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Commuters in Adelaide's northern suburbs remain without an end date for the electrification of the Gawler rail line, seven weeks after it was revealed the project would continue into the new year.
Last month, Transport Minister Corey Wingard told a parliamentary committee that works would be completed "early next year", instead of the end of 2021 as planned, and today said a "firm date" had still not been set.
The project was first announced in 2008 under Labor and the Liberal opposition at the time was critical of delays.
It was put off altogether after the federal government pulled its share of funding in 2013, but work started again in 2019 after the Liberals won the state election.
The Gawler line — which services the northern suburbs including Elizabeth, Salisbury, Smithfield and Mawson Lakes — closed last December, with trains replaced by substitute buses.
Mr Wingard said the project timeline had been complicated by the need to bring in interstate signalling experts amid border restrictions, but the government remained "determined to open" it "early in the new year".
"That's the date we've set — there's not a firm date set on that. We are working through that process," he said.
"We want to get the trains back up and running as quickly as possible but we want to do it safely.
"There have been some challenges with this project because we have had to bring people in from interstate, and we've had to work very closely with [SA] Health on that."
Work to electrify the Gawler rail line in Adelaide's northern suburbs.(ABC News
)Mr Wingard said that of the transport projects included in the infrastructure spend announced in the June budget, the Gawler rail electrification "and the Granite Island causeway are the only two that have had slippage".
Public transport complaints reached record levels earlier this year and the electrification project has been beset by delays and budget blowouts, with passengers forced to endure longer commute times on substitute buses.
The Sunday Mail newspaper today reported that a passenger on one recent substitute service had noticed blood "spattered" throughout the bus.
The Department for Transport and Infrastructure refused to provide details but confirmed there had been an "incident".
"A bus at Mawson Lakes underwent additional cleaning after an incident," it said in a statement.
"Adelaide Metro buses are cleaned daily, focusing on cleaning hard surfaces such as hand-rails, validators and push-buttons."
A Gawler train line substitute bus near the Elizabeth City Centre shopping centre.(ABC News
)Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas said that since the current government had taken on the electrification project, it had become a "debacle".
He was also critical of the recent move to grant travel exemptions to interstate workers.
"We see constant delays and northern suburbs communities are left wanting," he said.
"Interstate workers from Victoria and New South Wales seemed to jump to the front of the queue to get special exemptions to work on that project, all to achieve a political deadline for [Premier] Steven Marshall."
But Mr Wingard hit back at Labor's criticisms and rejected suggestions the March 2022 election was influencing the project's completion.
"People keep talking about doing it around the election cycle, that really is quite irrelevant," he said.
"The people of the north have been really teased with this project for decades. Under Labor, this was on-again, off-again, on-again, off-again. We have got on with the job."
Mr Wingard today spruiked $90 million worth of spending on a backlog of road maintenance projects.
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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