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Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories
Stage 2 of the Australian Capital Territory light rail project

THOMAS, Ms Emma, Director-General, Transport Canberra and City Services, Australian Capital Territory Government

EDGHILL, Mr Duncan, Deputy Director General, Transport Canberra, Australian Capital Territory Government

NELSON, Dr Pam, Project Director, Light Rail City to Woden, Australian Capital Territory Government

Committee met at 13:37

CHAIR ( Mr Morton ): I declare open this public hearing of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories for the inquiry into Commonwealth and parliamentary approvals for the proposed stage 2 of the ACT light rail project. The route for stage 2 of the ACT light rail project is proposed to travel through parts of the Parliamentary Zone on its way from the Canberra CBD to Woden town centre. The Parliamentary Zone is the key ceremonial area of Australia's capital city and houses some of the nation's most significant institutions and buildings, such as the one we're in here today. It is an area filled with examples of our heritage and national identity that should be preserved for all Australians. It is also a place of employment for many Canberrans. While the project will begin to fulfil Walter Burley Griffin's vision for the city, bringing some obvious practical benefits to its residents, the parliament has a duty to preserve the heritage values of the Parliamentary Zone.

Today is the committee's first public hearing for this inquiry, and we are pleased to have in attendance some of the key Australian and ACT government agencies that are working to bring the light rail project to fruition. In particular, the committee looks forward to these public hearings assisting in the development of a clear understanding of the relevant approval processes that involve parliament and the federal government.

In accordance with the committee's resolution on 13 October 2016, this hearing will be broadcast on the parliament's website, and the proof and official transcripts of proceedings will be published on the parliament's website. Those present here today are advised that filming and recording are permitted during the hearing. I also remind members of the media who may be present or listening on the web of the need to fairly and accurately report the proceedings of the committee. I now welcome the representatives from the ACT government to give evidence today.

Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the respective houses. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. The evidence given today will be recorded by Hansard and attracts parliamentary privilege. I now invite you to make a brief opening statement before we proceed to discussion.

Ms Thomas : We acknowledge that we are meeting on the land of the Ngunnawal people and acknowledge their owners past, present and emerging, as well as all of the Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander people here today. Thank you to the chair, Ben Morton, and the members of the committee for the opportunity to talk with you this afternoon.

Nearly 100 years ago, Walter Burley Griffin envisaged a city with a north-south mass transit spine like the Gungahlin to Woden route. The ACT government is progressing the Gungahlin to Woden route. Gungahlin to the city is now at live testing, and our planning for city to Woden is well underway. We have undertaken community consultation to inform the preferred alignment and developed the definition design reports, which give a clear route with early costings, and now we are progressing the concept design. To proceed confidently, we need clarity from the Commonwealth. In our submission, we have put forward recommendations to provide direction to the project and to support a cooperative working relationship with the Commonwealth.

Canberra will have a population of half a million people by 2030. The Gungahlin to Woden light rail route through Parkes and Barton will help meet the needs of our expanding population before traffic congestion significantly impacts Canberra's liveability. By 2036, 195,000 people will work and nearly 75,000 people will live or study within 800 metres of the city to Woden corridor. The indicative development plan for the Parliamentary Zone points to this substantial growth and congestion challenge, projecting an employment increase of 50 per cent by 2041. This growth will intensify the transport demand to, from and through the Parliamentary Zone, impacting on the amenity of this nationally significant area. We know that if we do nothing, the cost of this congestion in the ACT will increase from $208 million per annum in 2011 to $703 million per annum in 2031. In real terms, congestion in this area will make it challenging for people to get to work, to go about their day-to-day activities and for visitors to access the national capital attractions and experiences. We can meet the needs of Canberra's population growth while enhancing the amenity and connection within the nationally important areas.

Commonwealth Avenue is the preferred alignment across Lake Burley Griffin. Our investigations have shown that other options are not viable, as outlined in section 33.3 of our submission. Light rail will assist in revitalising Commonwealth Avenue and help deliver a nationally significant boulevard that is intended in the National Capital Plan. Importantly, we know from other examples throughout the world that light rail can be sensitively designed for places of heritage and significance. A full environmental impact assessment is required and would provide recommendations to minimise and mitigate any potential implications from the project. The ACT government has reaffirmed its commitment to the development of this north-south transit spine with $12.5 million to progress the project announced in this year's budget.

At this early stage, where there are still many details to work through and expert advice to source, we are seeking an open and cooperative working relationship with the Commonwealth government and the National Capital Authority on the preferred route. The recommendations set out in page 9 of our submission assist us in navigating the Commonwealth approvals process and support further investment in the project development. We look forward to working with the committee and representatives of the Commonwealth.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Ms Thomas. If it can assist the committee, I would like to break our questioning up into two distinct parts, if that's okay, around the jurisdictional approvals processes. I have quite a few questions there and other members may have some too. Once we've dealt with that, we might ask more questions about the route options, the technology options and the heritage issues in the triangle so we don't bounce around too much.

A part of our endeavour is to ensure that it is well understood that the parliament and the Australian government have a role in approving this project because of its intersection in the national capital area—I always get that term a little bit wrong—and the Parliamentary Zone so it is not just the Parliamentary Zone. I think that has been well understood through the submissions that have been received.

