East Werribee, Australian Education City and what to do about public transport

East Werribee, Australian Education City and what to do about public transport
Alastair TaylorJune 22, 2017

100,000 jobs, 80,000 residents and 50,000 students.  They're big numbers and if it goes ahead, the Australian Education City in Werribee East will revolutionise Melbourne's West.

The Herald Sun has been running an interesting week-long series on what Melbourne might look like in future and in John Masanaukas' - the Herald Sun's City Editor - piece on Australian Education City we learnt that a decision on the proposal is due to be made later in the year.

Specifically, the HUN report cites State Finance Minister Robin Scott as saying the AEC's exclusivity period for the area had been extended to September.

East Werribee, Australian Education City and what to do about public transport
Mega masterplanned development comes to Melbourne - image via the Herald Sun

Stepping dramatically away from how we've built new university campuses in the past - think Monash Clayton and La Trobe Bundoora, expansive areas dedicated to education & research - Australian Education City's headline numbers point to a highly integrated, multi-use precinct which would likely result in abnormal transport demands.

Like any other jobs hub, there would be significant demand on getting to the precinct in the morning and departing in the evening, however the 80,000 residents would also increase demand for travel from the precinct in the morning and back to it in the evening.  

Throw in a lot of a students who by their very nature have highly variable transport needs that correlate with their variable university timetables and you have a recipe for disaster if the precinct is not planned with high-quality public transport.

One of the primary features of the area is the existing Werribee line which skirts just outside the northern end of the precinct.  And what's more, it's the same line that would be connected to 'Melbourne Metro 2'.

The site is somewhat unique in that it's likely to attract significant amounts of people from two different city metros and therefore the transport network would need to adapt to cater for this.  Likewise, AEC sits in a prime position to radically alter the way we deliver road-based public transport in the outer suburbs. 

On the eastern side of the Princess Freeway lies Point Cook that looks set to be in pole position in regards to access to the precinct thanks to the Sneydes Road work that's already been implemented.  And herein lies the rub - if rail is put at the heart of the AEC project, the road-based PT network would naturally suit converging on AEC as well.

There is perhaps a unique opportunity to expand the Werribee line's coverage in relation to AEC by building a new diversion which would put a rail station at the very heart of the precinct.

The proponent, through the Herald Sun, is portraying the project as one on the same level as Fishermans Bend - a project that will be ongoing and likely to span multiple decades.  And it's with this in mind coupled with the big numbers that have been reported on, should we not be demanding the precinct be directly served by rail?

Consider the context: Infrastructure Victoria has found Metro 2 to be a candidate project for further consideration and study - despite the fact it came out with a preliminary negative BCR.   The Metro 2 project would see a single rail line run from the northern suburbs right through the heart of the city and out to the south western suburbs in Werribee.

The site as it stands today is lightly developed and is in the truest sense of the word a Greenfield.  Given the vision to build an intensive, integrated precinct, would it not be prudent to take advantage of the sparsely developed land and build a cut and cover tunnel that would divert the Werribee line from Hoppers Crossings into the heart of the site and then back out to Werribee station?

Cut and cover is broadly regarded as a cheaper method of tunneling - except in already built-up areas where disruptive costs become prohibitive - and in the case of AEC, here we have a golden opportunity to put proper high-quality PT infrastructure into a precinct before the artificial lake and street grid is created, with a cheaper-to-construct cut and cover tunnel.

Both Werribee and Hoppers Crossing stations are likely to have their respective level crossings removed in due course and connecting a new tunnel through the heart of AEC to the existing lines would require other non-cut and cover methods of tunneling in order to avoid property acquisition.

The premise is that all metro services would deviate via the tunnel with a second layer of rail service to Geelong on top of the faster Southern Cross services extending from Werribee, therefore servicing AEC from both Melbourne & Geelong, when the line is electrified as outlined in the 2012 Heavy Rail network development plan.

Blue line: cut and cover tunnel through the majority of the site, built before the street grid and water features are implemented and major development work kicks off. (Approximately 3.3km)

Red line: traditional mined/bored tunnels to connect the cut and cover tunnel to the main line. (Approximately 1.4km)

Brown lines: two possible major BRT routes linking the local area directly into the heart of the precinct.

Alastair Taylor

Alastair Taylor is a co-founder of Urban.com.au. Now a freelance writer, Alastair focuses on the intersection of public transport, public policy and related impacts on medium and high-density development.

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