Investment in motorways vs rail capacity – where are we at?

There’s been some speculation about who is running the SpringStSource Twitter account and web site. The web domain name is registered through WhoIsGuard, a Panama-based service specifically for hiding details of people who want to remain anonymous.

It’s not hard to see whoever is behind it is well and truly on the side of the Coalition state government. As Crikey noted:

Spring St abuzz with Twitter mole. Who’s the Spring Street source? That’s the buzz in the halls of Parliament House in Melbourne, where a certain twit is dishing dirt, spitting at the Labor Party and attracting legal threats and plenty of attention. The anonymous @SpringStSource popped up around the time Denis Napthine took the premiership. It seems mostly designed to smear Labor, but has dropped some interesting tid-bits and there’s talk lawyers have looked over it on behalf of some victims.

Crikey 20/1/2014

So anyway…

Sunday’s announcement of $100 odd million of PT upgrades as part of the East West Link project made me think it was worthy of a graph comparing the investment.

This didn’t sit well with Defender Of The Crown SpringStSource.

I think he/she has missed my point.

It’s not about where the money comes from; it’s about how much there is.

As I wrote last year: if we want more people to drive, building more roads is the way to do it. If we want more people to use public transport, provide more of that instead.

Where the money comes from is also important, mind you. $1.8 billion will come from the State; another $1.5 billion will come from the Feds. The rest is likely to come from private enterprise, but will still don’t know how much taxpayers and road users will end up paying over the life of the contract…

But for all that, I’m really interested in the amount invested in the infrastructure, not what people might end up paying in tolls as the private operator tries to make its money back.

Following a bit more argy-bargy on Twitter, Mr/Ms Spring St Source responded on their blog, with a post that catalogues all the public transport spending they could find from the last few years: Bowen get real

I especially like the way this person who posts anonymously, and covers their tracks to stop their identity being revealed, and consistently takes a pro-Coalition line, concludes by talking about trust.

My response: comparing investment on transport network expansion

Much of the spending listed by SpringStSource is well outside Melbourne, or has no real effect on key issues such as network capacity. And s/he doesn’t count the numerous basic road widenings and renewals done constantly by VicRoads and councils, but does include equivalent things such as station upgrades.

Comparing apples and oranges is difficult, of course. For example a freeway is almost all capital expenditure; you can’t treat a railway like that — nobody will use it unless a fleet is provided and services are run.

What I’m trying to measure is how much the government is increasing large-scale capacity in the transport system, and whether they are prioritising roads or PT. So to keep it simple, I’ve cut my comparison down to just this:

Freeway/motorway projects (eg those that markedly increase road capacity, enabling mass movement by motor vehicle)


rail projects (eg those that enable or increase mass movement of people by public transport).

In other words, for the purposes of this exercise, ignore stuff like minor roads, re-surfacing of existing roads, and major renewal works which don’t increase capacity (such as the $32m for maintenance on the Westgate bridge in the last budget). Also ignore new bus routes, trams, and railway line renewal/maintenance.

Do include the big stuff: motorway widening and extensions, new motorways, new railways and stations, rail duplications and signal upgrades which may increase capacity, station upgrades that increase the number of platforms, as well as packages which include elements that increase capacity — for instance the $100m Bayside Rail Improvements package — even though so far the only visible signs from this are repainting of stations from one shade of grey to another.

Repainting Bentleigh station

Some other points/caveats:

