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Liberals say Canberra light rail network could cost $10.9 billion

Canberra Times logo Canberra Times 24/05/2014 Phillip Thomson
The government has committed to start building a Gungahlin to Civic line by 2016. © Provided by Canberra Times The government has committed to start building a Gungahlin to Civic line by 2016.

Building a light rail network across 17 Canberra routes would cost $10.9 billion if it was the same per-kilometre price to build as the system on the Gold Coast, according to the ACT opposition's calculations. 

The Canberra Liberals have released the numbers in an attempt to start a debate about what it says is the government's needless commitment to light rail at a time of significant budgetary challenges for the ACT.  

The government has committed to start building a Gungahlin to Civic line by 2016 – part of the agreement with balance of power Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury – and the project known as Capital Metro will cost $614 million.  

The opposition's figures say 17 light rail routes across Canberra would cost $5.8 billion if they were all constructed at the same per-kilometre cost as the Capital Metro line from Gungahlin to Civic.

The party's "best-case scenario" figure is $4 billion. This figure allows for the assumption that money does not need to be spent more than once on certain infrastructure, such as depots.The Liberals say none of their calculations allow for the extra cost of bridges or tunnels.

Opposition transport spokesman Alistair Coe said it was important for the government to tell the truth about how much light rail would cost beyond the first stage of the Capital Metro project.

"Based on the government's own figure of $614 million for Gungahlin to the city, the projected cost of the government's ACT master plan would be billions of dollars to build," Mr Coe said. "The case for light rail doesn't stack up."

He said because the federal government under Julia Gillard refused to fund any of the project – and it seems increasingly unlikely Tony Abbott will throw in funds either –  it would be "Canberra households who will foot the bill".

Environment and Sustainable Development Minister Simon Corbell said the opposition was trying to frighten people. Mr Corbell said the Liberals' numbers "are so absurdly speculative, they are childish" and asked whether the opposition was against building new suburbs and roads as well.

"[Light rail] will increase land values and create thousands of jobs, particularly low-skilled and unskilled workers at a time when unemployment will increase because of federal budget cuts," Mr Corbell said.

"All cities build their rail networks on a route by route basis based on analysis that supports that.

"When, where and how much are matters that will have to be dealt with by future governments.

"They [the opposition] have no alternative vision for public transport in the city."

The Liberals' figures included routes across the territory outlined on page 4 of the government's Transport for Canberra and the ACT Planning Strategy document.

The document describes where transport, such as bus and light rail routes, would be focused in the next 20 years.

The opposition's figure of $5.8 billion was worked out by taking the Gungahlin to Civic cost, of $614 million, and dividing that by 12.5 kilometres. That gave a per-kilometre cost of $49 million and this was multiplied to the various distances of the 17 routes.

The distances were worked out along major roads and the Liberals said there was no duplication of lines. The best-cost scenario of $4.2 billion was worked out to be nearly $34 million per kilometre.

The Gold Coast's network was calculated to be $92 million a kilometre by the Queensland government.  

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