Five years after Chief Minister Andrew Barr announced that the second stage of Canberra’s light rail network was heading to Woden, the Public Transport Association of Canberra (PTCBR) is calling on the ACT Government to knuckle down and get on with the job.
PTCBR Chair Ryan Hemsley said that the ACT Auditor-General’s report into the economic analysis of Light Rail Stage 2A highlighted the importance of delivering the full extension of the network, rather than stopping short at Commonwealth Park.
“The question we most commonly get is ‘when is light rail getting to Woden?'” said Mr Hemsley. “Of course, we appreciate that it is a complex project with overlapping approvals, and in the middle of a global pandemic, the ACT Government’s attention is rightly focused elsewhere.”
“But the daily work of government cannot be abandoned, and other jurisdictions across Australia are approving big public transport projects, signing contracts and starting construction.”
“By contrast, the initial 1.7 kilometre extension to Commonwealth Park has yet to be submitted to the National Capital Authority for works approval, and the 9 kilometre extension to Woden is still without a planned opening date.”
“While this week’s announcements are welcome, a handful of utility relocations and an expression of interest for enabling works does not a project make.”
Mr Hemsley noted there was a widening gulf between the ACT Government’s election promises and the actual delivery of infrastructure.
“It has been great to see the Commonwealth Government step up and provide funding for this and other key projects across the city, but the ACT Government needs a stronger focus on delivering its transport commitments,” he said.
“While the approvals processes are undoubtedly complex, the ACT Government should be working to resolve any outstanding planning issues as a matter of urgency, to ensure the full benefits of extending light rail to Woden can be realised.”
“It may be time to consider whether a dedicated light rail planning and delivery entity, like the former Capital Metro Agency, can cut through some of the delays and streamline the process for future stages to Belconnen, Tuggeranong, Molonglo, Fyshwick and the Airport.”
Mr Hemsley was concerned the delays also risked adding unnecessary costs to the project.
“The longer this stretches out, the harder it will be to secure the necessary construction expertise, which is presently in very high demand across the country,” he said.
“Canberrans cannot afford to wait until the late 2020s for this much needed public transport infrastructure to be completed.”
History of Light Rail Stage 2
September 2016: Chief Minister Andrew Barr announced the second stage of light rail to Woden.
July 2019: Transport Minister Chris Steel announced the project would be split into two stages, to facilitate faster planning approvals.
February 2021: Federal environmental approvals for Stage 2A granted.
September 2021: The ACT Government is yet to submit a Stage 2A works approval package to the National Capital Authority.
2026: Planned opening for Stage 2A to Commonwealth Park. No dates yet for Stage 2B to Woden.
Comparable Public Transport Projects
Gold Coast Light Rail Stage 2: 7.3km light rail line with 3 stops: announced February 2016, opened December 2017.
Gold Coast Light Rail Stage 3A: 6.4km light rail line with 8 stops: announced 2017, contracts signed October 2020, early works began June 2021, planned to open 2024.
Morley-Ellenbrook line (Perth): 21km railway line: announced March 2017, contracts signed October 2020, enabling works began September 2021, planned to open 2023-24.
Sydney Metro City and Southwest: 15.5km tunnel through Sydney CBD: announced June 2014, planning approval January 2017, major contracts signed June 2017, tunnelling began October 2018, planned to open 2024.
Melbourne Metro Rail Tunnel: 9km tunnel through Melbourne CBD: re-announced April 2015, major contracts signed December 2017, planning approvals 2017-2018, tunnel work began April 2019, planned to open 2025.
Ryan Hemsley is the Chair of the Public Transport Association of Canberra, the Canberra region’s peak public transport lobby group.