  • I’ve decided to try and catalogue projects funded from 2005 onwards (so some projects funded earlier but completed later are excluded). 2005-2010 is Labor; 2011-2013 is Coalition. To directly compare them, halve the Labor totals.
  • In a couple of cases, Regional Rail Link and the M80 ring road widening, some funding came through in the Labor years, some under the Coalition. In cases like that, both (state) sides get credit for getting the money through, for facilitating it, even if it came from the Federal government.
  • They’ve been left out, but trams and buses can under some circumstances come close to heavy rail (or indeed freeway)-like capacity. Same with high-capacity “bus rapid transit” of the type seen in cities like Curitaba, and closer to home, Brisbane, or indeed the Monash University 601.
  • You could include grade-separation, as it may enable extra trains… but this only really happens when all the level crossings in a section have been removed. And the biggest capacity benefit is to road users (including pedestrians, cyclists, bus and tram passengers mind you). I’ve left them out.
  • Station upgrades (without extra platforms) may increase capacity a little. The North Melbourne upgrade was designed to improve interchange between trains, thus assisting in running Werribee trains direct to Flinders Street, increasing overall network capacity. But often (especially when done as part of grade separation) the effect on passenger or train throughput is minimal, so I’ve left them out unless they specifically provided extra platforms.
  • One could argue that painting a station or deploying PSOs makes a difference to patronage. But there’s little specific evidence of this, so I’ll leave those out too.
  • I am including the full cost of EW Link (stage 1) here, because it’s basically been announced, even though the contracts aren’t in place yet, so the money hasn’t yet started flowing. But the intent to push it through this year clearly been stated though.
  • Public transport service provision makes a huge difference to network capacity, but is far too hard to track by dollars. Tracking by service kilometres is far easier.
  • I’ve included rail studies where specifically budgeted, though I wonder if anything will ever come from them.
  • Obviously the Coalition may announce other project funding in this year’s budget in May.
  • Since I don’t have a team of party minions to help compile figures, and I’ve had a very busy week, I may have missed something. Leave a comment below.

The figures

So, motorway capacity/coverage vs heavy rail capacity/coverage funded 2005-2013 (all figures in millions of dollars):

Labor funding 2005-2010
PT Funded Millions  /  Road Funded Millions
Clifton Hill-Westgarth duplication 2005 $53   Deer Park Bypass 2005 $331
Train control 2005 $229   Tulla/Calder 2005 $150
Coolaroo Station 2007 $36   Pakenham bypass 2005 $242
Laverton Turnback 2008 $93   M1 upgrade 2006 $1,390
Westall upgrade 2008 $153   M80 ring road widening 2009 $1,725
Craigieburn stabling 2008 $30   Dingley Arterial 2009 $75
Williams Landing, Cardinia Road, Lynbrook (Caroline Springs) 2009 $189   Calder Fwy/Kings Road 2009 $25
Rail capacity measures 2009 $132   PeninsulaLink 2009 $759
Sunbury electrification 2009 $205        
South Morang extension (incl Hurstbridge) 2009 $562        
38 new trains 2009 $651        
Regional Rail Link 2010 $4,300        
Labor 2005-2010 Rail $6,632     Roads $4,697
Coalition funding 2011-2013
PT Funded Millions  /  Road Funded Millions
Regional Rail Link   $500   Dingley Bypass 2011-12 $156
Extra 7 trains, stabling etc 2011 $222   M80 ring road widening 2013 $525
Doncaster, Rowville, Airport rail studies 2011 $15   Westgate managed motorway   $25
Metro rail tunnel planning 2011 $50   EastWest Link stage 1   $8,000
Extra 8 trains, stabling, etc 2013 $177        
High capacity trial 2013 $5        
Southland station 2013 Unknown        
Bayside Rail Improvements 2013 $100        
Coalition 2011-2013 Rail $1,068     Roads $8,706

Totals: 2005-2013:

  • Heavy rail: $7,700 million
  • Motorways: $13,403 million

My conclusion from looking at the figures: From 2005 when they finally caught on that PT was important, Labor was relatively balanced in new spending on major capacity boosts to public transport and roads. The Coalition did the same in its first couple of years, both sides helped in no small part by the Regional Rail Link project, which is the biggest thing in Melbourne PT for many decades.

This balance has been blown out of the water by the East West Link. The Coalition government now seems obsessed with this one project, and it alone skews the money balance heavily in favour of road capacity.

Did I miss something?

Disagree with my methodology? Leave a comment.

If I’ve missed anything, or mis-attributed it? It’s possible. Leave a comment.


By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

16 replies on “Investment in motorways vs rail capacity – where are we at?”

Thanks @Matt.

1. No, the duplication pre-dated the South Morang project, but was a pre-requisite for it.

2. Thanks; the PPP makes it difficult to find a definitive figure, and the availability payments system makes it almost impossible!

3. Yeah, I deliberately excluded anything funded before 2005, as I was aiming to compare 6 years of Labor with 3 years of Coalition, though it’s not perfect.

