Road and rail tunnels not needed

The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has reacted with intense skepticism to the tunnel projects recommended by the East-West Link Needs Assessment (EWLNA).

The EWLNA, headed by Sir Rod Eddington, recommended an 18km cross city road tunnel, connecting the Eastern Freeway at Clifton Hill with the western suburbs, and a 17km underground rail tunnel, running from Footscray via the CBD to Caulfield.

PTUA president Daniel Bowen said it was far from clear that such projects were warranted. “We know from earlier studies that there is little car traffic along this route; the vast majority of car and truck traffic is headed for the inner-city, so it makes no sense to spend billions of dollars for a tunnel. It just seems like another 1960s-style predict-and-provide exercise from the road lobby.”

“Likewise, the rail plans for the existing City Loop envisaged 50% more trains running through the city area than we have now, so it is unclear why we need to spend billions more on a rail tunnel when the infrastructure we have is not being used effectively.” [1]

The PTUA has previously called for a thorough independent review of train operations, upgrades to signalling, and duplication of single track bottlenecks such as at Altona and Cranbourne, to ensure the rail system was running efficiently. [2]

Mr Bowen said that spending billions on a rail tunnel would effectively preclude extending the rail network into suburbs currently out of reach of trains. “If we put all our eggs in one basket, it means suburbs that are crying out for rail access — such as Doncaster, Rowville, South Morang and Mernda will continue to be neglected. There won’t be enough dollars to go round.”

The EWLNA considers funding options for the projects, and suggests fare levies, but Mr Bowen said the public would not stand for them. “Melburnians already have the highest public transport fares in the country, and among the highest in the world.[3] Well thought-out projects largely fund themselves from the new passenger revenue. It’s only white elephants like this that seem to demand a levy.”

“Equally, a Sydney Airport-style surcharge on fares to and from the new stations would fail, by making it too expensive to use the line.”

Another recommendation is a new rail line from Werribee to Sunshine via Tarneit. Mr Bowen said the benefits of this weren’t clear. “At present the area is a green wedge, so it only makes sense at all if the government is set on developing land here, rather than say in the Rockbank-Melton corridor where there’s a train line ready and waiting. It’s also not clear what train services will be provided, or why it should be built while rail options to Melton and other western suburbs will continue to fall short.”

Mr Bowen said a number of smaller projects proposed by the EWLNA were worthwhile. “Electrifying trains to Sunbury would bring more frequent services, and more efficient operation on that line. Better bike connections will improve cycling conditions in the inner-city. Better implementation and enforcement of bus and tram priority is critical to improve travel speeds. And we share Sir Rod’s apparent disappointment at the poor progress towards getting more freight off the roads onto rail.”

Mr Bowen said the PTUA agreed with Sir Rod’s position that “doing nothing is not an option”. But he said that using the current ample infrastructure more effectively, and extending it where necessary, was the best option.

“Of course we will look in detail at the report findings, but on the face of it, spending billions on road and rail tunnels makes little sense”, Mr Bowen concluded.


[1] The 1969 Metropolitan Transport Plan envisaged at least 52 trains per hour through Caulfield (there are currently 22 between 8am and 9am) and 25 trains per hour through Footscray (currently 14). Figures do not include regional trains.

[2] PTUA’s Getting Melbourne’s Rail System On Track, 2007.

[3] PTUA fares comparison study, 2007.

Contact the PTUA