Mr Turnbull unlocks the box, but will public transport benefit?

The Public Transport Users Association today congratulates Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for opening the “locked box” reserved by former PM Tony Abbott for the wasteful and ideologically motivated East West Link project. At the same time, the Association urges the State and Federal Governments to use the opportunity to fund urgently needed public transport upgrades, rather than to reflexively throw money at roads.

Mr Turnbull this morning announced that $1.5 billion of Federal funds handed to Victoria by the Abbott Government for the East West Link project was now available to fund other infrastructure.

“We are glad Mr Turnbull has taken the responsible course,” said PTUA President Tony Morton. “It was the height of fiscal vandalism to insist a massive sum of public money could be used only on a project Victoria doesn’t want to build and would yield just 45 cents’ worth of public benefit for each dollar of expenditure. How could any sensible government demand we waste money when there are so many urgent priorities for public investment?”

But Dr Morton urged that the funds be used to address urgent priorities for Victoria’s public transport, ahead of the proposed Western Distributor road project. “The Western Distributor is being put forward as yet another pipe to funnel more car traffic into the inner city, which has no capacity to absorb more cars. It’s unlikely even to achieve its stated purpose of taking big trucks off residential streets in the western suburbs.”

“Alternative projects – including rail freight improvements – need to be considered to get the trucks off our streets without destroying scarce parkland, and provide alternatives for people fighting traffic congestion all over Melbourne’s west.”

The PTUA has nominated the following as urgent priorities for Federal transport funding:

– The proposed port rail shuttle, providing direct rail access from the Port of Melbourne to inland freight hubs near Laverton North and Somerton, filling a serious gap in the Victorian rail freight network and reducing truck traffic in the inner west. Seed funding has been provided but an additional funds boost would get it moving faster.

– An accelerated trial of high-capacity signalling according to best practice in Europe, which can boost the maximum number of trains per hour by between 50 and 100 per cent on existing suburban rail lines.

– Early works on the Melbourne Metro rail tunnel, which provides new capacity equivalent to three additional West Gate Bridges from Melbourne’s west to the inner city and eastern suburbs. This could include the additional funding necessary to provide interchange at South Yarra station.

– Repair of dilapidated roads and bridges in regional Victoria, which are essential to the movement of people and goods to support the regional economy (and which has figured as a key issue in the current Polwarth and South West Coast by-elections).

– Duplication of the Cranbourne rail line and extension to the urban growth boundary at Clyde.

– Full or partial duplication of the Altona loop to allow higher train frequencies.

– Track duplication between Deer Park and Melton.

– Suburban rail extensions to Doncaster, Rowville and Melbourne Airport, commencing with revised planning investigations guided by international expertise, to take into account the full capacity benefits of initiatives such as high-capacity signalling.

“Mr Turnbull has said infrastructure should be assessed objectively and rationally on its merits,” said Dr Morton*. “Any one of these projects has a stronger case for public funding than further entrenching car dependence in our western suburbs so that a private tollroad operator can profit from increased traffic volumes and congestion. Our cities have needed a serious public transport upgrade for decades, yet we persist in chasing outdated 1950s road-building solutions that simply don’t work.”

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* Mr Turnbull’s call for infrastructure to be “assessed objectively and rationally on its merits” was part of a 20 September interview, transcript available here.