On the $100M sweetner,

I would expect nothing less than the following to happen, in order to sweeten the appeal of the Eddington freeway (East West link)

++ The 904 in full operation
++ Upgrade the 207 to SmartBus standards

++ A two track railway, along the medium strip of the Eastern Freeway, with the terminus at the Doncaster Road interchange
++Extend the #48 tram to meet with the train

These ideas are so simple to do, and really should not cost much to do.

Yet, Mr Natphine could not even offer us the 904 bus as part of his pro-public transport package.

Thank you for the excellent analysis Daniel. Especially since you were not paid to produce yours. It is a nice surprise to see that spending between PT and roads has been relativity even since 2005 up until East West Link. However, I would be happier to see more spending on PT at the expense of roads given so many years of doing the opposite, as well as other factors such as peak car and and the improved liveability that a PT focus brings.

Great analysis Daniel. The way I see it, the East West Link, if it goes ahead will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Meaning, that as this is billed to be ‘congesting busting’ , however the punters will see that it actually doesn’t work and basically induces cars onto roads and shifts traffic snarls to other areas. From that moment on, with the polls and \petrol prices and congestion rising, investment will in public transport initiatives will be the absolute priority as a government’s fate will rely on it.

Personally, I think we were very. VERY lucky to get RRL from both state and federal labor. I cannot see that happening now.

Very interesting reading. Something you dashed off in a spare five minutes, I’m sure. The $8 billion skews the situation in an extreme way. I hope the proponents of East West Link use City Link tunnels and sit stationary in them, as I have often enough. They were the ultimate solution to south eastern Melbourne’s traffic problems.

I agree with those who have already commented. You have summarised huge volumes into a concise and informative piece. Well done.
My (selfish) gripe is that the “Bayside” rail improvement project doesn’t cover the most bayside railway line -Sandringham. We’ll have to wait a few years for improvements, I guess.

Just need to delete the private contribution to EastWest and include the operating cost of the rail network and that would give a real picture of government expenditure on the “big tickets” of freeways vs rail. You can’t just include a significant capital expenditure that actually costs government nothing and discard a significant operating expenditure that cost government significantly.
Personally I think you need to fund both as there is realistically limited transference between the two modes and the argument is a bit like comparing funding for police, fire, health, and schools (sure there is overlap but how much realistically and you cant just consider capital expenditure alone where operating expenditure is also important).
If you were really arguing for a democratic funding split then perhaps it should be by mode share… Should roads vs rail really be an 80% vs 20% of state and federal government funding proposition?

Nice work Daniel. It’s kind of sad that modern propaganda is through a pretend unauthorised source giving “scoops”. I guess this is unfortunately where we’ve got with Victorian politics. (They should probably balance their message a bit more so it isn’t so obvious.)

@Austin the cost of running the road network (which is massive) isn’t included; this is a discussion of capital expenditure. And Daniel’s point is that the 8 billion comes from somewhere — this is about levels of investment and government attention. Ultimately, also, the 8 billion will be paid for by the public in Victoria; probably with a significant extra cost component on top of that.

Also, road and rail are both transport modes, unlike fire vs police for example. The idea that there are “car” people and “train” people (and “cycle” people and “walking” people) creates unnecessary barriers.

Transport in a city is largely an engineering task, and for certain popular trips and corridors, rail is simply a more efficient option. Creating more road capacity creates traffic; and that traffic has to go somewhere. Melbourne’s history since the 1950s is one of progressively more and more accommodation for cars, at the expense of its citizens.

Unfortunately, however, it would be a brave government in Australia that publicly promoted a “don’t drive please” message.

Actually Simon a large part of the cost will be paid by the users of the asset in the case of east west link. You would struggle to find many rail projects the world over where users would repay even close to the proportion of capital funds that are proposed to be covered by the private partners to east west link let alone cover operating costs. How would metro1 stack up if more than 60% of the funding had to be through a user charge on top of the normal fare?
The assertion that a large % of road and rail user trips are interchangeable between modes is fairly ignorant of the fundamental users of each asset. For trucks, tradies, and anyone with an origin or destination outside the fairly limited constraints of a rialway reserve the road networks is going to be their only option. The investigation into the Rowville Rail line for example concluded it would produce a 0.1% mode shift towards rail and would shift approximately 15,000 people out of there cars per day over the life of the project (basically an insignificant change considering the investment amount and the likely growth in traffic over the projects life mostly due to population increase).
The real question needs to be asked as to why the limited public transport funds which everyone contributes towards should be focused towards benefiting the limited few in areas with a wealth of current public transport options and not spread out in areas with very poor services especially given how dispersed Melbourne’s transport demand now is.

