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The initial plan for Light Rail Stage One was an east-to-west line travelling from the CBD through Reid and Russell out to the airport. Although this did not eventuate, the city-to-airport route was later included on a shortlist of potential Stage Two options released by the ACT Government in 2016. This plan should be carried out alongside the construction of Stage Two with both routes also accompanied by active travel infrastructure.

3 million passengers transit through Canberra Airport each year with that number expected to reach almost 9 million by 2040. A light rail line to the airport was included in Canberra Airport’s last two five-yearly Master Plans, which are the result of significant public consultation and required approval from the Federal Department of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development. 

Establishing this line would connect the City Centre with residents of Reid and Campbell and the working populations at ASIO Headquarters (3,000), Russell Defence Precinct (9,000), ADFA, Duntroon, Campbell Office Precinct (2,600), the new UNSW Canberra Campus (3,000 to 5,000) and the Canberra Airport commercial and aviation precinct (currently 14,000 and expected to grow to 20,000 by 2028), equating to a total working population of approximately 35,000 to 40,000 along its route.

The airport is a key driver of economic activity in the capital, with independent economic analysis undertaken by Urbis for Canberra Airport’s 2020 Master Plan finding that 29% of tourism spending in the ACT is facilitated by Canberra Airport, which is forecast to equate to $2.33 billion of annual tourism output by 2028 – just one third of the total $6.8 billion in gross regional product per annum that the airport is expected to be contributing in five years’ time.

The line from the City Centre to the airport could then be extended to form a longer Eastern Loop, passing through Fyshwick, Manuka, Kingston, Barton and Parkes before connecting with the planned Stage 2B line. This would improve the connectivity of Fyshwick’s 15,5000-strong working population while also drawing CIT Fyshwick into the innovation district extending from the city. The Fyshwick Business Association’s November 2022 proposal offers a sensible plan for completing this project in a cost-neutral way by establishing a light rail corridor along the old heavy rail line and redeveloping either side of it with active transport routes and approximately 8,000 to 9,000 new dwellings. The Eastern Loop would also bring key locations including Manuka Oval, the Kingston Arts Precinct, the Kingston Foreshore, the Fyshwick Markets and Dairy Road onto the light rail network.

The Federal Government's new requirement that nationally significant infrastructure projects be funded through a 50:50 shared investment with states/territories combines with the ACT Government's relatively limited revenue base to create a new fiscal constraint around large and costly infrastructure projects in Canberra. Given this context, if the new light rail lines cannot be constructed within a realistic timeframe and budget – both to meet the ACT's growing needs and to realise our decarbonisation commitments – alternative public transport solutions could be explored both along and supporting the proposed routes. This could include bus rapid transit (BRT) and smaller electric on-demand buses.