By Niki Burnside
Construction of the ACT’s light rail line is due to be completed in late 2018, but a start date for services has been delayed. (Supplied: Canberra Metro)
The pain of light rail construction will be drawn out by at least a month after the ACT Government announced the system would not be operational until early 2019.
- Government does not know when light rail will be finished, but it will not be before 2019
- Transport Minister says risks like weather and testing of systems affected the timing
- Opposition calls on Government to provide “ballpark month” for start of operation
Minister for Transport Meegan Fitzharris said construction was due to be completed in late 2018 but today admitted she could not guarantee light rail would be operational by the beginning of the school year.
While she was not able to provide a firm date for when passengers would begin to make use of the line, Ms Fitzharris downplayed the delay, saying the installation of Canberra’s first light rail stage was “complex”.
Part of the uncertainty is down to the process of acquiring third-party rail accreditation, which Canberra Metro will have to obtain after construction ends.
“There are risks that affect the timing, such as weather, the testing and commissioning of rail and signalling systems, and finalising of stops,” Ms Fitzharris said.
Speaking to ABC Radio Canberra on Friday, she said a new bus timetable scheduled for rollout at the same time would not be delayed, but conceded public transport services could be affected in the interim.
“Once we have a date for light rail services, we will work around that, but we are prepared to have the bus network start,” she said.
“And all things being equal, as of today, the bus networks start on the first day of term next year and we’ll work around light rail operations and align those two whenever light rail starts.”
In June, it was revealed the ACT Government had pushed back the completion dates in five areas of the light rail project and had failed to meet all but one of its delivery targets for 2018.
Building was initially slated for completion in March, then pushed back to August. Today, the last rail will be put in place.
Start date confusion ‘disappointing’
Months of light rail construction have caused traffic delays for Canberrans. (ABC Canberra: Michael Black)
While no specific date for operations had previously been scheduled, information on the Canberra Metro website and on signs along the light rail corridor indicated services would begin in 2018.
The deputy director-general of Transport Canberra, Duncan Edghill, said it was not surprising to experience issues and delays on a large-scale infrastructure project.
“There have been, throughout the entirety of the project, program changes,” he told ABC Radio Canberra.
“You could almost say that, with the final track going down today, that effectively the hard part of construction’s complete.”
Opposition leader Alistair Coe criticised the uncertainty surrounding the project’s end point.
“The fact that they can’t now give a date that it’s going to be operational, I think is pretty disappointing,” he said.
Mr Coe suggested Canberra Metro was not contractually obliged to have the first tram up and running until 2019.
“The contract says by early 2019 it’s meant to be operational,” Mr Coe said.
“So I’m not quite sure what this whole announcement today means, because they’re still saying early 2019, yet there’s delays.
“Why can’t they give us a ballpark month that it’s going to be operational?”