Getting to understand your interaction with the National Capital Authority, what has the interaction been from the ACT government? Has the National Capital Authority been working with you in designing or selecting the route options, or has its work being only to assess the route option that you have placed to it?

On page 19 of your submission you talked about:

Discussions with the National Capital Authority (NCA) also revealed a preference from the Commonwealth for the Barton route to improve amenity in the area.

I want to get a better understanding of what the role of the NCA is—if they've been working with you on route selection or if their job is just to approve your final route, and where that's at?

Ms Thomas : We've always maintained a very close relationship with the National Capital Authority throughout phase 1 of the light rail project and that's continued in stage 2. We have been close enough to present to the board on regular occasions about what we were planning to do. I think in the early stages it's been more to share our thoughts and understanding and get input from the NCA rather than in a formal sense, but guidance as to what might or might not be more preferential. It hasn't been in a direct approval role but more in a guiding sense and, as I said, iterations of various discussions. The design of an initial light rail route is quite iterative in nature where certain things work or don't work. It's important to get a bit of an understanding at first to understand how much, where we can go, and what things are difficult for the NCA to consider versus what things are presenting us with technical difficulties.

CHAIR: I want to be clear on this point, obviously, from the NCA you get advice in relation to design elements in relation to the National Capital Plan. If I were to ask the NCA, 'Have they had involvement in the route selection process or given views to the ACT government on how the project as a whole would move from Civic to Woden through this area?' would they say that they've been a partner with the ACT government in that route selection or would they say that they have given you technical advice on the routes that you've proposed to them?

Ms Thomas : I wouldn't presume to speak for the National Capital Authority—

CHAIR: I knew that would be your preamble!

Mr Edghill : I think it's a combination of both, so certain decisions have been made by the ACT government. The city to Woden corridor was purely a decision by the ACT government in the first place, but then when it comes to specific elements of whereabouts the route should go, through the parliamentary zone in particular, then the decision to go—for example, through Windsor Walk or down King George Terrace versus other roads—has been in partnership and in dialogue with the NCA, so it has gone beyond mere technical advice. The other important element has been conversations with the NCA and public documentation. There's the intertown transport plan with the National Capital Plan, which indicates Commonwealth Avenue as the route for intertown transport connections. Then there's also other public documents produced by the NCA, such as the draft Kings Avenue Commonwealth Avenue plan, which have guided our thinking.

CHAIR: Did the NCA provide this feedback to you on route selection in any formal submission or was it more informal?

Ms Thomas : Most recently, we had a formal correspondence from the NCA outlining their concerns and areas that we would need to address further.

CHAIR: Do other members of the committee have questions in relation to the approval processes before we move onto the actual route and heritage issues?

Ms BRODTMANN: Yes. When you read the submissions you do realise that there are a number of players in this space and probably more than, I think, we as a committee originally anticipated. The one that really stands out for me is the fact that we've got the EPBC Act overlay here. It's obvious when I now think of it. So now we also have the department of environment, and you've acknowledged that in your submission. Have you had any conversations, because they are going to have a major role to play in this process? Usually when they're involved in a process like this it takes some time, and I'm thinking here about Shine Dome and Nishi. Have you had conversations with the department already? What's been the response to that? Have they identified what will need approvals and then a time line along that?

Ms Thomas : I might let Pam talk to any detailed conversations that we've had. But absolutely—we have every expectation that we would need to go through that process and we have allowed significant time frames to do it. It's not common for someone to give you a time frame about how long, but it's at least a 12-month process, we would expect. We're in the process of preparing that referral for the EPBC at the moment. It is important as part of this process for us to understand how the committee hearings and the process through the Australian government is going to work, to help with the EPBC process, as well. In terms of our interactions with the Department of the Environment and Energy, can you advise, Pam?

Dr Nelson : On page 61 of our submission we talk about the fact that we've discussed with the Department of the Environment and Energy. We have been talking to them from very early on in the project. We are very well aware that we will need to make an EPBC referral. We've spoken to them about how that will be done and the time it will require. We are very much expecting it to be a controlled action and expect to have to do an environmental impact statement and to go through the normal rigorous processes associated with environmental approvals.

Ms BRODTMANN: Have you identified which areas or which elements of this particular footprint will need to be identified and then go through that EIS and EPBC process?

Dr Nelson : Certainly all the Commonwealth areas that need to go through the EPBC Act will do so. We also obviously have the ACT areas, where we'll have similar EIS requirements.

Ms BRODTMANN: Do you have a list of those Commonwealth areas?

Dr Nelson : There is a map in our submission on page 58 which shows you all the different areas, what legislation they may fall under and hence where we would need to get those approvals.

Ms BRODTMANN: So it's more a zone rather than a specific a building?

Dr Nelson : Yes. Because it's a linear project it will obviously be across the length of the project.

Ms BRODTMANN: So if we're going, say, across Commonwealth Avenue, we've got the bridge, then we've got the trees along there. That's all included, is it, that whole avenue with the vista around that—the hotel, East Block?

Dr Nelson : Heritage, vista, biodiversity—the lot.

