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Former Victorian Premier and President of the Hawthorn Football Club, Jeff Kennett distracts people away from the grand final result with his grand vision for public transport in Melbourne.
A NEW network of underground railway lines is the most important infrastructure needed for Victoria's future, former premier Jeff Kennett reportedly told an audience today at the Australian Property Institute Pan Pacific Congress.
"If I was able to wave a magic wand even now, I would start the planning for an underground rail system," Mr Kennett said. "It would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but I can assure you when you look back in 50 years, or 100 years, whatever you pay today would seem cheap.
We can hardly accommodate the traffic on the surface of our community in an efficient way and it is only going to get worse."
But Daniel Bowen, president of the Public Transport Users Association, said Melbourne did not need to build a network of train tunnels to have efficient public transport, it could achieve this by improving the existing above-ground network.
"We shouldn't be fooled into thinking that for our trains to run efficiently we need them to run underground," Mr Bowen said.Removing level crossings to separate trains from road traffic could deliver the same improvements as new tunnels, he said. "You don't get better rail services just by running them underground. The key is to run them frequently and to run them all day, every day and ensure they're reliable."
But Mr Kennett's comments were celebrated by the author of a study into building a railway line to Doncaster, much of which would run underground. Peter Newman, Distinguished Professor of Sustainability at Curtain University, agreed that Melbourne would need a network of train tunnels to avoid future gridlock. "That is the priority that should be influencing politicians on both sides at the moment and it's the kind of far-sighted thinking we desperately need in Melbourne's politics," Professor Newman said.
The Baillieu government allocated almost $50 million in the 2012/13 budget to advance a proposed nine-kilometre Melbourne Metro tunnel joining the Dandenong railway line south-east of South Yarra station, and the Sunbury line west of South Kensington station.
Professor Newman said the proposed Melbourne metro project was "just the start" of meeting Melbourne's transport needs. "Melbourne Metro is the start of it, it is about making a full network and that's not a concept that anyone has put together yet. But at some stage it was bound to happen once you could see how you could tie the whole city together underground," he said.
Mr Kennett said smaller-scale projects, such as Melbourne Metro, were necessary but the time had come for bold reform. "I'm actually thinking about a generational change of how we move around the city and that can in my opinion only be done through an underground rail system," he said. "We have the City Loop, right, which is all we have, but it's very much constrained by its size and the fact that it fundamentally goes nowhere."
Mr Kennett also said the government should work with the private sector to develop space above existing railway stations into housing, offices and other accommodation. "We have enormous potential to do a lot of work in this area and do it with the private sector," he said.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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