Melbourne Metro Rail: what does it mean for developers and apartment buyers?

Analysis and comment

Blink and you might have missed it. The $10.9 billion Melbourne Metro Rail project whose business case was finally released yesterday appears to back up some of the rhetoric originating on Spring Street.

Soundbites like 'the biggest overhaul of our public transport system since the construction of the City Loop' as the Premier has been saying on his facebook page appear to have merit now that we have a clearer picture of what exactly the Melbourne Metro project is going to do.

Here's why.

If you've only just caught a commercial TV news report about Melbourne Metro you can be forgiven for thinking it's simply about building a tunnel across the city. Back when Spring Street announced the tunnel and 5 station component of the project would be financed through an availability PPP model, we gleaned a little more insight into how the entire project would be packaged.

Present in that original announcement was a 'Wider Network Enhancements' package and at the time it wasn't clear what exactly it was going to entail. With the release of the business case for the entire project, now we do.

In short the Melbourne Metro Rail project has extra rail infrastructure investment in areas that are not directly related to the tunnel project. It's about capitalising on the capacity created by the construction of the new tunnel and increasing services to more rail lines other than the Pakenham and Cranbourne lines which are collectively known as the Dandenong corridor and the Sunbury Line.

Those who seek an urban, rather than suburban, lifestyle are attracted amenities and services right at their fingertips with pedestrian & cycling infrastructure as well as public transport services the key ingredients to making higher-densities more attractive.

Multiple tiers of service

In public transport parlance 'multiple tiers of service' generally refers to rail services operating in express and stopping-all-stations service patterns on the same rail corridor.

That, to an extent, will occur on some parts of the network after the Melbourne Metro project is operating (as it does now), however thanks to the wider network enhancements package in the larger Melbourne Metro Rail project, key stations at mid-points along existing lines will have the hard infrastructure that will enable 'short-run' trains to run, therefore enabling greater capacity to run where it's needed.

Essendon, Cheltenham-Moorabbin, Middle Brighton, West Footscray, Gowrie (Fawkner), Westall, South Yarra and Dandenong are the locations where this new infrastructure will be built (or no doubt upgraded in the case where the basic facilities already exist).

The key constraint to having such long train lines like we do in Melbourne is that trains fill up in the outer suburbs and as trains get closer to the city there's severe overcrowding in our more densely populated areas which in turn diminishes the attractiveness of the services that currently operate.

The Public Transport Victoria proposed service plan in the appendix section of the project's website shows that from day one of operations of the Melbourne Metro Rail tunnel there will be service increases from the outer suburbs but also the Craigieburn, Upfield, Werribee, Williamstown, Frankston and Sandringham lines are going to see an across the board service boost from stations at mid-points over and above the service increases from line terminus.

To give you an example, the Werribee line currently has 7 trains an hour in the morning peak and the proposed service plan shows an impressive 13 trains per hour (a train roughly every 5 minutes), almost doubling the current level of service. Similar to the Werribee Line, the new rail infrstructure at Gowrie on the present Upfield Line will allow the frequency of service between Gowrie and the city to double from a train every 20 minutes to a train every 10 minutes.

The proposed service plan from the Melbourne Metro Rail business case appendix 4

The new development hotspots? Line by line

Many of the suburbs below are already seeing a lot of new development activity with many buyers finding favour in the smaller developments located out of the inner-city. The link between public transport and high-density development is well known and understood so here's a comparison of the existing service levels on the current network with how many services are proposed to operate in new corridors.

The Dandenong corridor and Sunbury lines

The suburbs/precincts which will see the most trains in peak or off peak all lie between West Footscray in the west and Westall in the south east: Clayton, Huntingdale, Oakleigh, Hughesdale, Murrumbeena, Carnegie, Caulfield, St Kilda Road (Domain), Parkville, Arden-Macaulay/North Melbourne, Footscray and West Footscray. According to the proposed service plan on day one of operations there will be 18-20 trains per hour (a train every 3 to 3.5 minutes); there are currently 15 trains per hour running from Westall to the city in the 7am-8am peak period.

The off peak frequencies proposed on day one of operations are the same on the Dandenong segment - a train every 10 minutes - and this service level will be the same up to West Footscray on the western side of the line.

The Werribee, Williamstown and Altona Loop lines

As mentioned earlier, the Werribee line is a big beneficiary of the wider network enhancements with a proposed service level of 13 trains per hour (roughly a train every 5 minutes) compared to the current service level of 7 trains in the morning peak yet it is from Laverton and Newport that will see the greatest frequency increases.

At Laverton there will be 17 trains per hour (13 of them are the aforementioned Werribee services and 4 of them will run via Altona and rejoin the line at Newport). In off-peak there will be a train every 10 minutes from Laverton (3 will go straight to Newport, 3 will go via Altona).

At Newport where the Werribee, Williamstown and Laverton via Altona lines all merge there will be 20 trains per hour (a train every 3 minutes) affording the highest levels of service to Newport, Yarraville, Spotswood, Seddon, Footscray, South Kensington and North Melbourne. There are currently 12 trains an hour running through Newport in the 7am-8am morning peak. In off-peak there 9 trains an hour (a train every 6-7 minutes) proposed to run from Newport toward the city.

