Rail extension funding still in the budget

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THE extension of the Frankston line to Baxter is still included as a “key project” in the federal budget, despite being at a standstill for a year.

A business case assessing the electrification and duplication of the Frankston line to Baxter was completed in October last year. Despite pressure from the opposition and state government, the federal government have not released the finished business case. The state government has also not committed funds to the project, leaving it in limbo.

The federal government’s $225 million commitment to the project was first announced more than two years ago by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull. After the release of the federal budget last week, urban infrastructure minister Alan Tudge released a statement confirming that the funding is still in this year’s budget, and has been included in the “National Rail Program”.

Dunkley MP Peta Murphy said she has written to Mr Tudge twice to ask for the release of the business case to get the project moving again.

“Despite their failure to even release the business case, Minister Tudge said in a letter [that] the next step is a detailed business case in order to further investigate the options available and enable Infrastructure Australia assessment,” Ms Murphy said.

“It is clear that the federal government is not committed to extending the line to Baxter given the minister has said he still needs to investigate the options available. If the federal government was genuinely committed to extending the line to Baxter, they would have increased funding for it like they have with countless other infrastructure projects.”

State Frankston MP Paul Edbrooke told The Times that “nothing has changed” in regards to the state government’s position on the project “because the actual cost is still hidden in the business case that has been hidden for almost a year”.

“If the federal government was really committed and the business case stacked up, they would release it to our community and fund the project appropriately as promised,” Mr Edbrooke said.

Committee for Greater Frankston CEO Ginevra Hosking said her advocacy group was “greatly relieved” that the funding  “remains locked in the federal budget”, but called on the state government to come forward with funding of their own.

“There was little progress made on the project last year due to the state government delaying and refusing to commit to the project, which will extend the metropolitan electrified train line beyond Frankston to Langwarrin and/or Baxter, at an estimated cost of $500 million plus.” she said.

“Many people in the community thought the project was a done deal after the 2018 federal budget. It is not. If the Victorian government does not back the project, and match the federal commitment, it cannot go ahead. State inaction places our federal funding in jeopardy.”

The proposed project would see two new stations at Langwarrin and Frankston East constructed.

Earlier this year, a report endorsed by local MPs and council employees suggested that the rail line could be extended with twin tracks to Langwarrin at a cheaper cost. That report estimated that electrifying the track through to Baxter could cost more than $550 million (“Report backs shorter rail extension”, The Times, 22/6/20).

First published in the Frankston Times – 13 October 2020

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