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More than a year after Canberra and the Andrews government agreed to work together on a $10-billion-plus rail link to Melbourne Airport, just $3 million has been spent on a business case that will dictate where it will run.
It is the latest sign that planning for the rail project, first promised in 1963, is unlikely to be finished anytime soon – despite a raft of promises by both Malcolm Turnbull and Daniel Andrews since last April.
Federal transport bureaucrats last week came under questioning in the Senate over why planning for the long-promised rail route was taking so long to get underway.
Between them, Canberra and Spring Street have pledged $40 million to assess at least three routes from Melbourne’s CBD to the airport. And in a pre-budget announcement last month, the federal government pledged $5 billion for the actual construction of the line.
But the Victorian government, which said ahead of the 2017 budget that work was getting underway, is still seeking technical advisers for the project.
“Victoria estimate that they will spend around $3 million before the end of the financial year, and then, obviously, further money after the financial year,” said Andrew Hyles, a general manager at the federal Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced funding for an airport rail link last month.
Photo: AAPUnder questioning from Greens senator Janet Rice, Mr Hyles – who is responsible for rail policy and planning at the department – said that the money to be paid to Victoria for their planning work on the project was still sitting with the Commonwealth.
“We're still waiting on Victoria to provide their project proposal report. That would allow us to provide the funding to Victoria,” Mr Hyles said.
Work by the Victorian government on managing development of the business case for the project is to be led by a project director – the job ad for which only closed on Monday this week.
Melbourne Airport’s revenue from car parking increased to $145.1 million in the last financial year, a recent federal government report found – up from $68.6 million a decade earlier.
The airport's owners – which include AMP, the federal government's Future Fund and IFM Investors – have seen their profits from parking jump dramatically in the past decade.
The airport’s 24,000 parking spaces generated a profit of $86.7 million last financial year.
Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan said on Monday that the technical advisers the government was now seeking “are the ones that we need for our bit of the project”.
She said that the $30 million Canberra pledged for the project in April 2017 was for a preliminary business case.
“That’s to get a preferred route and the good things and the bad things about the preferred route,” Ms Allan said. “What we are doing in addition to that is how you leverage off the city investment to the regions, and how to get the full benefits of Metro Tunnel.”
Ms Allan said there was “a fair bit of advice already on the bookshelf because it’s been looked at before”.
But Greens senator Janet Rice said the Victorian and federal governments needed to agree as soon as possible on the route and start the project. “We should’ve had a train line to Melbourne Airport years ago," she said.
Choosing a route for the airport will see a variety of options considered. Victorian bureaucrats want to see the route through Sunshine built, while the federal government has been keen to pursue a far more expensive underground route via Highpoint shopping centre.
A spokeswoman for Ms Allan said that work was “progressing well on the preliminary business case for an airport rail link, which is on track to be complete in September”.
Paul Fletcher, the federal Minister for Urban Infrastructure and Cities, said planning on the project was on track to be completed according to schedule.
‘‘The Turnbull and Andrews governments are working together to develop the business case for Melbourne Airport Rail Link,’’ Mr Fletcher said.
"We look forward to the preliminary business case being completed later this year."
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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