Regional Rail Link tour part 2 braindump

About a year ago, a group of us from the PTUA went on a tour of the Regional Rail Link, a massive 50 kilometre-long rail project providing new tracks from Southern Cross, via Footscray and Sunshine, then along a new corridor through Melbourne’s new outer-western suburbs to West Werribee.

The project will provide extra track capacity for V/Line trains on the Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo lines into the city — in other words, the bulk of V/Line services into Melbourne — but will also allow more trains on the busy Werribee and Sunbury lines.

A few weeks ago we did part two of the tour, to look progress in the last 12 months, which has been considerable. The project is expected to finish up in 2015, about a year earlier than previously expected.

Southern Cross new platforms

The city end

At Southern Cross, new platforms 15+16 went into service in December last year, primarily for Geelong trains. As noted last year, platform 16 is outside the glass, but it’s still undercover, and passengers seem to be surviving so far.

The works have resulted in a greatly simplified track layout between Southern Cross and North Melbourne, and a lot of wiring and signalling has apparently been ripped out and replaced, which over time should cut signal faults in the area.

Apart from into Southern Cross 15+16, extra track has been provided from the existing flyover into platforms 1 to 8. This resulted in widening of the bridge so it almost touches Festival Hall — art has been installed at ground level recognising some of the music history of the Hall.

Along the street nearby, noise barriers are going up — in fact this is now a common sight along the project where housing is nearby to the new and existing tracks along the line.

Rail bridge widened near Festival Hall

Rail flyover near North Melbourne station

North Melbourne

At North Melbourne, you can get a good view of the new tracks into Southern Cross (both the ground level and revamped flyover) from the new(ish) concourse.

View of city and rail flyover from North Melbourne station

Alas, RRL trains won’t stop at North Melbourne, though there is space for platforms to be provided later to serve the ground level tracks into Southern Cross 15+16. We don’t yet know how many trains will use each set of tracks, but if trains from specific lines consistently use the ground level tracks, it would then be possible to stop at least those trains there, for connections to Metro services and the very popular 401 bus. Platforms serving the flyover tracks would be a great deal more difficult to construct.

Along the rail corridor from North Melbourne to Footscray, it’s now possible to see the bridge over the Maribyrnong river, which along with the rest of the new track as far as Sunshine, has just come into use. West of the river, these new RRL tracks have a flyover to get over the Werribee line tracks, so V/Line trains can cross to the middle platforms at Footscray without causing any delays.

Footscray

Signal box being restored at Footscray station

Footscray station

At Footscray, works seem to be largely complete. The two new platforms (1+2) for Sunbury line trains have been in use for some months, and the bridge extension is finished (along with weatherproofing improvements), providing escalators, new ramps to accompany the lifts and stairs. Having used Footscray a few times in the past few months, it’s pleasing that most of the locals have worked out the Melbourne escalator etiquette of standing on the left so those in a hurry can walk past on the right.

The RRL platforms, now known as 3+4, have been extended, like all platforms on the new line, to allow for much longer V/Line trains in the future. 4 is a little bit curved at the western end by necessity due to the confined space, though given V/Line trains have conductors to verify a safe departure, one wouldn’t expect this would be a problem.

Notably, drainage is built into all the platforms at Footscray and the other renovated or rebuilt stations, with a slight slope away from the tracks. Yes, after decades of building stations so water simply drains onto the tracks, the standard has changed This has been the case for some decades now, and is good for safety, given some highly-publicised incidents of unsecured prams rolling off platforms recently.

Although booking offices and so on are at ground level, the bridge includes some concourse elements, including Myki machines and gates for platforms 2 and 3. The Passenger Information Displays (PIDs) are also in place, though at present only showing four departures at once — I’m told they are looking at solutions to show information for all 6 platforms — possibly separate screens for the V/Line-only platforms 3 and 4.

The heritage buildings at Footscray are being completely restored. This has involved a lot of work, in part because of termites, but if restoration work done at Windsor a couple of years ago is any guide, they should look terrific when finished.

As with many of the other new and rebuilt stations, the bike cage has been provided underneath a staircase, making good use of the space.

