Light Rail - Your questions answered

Recently, Fair Go for Canberra conducted a community survey of over 1000 Canberrans in an attempt to understand the community's view on light rail. 

The results were startling as we saw that community members feel passionately about the project, and perhaps less surprisingly that there is overwhelming supportive of light rail. 63% of respondents support the project with the vast majority of those individuals showing strong support. 

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Fair Go for Canberra is a community-driven initiative and so as a result of this survey we have decided to support the community's voice and support light rail.

Our aim now is to ensure the project is implemented effectively with the best interest of all Canberrans in mind, and first on our agenda is to tackle some of the misconceptions that exist on both sides of this debate. By getting the facts straight, together we can move the conversation forward to talking about how best we can maximise the benefits of light rail for all of Canberra. 

This is intended to be an ongoing discussion and we welcome your feedback and input, email us your questions and concerns to info@fairgoforcanberra.org.au.

1. Does Canberra need light rail?

The first question to answer is 'do we need a solution for our congested roads?’. And the answer is unequivocally: yes, we most certainly do. Very few deny that our roads are becoming increasingly congested, and while we don’t yet have the problems of some major metropolitan areas, the longer we leave it unaddressed the more expensive a solution will become.

Any urban designer understands that building more roads is only ever a short-term solution for traffic congestion, Melbourne understands this all too well. The only real and sustainable solution to traffic congestion is to move away from our dependence on cars by implementing an effective public transport network.

The decision to go for light rail is informed by many factors, like usability, energy efficiency, emissions reduction, job creation, flow-on urban development and the ability to incorporate bus and light rail into one unified, efficient system. All important factors that have inspired our city's expert urban planners to opt for light rail as a solution that will benefit Canberra in ways beyond just solving our congested roads. 

2. The Price Tag

A common concern of people in the community on both sides of this debate, is whether or not the project is too expensive. Admittedly, it’s easy to see a price tag of $782 million and feel intimidated, so we thought we should put it into perspective.

  • The ACT Government has spent $1 billion on roads in the last decade.

  • Canberra has the highest car dependency in Australia, and congestion is expected to cost the ACT budget $700 million by 2031 if an effective solution isn't implemented soon. 

  • The Gold Coast light rail which recently celebrated its first birthday cost $1.6 billion for about the same length of track. It too faced much criticism but has since it was constructed, there is overwhelming support for the line, and flow-on economic benefits of light rail. Residents there have now put the second phase of light rail at the top of the agenda.

  • The ACT Government is contributing $375 million, which has been sourced from the Australian Government’s Asset Recycling Scheme and from proceeds from selling surplus assets. It amounts to 0.4% of the ACT budget. 

  • The cost of light rail is spread over a period of 20 years. No education, health or community services are being cut for light rail.

  • Light rail is expected to produce billions in economic, health, social and environment benefits for Canberra.  

3. Canberra is too small for light rail

The Canberra Urban and Regional Futures at the University of Canberra conducted a study into light rail projects around the world that have been implemented in cities of similar size to Canberra and found that overwhelmingly light rail (accompanied by a holistic approach to the project) proved immensely beneficial for each of the cities.

Canberra is due to grow substantially over the next few decades, reaching half a million in 20 years. We can build the essential infrastructure a larger population will need now, or wait until we have real problems in a few decades.

Read the full report here.

4. Light Rail will only service a small part of the population

This is misleading. The first stage of light rail will run from Gungahlin to the City Centre with about 7% of the population living within one kilometre of the light rail corridor. Implementing a large-scale infrastructure project in stages is intelligent project design, and so while it is not only the most economically-viable method, it also ensures that the design can be improved on in subsequent stages. This means that if Stage 1 doesn’t service you, the later stages will and they’ll be even better.

Why Gungahlin though?

Firstly, the route is one of the most congested areas during peak hour, and while there are other more congested roads in Canberra, Gungahlin’s population is growing five times as fast as the rest of Canberra. Choosing Gungahlin for Stage 1 is about smart planning for future populations of Canberra. 

Another reason Gungahlin was chosen as the first stage was due to the impetus it creates to rejuvenate the Northbourne Ave corridor which will create even further reaching economic benefits for all of Canberra, also subsequently making it easier to finance later phases of the project.

It's also worth noting that many government-funded infrastructure projects around Canberra only service a small section of the community, whether it's the Ashely Drive Duplication in Tuggeranong, the Belconnen Community Health Centre, Curtin Group Centre Master Plan or any of the other major infrastructure and construction projects currently underway. It is strange to level this criticism at light rail, particularly when later stages plan to service all of Canberra. 

An Ongoing Conversation

Light rail in Canberra is set to inject an immense amount of much needed stimulus into our city but it has to be done right. It’s not as simple as just building the tracks, the concerns around urban redevelopment and the systems we implement to run them are all crucial pieces of the puzzle. So let’s keep the conversation going and make sure Canberra's light rail is as successful as so many other examples around the world.

If you have further questions or would like to contribute to this page, please shoot us an email at info@fairgoforcanberra.org.au