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More light on RRL mess

posted Feb 12, 2011, 1:57 AM by Site Editor
This article, from Rail Express, shines further light on the state of the RRL project and how the current problems came to pass.

Serious doubts over Regional Rail Link

Rail Express — last modified Feb 09, 2011 11:39 AM

Victorian transport minister Terry Mulder says the former Brumby government’s poor planning and financial mismanagement of the Regional Rail Link (RRL) have led to a cover-up of a “massive black hole” in the project’s cost.

By Jennifer Perry

The Victorian Government reportedly now believes the price tag for RRL stands at about $880m more than estimated by Labor.

While some media reports have suggested that the blowout could ultimately lead to the abandonment of the project, a spokesman for Mulder declined to comment.

The spokesman told Rail Express that the RRL joins a “long list” of incompetently managed Labor public transport and roads projects with “mammoth cost blowouts”, including myki smartcard ticketing system, the M1 road upgrade and the West Gate bridge strengthening.

“The government is examining the funding and timing of the RRL in detail to determine how to best manage the shocking incompetence of the former Labor Government ... and project cost blowouts,” he said.

The timing and implementation of the project is also being examined by the Department of Treasury and Finance and the Department of Transport in light of the deferral of Federal Government funding.

The RRL was the big winner in the 2009-10 federal budget. It was allocated $3.2bn in federal funds – nearly half the land transport funding awarded under the government’s Building Australia Fund – under the advice of Infrastructure Australia (IA).

The Federal Government deferred $400m for the rail line in November last year and will reportedly hold back another $500m as part of budget savings to pay for infrastructure rebuilding after January’s floods in Queensland.

Serious concern

Designed to ease congestion and delays by giving separate tracks to Metro trains and V/Line Services, the $4.3bn RRL has received serious criticism, primarily for its planning and evaluation processes.

In a review of the decision-making process leading up to the approval of the RRL presented at the Australasian Transport Research Forum late last year, RMIT Transport planner Paul Mees wrote that concern about IA’s assessments of the project were heightened by the fact that Sir Rod Eddington chaired the inquiry set up by the Brumby Government which recommended the RRL as well as IA, including two months as chair of both bodies at once.

In his review, Mees also raises the point of the lack of attention to any alternatives to the RRL in the Eddington Report, also noted in a report commissioned by the Victorian Government to review the public transport recommendations from the Eddington Report by Edward Dotson, a former transport planner for the World Bank.

Concluding that the case for proceeding with the project had not been made out, Dotson raised three concerns: firstly, that the analysis of the RRL could “best be described as the pre-feasibility study stage”; secondly, the Public Transport Division’s estimation of future patronage was “not a methodology that would be generally accepted as robust enough for forecasting longer term demand; and thirdly, there was “limited investigation of ways to increase the capacity of the existing network through a range of operational changes and investments”, what he refers to as a “critical flaw in the methodology”.

Dotson recommended examination of alternatives to the RRL, including “the potential for upgrading and use of the Bunbury Street tunnel in the short term”, provision of additional tracks along the existing line to Geelong instead of the RRL route through Tarneit, longer V/Line trains and purchase of rolling stock with similar acceleration/braking characteristics to suburban trains “so that they would use less train paths where metro and regional services have to share lines”.

According to Mees’ review of the RRL, the state government’s submission for the project to IA in 2008 make clear that the alternatives recommended by Dotson were not carried out.

“The assessment of ... RRL by IA should have challenged this approach, but it apparently did not. Instead, IA relied on the Victorian government’s assessment on the need for the project, and failed to consider possible alternatives,” Mees wrote.

Citing changes to project costs and benefits between the April 2008 Eddington Report and the October 2008 submission to IA was a “matter of great concern”, Mees concluded that developments with the RRL confirm the weakness of its planning process conducted at a state level.

Although it was funded in May 2009 on the basis that it was “shovel-ready”, no works had commenced as of August 2010.

Drawing comparisons between transport planning in Sydney and Melbourne, Mees concluded that with Sydney’s planning “notorious for a history of long-term plans being announced, then replaced, at regular intervals, with major investment proposals committed, then abandoned ... the situation in Melbourne is similar: the main difference seems to be that the Melbourne problems have been less extensively reported by the local media and commentators”.