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PREMIER John Brumby has given his strongest indication yet that the Government will build a multibillion-dollar rail tunnel to tackle Melbourne's public transport congestion crisis.
Mr Brumby told The Age several train lines were already at full capacity, and the rail tunnel from Sunshine to Caulfield proposed by transport adviser Sir Rod Eddington was "obviously about increasing capacity".
Asked if he was attracted to Sir Rod's call for "a generational leap forward in Melbourne's rail capacity" and the creation of a Paris-style "metro" underground rail network, Mr Brumby said: "I am categorically in the business of making the right decisions now to secure the long-term future of the state."
In an interview to mark his first year as Premier, Mr Brumby also:
â- Flagged an end to water restrictions in Melbourne once the Government's contentious water projects, including the north-south pipeline and the Wonthaggi desalination plant, were finished.
â- Said he would work with his long-time political rival Jeff Kennett in the best interests of Melbourne if the former Liberal premier was elected Lord Mayor in November.
The Age believes senior figures in the Department of Transport are pushing hard for a rail tunnel, arguing it could be affordable using a mix of state and Federal Government money. Some Labor Party strategists believe a commitment to a rail tunnel would help Mr Brumby to go to the 2010 election portraying himself as a man of the future with a low-carbon-emissions plan to cater for the transport needs of Melbourne's rapidly growing population.
Mr Brumby emphasised that the Government had made no decisions on Sir Rod's proposal for a $7.5 billion rail tunnel linking the booming western and south-eastern suburbs via the CBD and St Kilda Road, and stressed he would soon unveil measures designed to reduce congestion in the short and medium terms.
"But a big tunnel is really about building capacity for the long-term future, and, of course, I want to be in a position where in 10, 20 and 30 years time we've got the capacity for an expanded and further improved public transport system," the Premier said.
His comments will be welcomed by public transport advocates who fear the Government might endorse Sir Rod's other main recommendation - a $9 billion road tunnel linking the Eastern Freeway to CityLink - but reject a rail tunnel as too expensive.
In his blueprint released in April, Sir Rod recommended the Government double the capacity of the rail network in Melbourne's fastest-growing areas by building a 17-kilometre tunnel from Sunshine to Caulfield.
"The new tunnel would provide capacity for at least an extra 40,000 commuters every hour and take a major step towards creating Melbourne's first 'metro' style passenger line (a common feature of successful overseas rail networks)," Sir Rod wrote.
Mr Brumby said he would make an "Eddington-plus" statement on Melbourne's transport system in November.
On the water shortage, Mr Brumby said he was confident there would be no need for restrictions in Melbourne once the Government's water projects, including Australia's biggest desalination plant, were finished and operating - by about 2012.
Mr Brumby described John So as "a very good Lord Mayor", and said the partnership between the State Government and the City of Melbourne was working well.
But he said he could work with Mr Kennett if he contested and won the November election.
Mr Kennett, who is chairman of the Hawthorn Football Club, is expected to make a decision in September or early October.
â- At a rally of about 200 people in drizzling rain in Fitzroy yesterday, Local Government Minister Richard Wynne, whose Richmond seat covers one end of what would be a new $9 billion road tunnel, has urged anti-tunnel protesters to push for public transport solutions.
Mr Wynne gave a carefully worded three-minute address, referring protesters to his submission to the report by Sir Rod, which recommends the tunnel.
"From a social justice point of view, this is a unique opportunity to use Eddington to get outcomes more broadly in terms of public transport. We should not miss that opportunity," Mr Wynne told the crowd.
The Age With KATE LAHEY
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