Cost, delay troubles for Metronet

17/02/2020 - 13:43

The Metronet rail rollout could cost about $2 billion more than first estimated, as the state government gets shovels moving on projects amid delays.

Cost, delay troubles for Metronet
The Nicholson Road station will be 26 minutes from Perth by train. Image: Metronet

The Metronet rail rollout could cost about $2 billion more than first estimated, as the state government gets shovels moving on projects amid delays.

Downer, Alstom and CPB Contractors are among the companies which have been awarded Metronet rail project contracts by the state government in recent months.

Good news for those operators, but less positive are delays to the project and rising cost estimates.

With the exception of the Forrestfield Airport Rail Link, which was launched in 2014 by the Barnett government, no tracks have yet been installed.

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That is expected to change within months, after the NEWest Alliance of CPB Contractors and Downer was awarded a big contract late last year for two rail builds, which will be jointly delivered.

Those are the Yanchep rail extension, a 14.5-kilometre addition to the Joondalup line in Perth’s north, and the Thornlie-Cockburn link, a 17.5km connection in the city’s south-east.

The process has not been as simple as the government first anticipated, however.

Ahead of the 2017 election, the Yanchep line was forecast to cost $385 million, with the Thornlie-Cockburn link at $474 million.

Latest figures indicate the two lines will cost $1.25 billion.

Public Transport Authority documents initially estimated the Yanchep line would be up and running by 2021 (with 9,000 boardings made daily at the three new extension stations). The project is now due for completion in late 2022.

Similarly, it had been reported the Thornlie-Cockburn line would open in 2021, but services will not commence until 2023, according to the latest information.

The Yanchep line has been given a high priority by Infrastructure Australia, with the Thornlie-Cockburn Link also allocated priority status.

The other big rail line builds will be the Byford extension and the Morley-Ellenbrook line.

Work on the Byford line is due to begin in 2021, with recent numbers pegging the cost at $481 million, up from $291 million in the 2017 election.

The link to Ellenbrook is the biggest component of Metronet, with a tender now open for main works on the 21km project.

Enabling works for the line started in late 2019, including the redevelopment of Bayswater station.

That line had been forecast at $863 million, but now is expected to cost at least $1 billion.

Costs are up about $700 million, or more than 30 per cent, between those four projects.

On the other side of the ledger, the government has picked up a saving of $347 million on the building of Metronet railcars, which had initially been budgeted at $1.6 billion.

About 246 rail cars will be built in Bellevue under a project awarded to Alstom in December.

The scope of the project has increased, with an election commitment of 78 new railcars for $410 million.

By comparison, the state government’s most recent railcar acquisition was 30 cars for $122 million.

Additional costs will include the automatic train control project, and rail level crossing removals, including the Denny Avenue level crossing removal (to be undertaken by Downer).

Those initiatives could cost as much as $930 million and $550 million respectively, according to a state government document sighted by Business News.

All up, the government’s Metronet bill will be north of $5 billion, $2 billion higher than its election commitment, although a big portion of this is new programs and scope changes.

Shadow Transport Minister Libby Mettam said the state opposition would be supporting the Metronet rollout, but had concerns about the delivery.

“The issue has always been what the true cost is, and at this point in time the true cost of Metronet stage one has increased by about 80 per cent,” Ms Mettam told Business News.

“Some projects in particular have been blown out by a significant amount; Byford extension, for example, by 65 per cent.

“Then there’s other projects that don’t have an indicative costing associated.”

A further question would be about the ongoing cost of operating the lines, Ms Mettam said, with the Public Transport Authority already heavily subsidising ticket costs across the network.

Transport Minister Rita Saffioti was unavailable for an interview prior to publication.

Looking lighter

The Department of Transport has also been meeting with local governments to discuss an inner-city light rail project, and early stage planning is under way.

One advocate is Curtin University sustainability lecturer Peter Newman.

Professor Newman has been lobbying for a modern solution, a trackless tram he said could be part of a future city deal between the state and federal governments with six local councils.

The proposed route would travel down Scarborough Beach Road, down Loftus Street, through the city and Victoria Park, to Curtin University and finally east to Cannington.

Professor Newman said while lines to Ellenbrook and Yanchep were important, there was also a need to build better transport links close to the city to enable density.

“Density is about the value of land where you’ve got amenity and access to services, and there’s large numbers of people wanting to be there, and that’s really the inner and middle suburbs,” he said.

“I’ve been struggling with trying to see how we can get density into the inner suburbs. 

“You have to do something like a tram, and that’s where I’ve been doing something like a trackless tram.

“It’s based on the smart technologies that have come out of high-speed rail, put in a bus.”

Because it can operate without rail tracks and without power lines, a trackless tram route can be built cheaply.

Professor Newman estimated a trackless tram route would cost about $3 million per kilometre, less than 10 per cent of the cost of a light rail.

“We’ve got very detailed studies that show the value of it, and very strong commitments from local developers, local community,” Professor Newman said.

“Potentially it’ll pay for itself out of land development opportunities, if you do it properly, getting partnership groups together.

“A city deal with a federal government chequebook would help set it up.”


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