In a series of media releases, Spring Street has announced it has dumped the previous Coalition government's Dandenong corridor project - which was originally pitched to them by a private consortium - and have announced their own.
Much noise was made about the PPP/Napthine scheme only removing four level crossings between Caulfield and Dandenong as well as a smaller number of trains that were to be ordered to run services on this major route. In one of the media releases, the following table was provided as a comparison between the Napthine/PPP scheme and the Andrews Government vision.
According to one media release, expressions of interest are to be called for the grade separations within months and the Premier has preemptively apologised for the shut down of the entire corridor in the name of progress while individual project areas are worked on.
Fair enough Premier, however could we have more detail please?
Given the relative "out of the blue" nature of the project announcement with not much detail beyond the points listed in the image above, here's a wish list of changes Urban Melbourne would like to see happen either in conjunction (priority 1), in the medium term (priority 2) and in the long term (priority 3) with the Dandenong corridor upgrade.
Link the infrastructure investment with more intensive land uses adjacent to the rail corridor
This is a golden opportunity to provide more affordable housing in the middle ring suburbs and Spring Street should make inclusionary zoning as mooted by the Planning Minister (or any other policy targeted at increasing the diversity of urban housing stock) apply to all areas adjacent to newly re-built stations as well as throughout any existing or new structure plan in the corridor.
The Government should work with councils to update structure plans within station vicinities, or create new ones where none exist, in order to capture the benefit of the rail investment. The larger number of trains in the Andrews' Government proposal appears to be linked to increased frequencies of service and therefore the major nodes in the corridor scope: Caulfield, Oakleigh, Clayton, Springvale and Dandenong should see more intense and inclusive development made possible through the planning scheme.
Plan Melbourne has previously designated these areas as Activity Centres with Caulfield and Dandenong as National Employment Clusters, further reinforcing their importance within the wider network.
Dandenong should be a special case building on the existing revitalising central Dandenong principles. According to the Southern sub-region growth fact sheet as part of Plan Melbourne, it is predicted that the area will see another 400,000 to 480,000 people living, for the most part, within reach of a Dandenong corridor station by 2031.
Spring Street should take a leaf out of the New South Wales Government's book and further decentralise public sector organisations and further encourage more private sector investment and employment growth in Dandenong like Macquarie Street has with Parramatta.
Mass reconfiguration of the bus network to feed the upgraded rail line
A public transport network is a failure if users are still dependent on a private vehicle to access it. Public transport is a logical extension of walking and where distances are too great between the point of origin and the mass transit mode, other forms of public transport need to be either created or reconfigured to ensure there is no dependency on private vehicles.
Beyond Caulfield and Carnegie, the only other major mode of public transport other than the rail services is the bus network. While a few of the Smart Bus services operate and act as feeder services in the area already, every station - including along the Pakenham and Cranbourne segments - should see less focus on car parking and more on bus service expansion.
Rather than focus on the bells and whistles of a Smart Bus service, bus network/feeder policy should focus on these core principles: frequency, route directness and operating hour expansion. The end-game should be to correct the sheer waste of land at stations like Berwick which has hectares of parking that should be put to better use, especially in the scenario where VicTrack own the land.
At the very least keep one eye on corridor expansion and tell the public about it
No mention was made of expanding the track within the existing corridor however the track and station design should take into account that the corridor will be expanded in future. The logical next step would be to quadruplicate the track between Caulfield and Dandenong thus enabling two tiers of service - stopping-all-stations and express - to operate independently over the longer term.
The future track layout around Oakleigh and Clayton stations should cater for four tracks and four platforms, all other stations should cater for four tracks with only two platforms.
The fastest services on the Sydney Trains network between Sydney's Central station and Parramatta is 27 minutes. This is achieved through extensive and frequent express services which for the most part run on track which is rated for speeds in the vicinity of 80kph.
A direct Flinders Street service from Dandenong according to the current timetable is 41 minutes.
The City-Dandenong corridor (29km as measured from Flinders Street to South Yarra along the projected alignment of the Melbourne Metro Tunnel project; South Yarra to Dandenong station along the existing corridor) is 6km longer than the Sydney-Parramatta corridor (23km measured from Central station along the existing Main Western Line to Parramatta).
Given the advantage of a straighter alignment thus enabling higher speeds with express services, should track be quadruplicated - perhaps as part of a second stage of the Melbourne Metro Tunnel project - it is within the realms of possibility that a similar CBD to CBD trip, time-wise, could be undertaken in Melbourne. This should have the effect of improving Dandenong's profile as a employment and growth centre for people living 'up' the line toward the city, not just for those who live beyond Dandenong and commute to the city at present.
At the very least this should be the ultimate plan: creating another fast, frequent transport spine that caters for short and longer trips right through South Eastern Melbourne in both directions, not just for the current peak-time commuters.
Lead image credit: recently grade separated Springvale Station, via Wikipedia.