Western Melbourne's complex rail plan needs to be done right

Western Melbourne's complex rail plan needs to be done right
Western Melbourne's complex rail plan needs to be done right

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In 2015, the first new railway line to be built in Melbourne in many decades opened to passengers. Known as the Regional Rail Link, the project sought to begin separating metropolitan and regional services, giving trains to Victoria's regional cities their own set of tracks all the way into Southern Cross station.

A new track pair was built between Southern Cross and Sunshine station which included a new bridge over the Maribyrnong River, a flyover to separate regional and Werribee/Williamstown line metropolitan services and Footscray and Sunshine stations saw major works with the addition of two new platforms.  

The new track railway corridor from Deer Park to West Werribee was built through rural properties and, at the time, fledging development occurring around Tarneit, Truganina and Wyndham Vale.

Fast forward to today and patronage has boomed on the Geelong line, mostly due to the stations built on the new railway corridor that attract passengers from the newly built suburbs.

Western Melbourne's complex rail plan needs to be done right
Geelong Line patronage has boomed thanks to suburban passengers at Tarneit and Wyndham Vale. Image: bigbuild.vic.gov.au

Last year's state election saw the ALP release a policy - the Western Rail Plan - one month out from the election to invest even more money into more heavy rail public transport services for the west that would achieve two goals: separating regional and metropolitan services further through the growth areas and speeding up services to Geelong and Ballarat.

In 2019's state budget, $100 million was set aside for the business case/reference design.  This work is underway in parallel with the business case for the Melbourne Airport Rail Link which will be released in 2020.

Published documents on the Victorian Government's Big Build website highlight the complex inter-relations with the Melbourne Airport Rail Link, Suburban Rail Loop and Western Rail Plan and recent reporting elsewhere indicates stakeholders are debating whether to build an enabling component for the wholesale upgrade of railways in Western Melbourne.

Western Melbourne's complex rail plan needs to be done right
Heavy rail public transport projects in Melbourne. Image: bigbuild.vic.gov.au

The bone of contention - or more to the point: the one certain stakeholders want to debate through mainstream media - is the extra track pair labeled "New Sunshine to CBD access" in the map above.

Melbourne Airport Rail Link and faster trains to Geelong and Ballarat have an emphasis on speed, making journeys as quick as possible.  The Western Rail Plan has an emphasis on new, targetted services that will, like the Airport Link and less so the faster regional services, require more track to access the city.

The Geelong line's patronage figures since the opening of the Regional Rail Link have been boosted, fundamentally, by Melbourne Metropolitan commuters in outer Western Melbourne.  The Western Rail Plan seeks to shift those outer suburban passengers on to train services that are more appropriate: metropolitan services.

With those broad parameters in mind, it's been speculated that a tunnel from Sunshine to the city is the best solution to enable fast journeys to the regions and the airport while existing track - the regional rail track pair and the existing Sunbury line - then have room for expansion. For instance, the new Melton and Wyndham Vale services could possibly share the existing regional rail track pair with Bendigo V/Line services while Geelong, Ballarat and airport services use the new tunnel.

One can understand the desire to explore other options - like not building a tunnel and running more services on the existing track pairs - however we need only look to the Regional Rail Link and how it struggles to deal with outer suburban patronage growth.  Cool heads need to think clearly the long-term and what impact not building a tunnel will do to a metropolitan area whose centre of population is moving westward.

On Monday we look at the greenfields areas in Western Melbourne that will drive patronage growth.

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: 
Melbourne Airport Rail Link Suburban Rail Loop Western Rail Plan

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