The doughnut seller has a new kiosk which opened for the first time on a couple of weeks ago. It’s lacking the trademark-defying dodgy upside-down Olympic logo of the old caravan — not that it matters. But you can tell it’s the same doughnut vendor because the dolphin jam dispenser is back.

Parkiteer at Sunshine station

West Footscray

As I wrote in December, West Footscray station has been completely rebuilt, but is looking even nicer now than when I last saw it, thanks to murals built into the bridge, and a few more splashes of colour around the place.

The ramps have been connected to the local bicycle network — apparently they were built to be a full metre wider than the required station ramp standard of 1.8 metres, to make it easier for cyclists to pass each other. Provision is there for a future upgrade of the station to premium status, and thanks to solar panels and rainwater harvesting, West Footscray has gained a 4-star sustainability rating.

West Footscray station

West Footscray station

We didn’t stop at Tottenham station, but there has been work on the road underpass, and there’s some rather nice murals around the station entrance now which it’s hoped will deter tagging.

Sunshine

Sunshine station, which is becoming a very important interchange, has been completely rebuilt — in fact apparently just about the only remaining feature of the old station is a retaining wall on platform 1. The old dingy subway is gone, replaced by an overpass/concourse with booking office, waiting room, and fare gates.

It looks good — though very grey from some angles.

Sunshine station

Sunshine station

Junction at Sunshine station

Northwest of Sunshine, the Ballarat/Geelong and Bendigo lines converge at a junction. This is at-grade, but apparently there’s provision for a future Melton electrification project to include an overpass to allow Melton trains to pass under these lines to connect to the Sunbury tracks. In the mean time, space has been provided for Bendigo trains to wait, clear of both the Ballarat/Geelong line and the Sunbury line.

Level crossings on two sections of Anderson Road have been grade separated as part of the project.

Following along the line towards Deer Park, more noise walls are in evidence, as well as automatic pedestrian gates at the crossings, which hopefully should prevent accidents such as the fatal one in 2008 involving a pedestrian at one of those crossings.

The new line

West of Deer Park, the new Geelong line branches off the Ballarat line. Near the future Caroline Springs station there’s a new road bridge over the Ballarat line, providing additional road access into the area.

A “consolidation train” was running between Deer Park and West Werribee most of that particular weekend, to apply weight to the new tracks, as part of (literally) bedding down.

Tarneit station was closed up, but at a glance much of it appears to be nearing completion.

Tarneit station


Wyndham Vale station

We did get to have a good look around Wyndham Vale station, which looks rather good. Sunk into the ground, it’s currently got two platforms, for V/Line trains, but also has provision for another two tracks in the future, allowing electric trains to come through from Werribee and terminate there. In the short term though, that connection is expected to be provided by buses.

There are also points nearby to allow V/Line to provide short-starting services from there into the city, and would also presumably provide a termination point during major disruptions.

Works at the station seem to be almost complete. The track is in, the basic building structure is there, the lighting and so on is installed. We saw Myki equipment ready to go in, and even the waiting room has its chairs.

At ground level next to the concourse is an extensive bus interchange — it sounds like numerous routes in the area will converge here. There are stairs and ramps down to the platforms.

For anybody who’d fancy working at one of the new stations, V/Line is advertising for “Services Officers” at Wyndham Vale and Tarneit — 5 full time positions at each station.

Wyndham Vale station

Wyndham Vale station: Myki is coming

Wyndham Vale station, looking south

Wyndham Vale station, looking north

Looking south from Wyndham Vale station

The line continues south to West Werribee (aka Manor) junction, where it connects with the existing Geelong line. The entire line from Geelong through to somewhere just west of Sunshine is engineered to allow trains at 160 kmh, so for express services, my thinking is the running time should be similar to now, despite the longer distance.

At the junction, the existing track between Werribee and Geelong has been slewed to get around the new overpass (needed to prevent delays between V/Line trains and freight and passenger trains on the standard gauge line to Adelaide) — this track is now down to 80 kmh, though given it appears few trains will continue using it after next year, this wouldn’t appear to be a huge problem.

