Metro back on track...
On Monday the Andrews government announced its plans to move forward with the long-overdue Metro Rail project. In the Herald Sun, CEO Kate Roffey noted “this is a major step forward in making much-needed improvements to increase the capacity of our rail network". The Committee has been a very strong and loud advocate for the need to start work on the project for some years. It is positive to see the release of timelines for an Expression Of Interest in 2016 and major construction to commence in 2018. This gives us hope this is not just another ‘talk but no action’ strategy. With timelines on the record, many groups, including the Committee, will be watching closely to ensure the current government makes good on its promise to get a shovel in the ground and works underway.
...But $$$$ the real test
Of course, the real test of success for Metro will lie in securing funding. While the state government is hopeful the feds will kick in the $3 billion ear-marked for the East-West project, Treasurer Hockey maintains the position that they do not fund urban rail projects. Given that any rail dollars handed down are partly clawed back via reduced GST payments, there is a bottom line impact for this anyway. Key will be securing a substantial volume of funding via a Public Private Partnership deal. We already have a good example of the potential interest for private investment in rail via the unsolicited PPP proposal for the Dandenong rail works that could act as a guide for the much bigger Metro project. In all likelihood there will need to be some kind of benefited area levy or the like, applied to increase the funding pool. This is not new – we used a similar mechanism when the Loop was built, and businesses in London themselves agreed to help fund London Crossrail. This approach does make sense, but there is no doubt such a discussion will be challenging for all.
Power disconnections disconcerting
Reports today that 34,000 homes across Victoria had power shut off last financial year, and 24,000 gas, is a major concern for us. While reports indicate that Victoria’s electricity prices increased by 2.5 per cent in 2013-14 and 20 per cent in 2012-13, (which included the increase due to the introduction of the carbon price), across Australia, Victoria continues to have one of the lowest charges in the country. This indicates that the economic divide is growing between those who are in a financially sound position, and those who face significant financial stress. With the slowing down of the economy and recent jobs loses, the number of those who can no longer afford basic services is rising, and it is a concern. With more job losses looming with the closure of manufacturing plants, and no sector ready to boom and provide the large volume of jobs we will need to fill this gap, the number of those under financial stress is likely to get worse before it gets better.
Sensible prioritisation of grade separations a must
Reports that the Werribee Street level crossing – which after the removal of the V-Line services from that line mid this year will only be used by a handful of trains per day – will remain on the removal priority list has highlighted the danger of prioritisation on an electorate basis, rather than via a process that identifies which grade separations will provide the greatest benefits to the most people. In an ideal world, to benefit both trains and cars, grade separations would be decided upon via a line-by-line approach. There is little value to the train network of removing a single level crossing, when the crossing two kilometres along the track remains. At the very least, if we don’t consider the needs of rail, those attended to first must be the ones that create the most traffic chaos. These include crossings over both road and tram tracks, or those that impinge on the movement of essential traffic, such as those near hospitals. A scatter-gun approach to removals will not provide the greatest benefits to all, but the option to pick those in marginal electorate seats will be an opportunity decision-makers may find too difficult to ignore.
American students pick Melbourne over Sydney
A report by Google has shown Melbourne is the fifth most popular city in the world for US students searching for potential overseas study destinations. On top of the list are London, Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and Melbourne, ahead of Sydney (7) and Canberra (10). As Australia’s University city, Melbourne competes for the best international students not just with other international cities, but with other Australian cities as well. The value that international students bring, both economically and socially, is a vital part of Melbourne’s prosperity and liveability. While we are doing well, ongoing issues around accommodation options, cost of living, cultural interactions and study-related work opportunities remain concerns for visiting students. As the competition worldwide in this highly lucrative sector strengthens, we need to work harder to ensure we maintain our position as a leading destination.