Will Baillieu abandon Melbourne Metro (in favour of the East-West road tunnel)?

Melbourne Metro - proposed tunnel alignment and stations

From Wednesday’s Crikey newsletter (gated), in the Tips and Rumours section:

Vic government tunnels under greenies. A Victorian political spy reckons the Baillieu government is about to resurrect the East-West road tunnel underneath Royal Park at the expense of the Labor government’s planned Melbourne Metro scheme. It’s “a big up-yours to all the inner-city greenies that gave the old government such a run-around,” they say.

Assuming the Crikey report is well-founded (and it might not be – it is only a rumour, after all), I wouldn’t expect any government would be silly enough to announce it is abandoning a rail project in favour of a road project. No, it would say it’s going to do both.

The road would simply get priority over the rail project when scarce capital funds are doled out. The $40 million already allocated from Infrastructure Australia for Melbourne Metro will continue to be applied to feasibility studies and planning approvals, but if Crikey’s report is true, the project will languish for want of the billions needed to build it.

If that’s what’s intended by the Government, it could create an enormous problem. I’m not so much concerned that the Government might dare to build a new freeway as I am about the possible loss of the Melbourne Metro project.

Melbourne Metro is a response to the looming shortfall in capacity in the city’s rail system. What’s needed to expand capacity, according to the Eddington Report, is a new line in the CBD, essentially linking Flinders St and Southern Cross stations.

This could be achieved with a relatively short tunnel. However Eddington recommended that it be done with a much more ambitious tunnel running from Footscray to The Domain (and ultimately Caulfield) with new stations at North Melbourne, Parkville, the CBD (two) and The Domain – see exhibit. The first option costs a lot less but the second provides more capacity and has wider economic benefits, especially in terms of enhanced urban development.

If funding for Melbourne Metro is to be delayed (and again I emphasise the “if”), the Government needs to explain how it’s going to deal with the looming rail capacity problem in the city centre.

19 Comments on “Will Baillieu abandon Melbourne Metro (in favour of the East-West road tunnel)?”

  1. Alexander says:

    Isn’t the Metro project intended to benefit outer suburban commuters—many of whom are swing voters—far more than inner city greenies? I suppose there is no chance of the government losing the next election, but this is what makes the difference between an eight year government and a twelve year.

  2. Alternatively, they could not invest in either and instead get the city loop to run at 80%, instead of 50% of the capacity it was designed for. That would solve most of the capacity problems of the rail network and cost about just a tiny fraction of either project.

    Building another tunnel when the one Melbourne has already spent a fortune on is simply bad governance.

    Mees, once again has already ripped this project to shreds.

  3. apsheko says:

    I want to see the Baillieu government give some sort of message, one way or another, on the prospect of the Metro tunnel. The DoT website shows the same information it did under the Brumby government. I feel this is very misleading to have this up without a good faith commitment one way or another by the incumbent government.

    Personally, I would like to see the project happen (and soon, as it will take so long to complete!), but the government needs to be upfront on whether it will happen, what timeframes are expected, etc.

  4. Marcus W says:

    @Julian – running more trains through the City Loop at peak hour won’t fix the capacity problems – as soon as the extra passengers get off the train, they’ll be stuck in railway stations that can’t even handle today’s crowds:

    Expanding the current City Loop stations might provide a bit of extra pedestrian capacity to tide us over for a few years, but in the long run an entirely different route is required. Just look at the London Underground and the spiderweb of stations that serve their central business district.

    • Adding an extra exit or two to city loop stations suffering pedestrian congestion would cost a fraction of what it will cost to build the rail tunnel. I’d also note that having myki reading as fast as similar smart cards would also help.

      Whilst the rail will involve new station infrastructure, it’s not going to be providing anything like London’s “spider web”, there will be an extra station section attached to Melbourne Central, that in all likelihood will simply be Melbourne Central North/South and would have been attached by pedestrian tunnels. There would also be a Flinders Street North, again attached through pedestrian tunnels. These aren’t going to serve any new sections of the CBD, but they would create extra capacity at Flinders Street and Melbourne Central, which isn’t going to help the situation at Flagstaff.

      • rohan says:

        Poor old flagstaff- was grand and so underused when first opened. Now trapped by own success – needs another exit somewhere like across William St in front of the mint maybe – god knows how to do that or whether that will solve the gate issue.