Completion next year

It seems the project is running much earlier than expected, in part to the major shut downs which over the past couple of years (including the one just finished), meaning more has been able to be done each time the existing train service is disrupted. This in turn has resulted in huge money savings — for instance some of the funds saved are going into the St Albans grade separation project. So despite some pain for existing passengers on the affected lines, there seem to have been good outcomes for taxpayers — more bang per buck.

And while there have been some problems with the project in the initial design phase, there are undoubtedly benefits in terms of capacity to run extra trains on both V/Line and Metro to the western suburbs lines, with fewer delays.

Parts of the new line from Sunshine to the City have started to be used by V/Line trains (though some trains are arriving early, as the timetables don’t really take the quicker trip into account).

It looks like the full project will be completed next year.

And I for one look forward to my next visit to Footscray station for a doughnut.

PS. Just to prove we were properly authorised and equipt to look around the construction zone at Wyndham Vale: here is bad dorkie selfie of me in high-vis. Thanks to the Regional Rail Link authority for the tour.

Daniel at Wyndham Vale

Updates/corrections: Some minor changes made to the text tense, because some was written a couple of weeks ago.

#EWLink: What is it? What is it For? Why it won’t die easily? – Sophie Sturup on mega projects

I and others have been known to call the East-West Link tunnel a zombie project — you can fight it off (as was done in the 70s) but it will never truly die.

Last year at the launch for the Trains Not Tollroads campaign, Dr Sophie Sturup gave a great speech on mega projects. She made some really good points about how these multi-billion dollar mega projects get up, and about EWLink specifically.

She’s given variations on the speech elsewhere… these are summary notes from a similar speech given to the Carlton Residents Association meeting on 14 March this year. Reproduced with permission. Hopefully they’re as compelling in written form as they are spoken.

Victorian government advertising their "second river crossing"

What is East – West?

East – West project is a mega project and a road project. That is why my research on the mentalities of mega projects has some relevance to it.

From my research, a mega projects have a couple of salient features:

1. Power is in mega projects is based on sovereignty – which is to say that these projects rest on the fact that someone with the authority to do so has declared that they will be done. Thus the legitimacy of the project is directly linked to the people who said it would happen. To question the legitimacy of the project is to question the right of the ‘sovereign’ to decide things, and this is generally confused with the legitimacy of the sovereign at all. The other thing about this is that everyone operating in the project is able to do so because of the sovereign decision. Thus they cannot question the project’s legitimacy either without removing their ability to operate in the project at all.

2. Process in the project is dominated by project thinking. Project thinking is about deciding what needs to be done, and then creating boundaries around that so that it cannot be interfered with. That is, making the project manageable. This is one of the reasons why consultation looks pretty weird in these projects. By the time the community gets talked to about the project, the project has already been decided upon (see 1) and the fact that it is happening cannot be questioned. The project thinking means that the only questions of relevance are those which will ‘improve’ the project either by reducing its costs or reducing the impact on the community. And the reduction of impact on the community can only be accommodated if it reduces costs or the time taken in the project (which also costs money).

3. Mega projects do not come about as a result of identification of a problem, and then the application of a solution. The process of creating a mega project includes the problem and solution being jointly conceived. This happens as the stories or rationales for the project, and what can be conceived as being done jointly emerge – this lets you get at the next item on this agenda which is why has this project happened?

EWLink interchange to Citylink at Royal Park

What is the project for?

The rationale for mega projects needs to make sense if the project is going to be a success. In this sense East-west is a failure waiting to happen. It won’t be a failure because it isn’t built on time and on budget. The Linking Melbourne Authority has the competence to ensure that that happens. Unfortunately that isn’t what constitutes success in mega projects.

One of the key findings of Omega Project 2, a research project looking at 32 mega transport projects across 10 countries (run by the Omega Centre, Bartlett School of Planning, University College London and funded by Volvo Education and Research Foundation (VREF) was that mega projects are context specific and where they don’t have an open and exploratory relationship with the context they work out as a failure.

