Paul / Heavy burden of light rail

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IT’S no secret, I’m one of those concerned about the cost of the Capital Metro light rail.

Marcus Paul.
Marcus Paul.
Having worked on the Gold Coast and reported on the construction of the G-Link light rail there, I was excited at first: Wow! New infrastructure for Canberra.

Then I saw the numbers. Quite simply, they don’t add up. A conservative figure of $1 billion for 13kms of light rail servicing only a small percentage of the population of Canberra? Hmmm. Then there’s the annual running costs plus, it’s obvious now, Canberrans to the south are not impressed.

To me, suburban Canberrans are more concerned about the degradation of local shopping centres, hospital waiting times and the state of some of our roads than light rail.

And that’s before we even get into the politics of it all, and before contractors (which the Government says will be local) start lopping the trees to convert Northbourne Avenue to an “urban meadow”.

Critics point to the cost, the political favours and that light rail isn’t sustainable – for now. The Government, with new Chief Minister Andrew Barr and light rail captain Simon Corbell counter with arguments of urban renewal, job creation and providing appropriate transport infrastructure for our city’s future.

But at what cost, Andrew? An overwhelming majority of Canberrans I speak to simply don’t want it, especially with renewed voter concern at the passing of oppressive planning laws to fast-track Capital Metro and silence any protests.

The Government claims it only applies to infrastructure surrounding the tram line – roads, footpaths, bike lanes and the like. However, I think it will open the floodgates to allow any development along the corridor declared as “related to light rail”.

In a damning indictment, the ACT director of the Planning Institute of Australia, Hamish Sinclair, says he has “grave and deep concerns”. And Assembly Speaker Vicki Dunn’s branded the move “an act of cowardice”.

The Liberal Opposition continues to vow there will be no light rail if they win the 2016 ACT election. Even when pressed about a point of no return, leader Jeremy Hanson and his light rail attack dog, Alistair Coe, remain firm – they will stop it.

One thing is for certain, despite whatever contracts already negotiated, this will be a major issue of ACT politics until the election.

Canberra should have a light rail system – eventually; when the budget looks healthier, the Mr Fluffy loans are repaid and our airport gets some long-awaited international flights.

Until then, Chief Minister, I’m afraid, the vast majority of your constituents simply don’t want a bar of it.

Marcus Paul hosts the drive show on 2CC.

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  1. Spot on! Light rail is Andrew Barr’s fast track to electoral oblivion, but unfortunately he seems determined to destroy not just his party’s chances of re-election but the ACT budget on his way out. $1billion for a public transport solution that bypasses 93% of Canberrans just doesn’t make sense, not for a city of our size and density. At least with the Gold Coast light rail a much bigger percentage of the population live within walking distance and it services a hospital, university, various tourist destinations. Capital Metro Stage 1 by contrast is just a commuter line, with hardly any notable destinations en route, not even a university. As such it will be running near empty 21 hours a day.

    One of the most worrying aspects for me is that three of the six Cabinet Ministers who signed off on the business case and gave the project the go-ahead – Gallagher, Barr, and Rattenbury – all live in and own property in the light rail corridor and, unlike 93% of Canberrans, stand to personally benefit. Talk about a conflict of interest! Even if there is nothing untoward about this, it’s a bad look, and at the very least they’re guilty of groupthink. Because they live in the inner north, rarely venturing south of the lake or west of Black Mountain, they view their own neighbourhoods as the centre of the universe and find it hard to understand that the rest of Canberra does not see the world like they and their neighbours do, and that people in the suburbs might not be willing to pay $700 in additional rates per year to fund a toy train for a handful of Ministers, hipsters and Gungahlistas, why they themselves are unable to even catch a bus to work in under an hour.

    As for Northbourne’s trees, many love them and will fight to protect them. Legislation may limit our right to appeal their removal, but nothing stops people engaging in direct action.

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