Let's not forget Gippsland and Melbourne's South East in long term rail infrastructure plans

Let's not forget Gippsland and Melbourne's South East in long term rail infrastructure plans
Let's not forget Gippsland and Melbourne's South East in long term rail infrastructure plans

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With the dizzying array of infrastructure projects happening around central Melbourne and many new projects focused on Melbourne's West, you could be forgiven for forgetting about the South East - well, the long-term planning for transport infrastructure at least.

The Regional Rail Link, Melbourne Airport Rail Link, new & faster services to Geelong, maybe Melbourne Metro 2 at some point down the track (pardon the pun) - the array of projects Melbourne's overall westward march when it comes to greenfield and increasingly brownfield development.

We have two tiers of railway service in Victoria - one which is focused on Melbourne, metro, and one that is focused on connecting regional areas, V/Line. 

We've been on a journey to gradually separate these two service layers, physically through different sets of tracks for each, and in no place is this more obvious than in Melbourne's West where the Regional Rail Link has added dedicated tracks from the City through to Sunshine and then around the back of Werribee to connect with the Geelong line.

That separation that has been achieved is strained and is at threat of being unraveled as the Melton line is set to be electrified in the near future which would mean, if there were no extra tracks added, we'd have come full circle. 

Likewise, the Geelong services operating on the Regional Rail Link are doing a large amount of moving suburbanites - the state and federal budget commitments to studying how to 'speed up' Geelong services has an information deficit so we can only surmise that this will mean that corridor might be quadruplicated or an entirely new fast rail corridor for Geelong services is devised and built.

South-East Melbourne isn't going away any time soon

While so much focus is on the west, there's one two-track train line in the South East that is seeing major improvements which will unlock passenger carrying capacity but won't achieve the same speed / journey time transformation the railway lines in Melbourne's west look destined to maintain and improve upon.

The Melbourne Metro tunnel project, level crossing removal programme in the area, the new trains and signaling system will squeeze a lot more capacity on the two tracks for metro/V/Line and freight services which run from Caulfield to Pakenham via Dandenong, however V/Line services will still be stuck behind metro trains in peak times.

Consider this: the City of Casey and the Shire of Cardinia, the last remaining greenbelt growth areas in the south-east, have a combined population of 430,000.  That's the equivalent of the population of Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo combined.

In Plan Melbourne, approximately 100,000 new housing units are projected to be built in the Southern Region, which is almost exclusively within the urban growth boundary in both the City of Casey and Shire of Cardinia.  A further 180,000 residential dwellings are projected to be built in established areas which encompass the entire southern region which spans from the Bay to Pakenham and all of the Mornington Peninsula.

Journeys to the city from stations beyond Dandenong start at 47 minutes (from Hallam) and 49 minutes (from Lynbrook) with journeys from remaining stations further out increasing from there.

Not everyone who lives beyond Dandenong works in the city - not by a long shot - but Spring Street wouldn't be upgrading the existing line now with more stopping all stations services if they didn't expect that to grow.

Throw in the planning work on Monash and Dandenong South's national employment clusters, which aim to concentrate and grow more employment in these two specific regions (and similarly they are both serviced by the two-track railway in question), and you have a recipe for increased need for rapid & frequent rail services in Melbourne's South East.

Let's not forget about the long-term needs of the South East and Gippsland

In this year's state budget, money would be allocated to study how to speed up Geelong services.  The fastest timetabled journey from Geelong to Southern Cross (80km via the regional rail link) is 1 hour (6:53 from Geelong, arrives 7:53 at Southern Cross - doesn't stop in the outer suburban areas of Melbourne's West).  

The fastest journey from Pakenham (60km from Melbourne) on a metro service is 1 hour 11 minutes (Pakenham to Parliament in morning weekday peak as per existing timetable).

What would 'speeding up' Geelong services involve?  We'll have to wait and see as there's no apparent logic being followed from any publicly available transport plan however I'd surmise it would involve building the second track pair in the regional rail link corridor for Geelong V/Line services, leaving the existing track pair to be electrified and have Werribee line services extended after the third side of the West Werribee triangle junction is added.

Sunshine to the Deer Park junction will likely need quadruplication because the State Government has all but confirmed the Melton line will be electrified and having four tracks in this section, two for regional and two for metro.

If a terminating platform at the new Sunshine transit hub the state government has begun spruiking was built, that would allow the Werribee line to get back to the job of serving people in metropolitan areas and V/Line can get back to its job of serving regional areas.

How would we 'speed up' Gippsland services, Pakenham services and provide capacity for freight trains to run at any time of the day, such as to the long-mooted Port rail shuttle terminal in Lynbrook? 

By effectively doing a regional rail link in the east - two more tracks from the city to at least Dandenong.

While not wanting to lessen the emphasis on benefiting regional passengers with faster journeys, any new rail infrastructure in Melbourne's South-East should at least involve services which benefit outer metropolitan areas as well as provide the capacity to shift trucks from the Port of Melbourne to the distribution centres in the south east off the roads - like what could happen with port rail shuttles.

If we apply equal weight to those three goals (and keep them in mind when assessing both formally and informally the benefits/costs), the scope and type of new rail infrastructure that would need to be built in order to facilitate those three goals narrows and is fairly clear: track capable of relatively fast speeds (100kph versus the 80kph top speed of the existing track, the faster the better) from the city to Dandenong, minimal new stations/platforms and especially in the inner-city (between Caulfield and the city), tunneling.

A casual reminder: the original East-West Eddington study devised an entirely new track pair from South Kensington to Caulfield - the 'hard' (tunnelling) part that would have been completed in two phases (Phase 1 - South Kensington to Domain, Phase 2 - Domain to Caulfield).  The previous Liberal government bastardised that concept into a much shorter tunnel from North Melbourne via Southern Cross to Montague, Domain and then surfacing at South Yarra.

The Metro tunnel that is now under construction is effectively Eddington Phase 1 with the shortened connection to existing tracks just south of South Yarra which will orphan a track pair between the City and South Yarra.

Addressing Western Melbourne's imbalance in infrastructure is rightfully in vogue, however the regional areas to the east and the large amount of new people who will live in the outer south-east, either on the fringe or in established areas is likely to be larger than all the western regional cities combined.

Is it right to 'speed up' Geelong services when there's no long-term plans to undo the short-termism on the Dandenong corridor?

Lead image credit: Wikipedia.

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.

Tags: 
Melbourne Public Transport V/Line

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