AusRAIL, Market Sectors

Election promises put billions more into rail program

<span class="" id="parent-fieldname-description"> The ‘Golden Age’ prediction for Australian rail infrastructure continues to ripen with recent announcements in Victoria and Queensland for three substantial rail projects on the eve of Federal and State elections. </span> <p>By Dave Howe*</p><p>With a Victorian election in November, premier John Brumby and minister for public transport Martin Pakula, recently announced $10bn of transport projects for the state’s central networks in the past fortnight, including details on two of the biggest infrastructure projects in Victoria’s history.</p><p>The first is the $4.3bn Regional Rail Link Project, with the second being planned for five stations in the Melbourne Metro project released including a new underground station at Arden Street in North Melbourne.</p><p>Pakula said the projects together totalled almost $9bn and would provide capacity for an extra 20,000 passengers every hour reducing congestion on the system and providing more services.</p><p>In Queensland, Albanese has also made a pre-election commitment to Brisbane’s Cross River Rail (CRR) underground proposal with his government providing $20m to the Queensland Government’s $5m funding of a feasibility study. The study, due to be delivered in mid-2011, includes a scoping of costs.</p><p>Queensland Premier Anna Bligh has indicated she wants the CRR delivered by 2016 with an initial project cost estimate of $8.2bn.</p><p>And in mid-July, the $1bn Border Railway Project rail project linking Moree to Toowoomba in Queensland was granted major project facilitation status by federal minister for infrastructure Anthony Albanese, who described the project as a &quotnationally significant&quot piece of infrastructure.</p><p>These flagged plans are added to the serious level of rail infrastructure already being undertaken, including the $1bn Novo Rail program in Sydney, the ongoing South Improvement Alliance, and the ongoing resources-focused ‘mine-to-port’ works such as those of BHP Billiton in Western Australia and at Dalrymple Bay in Queensland.</p><p>The challenge will be bringing these proposed projects to fruition in the proposed time frames from both a funding and timing perspective.</p><p>Currently three of the four Victorian urban projects have received Federal Government funding through Infrastructure Australia (IA). However the $4.5bn Melbourne Metro Rail tunnel, part of the four projects announced by the state government in July, has only received 2009 budget funding for preparatory works and feasibility assessment.&nbsp As yet, there are no other funds committed by state or federal partners.</p><p>It would be disappointing if plans of such scale and opportunity would lose momentum and ‘go off the tracks’ after the heat of the election has passed.</p><p>On the other hand, if these opportunities do actually become live, there is a real concern with regard to the availability of resources to meet these fresh demands.</p><p>We need to guard against the potential of creating ‘rail inflation’ where costs continue to soar due to the pressure on available skills, resources and funding.</p><p>Rail could be the great infrastructure investment of the new millennium but it needs to be managed carefully.</p><p>*Dave Howe is general manager of O’Donnell Griffin Rail. O’Donnell Griffin is part of the Norfolk Group of companies and is a leading engineering company nationally with involvement also in major infrastructure projects.<br />&nbsp</p>