The Sandringham line

Services on the Sandringham Line are to be through-routed to the Werribee lines (like Pakenham/Cranbourne/Dandenong/Westall services will be through-routed to West Footscray/Watergardens and Sunbury through the new tunnel) and the new infrastructure in Middle Brighton will increase services to Bayside markedly. There are currently 8 trains an hour in the morning peak between 7am and 8am from Sandringham to the city and according to the proposed service plan there will 12 trains an hour (a train every 5 minutes) from Middle Brighton (9 originating in Sandringham, 3 at Middle Brighton) toward the city. In off-peak there are currently 4 trains an hour from Sandringham and the city and on day one of Melbourne Metro operations this will be increased to 6 trains an hour (a train every 10 minutes).

Similarly, the proposed service plan notes that South Yarra station will also be a short-stop station on the Sandringham line and in peak on top of the 12 trains per hour originating at Sandringham and Middle Brighton, an extra 4 trains per hour will begin at South Yarra and head toward the city and out to the Werribee lines. In off-peak an extra 3 trains per hour on top of the 6 from Brighton Beach & Sandringham will begin at South Yarra and head toward the city and out to the west.

Brighton, Gardenvale, Elsternwick, St Kilda East/Balaclava, Windsor, Prahran, South Yarra and Richmond will benefit the most with the increase supply of Public Transport services.

The Frankston line

The wider network enhancements section of the Melboune Metro business case name the Cheltenham-Moorabbin area as the likely candidate to receive new rail infrastructure to enable increased services where they are needed. Much like the Werribee Line, the Frankston Line sees a mixture of stopping-all-stations and express services and given the level crossing removal program in the Caulfield-Moorabbin area is making provision for the third track, it would be safe to assume that this service pattern may be maintained upon the commencement of operations of the Melbourne Metro.

The Frankston line benefits greatly by the removal of the Pakenham/Cranbourne/Dandenong/Westall services out of the city loop and into the Melbourne Metro tunnel and the proposed service plan reflects that.

In saying that, the raw numbers in the proposed service plan point to across the board frequency increases. There are at present 'roughly' 12 trains an hour on the Frankston line (only 7 originate in Frankston, the rest orginate at Carrum or Moordialloc) and in the proposed service plan 10 trains per hour will originate in Frankston, 4 trains will begin their city-bound journey at Carrum and the proposed service plan states that 3 trains an hour in peak will begin at either Moordialloc or Cheltenham. That's an extra 5 services an hour over the current timetable.

Key stations like Moorabbin and Cheltenham will feel the full impact of the new services in the middle ring of suburbs. Cheltenham, Highett, Moorabbin, [Patterson], Bentleigh, [McKinnon], Ormond, Glen Huntly, Caulfield, Malvern, Armadale, Toorak, [Hawksburn], South Yarra and Richmond are the suburbs set to benefit the most from the new services across the board.

The Craigieburn line

Like Frankston, the Craigieburn (and Upfield) line is a beneficiary of moving services out of the city loop and on to the new Melbourne Metro tunnel. For the Craigieburn, the business case nominates Essendon as the station which will see new rail infrastructure to enable short-run services.

At present there are 10 trains per hour through Broadmeadows between the 7am and 8am morning peak (8 of them originate at Craigieburn) and the proposed service plan states there will be 10 trains an hour originating in Craigieburn, 2 trains an hour at Broadmeadows and 4 trains an hour at Essendon. In off-peak there will be also be service increases from day one, from the 4 trains per hour at present to 6 trains an hour (a train every 10 minutes).

The suburbs set to benefit the most from the new services are Essendon, Moonee Ponds, Ascot Vale, Newmarket, Flemington, Kensington and North Melbourne.

The Upfield line

Tram service-rich Brunswick and Coburg is set to get a decent heavy rail boost as well. As we've highlighted on Urban Melbourne before, Brunswick is emerging as a development hotspot already and the proposed increase in services is very much welcome to cater for all the growth.

Upfield is the ugly duckling of Melbourne's rail network, it only manages a train every 20 minutes in peak and off-peak and the new infrastructure at Gowrie and the removal of Sunbury line services from the city loop will enable frequencies to increase on day one of the Melbourne Metro operations.

[Gowrie], Hadfield, Fawkner, [Merlynston], Coburg North, [Batman], Coburg, [Moreland], [Anstey], Brunswick, [Jewell], [Royal Park], Travancore, [Flemington Bridge], Flemington and Arden-Macaulay/North Melbourne will all benefit from increased Upfield services.

A few final thoughts

The proposed service plan emphasises that the services I've summarised above are simply just what the case will be on "day one" of operations. The real transformative effect of this project is that it's going to decouple some of Melbourne's rail lines so they can operate independently (or in the case of Craigieburn and Upfield more efficiently) and therefore capacity can better be managed.

The Melbourne Metro Rail project is scheduled to be complete 10 years from now and a lot could change in that time however I wouldn't be surprised if the proposed service plans are revised upwards rather than downwards, i.e even more services begin running from day one, especially the off-peak timetables.

Service, and how frequently it runs, is one of the most important aspects of any Public Transport system and for people who wish to pursue an urban lifestyle this project will have a profound impact on Melbourne in various quarters of the city.

Thanks to the work started under the planning stewardship of Matthew Guy - the new residential zones - and now the current government pursuing the Melbourne Metro Rail project and Level Crossing Removal programme, key ingredients for increasing densities in focused areas located away from the high land prices of the inner-city are falling in to place.

Lead image credit: Melbourne Metro Rail business case.

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