Ms Thomas : The environmental impact statement is very broad reaching. We're not unfamiliar with them. Even though we didn't have a controlled action for stage 1, we still did a full environmental impact statement for that part of the project. So we're prepared for going through that process again, understanding that due to the nature of the project and particularly the heritage significance, it will be a very strong focus of the Department of the Environment and Energy.

Ms BRODTMANN: And that whole approach applies right across Old Parliament House.

Senator RHIANNON: I want to understand the project in terms of getting people to use it, which is obviously critical. Considering the parking constraints in the Parliamentary Triangle, a lot of people who work here are obviously public servants. Is the federal government doing anything or are there discussions underway to encourage public servants to use the light rail and promote it?

Ms Thomas : We're working collaboratively with the city as a whole to encourage public transport usage. We just released bus network changes which give some view to more rapid services and people being able to use those services more easily. In terms of the light rail stage 2, we've had numerous consultations along the route. The team have been talking with various government departments to understand how people might use it into the future. We'd like to think that with an integrated transport system that allows not only light rail but integration with the bus network and integration with our active travel network that people are given a lot more options to make those choices.

Senator RHIANNON: And actually love them? I know it's way off, but the promotional side of it and starting to get people to think about it—is that underway, as well as the integration? Coming from Sydney I can say that's great to hear about. It's quite refreshing. Is there a promotional side amongst people who are likely users on its way?

Ms Thomas : Yes, absolutely. We've been starting to roll out promotion for the integration of stage 1 and the bus network. We have the same ticketing system which will allow that integration to work really well, so people can use one ticket for any form of transport that they choose, bus or light rail. We'll continue that. I think the use and operation of stage 1 will be a precursor to stage 2 and giving people some idea of how that might work for their own travel needs.

Mr Edghill : I would add that we're very conscious that it's not simply city to Woden. It's important to look at the entirety of the route from Gungahlin through the city to Woden. On page 32 of the submission, for example, it provides an indication of the distribution of hotels through the city. This map indicates both for business and personal travellers that it makes some sense linking the cultural institutions and employment nodes in Parkes and Barton, for example, to where most of the hotels in the city are, which are north of the lake.

Senator RHIANNON: Ms Thomas, in the first part of your response, you said that departments were promoting it. Which departments are on board and are actually actively doing this?

Ms Thomas : I don't think I said that departments were promoting it, but our team has been working actively with departments along the route. We haven't gone into that promotion stage yet, because we're still in the early design phases. We would expect to be doing a number of community consultations throughout the design process, and as we start to get closer and closer to actually building it, that's when we start to have far more operational discussions about how people might use the network.

Senator RHIANNON: So you don't have a timeline on when the promotional side will work? That's more off in the distance, is it?

Ms Thomas : Yes. I think it will probably be heavily dependent on this process as well, to understand what pathways we might have through our design process through to construction.

Senator RHIANNON: I want to move on to issues about the cost and a new bridge. What would be the additional cost of having to build a new bridge over the lake a Commonwealth Avenue?

Mr Edghill : In the submission that we made the ACT government has provided some cost guidance for the entirety of the project, which is in the range of $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion. That is future dollars, reflective of us building it in the future. The exact cost of building a new bridge will of course be subject to future procurement processes, but the cost of doing so is included within that price guidance which has been provided by the government.

CHAIR: So what part of that total cost is the bridge?

Mr Edghill : I would have to take that on notice. It is subject to ACT government cabinet-in-confidence processes, so I would need to take that on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: If you can take that on notice, that would be good. What you're saying is that you understand that the overall $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion will cover it?

Mr Edghill : Correct.

Senator RHIANNON: Also on cost, what is the cost impact on the project of NCA additional requirements, which I understand is the wire-free operations, and also for Adelaide Avenue to be tree lined?

Mr Edghill : We've not broken the cost down in that way. I think part of the reason why that's the case is we want to also be achieving great outcomes for Canberra. Regardless of NCA views, I think it would be the view of the ACT government anyway that there are areas of national significance where wire-free running is warranted or where additional trees can enhance the urban landscape. So the price that we've put forward at the moment reflects what the government in any event would want to be seeing from the project. If in time there are additional requirements that come through the planning process, then we can work that out, given that we've put a price into public planning.

Senator RHIANNON: So those two aspects would fit under the $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion, would they?

Mr Edghill : The $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion includes wire-free running and a new bridge. It also includes substantial risk contingency amounts. The ACT government is aware that we're only at a very early stage of the project's development. So given that there is a degree of uncertainty, there is a contingency in that, which is inherent in that number, too.

Senator RHIANNON: Given how these projects can blow out in costs, and that some of those costs are as a result of federal government requirements, is there any expectation that the federal government would make a financial contribution? I also think some of it is on federal government land.

Mr Edghill : It is.

Senator RHIANNON: So what's our involvement?

Mr Edghill : If I contrast it with rail stage 1, the Commonwealth government made a contribution of around $70 million to that as part of the asset recycling scheme. Those conversations came a little further on down the track. We're still at a reasonably early stage. One thing that we are cognisant of is that certain of the land is Commonwealth land and we will need to enter into licensing discussions and land access arrangements with the Commonwealth. We would be hopeful, and I think it's reflected in one of our recommendations, that the substantial investment that the ACT government is proposing to make, which would be of benefit to the Commonwealth, is reflected in some of those discussions that we're having around access to land.

