The Green's transport plan for Melbourne's east

If you think the Greens provide a real alternative to the tired, cynical politics of Labor and the Liberals, then you might be very disappointed in the transport initiative the Green’s are promoting for the forthcoming Victorian election.

The Green’s Public transport plan for Melbourne’s east proposes a massive $6 billion program of public transport works, including a new rail line to Rowville and another along the Eastern Freeway to Doncaster. It also proposes rail duplications and triplications, new train stations, level crossing upgrades, tram line extensions, transport interchange upgrades and improvements to bus services.

The Greens clearly and loudly proclaim that the $6 billion will be found by scrapping the Government’s proposed North East Link, the so-called ‘missing link’ between the metropolitan ring road at Greensborough and the Eastern Freeway at Bulleen.

It almost sounds too good to be true. No additional funding, no new freeway and heaps of new public transport infrastructure! Trouble is, as the Greens well know, it isn’t true – there is no $6 billion to reallocate.

The North East Link is just one of many projects listed in the Victorian Transport Plan that the Government says it intends to build sometime between now and about 2040 – it’s listed as a “medium term” project. The Government estimates it will cost more than $6 billion but has not allocated any funds for it and neither has Infrastructure Australia.

The Government has been criticised, quite properly, for announcing projects without committing funding. But the Greens have now taken spin to a level that rivals Abbott and Hockey’s black hole. They’ve announced their plan on the eve of the election and haven’t acknowledged the funds don’t exist, not even in the fine print. In fact they’re actively pretending the funds do exist!

To make matters worse, the costings for the two flagship rail lines also play fast and loose with the numbers.

The Greens estimate the 12.5 km section of the proposed new Doncaster line running from the existing Victoria Park station to Doncaster shoppingtown will cost around $1 billion. They arrive at this figure by simply adjusting estimates from studies done in 1991 and 2002 for inflation. They consciously choose not to use the more recent estimate of the Eddington study (done in 2008), which concluded the cost would be between $1.8 billion and $2.1 billion.

The cost of the proposed new 12 km Rowville line is estimated by the Greens to be $571 million, again arrived at by inflating the estimate of a 2004 pre-feasibility study prepared for the City of Knox by Peter Newman, Bill Russell and others. Note the word “pre”. I’ve previously argued (here) that a more plausible cost for this line is at least $1 billion.

The Rowville line crosses seven major roads and two freeways – 9 km out of 12 km would need to be elevated. The line between at least Caulfield and Oakleigh would require triplication. The pre-feasibility study assumed five new stations at $5 million each, however the latest State Government costings put the likely outlay at around $50 million each.

Creative accounting is one thing, but it’s also hard to see where these two rail projects sit with the stated philosophy of the Greens. Neither offers much advantage in environmental or equity terms compared to the status quo, much less compared with other potential transport projects that could be funded with a lazy $6 billion (if it actually existed!).

The proposed Doncaster line, for example, would serve a small market, replace an existing high quality public transport service, and largely benefit middle to high income areas that are already well served by other forms of public transport. You have to wonder if the Greens are intent on damaging their ‘brand’.

I’ll talk about the proposed Doncaster line – and the proposed Doncaster tram line! – in more detail next time.