Slow Trams and Fast Trains: Rail is back on the agenda

Nic Crowther
Mon 04 Apr

For the last 103 years, Canberra has languished with a single, pitiful railway station without access to the main Sydney-Melbourne route. The only way to reach the southern capital is by taking a bus to Yass.

Now, there is all manner of rail mooted for the ACT. This week, both have hit the headlines.



Light Rail – twice as expensive as Rapid Bus Transport

Today, The Grattan Institute has released Roads to Riches ­– an independent study on the suitability and appropriateness of current transport investment across the country.

Needless to say, Canberra’s tram was found to be particularly wanting. Within the report – which could also be titled The Gentle Art of Pork-Barrelling – author Marion Terrill laid it out pretty simply:



“Canberra’s light rail, now being built, is likely to provide no more benefits than bus rapid transit but cost more than twice as much.

With this year’s ACT election likely to be pitched as a referendum on the tram, it appears the ACT Liberals’ proposal for express bus routes to Gungahlin have merit.



It’s well known that the tram came about as part of the alliance between the ACT Labor Party and the ACT Greens after the 2012 election finished with both major parties holding an equal number of seats. Along with a promise to introduce a bill enacting marriage equality, the tram secured government for the incumbent Labor Party.

The fact that an economic argument could not be made for the project was irrelevant. The policy was a matter of political expediency and, as the Report clearly articulates, this is the fault of governments all over Australia. 


High-Speed Rail – More likely than ever?

Money has never been cheaper to borrow – which creates yet another reason for the Federal Government to consider a high speed rail link down the east coast of Australia.

Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Darren Chester, must be giving the concept a hard look. The Minister has asked all relevant State and Territory governments to supply proposals for their section of the link in order to secure a corridor for any future project.



Once again, Canberra Airport is seen as a possible terminus for a spur to the ACT. Airport management has already built the facility into the operation’s masterplan, however the idea is reliant on burrowing a 4km tunnel under Mount Ainslie.

The ACT Government is seemingly behind this idea, and will put the concept to the Federal Government as part of it’s response to the Minister’s call.



It’s interesting to note that while we keep batting this one back and forth (and no commitment is in sight) China has spent the last decade building 19,000km of high speed rail track – and plans to double that by 2020.

At the same time, we’ll enter the fourth decade of discussion for our own network.