Melbourne Metro better for state than East West Link, government emails reveal

The Age: Melbourne Metro better for state than East West Link, government emails reveal November 18, 2014. Clay Lucas and Adam Carey

A glimpse of Melbourne Metro before it was cancelled

Around $118,000 was spent on this fly-through animation that promotes the cancelled Melbourne Metro project. The video was obtained by Fairfax under Freedom of Information.

The Napthine government’s most senior transport planners detailed the superior economic return a rail tunnel under the city would bring to Melbourne compared with the East West Link, emails obtained by The Age reveal.

The emails show the planners calculated the rail tunnel would return $1.90 for every $1 invested compared with $1.40 for the road tunnel.

But the government dumped that rail plan early this year and has pressed ahead with the $6.8-billion road tunnel. If the Coalition wins next Saturday’s election, construction is due to start this year.

The emails detailing the higher “benefit-cost ratio” of the Melbourne Metro project compared with the East West Link were released under freedom of information to Labor.

In the emails, the Department of Transport Planning and Local Infrastructure’s rail tunnel project director, Adele McCarthy, tells the government’s transport investment director Geoff Oulton and others the benefits of Melbourne Metro far outweigh the economic return of the East West Link.

The emails were sent in July 2013, soon after cabinet decided to proceed with the East West Link.

The figures discussed in the emails were later partially released to the federal government’s infrastructure adviser.

It graded Melbourne Metro a project worth allocating money to, and the East West Link as having only “real potential”.

The Abbott government scrapped funding for Melbourne Metro and allocated $3 billion to the East West Link.

The email exchanges also reveal state treasury was, according to Ms McCarthy, “a bit nervous” about asking Canberra for environmental approvals for Melbourne Metro.

Treasury, she warned, was concerned it would confuse bidders for the East West Link about the government’s priorities.

A separate FOI request has also uncovered previously unseen footage of what the rail tunnel was to look like.

The animation cost taxpayers $118,000 to produce. It was made in mid-2012, before the Napthine government dumped Melbourne Metro for a new underground line via Fishermans Bend, called Melbourne Rail Link.

The animation includes extensive new detail about the $9 billion-$11 billion Melbourne Metro project, which Labor has promised to revive if it wins.

Details include a huge underground station beneath St Paul’s Cathedral that would be used by an estimated 55,000 passengers in the peak – almost as many as currently use the Frankston line each day – a “possible underground station” at South Yarra and a car-free Swanston Street outside RMIT University.

Labor’s public transport spokeswoman Jill Hennessy said her party would spend $300 million in its first budget to revive Melbourne Metro. “Denis Napthine is clearly not listening to his own department on the feasibility and demand for public transport investment in Melbourne,” she said.

But a spokesperson for the Coalition said a re-elected Napthine government would deliver both the East West Link and its reworked Melbourne Rail Link.

They said it would be fully funded from state government coffers with $830 million over four years already budgeted. The project would deliver an airport rail line, unlike Labor’s plan, they said. “But what’s worse, Labor have promised only $300 million” towards the metro project.

Poll: Would you prefer a rail tunnel to the planned East West Link?
Yes 87%
No 13%
Total votes: 2913.Poll closed 19 Nov, 2014

Disclaimer: These polls are not scientific and reflect the opinion only of visitors who have chosen to participate.

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