The announcement by the ACT Government to undertake yet another feasibility study into light rail has been in the media today. It is a welcome announcement from the new Gallagher government. Unlike the previous light rail bid, this is specifically focussed on the Gungahlin to Civic route.
See Light Rail back on the Agenda from the Canberra Times, Light Rail back on track from the ABC and The Greens media release 'Why the eternal wait for Light Rail?.
This is a sensible first link for a light rail network in the ACT, and is entirely consistent with what ACT Light Rail has been lobbying for. If built, this light rail link would alleviate road congestion in the North of Canberra significantly and lead to an increase in public transport patronage. Studies have shown that when light rail is provided, bus service usage also increases.
Although this announcement is welcome, it is very light on detail and attempts to paint a picture that previous feasibility studies have not found light rail viable. This is wrong. The feasibility study that the ACT Government prepared for the bid to Infrastructure Australia in 2008 found that light rail was economically viable, would increase productivity and would provide a return on investment.
Chief Minister Gallagher was quoted as saying:It is important to keep all options on the table. We think there's an opportunity to have a look at it and as time goes on maybe the economic viability of a project like that will increase over time and we think there should be the opportunity to be able implement it, light rail, if it stacks."
"Whilst we're looking at this piece of road, we think it's worth rolling light rail and the feasibility of light rail into it. I really want to make sure we're not excluding the possibility from ever occurring and we have capacity through this study to have another look at it," she said.
It is good that the Gallagher government have an open view on light rail, but what the ACT government needs to do is commit itself to an engineering study.
This was the vital piece missing from the previous bid to Infrastructure Australia and the reason the bid failed. The guidelines called for 'shovel ready' projects, and without an engineering study - the project will fail and not gain the Federal funding the ACT Government claim they need to build light rail.
In response to the government announcement, Greens MLA Amanda Bresnan was quoted by the ABC as saying:
"We've had quite a number of reports done before, in fact about three, one which went to Infrastructure Australia, what we actually need now is to start seeing a commitment. I think we've come to a point in time in the development of the city where we've actually got to decide do we want to put adequate investment into public transport so we have those rapid routes there for people."
In the absence of any great level of detail, ACT Light Rail are hopeful that this current announcement is leading to an engineering study for light rail along Northbourne from Civic to Gungahlin. The amount of money mentioned - $2.5 million - is in the ballpark of the funding required for a proper engineering study to be carried out.
Of course at that point the issue of funding will be raised and this is the area in which the ACT Government can show real leadership and commitment to sustainable transport.