Rail privatisation plan scrapped

A controversial multi-billion dollar proposal to upgrade and privatise the Pakenham/Cranbourne rail network, with unknown implications for the Gippsland line, has been canned by the State Government.

Last week Treasurer Tim Pallas announced the proposed $2.5 billion upgrade engaged by the former Coalition government had been axed after a “robust” assessment.

Describing the deal as a “complex unsolicited bid by a private sector consortium”, Mr Pallas said the plan did not go far enough and could not even deliver what had been promised.

The project included the introduction of 25 new high capacity metro trains into the network, new modern signalling and levels crossing removals at four suburban locations.

The proposal would have also privatised the Cranbourne-Pakenham line, “isolating it from the rest of the network for the next 20 years”.

The plan had been vigorously opposed by local public transport advocate and former Greens candidate Dan Caffrey, who warned the upgrades would lock Gippsland commuters into 20 years of sub-par rail services.

With no overtaking points along the Pakenham rail corridor, Mr Caffrey said the introduction of extra suburban trains would only increase the chances of delays for V/Line services, on a line already plagued by punctuality issues.

A technical assessment of the project found it hosted unresolved technical and scope issues, significant project risk, with the budget threatening to blow out from $2.5 billion to at least $3.1 billion

“The Liberals promised billions of taxpayer dollars to a private sector consortium without knowing if the project would even work,” Mr Pallas said.

“The proposal hadn’t even undergone the required technical assessment to show if it worked, was good value, or could even be delivered at all. That assessment has now shown the project doesn’t stack up.”

The Coalition has been approached for comment.

Missed opportunity

An alternative plan being pursued by the Labor Government has been described by Mr Caffrey as a “missed opportunity” for failing to address the underlying issue impacting on Gippsland’s rail punctuality.

While Labor’s alternative Pakenham/Cranbourne upgrade includes the introduction of 37 high capacity metro trains and installation of nine level crossings, there is no plan to install another track between Caulfield and Dandenong to allow vital takeover capabilities.

“It’s very, very disappointing and is going to hold development up on this side of Pakenham just as much as the Coalition’s plan,” Mr Caffrey said.