Pondering where underground light rail might suit Melbourne

Pondering where underground light rail might suit Melbourne
Pondering where underground light rail might suit Melbourne

Other cities around the world are looking to building more advanced light rail systems as I discussed in this article.  In the absence, still, of any transport plan for people who don't need to travel to the CBD for work and in the context of the inevitable growth of Melbourne's already decentralised employment centres which at present have minimal non-road public transport access, I'm going to highlight some areas of the city where where cheaper grade-separated light rail might start addressing those needs.

As I outlined in the earlier piece, Dublin has announced early plans to build a new 26km metro line using light rail vehicles in its own right of way with two major underground sections.  Toronto's been building a similar system along it's Eglington Avenue corridor since the start of the decade which is expected to be open by 2021.

They both have the same maximum passenger capacity - 15,000 passengers per direction per hour - and in Toronto's case, the estimate is that by 2031 it will carry 5400 passengers per direction per hour and 60-70% of its operating costs will be covered by fares - (compared to Melbourne's overall system recovering only 20-30% of costs through fares according to a January 2017 report in the AFR).

So what might an underground light rail system, one of a similar length as Dublin or Toronto, look like in Melbourne? 

The world really is our oyster and should the focus of public transport planning ever shift to moving people around the city (literally) or connecting them to jobs in the suburbs, rather than just moving people to and from the centre of the city, corridors like these might just get a look in.

Inner City Orbital

The line shown in the map below measures about the same as the Dublin system and has about the same amount of stations.  Did you know that if you work in Richmond/Abbotsford and live somewhere such as Brunswick or Moonee Ponds, your journey on public transport could take almost the same amount of time as someone commuting to the Ringwood, Watergardens, Cheltenham or Dandenong to the city by train?

What's more, a journey around the inner city forces you onto the same services as those people commuting from longer distance for at least one leg of the journey.  Some might sneer or roll their eyes about inner-city dwellers complaining about commutes but is it right that people who live in or near the inner city and don't work in the CBD itself are forced to travel via the CBD? 

The inner city orbital route below would connect with every radial rail route and the majority of the tram network as well as connecting established or emerging inner-city non-CBD job centres like Fishermans Bend, South Melbourne, Cremorne, Abbotsford with the growing and more predominantly residential inner-north.

The northern cross-town

The route on this map is about 5km shorter than the orbital route above but seeks to serve the employment centres in the west and north.  I've only come up with 16 potential sites for stations which includes the terminus and possible location of the maintenance and storage depot in Sunshine, Highpoint, Moonee Ponds, Brunswick, Eastern Thornbury/Preston and Heidelberg.

Much of this route would need to be underground.  There is one exception, depending on local tolerances - the Ballarat Road and Hampshire Road corridors are wide and [obviously cheaper] elevated structures might suffice in this area (remember the aim is to not build more in-street tram lines).

UM commenters have previously made mention this broad corridor (which has featured in articles like this in the past on Urban Melbourne) would solve a medium-long term problem of people trying to get across the Maribyrnong River, and hence I'm rehashing it somewhat and keeping it anchored firmly in the Sunshine-Highpoint-Moonee Ponds corridor.

Depending on the outcome of the planning working being undertaken right now for the La Trobe employment cluster - specifically the public transport plan - this route would also draw people who live to the west of La Trobe closer to it if a frequent bus service eventually runs between Heidelberg and the La Trobe precinct.

The Eastern cross-town

Springvale Road has run point on moving people north-south through the eastern suburbs for years, Eastlink now does a lot of the heavy lifting and arterials like Stephensons Road and Blackburn Road also do a lot of heavy lifting - for private vehicles and for smart buses in some cases.

Monash, like La Trobe, is another university-centric cluster that will see a lot of employment growth over time - in fact Monash has the highest concentration of jobs outside of Melbourne's CBD (as one commenter has mentioned before - decentralisation of jobs in Melbourne is already here if you look closely enough).

The cat is out of the bag in Box Hill as we have reported on Urban Melbourne on many occasions and this cross-town route would bring not one, not two, but three stations to the station-less Manningham LGA (the only council area in metropolitan Melbourne without a rail station or service).

Westall hosts the southern terminus rather than Clayton or Springvale for two reasons:

  1. a maintenance and storage facility would require property acquisition no matter where it would be placed on this line, Westall already has one maintenance facility for metro, this might be a good place to expand and/or adapt the facility for the cross-town line
  2. Westall will likely be the first 'short-stop' on the new Pakenham/Cranbourne metro line - it seems logical to put an interchange here as between Westall and the city is where the highest frequency of metro services will likely run plus from Westall, the cross-town line alignment traverses the greatest amount of land in the Monash cluster.