Senator RHIANNON: So it's fair to say that you're in early discussions about land use and possible assistance in funding?

Mr Edghill : The ACT government would welcome any contribution that the Commonwealth government would be prepared to make.

Senator RHIANNON: Are those discussions being anticipated or initiated? How would you put it?

Mr Edghill : Anticipated. There is still the process that we're going through at the moment to have some certainty that the project can proceed as planned, which needs to occur first before some of those other discussions can commence in earnest.

Senator RHIANNON: One more question on cost, because I think it is probably what one has to ask. What are the direct financial benefits to the federal government likely to be?

Mr Edghill : I can't put a precise dollar figure on it as we sit here at the moment, though I know that we have given thought to that, both here and in light rail stage 1. The financial benefits come from a few different factors. One is simply the value of the land itself. We will be putting light rail and light rail stops past Commonwealth-owned land. You can see in Canberra and elsewhere in Australia that having easy connections to world-class mass transit increases the value of land. So there will be a significant direct dollar benefit to the Commonwealth government. Then there are other benefits that come through providing employees with an easier way to get to work. There are also benefits that come from avoiding traffic congestion. We know, for example, that there may be future developments in the Parliamentary Triangle. People need to get to those developments. If it's not through well-designed public transport then it's through the motor vehicle, and motor vehicles cause an economic congestion cost to Canberra.

Senator RHIANNON: Particularly on the value of the land, because that could be very significant, would that be something that will come into your negotiations, like value capture of the land in terms of your negotiations with the government in terms of their gaining a financial advantage, therefore there should be a contribution? It's like developers around railway stations are pulled into various schemes.

Ms Thomas : It's a possible conversation to have, but I think at the moment all the team has done is start to look at the assessment of what the benefits would be as a whole, without allocating them to different government levels. We would consider those should the governments have more discussions.

Ms LEY: What's your understanding of the heritage preservation requirements within the Parliamentary Zone? You've mentioned that you'll be having discussions with, I assume, the Commonwealth Department of the Environment and Energy, but can you give us a sense of what the challenges will be?

Mr Edghill : I think there may be some which are referenced in the submission itself. We're very, very conscious that we're going through areas of exceptional, massive national significance. Some of those heritage values are associated with Old Parliament House, with the building that we're in at the moment, with the Aboriginal tent embassy, through to Commonwealth Avenue heritage associated with trees, buildings and vistas. We're very alive to those and they have been very much at the forefront of our conversations with the NCA.

Ms LEY: Apologies if you've put this in your submission, but approximately how many stops would there be in the parliamentary zone?

Mr Edghill : Through the parliamentary zone itself—

Ms LEY: So there is only one?

Mr Edghill : As narrowly defined under the act, there is the one, but in the parliamentary—

Ms LEY: I think the chair mentioned that there's a parliamentary zone and then there's a wider area.

CHAIR: On, and on the edge of, the parliamentary zone would be a different answer.

Mr Edghill : Albert Hall, in the vicinity of Old Parliament House, Brisbane Avenue, and Sydney Avenue are in the immediate vicinity.

Ms LEY: So it's those three, which are close.

Mr Edghill : Through an earlier community consultation process that we went through, there was significant demand for stops—as part of the feedback given to us—in this region.

CHAIR: Going to time line issues and approvals, I'm looking at your submission on pages 63 and 70 and I'm just trying to match those up. It mentions pre-application discussions between NCA and the territory government and then consideration by the NCA board. When you put your formal and final plans for approval to the NCA?

Ms Thomas : Are you asking for a specific date or the process?

CHAIR: Yes, in which month or—

Mr Edghill : We are working on the basis, and the details are set out through here, that works approval itself is at the end of the process—and we're working on the assumption that the NCA won't issue works approval until parliament has had the opportunity to consider the matter. So in that respect our—

CHAIR: Sorry; on page 63 is it not the other way round? The works approval assessment occurs before it even comes to the minister and then to parliament.

Mr Edghill : What we're contemplating there is preliminary assessments, which are undertaken by the NCA, which will help inform parliament's decision. But the works approval itself is the very bottom box on that page.

CHAIR: Okay, yes. So when do you submit your documentation to the NCA for your works approval assessment?

Mr Edghill : As soon as possible, but it's very much dependent upon Commonwealth processes, both the EPBC Act processes that we were talking about before plus any guidance that may be provided through this process.

CHAIR: So when are you expecting the parliament to approve—or when should I as a member of parliament expect the actual proposal to be laid before each house of parliament? When will I be voting on that, in your ideal time line?

Ms Thomas : This depends somewhat on this process that we're going at through the moment, for us to understand that. Ideally—

CHAIR: If this process wasn't happening now, when would it be?

Mr Edghill : If it wasn't happening now, that changes the dynamics quite a lot. But, knowing that the EPBC process will take 12 months—and certain of these things can happen in parallel—and subject to caretaker periods and all the rest of it, we wouldn't expect it before the latter part of 2019.

CHAIR: Okay. I just wanted to check on that because you had in here: 'Commonwealth government route endorsement 2018'. What does that mean? Is that this process?

Ms Thomas : One of the things that we're really hopeful of, and that we're seeking some advice on out of this process—to go through an environmental impact statement, we really need to understand where we're going to allow us to do all of those assessments—so we need some help in responding to that.

