AUSTRALIA’s federal government has given an extension to Canberra’s light rail system the environmental green light, paving the way for the project to go out to tender with work likely to start later this year.  

Under the plan, dubbed stage 2A by the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government, Canberra’s single light rail line will be extended by around 1.3km from its current terminus at Alinga Street in the city centre to Commonwealth Park.  

Revenue services on the 12km Canberra Metro light rail line commenced in April 2019. The project was delivered through a public-private partnership (PPP) between the ACT government and the Canberra Metro consortium, which included construction and operation of the line for 20 years. 

The plan calls for London Circuit road to be raised several metres, creating an intersection at the north end of Commonwealth Avenue, which London Circuit had previously run beneath, transforming one of the city’s centrepieces.  

“The new line extension will provide access to businesses, to residences, to entertainment precincts, the Australian National University, and our major entertainment and events venue at Commonwealth Park,” says ACT transport minister, Mr Chris Steel.  

“Subject to Commonwealth approvals, the start of construction could be as early as 2021, with potential passengers boarding as early as 2024.” 

Steel says that the project still has some obstacles to negotiate. “While federal environment protection and biodiversity conservation (EPBC) approvals have been obtained for Stage 2A including raising London Circuit, further planning approvals are required for the project from the National Capital Authority (NCA) and the ACT Planning and Land Authority,” he says. 

A separate federal EPBC process is underway for the next stage of the light rail expansion project, Stage 2B, from Commonwealth Park to the suburb of Woden. The process is expected to take around 18 months. Phase 2B is included in the government’s $A 14bn ($US 10.6bn) ACT Infrastructure Plan

Funding for early works on Stage 2A have been provided in the 2020-21 ACT budget, with $A 2.1m set aside to raise London Circuit to align with Commonwealth Avenue. Construction could start in 2021-22 and will take about two years. 

Funding has also been allocated in the 2020-21 budget to assess the benefits of extending light rail from Woden to Mawson. 

The ACT government has also indicated that it will buy four additional LRVs to cope with the increased demand.  

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