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Workers will spend the next two months drilling boreholes along the Yarra River to plan for the Melbourne Metro rail tunnel, despite the project being sidelined in the state budget.
The project received only $10 million for further planning in the 2013-14 Victorian budget, compared with $294 million for the east-west link, despite Infrastructure Australia assessing the nine-kilometre rail tunnel as ''ready to proceed''.
Government documents reveal peak-hour trains will become increasingly overcrowded, with commuters left stranded unless work on the $8 billion project begins within two years.
On Monday, a barge with drilling equipment will be on the Yarra River to the east of Princes Bridge to collect information about the soil quality and groundwater flow.
Eight boreholes will be drilled into the riverbed during the two-month investigation, which will help planners work through the challenges of building a rail tunnel beneath the river.
During this time, boats will be prevented from entering the works area but will still be able to travel up and down the river.
Transport Minister Terry Mulder said the state government was still committed to the rail tunnel. ''It is our No. 1 transport priority.''
He said geotechnical work and environmental investigations had taken place across the tunnel's proposed corridor and was ''well advanced''.
''It will help inform the planning approvals process and ensure that the project has the best information available to progress concept designs for the rail tunnel and five new stations.''
He said a start date for the rail tunnel had not been set because the state government could not ''commit to the delivery of the project without federal government funding''.
On Friday, Premier Denis Napthine said Commonwealth funding for the $9 billion rail project had taken a ''significant step forward''.
He said he had received a letter from federal Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese's office that identified Commonwealth funding for the rail project, the bulk of it to be delivered at the end of the decade.
Federal Labor has contributed $40 million for the planning of the rail tunnel, while Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has promised $1.5 billion to the east-west link if he wins the federal election.
Public Transport Victoria will work with Parks Victoria to ensure there is safe access to the river during the investigation works.
Workers also investigated the Yarra River in 2010.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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