CHAIR: I'll move on to specific route considerations, engineering considerations and heritage considerations. I've mentioned previously the issue about Commonwealth Avenue bridge versus Kings Avenue bridge being utilised. I understand that if we were to use Kings Avenue Bridge and Constitution Avenue, that's an extra two kilometres of distance but it adds five to seven minutes. How does that work—how does the two kilometres add so much time? And why is that important?

Ms Thomas : In terms of the time frames that it adds, it's not just the linear distance that slows the tram speed down, it's the number of turns it might take, it's the speed it can get up to in other parts of the environment, such as Constitution Avenue. So there are a number of factors that contribute to the overall journey time of a light rail vehicle. The other consideration, though, is what amenity people can get to from Kings Avenue Bridge. Going over that area, the travel distance to the national institutions, particularly, and, if we think about Canberra and the national significance of this as a place to visit for many people, the distance for walking from Kings Avenue Bridge is quite different to the distance if we go down the Commonwealth Avenue path.

CHAIR: It's a triangle, so how does that make the distance any greatly different?

Mr Edghill : The alignment that goes over Commonwealth Avenue, if you back it up northwards a little bit, it allows us to go around the western part of London Circuit, so we're able to service ANU, but there are two stops which—

CHAIR: But, even from Northbourne Avenue, you're talking two blocks closer to ANU, really. I walked from Civic to ANU when I was a student on a number of occasions, including late at night, so it can be done.

Mr Edghill : If you've tried to traverse from one side of Vernon Circle to the other side, it's not the easiest. So it does allow us to pick that up. It allows us to pick up West Basin and Commonwealth Park. The stop at Albert Hall allows some of the westernmost cultural institutions in the parliamentary triangle to be reached—the likes of Questacon and so forth—which aren't so easily reached if we come across Kings Avenue. And of course, it allows for a stop on King George Terrace out the front of Old Parliament House, which also helps to provide easy access both to Parliament House and to those cultural institutions on the lake.

CHAIR: When you talk about it taking five to seven minutes longer, that's using Constitution Avenue. I noticed that in the NCA submission they proposed an alternative which would be to use Parkes Way. I assume that would be cheaper because of the built environment and the speeds. Is that correct?

Mr Edghill : Parkes Way serves an arterial road function. Unfortunately, we've not had the benefit of seeing the submission from the NCA that you're referring to. But there are also gradient issues, given that from Parkes Way you have to get up onto Commonwealth Avenue Bridge—or whichever bridge—to get from that location to over the lake. But Parkes Way has, as I say, other functions that don't lend themselves easily to a light rail solution. You also actually have to provide people access, depending on where you're putting stops. By coming through Commonwealth Avenue and through the parliamentary zone, it actually helps the light rail system to fulfil its prime function, which is being easy for people to use, and taking people to places where they actually want to go.

Ms Thomas : I think the other thing with Parkes Way is that there's not a lot of land along there that would naturally develop over time with a light rail route running through it, for that very reason that Duncan mentioned.

CHAIR: That's why I intuitively prefer Constitution Avenue—for that reason. Was any consideration given to a tunnel under the lake?

Mr Edghill : Very early consideration, which was dismissed relatively—

CHAIR: Dismissed for what reason?

Mr Edghill : There is a significant cost associated with tunnelling under the entirety of the parliamentary zone.

CHAIR: Can you explain to me the differences between the crossings at Kings Avenue and Commonwealth Avenue? I understand the bridges are different in some way. Also, while you're not able to do so today—and you've taken on notice whether or not you can tell us the cost of the additional bridge—what's the cost differential, if you could tell us that, between using an existing lane of Commonwealth Avenue and the building of a new bridge?

Mr Edghill : To answer the second question first, the differential is actually not that great, in terms of dollar cost, between putting it on one of the existing bridges versus building a whole new bridge because, when you're retrofitting an older bridge, there are just complications with doing that, in many respects. It is easier to build a new bridge in between. But the other two key differentials are, first, around the traffic impacts from any new bridge as opposed to taking a lane of traffic on Northbourne Avenue. By putting light rail on a new bridge between the existing two bridges, it maintains traffic flow on Commonwealth Avenue. The other key difference is that, in many respects, it's simpler—rather than the ACT government building an asset on a Commonwealth-owned asset, which will have some challenges which would need to be worked through. By simply maintaining different assets, it does away with a lot of potential complications about who's looking after what assets, and, if there are any issues down the line, who caused it.

CHAIR: So it would be your bridge then?

Mr Edghill : If we are paying for it, yes.

CHAIR: In relation to connections to the airport, wouldn't the utilisation of Kings Avenue Bridge have provided for better future access to provide a spur line to the airport?

Ms Thomas : On page 14 of the submission is the light rail master plan. Some thinking has gone into what future stages of light rail might be. The quickest route out to the airport comes from the city, along Constitution Avenue and along Pialligo Avenue. That may be a future stage that goes from Belconnen through to the airport and allows us that east-west connection as opposed to the north-south connection.

