Forget Carnegie, Murrumbeena, the real expense in expanding the Dandenong corridor lies elsewhere

Forget Carnegie, Murrumbeena, the real expense in expanding the Dandenong corridor lies elsewhere
Forget Carnegie, Murrumbeena, the real expense in expanding the Dandenong corridor lies elsewhere

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Hold your horses, before everyone gets too excited about extended length trains or quadruple tracks between Caulfield and Oakleigh that will likely force property acquisition in an area that's just seen - still seeing rather - a change in its rail corridor, everyone should sit down with a warm cup of tea and breathe.

The goal of quadruplication - adding another two tracks to an existing two-track rail corridor - is to allow faster services with less stops, to give other types of rail traffic priority or a combination of the two.

Melbourne media's favourite infrastructure story honeypot over the past two years has been the level crossing removal project, specifically the impacts on residents affected by the changes made to the rail corridor and stations between Caulfield and Oakleigh.  Yesterday in The Age, we had the latest instalment.

The story by Age Transport reporter Timna Jacks confirms what the level crossing removal authority's social media team have posted in response to questions on its facebook page and have listed on their FAQ section for the Caulfield to Dandenong corridor.  That is, even though corridor expansion (through adding more track) is not within the Level Crossing Removal Authority's scope, the current construction work and newly upgraded corridor won't preclude expansion.

The PTV document also confirms plans to build a third and fourth track between Caulfield and Dandenong, which would enable express V/Line trains to run to and from the city.

Building the two tracks would be expensive and complex, particularly along the rail corridor, which is just 20 metres wide at its narrowest point between Murrumbeena and Carnegie.

The new tracks would likely require homes to be acquired in suburbs where property prices are more than $1 million.

Level Crossing Removal Authority chief executive Kevin Devlin said the authority had "no plans to build a third or fourth track on the Cranbourne/Pakenham line".

The Age

The expense and complexity of adding more tracks to the Dandenong rail corridor won't solely be focused on the stations and the narrow corridor between Caulfield and Oakleigh, but between Caulfield and the city.

Because you wouldn't add two more tracks and not continue the extra track to its ultimate destination (the city) - that would only serve to limit capacity on the quadruple track section of the corridor. Two tiers of service through the suburbs, express and stopping all stations, which then have to fight for capacity in the inner-city takes us back to square one, especially when regional and freight trains are involved like they are on the Dandenong corridor.

Forget Carnegie, Murrumbeena, the real expense in expanding the Dandenong corridor lies elsewhere
Murrumbeena station during the final days of major construction works - image: LXRA

The Melbourne Metro project will orphan a track pair from South Yarra towards the city - and this has been acknowledged in the 2013-era network development plan; electrified Geelong services would terminate here according to the final phase of the document - but it's also a candidate for re-activation for even more Dandenong corridor capacity.

Caulfield to South Yarra might be able to fit another a track pair on the surface if:

  1. heritage issues are of no concern in order to radically redesign the tracks and platforms through the 'MATH' (Malvern-Armadale-Toorak-Hawksburn) stations.
  2. the government of the day is happy to widen every overbridge through the area.
  3. significant amounts of properties are acquired including an apartment tower that abuts the rail corridor in South Yarra and possibly all the retail premises on either side of the Chapel Street bridge.

It would take a government with a lot of political capital to burn to go down, pardon a pun, that route. It's fairly safe to completely write that idea off.

If there is no pressing need to give regional and freight services a faster path through the city, four tracks could be built from Dandenong to Oakleigh and then connected with the Glen Waverley or Alamein lines through a relatively short tunnel, adding Chadstone to the rail network, therefore allowing the extra trains to travel on rail corridors that have a lot more capacity to burn compared to the Dandenong corridor.

This would provide a good out-of-town connection in an area that will see a lot more employment focus in future, but provide a fast & clear path for regional and freight services it will not.

It would have once been considered gold-plating but seeing how the NSW government is building Australia's first real metro (that, very much, would have been written off as gold-plating 10 years ago) and the real expense in adding more tracks to the Dandenong corridor is to do it utilising the only realistic option to connect a third track pair between South Yarra and Caulfield: a tunnel. 

(It's an opportune time to remind everyone the original East-West needs assessment, 'The Eddington Study', that first brought the metro tunnel into public consciousness would have done just this - a tunnel (built in two phases) from South Kensington to Caulfield).

Forget Carnegie, Murrumbeena, the real expense in expanding the Dandenong corridor lies elsewhere
Carnegie station just before trains switched to the new upper level - image: LXRA

Lead image credit: Level Crossing Removal Authority.

Alastair Taylor

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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Level crossing removals Melbourne Metro

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pdoff
PTV's Stage 4 development map shows regional and Dandenong services diverging past South Yarra station as the regional services take the old route via Richmond, which I assume will use the reconfigured Geelong tracks. Both metro and regional services run express along the Caulfield - South Yarra trunk and I assume that freight will follow the same route as regional services express all the way. Getting to my point, everything intended to use the Caulfield - South Yarra single track pair is an express service so doesn't, and shouldn't in future, represent a bottleneck to the same extent that currently exists on the Dandenong - Caulfield single track pair trying to juggle express and all stop services... I wouldn't have thought. But yes, eventually two pairs of Dandenong - Caulfield tracks will push more through than the single Caulfield - South Yarra track pair can handle, express or not.
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