Millions lost: CRR’s cost blowout as experts ignored
The Palaszczuk Government ignored expert advice and proceeded with a flawed new Cross River Rail station in Jackie Trad's electorate in a bungle that could cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, explosive secret documents have revealed.
The series of leaked briefing notes and confidential papers have exposed how bidders for the $5.4 billion project, along with its delivery authority and technical team, all warned the proposed Boggo Road station was littered with engineering and safety problems.
However, the Government forged ahead anyway with its plan to build at Boggo Road and redevelop the old Dutton Park Station, rejecting a proposal for a single station on land behind Princess Alexandria Hospital that was cheaper and safer.
The second-term Labor administration signed a multibillion-dollar contract with a consortium to build the much-hyped underground rail link in June last year despite knowing the alignment did not meet state legislation, national rail laws or engineering standards.
Among the 45 identified flaws were warnings of "traction loss" in wet weather, significant wear on rollingstock due to the slope and curve of the track near Boggo Road as well as ongoing platform gap issues at Dutton Park.
The situation has now deteriorated with the consortium chosen to build Cross River Rail, Pulse, ordered six months ago to "stop all works based on the original design" at the southern end of the project.
An interdepartmental committee is attempting to find solutions which insiders say could cost between $600 and $900 million more than the alternative plan.
Pulse and the Cross River Rail Delivery Authority (CRRDA) are now at loggerheads, with the consortium demanding compensation under the terms of its contract which stipulates it can be paid up to $2 million a day for delays.
In a briefing note to former deputy premier Ms Trad on 26 February 2019, CRRDA argued the alternative "New Dutton Park" station would resolve design flaws, cut costs, reduce noise, inconvenience commuters less and involve fewer resumptions.
"There are expected to be cost benefits associated with the New Dutton Park Station compared with the Boggo Road option," it said. "More detailed material will be provided at the meeting with you."
The documents show that when the Government's highest decision-making body, the Cabinet Budget Review Committee, officially approved the contract on June 30 last year, the material warned about a "212m horizontal track curve", a "3 per cent track grade at Boggo Road" and a "platform gap at Dutton Park".
"It was noted that these derogations would require QR consideration and approval of a derogation from certain QR standards," it states.
Ms Trad was stripped of her responsibility for the project in September after The Courier-Mail revealed she had failed to declare her family had bought an investment property near the Boggo Road site.
In an April 20 briefing note to new Minister Kate Jones, CRRDA warned design work on the southern end of the project had been halted, the consortium was seeking delay compensation and QR continued to reject modifications because of the "cumulative impact to safety and operational reliability".
"Pulse is able to claim delay costs however the demonstration of actual delays is required," the note states. "The delay costs is up to $2 million per day in accordance with the project agreement."
State Development Minister Ms Jones confirmed a solution had still not been found but any additional costs would result in changes to the project elsewhere.
"We know that the southern area is one of the most challenging sections of the rail network," she said.
"Any costs associated with the detailed design and the alignment must be absorbed within the existing budget allocation."
A CRRDA spokesman refused to say whether Pulse had received compensation.
Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington said taxpayers would foot the bill for Labor's decision to ignore the experts in an effort to help Ms Trad get re-elected.
"By ignoring independent advice, the Palaszczuk Government has left taxpayers exposed to a massive compensation claim by the contractor," she said.
"Annastacia Palaszczuk's priorities are all wrong when she is willing to give a marginal Labor seat a blank cheque but won't repair Paradise Dam and build the full sized Rookwood Weir."
TIMELINE: THE ROUTE OF ALL THE PROBLEMS
October 2017 - Cross River Rail board meeting briefed on challenges with proposed Boggo Road Station and tunnel.
February 2019 - Cross River Rail Delivery Authority recommends in briefing note to then deputy premier Jackie Trad that the Government progress with "New Dutton Park" station.
March 2019 - Briefing note warning Trad that the Government must make a decision on CRR bidders imminently or risk delays and cost blowouts.
April 2019 - Senior ministers ignore expert advice about engineering flaws and award contract that includes a Boggo Road Station.
June 2019 - Cabinet Budget Review Committee warned again of design flaws.
June 2019 - Winning consortium announced without Queensland Rail approval of design.
July 2019 - The Courier-Mail reveals Trad and her husband purchased a property near the proposed Boggo Road station which she has failed to properly declare.
July 2019 - Multi-departmental committee established to resolve technical issues with design.
September 2019 - Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk strips Trad of responsibility for Cross River Rail.
February 2020 - Pulse Consortium ordered to stop work on the southern end of Cross River Rail project.
April 2020 - Pulse Consortium files claim for compensation in relation to work suspension.
April 2020 - New Cross River Rail Minister Kate Jones warned QR would not approve proposed design changes at Boggo Road Station due to "cumulative impact to safety and operational reliability.
Originally published as Millions lost: CRR's cost blowout as experts ignored