Another Gawler Line blow-out with a light rail network closing for the opening of Adelaide Fringe

The entire light rail network will be shut down for the Adelaide Fringe opening weekend as the completion date for the Gawler Line’s vicious electrification project is delayed yet again due to rising costs.

The 42km passenger line between Adelaide and Gawler has been idle for more than a year due to work to electrify the service, with the completion date originally scheduled for November last year now being set for April.

Transportation Secretary Corey Wingard said today the city’s entire passenger transport network will be completely shut down on February 19-20 while the new power line is configured with the rest of the system.

The disruptions are expected to begin on Friday, February 18, the opening night of Australia’s biggest arts festival, the Adelaide Fringe, and continue into the following Monday.

Mr Wingard said it was “the weekend we have to do it” but replacement buses would be in place for each train route so that local public transport could continue.

Adelaide Fringe director Heather Croall said the government had given her assurances today that “replacement buses will be put in place for this weekend”.

Replacement buses for Gawler Line passengers will continue through April.(ABC News: Eugene Boisvert)

The train delivery is also delayed

At a Budget and Finance Committee meeting this morning, it was also heard that there would be delays in the delivery of electric trains for the Gawler line.

The government bought 12 trains at a cost of $175 million, but the committee heard the supplier had found a welding defect.

Infrastructure Department chief Tony Braxton-Smith said it meant SA would only have three trains for the Gawler line in April, with diesel trains providing the remainder of passenger services until the order is phased in through March 2023.

Commuters have also told the ABC that diesel trains have been running on Seaford’s electric line for the past two weeks.

The ABC has contacted Mr. Wingard’s office about the issue.

A man stands on a platform with portals above him
Work to electrify the Gawler railway line has experienced repeated delays since it was announced in 2008.(abc news)

A beleaguered project

The electrification of the Gawler line was announced in 2008 by the former Federal Labor government as a co-funded project with the former Federal Labor government.

But when the Tony Abbott-led coalition won the 2013 general election, funding was withdrawn and the South African government put the project on hold.

It revived the project in early 2018 – ahead of the state elections – in a phase one announcement of building it after Salisbury.

But when the Liberals won the election, she secured funding from the federal coalition to build her all the way to Gawler.

An artist's rendering of the planned expansion of Gawler Station.
An artist’s rendering of Gawler Station’s proposed upgrade in 2009, shortly after its announcement.(abc news)

Since then, the project has been plagued by delayed opening dates, having first been planned for 2020, then 2021 and now April 2022 – although Mr Wingard has declined to set an actual date.

Another cost explosion

Mr Wingard said delays due to COVID restrictions have resulted in a $127 million increase in costs.

“That includes the replacement buses and the extended replacement bus contract that we are operating,” he said.

It follows another $100million cost blast announced last December, which Mr Wingard attributed to a “messy contract” he inherited from Labor for a now $842million project.

He also said Labor had not ordered electric trains as part of its original deal, which was struck “on the eve of the last election”.

“It was on its way to the courts … we fixed the mess we left behind.”

A “blow” for northerners

But opposition spokesman Tom Koutsantonis said the minister created “spin” to cover up his “incompetence” and costs have skyrocketed by $227 million under his oversight.

“I think it gets to the point where it looks absurd,” he told ABC Radio Adelaide.

A bespectacled man in a suit stares open-mouthed at a crowd at a press conference
Transport Secretary Corey Wingard said he had already apologized to the people of north Adelaide for the delays.(ABC News: Lincoln Rothall)

He said the “People of the North” had been without trains for more than a year and Mr Wingard had to apologize.

“It’s just another blow to commuters,” Mr Koutsantonis said.

“I think the time for excuses is over and what we need now from the Minister is an apology to the people of the north and that we just go ahead and tell each other when it will be ready.”

the end is in sight

Mr Wingard pointed out that train projects have been delayed around the world during the pandemic, including in Perth, Auckland, the UK and the US.

He said Adelaide was “not immune”.

“We thank everyone for their patience, but this will be a sensational piece of infrastructure when the project is complete.”

He said some trains would be running on the Gawler line from February to test the signaling system and pedestrian crossings.

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