ACT light rail industry briefing

By: David Goeldner

Australia’s national capital looks certain to have its light rail ambitions realised following briefing

A tramway proposed by Canberra’s original architect Walter Burley Griffin just on a century ago will now be realised with this week’s official launch of the Capital Metro light rail project.

About 350 delegates turned out at Canberra’s National Convention Centre for an industry briefing to mark the start of a light rail project expected to stimulate economic growth along its corridor, and aid mobility in tandem with feeder bus services and cycling to the 12 km line.

The ACT Government’s Capital Metro Minister Simon Corbell delivered the case for Canberra’s light rail project, emphasising this was not a project merely to move people from A to B.

Corbell says Capital Metro is an opportunity to change and shape the nation’s capital city.

"For too long we have focussed solely on the role of our city as the seat of Federal Government with reliance on the motor vehicle to get around town," he says.

"Our second century must be different. It will be about the best interests of Canberrans now and into the future."

Corbell says to achieve this is to closely link transport and planning strategies, encourage transit-oriented development, and ensure urban infill occurs with high quality public transport infrastructure.

"We understand that with the right infrastructure prior to an increase in development creates a great opportunity for the community, investors and government," he says.

Corbell says the route selected for Canberra’s light rail alignment has a high percentage of government-owned land, which immediately increases opportunities for development.

He also pointed to the past, paying homage to Canberra’s early architects Walter and Marion Griffin who ‘cleverly’ provided for rapid transit along wide medians of the main avenues.

"Unlike many cities now grappling with how to retrofit transport infrastructure, we are fortunate that this space is already available," Corbell says.

Corbell adds the project is pivotal to the rejuvenation of the northern gateway to Canberra, approached from the Federal Highway on to Northbourne Avenue.

"This avenue has the potential to be one of the world’s pre-eminent urban boulevards, currently hosting 40 per cent of the city’s hotels, many businesses and vibrant surrounding precincts," he says.

"We intend to use light rail to unlock the potential of the city centre and this important avenue, catalysing urban renewal."

Corbell says the ACT Government expects investment in light rail will stimulate business activity, increase population density and employment opportunity along the corridor, adding that the success of Stage One would lay the foundation for light rail to serve the rest of the city.

"It’s the government’s intent that the whole of Canberra be serviced by a high quality, strongly integrated public transport system able to reach any destination in the city."

Corbell says Capital Metro is a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity for the ‘right team’ to help shape the nation’s capital.

"We are looking to form strong partnerships with industry to deliver this system, building on the private sector’s ability to innovate and match our enthusiasm to better and further Canberra."

In his pitch to project managers and potential investors among the attendees at the industry briefing, Corbell stipulated the light rail system must be safe, easy to use, frequent, reliable, modern, and provide a high quality customer experience.

He adds there must be excellent urban design that befits the system’s prominent location on Canberra’s front door.

Capital Metro Project Director Emma Thomas says the Northbourne Avenue corridor is the entry-way to Canberra.

"It’s an important route in terms of defining the nation," she says.

Thomas says her team’s aspiration is to provide for an excellent public transport network in Canberra, and not just a light rail system ‘sitting out on its own’.

She says the light rail project would be integrated in the city’s bus network.

Canberra’s public transport My Way smart card, currently used on ACTION buses, would also be integrated with light rail.

"It’s our intent to keep this consistent through our public transport network."

Thomas says Capital Metro would also seek an elegant design that would lead to stimulating urban renewal at the key nodes of Gungahlin, Dickson and Canberra’s CBD.

"We have a great opportunity to do that with the light rail system," she says.

"We want a world-class approach, and we are very serious about this urban design element and how it interacts with other modes of transport – walking, cycling, parking and bus routes."

Thomas says the targeted construction start date is by mid-2016 with operations commencing in 2019.

Since its inception as an ACT Government agency in July 2013, Capital Metro has already commissioned preliminary designs of the route, including space allocated for a depot at Mitchell, and how termini at each end of the route – Gungahlin and the CBD – is visualised.

Bus interchanges, park and ride stations and an average 500 metre sequence of tram stops have been conceptualised along the 12km route on the city’s north side from Gungahlin, one of Canberra’s satellite urban nodes, into the CBD along Flemington Road and Northbourne Avenue.

Trams are expected to operate at 10 minute frequencies, with 5 minutes in the peak. Trams will be between 30 metres and 33 metres in length carrying about 200 passengers. There will be 13 stops along double track line. Total journey time from Gungahlin to the CBD will be 25 minutes.

The industry briefing delved into detail with an address from ACT Treasurer Andrew Barr on the Territory’s ‘investment-friendly’ adjustments to its taxation system, moving to a broad-based approach to revenue collection from land tax.

Barr says the project would be developed as a public-private partnership (PPP), and formed part of a projected $2.5 billion infrastructure plan for the ACT.

Barr was followed by Capital Metro Procurement and Delivery Executive Director Stephen Allday’s presentation on the light rail corridor’s proposed infrastructure and earthworks.

Concluding the formal presentations, Capital Metro’s Finance and Economic Director Duncan Edghill says the agency was seeking a ‘bundled procurement’ process where design, construction, operation, maintenance, light rail vehicle supply, and finance will all be included in the public-private partnership.

Edghill says the ACT Government’s policy is to shortlist two parties, but the agency reserves the right to shortlist to three parties as the EOI responses are evaluated.

He adds that while the ACT Government did not intend to make a financial contribution during the construction phase of the project, a contribution would likely be made at the end of construction, or at a later time, to reduce any PPP debt.

Prospective partners will have until mid-December to lodge their submissions following the October 31, 2014 release of the Expression of Interest documents which Edghill says will include further detail on the procurement process. 

The shortlist of successful bidders is expected to be announced in March 2015. 

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