Metronet’s mind-boggling blowout

Metronet’s mind-boggling blowout

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The first beams on the elevated rail line at Armadale were lifted into place at the end of April. The new Armadale and Byford stations were scheduled to be started in mid-2024, according to project managers.

It’s no surprise really that Treasurer Rita Saffioti’s first budget included a massive cash splash on transport infrastructure, cementing her reputation as ‘Rita the concreter’.

After all, the impossibly busy Ms Saffioti also wears the Transport Minister’s hardhat.

Last week she announced that a total of $11.8 billion has been allocated for new road, rail and transport infrastructure projects across Western Australia over the next four years.

$4.8 billion of that is for Metronet, supported by $2.9 billion in funding from the federal government.

“My government is investing in transport infrastructure to set up our state for decades to come, and this budget continues our strong track record of delivering for our future,” Premier Roger Cook said.

“Through Metronet, we’re transforming Perth’s suburbs, slashing congestion and creating jobs in the community.”

All great goals, to be sure.

But what wasn’t mentioned in the carefully curated dot points for public consumption was that there had been a significant markup on the price tag of the long-awaited Byford Rail Extension.

In June 2018, tenders opened to prepare a business case for the ‘$481 million’ Byford Rail Extension.

In August last year, designs were finally released ahead of the project’s November start date, with costings coming in at $797 million – perhaps an understandable increase given the pandemic, rising inflation, and shock to the construction industry.

But only nine months later, and tucked away on page 619 of the 2024-25 state budget is the truth that the estimated total cost has now soared to a mind-boggling $1.33 billion.

And there’s still more than a year to travel even if the project is delivered on schedule.

But the budget also shows that $302 million has been allocated for the Byford Rail Extension in the 2025/26 financial year, raising serious doubts about the minister’s ‘100 per cent’ confidence that commuters will be boarding trains on the Armadale (Byford?) line in May 2025.

The Nationals candidate for Darling Range Morgan Byas called the blowout ‘obscene’, saying there’d been no announcements or information made available to justify the ‘68 percent increase’.

“With blowouts on other big projects like the pedestrian bridge in the CBD, it makes you think – is there something systemic in how they’re managing projects?” he said.

“I certainly don’t see it as appropriate to have the Transport Minister as Treasurer – there’s no pushback. She can just keep writing cheques and it’ll be right.”

Mr Byas said the price hike was a slap in the face to the Byford community who overwhelmingly wanted an elevated rail line.

“The state government is delivering a poor outcome with the at-grade Metronet station at Byford,” he said.

“We were told we couldn’t get an elevated rail line because it was too expensive. So, it is absolutely galling to see a 68 percent blowout now.

“Clearly the money is there – they’re just not prepared to invest it in Byford.

“Taxpayers are paying more to get less.”

Federal Member for Canning Andrew Hastie has also weighed into the discussion, describing the WA government’s handling of Metronet as ‘abysmal’, following the unveiling of the budget.

“Metronet continues to haunt the WA Labor Government as their biggest failure of public policy,” he said.

“For the past eight years, Rita Saffioti has prioritised Metronet as her pet project. She has placed construction workers under strain, which has ultimately resulted in a depletion of the construction workforce in our state.

“Year after year, Western Australians have seen Metronet delayed and blown out by millions of dollars. It’s a far cry from what we were promised back in 2017 when Mark McGowan was swept into power on the golden promise of Metronet.

“My community doesn’t need [the Byford Rail Extension] in the distant future, we need it now.

“We can’t afford any delays. It’s Western Australians who foot the bill for Labor’s mismanagement and incompetence to deliver Metronet.”