The South Yarra station circus: old and new hoops to jump through

The South Yarra station circus: old and new hoops to jump through
Alastair TaylorFebruary 7, 2017


Both the State and Federal Parliaments are back with their first sitting weeks for the year and today it's been reported the state opposition planning spokesperson, David Davis, is set to move a motion in the Legislative Council that would see the City of Stonnington take on shared control of planning for the Melbourne Metro project.

Opposition planning minister David Davis, who will move the upper house motion, said it was inevitable that one day South Yarra and Melbourne Metro would need to be connected to meet growth in demand for public transport.

"It would be an historic blunder if the government was to design it in such a way as South Yarra could not be connected in the long term," Mr Davis said.

His motion would give the City of Stonnington power to ensure the tunnel's final design paves the way for a future South Yarra interchange.

"There needs to be a clear line in this to ensure that South Yarra, long term, is built," he said.

The Age - Liberals make another attempt to include South Yarra station in Melbourne Metro

The primary reason, as has been reported elsewhere, for not building two new platforms at South Yarra to enable connectivity with Melbourne Metro and the existing station has been cost.  Many figures have been quoted (all of them more than $500 million) and they appear to be based on:

  • increased property acquisition in/around South Yarra: one of the most expensive places to buy land in Melbourne.
  • the need for current tracks which take Pakenham/Cranbourne trains to cross over the Frankston line tracks in order to enter the tunnel (and therefore proceed to the new underground platforms at South Yarra).

The current track design that's been in the public domain for Melbourne Metro has the crossover occur by having the Pakenham/Cranbourne tracks enter the surface-to-tunnel dive structure at/near William Street and the South Yarra siding reserve.

This requires the new underground station platforms to be located further west, directly under properties to the south of Toorak Road and most importantly there'd likely not be any meaningful platform-to-platform connection, passengers looking to transfer would need to exit paid areas of the station, walk down Toorak road and then re-enter the paid areas of the station.  Not ideal at all.

The South Yarra station circus: old and new hoops to jump through
New South Yarra underground platforms, Melbourne Metro options assessment 1

The Melbourne Metro business case options assessment had an alternative layout at South Yarra which would have seen the platforms for the Sandringham line extended south under Toorak Road and the new underground platforms located directly beneath them.

 Less acquisition would be required south of Toorak Road (as much of the station platforms would be located under the reserve or existing rail corridor) and the connection from the surface to the tunnel would be made directly to the current Frankston track pair. 

This has the effect of requiring the crossover to be located further east, on the other side of Chapel Street which would have likely required property acquisition at the Jam Factory and / or a major reconfiguration of the Chapel Street bridge (and the adjoining retail properties which hang off both sides of the street where it crosses the rail corridor).

Option 2 is superior from a passenger perspective because it would directly link the two lines, presumably by escalator and lifts, that would not have been linked in the current scenario with no station at South Yarra - the Pakenham/Cranbourne and Sandringham lines.  (Pakenham/Cranbourne and Frankston connections can be made at Caulfield regardless of scenario).

The South Yarra station circus: old and new hoops to jump through
New South Yarra underground platforms, Melbourne Metro options assessment 2

Former SKM, now independent transport planning, engineering and economics practitioner William McDougall delivered a report on the South Yarra Question in August last year.  The screenshots above and below have been taken from the report, currently sitting on the State Government's website (PDF).

In his report, McDougall posits an alternative to the costly South Yarra crossover by moving it further out - to Caulfield.

If it were possible to cross the tracks over elsewhere, substantial property and cost savings would result at South Yarra. With MMRA option B, assuming the existing rail reserve would remain unchanged east of Chapel Street, the following works could be avoided:

  • acquisition and removal of about 25 individual properties;
  • widening of the rail reserve and construction of about 500 metres of double track; and
  • two road overbridges (Chapel Street and Surrey Road) replaced with longer structures.

I expect that this might save of the order of $2-300 million (subject to engineering assessment and costing), excluding the cost of establishing the crossover elsewhere.

Effect of Melbourne Metro Project at South Yarra - Expert's Report Prepared by William McDougall, page 28

The report includes a diagram how moving the crossover to Caulfield could work.

The South Yarra station circus: old and new hoops to jump through
Potential cost-saving crossover option at Caulfield - William McDougall

Regardless of how the Melbourne Metro authority might implement a new set of platforms at South Yarra to enable connectivity with the station, we're now a long way down the garden path.  Early works have started, calls for tenders for the major tunnelling works have begun. 