  5. Ashleigh says:

    Something that could be tried to increase city capacity would to stop train drivers changing over / taking breaks at Flinders st, but instead doing it at the end of the lines. Then Flinders St would be just another stop on the line. This is something that should be done long before building billion-dollar rail tunnels. However, once all avenues have been exhausted, including running trains as cross-city services as happens in Perth, or using Melbourne Central and Parliament as a bypass then I would guess the metro tunnel would be inevitable in the long run.

    • You raise good points, it is worth noting that the number of trains running cross town has increased in recent years, but I wonder if there is still potential to run a few more like this.

  6. John Smith says:

    The metro rail tunnel is not needed to increase inner Melbourne rail capacity, providing some other vastly cheaper enhancements are done first.

    Connecting the Northern and Burnley loops would make a track pair direct from North Melbourne to Burnley via loop. It would create 30 new peak hour peak direction train paths via Flinders St direct: 20 from the west and 10 from the east.

    I guess the infrastructure cost per new train path would be a tenth to a twentieth as much as the tunnel:
    Tunnel: 12 track km of tunnel and 5 new underground stations, to make 14 new paths.
    Northern Burnley loop connection: 1.5 track km of dive and tunnel and about 1.5 track km of related work at North Melbourne, with no new stations, to make 30 new paths.

    The Northern Burnley loop connection reduces pressure on the loop by increasing capacity via Flinders St direct. This implies that a high proportion of future growth to the CBD is to Southern Cross and Flinders St. This will require improvements to pedestrian circulation at SC & FS, but that should be relatively easy to manage compared with changing the underground stations.

    The Northern Burnley loop connection would also be better for improving cross suburban through city travel, for example providing direct service from the eastern lines to North Melbourne and Footscray. This is significant in light of current redevelopment plans for the E-gate and Arden-Macaulay sites near North Melbourne.

    The Northern Burnley loop connection was described in a 2008 government report (DOI 2008). It was dismissed for reasons that were perfunctory at the time (there was obviously an agenda to back the tunnel) and in any case are no longer valid (the tunnel was preferred mainly for its higher capacity – but that referred to a long tunnel to Caulfield, and cutting it back to Domain has destroyed the capacity advantage).

    If yet more capacity was needed, it would also be possible to operate longer trains on some lines that do not pass through the loop (another option that the 2008 report dismissed without adequate consideration).

    Whether the tunnel is desirable for longer term ‘city-shaping’ purposes is a different question. I don’t think so, but that’s an argument for another day.

    If the tunnel is not built, what else should be done with the money is also a different question. My comments should not be taken as supporting the east west road tunnel.

    For anyone who is interested I have a more detailed paper these points, email me at
    grandsonofname at gmail.com, replacing “name” with “marjorie” (without inverted commas).

    Reference: DOI (2008) East West Rail Link Analysis on Rail Capacity (was on the web as part of the 2008 Eddington East West Links Needs Assessment background documents, but I can no longer find it)

    • Alan Davies says:

      John, having read you paper some time ago, your Nth Melbourne-Burnley link is precisely what I had in mind when I wrote “this could be achieved with a relatively short tunnel”.

      • Daniel says:

        The Metro1 project team have been asked about converting the City Loop into a cross-city tunnel. They believe the cost would be in the billions, and would cause major disruptions to the city loop during construction. (Remember that changes would have to take place at the Richmond end as well as North Melbourne.)

        It’s worth noting that we already have cross-city trains running between Caulfield and Footscray, with the Newport and Frankston trains through-routed at off-peak times on weekdays.

        Regarding the Mees paper, it would be interesting to see him do a 2011 update. By my calculations, service growth means we now have about as many trains arriving at Flinders St 8am-9am as we did in 1929 (and using less platforms).

        The question of whether we need the tunnel (or some other big capacity project) probably isn’t about the next 10-15 years – this is when we need every last bit of efficiency squeezed out of the existing infrastructure. (Even if the funding came through tomorrow, it’d take 10 years to build it.)

        It’s more a matter of what we’ll need in 20, 30, 40 years if CBD and inner-suburban peak-hour travel growth continues.

        • John Smith says:

          I’d like to see their details. To repeat:
          Metro Rail Tunnel: 12 track km of tunnel and five new underground stations to make 14 new paths per hour.
          Northern Burnley Loop Connection: 3 track km and no new stations to make 30 new paths per hour.

          Of course there would be complications joining new to existing tracks, including underground at two, possibly three places. I’d like to see the detailed estimates that show that the cost of that would be enough to outweigh the ENORMOUS starting advantage of the NBLC suggested by the numbers above.

