AN academic study of the Mandurah rail project has given it a glowing report, in marked contrast to some recent critical analyses.
The Planning and Transport Research Centre concluded the project would deliver a 16.5 per cent rate of return during the next 40 years.
PATREC director Professor Fred Affleck said this was “quite a good rate of return” and superior to some road projects.
The study also concluded that economic and environmental benefits would be more than three times greater than the costs.
It assumed that the rapid population growth in Perth’s south-west corridor would translate to growing demand for the rail service.
The population in this area is expected to grow from 178,000 in 2001 (13 per cent of Perth’s total) to 601,000 in 2031 (29 per cent of Perth’s total).
The PATREC study estimated passenger boardings would be 27,000 a day in 2006, slightly above the Government’s estimate of 25,000.
Critics of the rail project believe the demographics and commuting patterns of Mandurah and Rockingham are different to areas such as Joondalup.
The PATREC study also found that the long-term nature of the rail project was critical to the positive rates of return.
The initial capital cost of the Mandurah rail project is $1.27 billion, comprising new rail lines and rail cars.
(This excludes the cost of the Thornlie spur line and the Clarkson extension and associated rolling stock.)
Over the next 40 years, State Governments will have to spend a further $1.1 billion on transport infrastructure to service the south-west corridor.
This includes road building and maintenance, busways and bus feeder services, additional railcars, refurbishments and additional buses.
“This is clearly a very large investment in Perth’s future but now that we have completed this research, we believe it is a worth-while one,” Professor Affleck said.
He emphasised that the alternative would not be a free or low-cost option.
It would require spending an estimated $1.47 billion on buses, busways and bus stations, including city bus terminals, bus operations, road building and maintenance to service the area’s growing population.
Professor Affleck said the main benefits included reduced road damage costs, estimated at $1.9 billion over 40 years, and reduced accident trauma costs, estimated at $800 million.
Other benefits included improvements in air quality (valued at $460 million) and reduced greenhouse gas emissions ($178 million).
The rail project would also generate savings via faster commuting times and reduced operating costs for motor vehicles.
Professor Affleck said the construction of the rail link at the present time presented an opportunity to shape the development of the south-west corridor.
“The opportunity exists to lead development and shape travel habits,” he said.
This would include higher density residential and commercial development around the rail stations, which in turn would boost usage of the rail link.
“The Subi Centro project is a good example of this process occurring in Perth,” Professor Affleck said.
The Mandurah rail link initially will have eight stations.
Professor Affleck said eventually it would have 18 stations.
Critics of the project, including Professionals Against the Mandurah Railway, have focused their attack on the patronage forecasts and its financial performance.
The Government acknowledges the interest payments on the rail debt will be $74 million a year (reducing as the debt is repaid) while operating costs will be $23 million a year.
PAMR spokesman Willy Packer believes the total cost will be closer to $166 million, after adding in a depreciation charge ($41 million) and assuming higher operating costs.
Nationals WA leader Max Trenorden criticised the State Government’s Public Transport Authority for allocating $50,000 to the PATREC research project.
“It seems a little odd that the Public Transport Authority would pay for a cost-benefit analysis when 90 per cent of the contracts to build the project had already been let,” Mr Trenorden said.
“It’s hardly the time for deep analysis of a project whose budget has blown out by more than $100 million before a single sod has been turned.”
Professor Affleck said the government funding had not influenced the findings of the research study.
Perth’s four major universities established PATREC last year to research transport and planning issues.
40-YEAR COST ESTIMATES
Rail infrastructure: $1,061m
Rolling stock: $214m
Rolling Stock: $288m
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