R&F's Kinnears site kick off adds impetus in creating a new tram link to the Maribyrnong defence site

R&F's Kinnears site kick off adds impetus in creating a new tram link to the Maribyrnong defence site
R&F's Kinnears site kick off adds impetus in creating a new tram link to the Maribyrnong defence site

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The news today that R&F has turned the first sod of soil at its massive Kinnears site is a reminder that Melbourne's west is a lot bigger than just one redevelopment zone.

When the Prime Minister and Treasurer turned up to Melbourne Airport the other week to announce $5 billion would be allocated in the Federal Budget for a Melbourne Airport Rail Link, the Maribyrnong defence site which the Federal Government owns and is looking to unload from the government's balance sheet, featured on two of the four possible alignments.

This is not new - the airport link route alignments are from a Baillieu/Napthine Government era study.

I applaud the Federal Government for its focus on financing new urban rail lines and redeveloping sites around stations as a way of getting a return out of that investment - infrastructure goes in, new housing, commercial and retail space comes out.

However when an opportunity comes along to build an airport rail link that separates regional and metro services even more - such as what the Rail Futures Institute's AirTrain vision would do - the greater good for the state (through the regional city to airport connections that would be possible) should trump all else.

Melbourne Airport needs its own ground public transport plan - a rail line to do the heavy lifting from the airport to key locations where passengers can connect to other parts of the network plus a suite of smaller projects which are focused on providing greater accessibility between the suburbs nearer the airport that a heavy rail line will more than likely bypass - is key.

The City of Melbourne, through its transport refresh, is even advocating long-term for a second rail connection - much like London's Heathrow or Paris's Roissy/Charle de Gaulle airports which have at least two different approaches to the airport by rail. London has its tube and express to centre of the city services, Paris has its RER network to take people into central parts of the city and regional high-speed services connecting to the airport.

R&F's Kinnears site kick off adds impetus in creating a new tram link to the Maribyrnong defence site
A combination of network extensions and tram priority roadworks would connect the defence site to very high quality public transport

Despite endorsing the vision for Melbourne's first major public transport to the airport like the one that the Rail Futures Institute has developed, it shouldn't mean we turn attention away from the Defence site, and specifically the tram network in the north west.

The area already has tracks in the ground and a minor extension of the existing #57 route into the Defence site would add that 'last mile' infrastructure right into the heart of the future redevelopment zone.

At present, there are two tram routes running along the southern boundary of the site - the #57 which weaves its way through Ascot Vale, Flemington and North Melbourne to the city and the #82 which connects Moonee Ponds, Highpoint and Footscray.

Right now, the timetable for the 82 on a journey from the stop near the intersection of Wests Road and Raleigh Road (the southern boundary of the Defence site) is timetabled to take 20 minutes to Footscray.

Footscray station in the next 5 years will see increased services which will, towards the city, either take people around the loop or through the new metro tunnel - in short, Footscray will be one of the best connect suburbs in Melbourne.  The barebones to make interchanges are already in place, we should focus on speeding services up and making them more frequent.

The Kinnears site kick off adds weight to improving the existing Footscray-Maribyrnong tram line and if the government decides to move the Footscray hospital to the massive surface car park that is located at the intersection of Geelong and Ballarat roads opposite Victoria University, the Tiernan/Droop Street tram stop will bring public transport closer to the wider, redeveloped, hospital and university precinct.

Tram priority or 'light-railification', whatever you want to call it, the projects identified in the map above, are well within the bounds of the Infrastructure Victoria ethos that we should sweat our current assets more - and augment them where necessary.  For instance:

  • Separate car traffic from tram tracks using small in-road barriers like those installed on Lygon Street in Carlton North recently and on Queensbridge Street in Southbank
  • Remove on-street parking along the length of the route from the Defence site to Footscray and in part between the Defence site and Newmarket.
  • Implement absolute priority for trams at all signalised intersections, minimising unnecessary stopping time.
  • Combine building the new triangular junction at Wests/Raleigh Road with grade separation over Raleigh Road into the tram corridor toward Highpoint.
  • Rationalise stops and introducing platforms at all of them.
  • Rebuild the Footscray terminus with two terminating platforms.
  • Rebuild Newmarket station with a proper platform to new tram platform interchange.
  • Introduce larger tram vehicles such as the E-class.

The aim should be to have a Defence site to Footscray or Newmarket station journey time of 10-15 minutes. 

With an average 5 minute interchange time after the Metro tunnel opens which will see frequencies in peak and off-peak increase through Footscray and Newmarket, people who chose to live in the Defence site would have a relatively quick 2-seat journey to the city, but also, and more importantly, be connected to multiple activity and employment centres in the region.

Melbourne Airport needs a plan and package of new routes

The Federal Government threw down the gauntlet with their announcement kerbside at Melbourne Airport - they want the state government to match their commitment.  If that's the case - here's one possibility.  

If the AirTrain vision that the Rail Future's Institute can be costed under $10 billion, then the Federal Government's $5 billion should be allocated 100% to that project with the State Government picking up the balance. 

In order to match the $5 billion in Federal Government money, the State Government should commit to improving public transport to the Defence Site plus also get started on a suite of other public transport projects for the airport.

This would include extending the #57 tram from its current terminus at Airport West under the Western Ring Road and then along Sharps Road and Airport Drive; high-frequency bus routes, with priority roadworks, to the east through Broadmeadows, Upfield and onto Epping/South Morang.  

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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RadSB
Excellent comment. We are blessed with this fantastic tram network that could become amazing if we are more prepared to allow trams to have complete car free priority throughout the whole network. As you mentioned, with more super stops and less short distance stops trams could actually be incorporated to run from the new Werribee East precinct (although rail would also be vital here), Point Cook, the new future 'small goods' development at Altona North and the future Yarraville Gardens development through the future West gate Tunnel into the Docklands. Our government seem very pro public transport, it would be great if they were able to read your thoughts about the tram network. Also, in my opinion the Rail Futures Institute is the best plan for airport rail to be a massive success.
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