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Turning the East West Road Link into a rail link

The words East West Link are now synonymous with the lacklustre freeway project whose first stage was set to connect the Eastern Freeway with the Tullamarine Freeway. It took a state election and new government on Spring Street to expose the project as one propped up by shaky economic benefits.

The new State Government has cancelled the contracts for the East West Road Link and conducted a blitzkrieg of announcements relating to public transport and its flagship level-crossing removal program. The East West Road Link in its previous form may be dead, but it certainly won't be buried if the road and freight lobbyists decide to ark up once more.

Likewise in the planning sphere Spring Street is entering into a new round of community consultation on Fishermans Bend - the new Government has even expanded the area to include all the land which lies to the north of the West Gate Freeway.

By itself Fishermans Bend Urban Renewal Area is going to dominate the urban development scene Australia for decades to come. Throw in E-Gate, Arden-Macaulay (which is sure to be back on the radar now thanks to the Melbourne Metro Rail project) and former industrial areas in South Kensington and the picture becomes a lot clearer - both Labor and Liberal parties and their respective planning policies and flagship projects have consistently shown a preference for ongoing redevelopment of central Melbourne and the pipeline is now completely mind-boggling.

As I wrote last month, the Fishermans Bend review should not just focus on previously aired concerns about building heights and community facilities, but it should focus heavily on how people will access the precinct; not just from a CBD-centric point of view but from the West as well.

Doncaster and Fishermans Bend: two birds with one stone?

Despite the East West Road Link project being dead, the amount of traffic on the road which spews into the inner-north is anything but dead.

The end concept for Doncaster which came about as a result of Ballieu/Napthine Government's Doncaster Rail study was to have a branch line built off the Clifton Hill line which would run down the median of the Eastern Freeway and have it stop short at the Doncaster Park and Ride, not the centre of Doncaster on top of the hill.

The major caveat, as a result from the study, was that a new tunnel would need to be built from Clifton Hill to Southern Cross and eventually Fishermans bend in order to divert one of the existing rail lines which run in the Clifton Hill corridor so a paltry 7 trains an hour could run on the future Doncaster Line.

Most interestingly the report said that only 2% of the project patronage on the line would come from people who are currently travelling by private vehicle.

It's this area I'm most interested in because the preferred alignment from the study stopped short of the major Doncaster activities centre and likewise didn't serve any new areas in the inner north, the area in which the original East West Link Needs Assessment (EWLNA) study said much of the Eastern Freeway's traffic is destined for.

Destinations of traffic beyond leaving the end of the Eastern Freeway, EWLNA Report

As discussed last week, expanding our rail network to a specification that allows any existing rolling stock to run on new lines is an incredibly expensive job and we are shooting ourselves in the foot by not looking for cheaper alternatives which can effectively do the same job and better.

The East West Rail Link

Expanding on the Fishermans Bend piece from last month, I've created a new map to illustrate the broad idea of a complete cross-town East West Rail Link utilising infrastructure features that are more favourable when using a vendor's light metro platform.

From West to East, the same principles in Fishermans Bend apply: The Altona and Williamstown branches would be converted and starting at Newport station a new elevated line would lead onto a new Lower Yarra bridge and run on an elevated alignment adjacent to the West Gate Freeway up until Ingles Street in Fishermans Bend. After Ingles Street I've drawn three different tunnel alignments:

  • Green: this partially mimics what was released in the PTV's heavy rail plan. One major negative of this kind of alignment is that services which would run in Melbourne Metro Rail tunnel would have poor connectivity to the new East West Rail link (as South Eastern residents would be required to connect in Parkville).
  • Blue: Essentially the same as the Yellow tunnel, however it would connect with the South Morang/Hurstbridge lines at Clifton Hill rather than Victoria Park.
  • Yellow: the one tunnel I'm focusing on. It has 1 underground station in Fishermans Bend, 1 underground station in Fitzroy and an open-cut station at Victoria Park. 3 interchange stations are located at Southern Cross, CBD South / Flinders Street (under Collins Street) and at Parliament where the station's footprint would be extended all the way to Alexandra Parade and St. Vincent's Hospital

Beyond the inner-city tunnels the line would follow the Eastern Freeway median where there's two alternatives - a 4.5km tunnel under Kew and North Balwyn - or continuing along the Eastern Freeway median and then onto an elevated structure between Thompsons Road and Doncaster Road on the northern side of the outbound lanes on the Eastern Freeway.

In both Eastern Freeway scenarios the line would run in the Doncaster Road median on an elevated structure up to Doncaster Hill / Doncaster Shopping Centre.

