Two tiers of service on the Frankston is a nice to have, not a necessity

Comment

Elections are fun, the posturing in the lead up to them is not, especially when another level of government gets involved.

For those from outside Victoria, the Frankston railway line on Melbourne's metropolitan rail network runs through a series of marginal seats in the Victorian Parliament and at the end of the line, the Federal seat of Dunkley is one of the Commonwealth Government's most marginal seats.

In an era when federal government population policies are keeping the immigration taps open and Melbourne is attracting a big percentage of them, there are pressures right across the metropolitan area with vacancy rates in the vast swathes of new apartments that have been completed in the past 12-24 months are down and the large numbers of people moving to the fringe as well.

In short, the fringe areas which are seeing the growth are in Melbourne's south-east (beyond Dandenong), Melbourne's north (beyond Craigieburn and Epping) and Melbourne's west and south-west (between Werribee and Deer Park). The Frankston line, and for the most part all the marginal state parliament seats, are hemmed in by green wedges inland to the east and Port Phillip Bay to the west.

The only way suburbs dotted along the Frankston railway line will help shoulder the burden of Melbourne's increasing population is through brownfields development - utilising general and residential growth zones as well as any mixed-use commercial zones in existing areas to increase dwelling, and therefore population, density.

The thing is, the bayside corridor - in political terms often referred to as the 'Sandbelt' - hasn't got all that much in the development pipeline compared to the eastern corridor along the Belgrave and Lilydale lines (this rail corridor is in the same corridor as Frankston: no more greenfields) nor the west in general.

The last Victorian election saw the area swing to the ALP and help deliver the current state government and naturally it'll be a battlefield once again because the margins are still small.

Frankston is quite a long distance from the CBD and there are plans, at least from 2013, to extend the electrification of the Frankston line to Baxter, inland, and south-east of Frankston. But much like the slither of developed land between the bay and the south-east green wedge, there's not a lot of scope for Baxter to shoulder the same burden that other regions of Melbourne's metropolitan are destined to do.

Station Street in Carrum will be grade separated - image: Level Crossing Removal Authority

It was with dismay that I read in The Age a few days ago that there appears to be some backroom argy-bargy going on in relation to extending the Frankston line's three tracks southwards from Moorabbin in order to extend express services further down the bay.

Aside from the fact this region of Melbourne is not poised to do as much heavy lifting in terms of housing and employment for Melbourne's increasing population (with the except of the Moorabbin-Bentleigh area), putting political weight behind extending a third track is bygone era thinking.

The Frankston line from Moorabbin to Caulfield and the Belgrave/Lilydale lines from Box Hill to Burnley have triplicate - three - track sections which allow for the peak flow of faster trains to overtake stopping all stations.

Three tracks was fashionable in Melbourne up until the 1980s, with prominent examples on the Ringwood and Frankston lines. Expresses can overtake slower trains in one direction only.

The catch is that since the 1990s, the amount of inner-city stabling has been reduced markedly, so all those trains need somewhere to go between peak hour runs.

This is problematic with three tracks — in the morning the single outbound track gets congested; this can result in delays and clogged level crossings, and may be problematic when aiming to connect outer suburban centres like Dandenong and Ringwood with express trains (in both directions) from the inner city.

Daniel Bowen - How many tracks?

As Daniel Bowen points out, express services on three tracks need to have trains stored at the end of the run - and the inner-city does not have that capacity anymore. 

I can understand a state or federal MP hearing his or her community's concerns about commuting times but in the wider metropolitan context, express services to the city - and doing it in a substandard way - is a luxury, especially as the region we're talking about will not be under the same pressure to shoulder the burden of population growth.

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