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Covering their tracks? Secrecy raises concerns $5.4b project may be a dud

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Queensland’s biggest public infrastructure project, the $5.4 billion Cross River Rail link, is under attack on several fronts as rail user lobby groups express doubts that its current design will be able to achieve the increased capacity the Palaszczuk Government wants.

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The project’s critics are also demanding the Government release plans for how Cross River Rail will mesh with the existing commuter rail network.

Producing a “rail operations plan” has been standard practice for previous transport infrastructure projects but the Government has refused Right to Information requests to release such a document for Cross River Rail.

Robert Dow, of commuter lobby Rail Back On Track, has called on Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to “direct that the Cross River Rail Development Authority detail how the SEQ rail network will operate when Cross River Rail is commissioned”.

“We have little confidence that the outcomes of Cross River Rail will be satisfactory unless we can see the proof that indicate otherwise.,” he wrote in a statement last week.

“Hiding behind an anti-RTI firewall causes us grave concerns.  We believe there are significant deficiencies with the operational plan for the rail network when Cross River Rail is commissioned.”

Cross River Rail, now under construction and due to be completed in 2024, is meant to dramatically improve capacity on southeast Queensland’s transport network by building a new 10.2 km line between Dutton Park and Bowen Hills, including 5.9km twin tunnels under the Brisbane CBD and Brisbane River.

The project’s website states: “Cross River Rail will allow more trains to run more often to enable a turn-up-and-go transport system for the whole of South East Queensland.”

However, both rail user lobby groups and the State Opposition have raised concerns over the project’s design.

Rail operations expert David Bannister has released a strategy for southeast Queensland future transport needs which argues the design for Cross River Rail is flawed.

He said existing track figurations will not allow the project to increase capacity across the network as promised.

“Major inner-city rail infrastructure has a lifespan extending beyond a century, with the potential to increase the efficiency and liveability of a city, and it is important that the project is designed to deliver on these objectives,” Bannister said in his strategy.

“Unfortunately, Cross River Rail is not fit for purpose.”

New Opposition Leader David Crisafulli chose Cross River Rail for his first line of attack on the Government after becoming LNP leader, saying at the weekend that a recent decision to change the way a tunnel is to be constructed would blow out costs and cause disruption to residents near the building site.

He said news of the change came through a leak of documents “because people within this project are concerned about where it is going”.

“The Premier sought a mandate to keep Queensland safe and strong,” he said.

“I’m not sure how truck movements 24/7, people having to get off train services in the middle of the night and a cost blowout makes us either safer or stronger.”

Cross River Rail has weathered having three different ministers responsible for its construction in less than 12 months, with previous ministers Jackie Trad and Kate Jones exiting the government and Transport Minister Mark Bailey taking over the project following last month’s election.

In response to the Opposition’s criticisms, Bailey tweeted that Crisafulli was attacking Labor for creating jobs, building infrastructure and improving public transport “in the middle of a pandemic”.

A spokesman for the Cross River Rail Delivery Authority said the opening of the project was still four years away.

“The sensible approach is to continue to monitor passenger demand and other relevant factors as expert planners determine the exact configuration and timing of service increases,” he said in a statement.

He said Queensland’s Coordinator-General had approved the project proceeding to its final design and “Queenslanders can have a high level of confidence that the project’s design and planning is robust”

“A range of submissions were considered as part of the project’s approval process, including from public transport advocates, and we welcome their ideas and contributions,” he said.

“Experts from the Department of Transport and Main Roads, Queensland Rail, the Delivery Authority and the major contractors have already reviewed many of these suggestions, however they have not been incorporated into the final design.”

 

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