CHAIR: I agree entirely. If we don't go via Commonwealth Avenue but go via Kings Avenue instead, you are adding two extra kilometres to the journey distance to Woden but you are getting much further on the infrastructure you need to get to the airport. You are then not intersecting the Parliamentary Triangle in front of Parliament House and you are using an avenue that has fewer trees and, for some reason, is not seen as being as prestigious as Commonwealth Avenue.

Mr Edghill : You're exactly right: if we make decisions now, it would be there. But what we would then miss are the benefits we see from bringing light rail through Commonwealth Avenue and through the Parliamentary Zone. In the submission, we gave an example of a photo—I think it is in Bordeaux.

CHAIR: Yes, I saw that.

Mr Edghill : And we have a host of other ones that we can show you too. We think light rail can be used as a catalyst to enhance and complement what the Commonwealth may wish to do through the Parliamentary Zone. I think we have provided an example of a potentially very sensitive stop at the front of old Parliament House. We know that Windsor Walk is a little tight in sections. Indeed, by taking light rail through Commonwealth Avenue, there is an opportunity to plant more trees and improve that important entryway into the Parliamentary Zone. We think light rail is not something that should be hidden away; rather, it should be proudly used as a catalyst for urban renewal in those important areas.

CHAIR: Understood. You talk about employment zones as well, and Russell is a significant employment zone. You mention in your submission that the uplift in passenger numbers there wouldn't compensate for the jump in Woden passenger numbers because of the additional five to seven minutes. Can you take on notice the provision of some data that backs up that part of your submission? I think this is very important to us. This is a point I am very interested in, but I just need to know the ramifications of such a decision as well.

Mr Edghill : Of course. As indicated in the submission, the additional travel time is not just Sydney Avenue to Woden; it looks at all passenger trips along the entirety of the line. That is where the 20 per cent reduction figure comes from.

CHAIR: Finally, there is the issue of wire-free utilisation. How does that work? Are the wires on the ground electrified, or are there batteries in the tram that get it to the next bit where they get charged up again?

Ms Thomas : There will be batteries in the tram. It is no different from a number of systems that are operational around the world today. Our tram is a Spanish CAF tram. In fact, they operate some wire-free in the middle of their town centre in Zaragoza. There are a number of different technologies that can be used to connect to the battery to charge it at each stopping point. The dwell time varies, but the technology is changing all the time too. We are seeing a real increase in technology that is happening quite rapidly round the world. At the moment, we have assessed it on the basis of the technology that we know and understand. But that technology could change into the future.

CHAIR: This is an issue of concern to me. The map shows wire-free trams going from the city down Commonwealth Avenue, through the Parliamentary Triangle and all the way through Barton. And I presume that, at the point where you meet Canberra Avenue and then come to State Circle and then go down Adelaide Avenue, you are back to overhead wires. My concern is about using overhead wires on Adelaide Avenue. It is part of the national capital area, and that is an important boulevard, as are Commonwealth Avenue and Kings Avenue. My position is that Commonwealth Avenue should be wire-free and the Parliamentary Triangle should be wire-free. I have no issue at all with having wires through the areas of Barton such as Windsor Walk and those more urbanised areas between buildings where there are no vistas. And then I think it is important to go wire-free again for State Circle and Adelaide Avenue. Does the ability to put a wired section in through Barton assist in being able to then have a wire-free section on State Circle and Adelaide Avenue, given that the battery should be recharged as they travel through that area?

Ms Thomas : It is more the distance between the stops that is causing our concern with being able to do that. What we know about the technology currently—moving from that last stop at Sydney Avenue through to the next stop is 2.3 kilometres, which is a particularly long distance for the light rail vehicle to be able to travel just on its battery power for that time. So that is what is driving that.

CHAIR: Which part is that?

Ms Thomas : It is from the end of the area of Barton through to the next stop, which is at Hopetoun Circuit Yarralumla.

CHAIR: What I am suggesting, though, is that rather than having wire-free running through Barton, can you not pick up wires at Kings Avenue and have wires through that section of Barton all the way through to Canberra Avenue that would allow you to recharge those batteries in full, or part thereof, and get an extra wire-free running down at least some part of Adelaide Avenue?

Dr Nelson : You might think that.

CHAIR: It does seem easy to me.

Dr Nelson : The issue is that with a charging stop, even with wire-free through that section, we would get a full charge at that Sydney Avenue stop. At the moment, with the current technology we are looking at, that would not be enough to reliably get us the 2.3 kilometres from Sydney to Hopetoun.

CHAIR: So from here to here, even if you were fully charged at this point, you can't get from there to there?

Dr Nelson : That's correct.

Ms BRODTMANN: What sort of kilometre range are we talking about there?

Dr Nelson : On current proven technology it is about one kilometre. This is why we are investigating what we can do and what the emerging new technologies are looking like.

Ms BRODTMANN: Yes. It is a long way.

Mr Edghill : We are conscious that, by the time the system is actually operational, it might be 2023 or 2024. That is still some six or seven years away. Battery and supercapacitor technology has developed very quickly over that period looking backwards. So it is not something that is necessarily written in stone; it could move as the development of the project progresses.

Dr Nelson : We are talking to suppliers now about how that technology is moving and what other options we have.

CHAIR: For me, wire-free running to Hopetoun seems to be essential. Wire-free running to the Kent Street intersection, where you go off to Government House, would be best. If there is any additional information you want to provide notice on that point? That is something I want to look at further as we deliberate.

