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Urban rail news in brief - July 2015
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The price tag of Melbourne's Metro Rail project has come under question, amid government documents suggesting that constructing the tunnel deeper underground to avoid severely disrupting the city could cost an extra $600 million.
In a surprise move last week, the Andrews government announced it would dump plans to dig a shallow rail tunnel only 10 metres beneath Swanston Street, and instead go as far as placing parts of the project almost 40 metres underground.
Premier Daniel Andrews insisted the new construction plans would end up saving money, while Transport Minister Jacinta Allan described the costs as being "comparable" for taxpayers compared with the design chosen earlier this year.
However a ministerial briefing suggests otherwise, pointing out that the shallow alignment would be better for passengers and would also save hundreds of millions of dollars.
"The shallow alignment offers a superior outcome in terms of passenger amenity and movement," says the July 2012 briefing note, provided to former Transport Minister Terry Mulder by the then chief executive of Public Transport Victoria, Ian Dobbs.
"The shallow alignment is estimated to cost $400-600 million less than the deep alignment as a result of the reduced structural works, more conventional construction techniques, simpler emergency egress requirements and lower property take."
Illustration: Matt Golding.
The government says the decision to dig deep beneath the CBD means trams will still be able to run along Swanston Street, traders will continue operating, and authorities will no longer have to move critical utilities under Swanston Street (such as telecommunication lines) – thereby creating a cost saving.
However, the changing parameters of the project have added pressure on Mr Andrews to release a business case so taxpayers know whether the government's decisions stack up.
For instance, on Tuesday, Ms Allan announced that 94 homes and business would be acquired to make way for the tunnel – less than the "hundreds" predicted earlier – but it is still not clear how much these acquisitions would cost in compensation.
And on Wednesday, the deeper alignment was chosen, even though the government had previously insisted that building the tunnel above the city loop at a depth of 10 metres was "the best option for commuters."
Opposition transport spokesman David Hodgett said the Metro Rail project was a "once in a generation opportunity" that the government had to get right, but there was growing confusion surrounding critical details of the project.
"Victorians remain in the dark about the total cost of the project because a business case has still not been released even though Daniel Andrews has already approved the project. In 2014, Daniel Andrews was fond of claiming that a business case was essential before approving any project. In 2015, it seems to be an optional extra," he said.
In other developments this week:
* The government admitted that a portion of Fawkner Park in South Yarra may be used as a staging area for the project's tunnel boring machine and, in some cases, to store soil overnight to avoid trucks driving through residential streets and disrupting the community.
* Premier Daniel Andrews came under attack during question time after announcing the property acquisitions for the project, even though the government is yet to secure any federal or private sector funding.
* Questions emerged over why one of the properties to be acquired on Swanston Street was granted a permit earlier this year (thereby driving up the value of the property for taxpayers) given its position along the tunnel route.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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