State keeps changing its transport story

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By Andrew Herington

A flurry of recent articles has highlighted the confusion within Government about the East West Link. There is no doubt that they have panicked and want desperately to shift the agenda back to more politically palatable public transport upgrades.

Accordingly the Premier has recently announced a $2 billion upgrade to the Dandenong line, 25 new trains, the abolition of Zone 2 ($100 m a year), free trams in the CBD and a $3 billion Airport rail link. It is tipped there will be more promised in the State Budget on May 6th including some more planning money for the Melbourne Metro.

On Monday, the State Government told the East West Link planning inquiry that Victoria didn’t need a transport plan – despite a legislative requirement to have one (Section 63 of the Transport Integration Act).

On Tuesday, the Premier said there is actually already a Transport Plan, and all the recently announced commitments have been carefully studied as part of it. (The Age, 15th April: “Airport rail part of the plan: Napthine”). This so far secret document may be planned for release as part of the Budget.

The Treasurer, Michael O’Brien said “the government has already factored in passenger predictions for the airport link into its planning for the other major transport projects including the business case for the East West Link.

However, the Government’s traffic modeller, Michael Veitch previously testified at the inquiry that the Metro tunnel, Airport Link and Doncaster Rail had not been included in the modelling for the East West Link. (The Age 5th March: “Traffic estimates for the East West Link ignore planned rail tunnel”). The facts are detailed in what is called the VLC G1 Base Case – see LMA Document 38.

Now the Linking Melbourne Authority has claimed they have modelling that says the Doncaster Rail Link would only reduce traffic on the Eastern Freeway by an unbelievable 0.1% and the Melbourne Metro would reduce traffic by just 0.4% (The Age, 16th April: “Authority tips traffic chaos with no Link”).

This is not actually correct and these figures involved were not tabled at the inquiry. What Mr Morris asserted in the LMA closing statement was that the existence of a Doncaster rail-line would have this small impact on traffic in the tunnel itself. This equates to just 120 vehicles a day whereas the rail line is predicted to carry 56,000 passengers a day.

The Doncaster rail line would serve trips to the city and people wanting to go to the western suburbs or the airport would need to change trains or take Skybus from Southern Cross. The impact would thus be modest but not as small as the LMA claim.

A Doncaster rail (or upgraded bus/ light rail service) would dramatically impact the traffic on the freeway and Hoddle St and reduce congestion far more than building a tunnel. This was never modelled by the LMA, just as they avoided discussion of the induced traffic effects and the inclusion of the Elliot Avenue ramps to provide a “back door to the city”.

The Airport rail link will also have a big impact on traffic in the tunnel itself. This is evident from the Origin Destination data for east west destinations on the LMA’s own website. Melbourne Airport is the largest destination for tunnel traffic – which reflects the car dominance of the current access opportunities.

The latest announcement for an Airport rail link is very short on details and there is no indication of timing. It is apparently limited to a service to Southern Cross which would mean people from further afield would have to change trains. The Melbourne Metro would enable through running for trains from the south east and eastern suburbs to the Airport. However it would provide a very real alternative to anyone thinking of driving and it would be free of the traffic congestion inevitable on Citylink.

Notably, all the traffic projections for the East West tunnel are for 2031 (rather than the much lower figures expected when it opens). Both the Doncaster rail link and Airport rail link are now planned for development by that date under the existing PTV Network Development Plan. The issue is why they can’t be built 10 years earlier to meet the demand and reduce congestion in a much more practical manner.

The Government seems to be making up transport policies from day to day. If there is a transport plan, why can nobody see it? If there is traffic modelling that shows rail services have marginal impacts why is it a secret?

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