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The cost of rushed projects

How could this happen to the State’s largest infrastructure project which has not been fully costed but may cost well in excess of $120 billion?

“Nineteen-story Box Hill tower wins planning approval in path of Suburban Rail Loop. Taxpayers look set to fork out for a multimillion dollar land acquisition bill after a 19-storey hotel was given approval to be built in the path of the Suburban Rail Loop”.KIERAN ROONEY AND MATT JOHNSTON, Herald Sun April 19, 2022.

How could this happen to the State’s largest infrastructure project which has not been fully costed but may cost well in excess of $120 billion? A lay person might be tempted to suggest that someone has been very cunning, very stupid or even corrupt. More likely this is the result of system failure that was bound to happen with a mega project such as this that has been rushed without extensive planning. Whatever the cause it should not have happened and would not have happened if the project had been thoroughly evaluated, planned and developed along traditional lines with the appropriate checks and balances that had been employed in earlier times. 

But this may only be the start of many problems that are becoming apparent with this project. Transport experts have already expressed concern about planning and design of station precincts and integration with other elements of the transport network. This will be critical if the SRL is to deliver the quality of service necessary to encourage people to use it in sufficient numbers to justify the huge expense of this project. Often it is the quality of design and attention to detail that determines the outcome and already there are worrying signs of shortfalls in this area.  

But the more important question is whether this project can be justified at all. The first question that must be asked is the extent to which this project improves Melbourne’s transport outcomes for the transport system as a whole, and if this is the case whether there are more cost-effective ways of doing this. System improvements are rarely achieved by a single project such as this. It invariably requires multiple actions in many areas – not just the rail network, the need to respond to a rapidly changing world and the environmental imperative to achieve zero emissions by 2035 at the latest.   

This project achieves none of the above. The project is an addition to the existing rail network and will provide some integration with the public transport service which caters for only a small proportion of Melbourne’s transport task. The impact on public transport patronage is tiny and is confirmed by the SRL Business Case below.   

Greater Melbourne 




Weekday trips in 2056 


With SRL 


Private vehicle 




Public transport 




PT share of motorised trips 




SRL boardings 








Weekday trip-km in 2056 




Private & public together* 




Average km per trip 




* trip-km are not broken down between private and public 

These numbers take into account land use changes the SRL will ‘induce’ in each SRL station precinct. The overall effect is to increase PT’s share of motorised travel by 1% Melbourne-wide. Better integration of the public transport system is necessary but can be achieved much more quickly and cost effectively in other ways. 

The SRL will do nothing to address systemic problems that already exist within the transport network as a whole which includes all modes of transport. Any environmental impact will not be realised for many years by which time social, economic and environmental conditions will have necessitated significant changes to the transport task and the way people travel. Given its lack of flexibility there is a high risk this new project will become a stranded asset leaving a legacy of debt that will become an increasing burden for future state governments and the broader community.  

The most appropriate transport strategy today is one that focuses on actions and projects that achieve rapid reductions in greenhouse emissions. This requires many actions across the transport network applied to all modes of travel. This will be denied by the SRL which will take the lion share of funding leaving very little for anything else.  All of these issues should have been addressed in a feasibility study that should have been carried out before any commitments were made. In this case a rough, back of the envelope assessment should have been sufficient to eliminate it as a worthwhile project.

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