Scrap East-West Link, build public transport

Campaigners against the East-West tunnel want a shift to public transport.

Communities in the firing line of the East-West Link road in Melbourne have been agitating not merely against the tunnel, but for a shift of transport priorities to public transport. Labor politicians, including Richard Wynn in the City of Yarra, have supported the campaign, and promised an alternative transport plan.

Labor has now come out with its public transport policy: Project 10,000. It is named after the 10,000 jobs it promises to generate. The project addresses almost none of the concerns raised by those demanding rapid expansion of public transport, or moving away from cars and fossil fuels to avert climate disaster.

The project proposes to spend $300 million on a new city loop with new stations in inner Melbourne.

Other proposals include: $2 billion for city and rural roads, take 5000 trucks off the Westgate freeway by building a new Westgate distributor road, add a lane in both directions to the Westgate freeway, expand the Tullamarine freeway to a six-lane road, and ease traffic flow on Hoddle Street through improved traffic monitoring technology.

It offers little in terms of public transport alternatives. There is no pledge to build the Doncaster train link, a proposal since 1885, or the train to Tullamarine airport, nor does it mention easing bottlenecks by doubling sections on the Upfield and Hurstbridge lines.

This is pitiable even when seen against the projections of government body Public Transport Victoria, which projects a doubling of train usage by 2031. It estimates train usage in Melbourne has risen by 40% in the past five years and 70% in the past decade.

Public Transport Victoria proposals to meet rising public transport needs are for a 15-to-30-year plan that includes building train lines to the airport and Rowville in outer Melbourne, a train line from the large commuter region of Doncaster in the inner north-east to the city, electrification up to Melton in outer Melbourne, upgrading the Dandenong corridor and duplicating the Dandenond-Cranbourne line in the outer east and the Greensborough-Eltham section, building seven independent lines in the city loop, quadrupling the Burnley-Camberwell line, doubling the Altona-Seaholme and extending the South Morang-Southern Cross line to Fishermen's Bend.

Projections are that Melbourne will need a metro-style end-to-end train line with a frequent turn-up-and-ride style timetable.

For regional Victoria, proposals include electrification of the Geelong-Whallan line, extending the line from Weribee to Wyndham Vale and reviving the “midland arch”, a project for re-establishing and upgrading the train services between Geelong in the south through the goldfield towns of Ballarat, Castlemaine and Bendigo to the northern regions of Shepparton and Benalla.

Public Transport Victoria estimates that much of this regional rail link could be revived with minor repairs, costing $500 to $20,000 each for culverts and $500 to $850,000 for bridges.

Public Transport Victoria estimates train usage of 1.7 million persons per day by 2031. However, with rising fuel prices, growing commuting times and distances, parking costs and a rising awareness of environmental costs, train use could easily double in two to four years if rapid and convenient public transport is available.

Public Transport Victoria has not released the costing for its 20-year plan. But environmental organisation Beyond Zero Emissions has made a detailed costing analysis of the Melbourne transport plan called Network Development Plan Cost Estimates.

The estimated annual cost of the plan is in the region of $1.74 billion and the total cost is an estimated $38.9 billion.

The East-West Link, when completed in two stages, is estimated to cost between $14-16 billion. So, Melbourne could have a world-class metro system for roughly twice the money to be spent on the sure-to-fail East-West Link.

Even the cost of the entire project is modest when compared to corporate profits. For instance, the combined annual profits of the four major banks for 2013 is $27 billion, nearly three quarters of the cost of moving people to an environmentally sane alternative to cars.

Bringing just the banking sector under public ownership could finance the project with relative ease.

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