Monday, September 25, 2023
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Vic Labor silent on full rail loop cost

Victorian voters are set to head to the polls without an updated estimate of the costs of building the entire Labour-signature commuter rail loop.

The coalition, which has pledged to suspend the plan if elected, has accused Labor of breaking its promise to provide full, up-to-date figures ahead of Saturday’s election.

The 90km orbital rail line was an election promise of the Andrews government in 2018, with early work already underway on the first 26km eastern section between Cheltenham and Box Hill.

In 2018, the government said the whole project would cost up to $50 billion to build.

But the Independent Parliamentary State Budget Office found in August that building the first two sections of the loop would cost taxpayers $125 billion.

That’s more than double the previous estimate of up to $50.5 billion given in a 400-page business and investment brief commissioned by Labor and published last year.

Independent agencies Infrastructure Australia and Infrastructure Victoria did not assess the project, with the latter not recommending a commuter rail loop in the state’s first 30-year infrastructure strategy in 2016.

After the Budget Office analyzed the figures, Mr Andrews was asked whether Labor would provide a new estimate of the total cost of the project before the election.

‘Of course, that’s fine,’ he told reporters in mid-August, adding he was glad Ms Allan was coming back with the ‘most up-to-date version’.

Peppered with questions about the rail loop for more than 25 minutes on Wednesday, Andrews reiterated the projected cost of the eastern section at $35 billion, but declined to provide a current estimate for next steps.

“The next steps will be for governments at the very end of the 2030s, 2040s and 2050s,” he said.

“The scope, the scale, the modelling, the conditions and the circumstances … they will be relevant then, but that will be the business of future governments.

“That’s the nature of multigenerational investing.”

Liberal leader Matthew Guy said it amounted to a broken promise, casting doubt on whether Labor would deliver on its pledge before Saturday.

“The government said they would release the numbers, they didn’t. It’s simple,” he said at Merinda Park station.

Financial restrictions in the budget mean the coalition would be unlikely to restart construction on the eastern section of the Loop in its first term if elected, Mr Guy said.

But the coalition pledged this week to start planning for a second underground rail link in Melbourne, dubbed Metro 2.

Metro 2 was backed by Infrastructure Victoria and previously cost between $12 billion and $20 billion.

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