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HUMANS might be living on the moon before Melbourne's rail
network is expanded, according to the timetable of the State
Government's public transport chief.
Director of Public Transport Jim Betts told stunned audience
members at a transport forum recently that the Government planned
no major train or tram extensions during the next 15 to 20
"The sheer constraints we face on our existing system and
getting it to work right and the importance of getting flexible,
cost-effective bus services into those outer suburbs will take
priority over train and tram extensions for the short and medium
term," Mr Betts told the forum, hosted by the Municipal Association
The European Space Agency said last month a human colony could
be established on the moon within two decades. NASA plans a lunar
base by 2020.
Mr Betts' revelation, which is a blow for supporters of rail
extensions and new lines to places such as South Morang, Epping
North, Cranbourne East, Doncaster and Rowville, came as Transport
Minister Peter Batchelor confirmed that extending the rail system
was no longer a high priority. He told The Age that capacity
on existing lines needed to be improved by adding extra track and
new signalling, before new lines or extensions could be built.
But the Government's flagship project to increase capacity
— the addition of a third track to Dandenong — has struck
opposition before it has even been announced.
In the May budget the Government allocated $25 million to a
study for the project. It will examine how best to fix capacity
problems that mean more trains cannot be scheduled despite crowded
carriages and a booming outer south-east population.
Last week, representatives of the Department of Infrastructure
briefed local councils on the expected timetable. A working group
will report back to the Government in 2007. If the green light is
then given to the project, a tender process will be initiated in
2008. Construction would finish in 2011.
But the triplication, which is estimated to cost up to $1
billion and which is the Government's top rail priority, has been
strongly criticised by the Public Transport Users Association.
Spokesman Alex Makin said he was unconvinced the massive project
was the most cost-effective way to expand capacity on the line.
"The PTUA has proposed a study … to investigate options such
as changes to stopping patterns, passing loops and other measures,"
"Construction of passing loops, if required, would take less
than 12 months and cost as little as $20 million."
Mr Makin said the third Dandenong track would almost certainly
not be finished until 2011 and would cause severe disruption during
construction — with rail services most likely replaced by
The project is more complicated than just laying an extra track.
Other changes considered include a revamp of bus services feeding
into the rail line, changes to stations and platforms along the
line and improvements to the signalling system.
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