACT government planning and approvals areas and staff are also unelected right?

Why on earth should they be rushing through something that will have a major visual impact on the centre of our capital?

And I don’t know how you think the next stage is an “upgrade”, when it will be slower than the existing public transport options and has been mostly justified on land development, not transport benefits.

Watch the buses get stuck in traffic, as the city grows and more cars enter the roads. I have been parked in a bus, in peak hour on Commonwealth Avenue Bridge, waiting for the cars blocking it to move. At least the cars won’t slow light rail, as it has it’s own route. The alternative is to take a lane from cars and give a lane to buses along the entire route, so buses aren’t blocked and slowed with the increased traffic that’s coming. Then wait for the squeals and whines.

You realise the light rail is building its own bridge in the middle of the Commonwealth Bridges?

A bus route could be built similarly along with other options to give buses right of way like bus lanes as you’ve mentioned.

Light rail only has right of way because they design it to be so. No different to what could be achieved far cheaper with buses.

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