The cost to taxpayers of Sydney’s troubled light rail line has ballooned to at least $2.9 billion – $1.3 billion above the amount first budgeted for the project.
Transport Minister Andrew Constance released the final bill for the project late on Friday, less than two weeks before trams are due to start carrying passengers between Circular Quay and Randwick.
The latest amount represents the third blowout in the expense of one of the Berejiklian government’s signature transport projects, originally budgeted at $1.6 billion.
In 2014, the cost of the 12.8-kilometre line to the city’s eastern suburbs surged to $2.1 billion due to mispricings and omissions in the business case.
The cost then jumped to $2.7 billion in June after the government reached a $576 million settlement with the consortium delivering the project and its Spanish construction contractor.
Mr Constance said the most recent cost blowout of $200 million included $80 million in contingency costs.
The remaining $120 million provided for financial support for small businesses disturbed by construction of the light rail line, “activation” measures along the route, safety campaigns and advertisements and extra project staffing costs due to delays.
“No-one is denying the light rail project has been a difficult build,” Mr Constance said.
“We took the busiest street in the nation and ripped it up to transform it into the open, inviting boulevard it is today.”
He said the service would “move 6570 people across both directions during peak times and each 67-metre light rail vehicle will have the same capacity as up to nine standard buses”.
But Labor leader Jodi McKay said: “Before Andrew Constance starts popping the champagne there are still a number of outstanding class action claims so the bill is likely to be $3 billion – almost double the original cost.”
The light rail project has been a long-running political headache for the Berejiklian government.
Apart from the cost blowouts, it has been frustrated by lengthy delays, legal battles and prolonged disruption to businesses and residents along the route.
A $400 million class action from retailers disrupted by construction remains afoot in the NSW Supreme Court, but Transport for NSW has withdrawn cross claims against ALTRAC and Acciona.
The cost to the government of paying ALTRAC to operate the line for 16 years has previously been put at almost $938 million and is separate to the $2.9 billion capital cost of building the line and buying the trams that will run on it.
Sydneysiders will get a chance to ride on the new light rail line as early as December 7, which is the target date for trams to start carrying passengers between Circular Quay and Randwick.
The government has been reluctant to put a definitive date on the opening of the line because final testing of the trams is still under way.
If authorities decide more testing is required, the start of services will be shifted to the weekend of December 14-15. Trams are not due to begin carrying passengers on a branch line to Kingsford until March 2020.
The government had originally planned to open the line in March this year, shortly before the state election.
Story Credit: Sydney Morning Herald