Ms BRODTMANN: And wire-free almost up to the roundabout at Woden.

Senator RHIANNON: If we are asking for wire-free—and obviously it has huge advantages—should we be asking for the cost there too? If we are asking for things, is that going to blow the budget out even more?

CHAIR: It could be cheaper!

Mr Edghill : It is a cost question but it is also a travel time question. With existing technology, with a wired system you might be able to go at 70 kilometres. With wireless the maximum speed of the vehicle may be less. That helps you conserve the battery to get to the next stop. In turn, there is a series of knock-on effects: if you are going slightly slower, it is not just the costs of the batteries; you might need another light rail vehicle to keep the system moving. So that is where some of the additional costs can come from with wire-free running.

Senator RHIANNON: I just want to add that in when you are taking the question on notice. There are the costs well. When we are asking for something, could you tell us how much it will cost. Thank you.

CHAIR: Fair point. Part of the solution could be an additional stop as an ability to charge if we insist on wire-free running given that is the stops where they get charged. When you stop at a stop, you can charge up. The only issue with that is that having a stop near the ministerial entrance to Capital Hill would create a lot of confusion for people who are accessing Parliament House. It would be difficult to advocate for one right there that would solve this issue.

Ms BRODTMANN: This gets to the heart of the issue for me in terms of the bridges. The chair has views about the bridge. I see the attraction, particularly for activating Constitution Avenue, particularly for the investment that the ACT government has made in that with the land swap and the investment the Commonwealth has made in it as well, and also activating Russell and the new development in Campbell. So I do see the potential there. There is also the fact that we are going to have to get a new bridge on Commonwealth Avenue. Why do you want that route across Commonwealth Avenue? Why do you prefer that to the Constitution Avenue and Kings Avenue link? Apart from the time difference, there must be some grand objective. Is the objective to get to Woden faster? Is the objective to activate the Parliamentary Zone, the parliamentary precinct? Is it all of the above? You keep coming back to the fact that Kings Avenue is going to take longer. Longer to where? Ultimately to Woden. Is the main objective to provide a light rail transport service to Woden?

Ms Thomas : That's a very good question. The answer, in essence, is all of the above. There are many benefits that we are trying to achieve by connecting the north-south route as directly as possible. That is not to say that the east-west route is not a viable route; it is absolutely part of the overall light rail network and light rail master plan. In terms of getting people from Gungahlin to Woden, we are looking at the whole route as one route and not broken into separate parts. And the most direct way to do that is via the Commonwealth Avenue bridge. There are also significant employment nodes on the south of the lake. We've already pointed out the hotel accommodation, and how that lies across that north-south divide in connecting the hotel economy in with the visiting economy. We're trying to attract more tourists to Canberra, so this route gives that direct line of sight and line of efficiency, for that particular benefit. In terms of getting through to Woden, even though we've had a lot of community support to go through the Parkes-Barton area, that helps connect in those significant places of work through that area as well.

Mr Edghill : Just to add to that: both through our own assessments and through the public consultation that we've undertaken to date, we know that the Commonwealth Avenue route gets people to where they actually want to go. What the Commonwealth Avenue route does—as well as providing those travel-time benefits that Kings Avenue doesn't—is pick up the likes of ANU, future developments in the West Basin and those cultural institutions on the lake, both through accessing those areas from the Albert Hall stop and also from the Old Parliament House stop.

Ms Thomas : I also note that the Kings Avenue Bridge would need a new bridge to be laid into the centre of that bridge. It is only two lanes in each direction and has some similar structural concerns for us to try to work on that bridge, so it doesn't matter whether it's Commonwealth Avenue Bridge or the Kings Avenue bridge; we would still be faced with the same consideration for laying in an extra bridge.

Ms BRODTMANN: Have you costed the Kings Avenue option?

Mr Edghill : I would have to take that on notice.

CHAIR: And if you have costed it, please provide the cost. I'm sorry, I'm just used to getting half an answer—I'm not directing that at you—but I'm learning my lessons about being a member of parliament. When I ask questions on notice like, 'Have you costed it?' the answer sometimes comes back as, 'Yes.' Sometimes what we mean to ask is, 'Have you costed it, and, if so, what is the cost?'

Mr Edghill : We would need to seek guidance and take it on notice.

Ms BRODTMANN: I'm assuming the cost incorporates the route across Constitution Avenue and then Kings Avenue?

Ms Thomas : Yes.

Ms BRODTMANN: Going back to where you began, I suppose the grand vision for this is for a Gungahlin to Woden connection?

Ms Thomas : That's correct.

Ms BRODTMANN: So it's like what we did with Majura, after 40 years—a sort of north-south connection. That's the grand vision.

Ms Thomas : Yes.

Ms BRODTMANN: And that's the ultimate vision for this. So the route around the parliamentary zone and the Parliamentary Triangle was, in a way, a by-product of that?

Ms Thomas : That's correct. The idea is to have a very strong north-south spine of public transport, which is a frequent and very legible route that people can connect with and that we can connect public transport services with and have a very direct connection from north to south within Canberra.

Mr Edghill : It's perhaps not quite right to call it a by-product though, because it's not just about Gungahlin to Woden; it's about the places it connects in between. And of course the parliamentary zone is a very, very important part of that.

