Trains A-Plenty For Melbourne In State Government’s Pre-Election Budget Spending Spree

A new rail tunnel linking South Yarra to the CBD, along with the much vaunted Melbourne Airport rail link, are the centrepieces of a Victorian Government budget spending spree, outlined late yesterday by Premier Denis Napthine and Treasurer Michael O’Brien. Under the plan, the tunnel – to be known as Melbourne Rail Link – would see construction begin in earnest in 2016, with a projected timetable of 12 years. The Frankston line would be the beneficiary of the new route, diverting from its current course at South Yarra to two new underground stations at the interchange at the Domain, as well as Fisherman’s Bend, before continuing on to Southern Cross Station. The Airport link would see a branch line installed on the existing Sunbury line, branching off at Albion and heading directly to the airport. The line would run direct from Southern Cross.

The new tunnel is a slight diversion from previous plans, which saw a proposed tunnel running underneath the CBD, directly connecting Footscray, South Kensington and North Melbourne with Flinders Street, before continuing out through the Domain to South Yarra. The new plans remove the need for Swanston Street to be torn up over a period of two years, dodging potential major disruptions to city business and the tram network.
In addition to the new infrastructure projects, the state budget includes provision for trams within the CBD and Docklands to run free of charge from January 1st of next year. Along with that comes the announcement that commuters on all forms of Melbourne Public Transport will pay Zone 1 prices only, effectively abolishing Zone 2 in favour of one set pricing scheme.
The spending splurge comes on the heels of a $1.3billion surplus in state finances, with the Napthine administration boldly predicting that to rise to a combined $10billion across the next four years, even despite this spending spree.
The reasoning for this comes from a Government shelling its assets, with the privatisation of the Port of Melbourne expected to reap somewhere in the vicinity of $6billion.
In other areas of the budget, eleven new schools will be built in growth areas – though very little is being done to rectify the $300-odd million ripped out of the TAFE budget by predecessor Ted Baillieu – and a billion dollar boost to the health system, which includes funding for the initial stages of the Monash Children’s Hospital construction.
Whether this budget – that comes ahead of a state election in November, it should be noted – is enough to swing voters is another issue altogether, with opinion polls showing that Labor holds a clear lead over the incumbent Coalition.
But the bottom line is that, despite the fact that it’s a damned expensive train set to play with, it’s one that the city sorely needs.
Photo: Robert Cianflone via Getty Images.