The map

Blue and yellow circles represent 800m as-the-crow-flies radius around stations.

Times between points - Yellow CBD routing and East Kew-Balwyn North tunnel (Red) routing; assumes an average speed of 40kph.

Journey Metro Distance Metro Time Current PTV journey time Notes
Longer-distance/commuter trips        
Doncaster to CBD South / Flinders Street 16.5km 25-26 minutes 34 minutes Current journey: 907 Smartbus from Doncaster SC to Melbourne Central (Swanston/Lonsdale Streets)
Newport to CBD South / Flinders Street 8.5km 13-14 minutes 19 minutes Current journey: Williamstown/Werribee Line direct to Flinders Street via Footscray
Williamstown to CBD South / Flinders Street 12.1km 18-19 minutes 28 minutes Current journey: Williamstown Line direct to Flinders Street via Footscray
Laverton to CBD South / Flinders Street 20.2km 30-31 minutes 29 minutes Current journey: Werribee Line on the express route bypassing Altona
Altona to CBD South / Flinders Street 15km 22-23 minutes 38 minutes Current journey: Branch line, requires change of train at Newport
Short distance/CBD South-Flinders Street connecting journeys        
CBD South / Flinders Street to Lorimer 3km 4-5 minutes - Stops at Southern Cross en route.
CBD South / Flinders Street to Wirraway 4km 6-7 minutes - Stops at Southern Cross en route.
CBD South / Flinders Street to Todd Road 5.3km 8-9 minutes - Stops at Southern Cross en route.
CBD South / Flinders Street to Fitzroy 2.6km 4-5 minutes 15 minutes Stops at Parliament en route. Current journey: number 12 tram from Collins Street / Town Hall Stop to Brunswick/Johnston Streets
CBD South / Flinders Street to Victoria Park 4.1km 6-7 minutes 18 minutes Stops at Parliament en route. Current journey: South Morang line (via loop), Parliament to Victoria Park timetabled at 11 minutes
Other journey distances / journey times        
Newport to Victoria Park (traversing the inner city) 13km 19-20 minutes 35-38 minutes Current journey: Williamstown/Werribee Line and South Morang Line, change of train at Southern Cross.
Doncaster to Victoria Park 12km 18 minutes 16 minutes Current journey: 907 Smart bus from Doncaster SC to Johnston/Hoddle Streets
Doncaster to Fitzroy 13.7km 20-21 minutes 34 minutes Current journey: 207 Bus from Doncaster SC to Johnston/Brunswick Streets (or 907 as above + 10-15 minute walk)
End to End: Laverton to Doncaster 36.7km 55 minutes    
End to End: Williamstown to Doncaster 28.6km 43 minutes    

A comparison with Sydney's North West Rail Link

The first stage of Sydney's Rapid Transit network which will operate independently of Sydney's existing rail network is remarkably similar in scale to what I've outlined above. Excluding the converted lines south of Newport, the "new" section of this line has the following particulars (I've summarised much of the information on the NWRL in the forum):

  • Total length: 22.5km versus Sydney's NWRL: 23km.
  • Total tunnel length: 12.3km (7.5km through city, 4.8km in Kew/Balwyn) versus NWRL: 15km
    • Contract 1 for the NWRL is valued at $1.1 billion and the scope relates to the civil works for the tunnels and associated stations on the new section of the line.
  • Total at grade length: 4.6km in the Eastern Freeway median
  • Total elevated length: 8km (5.5km from Newport to Lorimer (a large portion of this would be a high bridge across the Lower Yarra), 2.5km from Doncaster Park and Ride to Doncaster Hill/SC) versus NWRL: 4km
    • Contract 2 awarded for NWRL was for the 'skytrain' section and the value was $340 million - it is not clear if this also includes a further 4km worth of civil works for track and stations which are in a cutting / at grade.
  • 13 stations in total: 8 brand new, 5 interchange with a maintenance and operations centre built at the existing Newport workshops area. NWRL will have 8 new stations and 5 existing stations converted.
    • Contract 3 is the largest weighing in at $3.7 billion and it relates to the fit-out of new stations, installation of rail equipment and control systems, procuring vehicles, building a maintenance and operations facility, converting 13km of existing railway for Rapid Transit use as well as operating the services for 15 years.

Yes, we need another study

…just with a different kind of rail technology in mind.

While much of the above talks heavily about the section east of Flinders Street, I am still of the firm view that Fishermans Bend will be the honeypot where benefits are derived. Multiple decades of design and construction activity and jobs as well as tens of billions of dollars worth of end-value redevelopment over that timeframe should warrant a proper rapid transit line through the heart of the precinct from the city to the inner West.

