Light Rail

Australians Want Light Rail Contractor to Quit Climate Crusade, Get Back to Building Overbudget, Overdue Light Rail Line

The Spanish firm Acciona greenwashes a troubled light rail extension.

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Sydney light rail
Giovanni Gagliardi/Dreamstime.com

As nauseating as corporate-sponsored celebrity climate-change videos can be, they are rarely the target of political outrage. Not so for the Spanish firm Acciona's clip featuring the Australian actor Liam Hemsworth (of Hunger Games fame) plugging the company's role in building "sustainable solutions in infrastructure" and asking us all to think about how we might invest in the planet.

After Acciona shared the 30-second video on its Facebook page this past week, it got a sharp rebuke from politicians and media in Sydney, Australia, who would prefer that Acciona drop the climate crusade and stick to its day job: building Sydney's overdue, overbudget light rail extension.

"Instead of finishing the job which is causing mayhem in Sydney's [Central Business District], they've decided to throw money into the celebrity-backed campaign," writes radio host Alan Jones. "They should just get on with it like most reputable contractors do," a spokesperson for New South Wales Transport and Infrastructure Minister Andrew Constance tells The Daily Telegraph.

The rage is understandable. Acconia's stewardship of Sydney's light rail extension—on which it is the primary construction contractor—has been less than stellar.

The new 7.5-mile line the company is building out from Sydney's downtown to the southeastern suburbs of Randwick and Kingsford was initially supposed to be finished this year at the cost of AU$1.6 billion.

Costs have since spiraled up to AU$2.1 billion—the project's critics say the price tag could reach AU$3 billion—and the completion date has been pushed back to March 2020.

Acciona blames these blown budgets and deadlines on the New South Wales provincial government, claiming it failed to adequately inform the company of extensive utility work that would need to be done. The company is now suing the government for $1.1 billion.

Government officials have pointed the finger right back at the company, describing Acciona's lawsuit as "absurd" and their work as "slow-go."

All the while, businessesin the construction zone have suffered revenue drops of as much as 30 percent, prompting some to close down. Many of the ones that have managed to stay open lease space from the local government, which has increased rents and electricity rates to cover the costs of the construction.

You can see why lots of Sydney business owners and taxpayers find Acciona's climate rhetoric less than compelling.

But the company's real mistake was not in trying to justify a late and expensive project by trying to appeal to a city's environmental conscience. Acciona's mistake was not trotting out the global warming guns until its project was already off the rails.

Here in the United States, a grab bag of reasons are unfailingly invoked to justify the expansion of cities' urban rail networks, from implausible claims about congestion relief to claims that they will bring "racial justice." Never far from the top are promises that the new investment will cut carbon emissions, thus bettering the environment.

These arguments have been proffered in support of light rail projects from Los Angeles and Nashville. The claims are questionable—the Cato Institute's Randal O'Toole has found that most urban rail projects increase carbon emissions—but they help cement in the public imagination the idea that light rail is a public virtue from the get-go.

Thus, when the inevitable cost overruns and schedule delays appear, or when promises about boosted transit ridership and congestion relief prove illusionary, any discontent can be discounted against the projects' purported planet-healing potential.

Acciona made the mistake of reversing this tried-and-true formula, and now it's being panned for it.

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  1. Huh. So like those bike lanes in Seattle?

    1. I’m making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

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  2. “They should just get on with it like most reputable contractors do,” a spokesperson for New South Wales Transport and Infrastructure Minister Andrew Constance tells The Daily Telegraph.

    This is how you know Australia is a weird place: there is conceptual space for the idea of “reputable contractors.”

    1. They are run by honest politicians.

      1. “They are run by unicorns”

        FTFY

  3. Has there ever been a light rail project in the history of mankind that was on time and under budget?

    1. Maybe Walt Disney’s

      1. Doesn’t count. It was built by a capitalist business only concerned with greedy ideas like “Profit” and “Customer service”.

        Only governments can be relied on to install a massive system for the public good. And, if that takes twice as long and 10x over budget, that’s the price we have to pay for a free society. I’m sure that’s in the Social Contract we all signed.

        1. You’re kidding, right? Disney was probably a Nazi sympathizer or at the very least a socialist intent on redesigning society. A lot of his shit at the time was designed to ‘revolutionize’ society rather than what you’d think of as a ‘theme park’ today.

