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Big win for south east, no win for west and north, masks ‘split personality’ on transport policy

The Napthine Government’s announcement of $2 billion of rail infrastructure upgrades and new trains for the Dandenong, Pakenham and Cranbourne corridors has won the strong backing of the Public Transport Users Association, who have labelled it “a template for fixing the rail network across Melbourne”.

But it is a shame the improvements are entirely confined to the South East of Melbourne, and a sign the government is handicapped by its single-minded devotion to the East West Link, the PTUA said today.

“This is a big dose of good news for transport in the south-east of Melbourne and in Gippsland,” said PTUA President Tony Morton. “It’s a major growth corridor and it will now have the room to grow with the rail service it needs.”

“High-capacity signalling together with grade separation of the worst level crossings means that instead of being limited to 16 trains per hour in the peaks, we think there will be room for 25 plus. That means more room for trains in peak hour, and more room to provide trains to Monash University and Rowville in the future,” Dr Morton said.

It would also be key to reviving Victoria’s economy due to the jobs created, Dr Morton said. “On the government’s own figures, these announced measures have three times the job creation potential per dollar spent than the East West Link.”

“What’s important about this too, is that none of the planned measures are dependent on the Metro rail tunnel. In fact, these measures do more for the Dandenong line than the Metro tunnel would do by itself,” said Dr Morton.

This is both good and bad, according to the PTUA.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” Dr Morton said. “On the one hand, it shows what we can do right across the whole rail network, for sums of money that are individually less than what the Metro tunnel will cost.”

But it also confirms that the State lacks the budget capacity to invest in network-wide public transport improvements while it remains committed to the $16 billion East West Link. “And that’s terrible news for the rest of Melbourne, particularly the growth areas to the west and the north”, Dr Morton said.

There also appears to be no money for urgent improvements to the bus and tram network, said Dr Morton. “We could have the best train network in the world, but without the support from fast, frequent SmartBuses and trams, the majority of people will still remain dependent on cars.”

“We know from the East West Link panel hearings over the last couple of days that this road is going to dump thousands more cars in our inner suburbs and on the Eastern Freeway,” he said. “Only on Tuesday, chief modelling expert Michael Veitch said inner-city road projects ‘have a relatively short life for the problems they’re solving’. They’ve all but admitted we’ll only get a few years of congestion relief from this road, maximum, before we’ve got the same traffic problems all over again.”

“The experts have said for decades that if you’re going to give people an alternative to congestion, you’ve got to provide an alternative to car dependence,” said Dr Morton. “If Dr Napthine and the government have the best interests of Victorians at heart, they’ll cancel this mad scheme to dump more cars in the city, and roll out more of these measures across our train, tram and bus network. But they’re hamstrung right now, because Napthine wants the road and the voters need public transport fixed, and the government simply cannot do both.”

“The government has a split personality on transport policy,” Dr Morton concluded. “They need to take a serious look at their priorities if they’re to have any hope of winning the election in November.”