Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s ambitious $4 billion plan to improve the efficiency of a train to Geelong from Melbourne is a recipe for disaster. The new line is part of a $19 billion high-speed rail plan to improve the efficiency of regional trains in Australia announced ahead of the 2018-19 budget. The nation-wide project is aimed to reduce commute times, congestion and provide greater accessibility for people living outside large cities like Melbourne.
While the Prime Minister’s goals are no doubt admirable, taxpayers should be concerned as such projects have a poor track record, are highly susceptible to cost blowouts, and indefinite timelines. Consider how since the 1980s, every Federal Government has conducted a feasibility study of constructing high-speed rail, but no high-speed rails have ever been constructed.
The Federal Government’s rail proposal for Geelong and Melbourne is expected to nearly halve commute times from 62 minutes to 32 minutes, while adding stops such as Sunshine and Wyndham. Former Victorian Opposition Leader, Matthew Guy has also stated the Geelong line was of high priority and would be completed sometime in 2022. Guy claims that the project will relieve some of the population pressure created by Melbourne’s unprecedented growth.
While the train is likely to travel at astonishing average speeds around 160kms, the cost of the project and its many caveats could bring it to a crashing halt. Firstly, the project is expected to cost an exorbitant amount with the Federal Government pledging $2 billion to the Geelong and Melbourne rail project, if the Victorian Labor led Andrews government is willing to match that investment.
The initial feasibility study for the project would begin in 2021-22 with $20 million and should receive another $30 million after. The remaining billions would be delivered after 2023, following another federal election.
The President of the rail think-tank Rail Futures, John Hearsch, notes that the $2 billion will barely be enough to cover the removal of the level crossings and the Melbourne-Geelong Project would actually cost $5 billion in total.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, has also expressed concerns about the indefinite nature of the project. “The money promised, it is all off on the never-never, it is in five years, maybe even longer”, says Andrews.
It’s unsurprising that the project has been met with doubt. An 8-kilometre track extension from South Morang to Mernda in Melbourne’s northern suburbs took more than three years despite the work taking place on a rail reserve.
Looking overseas we are able to see major cuts to very similar projects. Consider California where the current Governor Gavin Newsom, announced drastic cuts to their high-speed rail, stating, “Let’s be real: The current project as planned would cost too much and, respectfully, take too long.”
In addition, the underlying reason for this project is incredibly ugly. The plan appears to be aimed at pork barrelling Liberal Member Sarah Henderson’s marginal seat of Corangamite, which has been described by the Geelong Advertiser as the ‘most marginal seat in Australia.’
The Liberal Party is clearly on the wrong side of the tracks. For the sake of hardworking taxpayers, let’s hope the government doesn’t make a train wreck of this project and squander our money in the process.