ACT News

ACT government to pitch Canberra light rail to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for federal funding

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's high-profile love of public transport and support for the Gold Coast light rail line will see the ACT government lobby for federal funding for future stages of Canberra's trams. 

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull riding the Gold Coast light rail.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull riding the Gold Coast light rail. Photo: Scott Fletcher

As work continues on a light rail masterplan for the ACT, Capital Metro Minister Simon Corbell said the large Commonwealth government presence inside the parliamentary triangle made a tram line to Parliament House and national institutions well suited to federal funding. 

On Sunday, Chief Minister Andrew Barr used social media to call on Mr Turnbull to help pay for a future stage of Canberra's tram network, praising his commitment of $95 million to stage two of the Gold Coast tram.

The 7.3 kilometre route, set to open in time for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, will link Helensvale train station with the project's first stage at the Gold Coast University Hospital in Southport.

Mr Corbell said the government's renewed support for urban rail systems in capital cities was a "very welcome change of direction" after the toppling of former prime minister Tony Abbott, who said state governments should pay for public transport. 

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"Their preparedness now to invest in urban rail systems bodes well for future extensions of Canberra's light rail system," Mr Corbell said.

"With around 60 per cent of Canberra's workforce located in the central national area, it makes sense for the federal government to look at its contribution towards urban transit for our city. We know from the Infrastructure Australia assessment that there are a number of key corridors that are facing significant congestion challenges." 

"I would say to the Commonwealth 'you are host to a significant part of Canberra's workforce, we need to give people better transport options' and linkages that help service the parliamentary triangle will be important considerations." 

The ACT will already receive about $60 million in federal asset recycling bonuses for the tram's first stage from Gungahlin to the city, after agreeing to sell rundown public housing and office buildings as well as the betting agency ACTTAB. 

Mr Corbell wouldn't say how much would be needed for a future extension of the 12 kilometre line, which could also run to Russell.

In Queensland, the Gold Coast City Council has committed $55 million to its second stage, expected to cost between $600 and $700 million. Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said a state government contribution to the project would also be made.

Mr Corbell confirmed the masterplan included a range of significant and highly viable short-term route extensions in Canberra, while trams had been shown to carry higher levels of patronage than bus-only networks. 

For ACT Liberal senator Zed Seselja, the government's light rail plans remain "a dud". 

"There's certainly some important infrastructure priorities that I would like to see the Commonwealth contributing to, but light rail is not one of them. 

"There's a range, that would include a convention centre for Canberra and other significant road projects. If you're going to do light rail it is better that it goes to more places, but I just don't think the case is there to be supporting what is a project that doesn't stack up." 

He plans to lobby Mr Turnbull to provide support for the opposition's transport plans as alternatives to the line, including a bus rapid transport network for Canberra.

Greens Minister Shane Rattenbury described Mr Turnbull's love of public transport and support for light rail as "greatly encouraging". 

"It is great to see the national discourse starting to be more broad about the transport options we need in our cities for the future. 

"I think the new Prime Minister acknowledges that you just can't build enough roads to have a totally car-dominated environment," he said.