Welcome news on high capacity signalling, but must be fast-tracked
Public Transport Victoria’s new Rail Network Development Plan risks joining previous attempts and gathering dust on a shelf, due to its reliance on expensive, unfunded and premature tunnels, the Public Transport Users Association said today.
“This plan has all the right individual elements in it,” said PTUA President Tony Morton. “The fatal flaw is that they’re all out of sequence. It takes the element with the highest cost and the least benefit – the Melbourne Metro tunnel – and puts it at the top of the list before virtually anything else is allowed to be done. With this one gesture, PTV and the government have doomed this plan to failure before it even gets off the ground.”
The plan divides its proposed initiatives into four sequential stages. Many Stage 1 initiatives are existing commitments. The Metro tunnel heads up Stage 2. Long-awaited rail extensions to Rowville, Doncaster, Melbourne Airport and Mernda are postponed to Stages 3 and 4, with a 15 to 20 year timeline.
“The people of the suburbs aren’t interested in a 20 year wish list,” Dr Morton said. “What they want and need is an achievable plan that allows network extensions to proceed as quickly and as cost-effectively as possible.”
Dr Morton pointed to the capacity-building potential of other elements in the plan – such as high-capacity signalling, track duplication and new high-capacity trains – many of which have been postponed to later stages after the Metro tunnel. “High-capacity signalling should actually be the number one priority,” he said. “Dozens of other cities already have it installed. If we did it here it could boost the capacity of every train line by at least 50 per cent. And it’s not even that costly: the entire Metro network should be doable for around one-fifth the cost of the Metro tunnel. Then you have a capacity fix for all lines, not just Sunbury and Dandenong.”
For the Metro plan to succeed, Dr Morton said, it was primarily a matter of rearranging its priorities. “First thing is to get a trial of high-capacity signalling in the May budget. Then it needs to be rolled out on the network as soon as practicable – not just on Sandringham and Clifton Hill as planned, but also on Dandenong and the inner core. Keep rolling out grade separations at the same time. That gets rid of the obstacles to proceeding with extensions to Doncaster, Rowville and the airport: and within a five-year timeframe, not in our grandchildren’s time.”
Dr Morton said many of the other small near-term measures in the plan – such as expansion of 10-minute frequencies every day onto more lines – would bring huge benefits to passengers at relatively little cost, and ought to be funded as a priority by the government.
He also said that while PTUA had criticisms, PTV’s openness in sharing its planning framework with the public should be encouraged. “It’s actually quite a breakthrough that thanks to the establishment of PTV we now have these plans out in the open,” said Dr Morton. “So everyone can see what the planners are thinking and we can have a public conversation about it. But PTV also has to be prepared to let the community guide their thinking, and not just foist a costly capital-works agenda on the people of Victoria.”