The Alamein line: time for a new purpose?

The Alamein line: time for a new purpose?
The Alamein line: time for a new purpose?

Melbourne loves its radial train lines. For over a century they have shunted commuters in and out of the centre of the city and even throughout the automobile age they've continued to be the best way to access the centre of the city as well as some peripheral centres based around junctions like Richmond, South Yarra and North Melbourne.

In the Outer Circle documentary, released in December last year, we learned politicians from over a century ago were just as susceptible of making curious decisions as modern day politicians when it comes to large-scale transport infrastructure projects - think East-West Link.

The last remaining operating section of the Outer Circle is the Alamein line. According to a report in 2010 in the Herald Sun, the Alamein line only carries 1.5% of all passengers across the metropolitan rail network and in a media release from PTUA around the same time, the 1.5% figure reported in the Herald Sun translates into 1.8 million boardings per year.

Alamein is a short branch serving a stable population and timetable-roulette over the past 10 years seems to have conspired to relegate the Alamein line to low (if any) growth. Thanks to election promises in 2010, the Ballieu Government commissioned multiple rail line studies early on in its term one of which was the Rowville Rail Line.

Perhaps most annoyingly, the Rowville study's scope was ring-fenced and only encapsulated the North and Wellington road corridors - essentially just creating another branch line from the Dandenong corridor.

One of the findings from the Rowville Rail study was that it required extra capacity on the Dandenong corridor for trains to operate to and from the city and thus the new line would be dependent on Dandenong corridor upgrades and the Melbourne Metro Tunnel project from South Yarra to Kensington.

Rather than create another radial train service, wouldn't it be more prudent to start thinking outside the box by connecting existing lines and start serving major employment, education and high-potential residential growth zones in worthy suburban areas?

Don't all groan at once, but I think there's a legitimate case for another study to look into the impact, costs and benefits of cross-connecting the Alamein line with the Dandenong corridor and the points listed below are meant only as a conversation starter.

Furthermore it would also be interesting to see how a connection and services running between the Alamein and Dandenong corridors might improve the case for the Rowville line given the employment, retail and educational precincts it would connect: Swinburne University, Camberwell, Holmesglen Institute, Chadstone, Oakleigh, Monash University & Mulgrave.

Is it time to give the Alamein line a greater purpose?

The map above serves only as a reference point to begin the conversation. Click the individual components for more detail or click the full screen button in the top right corner of the map to view the detail in another window.

There are many ideas for connecting this region and I'm by no means saying the above is the absolute best, I've merely selected it as it's likely to be the more expensive option (other ideas prevalent right across the web include a tunnel along the old Outer Circle corridor and connecting with East Malvern Station and Chadstone to Oakleigh).

Phase 1

The flagship link. A tunnel (red line) from Ashburton running south-east to Holmesglen with a new set of interchange platforms alongside and underneath Warrigal Road to enable connectivity with the Glen Waverley line. The tunnel would then head south-west to run under Chadstone with a new station located on site and then the tunnel would run south-east once more to connect with two new underground platforms at Oakleigh.

Changes to the existing Alamein corridor (green line) would involve grade separations at Riversdale and Prospect Hill Roads resulting in a new station in a trench and interfaced directly with Riversdale road in turn making Willison Station redundant. A new fourth platform at Camberwell to act as a service terminus and a relocated Burwood station in order to better connect the line with the #75 trams and the Toorak Road precinct.

The existing track from Alamein to Ashburton from the south would be removed and re-instated as parkland with station buildings at Alamein, Willison and the old Burwood station re-purposed for community or commercial facilities and a new dedicated high-frequency bus would run between Ashburton and Darling stations through the catchment of the existing Alamein station (grey line).

Upon opening, services would shuttle between Oakleigh and Camberwell on 10 minute or better frequencies.

Phase 2

Project area 1: between Camberwell and Burnley there would be a fourth track laid in the existing reservation (orange line) and new platforms at Auburn, Glenferrie and Hawthorn. The map also attempts to depict the associated bridge widening works required between Hawthorn and the Glen Waverley line flyovers at Burnley.

Project area 2: in essence building the recommended route as outlined in the Rowville Rail Line study (light and dark blue lines - map ends in Mulgrave, but the assumption is to build the entire line to Rowville).

Upon opening of the second phase, the Camberwell-Oakleigh shuttle would morph into a much larger rail line running from Rowville direct to Flinders Street via Chadstone and Camberwell and all trains from the existing Ringwood corridor would only stop at Camberwell, Glenferrie and Richmond.

