Gungahlin tram: ACT government pitching Russell light rail extension for federal budget funding

Gungahlin tram: ACT government pitching Russell light rail extension for federal budget funding

Extending the first stage of Canberra's tram to the Russell Defence precinct could depend on cash contributions made in the May federal budget or this year's federal election campaign.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr has raised the prospect of the Turnbull government or Labor opposition making election commitments to contribute to the cost of the light rail, as he pushes for support from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for tram services to run to Russell and eventually to the parliamentary triangle.

An artist's impression of the Capital Metro Gungahlin tram line.

An artist's impression of the Capital Metro Gungahlin tram line.

Mr Barr said the 3.2 kilometre Russell extension – a possible addition to the first stage city to Gungahlin line – was not dependent on federal funding but that a contribution was warranted given the area was dominated by public service employment.

The federal contribution for Russell could be in the tens of millions of dollars. The government is yet to reveal the price its chosen Canberra Metro consortium has put on the extension.

The government has so far opted not to make public information it provided to former deputy prime minister Warren Truss and the Department of Infrastructure, showing an estimated $85 million in financial benefits for the Commonwealth through increases in land value from the tram. Russell would add three passenger stops and about 5600 extra passenger trips each day – a boost of 30 per cent to the tram.


"Obviously, every bit helps," Mr Barr said.

"The Commonwealth is a major beneficiary because they own most of the land. That's why the Prime Minister invited me to put forward a proposal while we've undertaken some modelling looking at land uplift for them.

"This is exactly the model that he's talked about in terms of infrastructure funding."

Mr Barr said funding could come from a future Infrastructure Australia bid or a further deal under the federal government's asset recycling scheme. The ACT has already secured $60 million in bonuses from the sale of assets, including ageing public housing stock and government office blocks and the ACTTAB betting agency.

No timeline for federal funding is evident. Mr Barr said the territory would wait for feedback on the proposal.

"We are, to a certain extent in terms of their engagement, in their hands. We always intend to extend the network, so the exact timing of that will be contingent on a number of factors: our budget capacity, their contribution, land value uplift," he said.

"The way public policy is running in this country at the moment, you seem to need the opposition to agree to something and get out there and do it, and the government will follow."

Last week documents released by the National Capital Authority showed major construction work would not begin until October, coinciding with the ACT election campaign.

Capital Metro Minister Simon Corbell said early works would begin sooner, but he offered little new detail. Earthworks for the planned Mitchell depot, and relocation of phone, water, gas and electricity utilities along the route would begin in May or June, Mr Corbell said.

The government has previously described the Russell extension as "enormously attractive". Any extension will increase the $698 million project cost as well as interest costs and annual availability payments to private partners.


The line would run from the planned terminus at Northbourne Avenue and Alinga Street, around London Circuit and down the upgraded Constitution Avenue to a terminus in Russell Drive. Works approval documents suggest it would boost development of the city to Russell employment node.

Public comments on the National Capital Authority works application are open until March 18, while a public information session will take place in the city on March 1.

Tom McIlroy is a political reporter for the Financial Review in the federal press gallery at Parliament House.