Friday, December 19, 2008

Doubt cast on need for new rail tunnel - TheAge

Clay Lucas

A $4.5 BILLION "metro" rail tunnel that is the centrepiece of Victoria's transport plan has not been adequately justified, and other options to increase train services in Melbourne should have been investigated, a Government-commissioned report has found.

- Options should be investigated: expert
- Methodology's 'critical flaw'
- Passenger numbers set to soar

Senior rail consultant and transport planner Edward Dotson was hired by the State Government to help assess rail projects including a tunnel from Footscray to Caulfield, which was recommended in this year's report by transport expert Sir Rod Eddington.

The Government's plan proposes building a first stage of the tunnel, from Footscray to the Domain, within a decade.

But Mr Dotson found that while planning work for the rail tunnel should continue, some key assumptions behind it have not been proved.

He is particularly troubled by Transport Department passenger projections, which show a continued soaring in numbers over the next 13 years.

It was not possible to reliably make such projections beyond five years, Mr Dotson wrote.

And little work had been done to look at other options for running more trains on the network besides building the tunnel, he wrote. "This is a critical flaw in the methodology."

He said forecasts for passenger growth on Melbourne's trains, and alternatives to the tunnel, needed to be examined further.

The Department of Transport says a maximum of 20 trains an hour can run on each of Melbourne's train lines. But international rail experts argue this is, at best, unambitious.

Mr Dotson agrees, saying Melbourne's rail system should have a target of 24 trains running each hour on each line.

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