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Bill Shorten’s pledge to spend $3 billion on a Metro West line between Parramatta and central Sydney has triggered an about-face from Transport Minister Andrew Constance, who has stopped calling on the federal government to help fund the project.
Mr Constance has consistently appealed for federal funds to pay for the rail line, which is badly needed to alleviate pressure on Sydney's over-crowded western rail line.
NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance.
Photo: Janie Barrett“Canberra need to seriously start to look at this project to make this work" Mr Constance told the Herald on Thursday. "If I can get Canberra also interested in this it has the potential to be even more fantastic,” he said of a rail project he has championed.
But after Labor leader Mr Shorten promised $3 billion for the project on Sunday, Mr Constance, while alongside his federal Coalition counterpart Paul Fletcher on Monday, repeatedly declined to advocate for funds.
“I'm very happy with the way in which the national government is investing in infrastructure in this state,” Mr Constance said.
Mr Constance and Mr Fletcher instead criticised Mr Shorten, and NSW Labor’s infrastructure record.
“You're untrustworthy when it comes to these dollars because your state counterparts when they were last in office promised all of these projects and didn't deliver a thing,” Mr Constance said.
Under Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the federal government has pledged no funds for Metro West.
It has committed an unspecified amount of money to a rail line connecting to an airport at Badgerys Creek. Mr Fletcher said the federal government had committed to 50/50 funding with the NSW government a rail line to the airport, to be running when the airport opened.
As well as promising $3 billion for the Metro West project, Mr Shorten also promised $3 billion for rail links around the airport, and $300 million for commuter car parks near rail stations.
Mr Fletcher and Mr Constance said Mr Shorten’s $3 billion promise was not enough to build the volume of rail lines he promised around western Sydney airport. Federal Labor’s transport spokesman, Anthony Albanese, said “of course” the funding promise was meant as a contribution, not to cover entire project costs.
“What we have is $6.3 billion more on the table than the federal government and if the NSW government were serious about the interests of western Sydney they’d be welcoming the funding announcement and arguing that the Commonwealth should match it,” Mr Albanese said.
The Turnbull government could yet commit funds to a West Metro line before a federal election. If it did, it would please Mr Constance, who has in the past argued Metro West was the city’s highest transport priority.
“If you feed into the Western Line airport commuters and any growth along that corridor, you're going to end up in strife," Mr Constance told the Herald last year, citing the the risk that building a rail line to a Badgerys Creek airport ahead of a Metro West line would overwhelm the existing rail network.
And in an interview with the Herald on Thursday, Mr Constance said federal government funding could help add “passing loops” to enable faster journeys between the city and Parramatta. “I want Canberra to come to the table so we can consider it," he said.
But on Monday, he said the federal government’s $10 billion spending on infrastructure in western Sydney – which includes the airport, as well as more than $3 billion in roads around the airport – allowed the state government to plan and build Metro West. The project is scheduled to be finished late next decade.
"Paul's right," Mr Constance said of Mr Fletcher. "Look at what they are investing across the board, in the knowledge that we have the capacity as a result of that to get on and build Metro."
The West Metro line would run from Westmead through Parramatta, Sydney Olympic Park and the Bays precinct around Rozelle. It will also include some interim stops, potentially connecting to the existing Northern Line, at Camellia or Rydalmere, and at Kings Bay or Five Dock.
Mr Shorten campaigned on the Central Coast on Monday, touting his promised funding for commuter car parking.
This article first appeared on www.smh.com.au
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