Canberra COVID

Election results keep rail on track in ACT and NZ

Election results over the weekend have reconfirmed the pipeline of rail projects on both sides of the Tasman.

In the ACT, where the Labor-Greens coalition government was returned with a likely increased number of representatives in the legislative assembly, future progress on the Canberra light rail is confirmed.

Prior to the election the opposition Liberals had cast doubt over the second stage of the project, suggesting that a connection to Belconnen should be built instead of the currently planned extension to Woden. ACT Labor has said that once the extension to Woden is complete, work will begin on a line from Belconnen to the Airport.

Public Transport Association of Canberra chair Ryan Hemsley said that light rail was a key election issue in the capital.

“Saturday’s election results have re-confirmed the trends we saw four years ago, with strong swings towards the government in Murrumbidgee and Brindabella cementing light rail as a vote-winner,” said Hemsley.

“In contrast to the pro-light rail policies offered by Labor and the Greens, the Canberra Liberals offered half-hearted and at times inconsistent support for the extension of light rail to Woden.”

Light rail also made an appearance in the New Zealand election which saw the Labour Party returned with a parliamentary majority. The party, which had previously governed in a coalition with the Green Party and NZ First, has committed to progressing the Auckland light rail project from the city centre to Māngere and the Auckland Airport.

The party has committed to continue investing in KiwiRail, which has received large cash injections in recent budgets to improve New Zealand’s rail infrastructure and freight services. Upgrades to Wellington’s commuter rail network are also part of the party’s platform.

Under investment in Auckland’s rail network was revealed earlier this year and led to a city-wide restriction on services. The most recent works have seen a 10-minute frequency returned to the Eastern Line and improvements between Otahuhu and Newmarket on the Southern line. Further work on the Southern Line between Homai and Pukekohe will continue for the next three weeks.

KiwiRail chief operating officer Todd Moyle said works have been completed efficiently and on schedule.

“During the first closure on the Eastern Line the teams met their target of replacing 20 km of rail and more than 3500 sleepers on the 10km between Panmure and the city centre,” he said.

“We are continuing to work with Auckland Transport to review our progress and plan the way ahead. We have agreed a programme of rolling line closures across the network is the best and most efficient way to progress this work over the coming months. For the next month our focus will remain on the Southern Line.”

Further network closures are planned for the Christmas period when patronage decreases.

ACT

Canberra light rail extension takes next step in planning process

The ACT’s government’s plan for the extension of the current light rail line to Woden, in the city’s south, has taken the next step forward, with the ACT government releasing for public comment the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) preliminary documentation.

The documentation covers the stage from the city, where the current line ends, to Commonwealth Park, otherwise known as Stage 2A and supports federal approval of the line.

ACT Minister for Transport Chris Steel said this step meant that construction could soon begin.

“With the planning approvals set in motion for the extension of light rail to Commonwealth Park, work will continue to refine the project’s planning and design development with a view to construction starting as early as next year.”

The EPBC documentation covers measures the government will take to mitigate the light rail line’s impact on the critically endangered Golden Sun Moth. To address this, the preliminary documentation notes that there will be no need to install a traction power substation or connection power supply, while intersection and road layouts were refined.

The 1.7-kilometre Stage 2A will run without overhead wires to protect the cultural value of the centre of Canberra and improve visual amenity. Future light rail vehicles will travel on green tracks along Commonwealth Avenue, with landscaping besides and between the rail tracks.

Stage 2A will include three stops, one at Edinburgh Avenue on London Circuit, City South, and Commonwealth Park, where the line will terminate.

Chair of the Public Transport Association of Canberra Ryan Hemsley said the project would improve outcomes now and into the future.

“By extending Canberra’s light rail network, we can deliver a much-needed shot in the arm for Canberra’s construction industry, with the double benefit of providing improved public transport options in the longer term.”

Stage 2B, which will continue the light rail line to Woden via the Parliamentary Triangle, will require a more rigorous planning assessment process, and is expected to take up to 18 months.

At a press conference announcing the release of the EPBC preliminary documentation, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said that environmental approvals should be streamlined, with too many federal agencies involved in the project.