Although doubts have been cast on passenger numbers for light rail projects in Canberra and the Gold Coast, projects located elsewhere in Australia are forging ahead.

The NSW Government is currently seeking expert assistance in preparing a business case and economic appraisal for the Newcastle light rail project.

“Newcastle is the second largest city in New South Wales and its revitalisation is a priority for this government,” Minister for Transport Gladys Berejiklian said. “Light rail will play a key role in attracting investment, boosting economic growth and encouraging urban renewal and bring jobs, residents and visitors to the city centre.”

The successful tenderer will complete expert economic studies at each of the project’s three major stages.

  • Stage one involves preparing a strategic business case and economic assessment of the options of where light rail would operate in Newcastle.
  • Stage two will see a more detailed assessment of the preferred options and their benefits and costs.
  • The final stage will involve a full business case assessment of the preferred project

Newcastle MP Tim Owen said the tender follows the appointment of GHD last month to undertake scoping studies and the release of two open tenders for engineering, urban design and environmental advice for the truncation of the rail line and the delivery of light rail.

GHD’s Newcastle team has assisted in the planning and delivery of Sydney’s Light Rail Future, the Inner West Light Rail Extension and Adelaide’s Inner Rail Network study, and will provide detailed technical advice to support the delivery of light rail in Newcastle.

The first of a number of planning workshops was recently held in Newcastle with representatives from across key government agencies and Newcastle City Council, to help identify the best location for a new transport interchange and the best light rail alignment in the city centre.

Treasurer Mike Baird said the light rail project was made possible due to a $340 million investment from the potential long-term lease of the Port of Newcastle.

“Consultation will play an important role in the decision-making process for Newcastle Light Rail and we will involve stakeholders, including businesses, community groups, industry, residents and transport experts,” Berejiklian said.

Meanwhile, more than 110 people from 66 organisations attended an industry briefing on the $1.6 billion light rail project in Sydney with representatives from Australia, France, Italy, Spain, Japan, Singapore and China invited by the State Government.

Gladys Berejiklian

Gladys Berejiklian, Minister for Transport

Government agency Transport for NSW’s intention is to shortlist no more than three applicants but this will depend on the responses received.

“This is a complex project and we understand that tendering for the public private partnership contract in particular will require a lot of work,” said Berejiklian. “It is important we make clear to industry that the Government’s commitment to deliver light rail is unwavering and a capped contribution to bid costs of short-listed bidders is one way of doing that.”

Berejiklian added that she was mindful of the impact of the cancellation of projects by the former government, saying that this had affected the confidence of industry in the state’s ability to be able to deliver major infrastructure projects.

Work on the $1.6 billion CBD and South East Light Rail project will start in 2014. It is hoped the project will be completed by 2020.

While two-thirds of Australians would like to see the construction of more light rail, the latest quarterly national transport survey from the University of Sydney suggests bus rapid transit should be another option under consideration.

When asked in the quarterly Transport Opinion Survey (TOPS) whether they would prefer public transport investment in light rail or bus rapid transit – both in a dedicated corridor away from other traffic – 63 per cent of respondents selected light rail and 29 per cent preferred bus rapid transport.

However, in Queensland and South Australia, where bus rapid transit is already available, respondents were more likely to consider it an attractive option for future investment: 41 per cent of South Australians and 38 per cent of Queenslanders surveyed favoured bus rapid transit.

“Experience of bus rapid transit increases its attractiveness to customers, a trend we have also seen in other research conducted by the University of Sydney,” said Professor David Hensher, director of the Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies (ITLS). “This is an important factor for governments to keep in mind when planning new public transport infrastructure. A dedicated corridor for bus rapid transit could be a significantly cheaper and equally effective solution to congestion compared to light rail.”