The Victorian government has signalled its commitment to the development of the Melbourne Metro Rail project with the allocation of as much as $300 million to the undertaking in the first half of 2015.
Some $40 million in immediate funding has been released in order to fast-track the planning stage of the project, with a further $260 million set for allocation in the May state budget.
The bold funding commitment marks a major boost for the plan, which has languished for over six years since its initial unveiling.
Premier Daniel Andrews expects major construction work to commence in 2018, and for the project to be up and running by 2026. Andrews decried the lack of progress on the project under his government's predecessors while also the flagging the possibility of an earlier completion date.
"If we can do better on those timelines of course we will," said Andrews. "The sooner you start the sooner you'll finish."
Andrews touted the project's status as Infrastructure Australia's number one infrastructure project for Victoria, and noted it will bring many benefits to Melbourne's inner-city commuters.
The new metro project will see the creation of as many as nine kilometres of underground rail tunnels as well as five new fully underground stations, situated at Arden, Parkville, CBD North, CBD South and Domain.
According to Ian Dobbs, the head of Public Transport Australia, the new rail system will confer Melbourne with a world-class transport system on par with those of leading cities such as Paris, London and New York.
The system will essentially be a second city loop that can be used by commuters without the need for a timetable, allowing the the Melbourne rail network to accommodate an additional 20,000 passengers during periods of peak traffic.
It will also link the Sunbury line to the Cranbourne/Pakenham lines, and will provide commuters with a direct connection to Melbourne's university and hospital precinct.
The total cost of the project is pegged at between $9 billion and 11 billion, with the government estimating that it will create as many as 3,500 new jobs.
Andrews said the state government is willing to invest a third of the funds needed for the project, with another third likely to be provided by the private sector. Despite Prime Minister Tony Abbott's stated reluctance to providing funding to metropolitan rail, Andrews remains hopeful that the federal government would deliver the remaining third of funds.
The Melbourne Metro Rail Project is not without its detractors, with concerns expressed over its cost and necessity, as well as the potential disruptions caused by the extensive underground tunnelling it entails.
When the project was initially mooted towards the end of last decade, Dr. Paul Mees of RMIT University's Environment and Planning Program wrote a paper entitled Does Melbourne need another central city rail tunnel, stating that while Melbourne's public transport system was in urgent need of upgrade, the spending of billions of dollars on an inner city tunnel he described as "unnecessary" was not the answer.
Mees instead advocated the adoption of international best practices in rail management as the solution to Melbourne's transportation woes, pointing to the inefficiency and poor planning of the existing system.
The impact on key thoroughfares in downtown Melbourne during construction work, particularly given the central location of the tunnel loop, has also been a source of concern, with former premier Denis Napthine drawing comparisons between the project's potential disruption to Swanston Street and the Berlin Wall.