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Victorian Government unveils Suburban Rail Loop election proposal

Victorian Government unveils Suburban Rail Loop election proposal

The Premier last night, through his facebook page, gave a media alert of sorts for a big announcement to happen at 7am this morning and sure enough it was right.

For so long orbital connections in Melbourne have been all about freeways - take the North East Link, it's the final piece of our primary rail network - and now the ALP Government is taking an orbital rail network to the November state election.

All rail lines, except Alamein & Sandringham, will have a connection to the new underground line and all middle and National Employment and Innovation Clusters will be linked.  The only clusters not directly serviced by this line would be Parkville, Fishermans Bend and Dandenong South.

The Government asserts 400,000 passengers will use the line every day and over 20,000 jobs will be created during what one can only presume will be a very long construction phase.

And the pricetag? A cool $50 billion.

At a press conference held subsequently after we first published the Premier and Public Transport Minister outlined other project parameters:

  • The project will be built in phases with the first to be the Cheltenham to Box Hill section.  The Premier also mentioned that the North West section (between the Airport and Sunshine) is already underway in the form of the Melbourne Airport Rail Link.
  • The Premier said the Cheltenham to Melbourne Airport section will be entirely underground, that's over a whopping 50 kilometres.
  • If the Andrews Government has been re-elected, the detailed planning and geotech work will begin early next year as part of the $300 million to be allocated toward planning.
  • The Premier also said the project, championed by Jacinta Allan, has seen internal department work on the concept for over 12 months.

Comment & analysis

Given the volume of money to be set aside for planning - $300 million - the project appears to have progressed far beyond just a concept internally.  That is the kind of money you'd expect to be spent for a major project such as this to progress to construction.

Other media are reporting 12 stations as stated in video published by the Premier at 7am this morning however any Melburnian will know there are huge areas - especially in the west - that if 12 stations was the total would go unserved.  One suspects more stations will be announced should the government be re-elected and the planning work kicks off in earnest (that's what business cases are for).

Likewise, there's a big question on the type of trains to be used.  At 400,000 passengers per day once complete as the government has claimed - which would make it the most heavily patronised rail lines in the city if not the country - the trains will presumably be 'heavy' but will the project be built to the same rail specifications as the rest of the network or will this be a chance to do what the NSW government has done and introduce a new operationally independent rail service utilising driverless trains?

$50 billion is eye-watering and paying for it will be interesting - less so if construction of the entire line is phase and scheduled to be complete over a longer period of time - however we need only look at the work Infrastructure Victoria is and has been doing on value capture.

The Monash NEIC, Deakin University in Burwood, Box Hill, La Trobe NEIC, Melbourne Airport, Sunshine NEIC and Werribee NEIC are all in the path of this new rail line and as we've reported on time and time again on Urban.com.au are all centres that are already seeing significant residential or commercial development.  Throw in other established job precincts at Heatherton between Cheltenham and Clayton, Glen Waverley itself, Broadmeadows and it's not hard to see how the line could get people out of cars and on to PT.

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Discussion (12 comments)

AussieRail's picture
My question for the government is why not tunnel for 5 more km and join up that Sandringham line too while they are at it.

If this project is built it will add a huge amount of redundancy to the network. Says for example there is a disruption somewhere on the network the punters can use a different line to finish their route. I hope it is built like the new Sydney metro with driverless trains.
Grampians's picture
why join up Sandy line...there will be next to none additional real density of development (ahem Brighton?!?!) ever along it. It skirts the bay with no room to create additional catchment through densification which would not happen any way. Frankly I would convert it into light rail as a local circulator from Gardenvale to Sandy, out to Southland (Frankston Line) up Warrigal Road to Centre Road (connect to Ormond Stn) and then up Nepean Hwy to complete the Gardenvale loop
RadSB's picture
I agree. I also wonder if they could extend the line beyond Werribee into parts of Werribee East employment zone (Education City if that is still on the cards..) and terminate in outer Point Cook where there seems to be a lot of government land for potential land capture. Fantastic announcement though and another great transport initiative from this government.
Peter H 's picture
A couple of things:
1. Construction phases should be simultaneous, not end to end, so the entire Southland to Airport section opens by 2030-2035.
2. The western section should avoid the proposed Sunshine to Airport line, it should service the newer suburbs including those that don't exist yet but are slated to 2060. As they open, stations should also open for residents on day one.
3. 30 years and $50 billion for a 50km tunnel plus about 15km after Sunshine (it's slated to use the then-existing Sunshine to Airport line). Compare to the Gotthard Base Tunnel: 17 years, AUD$13 billion completed 2016, & Switzerland isn't exactly an inexpensive country. And, as that was under a mountain, you could only bore from the ends. This could bore 2-3 sections simultaneously thus slashing the time. 2030 is doable if they tried.
4. Should be funded by the valuation uplifts, plus a special levy on the shopping centres who will be significantly better off and historically never contribute to their infrastructure. Southland, Box Hill, Doncaster, and the airport too - massive infrastructure but what do they contribute to Victoria's revenue in return?
5. Avoiding the Sunshine to Airport line will allow dedicated metro trains to run. Keep them off the rest of the network lines!
Grampians's picture
make the destination suburbs with either existing or proposed stations to upgrade and enhance their mandatory density targets very very significantly to really maximize this investment...no allowing councils to pander with continued low density to small segments of the CURRENT population. mandatory.
johnproctor's picture
Re: the funding commitment and delivery timing.