The review of the Fishermans Bend Strategic Framework Plan currently underway should place just as much emphasis on transport needs as traditional community needs and lay the foundation for a new study to be financed in one of the state budgets in this government's first term.

PTV's heavy rail plan released under the previous government alluded to both a second cross-city line and a Doncaster line except they would not have been connected. The findings of the Doncaster Rail study should be looked at once again under a scenario where both original plans are inter-connected with stations located in Fitzroy and Victoria Park (rather than just a connection at Collingwood).

Post Melbourne Metro Rail project, the State Government should be calling time on building new $1 billion-per-kilometre inner city rail lines and look to solutions and rail technology that are cheaper to build and cheaper to operate, just like what the Baird Government in New South Wales is doing.

Modern light metro systems have the capability to compete on capacity against any individual existing (or soon to be upgraded) line in Melbourne and driver-less operation adds all important flexibility to a rail line so that supply can quickly meet demand wherever it is needed.

Alstom's Axonis and Bombardier's Innovia Metro turn-key infrastructure + systems + rolling stock rail solutions would provide the same capacity as a conventional rail line but it would be done with smaller stations, shorter trains, more flexibility and most importantly more frequent services.

These systems - thanks to their lower implementation and operational costs - point toward a more positive impact when it comes to assessing costs and benefits. For the sake of Fishermans Bend's long-term viability and development potential, for the sake of lost productivity due to congestion on the West Gate Bridge and Eastern Freeway and for the sake of the people with long commute times to the city from both east and west, we need to get on with it.

Lead image credit: skytrainsforsurrey.org

14 comments

Thomas The Think Engine's picture

This is great. I love to see new blue sky thinking. There's not nearly enough of it, and that results in us building things that aren't very good but which at least have been planned.

Creating a much bigger pipeline of proposals and plans is essential to our ability to find excellent projects in which to invest.

I've had some thoughts about how this could be achieved and written about them here:
http://thomasthethinkengine.com/2014/11/19/the-best-way-to-fix-australia...

The idea in there is one this website could very easily help progress!

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johnproctor's picture

I think the green line is the best... Post Melbourne Metro I don't think there is a need to further service by heavy rail anything east of Elizabeth Street... you will have Flidners Street, Parliament, Melbourne Central (and the associated MM stations).

the Fitzroy Station you've proposed serves that 'gap' in the rail network well on the green alignment. Pushing across to Parkville avoids the need for north-east melbourne residents travlling into the CBD to get to Parkville which is only going to get busier. it also significantly improves the connection from growing Footscray/Sunshine across the north of the CBD into Clifton Hill etc.

A connecting station at Flagstaff taps into hte quietest City Loop station for interchange purposes to the rest of the CBD rather than requiring further augmentation of the existing busiest stations.

Connecting to Flagstaff also lands people in the growing west end of hte CBD.

You then have the option of pushing south along William to either a William/Flinders or Southbank Station before heading west to Newport or going via Southern Cross.

anyway my 2 cents.

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Alastair Taylor's picture

^ all good points and always happy to take receipt of your two cents!

Despite living in the inner North, I seem to always focus on what's going on in the South East - all those years of long commutes is taking a while to let go of.

Flagstaff is one of the deeper stations in the CBD and therefore likely to be in same boat as Melbourne Central (where MRL tunnels will be above City Loop tunnels), no?

For anyone interested, that green line measured 8.2km in google (silly that you can't see the distances in Gmaps anymore) versus the 7.5km for Yellow (used in the table above).

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crakening's picture

Some interesting ideas here - however there's one consideration that seems to be missing. The logic of having the South Morang line in the tunnel is because, regardless of whether Doncaster services are running or not, the line from Clifton Hill will reach capacity in the medium term. Because the patronage of the Doncaster line would be significantly lower than the South Morang line, Doncaster and Hurstbridge could run together in the existing corridor without any worries. It also better matches the capacity requirements - compared to running Doncaster services through which would result in excess capacity to Doncaster, while the South Morang and Hurstbridge lines would be underserved. Thus, whatever happens, the South Morang line will need to go into a tunnel at some stage - so I still think the PTV plan has the most merit, however the lack of interchange with any future Doncaster service is definitely puzzling.

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Alastair Taylor's picture

I guess that depends on your definition of reaching capacity and how far away your medium term is.

As above, in the PTV plan originally released 2 years ago the peak hour services in 20+ years (the last stage, see all the other stages here) are 15 TPH on South Morang/Mernda and 14 on Hurstbridge.