          EPCOT itself is an example of his type of thinking. Truly, Disney is a monster.

      2. Ummmm, no. Insider knowledge of the place reveals that the monorail was pretty damned expensive and repairs are frequently late. Still, it’s their own money and they don’t tax your grandchildren to pay for it. The People Mover, on the other hand, was retired years ago for being a money sink.

        p.s. Insider knowledge comes from friend who accidentally damaged one of the monorail sections while helping build a new ride. It was one of the curved sections, which needed to be specially constructed at a cost of seven figures.

        1. This is true. Disney’s monorail has never been anything but an amusement park curiosity. Their kind of a neat way to get from outside the park to inside and from the Magic Kingdom to Epcot or to any of the hotels at the actual park. I think it’s significant, however that Disney has not seen it as worth their while to expand the monorail beyond Epcot and the Magic Kingdom to any of the newer parks, hotels or other attractions or for that matter beyond Disney property to any nearby sites like Orlando Airport, for example.

          The monorail on a par with the little rubber tired trains they use to ferry people around the parking lots. A good way to save the visitors some walking but no a way to transport large numbers of people any significant distance.

          It is in short a victim of high initial costs, high maintenance and operating costs for a very limited utility as a means of public transit.

  4. I don’t know about Australia but in the U.S. whenever there is a project it often includes a budget portion for just such type of advertising. Its built into the system and its an improper use of our money

    1. I’m not surprised. Somewhere along the lines we stopped calling government advertising itself propaganda, and the arguement has been lost since.

  5. “…Costs have since spiraled up to AU$2.1 billion…”

    Hey, saving the planet ddon’t come cheap! Ask Elon Musk (and the taxpayers who subsidize his money-losing business).

    1. Yeah, Musk knows no shame to be sure. Add every wind/solar corporate welfare program that cost the treasury more than a nickel.

  6. 2 Years late and 100% over budget…. Amateurs.

  7. Getting back to work building the light rail is actually doing something about a problem, according to their propaganda at least. So it might reasonably be considered kinda counterproductive.

  8. But trains are so Euro. Forgetting that the population density of Sydney is 415/sq km. Paris is 21,000/sq km. To the extent rail is viable, you need population density for it to work. Even then, it is still heavily subsidized.

    1. “Even then, it is still heavily subsidized.”

      Subsidized = doesn’t work.

  9. “These arguments have been proffered in support of light rail projects from Los Angeles and Nashville. The claims are questionable?the Cato Institute’s Randal O’Toole has found that most urban rail projects increase carbon emissions?but they help cement in the public imagination the idea that light rail is a public virtue from the get-go.”

    Well it didn’t work in Nashville.

    A May 1st referendum to raise 4 types of taxes to fund the boondoggle was voted down by a two to one margin.

  10. “…the New South Wales provincial government…”

    New South Wales is not a province, it is a state of the Commonwealth of Australia. Therefore it has a state government.

  11. It takes two for a bad contract. One to write it and the other to agree to it.

    My home town may be full of doofuses, but they at least are smart enough to negotiate a contract. A full downtown remodel of the streets and sidewalks ended up happening for free because the contractor didn’t finish on time. Hah!

    1. About a year ago, a section of I-85 burnt down in literally the worst spot for Atlanta.
      Repaired in 3 months at a cost of $15m, including the $3m bonus for the company finishing fast.
      Sure, it was only a quarter mile – so multiply by 30 and you’d get a price of $450m. Add for scale and we’ll say it’d take $.5b and 6 months.
      Trains are so 19th century

  12. The Sydney Monorail is still being touted as an example of successful monorails on a youtube clip promoting monorail construction. I watched it recently, about five years after the Sydney Monorail was dismantled and sold for scrap. So far monorail construction has been limited to amusement park rides as has MagLev.

    As far as light rail is concerned, I am somewhat agnostic as to their place in the urban mas transit mix (I remember when they were called streetcars or trams). Just because they are being sold as grand panaceas to prevent dire only dimly perceived catastrophes does not mean that they could not be a useful part of that mix.

    Cost overruns seem to be part and parcel of the crony capitalist public-private blend that the “third way” has brought us. Socialists have discovered the efficiency of private enterprise and tories have discovered the potential to control the lower classes with the planned economy and working together they have brought us the public-private partnership.

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