Case for light rail still to be shown

The Canberra Times, September 10, 2014, Editorial, Times2, p2

Main Points

Canberra's light rail project was given the formal go-ahead by the Gallagher government on Monday, all reservations about its utility and its capital and running costs swept aside by talk of sustainable development, quality public transport, and improved health outcomes.
Capital metro Minister Simon Corbell reiterated the cost of construction would be $783 million, which he said was "consistent with the previous estimate of $614 million adjusted for escalation and risk".
So confident is the government of the project's viability and its economic benefits that it has effectively quarantined it from any potential fallot from the Mr Fluffy asbestos clean-up, pursuing a public private partnership for the tram line and claiming that since the outlay of taxpayer funds during the capital-intensive construction phase will be minimal there will be "no call on the budget within the next five years".
What about the government's liabilities in the years after construction? Would not that liability be more manageable if, instead of a rail link, the government expanded and improved the ACTION bus network?
That the corridor will open up significant land development opportunities is not in dispute. But doubt still clouds that significant numbers of new jobs will be generated, and there's been little to say how people living outside of the northern suburbs will benefit.

Tied to the tracks

The Canberra Times, September 10, 2014, Editorial, Times2, p2

Katy Gallagher's "line in the sand" on the cost of the light rail project got a little blurier this week. In August, the Chief Minister as near as assured voters that cabinet would tolerate a construction cost of $700 million, that is, the 2011 estimate of $614 million adjusted for 2014 dollars, and not a penny more. But Capital Metro Minister Simon Corbell now says the original price tag of $614 million should be adjusted for the year the tram begins operation: 2019. If inflation continues at about 3 per cent a year, the proposed 12-kilometre line from Gungahlin to the city will cost $760 million. That price tag is exclusive of monies already spent (about $23 million on planning, consultancy and establishing the Capital Metro Authority), meaning there won't be much change out of $800 million. Mr Corbell points out construction will be funded by a private sector partner, or a consortium more likely, and that it is only reasonable to adjust the cost on the basis of when that consortium begins receiving government money to own and operate the line.
True, but the government's subtle obscuring of the expected final cost, and its continued refusal to release updated costings, looks uncomfortably like financial entrapment.