Some statistics on journeys to work

Some food for thought: the three main municipalities directly affected by this project are Boroondarra, Stonnington and Monash and the following journeys to work data has been pulled from population and demography consultancy .id's public site.

In 2011 Boroondarra had 61,000 employed persons, 31% of which lived in the municipality. 9% of people employed in Boroondarra travel from Glen Eira - Caulfield (1,293 or 2.1%), Stonnington - Malvern (1,363, 2.2%), Monash - South West (694, 1.0%), Monash - Waverley West (1,443, 2.3%), Monash - Waverley East (775, 1.3%).

Stonnington, which would gain one new station and an expanded interchange station, had 45,000 employed persons in 2011 and only 23% live in the same municipality. The breakdown of people who travel from outside the municipality is as follows: Glen Eira - Caulfield (2,910 or 6.4%), Monash - South West (1,313, 2.9%), Monash - Waverley West (1,367, 3.0%), Monash - Waverley East (847, 1.9%), Boroondarra - Camberwell South (1,505, 3.3%), Boroondarra - Hawthorn (1,006, 2.2%), Whitehorse - Box Hill (755, 1.7%).

Monash in 2011 had 89,000 employed persons, 23% living in the municipality. Much of workforce who travels to Monash lives to the south and east of the municipality however just under 7% travel from adjacent municipalities located near this project. Broken down that is: Boroondarra - Camberwell North & South (2,237 or 2.5%), Stonnington - Malvern (1,486, 1.7%), Glen Eira - Caulfield (2,392, 2.7%).

Train travel, like car commuters on freeways, enables people to live greater distances from their workplace - and although policy should favour distances being reduced rather than increased - I think patronage forecasts would need to have catchment areas expanded, especially as Chadstone remains a key precinct in the region and attracts shoppers from right across the metropolitan area.

Future development options and value capture

This is Urban.com.au and it just wouldn't be cricket if we didn't at least briefly look at redevelopment potential.

Beginning in Malvern East where Chadstone is located, Stonnington have liberally applied the new Residential Growth Zone to Dandenong Road and have continued to apply it along Warrigal Road from the intersection of Dandenong Road all the way up to Holmesglen Station. The Warrigal Road corridor is also interspersed with the mixed-use Commercial Zone 1 (C1Z) allowing for larger buildings.

The Holmes Hill development at 70 Batesford Road (C1Z), just off Warrigal Road approximately 200m from the existing Holmesglen station is a prime example of what is possible for increasing densities near the new or upgraded stations.

The Alamein line: time for a new purpose?
Holmes Hill - 70 Batesford Road, Chadstone. Image © holmeshill.com.au

In terms of areas where the rail corridor and service already exists, the strip along Toorak Road where Burwood station could possibly be re-zoned on the Boroondarra Planning scheme as C1Z. And despite Boroondarra's lack of Residential Growth Zone, they do have a small, but not insignificant amount of land zoned General Residential Zone - Schedule 5 (allows up to 3 levels on site) near enough to the Alamein corridor. Oakleigh is already seeing its CBD fringes being redeveloped thanks to the area zoned as C1Z with a large amount of General Residential zone adjoining it.

I've not read or come across examples on how value capture systems work in their entirety so I would be interested to hear reader's thoughts on how a value capture system could be applied on a local/regional basis to help fund any project that may come to fruition.

What about the cost?

Cost of a study: the Rowville Rail Line study cost $2 million, and quite frankly it was money well-spent and a similar amount should be allocated to look at making the Alamein line more relevant in the 21st century.

Cost of the proposal as shown above: Well that's what the study would be for! Nevertheless, here's a not-so-scientific approach at having a stab at the cost.

Taking a broader look around the country, one project that springs to mind - in terms of getting a ballpark cost figure to potentially apply to the phase 1 proposal above - is Sydney's North West Rail Link. The NWRL is a 23 kilometre line, approximately 15km of which will be underground, stretching from Epping out to Sydney's outskirts.

The total cost of the NWRL is $8.3 billion according to its website - underground rail, elevated rail, stations and train procurement - or better represented as a $360 million per kilometre figure.

Using the per kilometre figure from the NWRL and applying it to the 5.5km tunnel depicted in the map, that would total a smidge under $2 billion. The 5-6 kilometres of upgrade work along the existing Alamein line - primarily grade separations, upgrades to Camberwell Station and the relocation of Burwood station - would, clearly, cost a lot less on a per kilometre basis than that of the tunnels.