My own research which focused the Australian cases of Melbourne’s City Link, the Perth to Mandurah Railway and Sydney’s Cross City Tunnel, found in Australia we define success as occurring when projects meet their stated outcomes (in transport projects that means traffic numbers) and the companies which build them are successful in financial terms (which of course is related to the traffic numbers being correct).

The reason that East – West will be a failure is therefore that the stated goals are:

a) Fluffy

b) Not agreed on

c) Based on inducing traffic, so there won’t look like any kind of benefit. For example the modelling shows that the traffic in Alexandra Parade will reduce a tiny bit briefly, but be back at the same level by 2020 2030. This will not look like 30% reduction in traffic on the Eastern Freeway, unless of course the traffic numbers projected to be induced doesn’t’ happen in which case there won’t be enough traffic to meet that modelled expectation. Similarly the changes on Bell St or reduced traffic on M1 will not be noticeable by the people who are near enough to the tunnel to make a difference.

The fluffiness of the dialogue on the purpose of the project is thus such that if they succeed in getting the numbers they predict the Eastern Freeway will be horrible and the numbers on Alexandra Parade the same so the predictions will be wrong because there will not be a 30% reduction in traffic. Or alternatively they won’t get the numbers of induced traffic in which case the tunnel will be seen as a failure because it isn’t able to pay for itself (and therefore wasn’t really needed).

This leads to the conclusion that whatever the stated objectives in the media (primarily ‘reduce congestion’) that probably isn’t what it is really for. So what is indicated in the objectives which isn’t quite so fluffy?

The objectives which appear to have teeth are:

a) Induce traffic onto the eastern freeway – in the form of trucks. This makes sense. After turning the section of Freeway between the City Link tunnels and the Bolte Bridge into freeway spaghetti, it is not surprising that B-double truck drivers are less than happy with that route. City Link changed the location of key freight logistics hubs and helped the development of a major one out at Lyndhurst/Dandenong. East-Link was built to facilitate this development (among other things). However the trucks (which represent several cars in terms of counting traffic) have failed to use the road to come to the Eastern Freeway. Why? Because there is nowhere for them to go when they get there. Thus one logic for this road which makes sense is to create a new link for trucks trying to access the port from Lyndhurst. This will have the effect of reducing the cost to the state of East-Link (because of increased toll revenue), and thus obliquely help pay for the East-West. It will also keep the truck moguls happy, and reduce the truck traffic on the M1 (which is of course Liberal heartland). It is possible to observe this as a source of equity, it will share the truck traffic, and hence the enormous danger to health and life they present, around the city more. Bringing large numbers of B-doubles and their pollution into those eastern suburbs which are almost truck free.

b) As speculation, another source of possible logic for East-West is to grant access to the Liberal swinging voters in the east to some of the jobs that are coming from the west in particular the Airport. Obviously this isn’t one of the things discussed widely in the media. This would explain why ‘improving access to the airport for those in the eastern suburbs’ might make a type of sense. Certainly spending $8 billion on a tunnel so “George” can go to the airport twice a year more comfortably doesn’t.

c) A third logic which makes sense is that this project is getting funded by the Federal government and there is no money on the table for anything else. It is against all logic in public service not to take up money when it is offered even when it only represents 18% of the cost of $8 billion.

d) Finally the logic of keeping car driving alive and well in the city is also relevant here. Tony Abbott has clearly expressed the view in various publications including Borderline what in his view we will have failed as a society if freely available car transport isn’t provided.

The other reasons why the road is occurring are largely borrowed from the Eddington report which was based on dealing with an accessibility and equity problem that was real – the issues of the disadvantaged West and the actually congested Westgate Bridge. The rationale in Eddington doesn’t make much sense for the East-West stage 1 because it comes from a study which had the centre of it’s study area in Laverton, and only at the very edge reached the end of the Eastern Freeway. An example of such nonsense statements is the one which came out in the second news letter from LMA (before the second half of East West was announced) which stated that the project was required because by 2031 almost 440,000 cars would be crossing the Maribyrnong by road (none of course would be in the East-West stage 1 as that project does not cross the Maribyrnong).

