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It’s an iron-clad certainty that initial estimates of the cost of building new transport infrastructure are way too low. There are many reasons for that, including deliberate understatement of costs and scope creep i.e. demands to increase standards or add features.
A current example of scope creep is the call for the $11 Billion (nominal) Melbourne Metro project to be expanded to provide another station at South Yarra adjacent to the existing one. Groups like the City of Stonnington, the local Member (Greens MP Sam Hibbins), the State Opposition and various advocacy groups argue the new line should provide the opportunity for travellers to interchange by transferring to the existing station at South Yarra.
Advocates advance a number of arguments:
The Government, on the other hand, says no to a another station at South Yarra. It relies on a number of arguments (see here, here, and especially this fascinating mem0 to the Transport Minister obtained by Sam Hibbins under FOI):
It would, of course, be nice to have another station at South Yarra and it would make existing residents and businesses in the area better off. It seems unfortunate not to capitalise on every interchange opportunity in Melbourne’s relatively sparse rail network.
But it’s hard to argue with a BCR of just 0.3. That’s much worse than the 0.45 BCR that the former Government estimated for the East-West Link motorway; some of those who are now calling for a South Yarra interchange station condemned the East-West Link for precisely this reason.
Almost $1 Billion is a huge amount of money. There are other socially useful things the Government can do with it that would actually deliver a positive return for the citizens of Melbourne and Victoria.
Melbourne Metro will provide interchange opportunities with other rail lines at two of its five new stations i.e. CBD North and CBD South. The other three new stations – Arden, Parkville and Domain – will provide the opportunity to interchange between trains and trams.
So much for the key arguments for and against. The public discussion around this issue intensified this week when the City of Stonnington announced it’s prepared a study that concludes more people would benefit from an interchange station than the Government says, and moreover, it would cost a lot less to build.
According to this report in The Age (see Melbourne Metro: South Yarra railway station must be included, rail expert finds).
Tens of thousands of extra commuters would benefit from an underground railway station at South Yarra, which could be built for as little as $400 million, new research has found…It would benefit an extra 65,000 passengers a day, the council’s report predicts.
If the City of Stonnington’s report can survive scrutiny, this sounds like great news. I expect everyone, including the Government, would support another station at South Yarra on that basis; the salient point is Prahran is an electorate that all parties feel they can win (it went from the Liberals to the Greens at the last state election).
However, Council hasn’t made the report available for review. All I could find after trawling its web site is the media release issued by Council. Why isn’t Council making the report available publicly? (update: Council has at last attached some docs to its media release).
The numbers don’t really matter though; Council’s interest is undoubtedly political. It wouldn’t be footing the bill for the new station so it doesn’t care about the BCR or the foregone opportunities the money could otherwise buy.
It wants to put pressure on the Government to build the station; the standard political tactic is to underestimate the costs and overestimate the benefits in order to appeal to those who assume it must be a good thing e.g. see Is this rail line too good to be true? and Does the proposed Rowville line make sense?
I don’t doubt the consultants Council has retained acted in good faith, but they didn’t write their brief and they don’t control how their results are used politically. Politicians will often “sell” an attractive cost estimate publicly without acknowledging the compromises involved e.g. reduced benefits, more impacts borne by a politically powerless group, or technical problems glossed over.
This article first appeared on blogs.crikey.com.au
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