Is this story a beat-up?

A great song that really is about public transport (click to play)

Kenneth Davidson reckons the Regional Rail Link (RRL) is a “wasteful infrastructure investment” that hopefully will be cancelled in its entirety as a result of the Federal Government’s flood reconstruction cutbacks.

He bases this argument largely on a review prepared for the Government in 2008 by consultant transport planner Edward Dotson, who formerly worked for Melbourne’s public transport authority from 1983 to 1991.

Mr Dotson was commissioned to review four of the recommendations of the East West Link Needs Assessment study undertaken by Sir Rod Eddington. One of those recommendations relates directly to the RRL, a planned new rail line from West Werribee via Tarneit to Southern Cross Station (a.k.a the Tarneit Link).

Referring to Mr Dotson’s report, Mr Davidson says “his report was scathing. He described (the Eddington report) as a ‘pre-feasibility study’ whereas what was required was a full study that included engineering analysis, service planning (including timetabling), costing and public consultation”.

He says Dotson also recommended the examination of alternatives to the RRL, including using the existing Bunbury Street tunnel and running a new set of tracks alongside the existing line to Werribee rather than a new route through Tarneit. He goes on:

The RRL proposal looked as if it was set up to fail in the first place. On the basis of what the transport expert Dotson said, the Eddington report was a pre-feasibility study that hadn’t done the engineering studies in sufficient detail to come with cost estimates in the first place.

I hadn’t heard of the Dotson report so I tracked it down and had a look – you can read it too, here (It would also be a good idea to have a look at the Eddington report, here). There’re three things that struck me about this report.

First, Mr Dotson does indeed view the Eddington report as a pre-feasibility study but he doesn’t seem to take exception to that. It’s seems clear that’s all he expected it to be. The Eddington report is a strategic document that assesses regional needs – it isn’t and shouldn’t have been a detailed feasibility study or business case.

As I read it, Mr Dotson understands that the next stage is to prepare the business case and undertake a full feasibility study. In fact he makes a number of suggestions for additional matters that should be examined in the next stage. Most telling of all, the brief to Mr Dotson asks him to provide ”advice on shortcomings that will require particular consideration if a full feasibility study and business case were to proceed”.

Second, Mr Dotson actually supports the recommendation in the Eddington report. His conclusion is that the government should “proceed with this recommendation to bring forward the construction of the Tarneit Link”.

He has a number of qualifications, hardly surprising in the role of reviewer and when dealing with a pre-feasibility study. One of the qualifications is that the Tarneit Link should “include not just a new rail connection from Werribee to Sunshine, but also works from Sunshine to Footscray to Southern Cross, so as to provide a V Line railway fully physically segregated from the metropolitan railway”. This aspect appears to be included in the current RRL plan.

Third, the Dotson report is now old. It was submitted in 2008. The DoT web site indicates that a lot of work has been done on the project since then. I don’t really get what Mr Davidson’s intention is in basing his argument on a report that is quite old in the chronology of the project’s development. The Dotson report has surely been superseded by further work.

If DoT ignored any of Mr Dotson’s advice in the analysis done subsequent to his report being submitted then I think that would be because DoT didn’t agree. That’s hardly unusual when consultants submit reports. After all, Mr Dotson was commissioned to offer advice, not to run the show.

I don’t think the fact that Infrastructure Australia agreed to fund the RRL back in December 2008 is a big deal either. It’s common for projects to be approved for funding subject to further development and proving up.

The Regional Rail Link might or might not be a good idea. But having looked at the Dotson report, the argument against it made by Kenneth Davidson looks pretty flimsy to me.

3 Comments on “Is this story a beat-up?”

  1. Michael says:

    Alan! The article was by Kenneth Davidson, so it’s hardly likely to be a beat-up. Or a rambling, vitriolic conspiracy theory. Or the foaming rantings of a one-time journalist reduced to the role of “columnist” to inject some pale excitement into what passes as our sad broadsheet.

    No, nothing like that. RRL is the spearhead of a secret plan to privatize the western suburbs and sell “those people in the west” into slavery by the corrupt alien space zombies in the department of transport. You go, Kenneth, you go!

  2. jack horner says:

    RRL 1 – extra tracks from Melbourne to Sunshine to separate V/line trains from suburban trains – should be distinguished from RRL 2 – Deer Park – West Werribee line.

    RRL 1 may be worthwhile; RRL 2 is not.

    The Deer Park – West Werribee line is put forward as a Newport bypass for Geelong trains – but it would make the trip 10km longer, and is unlikely to save time even allowing for faster running.

    It is also put forward as a commuter line to serve future urban expansion. But most of the proposed stations are within a few kilometres of the existing, more direct Werribee line; and being not electrified, any local trains will be poorly integrated with the rest of the suburban system (as they won’t be able to go past Southern Cross terminal).

    The proposed route is trying to be two things at once. As a result it doesn’t do either of them well.

    See for Paul Mees’ critique of the decision-making process.

  3. […] spent or whether there might be better projects the money could be spent on. He doesn’t pursue the point made by some that the same objectives could be achieved at substantially lower cost, or that Geelong commuters […]

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