“The assertion that a large % of road and rail user trips are interchangeable between modes is fairly ignorant of the fundamental users of each asset.”

You have completely misunderstood what he said. He wasn’t refering to road and rail trips being interchangeable. He was refering to the notion that people are either “car people”, or “train people”, which is a divisive nonsense. Because in large cities, most people are both.

But actually, the notion that car trips are easily interchangeable with public transport trip ( which is not what Simon said, but is what many other people often say ), is indeed very dubious. In my observation, there is a very small proportion of people who have a realistic option of either driving or commuting for comparable costs in time or money. Although, based on my years there, there are probably more such people in Melbourne.

“The investigation into the Rowville Rail line for example concluded it would produce a 0.1% mode shift towards rail and would shift approximately 15,000 people out of there cars per day over the life of the project”

It is this sort of “investigation” that makes investigators look like fools.

How many people live in the Rowville area ( which I understand to involve a relatively short branch line with only a few stations ) ?

How many of the working people at Rowville have a destination at the CBD or along the rail corridor to the CBD ?

How are they getting to work now ?

How many people from Rowville, who don’t work in the CBD now, would try to get a job in the CBD if there was a train ?

15,000 people out of their cars per day, is 15 fairly packed trains full of people out of Rowville in the morning, and 15 trains back in the afternoon. Is this an “insignificant” change ?

A single lane of freeway carries 1,200 cars per hour. If you blocked TEN lanes of freeway for an hour and a quarter in the morning, and then again in the afternoon, would this be an “insignificant” change in the transport system capability ?

If you adopt the notion that changing mode share by 0.1% is “insignificant”, and therefore by implication not worth doing, then you would never get anything done. If you expect “dramatic” changes, then you will be disappointed.

Enno the Monash freeway carries over 160,000 vpd (4lanes each direction) or about 20,000 per lane per direction per day and the Westgate bridge also carries about 200,000vpd (5lanes each way) or about 20,000vpd per lane. The M1 project cost $1.4b in tax dollars and added 2 lanes or about 40,000vpd in capacity. East-west is expected to have about 100,000vpd at a $3b taxpayer investment. A $3-$5b taxpayer investment in Rowville to produce a 15,000vpd outcome in comparison doesn’t stack up in my book but I understand there may be more to it than car impact.
I believe the Dandenong line which is one of the cities busiest has approximately 60,000 boardings a day or about 30,000 per track per direction which seems reasonably comparable with the land take per person per day of a freeway lane footprint (especially when you consider traffic volumes per lane on the M1 which I have used as an example probably haven’t peaked after the recent project).
Im not here to start a “mode” war I think we need to invest in the best outcomes per tax $$$ in all modes. The question about east-west is does the amount of tax payer investment represent a value outcome.

Would it be fair to include the Geelong ring road, and the Nagambie bypass and associated freeway upgrades? Probably have to add the Wadonga rail bypass too but they are funded by the same government even if not in Melbourne

Thanks for all the discussion.

@Austin, as I’ve attempted to explain in the post, I don’t much care where the money is coming from. The State Government decides what gets built. If they fund it themselves, if they convince the Feds to pay for it; if they convince the private sector to pay for it, it’s planned by them, and shows where their priorities lie.

The tradies point is an interesting one. The popular view is that there are a lot of them, but they are fewer than most people think. Chris Lowe found the figure I’d been trying to remember from a while ago — less than 10% of people who don’t use public transport to get to work say that the reason is they have to carry tools, passengers etc: -> “Alternate transportation and reasons for not using it”

As far as the cost estimates on Rowville Rail etc go, many feel these were unnecessarily inflated (by, for instance, insisting on much gentler grades than on existing rail lines).

Remember that the “$3b” taxpayer investment doesn’t take into account the overall cost to the public via availability payments and/or tolls.

@Daniel Jordan, no, to keep it simple I deliberately excluded anything outside metropolitan Melbourne.

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