It was six years ago when Sir Rod Eddington first unveiled the vision for East-West connectivity across Melbourne with two signature projects: a freeway connecting the Eastern Freeway with the Western Ring Road and a new rail line to form an inner-city "Crossrail" connecting the Watergadens (now Sunbury) and Pakenham-Cranbourne lines.
Shortly after the Baillieu government came to power, the Melbourne Metro project, as it has been known up until yesterday, had its scope reduced from a two-phase project to a single phase project connecting South Yarra with South Kensington.
Yesterday the Victorian state government committed to funding the now rebranded "Melbourne Rail Link" with an even smaller scope encompassing a tunnel from South Yarra to Southern Cross via Domain and a new station in Montague (Fishermans Bend).
Eddington's original vision was grand in its scale with a tunnel running from South Kensington into what is now known as the Arden-Macaulay precinct with a new station in the vicinity of Queensberry Street's western end and then the tunnel was to link Parkville's Melbourne University and medical precinct providing a much needed Public Transport capacity boost for the area.
From Melbourne University the line would have run under Swanston Street with connecting stations at Melbourne Central and Flinders Street and terminating as part of phase 1 at a new train station under the existing tram interchange at Domain.
Phase two of the project would have seen the line run the length of St. Kilda Road to the junction and then turn east under Dandenong Road to eventually join the Caulfield Group of lines - Pakenham, Cranbourne and Frankston - at Caulfield station.
When coupled with the Regional Rail Link doubling capacity between Footscray and Sunshine and Dandenong corridor improvements (which at the time was looking like a proper quadruplication project between Caulfield and Dandenong), the original Melbourne Metro project would have provided dedicated track space for a true "cross-rail" line stretching from Pakenham in the South East right through the city to Sunbury in the North West. Throw in dizzyingly high frequencies of service thanks to not interacting with other lines and we'd have a new rail link that could rival any metropolitan freeway's capacity to move large numbers of people across town.
It was bold, grand and pricey.
Upon assuming power, the Baillieu government instituted a review which resulted in what we can now call the the second iteration of this project. That was to use the general route and station placement of phase one of the Eddington report's original vision however the second phase was struck out and Melbourne Metro tunnel would turn eastwards immediately after Domain under Toorak road to connect the new line to the Pakenham/Cranbourne/Frankston corridor at South Yarra.
The review was touted as cheaper and could be built faster and would still bring all the benefits to City North that the original vision outlined such as supercharging development in Arden-Macaulay and boosting Public Transport services to Melbourne University and the global biotech and medical cluster that is Parkville.
One large gaping hole in the second iteration of the project was the lack of connectivity between lines at South Yarra. We were left to assume trains would stop at Hawksburn and then proceed underground into the tunnels skipping South Yarra. Baffling.
With the Budget announcement yesterday, this all changes. The new proposal is to have a 7.5 kilometre tunnel running from South Yarra (in this case with connection to existing lines with new underground platforms) to Domain and then the tunnel continues westward to the eastern extremity of what we know as Fishermans Bend: Montague. From Fishermans Bend the tunnel will head north, under the Yarra, to two new underground platforms at Southern Cross.
In conjunction with the Budget Announcement, PTV released a video outlining the operational changes.
The video provides a great deal more insight into how the operation of the new system will work than what we have seen of previous iterations. In the original vision and second iteration of the Melbourne Metro project it was always the Pakenham/Cranbourne lines which would run through the new tunnel.
The new regime sees the Frankston line be through-routed to the Belgrave/Lilydale/Alamein lines and Pakenham/Cranbourne lines will through-route to Sunbury via existing track through Richmond and Flinders Street.