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SIX rail projects worth a combined $14.4 billion are on the chopping block as senior bureaucrats and a new cabinet team frantically search for a new transport strategy in the face of a faltering NSW budget.
Treasury officials are sharpening their knives in preparation for the November mini-budget promised by the new Premier, Nathan Rees, which will be forced to balance a huge revenue shortfall against the state of rapidly decaying transport infrastructure.
The $12 billion North West Metro is not expected to survive in its current form, and four big Rail Clearways projects worth $1 billion, promised by the State Government but not yet built, are also at risk.
It is also possible the Government might defer the $1.37 billion South West Rail Link from Glenfield to Leppington.
The future of other major transport projects, which have not yet been announced, is also unclear. These range from the $10 billion M4 East inner city motorway to the $400 million replacement of the Sydney Ferries fleet.
The NSW cabinet hopes the Federal Government will come to the rescue on some of these infrastructure projects via its $20 billion Building Australia Fund, particularly with a federal election due before the next state poll.
The Rudd Government set aside $20 million in the last federal budget for the new Sydney Link metro network, but it was tied to a feasibility study for the western corridor metro. Some say this indicated the Federal Government will be more inclined to fund a new metro line through the western suburbs rather than the Hills district, a blue-ribbon Liberal stronghold.
A spokesman for the federal Transport Minister, Anthony Albanese, said yesterday that the new NSW administration had not made any formal representations since taking the reins.
Any decision about the metro was said to be on hold until the NSW Co-ordinator-General, David Richmond, returns from overseas this week. But shortly after taking over, Mr Rees strongly signalled it might not go ahead: "It's too early to commit one way or the other to that project. I am pulling back from it."
If it is to be overhauled, Mr Rees has a handful of options.
The Government might delay or dump the whole project, or it might commit to a permutation such as building just the Epping to Rouse Hill section of the link.
It could focus on building the section between the city and Epping, or even switch priorities to a West Metro. But both of these options mean the Government will renege on its pledge of rail to the Hills Centre by 2015.
Rail chiefs fear other big projects are also at risk. In April the Herald revealed the Government planned to shelve the $93 million Liverpool turnback project and a $32 million new platform at Macarthur as the cost and timetable for the Rail Clearways program blew out.
Two other Clearways projects could also be on the hit list: the $432 million duplication of the Quakers Hill to Vineyard line, and extra tracks between Kingsgrove and Revesby worth $450 million.
Sydney Morning Herald
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