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Rail projects uncertainty after infrastructure review

infrastructure rail

Infrastructure minister Catherine King has suggested that some rail projects may be scrapped as a result of the Government’s infrastructure review.

In a doorstop interview, she said the investigation had looked at around 250 projects overall and had made recommendations on cancelling some.

King announced a 90-day review of the pipeline in May in a bid to make the program more sustainable.

“The findings are made on making sure we’ve got planning money, and slowing the process down so we know what the costs are before we commit to construction,” she said.

“The pipeline went from 150 to 800 projects under the previous government, a large proportion of those coming in the lead-up to the 2016 and 2019 election campaigns. Many of them announced without knowing how much the projects were actually going to cost. So those projects are difficult to build because there isn’t enough money to build them.

“We have committed to the $120 billion pipeline over 10 years, but there are $33b of known cost overruns with an expectation that there are more to come. And they are across every single one of the projects.

“And there is no head room for that at all. So, I’ve got a pipeline that we know is $33b short of what’s needed to actually build the projects that are in it currently.

“So, I have to find the money in order to be able to actually fund cost pressures on projects particularly those that are already under construction, and we’ve got states and territories coming to us and saying ‘We need extra to complete this project’ .”

King said while the Government wanted to maintain investment in public transport, heavy rail was “often very, very expensive”.

“The Morrison Government put money into rail infrastructure projects that, frankly, can never be built because they have not put enough money into them. And that’s one of the challenges I’ve got with the pipeline,” she said.

She said the Federal Government committed $2.2b to Melbourne’s Suburban Rail Loop because it was an important part of transforming the city.

“We know that in projects like METRONET over in WA just how much that has transformed its suburbs,” she said.

“We know that you need to be able to build new housing and new investment, new retail, around existing public transport networks. And that is what suburban rail does.

“That is why we’ve invested in it. Any further investments in suburban rail will be subject to Infrastructure Australia processes.”

King was less forthcoming about the Melbourne Airport rail link airport, for which construction work has already begun.

“That project was pushed out because there hadn’t been agreements reached yet about where the station box would be at the airport,” she said.

“And that’s an important part. What we did learn from Inland Rail is that you shouldn’t start a project if you don’t know where it’s going to start or finish, and that piece of work is really important in order to plan for airport rail.

“It’s a project I think is very important for the state of Victoria. I think we’re the only airport that does not have a heavy rail link or a rail transport link to it. It is an important project, but it is delayed because we haven’t finalised where the planning is for that.”

King said that the Federal Government were co-investors with states and territories on infrastructure projects, with projects best done through collaboration and cooperation.

“What we’ve seen from the previous Government was that you’d have a project announced without any discussion with the state or territory – it was a surprise to them that the Commonwealth was going to invest in that project,” she said.

“There was no discussion with the state about how much it might actually cost, and many of those projects have just not been delivered because they’ve not been a priority.

“The states and territories are partners with us. We are the investors alongside them and it is really important that we have those relationships to be able to invest.”

King said that the review’s findings would be released soon. “At the moment we are working our way through those recommendations with our state and territory colleagues,” she said.

Meanwhile, a Sunshine Coast federal MP has called on King to commit to funding for a Sunshine Coast rail line, pledged by the previous Government .

LNP Member for Fisher Andrew Wallace said a Sunshine Coast rail line to Maroochydore was essential.

“This is about delivering on one of the highest priorities for one of the country’s fastest-growing regions,” he said.

“Sunshine Coast Rail will fundamentally change the way we move people in southeast Queensland – busting congestion on our busiest roads and reducing the use of cars and thereby carbon emissions.”