Why this project won’t die easily

One of the main reasons is that both sides of politics have a vested interest in maintaining the legitimacy of their right to make sovereign decisions. The major parties like to make decisions on these things and then deliver them it removes all that messy business of democracy. If the Labor Party was to revoke the contracts it would not only be expensive by they would essentially be admitting that these things should only happen after consultation (which is likely to make it very difficult to get anything done).

Secondly the Labor party has linked their policy to jobs. Because of the time it takes to get large projects up and running, they will not meet their targets without East-West. Therefore they will not revoke contracts unless forced.

Why do I care?

I believe that we probably do have an infrastructure crisis in this country. Apart from new projects much of our infrastructure is aging and needs to be replaced. Also I believe we need to massively retrofit our cities for sustainability and even to just accommodate more people. We probably need mega projects to do that.

The problem with this project is that every failed mega project inflates the cost of the next one. You can already see that with the massive cost increases between Cross City Tunnel, the Brisbane tunnels and this project.

The other problem that this project exposes is the degree to which government has come to the conclusion that the community cannot be consulted with. I don’t believe this is just ideology, it has also come from bitter experience. If the community is going to insist on being consulted, then it is up to us to figure out how to do that in ways which are productive.

More reading/viewing:

International public transport infographic

I was passed this infographic on public transport from some mob from Ireland called HoogleIt. They seem to be sending it around to various bloggers to get it posted around the place as a promotional tool.

Fair enough. It has some interesting factoids on it.

Public transport infographic

Anything about Melbourne in here? Indirectly. The photo illustrating “liveable cities” is Melbourne, snapped from the Arts Centre on St Kilda Road.

There are a few typos here and there, but some good information.

Some notes from me:

  • In Europe, overall travel seems to be down in 2009-10, including bus and coach, but railway travel is up, and metro is steady. Perhaps this is an effect of the Global Financial Crisis?
  • The GFC might also account for the blip in 2010, but it does appear that in the USA, rail travel is up. It’d be nice to know what “all other” means here — presumably it includes light rail (trams), and ferries, but what about subway systems?
  • The Asia bit isn’t really about Asia; it includes some western cities. It is interesting though to see that very dense cities like Tokyo and Hong Kong are way ahead of cities in Europe that we think of as having pretty good (and well used) public transport such as Berlin. LA’s figure unfortunately leaves out buses, which are a major part of their system.
  • It appears Oslo has the most expensive fares of the cities surveyed, though their ticket includes transfers for an hour (unlike, say, Sydney where the train fare doesn’t let you board a connecting bus). And there was me thinking London might take the Most Expensive gong. Of course, regular users often get discounts, via smartcards or periodical tickets — but these are hard to compare, as all cities have different systems. Oslo’s 30 day ticket, for instance, costs about the same as 21 single tickets, or 10 days of travel if you make two trips per day. That’s about half the comparative cost for a 30 day ticket in Melbourne.
  • The fares data is from Business Insider which in turn sources it from a report from Swiss bank UBS. Hopefully UBS fixed their methodology — in the 2009 of the same study, they incorrectly claimed Sydney was second-highest in the world — seemingly equating the then A$3.80 fare with US$3.82 due to a currency mix-up, despite the Aussie dollar being nowhere near parity at the time. I guess it just shows you should always check the source data when presented with a surprising “fact”.

It makes me ponder what Melbourne-specific transport facts might be good to present in similar graphical form to make them clearer.

High-density around railway stations: a good idea, if done well (but that’s a big If)

I think it’d be true to say that Melbourne hasn’t done high-density development in the suburbs very well.

For example, this monolith in Camberwell, a bit too far away from the railway station, out of scale with (some of) the buildings around it, and I’m sure not well liked by many of the locals.

Camberwell Junction, July 2013

But that doesn’t mean high-density around railway stations is a bad idea.

The topic came up yesterday in an Age report that Metro’s plan to upgrade the Dandenong includes such development around stations such as Murrumbeena.

