The authors know what they are talking about, and acting on their advice to build the rail line rather than the road tunnel should be a no-brainer.
THE Baillieu government is not lacking in good advice, especially with regard to one of the chief problems it promised to fix on gaining office: Melbourne’s creaking, ageing public transport system. Unfortunately, the government shows little inclination to heed the best advice available to it.
As The Age reported yesterday, a report prepared for local authorities in Melbourne’s north-eastern suburbs has estimated that a rail line to Doncaster could be built along the Eastern Freeway median strip for $840 million, or nearly $1.2 billion if the line were extended to connect with the planned Melbourne Metro rail tunnel. The extended line could move 100,000 passengers a day – the same number that would be expected to travel in cars along the east-west road tunnel that the government proposes to build connecting the Eastern Freeway and the Western Ring Road. At a cost of at least $5 billion, however, the road tunnel would be much more expensive to build than the rail line, which could be funded by revenue flowing from the higher property values generated by proximity to it.
None of this is wild speculation. The report was prepared by transport consultants from RMIT, Curtin University in Western Australia and the Arup engineering group. One of its co-authors, Curtin’s Professor Peter Newman, is a board member of Infrastructure Australia and a designer of Perth’s Mandurah rail line, a highly successful extension of that city’s rail network that, like the proposed Doncaster line, runs along a freeway median strip. The authors know what they are talking about, and acting on their advice to build the rail line rather than the road tunnel should be a no-brainer. The government, however, is pressing ahead with plans for the tunnel, while awaiting the report of its own $6.5 million feasibility study of a Doncaster rail link.
It is not the only project on which the government should listen to Professor Newman. Last year the government announced that building a rail link to Avalon Airport, owned by trucking entrepreneur Lindsay Fox, would take priority over building one to Melbourne Airport – a decision that, since Melbourne Airport is far busier, made no sense. Last week Infrastructure Australia refused Victoria’s request for funding of a study of the $250 million Avalon plan, which Professor Newman rightly described as ”an example of politics overriding rational economic decision-making”. As The Saturday Age has revealed, that is exactly what it is: before the 2010 state election, a rail link was the first of five projects in a wish list submitted to the Coalition by Avalon’s management.