SGS Economics asks: will the Suburban Rail Loop shape the Melbourne we want?

SGS Economics asks: will the Suburban Rail Loop shape the Melbourne we want?
Alastair TaylorSeptember 30, 2018

Terry Rawnsley, principal & partner at SGS Economics & Planning, has completed an analysis that looks at the number of people living, working or undertaking tertiary education near the stations identified in the Andrews Government's proposed Suburban Rail Loop.

The report highlights how significant land-use planning work will be required - particularly along the route's northern flank - and on top of looking at the current state of play, SGS's report also flags certain geographical constraints the route of the Suburban Rail Loop may run into.

The title and question posed in the SGS report -  Will the $50 billion Suburban Rail Loop shape the Melbourne we want? - explains how 'city-shaping' projects can be justified and contrasts two viewpoints: the city we want versus the traditional predict and provide approach to transport planning.

Major transport projects, like the Suburban Rail Loop, have the potential to reshape the pattern of city development and substantially shift the way businesses and households make choices about location.

What makes a city-shaping project? Generally speaking, a project needs to redefine land markets, housing markets and labour markets to be considered a city shaper. Over the past 25 years, city-shaping projects have played a crucial role in Melbourne’s transformation into a leading knowledge-intensive economy.

City-shaping projects are a powerful and, perhaps, the pre-eminent policy lever for determining city structure. Land use regulation through planning schemes and the like are more likely to play a supplementary role in managing urban development. Which means that city-shaping projects should be considered within the context of a preferred urban structure, that is, ‘creating the sort of city we want’ as opposed to following the more conventional ‘predict and provide’ philosophy where transport investment merely responds to demonstrated demand.

Using a 2km buffer around each of the stations identified, SGS calculated that if the Suburban Rail Loop were in operation today, 270,600 jobs, 416,100 residents, 212,300 workers and 112,600 higher education students live/work/study in those catchments.

They're meaty set of numbers and the report breaks the SRL line in to three segments - South-East (Cheltenham to Box Hill), North-East (Box Hill to the Airport), Western (Airport to Werribee) - and through the analysis, SGS identified the South-East section as having over three quarters of the high-ed enrolments and half of all the jobs, population and workers for the entire line.

SGS Economics asks: will the Suburban Rail Loop shape the Melbourne we want?
Breakdown of population, jobs, workers and enrolled students around the Suburban Rail Loop - image: SGS Economics & Planning

In the North-Eastern section between Box Hill and the Airport, the report highlights possible geographical challenges for the route, specifically between Box Hill and Doncaster as well as crossing the Yarra River between Doncaster and Heidelberg.

At street level, Box Hill station sits approximately 95m above sea level, Doncaster at 110m (the corner of Doncaster and Manningham Roads) but between the two points, the Eastern Freeway in the Koonung Creek Valley rests at 54m.  This suggests the station at Doncaster, if the entire route will be underground, will be very deep, unless a rail system that can handle 3-4% grades is ultimately chosen & implemented to run the services.

SGS's report notes that the North-Eastern section has half the jobs and higher-education enrolments compared to the South-East section and singles out Reservoir and Fawkner as areas that require catalyst projects to maximise the land-use benefits around those two identified station interchanges.

The report also raises the question of whether the Monash NEIC on the South-East section should include two stations - one at the University campus and another near Ferntree Gully Road - in order to better serve the area.

A comparison is drawn between the South-East section of the Suburban Rail Loop and Sydney's Epping-Chatswood line which opened in 2009 and with stations at Epping, Macquarie University, Macquarie Park, North Ryde and Chatswood.  This tunnel is to be converted from mainline trains to the exclusive use of the first phase of Sydney Metro.

The reference to the Epping-Chatswood line is poignant as the report notes the patronage for the soon-to-be-converted line was running at 250% above the predicted patronage and it has similar characteristics to the South-East section of the Suburban Rail Loop - connecting universities (Macquarie versus Monash & Deakin), major job nodes (Chatswood, North Ryde and Macquarie Park versus Monash NEIC, Clayton, Cheltenham and Box Hill) and emerging high-density residential precincts (Chatswood, Epping versus Box Hill & Glen Waverley).

SGS Economics asks: will the Suburban Rail Loop shape the Melbourne we want?
Entries/Exits at Epping-Chatswood line stations - image SGS Economics & Planning

For more information on the Suburban Rail Loop see the updated Strategic Assessment documents on

To read the SGS report, click here.

Alastair Taylor

Alastair Taylor is a co-founder of 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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