The following is an edited version of a speech by Mary Merkenich at the December 15 rally against the Victorian government's proposed East-West Link tollway tunnel. Merkenich is on Manningham Council’s Residents Advocacy group for Rail to Doncaster, speaking here in personal capacity.
Our residents group in Manningham is campaigning for a new rail line to Doncaster because it will reduce traffic and congestion on the Eastern Freeway.
The experience of the construction of the train line down the centre of the Mandurah Freeway in Perth shows what is possible. When this train line was completed it resulted in greater usage of public transport on all rail lines and decreased car usage.
Evidence also comes from closer to here, from the extension of the rail line to South Morang in 2012. By 7.30am on the opening day of that station, the 450- capacity car park was full and the connecting buses to the station were packed and only just coping.
This shows that people are keen to use trains when they are available.
The evidence also comes from the responses we get in Manningham when we hand out leaflets, hold stalls or give out posters. People say things like, “Yes, please!” or “It’s about time.” After all it has been promised to us since the 1890s. Or “good on you, keep it up.”
Manningham City is the only metro area in Melbourne without a train or tram line. Our only form of public transport is buses. They can’t transport as many people as trains and they get caught in traffic and consequently aren’t fast or efficient. Combine that with the attitude of some prominent people and politicians, who promote the idea that we don’t have to worry about the climate crisis and you can see that there is no incentive for Manningham residents to leave their cars at home and we are forced largely to be car dependent.
The leaked government report revealed on Monday 9th Dec. in The Age shows that congestion will actually increase on the Eastern Freeway not decrease. But worse than that it will increase traffic and congestion in many local areas on streets and roads leading to the Freeway. The report mentions roads like Manningham Road in Bulleen, which are already a nightmare, especially in peak hour. The construction of the tunnel will have a direct, dramatic and negative impact on Manningham residents.
Rail to Doncaster is the alternative to the East-West Link. If the tunnel is built, rail to Doncaster is off the agenda, as well as many other projects. After all the tunnel is likely to cost between $8 and $15 billion! On the other hand if we get a train to Doncaster, the congestion will be eased and the justification for the tunnel will be gone. So will the stress that drivers face, the air pollution created by so many cars, the noise pollution for the people living along the Freeway, and the potential road accidents. That sounds like a much better solution to me.
Some politicians simply have no vision. All they see is freeways, tollways, Public-Private Partnerships, car-tunnels. We have to make all politicians take note that we are determined and uncompromising on this issue. We want clear and indisputable guarantees that the East-West Link will not be built and if that means tearing up the contracts, so be it! And we want a guarantee that the money set aside for that will be used for rail upgrades and new constructions like rail to the Airport and to Doncaster.
I believe that our campaign is a very winnable campaign. We already have mass support but it is largely passive. We have to turn that into active engagement. We need to make it as easy as possible for people to get involved through joint, collaborative, very public and citywide actions.
So, as people often say to me, I say to you, “good on you for being here today and keep it up” , in fact let’s turn up heat, let’s make the politicians sweat. We need activists here in Collingwood and Fitzroy, we need them in Flemington and Ascot Vale and we need them in Manningham.