CHAIR: On this particular topic, I was listening to ABC radio here in Canberra this morning.

Ms BRODTMANN: You were on it!

CHAIR: I was on it—that's why I listened to it! I listened for quite a while after I had finished, to hear what was being said.

Ms BRODTMANN: It's good, isn't it?

CHAIR: It was very good, actually. I didn't expect anything less. There was talk about a more direct route: if we can't do Kings Avenue because it adds more time, there is another route that would take away even more time than the one settled on, which I presume would go down Adelaide Avenue, turn left around State Circle and then go directly onto Commonwealth Avenue. Why isn't that being considered?

Ms Thomas : There were a number of routes that were put out in our initial discussion paper for public consultation that involved travelling straight down Commonwealth Avenue to Capital Circle and going directly around Parliament House and then out the other side on Adelaide Avenue.

Dr Nelson : There is a map of that on page 18. It's not quite the route you described.

CHAIR: Okay. I assumed there was one that went the other way around.

Mr Edghill : That was considered at very early stages of project planning, but there are some issues there—particularly when we're going around State Circle, for example. There are a couple of things to be said for the more direct route. One is that through the community consultation process that we undertook we found that the overwhelming majority of respondents did not actually favour the more direct route.

CHAIR: What's the minute differential in time?

Mr Edghill : I'd have to find the exact amount, but it's in the region of—

Unidentified speaker: About five to six minutes.

CHAIR: Okay.

Mr Edghill : There is that travel time benefit, but the overwhelming public sentiment was for the longer route because it actually takes people to places where they might want to go. Also, the other point to note is: the more direct route is not actually the easier or the cheaper route, because it goes so close to Parliament House and because there are more bridges involved and there are greater difficulties in providing pedestrian access to the light rail system. We also think that there are perhaps greater heritage sensitivities to having lift wells or whatever may be needed to get people from that system into Parliament House. On all of those counts—from what the public indicated they wanted through to engineering challenges, the cost and some of the heritage sensitivities—it was less desirable than the route through Barton and Parkes.

CHAIR: Do you have modelling that shows what patronage levels would be dependent on the time taken? So modelling showing that you would have X number of customers from Woden to Civic on a journey that takes X amount of time, and then more and more time and more time?

Mr Edghill : Yes.

CHAIR: Can you take that on notice and provide that to the committee?

Ms Thomas : Yes, although it's not just related to the time frame; it's also related to the proximity to places of interest. For instance, the route that diverts through Barton and Parkes is much closer to where the National Gallery and the Museum of Australian Democracy and other buildings of interest are.

CHAIR: Yes, but modelling in relation to people who would go from Woden to Civic.

CHAIR: The shorter journey time attracts more people onto it, but it's completely offset by the fact that people actually want to be getting off in Parkes and Barton. The slightly slower travel time is nevertheless attracting people on it because it's actually dropping them off at employment nodes and other places of interest in Parkes and Barton.

CHAIR: Will it take longer and be less frequent for someone to get from Woden to Civic under this plan, as opposed to catching buses now?

Ms Thomas : I'll come back to our original conversation: it's not just about Woden to Civic; it's about people potentially travelling from Woden to Dickson or Dickson to Barton. There's a whole range of trips that occur through this route, for the north-south route. It's a different focus to just a Woden to city focus.

CHAIR: But Woden is still a transport hub that people would come to to then change onto light rail, I presume, to get to Civic, which is the main employment hub. Is it going to take them longer and the trams be less frequent now from that part of their journey, from Woden to Civic, than if they were to catch existing express buses?

Mr Edghill : Individual journeys will change.

CHAIR: Upwards in relation to time?

Mr Edghill : The missing piece of the puzzle here, or the other part of the puzzle here, is what happens with the bus network, and decisions won't be made around the bus network until much closer to the time when light rail's operational—much the same as what the case is with light rail stage 1. We don't think light rail is a direct like for like comparison with the Blue Rapid. The Blue Rapid has a faster travel time, but doesn't do some of the things that the light rail route does—just as the light rail route isn't a like for like comparison with the Green Rapid, which also goes from Woden to the city, but takes longer.

CHAIR: I do use the Green Rapid on occasions. I don't use the Blue Rapid, but would the Blue Rapid still exist?

Mr Edghill : That's a decision that hasn't yet been made by government. What we've seen with light rail stage 1 is that as we get closer to light rail being operational and responding to the way that Canberra has grown over time, we're making changes to the bus network now. Canberra will continue to change over the next five years, and decisions about what the bus network will do will be made close to that point in time.

Ms BRODTMANN: I'm conscious of time. It would be good to get you back again.

CHAIR: I've allowed you to go over because I think we had a number of questions for you that we may not have for the next round of witnesses, but it could be possible that we have you back. We don't want to have this inquiry go on for too long, because we want to provide you with the certainty that you want in order to progress the project. We are, as you are aware, keeping this inquiry very much to the terms of reference.

I just want to formally thank you for your attendance here today. You have been asked to provide information, if you could forward it to the secretariat by Friday, 6 July 2018? You'll also be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence, and you'll have an opportunity to request corrections to transcription errors. Thank you so much.