Federal Infrastructure Funding Fallout II

My last post discussed how NSW had fared relative to the other states in attracting transport infrastructure funding, particularly for public transport, in this week’s federal budget – which, in summary, was not very well.

 It’s useful to look at the five public transport projects which did receive substantial funding to see what characteristics they have in common. First cab off the rank and the project to receive by far the biggest allocation was the Regional Rail Express, which will provide a 40 kilometre link from West Werribee on the Geelong line to Southern Cross Station in Melbourne, joining the Baccus Marsh line near Ravenhall.

According the Federal Government, it will segregate V/Line regional rail services from metropolitan rail services allowing regional trains from Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo avoid being delayed by suburban trains. It will also provide additional capacity for suburban services from Werribee, Sunbury and Craigeburn in the western growth corridor, delivering capacity for an extra 9,000 passengers in peak hour. 

The next largest public transport project is the 13 kilometre first stage of a light rail system on the Gold Coast, running from the Gold Coast campus of Griffith University to Broadbeach via Southport, which will receive $365 million. Further investment will be provided by State and Local Governments and the private sector with the line ultimately linking to the heavy rail network at Helensvale in the north and extending south to Coolangatta. The Federal Government comments that when completed this project will remove up to 40,000 cars from the road network. 

The next two largest projects are both located in Adelaide. The 42 km Gawler line to the city’s north will receive $294 million for resleepering and electrification to improve services, whilst the Noarlunga line receives $291 million for a 5.5 kilometre extension south to Seaford. Both projects complement SA Government plans to modernise Adelaide’s rail network. The final “big five” project is a $236 million investment to sink the central city section of the Perth to Freemantle rail line, releasing 50,000 sq metres of land for urban redevelopment.

There is quite a step down to the final four projects worth under $100 million each. One of these involves direct capital works – the O-bahn track extension in Adelaide, which receives $61 million for a 4.5 km link from the existing terminus to the CBD. The other three involve preconstruction works or feasibility studies for inner-city rail proposals, with the Sydney West Metro receiving $91 million, the East-West Rail Tunnel $40 million and the Brisbane Inner City Rail feasibility study $20 million.

A few things become clear from this analysis. First, the Federal Government appears to have prioritised well thought out projects providing extensions or improvements to existing heavy rail services that link to outer suburban growth areas, such the western growth corridor in Melbourne and the southern and northern suburbs in Adelaide. It is also prepared to invest substantially in new projects in outer suburban areas such as the Gold Coast light rail. 

Second, where it has funded these projects it has done so substantially and obviously with a view that they will be delivered comparatively quickly. The top five projects received enough funding to complete major stages of work and to be in operation within five or six years. 

Third, the Federal Government does not seem inclined to throw large sums of money at the inner city metro and other rail projects put forward by the various State Governments, especially if they are not shovel ready. The only inner city project to receive substantial funding was the undergrounding of the east-west rail line in Perth – and it can be argued that the (former) WA Government had already wisely invested some of the proceeds of the (former) mining boom in building two complete new rail lines to outer suburban areas in the north and south of the city. 

This caution reflects the view put by IA in its Report to the Council of Australian Governments in December 2008 regarding metro and other “new technology” transport proposals. This is worth quoting in full:

The strategic policy choice facing Australian governments is whether, and under what circumstances, new urban rail systems should adopt such technologies. However, a move towards these technologies raises many issues. To avoid a repetition of the rail gauge problem from the nineteenth century, decisions on these matters need to be made with national input and intergovernmental collaboration. The network that exists today represents more than 40 years of consistent long term planning and investment. An equivalent national commitment to such planning and investment is required in Australia if new technologies are to be applied to the public transport sector.

However, even if a decision is taken to make such a strategic shift, the existing rail networks will be a fundamental part of Australia’s urban transport networks for decades to come. Sensible investment in the capacity of those systems and in life-cycle replacement of assets will continue to be required.

In seeking Federal funding, NSW chose to put all its public transport eggs in two very big baskets– the CBD Metro and the Sydney West Metro – and received only $91 million towards preconstruction works for the latter. Clearly, neither project was assessed as being ready enough to meet IA’s criteria, nor indeed do they reflect the Federal Government’s predisposition (no doubt influenced by the IA perspective quoted above) to fund projects in outer urban areas mostly based on the “old technologies”.

The irony is that NSW did have three shovel-ready projects that met IA’s criteria but did not put them forward. I’ll consider these and some of Sydney’s strategic transport planning issues in my next post.







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