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Regional Rail Link must be reviewed, users say

The Public Transport Users Association has criticised the state government for giving the go-ahead to the Regional Rail Link (RRL), without an independent review to fix the project’s problems and explore alternative plans.

PTUA secretary Tony Morton said the government’s approval made a mockery of its commitment to set up an independent Public Transport Development Authority to guide the improvement of Victoria’s public transport system.

“We strongly support the government’s initiative for an independent, expert body to guide the development of public transport services and infrastructure. We understand the government is in the process of selecting the key personnel. So why wouldn’t these, the experts we’re counting on to guide the system over the coming years, start by reviewing the largest and most expensive Victorian rail project in living memory?” Dr Morton said.

“The project should be critically reviewed, in public, by independent experts. Alternative configurations should be properly costed and compared, to ensure the purported benefits for the western suburbs and Geelong are real and not just bureaucratic spin. Because there has been no independent analysis, it’s entirely possible the $5 billion could pay for a different package of infrastructure and services that avoids the serious shortcomings of this project for western suburbs and regional passengers.”

The PTUA’s Geelong branch convenor, Paul Westcott, said that the Government should have taken the opportunity presented by the cost blow-out and the federal government’s funding delay to review the link.

“When he was in opposition, Terry Mulder made a number of pointed criticisms of the scheme, yet now he has rushed into announcing that it will continue as it is, even in the face of a massive cost increase,” Mr Westcott said.

“It’s clear that the only review has been done by the same people within the Department of Transport who have been involved in designing the project already, so it can’t be seen as objective or independent,” Mr Westcott said.

The PTUA says that many fundamental problems with the RRL remain unaddressed, including:

  • No definition of the final shape of the project – it is still being designed ‘on the run’.
  • No service plan or timetables for the new link.
  • No clear idea what the diversion of Geelong trains via Tarneit will do to travel times.
  • No idea how the two new suburban stations in Tarneit will be served; whether users will be made to board crowded V/Line trains or if additional tracks will be provided for suburban trains.
  • No platforms likely at the crucial interchange of North Melbourne station.
  • For the hundreds of passengers between Werribee and Geelong, a 20 minute bus ride to and from Wyndham Vale instead of the direct connection at Werribee station that exists now.
  • Crucial design details are being left to contractors to determine, instead of full scoping at the planning stage.

Dr Morton concluded that it was “staggering” that the $5 billion link, the idea for which had not even been floated until the Eddington report was published in 2008, was yet to be subjected to close scrutiny.

“We’re seriously concerned that without proper independent study, this enormously costly project isn’t actually going to have the touted benefits for western suburbs and Geelong passengers,” he said. “Instead it could be just like Myki, which was the subject of breathless promises five years ago and is now an expensive millstone around the government’s neck. We must ensure the new PTDA isn’t going to be hobbled by bad planning decisions even while it’s still being set up.”