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Light rail project director signs $740,000 15-month pay deal

The ACT government's light rail project director has just signed a contract that pays him almost $600,000 a year.

Scott Lyall also gets a furnished apartment, currently $875 a week, and a return airfare to Sydney each month, as well as expenses such as parking and mileage.

Mr Lyall's income is more than twice the salary paid to Chief Minister Andrew Barr, who earns just shy of $300,000. It is also substantially more than paid to his boss, Transport Canberra director general Emma Thomas.

Mr Lyall joined Capital Metro in November 2015 after the sudden departure of Stephen Allday, who was head of procurement and delivery. Mr Allday was paid $235,000 in salary with total remuneration of $282,000.

Mr Lyall was initially employed on a three-month contract which was extended to five months to the end of April 2016, for a total of $235,000. At the end of May 2016, he signed for another seven months, for $396,000. The amount equates to a little over $13,000 a week.

In January this year, Mr Lyall signed another contract, his longest yet. It covers 15 months, to April 2018, for $740,000. It has provision for two six-month extensions to April 2019.

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For the first time, the contract spells out a daily rate, of $2250 a day (excluding GST) until May 31, then $2300 a day after that, paid for 324 business days. In April next year, Mr Lyall is entitled to request a 4 per cent rise.

By then, he would have earned about $1.4 million for just short of two-and-a-half years on the project.

Mr Lyall's latest contract is the first to specify accommodation on top of the salary. It says the government will pay accommodation "equivalent to the hire of a small single bed furnished apartment, currently $875 per week, inclusive of GST".

A search of All Homes (Fairfax owned) shows few one-bedroom apartments that expensive, although it seems $875 will rent a "luxury executive" furnished one-bedroom apartment in New Acton.

An ACT government spokesperson defended the substantial rate, saying Mr Lyall had been employed "in the context of an Australian boom in infrastructure spending and an exceptionally high demand for senior project managers with rail experience".

"Market rates for project directors with Mr Lyall's experience are buoyant," the spokesperson said. Canberra faced additional challenges given there was no rail industry here so experts had to come from interstate.

A human resources specialist had confirmed "that the infrastructure market for capable project directors and client-side leadership roles is extremely tight generally, and even tighter in the rail sector".

Mr Lyall was nevertheless "excellent value for money" and his daily rate was not unusual in the current market, the spokesperson said.

His daily rate also "sat well" with the rates paid by the ACT to other specialists.

Mr Lyall's job carried "substantially more responsibility and seniority" than Mr Allday's.

Among Mr Lyall's tasks is working out how to deliver future stages of the light rail project.

The line from Gungahlin to the city is being delivered through a public-private partnership, in which the government is paying a consortium led by Cimic (formerly Leightons) to build and operate the line.

The signing of a $939 million contract with the consortium adds a layer of complication to the procurement of the second stage, from the city to Woden. The government is yet to say whether it will use the same model of a public-private partnership.

In November, it called for tenders for a swathe of feasibility work - including choosing the precise route, estimating costs and patronage, investigating land development along the corridor, developing a business case, and choosing the procurement method.

The tenders close on Monday, January 30.

Ms Thomas was appointed from Adelaide to head the Capital Metro agency in 2013, signing a five-year contract with a salary of $325,200 (a total including superannuation, car and parking of $382,300), a rate linked to annual public service pay rises.

Ms Thomas is paid as a top public service executive. Mr Lyall is paid as a consultant, so is not on the public service pay scale. The government did not explain why he had been employed in that way.

But the spokesperson said he had extensive experience in major infrastructure in NSW, ACT and Victoria in the public and private sectors. In NSW, he managed more than $6 billion of major infrastructure projects.

- With Daniel Burdon