Sydney light rail line costs blow out to $2.2 billion – $600 million more than budgeted

November 10, 2014


Sydney light rail line costs blow out to $2.2 billion – $600 million more than budgeted

Sydney Light Rail

Jacob Saulwick
The Sydney Morning Herald

The cost of building the light rail line from the city to the eastern suburbs is likely to blow out to around $2.2 billion – $600 million more than first budgeted.

Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian will not confirm the final figure, but sources said the size of the blow-out has caused consternation within the government, with major work on the project not due to start for half a year.

“People are agog that they have managed to get away with it,” one source said.

The cost of the light rail line, which is planned to run from Circular Quay to George Street through Surry Hills to Randwick and Kingsford, is also dismaying public transport advocates concerned the price tag will prevent future governments from building new tram lines.

Fairfax Media revealed in February cost advisers for Transport for NSW were concerned about numerous aspects of the initial $1.6 billion light rail budget.

The Evans & Peck analysis was troubled by the under-estimation of the cost of moving utilities such as power cables from under George Street, and was also concerned about the lack of analysis used to measure the cost of managing changed traffic conditions.

At the time, Ms Berejiklian insisted the cost of the project would still fall within its $1.6 billion budget.

But the minister said last month that a preferred bidder had been chosen for the light rail line – a consortium called “Connecting Sydney” – and that the cost would be an unspecified figure higher than $1.6 billion.

She attributed the extra cost to an increase in capacity along the line – longer and more frequent to be able to carry 13,500 people an hour in each direction, not 9000 as first promised – and extra support staff for managing road closures.

“The NSW government is still negotiating with the Connecting Sydney consortium to finalise the cost and details of this major contract,” the minister told Fairfax Media last week.

The government first announced the expected $1.6 billion cost of the light rail project almost two years ago, before it had done detailed investigations into the complexity of the route, and before it had undertaken negotiations with some of the major organisations along the route.

For instance, Transport for NSW remains in talks with the Australian Turf Club, the operator of the Royal Randwick Racecourse, about plans to build a stabling yard for trams on land used for parking at the racecourse.

The department agreed to build Randwick Racecourse a multi-storey car park to replace the 420-odd parking spots it would remove when building the yard.

But the department has been pushing for a cheaper parking lot, while the ATC wants something in keeping with the look of its redeveloped grandstand.

“It has probably taken a bit longer for us than other stakeholders because we have made this massive investment in our facilities,” said ATC chief executive Darren Pearce, who added that the ATC was a big supporter of the light rail project.

“We have spent over $220 million on improvements to Randwick Race course to make the facilities world class and Randwick is the front door to racing in this state … we are absolutely motivated to make sure that things that adjoin and support Randwick are complimentary to this,” said Mr Pearce, who said he was hopeful of an agreement within weeks.

Gavin Gatenby, from the advocacy group EcoTransit, said NSW estimates of the cost of light rail projects were about four times those in Europe.

“The whole point about light rail is that it’s affordable, high-capacity and very flexible,” Mr Gatenby said. “It should be much cheaper than this. The fact that prices have been driven up so high means that we are not able to afford the amount of light rail we should be able to get”

Major construction on the light rail project is expected to start in April, and be finished by 2018 or 2019.

Video:Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian announces four shortlisted Western Sydney light rail routes

Video: Parramatta Light Rail edges closer

Video:Sydney CBD and South East Light Rail Flythrough


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