You can imagine the state government doesn't want to cop the egg-on-face if it capitulated and went ahead with a re-design - which I'd like to point out, the scope change appears to be limited only to the south-eastern end of the project; re-working the construction schedule to include inevitable delays at the South Yarra end whilst continuing with the body of work elsewhere as planned could be possible (and palatable).

As McDougall notes in his report, his assumptions need further testing. Should we delay one part of the Melbourne Metro project and further explore options, assuming the public is happy with a higher pricetag?

Here, have another spanner to throw into the works

Governments of both colours are quite happy to pursue freeway expansion projects - just look at the Monash FWY project to widen it around the interchange with Eastlink; a widening project that's happening less than a decade of the most recent one.

The combination of level crossing removals on the Dandenong and Watergardens/Sunbury corridors with the Melbourne Metro project will result in passenger carrying capacity improvements from South East to West/North West and vice versa: the inner-city will be better connected, commuters from the middle-ring and outer suburbs will receive a frequency increase: all good.

But Hazelwood happened.  And more to the point, it's sharpened the state government's focus on the area.  

Just yesterday the ABC reported the Federal Transport Minister promised to work with his Victorian counterpart to improve Gippsland's V/Line passenger services; they're reportedly 'the slowest and most unreliable in the state'.  Gippsland V/Line services are entirely dependent on the Pakenham line - the very same line that is set to see frequency increases and be diverted through the city.

(Although the current Melbourne Metro / South Yarra portal design allows for services to connect existing tracks which run from South Yarra through Richmond and Flinders Street).

The Federal Minister's comments in the ABC report relate to the Gippsland Rail Needs Study, which highlights infrastructure changes that would be required to increase services both within the Valley to begin a "La Trobe Valley metro" service - similar to the announced Bendigo Metro - and connecting the region better with Melbourne.

Outside Melbourne the report highlights how single track sections should be duplicated as far as Traralgon and calls for fully upgrading both tracks to allow for 160kph services to run in both directions (the Bracks/Brumby era Regional Fast Rail project only saw partial upgrades on the Gippsland (and Bendigo) line).

The biggest ticket on the list however, naturally deals with train congestion within Melbourne.  

The central issue is that the rail infrastructure serving Gippsland and southeast Melbourne remains essentially the same double track that reached Dandenong in 1891 and the mixed double and single track beyond Dandenong that was implemented to support briquette traffic from the Latrobe Valley in the 1950s.

The 2005- 2006 Regional Fast Rail project undertook partial upgrading of the track as far as Traralgon and the new VLocity trains enabled service frequency to be enhanced (see 3.3, above). However neither planning nor investment in added track capacity has occurred since then. Meanwhile, billions have been spent in adding and widening freeways serving the region. 

Gippsland Rail Needs Study - page 36

Quadruplication of the track between South Yarra and Dandenong would provide V/Line & freight services (and new express services on the metro network) with clear paths to enter/exit the metro area quickly, reducing travel times both outside metro Melbourne and within.

And yes, note: South Yarra - where the current Melbourne Metro project will orphan a track pair by diverting metro services in a different direction - to Dandenong, which includes the area seeing the most resistance to the Herald-Sun dubbed 'skyrail' project between Caulfield and Oakleigh.  

That small section of the wider rail corridor is where it is at its most narrow, and the diagrams on the level crossing removal authority site don't inspire much confidence that quadruplication could occur without massive property acquisition.

The South Yarra station circus: old and new hoops to jump through
Elevated structure diagram around Carnegie - Level Crossing Removal Authority

Something will have to give sooner or later.  

A South Yarra station could possibly & negatively impact a future project to add another track pair between South Yarra & Caulfield (most likely a tunnel for express services) - this would be needed because having six tracks merge into four between South Yarra and Caulfield is a recipe for disruption and flies in the face of the main aim: capacity increases.  

Likewise, quadruplication with large-scale property acquisition between Caulfield and Oakleigh would be unpalatable for either flavour of politics and therefore a new opportunity could arise by sending a new track pair from Grange Road down the Dandenong Road median all the way to Eastlink and then back to the Dandenong corridor in future. This also would have the added benefit of being able to add rail services to Chadstone S.C. and Monash University.

As a migrant from the south-of-the-river to north-of-the-river, I've been fully indoctrinated(!) and am a big supporter of focusing the city's growth to the west; however as the renewed focus on the La Trobe Valley after the announcement of Hazelwood's closure shows, south-of-the-river is still going to require careful rail planning and investment if it's to be a win-win for people both in the growing city and regional areas.

Lead image credit: wikipedia

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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