The two first delivery aspects are clearly the logical elements.
- Sunshine-Airport is already happening and has major funding commitments from the State and Federal Government.
- Monash also has $475 million in Federal funding commitment and $5 million from the state for a 'rail planning study'. $475m is a decent downpayment to start on stage 1 in the south-east.

I think Stage 1 might end up being smaller than proposed in the strategic assessment (Cheltenham to Box Hill). I could imagine something like Clayton-Monash University-Monash Employment Precinct-Brandon Park-Glen Waverley as a 5 station 10km line (comparable to Metro Tunnel scope but much simpler as fully greenfield, likely smaller stations/rolling stock etc) A reasonably manageable scope of work to develop, procure, build anchored by 2 train interchanges, a massive university, a massive hospital precinct, 2 large shopping centres, and tapping into broader Monash precinct employment.

One thing that annoys me is certain 'committments' already like "Fully underground". In the monash precinct there is a section of road reservation north of Wetsall Road to the M1. even just that sectoin could be 2km of elevated rail through 100% commercial zoned land. a good opportunity for savings (potentially 3km if the elevated rail run on the north side of Wellington Road reserve as far as 50m from houses on the south side up to Monash University Station).

From Clayton to Cheltenham is much more marginal. its about 8km as the crow flies and nothing of any value to put an intermediate station - in the short term. Over time that Moorabin industrial area on Cochranes and Keys Roads might convert to higher value uses and be an anchor for an intermediate station. 8km of tunnel just to get a Frankston Line link seems like a big ask early in the project. Again - though of that 8km there are sections that could be routed through Green Wedge land and/or industrial land an elevated reducing costs.

In the northerly direction connecting from Glen Waverley to Box Hill (via Deakin) would also double the length of 'stage 1' with an additional 9km for 2 additional destinations. In that case there would be much more limited opportunity for any elevated rail although I believe elevated down Springvale Road and Burwood Highway would be reasonable given 40-60m wide road reserves compared to 10-20m wide rail reserves for parts of SkyRail)

For further comparison the section from Bundoora-Heidleberg-Doncaster-Box Hill-Deakin seems a pretty reasonable set of destinations to link but is 17km long. So twice as long for same number of destinations and nothing of the order of Monash precinct (or Monash Hospital) to anchor the thing.

In my 'small stage 1' I've nominated 2 additional stations compared to that area from the strategic assessment. I think both are pretty reasonable with Brandon Park being a sizeable (but not massive) shopping centre and having some existing office development nearby and some light indstrial land ripe for redevelopment. There's as much highly developable land there as Glen Waverley (but its further behind at the moment)

I can't see too many other places on the whole rest of the alignment that has similar characteristics to Brandon Park that haven't been nominated as stations. Between Glen Waverley and Deakin there are some options on Burwood Highway but probably not to the same scale (Tally Ho business park, Kmart centre and the old brickworks development near RSPCA).

To the north west going to Bundoora (NEIC) as a destination limits other opportunities for in fill sites like Northland, Preston, Coburg. With the alignment pushed further north maybe going Resoivoir to Coburg North (Batman/Merlyston Station), then Pasoce Vale (for interchange only not development potential) then Essendon Fields and onto the airport would make more sense then Fawkner (surrounded by the dead not the living) and Broadmeadows.

anyway - theres a brain dump for you.
Grampians's picture
All good points JP.
What might be a set of alternatives could the longhaul lines running north south in the eastern suburbs roughly following the alignments of Burke Road, Warrigal Road, Springvale Road and Stud roads with a few wiggles and deviations to capture centers (eg Chadstone). (some of there could be elevated light rail (Stud Rd, Springvale Road and parts of Warrigal elevated.

