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Melbourne Metro is the number one rail project for Victoria, a $9 billion north-south tunnel through the city centre that would add capacity for an extra 24,000 passengers an hour.
It has been backed by the Rudd government and federal advisory authority Infrastructure Australia, but according to Premier Denis Napthine it is the right project, but at the wrong time and with the wrong name.
"I think we've got to find a better name for it because that is a misnomer," Dr Napthine said of Melbourne Metro on Tuesday.
"We are determined to build that rail capacity project. We're doing geotechnical work on it at the moment, it is essential for rail freight, for regional rail services and for metro rail services," he said.
The premier also denied his government having mothballed the landmark project, despite having committed just $10 million to it in its current budget.
"It is on our agenda. It will be done when we've done the [planning] work that needs to be done and we're looking at the back half of this decade," Dr Napthine said. "It is essential ... nation-building work for Melbourne and Victoria."
The Rudd government has committed $3 billion towards Melbourne Metro, but most of the money would not begin to flow to Victoria until after 2019, suggesting Melbourne rail commuters face several more years of worsening overcrowding.
According to Public Transport Victoria, without the extra capacity the new rail tunnel will bring, several lines will have become so overcrowded by decade's end that some passengers will not be able to board peak-hour trains.
Dr Napthine was speaking at the launch of his government's new freight and logistics plan, which Fairfax Media revealed last month.
He spoke on the same day Victoria's bus industry declared its preference for Melbourne Metro over the east-west link road, which the state government has committed to building from the Eastern Freeway to CityLink by 2019/20 at a cost of $6-$8 billion.
"A road tunnel will just perpetuate a car culture, whereas Melbourne needs infrastructure investment that lessens our dependency on private transport," said Chris Lowe, executive director of Bus Association Victoria.
"Prioritising a rail tunnel ahead of a road tunnel will improve the capacity of the public transport network to cater for more train, tram and bus services sooner, which will encourage modal shift from private to public transport," Mr Lowe said.
He said Melbourne Metro would bring more economic, social and environmental benefit than the east-west link, which has received a $1.5 billion commitment from federal opposition leader Tony Abbott.
"We've learnt we can't build our way out of congestion so we need to reduce the demand factor for cars," Mr Lowe said.
"You do that by building an alternative network – a public transport network that has frequent services that cover the whole metropolitan area, not just the inner and middle suburbs, to the extent that you can throw away the timetable."
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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