Canberra’s new light rail is on the way, however, the government is standing mute when pressed on the extra costs involved.
The ACT Government has committed to building the second stage of light rail from the City to Woden, via the Parliamentary Triangle instead of a slightly more direct route via Capital Circle and Parliament House. Some in the community are distinctly unhappy about this, however, the massive cost of the alternative is not being taken into account.
The Parliamentary Triangle route not only services a larger number of people than the alternative, it was also the more popular route in a survey done by Transport Canberra last this year. However, this route comes at a slight cost, with travel times estimated to be 25-30 minutes between Woden and the City for the Parliamentary Triangle route, compared to an estimated 15-20 minutes only for the Capital Circle route. It is this extra travel time that has some in the community up in arms over the longer route being selected for this light rail stage.
Former Canberra Times editor Ian Bushnell wrote about opposition to the chosen route from the ACT Property Council in a piece titled “Property Council joins fray against Barton light rail route”. Woden Valley Community Council (WVCC) has also been quite outspoken over the last few weeks about the longer route Transport Canberra has selected, going so far as to create an ACT Goverment e-petition asking the Government to “ensure public transport travel times are maintained for residents living in Canberra’s south, should a light rail from Woden to the City be built,” and to “commit to a direct alignment (using the west side of State Circle to link Adelaide Avenue to Commonwealth Avenue) and extension of the track to Mawson.”
So is there another reason for the selection of the Parliamentary Triangle route over the Capital Circle route, other than the Parliamentary Triangle route servicing more users and being more popular? Well as it turns out, there is another good reason, and it’s a fairly big one: cost. The Canberra Times first revealed on the 21st of June that, according to Duncan Edgehill, the Deputy Inspector-General for Transport Canberra, the Capital Circle route “would likely be more expensive because of the extra heritage constraints, the need to build another bridge and more pedestrian crossings.”
The article gave no further information as to the increased cost and noted that Duncan was unable to provide any alternate costings, however this was an important detail to come out on its own. If the Capital Circle route was to be significantly more expensive, and with the cost of Canberra’s “rolled gold light rail” as an election issue for the Government, then cost is a crucial detail to take into account.
I attended the Woden Valley Community Council meeting on the 4th of July, where Duncan Edgehill and other Transport Canberra officials were talking to the community about the new draft bus timetable. However 90% of the questions Duncan faced at the meeting in the over 60 minutes he spent taking questions, were focused on the light rail Stage 2 instead of the new bus timetable.
When asked about the costings for the Capital Circle route vs the Parliamentary Triangle route, Duncan revealed that although he didn’t have exact figures on hand, the Capital Circle was a “fair deal more expensive” than the chosen route. He explained that “the bridge is not large enough to accommodate light rail through” and the “curve of the tunnel would complicate going via that route” as well. This indicates that to select this route, significant engineering works would need to be undertaken at great expense to widen the tunnel and even the curve of the road itself.
Duncan also revealed that if alternately the light rail was to go up to and around Parliament House itself, the existing grade of the entry and exit ramps/roads are “too steep for the light rail to go up or down”. This indicates that significant works would be required to soften the angle of the grade by extending the approach/exit ramps, again at great expense.
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WVCC maintains they want to match the current 15 minute travel of the intertown bus route between Woden and the City, and won’t abide by any light rail route that takes longer than 15 minutes. The Big Smoke spoke to long time public transport advocate and committee member of Public Transport ACT lobby group, Bill Gemmell, who had this to say on the 15 minute travel time:
“A bus cannot do it in 15 minutes and adhere to the speed limits. 19 minutes is the minimum time it takes if you traverse it legally.”
So why has there been such a surge on social media and on sites like The RiotACT demanding that the Government select the Capital Circle route instead? WVCC have said “Every additional 15 minutes travel time equates to around an additional 120 hours per year on, or waiting for, public transport.” This seems to be based on a metric of 9.2 trips per week between the City and Woden, which may a reasonable figure to go off, but WVCC provides no detail of how it arrived at that number.
We are a while away from the route being locked in, with the National Capital Authority still yet to give their consent for the route the ACT Government has selected, a process which has been going on for months now, and no-one knows how much longer this may actually take. It appears unlikely that the ACT Government is that concerned about this particular issue, even while they have to appear open to all feedback on issues like this.