Three cheers for $3 billion on Melbourne rail – but be flexible and take advice
Uncertainty still shrouds Melbourne’s transport future, says user group
The Public Transport User Association has backed a $3 billion commitment in the Federal budget to the Melbourne Metro rail project. But with another $6 billion needed from the State Government and the private sector, concerns abound still about the likelihood of the project proceeding, including among public transport advocates.
“The Victorian Coalition Government, defying everything it said before the 2010 election, is intent on putting roads ahead of rail,” said PTUA President Tony Morton. “It wants to spend $6 to $8 billion rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic, shifting traffic bottlenecks from one place to another in Melbourne’s inner north and throwing public money at yet another non-solution. The Gillard Government is to be commended for basing transport funding decisions on merit, and some semblance of independent assessment via Infrastructure Australia.”
“We can see this as Canberra urging the State Government to keep its promise to the Victorian people at the last election, to fix the problems with public transport,” Dr Morton said.
Dr Morton expressed disappointment at the political deadlock surrounding Victoria’s transport infrastructure. “This should never have become a politically partisan issue,” he said. “Elsewhere in the world you have multimodal transport agencies, like Translink in Vancouver, that are responsible for both roads and public transport and weigh up projects on their merits. You don’t have one mob ruling something out before there’s even a chance to consider benefits and costs. So these agencies are building the rail lines we somehow never manage to do, and are building roads as well, though these days we almost never see a road being built through the middle of a major city.”
Dr Morton suggested one way to resolve the deadlock was by reprioritising rail projects. “The PTUA has always said the Metro rail tunnel is not a panacea for our crowded and unreliable rail system,” he said. “It remains a sound project for a 10 to 15 year timeframe. But if money is not forthcoming from the private sector, there is still $3 billion here that can do an awful lot to boost capacity and get trains moving right across the network, without being dependent on the Metro tunnel.”
The PTUA’s alternative plan for public transport improvements over the next five years includes an accelerated rollout of high-capacity signalling, further level crossing eliminations, and the commencement of work on rail extensions to Doncaster, Rowville, Melbourne Airport and Mernda, supported by feeder bus networks. The entire five-year package could be funded with the $3 billion of Federal money now set aside. 
“We’re very pleased that the Federal Government has chosen its funding priorities in accordance with the wishes of the Victorian people and has resisted being bullied by the road lobby,” Dr Morton concluded. “Whether this allows the Metro tunnel to proceed, or goes toward an alternative package of measures to fix public transport, it is a big win for Victorian communities and for transport choice.”
 An alternative five-year package of public transport improvements in Melbourne could include the following:
- $800 million to roll out high-capacity signalling (moving-block in-cab signals) across the Metro network. This would provide an estimated 50% capacity boost to most existing train lines, and by renewing signal infrastructure would remove a major source of operational failures. On some lines the capacity boost is greater than would be achieved with the Metro tunnel. Costing is based on a similar project under way in London, rescaled for Melbourne’s track and fleet size and including a 20% contingency allowance. A pilot of high-capacity signalling on the Sandringham line was funded in the recent Victorian budget.
- $700 million to eliminate an additional 10 level crossings, including in St Albans, Glenroy, Reservoir, Clayton, Noble Park and Kooyong. This eliminates a major source of everyday frustration for motorists and removes a barrier to increased train services.
- $150 million for a 5km rail extension from South Morang to Mernda and expansion of local bus services in the Mernda – Yan Yean growth corridor.
- $400 million for the Doncaster Rail first stage extension from Victoria Park to Bulleen, with bus interchanges at Burke Rd and Bulleen Rd and a tram extension along Burke Rd from Deepdene to the Eastern Freeway.
- $200 million for a branch line from Broadmeadows station to Melbourne Airport via the flight path reservation, with limited express trains to Southern Cross using extra capacity on the Craigieburn line made possible with high-capacity signalling. (In the longer term PTUA supports a dedicated express service via Albion.)
- $600 million for the Rowville rail extension, subject to further planning work with international expert assistance to test assumptions and develop outcomes from the State Government’s feasibility study.
- $50 million toward duplicating single-track rail sections on the Altona, Cranbourne and Upfield lines, to improve reliability and allow operation of higher-frequency services.
- $50 million toward short tram extensions to improve connections with railway stations, such as Route 6 to Glen Iris and Route 3 to East Malvern.
- $50 million on additional Smartbus services in the suburbs.