          As for ‘major disruptions during construction’ – I doubt this. When you need possession of the loops to cut in new chords underground at Flagstaff and Parliament, you would temporarily run Northern and Burnley loop trains through between east and west via Flinders St.

          There’s nothing hard about that in terms of train operations, but you might need some work to improve pedestrian circulation at Southern Cross and Flinders St to carry the temporary extra load. You could also temporarily reinstate city circle trains on the Clifton Hill loop, which has spare capacity, to carry transfer passengers to Melbourne Central.

          It would be interesting to know how long a possession would need to be. Works at Bondi Junction in 2005, including a new tunnel joining to existing tunnels, required a shutdown that was planned as two weeks but according to Wikipedia ended up four weeks.** A few January shutdowns would be tolerable.

          If the Metro 1 project team are the same people who wrote the thoroughly inadequate 2008 DOI report that I referenced above, I would not take what they say as gospel.

          ** Australian Tunnelling Society info on Bondi Jct project http://www.ats.org.au/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=252&Itemid=4

  7. rohan says:

    Well, long term planning – lets have the Metro from the west plan, and the road tunnel, AND the Doncaster rail line ! the last one could share some tunnelling with the road tunnel, a 2 for one deal, then turn south and join in with the Metro !

    • Dudley Horscroft says:

      The Doncaster rail line is equally daft. A far better service can be obtained by doing what the MMTB proposed in November 1982 -see the “Proposed Melbourne to Doncaster Light Rail Feasibility Study”. The problem with the Doncaster area is that there is only one real place for a station, at Doncaster Shopping Town. To run the tunnel under Doncaster to a ‘non-event’ of a terminus is wasteful, just like stopping the proposed Metro at Domain.

      I suspect that the originators of the Metro proposal were those who thought that trams should be moved out of Swanston Street, and that they could all be terminated at Domain. Enough said about that one!

      Tram via the freeway, on existing lines in the City, and new lines on road to reach a suitable interchange would be far cheaper and give at lest as good a coverage. Use the buses as a feeder to the trams – that is what they are good at.

      Victoria is not got sufficient money for a major unnecessary heavy rail tunnel – far better to improve the existing stations, and add suitable connexions, while leaving the trams to do the short distance work, which is what they are best at.

  8. MDMConnell says:

    The reality is that the Metro Tunnel will be very expensive and the government just doesn’t have the money. Only options are Federal money (which doesn’t look like it’s forthcoming) or to do a Sydney Airport private rail thing and charge passengers $10 a pop.

    The road tunnel will also be hideously expensive but at least the government can hand it off to a private consortium and whack a toll on it.

    • Russ says:

      Federal money is a red herring. Every cent given by the Commonwealth for special purpose payments is offset by reducing the distribution from the GST. That was what led to the sook by Baillieu at the start of the year: the $5b in regional rail payments was causing a significant budget shortfall elsewhere. If a government is going to pay for something there is some value in having the Commonwealth take on the debt, but they ultimately have to stump up the cash.

  9. I think it’s pretty well established that Melbourne Metro is dead.

    It wouldn’t surprise me that that road tunnel is up again, either.

    You have to understand how much a certain breed of conservative loves cars and hates (and I used the term advisedly) public transport, cycling, and anybody who advocates in favour of either.

    They’re almost a mirror image of some of the car-hate that comes from some deep greens.

  10. Chris G says:

    Robert, Your cynicism is well established, I hope it is not justified.

    The $5M Hoddle Street Study (2010-2011) has also gone completely quiet. Once the new Government announced the Doncaster Rail study, the assumptions in the Hoddle Street Study became untenable. So it made sense to wind it up. But not even an interim draft report on the data obtained and the options considers and rejected?

    The Northern Central City Corridor Report (2008) did not support the east-west road tunnel. Unlike Eddington’s Napoleonic plan, this was supported by real data.

    If the Doncaster line is built, and joins the Clifton Hill line, then the capacity on that loop will be exceeded. The Mernda extensions are not even running yet, but congestion at Flinders street is already severe. Agree that Metro should fix Flinders Street throughput first.

    On the other hand, if the Doncaster line were to tunnel under Fitzroy and Carlton to join the metro, there would be a lot of happy inner city citizens, as well as eastern suburb commuters, and the existing roads would be freed up for the tradies and cleaners in the outer suburbs.

    So far, despite a disturbing environmental record, the Baillieu State Government has not been anti-public transport.

  11. […] as a whole. In my view, system-enhancing expenditures like the Melbourne Metro (or if you prefer, other ways of achieving the same objective) should get priority. -37.781700 145.039432 GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); […]

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