Light rail has a strong foundation

In a few years from now Canberra will have light rail humming down its main thoroughfare.

In some ways that’s quite a change. We’re used to a Canberra where people commute in their cars, in buses and on bikes. But light rail is not a new idea for Canberra. Over 100 years ago Walter Burley Griffin planned Canberra to include a citywide, median-strip tram network.

Today, as our population grows, we’re modernising and delivering his century-old vision through light rail. I have been hearing your questions. And there should be questions – this is an important project for Canberra.

One of my goals is to push the government to genuinely and transparently consult with the community and provide accurate information about the project. It’s important that our community understands what this project entails, and why the government and the Greens support it. I hope to help that conversation.

First, the vision. Building transport for the future is what a sensible government should do. Canberra is an ambitious and innovative place. Just as we’ve planned to power our territory with 90 per cent renewable energy by 2020, we must plan for a modern, fast, reliable transport system that will serve us through Canberra’s second century.

Our city is growing. We know from other cities that if not properly managed, population growth can lead to urban sprawl and all the problems that entails. The earlier public transport infrastructure is installed, the smoother the transition will be for our city.


This light rail project has a strong foundation. We’ve been researching and planning for light rail for over 20 years. Over a decade ago a public transport study found light rail to be both ‘economically feasible and beneficial’ for the community. Two years ago, the 2012 design study on the Gungahlin to Civic transit corridor compared light rail and bus rapid transit options and concluded that light rail would generate ‘the best overall outcome for Canberra’.

I don’t believe the real challenge is demonstrating positive evidence for light rail; there is plenty of that. The challenge has been finding a government willing to take on such a bold and long-term project.

I have heard the community ask why light rail instead of buses. There is one thing that a fast bus system clearly has over light rail – it’s cheaper. But fast buses cannot deliver the long-term benefits that light rail will bring to Canberra.

Light rail historically attracts more passengers than buses. Light rail is quieter, pollutes less and is already compatible with our plans for a renewable energy future. Light rail takes up less space and can carry more passengers, which will be increasingly valuable as our town centres become more populated.

This is a project that is going to benefit all of Canberra. It begins with Gungahlin to Civic, but we’re already planning for future stages such as Woden, Tuggeranong, Belconnen, Molonglo and the Parliamentary Triangle.

Of course there is the question of cost. But now is the time to invest in a project like this precisely to mitigate some of the damage done by the Abbott budget cuts.

Light rail will stimulate jobs, stimulate the economy and stimulate quality redevelopment. It will help grow our economy for an initial cost that is not dissimilar to other capital projects. To put it in perspective, the value of roads projects under way is about $500 million and Majura Parkway will cost almost $300 million. I wonder whether the complaints about cost are perhaps not an aversion to spending per se, but rather the reluctance of a few to spend on public transport?

My view is there will always be an excuse not to act. But the ACT has a AAA credit rating, we recognise the benefits of light rail and it makes sense to get this project moving now.

Finally I want to respond to the Canberra Liberals’ fear-mongering. They’ve already decided on their slogan for the 2016 election: ‘stop light rail’.

And they’ve already started doing what they do best –  pedalling misinformation and pessimism about the project. Some of their claims are straight-out lies. Light rail won’t cost “$10.1 billion”, nor will it require all of “Northbourne Avenue to be dug up”. These are groundless claims that add little to the discussion and are simply designed to mislead.

There will always be naysayers who are intent on short-term political point-scoring rather than the future needs of our city. A project this big is never easy. But a project like this will deliver significant benefits to our community.

Every dollar invested in light rail will be returned with interest as our city evolves to be bigger but more connected, our tourism industry is buoyed and our city becomes cleaner and healthier with fewer cars on the road.

I visited Portland last year, a city that started investing in light rail 30 years ago, and it was clear how light rail positively influenced the city’s development and its character.

I am determined to invest in our city not just for the next three years, but for the decades and generations to come.

Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury is the Minister for Territory and Municipal Services.