Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Canberra Airport and their vision for light rail

Stephen Byron of the Canberra Airport group recently released a concept video of his 'Connecting Canberra by light rail' proposal for an inner Canberra light rail network, servicing mainly the Parliamentary Triangle and areas between it and the Canberra Airport. He proposes construction in three stages, that would link to the (already built by then) Capital Metro running from Gungahlin to Civic. Accompanying this vision was a Canberra Airport run feedback/information gathering process.

As the Canberra Airport have not indicated if they propose to pay for any light rail construction, the plans are more of a conceptual contribution to the light rail discussion, than a shovel ready engineering proposal. What it does show is that there are competing visions and that the airport and Brindabella Business Park must be included in future light rail planning. 

Here is a map of the full light rail network proposal from the Canberra Airport. It is important to understand that the airport is located at a transport bottleneck where Majura Road, the Monaro Highway, Limestone Avenue and the road to Queanbeyan all merge. Its a road congestion bottleneck, and it is also where the people trying to access the airport and the recently constructed Brindabella Business Park have very few public transport options.  Better transport solutions are needed.

The Airport proposal covers the Parliamentary Triangle and then runs through the suburbs near it and through the industrial area in Fyshwick, to the Airport. It also runs from the Airport, through Russel and along Constitution Avenue to Civic. It also proposes a line out past ANU and taking in the area along the Lake Burley Griffin foreshore where the 'City to Lake' proposal would locate a new Convention Centre and sports stadium. 
Stage 1

The proposed first stage would link the Capital Metro Civic interchange with a line running down Constitution Avenue through Russell, past Duntroon to the Airport. It appears that the Airport see light rail as more tram-like and on-road, rather than the separate reserve model that will be used on the Gungahlin to Civic route. 

This would be a good second line to construct, as both Russell and Brindabella Business park require good public transport connections to resolve parking demand (especially when paid parking is introduced in Russell). Constitution Avenue is also undergoing urban renewal, with a significant residential construction program occurring in Campbell on the Anzac Parade/Constitution Avenue area. 

More residents in high density housing, more office space being constructed and paid parking coming in - it's a trifecta of demand creation for public transport

The link out of Civic to the west takes in ANU and a revitalised Civic West area, rapidly filling up with new residential space and refurbished office space. This area is undergoing refurbishment as the stock of mostly 30 year old plus office stock is updated or converted to residential, or pulled down and replaced with a mix of the two. 
Stage 2

Stage 2 proposes a link that runs between a terminal in Russell, across the lake and through the Parliamentary Triangle in Barton, then across the lake again, veering west along the foreshore and connecting to the City West extension from Stage One. 

Its a good idea, especially the servicing of Russell and Barton and alleviating parking demand in the major government departments in that area. Unless you drive in from Woden or Tuggeranong. It would require significant investment as the construction of bridges across the lake would not be inexpensive. Perhaps parking revenues from the Parliamentary Triangle paid parking could be directed towards this. 

The Canberra Times were particularly interested in the bridge construction angle of this stage. They sought ACT Light Rails views on this and published an article the day after the airport light rail proposal came out, exploring this aspect of the plan. 

Damien Haas, of lobby group ACT Light Rail, praised Canberra Airport managing director Stephen Byron for proposing the light rail extension. Mr Haas said additional bridges might have to be built across Lake Burley Griffin to accommodate light rail.

"Once Civic to Gungahlin is in, I think bridge-to-bridge would be a logical extension,'' Mr Haas said.

"Certainly, probably the major investment would be putting those two bridges in and that would satisfy a lot of public transport issues in the parliamentary triangle.''

Mr Haas said a light rail connection between Civic and the airport would need high rates of usage to be viable.

"The only way that light rail from Civic to the airport would work would be with the commuting volume of both Russell and Brindabella Business Park workers using it,'' Mr Haas said.

This proposed second stage would require on-road running and not seperate-reserve running. Much of it, for example, the long sections across the lake, would of course be on their own reserve. 

Demand for this stage would come not only from commuters working in Russell, Civic West and Barton, but also from out of peak hour demand from tourists and workers making trips to Civic and back to their office during the day. On weekends and especially at special events around the lake this stage would be used heavily. 
Stage 3

The third stage is the least likely to ever eventuate, and it's doubtful that a version of this exists on even the ACT Governments secret light rail routes file (if it exists). It proposes another loop from the airport, to Fyshwick, along Canberra Avenue and then instead of going all the way along Canberra Avenue to Parliament House, it veers east towards the Kingston Foreshore along then turns west up to Kingston and Manuka before turning again to go to Parliament House and then down Kings Avenue to meet up with the 'Lake Loop' proposed in Stage 2. 

Other aspects of the Canberra Airport light rail plan show a proposed High Speed rail terminal at the Canberra Airport, instead of Ainslie Avenue. 


It is a bold plan from the Canberra Airport, and they should be commended for the effort they have put into their contribution to the debate. The Civic to Airport line has great merit, especially as their are significant demand factors from employees at both Russell and Brindabella Business Park, and also from the redevelopment along Constitution Avenue and the new office and residential demand that will come from that. The introduction in paid parking at Russell will help drive that demand for public transport. 

The second and third stages are more problematic. A line out of Civic across the lake will be required if the true potential of light rail for mass transit is to be realised - by running a line out to Woden and Tuggeranong to take the load off ACTION buses, and enable ACTION to increase local area frequency to light rail stations along that route. 

The odd route of the airports proposed stage 3 western loop section do not seem likely to eventuate. It would be more logical to run a light rail line from the Queanbeyan/Canberra border near HMAS Harman, all the way along Canberra Avenue to Parliament House, and then meet with a line running from Civic to Tuggeranong. These are long term goals.    

Ultimately the role of light rail in Canberra needs to be determined. Do we want light rail to serve as mass transit or as an on road tram-like service that operates in inner Melbourne suburbs? 

We already have a bus service that can perform that role. Canberra would be best served by building light rail where it can serve as a mass transit technology, and allow the flexibility of ACTION Buses to connect to it. We can then leverage both our existing transport infrastructure and new transport infrastructure in the most effective way and increase public transport patronage and access to transport options for urban redevelopment and planned growth of our city over the long term. 

The Canberra Airport proposal has great merit in that it offers the same long term vision, as others in the public transport debate sphere. Like all proposed routes for light rail, some compromises will have to be made, but ultimately it is best to integrate our existing transport options into our new transport options in the way that will best drive patronage.  

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  1. Anonymous28.10.13

    When will the Snow family start building this? i want they start before i have to pay for parking in Russell.

  2. Anonymous1.5.15

    Damien - good analysis. Are there any estimates, to your knowledge, of how much taking light rail across the lake would cost?

    Noting that you wrote this 1.5 years ago, is the latest thinking still that new bridges are required? Existing bridges can't be retrofitted?

    Also - has anyone proposed taking light rail around the lake - ie through Jerrabomborra Wetlands or west of Scrivener Dam (parkway etc) - as an alternative to the considerable cost of building a new bridge to get to the southside?

  3. The Commonwealth Avenue Bridge from Civic does not require upgrading for light rail. Engineers have looked at it and reported this back to Capital Metro. That is a significant cost saving over construction of a new bridge. I do not know about the Kings Avenue Bridge.

    1. Anonymous3.5.15

      Thanks! Yes it'd be a huge saving. Plus can't imagine it would be easy to get MAC approval for a new bridge.

      What about the overhead powerlines to power light rail? Can you put these on the bridge, or would power have to come from below for the length of the bridge and approaches to it?

    2. Anonymous3.5.15

      *NCA not MAC. Damn autocorrect