The Regional Rail Link Project will go ahead ‘despite a massive budget black hole left by the former Labor Government,’ Minister for Public Transport Terry Mulder has announced.
Mr Mulder said the RRL project had been under review after Treasury experts had discovered that the former Labor State Government had been between $700 million and $1.1 billion short in its costings, and then the Federal Labor Government had announced it was deferring $500 million of funding for the project.
“I’m really pleased to say that the Regional Rail Link will go ahead despite the massive shortfall we’ve been left with. It is a vital piece of infrastructure for both the booming western suburbs and regional Victoria.
“It is also an important foundation for future growth in capacity and reliability of Victoria’s train network.”
Mr Mulder said the Regional Rail Link project would provide track capacity for enough extra train services for up to 9,000 extra passengers across the Melbourne and country rail networks in weekday peak periods.
“Despite being known as the Regional Rail Link, this new western rail link is set to benefit suburban passengers as much as country passengers,” Mr Mulder said.
“Building an extra western rail line means that country trains will finally be separated from suburban trains. Without country trains on the same tracks, trains on the Werribee, Sunbury/ Watergardens and Craigieburn lines will have more capacity and be more reliable.
“This means that suburban trains will not be stuck behind country trains, and country trains will not be stuck behind suburban trains.”
Mr Mulder said for the first time trains from Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, Ararat, Warrnambool, Echuca and Swan Hill would have their own dedicated tracks through the suburban system from Sunshine to Southern Cross Station, increasing capacity and reliability.
Mr Mulder also said there would also be new dedicated regional tracks from west of Werribee to Deer Park via new stations at Wyndham Vale and Tarneit.
The deferral of the Federal Government funding meant that Regional Rail Link is now unlikely to be completed until 2016 at the earliest.
“Despite the massive shortfalls that we inherited and the former Labor Government neglecting to fund the removal of level crossings at Anderson Road, Sunshine, or put aside money to buy new trains, the Baillieu Government will deliver the full RRL project,” Mr Mulder said.
“This includes funding the two grade separations in Sunshine to ease road congestion and removing the unsafe pedestrian underpass.”
The government will now consult with industry and stakeholders about opportunities to determine the earliest timelines for building the project, optimise scope and achieve savings in order to address these issues.
“The expertise and innovation of industry through the procurement process will be vital in driving efficiency and value for money,” Mr Mulder said.
Mr Mulder said the government would immediately proceed with compulsory land acquisition in both sections of the project, including for commercial property owners and tenants. Planning and environmental approval processes would also continue.
Mr Mulder said the next major step in building the project would be to announce shortlists and issue tender documentation for key works packages, including signalling, the sections of track between Southern Cross Station and West Werribee, and the new junction between the Geelong line and Regional Rail Link at West Werribee.
Bids are expected to be submitted by shortlisted firms later this year, at which point decisions will be taken on the precise timing and sequencing of the various works packages.
“The first step is to get work underway on building the new rail tracks between West Werribee and Southern Cross. We will also need to consider when new trains need to be ordered and on what scale. Those decisions will be taken in the coming year,” Mr Mulder said.
The Regional Rail Link is jointly funded by the Australian and Victorian governments with the Commonwealth contributing $3.2 billion, of which $500 million has been deferred. Further announcements about the procurement process for Regional Rail Link will be made soon.