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Brisbane's $8 billion cross-river rail project will never happen, Liberal National Party leader Campbell Newman has declared, arguing shorter gaps between trains could be part of the solution to looming inner-city capacity problems.
The future of the state government's yet-to-be funded underground rail project is shaping up as a key election issue, amid imminent moves to submit the business case to the federal government's funding body Infrastructure Australia.
The proposed 18km north-south railway line would include 10 kilometres of underground tunnels from Yeerongpilly to Victoria Park.
The project would feature four new underground train stations at Boggo Road, Woolloongabba, Albert Street and Roma Street, two new surface stations at Yeerongpilly and the RNA Exhibition Grounds, and upgrades to the Rocklea and Moorooka stations.
But the government in January delayed construction of the project by two years, citing the budgetary impact of the floods, with completion now not expected until 2020.
This is despite advice to government that the only inner-city rail bridge over the Brisbane River would reach full capacity in 2016.
Mr Newman said the LNP would look at tackling the capacity issues through other measures, including introducing new signalling systems to reduce the gap between trains and adding an extra platform at South Bank and South Brisbane stations to help ensure trains did not have to wait as long before loading and unloading passengers.
He denied his plan was a short-term fix only, saying it would “serve us well to the medium term”, and dismissed the government's project as an “$8 billion unfunded fantasy” that would never happen.
Asked whether a new river crossing would be needed to properly tackle the capacity issues, Mr Newman said “it may or may not”.
“In the long term of course we're going to need that,” he told brisbanetimes.com.au.
“But the public don't want us to waste their money. That's what they're crying out for us to stop.
“They want to stop the waste and inefficiency in this government, so the idea is to get better rail services to the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast, across the Brisbane River, by actually getting more capacity in the system, by better signalling, by reconfiguring the way trains operate, by station and platform changes, we actually can do that without spending a colossal amount of money.”
Robert Dow, from commuter lobby group Rail Back on Track, said the ideas could lead to marginal improvements but not network-wide solutions.
Mr Dow said the cross-river rail project would create significant flow-on benefits, including capacity improvements for Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast trains running through the city.
“Cross-river rail is the linchpin of the new rail network,” he said.
Mr Dow said shorter gaps between trains could deliver some increase in capacity and would have to be accompanied by the introduction of an automatic train protection system to reduce the crash risk.
He called on the LNP to provide greater detail about its plan.
“More detail is needed. The public wants to know detailed policies. Broad statements won't do it,” Mr Dow said.
“We can't see, on the information provided so far, how that will provide the benefit across the network that cross-river rail will achieve.”
Opposition transport spokesman Scott Emerson said the LNP planned to increase the number of platforms at South Bank and South Brisbane stations from three to four.
He said this meant more trains would be able to load and unload south of the Merivale Bridge at any one time and, combined with shorter distances between each train going over the bridge, this would increase capacity by about 15 per cent.
He denied government claims that there was not space at the stations for the extra platforms, saying engineers had advised the LNP it could be done.
Mr Emerson said the LNP measures would provide an extra five years of breathing space.
“We'll put out more as we go along and give more details, but we've said clearly what we will do,” he said.
Mr Emerson said the government had not yet spelt out its own solution to deal with the 2016 capacity crunch time.
“There's no point Labor putting its head in the sand wishing and hoping and praying the money will come. We need to deal with the practical realities.”
But Mr Dow said Infrastructure Australian may take note of the cross-river rail project's wider economic benefits, including its ability to help with the flow of freight trains on the southeast Queensland rail network by providing an alternative river crossing for passenger trains.
“My own view is that the chances are good,” he said of the funding request.
“If they don't do it it's going to cost a lot more in terms of congestion and road trauma. It will also improve freight transport.”
State Transport Minister Annastacia Palaszczuk said yesterday the business case for the project was currently being finalised while the federal government considered the submission for funding to Infrastructure Australia.
“Cross-river rail represents a public transport revolution for the southeast,” she said.
“It has the capacity to move up to 120,000 people into the inner city in the two-hour morning peak period – that's the equivalent of a 30-lane motorway.
“It will almost double the capacity of the inner-city rail network making it one of Queensland's most important infrastructure projects and it remains our government's number one transport priority.
“It will address the capacity constraints of the 300-kilometre southeast Queensland rail network and allow an extra 96 trains from the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and outer Brisbane suburbs to come into the CBD each weekday during morning peak.
“While we wait for federal government to put funding on the table, we're getting on with job of planning this important piece of infrastructure for south east Queensland.”
Mr Newman said he did not believe the federal government was going to stump up the cash needed to deliver the proposed cross-river rail project.
He said if Labor was re-elected the project would never happen the way it was planned, arguing it was being used “like a Christmas bauble they put out there to try to get re-elected”.
“It is never going to happen,” he said.
The state election is expected in February or March next year.
The rail debate comes as Brisbane City Council touts a proposed new bus-only “green bridge” across the Brisbane River connecting to a tunnel under Adelaide Street.
Read more: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/crossriver-rail-wont--happen-newman-20111206-1oh0g.html
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