Take the following as an example of much cheaper capacity improvements before a tunnel is even thought of:

  • in the medium term one would hope that grade separating the Clifton Hill junction + straightening the Rushall-Merri curve will be implemented;
  • the single tracks on the Hurstbridge line as far as Greensborough are duplicated;
  • Hurstbridge trains stop all stations between Clifton Hill and Jolimont; and
  • after the Sandringham line trial, a new high-capacity signalling system is rolled out as more and more level crossings are removed from both lines thus increasing total capacity.

If the end game in PTV's plan was to have 29 TPH on Hurstbridge/Mernda, then with all the above improvements I wouldn't be surprised if the same capacity couldn't be achieved therefore removing the need to build a more expensive tunnel for the South Morang-Mernda line.

That would allow a Doncaster line to be created which is separate to the operations of the existing Clifton Hill group lines.

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monosnail's picture

for the sake of the people with long commute times to the city

In the west at least, you’re not helping people who suffer with long commute times. You’re condemning them to long commutes for the foreseeable future, by taking away an alignment and funds that could help them.
Altona and Williamstown have high walk-up catchment, significantly reducing total commute time compared to someone who has to catch a bus to the station. For the off-peak times, Altona will get their full service eventually.
I very much prefer conventional rail as per the PTV plan. If connected to the Werribee line (while keeping Altona and Williamstown on the Footscray line), it would make a huge difference to so many people, who actually do have long commute times. It would also have greater benefits in access to employment, education and other resources, as the Wyndham area is within reasonable commuting distance of less parts of Melbourne than closer areas, so they will gain more that they previously couldn't access. And it would have huge patronage numbers, with potential for growth from the projected population increases, the proposed extension, and new stations.

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Alastair Taylor's picture

In the west at least, you’re not helping people who suffer with long commute times. You’re condemning them to long commutes for the foreseeable future, by taking away an alignment and funds that could help them.

How so? Every station on the Williamstown and Altona segments, excluding Laverton, would have a quicker trip to Southern Cross, CBD South / Flinders Street or Parliament under the Yellow scenario - 6 minutes quicker to Flinders Street from Newport, 10 minutes quicker from Williamstown and 15 minutes from Altona.

Even with a change at CBD South / Flinders for Melbourne Central and Southern Cross for Flagstaff, the journey would still be quicker than it currently is or ever will be with a routing via Footscray.

Under a green scenario trip times are also just as quick, and thanks to permanent clock-wise direction of the Clifton Hill, at Flagstaff connection times for Melbourne Central / Parliament would be quick, and likewise at Southern Cross the connections back to the original Werribee Line for Flinders Street would be quick.

That would give services for Werribee or Wyndham Vale (when they extend services back around the RRL loop) free reign and unencumbered paths right into the city via Footscray / out to Glen Waverley or Alamein if the cross-connect in PTV's original plan was implemented in future.

If you look at the PTV plan, Alamein and Glen Waverley, if connected, would be a combined 18TPH in peak that, under an altered scenario, would flow out to Werribee. Newport would see trains every 3-4 minutes on the Werribee Line and even more on the new metro line therefore making connections completely painless in terms of wait time.

Remember the cost of MMR - $1billion per kilometre.

Do you want to wait another 20-30 years for another conventional rail tunnel?

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Adrian's picture

The East West Road Link in its previous form may be dead, but it certainly won't be buried if the road and freight lobbyists decide to ark up once more.

Road and freight lobbyists !? I didn't know they had a lobby group !!

Common sense to have trucks travelling efficiently at speed from East to West rather than stop-start pumping out diesel fumes in Fitzroy in their *necessary* function to move freight around our city would be common sense I would have thought.

Answer me this one simple question: If the EWL could be built for free tomorrow would you approve or oppose it ?

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Martin Mankowski's picture

Road and freight lobbyists !? I didn't know they had a lobby group !!

Err, they are called the RACV.....

Answer me this one simple question: If the EWL could be built for free tomorrow would you approve or oppose it ?

Hell yes oppose it!

This is the illusion being sold by the state government atm with the western distributor - we should should build it cause its free! (ie the federal government/transurban/anyone but the state government will cover the cost).

Whether its free or not, it doesnt change the fact that IT WONT SOLVE CONGESTION! EW link's own traffic modeling showed it would increase traffic on Hoddle St and its surrounds. I really cant understand the mentality of the EW link supporters who just cant let go. They all acknowledge:

  1. It would put more cars on the road.
  2. It would be a car park in peak hour just like every other freeway in Melbourne.
  3. It's a bad project financially.

