Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Putting the heat on the Victorian government

Vanguard March 2014 p. 4
Bill F.

(Above: Melbourne transport protest)

With heat-wave weather conditions exposing the frailties of the Melbourne suburban rail system, and the East-West tunnel project criticised and opposed by many – planners, residents and commuters, the campaign for better public transport is attracting wide support in an election year.

The usual daily tally of train cancellations and signal faults has been boosted this summer by continuing days of fierce heat which caused rail authorities to slow trains due to the fear of buckled rails (More extreme weather is another feature of climate change). Many were cancelled due to air conditioning and other failures, but some were cancelled deliberately to plug holes elsewhere.

For the sweltering Melbourne commuters, getting to and from work became a nightmare, with crowded platforms, packed trains that turned up late, overflowing replacement bus services and traffic jams all over town as family and friends tried to help out.

The privatised public transport system is lurching from crisis to disaster with lack of spending and deferred maintenance putting great strain on outdated infrastructure, especially the signalling and tracks, let alone the trains. Never mind, the government sanctions fare increases each year and doles out subsidies to the private operators just for running ‘mostly on time.’

Any money available to eliminate some of the suburban level crossings is more to overcome delays to road traffic than for safety considerations.

The state government is firmly wedded to tollways and road transport to meet the demands of big business to transport freight. That is the priority. The East-West tunnel is designed to facilitate freight movements between the proposed new port at Westernport and the Western and Hume Highways.

That is why more and more B-doubles and triples are taking the place of once reliable rail freight services. Napthine’s government has no new plans to improve or extend either Victoria’s run-down rail freight system or Melbourne’s crumbling suburban rail network.

East-West Tunnel fiasco

Almost all of the money for the transport budget has been committed to this project, costed at $6-8 billion dollars, leaving nothing for the public transport system in spite of predictions of a rapidly growing population.

A number reports and leaked confidential briefings reveal uncertainty and confusion about projected traffic numbers and flows, leading many to believe the East-West tunnel will add to the congestion misery rather than decreasing it.

For example, some forecasts predict that traffic at the Eastern Freeway end of Hoddle St. will increase by 35% because of the project, while traffic at the city end will increase by 9%. There will also be grid-lock congestion on feeder roads at the western end, with traffic on Racecourse Rd. projected to increase by 20% and Mount Alexander Rd. by 25%.

Dr Alan March, Melbourne University planning expert, was quoted in The Age, “All of the evidence all over the world suggests these sorts of projects are unlikely to fix things in the longer term. It is as if the government is determined to press ahead with a truck-based transport system at all costs irrespective of the impact on the rest of the city in the longer term.”

There will be considerable impact on the region, with more than 100 houses to go, parklands lost and sporting clubs disrupted, with noise and vibration a huge concern for locals, including the nearby Melbourne Zoo concerned for the well-being of its most sensitive animals. 

At present, construction contracts have still to be signed and only so-called ‘test drilling’ is taking place around Alexandra Parade, frequently delayed by demonstrations of irate local residents and opponents of the tunnel.

The opposition Labor Party has opposed the East-West road tunnel and favour building an alternative suburban rail tunnel and extending the current Melbourne Underground Loop. This is well and good, but to fund it they want to privatise the Port of Melbourne.

In addition, Labor has not committed to abandoning the East-West road tunnel if the construction contracts are signed before it can be elected to government. With the state election due in November, this only gives incentive to big business and the Napthine government to get it signed off early!

People are sick of promises and secret negotiations. They are demanding safe, reliable and efficient public transport as the only way to make Melbourne function well into the future, rather than pandering to the interests of big business and multinational oil companies, car manufacturers, insurance companies and road transport cowboys.

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