The obvious point here is that there needs to be massive regeneration and development all along this and in the greater areas around the station nodes, not just what is or is not there now. This is the big catalyst to bring serious development to areas that have only had meagre or tepid development and densification thus far.
My route:
Southland (Frankston Line)
Heatherton/Kingston
Clayton (Dandy Line)
Monash
Glen Waverly (GW Line)
Deakin/Greater Burwood
Box Hill (line)
Doncaster
Heidelberg (Line)
LaTrobe Uni connection via tram
East Preston/W Heidelberg/Bell St
Preston (Line)
Coburg (Line)
Pasco Vale (Craigy Line)
Essendon/Airport/Fields
Tullamarine
St Albans (line)
Deer Park (Line)
Potential future station here
Williams Landing
existing alignment duplicated
Werribee
theboynoodle's picture
"One thing that annoys me is certain 'committments' already like "Fully underground". In the monash precinct there is a section of road reservation north of Wetsall Road to the M1. even just that sectoin could be 2km of elevated rail through 100% commercial zoned land. a good opportunity for savings (potentially 3km if the elevated rail run on the north side of Wellington Road reserve as far as 50m from houses on the south side up to Monash University Station)."

Genuine question, would it be cheaper to bring the line up above ground for that sort of length, only to send it back down again?

I took the underground plan to be partly to cut off the 'Skyrail' objections from the start, but mainly because the line will intersect with so many establish ground-level obstacles along the way, it's actually most cost effective to get below ground and stay there all the way.
johnproctor's picture
Its a good point. If you did my Clayton-Glen Waverley scenario with tunneling Clayton-Monash and "Brandon Park-Glen Waverley" then that creates 2 relatively short tunnel sections and a relatively short overland section.

It would still probably be cheaper to go above ground for the 2-3km but it would add in some construction complexities and be offset by making the tunneling at each end a bit less cost effective. (having set up a tunneling site each additional km of tunnel (assuming its TBM) is cheaper than the first as the sunk cost of a shaft and associated infrastructure is spread across more tunneling kilometres).

On the flip side if it was above ground for sections then it might change the tunneling method. You could cut and cover form Monash to Clayton Road along Wellington Road/North Road and then only need 800m of tunnel below properties which you would probably just mine rather than TBM which means you avoid a lot of sunk up front costs as you buy TBM's specific for the job where as you can rent mined tunneling equipment from job to job and they need a lot less supporting infrastructure than a TBM.

From Brandon Park - I had thought the VicRoads depot in the middle of the freeway interchange would be a pretty good spot to set up a TBM launch site. which would be for 3km of tunnelling north to Glen Waverley.

The road reserve I mentioned used to continue all the way up to Burwood Highway. about 1km west of Springvale Road. and would have been quite convenient to help the line get to Glen Waverley.

I was thinking more about my "don't build to Cheltenham" comment. Obviously that doesn't sit right politically given importance of the Frankston line so I would expect it to be connected in stage 1. On that basis I definitely think Southland makes more sense than Cheltenham. both as a destination but also because of the 13 bus routes that converge there rather than half a dozen at Cheltenham. I would then have a Warrigal Road station possibly near at the Kingston Centre hospital (its a pretty small hospital but maybe could grow). That Warrigal Road station would be a catalyst for urban renewal (whether that be residential or office commercial) of the light industrial precinct there. Walking distance to hte station could become denser and more mixed use, while the periphery could stay as more light industrial. Then onto Clayton.

As per comments above there is definitely some opportunity for elevated rail here through the industrial and green wedge areas. 2km Southland to Kingston Centre (tunnel), 3km Kingston Centre to Clarinda Road/Dingley Bypass (elevated/at grade), 3km Clarindo/Dingley to Clayton (tunnel).

One thing to be careful with about tunneling from Cheltenham to Clayton is sandy soils, sand quarries and landfills!
Michael Bell's picture
AUSSIERAIL - I also wondered why it didn't continue along the Bay Road alignment to Sandringham. There's several reasons why it could: provide network continuation for the current 'dead end' Sandringham line; increase counter-peak utilisation of the Sandy line; provide redundancy and an alternate passenger route when interruptions occur on the Sandy line; vastly improve east-west PT connectivity for the Sandy corridor; accelerate the high density residential and commercial developments that are happening at the Sandringham hub and along the Bay Road corridor.
DesMond's picture
Re. the reservation north of Westall Road, this is going to be taken up by the Westall Road extension through to the M1 - https://www.vicroads.vic.gov.au/planning-and-projects/melbourne-road-projects/westall-road-extension-princes-highway-east-to-monash-freeway
Nothing stopping rail being incorporated in that though
Alastair Taylor's picture
I whacked the stations and drew lines between them on a scalable map for context: https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/viewer?hl=en&mid=1JqtsS3n4Hurzi69zPIWU-Niq35IoaFTz&ll=-37.82490327386745%2C144.9891259039532&z=12

(No science behind the lines, just shortest point to point based on the stations (purple) the gov outlined, the two green stations are just suggestions from me - the western side is a messs because I think even the gov info is a mess - green line is most direct route I could think and the blue route is using the RRL / spare space for two more tracks to link Sunshine and Werribee).
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