Government has one chance to redeem itself on public transport, says PTUA
The state government has “abandoned reason for madness” in committing to a $15 billion road project in the face of falling GST revenue, declining car use per capita and mounting private sector toll-road failures, the Public Transport Users Association said today. Meanwhile there is no commitment to any major city-shaping public transport initiative in suburban Melbourne, including those put forward in the lead-up to the 2010 election.
“When Sir Rod Eddington looked at the East West road he could only find benefits worth 45 to 73 cents for every dollar spent,” said PTUA President Tony Morton. “Sir Rod is a self-declared fan of the road, but even he couldn’t get the numbers to stack up for it. That’s because this project is a big fat dud and an appalling waste of public money.”
Dr Morton challenged the government to publish the ‘business case’ that is claimed to justify the project. “We’re itching to learn what the government now knows that Sir Rod didn’t,” he said. “Until we hear to the contrary, we can only assume there’s a sweetheart deal to be done with the private sector. Very probably with inducements contrary to the public interest, like restricting what public transport improvements future governments can make, or putting tolls on existing roads.”
“It is likewise uncertain just where future budgets are going to be raided to scrape together the money, given today’s budget only allocates 5% of the cost,” Dr Morton said. “As a minimum, it’s likely to mean no more money for level crossing separations such as Clayton, Glenroy or Werribee, let alone new rail extensions to the suburbs that resonated so much with the voters who elected this government in 2010. But the real danger is that it’s not just about transport: we might have a narrow surplus this year, but for the next decade we’ll be taking more money off schools and hospitals to fund this thing.”
“The government is trying to solve problems that Citylink was supposed to solve a decade ago,” said Dr Morton. “And they’re doing it the same way with the same likely outcome, and that’s more congestion. What will it take before politicians stop doing the same thing over and over and telling us to expect different results?”
Dr Morton demanded the government come clean on how it plans to upgrade public transport. “On Doncaster rail, the Coalition got up before the last election and said ‘we’ll find the funds and then build it – we are committed to proceeding’. Were they speaking with forked tongue? Did they mean no more than that a future government might build it in 20 years? Please, Mr Napthine and Mr Mulder – come clean on what your intentions are, or people will assume you were lying in 2010 and had no intention of building these train lines at all.”
“The government has a pathway open to it, to keep its promises to the Victorian people,” Dr Morton said. “It’s just not the one in PTV’s network plan. There is one measure that will remove all the capacity-related bureaucratic objections to new rail lines, and help deliver these new rail extensions in the lifetime of this government. But it’s not a $9 billion Metro tunnel – it’s called high-capacity signalling.”
Dr Morton pointed to a $4.5 million allocation in the budget for a pilot project on the Sandringham line. “This is ultimately what will transform our rail network,” he said. “It already exists in dozens of other cities, including Paris which has very similar infrastructure to ours, and allows between 50 and 100 per cent more trains to run on the same tracks.”
“The key is to fast-track this initial demonstration, then roll it out on the rest of the system,” said Dr Morton. “London is doing it now on a network almost the same size as ours at a cost of half a billion dollars.  Compared to the cost of the East West tollroad, this is small change.”
Dr Morton commended other minor budget initiatives to boost the train fleet, build new stations at Southland and Grovedale, upgrade infrastructure on the Frankston line, and expand off-peak services on the Dandenong line to run every 10 minutes during the day. Improvements to suburban bus services were also welcomed. “These kinds of second-tier improvements should be seen right across the system, and they’re just as affordable as all those run-of-the-mill road network upgrades,” he said.
“All the same, we saw patronage collapse by 10% on buses and 7% on trams just in the last year, so the government needs to act now to stop people walking away from services that are no longer adequate to meet demand.”
The PTUA said the community would watch the Sandringham trial closely, and would be prepared to demand more be done in next year’s budget. “Incremental improvements to infrastructure and services are all good, but what we haven’t seen in any budget from this government is commitment to a major city-shaping public transport project in suburban Melbourne,” he said. “And they have just one more year to prove themselves on this before the next election.”
“This government will not get away with making promises on public transport and then spending all the serious money on roads. Now that we’ve started the process to build high-capacity signalling, this is the opportunity for the government to put its money where its mouth is and commit to one new rail extension in 2014. Whether it’s to Melbourne Airport or Doncaster or Rowville or Mernda, we need to see some action before the next election.” 
 Transport for London’s new signalling system for the London Underground has a budget of £354 million (AU$530 million) and includes 310km of lines, 113 stations, 191 passenger trains, 49 engineering trains and six heritage trains that run on the system. The system is being delivered by Bombardier: cn.bombardier.com/press_release_06142011.htm
For comparison, Melbourne has 372km of lines, 200 stations and approximately 250 trains (including V/Line and freight trains that use the urban network).
 Examples of capacity increases made possible by high-capacity signalling include:
- City to Clifton Hill from 17 trains per hour currently to 30+ trains per hour: allowing for trains every 10 minutes on a new line from Victoria Park to Doncaster plus additional growth of 30% in peak services, including an extension to Mernda.
- City to Dandenong from 16 trains per hour currently to 30+ trains per hour (with level crossing elimination): allowing for trains every 10 minutes on a new line to Rowville plus additional growth in existing Metro and V/Line services.
- City to Broadmeadows from 10 trains per hour currently to at least 16 trains per hour, allowing for additional limited express trains on a new 3km branch line to Melbourne Airport using the flight corridor reservation.
- City to Sunbury from 10 trains per hour currently to at least 16 trains per hour, allowing for additional express trains on a new dedicated line to Melbourne Airport via Albion.