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ACT government shelves plans for Russell tram extension until after election

The ACT government has shelved a possible extension of light rail to the Russell defence precinct until after the October ACT election.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said he would now develop a much more ambitious "stage 2" for light rail, taking in not only Russell, but the wider parliamentary triangle, and possibly also Canberra Airport and the Australian National University.

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He would take that package to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and to the federal Labor opposition in the hope of persuading them to help pay for the next stage.

The details of stage 2 would be released before the ACT election, including precisely where the tram would run, and the government would seek a mandate for it from voters, he said.

"People will be very clear when they come to vote in the territory election in October what our commitment to stage 2 of the project will be and what we would intend to deliver if the government were re-elected."

Mr Barr faced questions about the timing of the backdown announcement among a series of big news stories. The decision to shelve the Russell extension also came a day after Mr Turnbull signalled a likely early federal election in July. 

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But Mr Barr said far from forcing a delay in the project, the looming federal election allowed "an auction between the two major parties in the context of the federal election and the next term of the Federal Parliament".

The delay also allowed the government to negotiate with the university and the airport. 

The government has refused to say how much the Russell extension would cost, despite receiving bids for the extra 3.1 kilometres from its two shortlisted consortiums last year.

Capital Metro Minister Simon Corbell described the extension plan as "enormously attractive" in 2015.

On Tuesday, he said of the new plan, "What's really exciting is there's an opportunity to go beyond Russell, to look at connections that are not just city to Russell but city to other major employment centres in our city, particularly potentially the parliamentary triangle or other locations ... the airport or university.

"So this is confirmation that light rail has a big role to play."

The Russell extension was to run from the planned terminus at Northbourne​ Avenue and Alinga Street, around London Circuit and down the upgraded Constitution Avenue to Russell. It was to include three stops and could create about 5600 extra passenger trips each day, providing a boost to patronage of 30 per cent.

The territory has been lobbying the federal government to help fund the extension, arguing Commonwealth property values would increase with the tram. One estimate suggested $85 million in benefits for the Commonwealth.

Ultimately, the government plans a citywide tram network.

Liberal transport spokesman Alistair Coe said the government should put the entire project on hold until after the election.

"They've admitted they don't have a mandate for the Russell extension, therefore I'm curious as to why they think they have a mandate to go from Gungahlin to the city ...

"It's a very big decision for our community and the responsible course of action is to put the project on hold until October."

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