Yesterday I went to the State Budget lockup. Basically they “lock” you in a room from 10am to about 1:30pm (when the Treasurer officially releases the budget) and you get to look through a big pack of budget papers before they’re revealed to the public.
I took along the world’s slowest heaviest laptop so I could take notes and draft a reaction while we looked through the information. Thankfully, they do serve you lunch, and I’m happy to report there were some pretty good sandwiches on offer.
Finance Minister Robin
Smith Scott made a presentation (which was plagued by his computer continually going to sleep) and lots of officials and ministerial advisers were on hand to answer questions about the figures, which they did admirably (apart from one question I’m still awaiting the answer to).
Certain catchphrases abounded. Apart from the (slightly meaningless) themes of “For families” and “getting on with it” seen in the literature, “the right project at the right time” was heard several times in the speech.
Expanded from my notes, here’s a summary what’s happening in PT:
Level crossings – 17 funded for $2-2.4 billion – and sensibly they’re aiming at Mckinnon and Centre Roads being in the first batch, so it can be done at the same time as North Road, Ormond. There’s also an emphasis on the Dandenong line in the ones initially funded.
Melb metro planning and early works $1.5 billion – as already announced
Mernda rail $9m – planning only, full funding later. Not unreasonable I think – it matches Labor’s promise, and you need planning to work out how much money it’s going to cost… indeed, it’s exactly what the local group was expecting.
Frankston station upgrade $13m (out of total project cost of about $50m)
20 E-class trams including accompanying infrastructure upgrades $274m – for the switch to bigger, longer, air-conditioned trams, power, for instance, needs upgrading
Bus service upgrades $100m (including $15m on bus/train integration projects) – this includes university shuttles for Deakin and Latrobe universities, which makes a lot of sense. Unfortunately it also means the rest of the money will be pretty thin once spread around to the rest of the bus network, so don’t expect improvements on your local route.
Huntingdale station interchange upgrade $5.6m – makes sense, given the difficult interchange used by thousands each day. Plus $2.6m on parking – must find out how many spaces this buys.
Murray Basin rail $30m (out of $180-220m) – helping rail freight to the northwest of the state
V/Locity 21 carriages $286m – including maintenance facility at Waurn Ponds, which makes sense operationally for the Geelong line, as well as supporting local jobs
Regional level crossing upgrades $50.5m
Bendigo metro rail $2m – hmmm the jury’s out on this one. I’m assuming this is planning money. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to trial local Smartbuses?
Homesafe trial $50m – all-night trains and some trams on weekends – which will also fix the late Sunday trains problem. Bring it on!
5 X’trap trains $90m – beefs up the fleet, and keeps the Alstom plant going until the high capacity train order is ready…
37 high capacity trains $1.3 billion – intended initially to run the Dandenong line service, with those trains cascaded to elsewhere on the network.
Comeng refurb $75m – keeps the 80s era trains running – so they’re not chucking out older trains yet, which is good.
B-class tram refurb $21m (part cost only) – the aim appears to be to keep these in service until 2032, when the state is obligated to have a fully accessible tram fleet
High-capacity signal trial $55.6m – stage 1 of Sandringham line trial only; sounds like it’ll only cover part of the line?
Dandenong line signalling upgrade $360m – conventional technology to accompany the grade separation project, and bring the line up to scratch
Flinders Street redevelopment $100m
For comparison, road funding, which I haven’t looked too far into…
Citylink/Tulla widening $272.8m (out of eventual $1.3b cost!!)
Chandler bridge $110m
Ring Road upgrade $150m and they want the same again from the Feds
Inner-west upgrades $40m (includes bike upgrades; left over from
Westgate Distributor, but still going ahead)
Regional/suburban road upgrades $90m (from memory this was resurfacing, not widening)
Hoddle St $1.8m
Bridge strengthening $76m
E&OE. Some of the information is presented in quite a confusing way, so hopefully I haven’t doubled-up on any items, or left anything major out.
So it’s a much more balanced budget than most, and there’s an obvious emphasis on upgrades for the rail network, which is welcome. Perhaps they really are serious about wanting to encourage growth in rail more than in roads, which is good.
I didn’t spot anything new for cycling, though Labor had promised a new body “Active Transport Victoria” to help with cycling and walking issues. That might be one of the 4% of promises the government says they haven’t quite got to in their first budget.
While there’s plenty for (heavy) rail, there’s not much for trams, and comparatively little for buses, so in terms of encouraging people out of cars, it’ll only go so far.
Indeed, to really get the rail network humming (and cater better for crosstown trips), effective feeder services are essential. Relying on always limited car parking spaces at stations just isn’t going to cut it into the future.