Communities in Melbourne’s south-east fear their voices will be ignored by the Napthine government as it rushes to sign contracts for the multibillion-dollar Dandenong rail corridor project before November’s election.
The private rail consortium behind the line’s upgrade - which includes removing four level crossings, rebuilding three stations and buying 25 new high-capacity trains - is on course to sign contracts for the major project by the end of September. This includes contracts to demolish, redesign and rebuild the railway stations at Carnegie, Murrumbeena and Clayton.
Premier Denis Napthine this month released concept designs for the three stations and announced a period of community consultation, but the mayor of one affected council this week dismissed the "sham" process, saying it was impossible for local views to be given real weight when contracts for the project were already out to tender.
Monash mayor Geoff Lake said it was "staggering" to discover at a project briefing this week that the Rail Transformation Consortium is "out to tender for the design and construction of the project, while at the same time purporting to conduct this so-called public consultation process on the concept design".
"It looks like the government is rushing this process, using this new, untried and untested delivery model, to get it squared away before the election," he said.
Cr Lake, who is Labor-aligned, said the Clayton community supported the removal of the Clayton Road and Centre Road level crossings "100 per cent", but he feared the opportunity to better connect the new Clayton station with local shops and buses would be wasted, given the tight deadlines.
The concept designs have also spooked Darren Goldman, the owner of the tiny Rail Cafe at Murrumbeena station, because his small enterprise, which he bought in 2010, is missing from the plans.
Mr Goldman was busy serving customers on the morning the Premier stood on platform two and unveiled the designs, featuring a new station building, new bicycle park, new forecourt - but no Rail Cafe.
"I’ve been told my lease will be renewed next June into 2016 - but from the concept plan it looks like this is going to be demolished," he said. "There might be a cafe on the platform or inside the new building. But no guarantees, and nothing in writing."
When Dr Napthine visited the station this month, he stopped in for a coffee (flat white, no sugar) and Mr Goldman raised his concerns.
"And he [Dr Napthine] said he had just come from Footscray station, where they saved the Olympic Doughnuts guy during that redevelopment. He said I should be fine, but we’ll see."
A spokeswoman for the Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure said the "high-level" concept designs released this month were the first stage of community consultation on the project. Public feedback would also be taken into account once contracts for the station redevelopments were signed.
"Those who submit tenders will be required to demonstrate they have considered and incorporated community feedback into their proposals," she said. "A further stage of community consultation will take place to resolve the final design after tenders are received and evaluated."
The $2 billion-$2.5 billion Pakenham/Cranbourne rail corridor project is being led by a private consortium comprised of Metro Trains, John Holland and UGL Rail.
Construction on the largest public-private partnership rail project in Australia’s history is due to start next year and be completed by 2019. It will boost capacity on the line by 30 per cent.