Residents of Melbourne’s politically sensitive south-east face the possibility of high-rise development at their rail stations including Murrumbeena, under a confidential deal between the Napthine government and a consortium led by the city’s private rail operator.

The deal for the proposed multibillion-dollar upgrade of the Pakenham-Cranbourne rail corridor – contained in documents leaked to The Sunday Age – includes a specific clause about development around sites identified for level crossing removals.

In some ways this shouldn’t be any great surprise — Metro’s parent company in Hong Kong makes a lot of money from development around stations, and there’s been a lot of talk in the past few years about development around stations helping to pay for grade separation. The tiny (in comparison) development of a cafe at Caulfield was a flop, but a grade separation, new station and re-development of the whole precinct would actually work… if done well.

Population growth is happening. Planned, targeted in-fill development is better than never-ending sprawl, and better than a free-for-all that destroys local streets and leads to more car dependence because you get lots more people living where public transport isn’t convenient.

I’ve lived in Murrumbeena twice — for a couple of years last decade, as well as in the 80s when I was a teenager. In that time the shopping centre has always moribund. To an extent, the railway line split it east-west, and the busy road split it north-south, and it could never compete with Chadstone and Carnegie, both nearby. Getting a lot more residents in the immediately vicinity of the station could re-vitalise it, and make much better use of the land currently used for parking.

I’m not sure about how high they should go. Chris Hale proposes 15 stories in The Age article; having seen the blocks go up around Footscray, and the Camberwell example above, I don’t think in most suburbs (outside the inner city, at least) you’d want to go above 8-10 for now, staggered downwards as you get further from the centre/station.

There are provisos to all of this, of course:

  • as Chris Hale says, good design, including green space — Melbourne seems to be lacking good examples, but experts cite cities such as Vancouver as having got this right
  • mixed use development so people can do much of their daily shopping without going elsewhere
  • in a some areas, particularly inner-city, you’d want to be sensitive to the heritage strip shopping streetscape
  • upgrades to rail services to 10 minutes, 7-days, so it really is an option
  • ditto, upgrade to local bus services to other major nearby destinations (in the case of Murrumbeena, the obvious one is bus 822 to Chadstone and Southland)
  • bike paths/lanes on nearby corridors/roads
  • limit of one car park per residence, with the option of none
  • in fact, set up a car share pod or two to further reduce car ownership
  • given much of the most obvious land for development is currently station carparks, I’d imagine it might be politically courageous to end up with a net reduction in car spaces, though improvements in bus services could counter this. A reduction in spaces is perhaps avoided via development such as in Elsternwick, where existing parking was converted to multi-storey.
  • and of course in the case of the Dandenong line, the grade separation should include provision for future track amplification and platform extensions

The fact that this one is being planned in secret is obviously a concern. And is Metro’s “value capture” going to actually save the government (and taxpayers) any money? It’s not clear.

But that doesn’t mean that the concept high-density around transport hubs is a bad idea, provided the community get some say, and if it’s done well.

Based on past Melbourne experiences, that’s a big if.

What do you think?

Sovereign risk not an excuse for pursuing bad policy: Labor should pledge to scrap #EWLink contracts

I swear I wrote most of this blog post before reading last Friday’s Age article. It actually confirmed my suspicions:

Should Labor win the November state election, there is no legal impediment stopping it from tearing up the contract for the East West Link if it is sincere in its opposition to the road project, experts in contract law and public policy say.

– Age 18/4/2014: Labor could tear up East West Link contract if it wins election

ShredderLabor are in the interesting position of officially opposing the East West Link (section 1, at least), but saying that if the contracts are signed before the election, they’ll build it anyway, citing “sovereign risk”:

If Dr Napthine snubs the state Labor’s plea and signs a contract before November (2014), Mr Andrews said he would not rip up the contract despite it being the “wrong project”.

– Herald Sun 31/7/2013: Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews will lead Labor opposition to East West Link

and:

The Victorian Greens are threatening not to direct preferences to Labor in marginal seats at this year’s state election unless the ALP pledges to rip up contracts on the east-west link if it wins government.

