Surprise election result dampens ACT light rail ambitions

The Coalition Government’s poll-defying victory in last Saturday’s federal election has left the future of Canberra’s light rail expansion project up in the air.

Labor had planned to contribute $200 million for stage two funding of the project in the event of a federal election victory, an investment that no longer applies.

Stage two of Canberra’s light rail project is planned to incorporate an extension running from the city centre (Civic) to Woden by 2025.

But ACT chief minister Andrew Barr on Monday told ABC Canberra the election result would “set back the timeframe, there’s no doubting that”.

“Had the election result gone differently on Saturday I was hoping to sit down this week with an incoming Labor infrastructure minister and an incoming Labor territories minister to get on with fast-tracking that project,” he said. “It will now take a lot longer.”

Stage one of the Canberra light rail opened to the public in April. It is operated by Canberra Metro and links the city centre to the northerly town of Gungahlin via a 12km line.

The ACT Government announced last week that the project was delivered $32 million under budget for a final cost of $675 million.

Stage two is expected to cost anywhere between $1.3–1.6 billion, however, according to figures from Australia & New Zealand Infrastructure Pipeline (ANZIP).

The project would also cross through federal land, requiring the full approval of the Federal Government.

“Depending … on the final outcome of the Australian Parliament in terms of the Senate and the House of Reps, it may not be possible to get parliamentary approval for the second stage in this parliamentary term,” Barr told ABC.

“If we are unsuccessful in that regard, just simply on the parliamentary approval, then we will have to rethink our approach and the timeframe.”

Canberra light rail arrives late but under budget

Stage one of the Canberra Light Rail project has come in $32 million under its contracted budget for a final cost of around $675 million.

The project was built as a collaboration between the Australian Capital Territory Government and Canberra Metro and launched to the public last month.

The saving is even larger when compared with the original business case proposed for the 12km line — also referred to as the Capital Metro project —  released in 2014.

The full business case for the project estimated that it would cost $783 million and open in 2019, and referred to analysis from Ernst and Young to suggest the project would return $1.20 for every dollar spent. Since the project came in under budget however, this has been revised to a return of $1.30 for every dollar spent.

The initial business case budget was later revised downwards by 9.7 per cent in the project’s final stage one contract released in 2016 to $707 million. This contract also moved the start date forward to 2018, a deadline the project would eventually not meet.

The final breakdown of the $675 million spend was split between $589 million for base design and construction costs and $85 million in contingency costs.

The project links Canberra’s city centre to a terminus at Gungahlin in the city’s northern suburbs. Stage two of the project is planned to extend the line to Woden in the south.

ACT Government Minister for Transport Meegan Fitzharris said that patronage on the rail line was greater than the predictions set out in the business case.

“Light rail is proving to be hugely popular already, with more people using it every day, and as a result we’ve added more frequent services during peak times to manage this demand,” she said.

“Along the light rail corridor the benefits are plain to see: with light rail getting people to work, opening up new customers to local businesses and seeing hundreds of Canberrans employed on building and construction projects along the alignment that are already using their proximity to light rail to attract buyers.”

Light Rail

Light rail in Australia: An introduction

Light rail has quickly become one of Australia’s most exciting infrastructure platforms. A light rail development brings together disciplines like civil engineering, city planning, construction and rail engineering, with projects often involving several hundred contractors and sub-contractors – many coming from outside the rail sector.

Once popular throughout Australia, light rail vehicles – or trams – vanished from streets in all but two cities for over three decades.

However, a renaissance of light rail has, in recent years, seen new projects crop up all around the nation. With projects recently opened, in construction, or being planned in South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales and the ACT, Rail Express takes a snapshot of the market in March 2019.

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