Despite both the Federal Infrastructure Minister and Premier telling The Age they were both committed to waiting for the outcome of the various studies business cases into new public transport links that were commited to as part of the budgetary process, the sniping and one-upmanship of both state and federal governments does not look like it'll end all that soon.
In the Federal Budget, $475 million was allocated in the forward estimates for a 'Monash Rail' project which has no link to any 'real' project other than the Rowville Rail concept which was studied under the previous state Liberal government.
Back in 2012 when the Napthine Government released the heavy rail network development plan, Melburnians got a glimpse into what the rail planners in the state government were thinking long-term for the city.
Since then many different rail projects have kicked off - mostly 2014 election promises by the Andrews Government - but there's been no effort to provide an updated bigger picture for public consumption by the current state government.
That said, the Federal Government appears to be referencing the 2012 era plan with its surprise allocation of funds for what appears to be a first phase of the Rowville Rail concept.
$475 million won't build 10+ kilometres of double track, 5-6 stations, a flying junction to connect to the Dandenong corridor or procure the vehicles to operate services.
In fact, for such a small amount, it's incredibly hard to see that amount of money building nothing more than an on-the-cheap flat rail junction at Huntingdale, maybe some elevated track down North Road with a station at Monash University. If the state government were to match the amount, that might pay for a proper flying junction, a few new train sets and pay for the operations of the stub for a few years.
The biggest question mark hanging over this announceable from the Federal Government is how operations will work. Where will these trains eventually run to? Through the new metro tunnel? Shuttle back and forth to Huntingdale, Oakleigh or Caulfield with some more track and platform investment?
For a while now there's been murmurings about the possible lack of capacity on the pair of tracks that will operate services from Pakenham and Cranbourne to Sunbury and Melton through the metro tunnel. The 2012-era plans show both an Airport and Rowville branch hanging off this track pair as well. And don't forget Gippsland V/Line services!
The 2012-era plans were created before the upswing in population growth in Melbourne and this is why it is in the public interest for an updated plan to be published, one which takes into account the high population growth scenario we're all living in.
It's a cruel (stupid?) reality of our Federation that we have overlapping departments which will have different ideas about transport infrastructure priorities and this cruelty/stupidity extends to Federal politicians who are able to advocate for things which would clearly need to clear a swathe of hurdles that only the local state bureaucracy is going to be able to achieve.
In the state budget, $3 million was allocated to complete a business case for Spring Street's preferred light rail route from Caulfield to Monash and eventually to Rowville which presumably, taking into account recent reports, will also look at other rail solutions as well.
One of the main criticisms of the Rowville rail study from the Ballieu/Napthine era was its scope - it explicitly ruled out identifying other alignments such as joining the Alamein line to Oakleigh with a tunnel via Chadstone then branch out to Rowville along the North/Wellington Road corridor. It follows that capacity constraints on the Pakenham/Cranbourne tracks are avoided as the line would be an extension of a branch which uses different track closer to the city.
We know that from the 2012-era plans the Alamein and Glen Waverley lines were envisaged to join up with western suburbs lines to create another east-west route through the city. And given the Airport line is likely not going to be another branch of the Melbourne Metro and the Pakenham/Cranbourne to Melton/Sunbury line & pair of tracks, adding a stub to Monash (and eventually Rowville) will create an imbalance.
So should the scope of the business case & study that is looking at the costs and benefits of extending the Alamein line to Monash via Chadstone and Oakleigh/Huntingdale expand? Well - if the Federal Government are dead keen on heavy rail, then yes.
Lead image credit: Marcus Wong.