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: 
Light Rail Transport Public Transport Melbourne Orbital Rail

Comments (19)

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pdoff
The 'Background paper' for the Transport Strategy refresh was released by COM last month. Its seems to have slipped most people by. https://participate.melbourne.vic.gov.au/application/files/1915/2412/4069/Transport_Strategy_Public_Transport_Background_Paper.pdf It's a great read, bringing together a lot of other proposals/ideas/suggestions out there. Despite being a COM document, it's heavily focused towards a whole future Melbourne network servicing 8 million, so ideal for the discussion here. There's plenty of insights regarding possible orbital light-rail routes and how they would interact with the heavy rail network (notably, pp 29-30).
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Urban A's picture
In my view,a real blockage to the tram network exists along Keilor Road in North Essendon and Niddrie. The Airport West tram is the only real public transport option for employees of Essendon Fields commercial area. If the tram line was under grounded along Keilor Road this would connect better with Essendon Station in the south creating a viable and quicker connection to this fast growing technology precinct. The tram could also be extended north past Airport West with travel times drastically reduced and more opportunities for Keilor Road shopping precinct and public realm.
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tayser
Interesting report out from IV today - cast your minds back to some of those examples above inner-north / inner orbital. This map shows the projected car trip growth between regions by 2031, note the flows around the inner-city. [img]https://urban.melbourne/sites/urban.melbourne/files/passenger_trip_growth_iv.png[/img] Outer Western to Inner Northern, Inner Western to Inner Northern, Inner Northern to Inner South East all in the 2000-4000 projected car trip region.
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peterh_oz
Tunnelling doesn't have to be expensive. For light rail, it can be shallow, with simple and inexpensive stations. Antwerp is a perfect example of these, with the "premetro" section of the tram network. Details & photos: http://www.urbanrail.net/eu/be/ant/antwerpen.htm As of 2017, total length of the underground sections in service is approx. 11 km (total network is 80km) with 12 underground stations; station platforms are 95 m long.
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johnproctor
It seems you’ve gotten off topic Adam and PdOff. In a City of 8 million people all parts of Melbourne will need better public transport, and Adam its funny that you bought up the “it’s just easier to build roads” argument while also whingeing about potential PT investments in the inner city. PT advocates need to learn from Road lobbies and advocate for their preferred projects (in your case suburban) without shit-canning other PT projects (inner city). As you say the inner city is already quite well equipped to respond and there is much more that can be done with the non infrastructure options I put forward. Remembering that the state pays about $1 billion a year for the Yarra Trams contract so every efficiency that can be squeezed out of that contract is a saving the state can spend on other things (eg. opex for suburban buses). Even on an infrastructure front building the missing bits of a Victoria Street tram connection from Vic Gardens to North Melbourne station could be constructed for less than 1 level crossing (or intersection) removal. But by that city of 8 million in 2050(ish) (which is 35 years time not 10 years time) its hard to imagine that even a fully optimized tram network will still be sufficient to move the numbers of people getting around inner Melbourne by then. And so PdOff’s suggestion of more tube like metros in the City might be warranted (in 35 years time after every bit of juice has been squeezed out of the tram network, and Metro 1 and Metro 2 and the existing train network, and other priorities have been worked on in the suburbs). Similarly Adam - my suggestion was 100% zone 2 based and I said that it should be looked at in the next 10 years. I’d be interested to know a route that you think is broadly feasible that is equivalent to my Springvale Road route. You haven’t mentioned one? Just make it realistic not 15km of tunnel criss crossing its way across the suburbs. Thinking further on the tram network Deakin Uni and La Trobe and RMIT bundoora both sit in Zone 2 on tram lines that are currently not supported with the sort of simple density changes and/or connectivity that might make them more useful ‘light rail’ services providing the all day trip types we are discussing. From my traveling experience those routes already benefit from reasonable counter peak movements associated with the universities and in the case of the 75 at least quite a bit of interchange with the good north/south bus lines on Middlesbrough/Blackburn/Springvale roads. Would a Knox (and Bayswater/Boronia) or South Morang connections add the extra interchange and activity nodes needed at the ‘end of the line’ for those routes to thrive further. (Again at relatively modest cost compared to miles of underground metro in existing wide road reserves (Burwood Highway/Plenty Road) potentially done without even grade separation at intersections)
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