Labor leader Daniel Andrews has consistently said that while he does not support the east-west link, he would not rip up contracts once they were signed because of sovereign risk.

– The Age 23/2/2014: Greens may run open tickets in Victorian state election if Labor holds to east-west link vow

It happens all the time

Now, I’m no lawyer, but even before Dr Seddon spoke out, it seemed pretty clear that the argument of sovereign risk doesn’t really up.

A quick look around the place finds numerous examples of both threats to tear up contracts, and governments actually doing it.

  • The government’s contract with Telstra to build a national broadband network (NBN) could be thrown out if the Liberal Party wins the next election, the opposition says. Opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull said although he had not read the contract between Telstra and the federal government, it would be cheaper to rip it up than to follow through with the NBN. — 20/7/2011
  • The NSW government is threatening to rip up its contract with the operators of Sydney’s M5 East tunnel after a second shutdown in three months caused massive delays for motorists. — 22/9/2008
  • The federal government has cancelled the contract for Optus and Elders to build a WiMAX broadband network. … Futuris and Optus, in an equal partnership called OPEL, were awarded $958 million by the Howard government to construct a broadband network for rural and regional Australia. — 2/4/2008
  • THE $6.6 billion purchase of 24 Super Hornets as a stop-gap fighter jet could be jettisoned by the Rudd Government as it reviews all aspects of the program to give Australia an edge in air-combat capability in the region. … Even if contracts have been signed, as is the case with the Super Hornets, the Government is prepared to break them if the case is compelling. This marks a shift from previous Labor thinking. — 31/12/2007
  • The controversial Tcard contract will be dumped after years of delays and a $64 million bill. NSW Transport Minister John Watkins… said a notice of intention to terminate had been issued on Monday to ERG Limited, the Perth company that had been contracted in 2003 to introduce the Tcard system. 9/11/2007
  • The State Government announced yesterday it was prepared to tear up its contract with National Express to run V/Line passenger services after the company said the contract was not financially viable. — 24/8/2002

It seems to be abundantly clear that governments of any persuasions can rip up contracts if they like, as long as they are prepared to stomach the legal and political consequences.

The latter might include accusations of sacrificing jobs, and undermining business/investor confidence.

Sovereign risk, as Bernard Keane at Crikey writes, has morphed into a general meaning of governments doing anything that a business doesn’t like, no matter how much it might be in the national interest.

Another good example (though not directly related to a specific contract) is the Rudd government last year ending FBT car rorts costing taxpayers billions of dollars a year by effectively allowing people to claim personal use of cars as a business tax deduction. The Coalition reversed that decision, perhaps helped along by what I hear was a massive lobbying push from the novated car lease industry.

If East West Link is so good, take it to an election

East West Link is likely to be the most expensive infrastructure ever built in the state — and it’s not just about the construction cost, it’s also the cost of decades of availability payments from taxpayers to the private owners, to ensure they make a profit.

In the case of the East West Link, the Coalition government has ignored years of opinion polls showing people want public transport ahead of motorways. And they’ve refused calls to release the business plan, and to seek a mandate for the project at November’s election, despite it being a hugely expensive, largely unwanted project.

As Andrew Herrington wrote in Crikey: Inner urban resident groups opposing the freeway are incensed that… Labor will quietly let the freeway be built. They urge Labor to pledge to “tear up the contracts” arguing that the ink will be barely dry and the normal arguments about sovereign risk and payment of damages hold little weight if the validity of the contract is questioned in advance.

If Labor really believe it’s a dud project, they should properly differentiate themselves from the Coalition. They should make it clear right now that if they win, they will tear up the contracts, scrap the project (no substantial work is likely to have started anyway), and put the money into alternative projects, such as new rail lines and more Smartbus services.

Flagging it before the election, and before contracts are signed, means investors can only blame themselves if they get burnt, knowing that the risk existed all along.

As it is, it seems both major parties are denying the Victorian people any kind of say about a project which is not only unpopular, but will also generate heaps of traffic in the inner north, and swallow up billions of tax payers’ dollars.

Sign the peition: No mandate: Give Victorians a chance to vote on the East-West toll road