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: 
Trains Urban Affairs Future Public Transport Ideas

Comments (20)

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Aussie Steve's picture
Amen to JP and AT. Not every train line needs to head into the city. That is the problem with our current heavy rail network - there is no cross city route and this is one way to create this.
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tayser
[quote]Steve or alistir or me are not suggesting the route proposed in the article is for cbd trips (although via interchange this would occur). Most trips to/from the locations on that line are not cbd bound[/quote]

Pretty much - the fact I put forward the idea to increase capacity between Camberwell and the Yarra and build Rowville as stated in the recent study - as shown on the map - are not the primary goal. It's primarily about linking all the existing, and growing, activity centres (And the different kinds of activity centres: retail [Chadstone is clearly the biggest elephant in the room(article)], education and existing employment areas).

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johnproctor
Steve or alistir or me are not suggesting the route proposed in the article is for cbd trips (although via interchange this would occur). Most trips to/from the locations on that line are not cbd bound. Linking a series of major activity centres that are used by the people,along the route makes more sense than building a North Wellington route just because it is 'grid like' and connects a number of train lines...

As I said in one of my earlier posts on this thread the "band of influence" for Monash (uni and jobs precinct), oakleigh, chadstone, camberwell, hawthorn jobs precinct logically follows the arc of this train line. North/wellington is just a contiguous East west road that doesnt have the same level of interaction with people's places of interests. Eg. if you live west of the warrigal road and South of dandenong road you are in the southern suburbs/ beachside arc of influence where you are more likely to use monash caulfield then Clayton (or the cbd universities), you are as likely to use Southland or glenferrie rd Malvern as chadstone, a st Kilda road private school compared to a kew school, a st Kilda road job compared to a job on burwood road hawthorn etc.

Of course if you build a suburban railway it doesn't matter what the route is the zoning needs to change to justify the expense. In an Alamein example ashburton shopping strip would need to be zoned up to allow medium density development, same at burwood (happening more than ashburton) and east Malvern. Similarly a North- wellington route would need big regeneration around Ormond (which is a comparatively small centre even to ashburton) and the largest centre along north between gardenvale and huntingdale.
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Riccardo's picture
Ian I think you are on the money at least partly. Referring to a "North Wellington Route" it would run from Rowville to Gardenvale, and like other such proposals would eventually build a grid patterned network which I have proposed as an alternative to the existing radial network.

For example, the Epping line at present linked to the Sandringham line via a short stretch of tunnel between West Richmond and Richmond, results in a grid line that approximates the road known variously as High St, Hoddle St, Punt Road as far as it goes and only diverges beyond Windsor and beyond Thomastown.

There is continuity between the Flemington Racecourse line, the dogleg between Flemington Bridge and Royal Park, the old Inner Circle, and the first five stations of the Hurstbridge line beyond Clifton Hill. The Upfield line follows Sydney Road/Hume Highway between Jewell and Upfield, and if a short tunnel was built to Parkville would link to proposed rail project.
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Ian Woodcock
It's a good idea to improve network connectivity and to put places like Monash Clayton, Rowville SC and Chadstone on the heavy rail system. That aside, this may not be the best way to do it, though, given a) the immense cost of a tunnel through relatively low-value areas and b) the indirectness of the route compared to its catchments and c) the complexity of the transfer sequences. It might be better overall to spread such an enormous investment around on more cost effective ways of connecting such places to the Principal PT Network. For example, Rowville, rather than flowing into the Dandenong line, would be better as an east-west cross-suburban route all the way to Gardenvale - it could be a light rail, or heavy rail flowing into the Sandringham line, with interchanges at Huntingdale, Ormond and Gardenvale. The most sensible way to build it would be on a viaduct for as much of its length as possible. That would make Monash and Rowville far more PT-accessible to far more people than the proposed alignment to Rowville. As for Chadstone, it would be preferable to do a few things: a) upgrade and extend the tramlines along Dandenong Rd/Princes Hwy as light rail, so they pick up Chadstone on their way to Dandenong (yes - this is one way that pressure can be taken off the Dandenong Line while enabling more people to have access to PT by broadening the catchment of that general corridor); b) Extend a light rail line from the Dandenong Road corridor from Caulfield out along Ferntree Gully Road, so picking up Chadstone, Brandon Park SC and Mountain Gate SC; c) Run a light rail from Mordialloc to Doncaster, picking up Chadstone, Deakin Burwood, and BoxHill Tafe. These could well cost less than tunnelling from Alamein to Oakleigh and would provide much better network effects, assuming proper light rail or medium-capacity rail conditions (full grade separation, 3-400 passenger capacity vehicles), and provide many more ways of getting to a lot more of the kinds of places that need to be on the PT network and aren't.
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