However, they say "We still need it, just build it anyway". WTF????

Free or not, building freeways just ingrains the car culture and perpetuates the falsehood that freeways solve congestion. This just encourages more freeways to be built, at a massive opportunity cost to PT.

The East West Rail link is a great idea. It would actually decrease congestion, by taking people out of their cars and onto PT. Meaning that freight could move through there more efficiently. Capacity wise, we would see the benefits for decades to come. The EW link would have a slower commute time than we currently have now on Alexandra Pde in 3-5 years time - max.

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johnproctor's picture

^ I think you're kidding yourself if you think this will significantly reduce costs compared to MMR.

the tunnel diameter is going to be relatively minor difference you still need to build stations in the centre of the city. station width is largely dictated by patronage (through platform and vertical transport width),

I do not believe that you'd get a train bridge over the lower Yarra as you've suggested so the reality is its probably tunnel all the way to Newport possibly popping up for elevated along a kilomtre or two of Williamstown Road. Westgate is about 60m above water. at 4% grade which is a comfortable grade in a train you'd need 1500m of alignment to rise 60m. Its basically 1km from the train line north of Newport to the west bank of the Yarra River... even at 6% you take that full km to get up over the river and then down for 1km would be like a roller coaster in a train.

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monosnail's picture

How so? Every station on the Williamstown and Altona segments, excluding Laverton, would have a quicker trip to...

I don't classify Williamstown and Altona as having long commute times (excluding the shuttle which will be gone eventually anyway).

a combined 18TPH in peak that, under an altered scenario, would flow out to Werribee.

An extra 3 trains over stage 3 isn't much consolation.

Do you want to wait another 20-30 years for another conventional rail tunnel?

Yes. I would rather wait for a good tunnel than have a tunnel early. But I'm not asking for all those other projects (Doncaster etc) as well. Maybe when the west has a higher population, it can get the tunnel through vote-buying, and overpower all the other vote-buying projects, thereby jumping the queue and taking the funds from those projects.

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Alastair Taylor's picture

I do not believe that you'd get a train bridge over the lower Yarra as you've suggested so the reality is its probably tunnel all the way to Newport possibly popping up for elevated along a kilomtre or two of Williamstown Road. Westgate is about 60m above water. at 4% grade which is a comfortable grade in a train you'd need 1500m of alignment to rise 60m. Its basically 1km from the train line north of Newport to the west bank of the Yarra River... even at 6% you take that full km to get up over the river and then down for 1km would be like a roller coaster in a train.

If the line is already elevated it would already be around 10 metres above ground and at 4% it would need 1.25km of run up to ascend a further 50m to get to 60m above the river.

Todd Road to the eastern shore of the Yarra where the line crosses is bang on 1.25km.

From the western shore of the Yarra to High St/Hall St is 1.35km (takes into account 100m of extra distance for the curve to be negotiated with a level grade).

Further: from the western shore of the Yarra to Hall Street along Burleigh Street is 850m - so when it begins the curve, it would have descended 34 metres (at 4%) and the track would be 26m above ground in the curve.

If it were a 6% grade on the Newport side, in 850m the track would have descended 50m to the approximate height of a normal elevated rail track just before it starts the curve at Hall Street.

the tunnel diameter is going to be relatively minor difference you still need to build stations in the centre of the city. station width is largely dictated by patronage (through platform and vertical transport width),

I'm glad you mentioned stations. I've started collating stats on different metro systems in the forum: Heavy rail / metro / light metro tunnel and station specifications

The Axonis material talks about 5 x 18m car trains or 90m total length - let's assume you could actually use 6 x 18m car trains / 108m: at 110-120m the platform length requirements are near enough to half the length of the new MMR stations (or about 60% the distance of a CBD block on the east-west axis). Alstom claims a 90m train can crush (1000) a comparable amount to our seats-dominated conventional trains.

Another place to look is Alstom's backyard: Paris and more specifically Metro Line 14 which is of 1990s vintage - single bore tunnels (8.6 internal diameter according to public sources) which fits two tracks whose trains are 2.45m wide / 3.5m high.

From the forum (originally from SSP) - how they're going to be building a new stations under Avenue Victor Hugo which is in on average 36m wide (compared to Melb CBD street width of 30m)

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Nicholas Harrison's picture

This is an alternative way to get public transit up a steep slope. It's lots of fun too!

Yurikamome Rainbow Bridge loop, Tokyo

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Alastair Taylor's picture

^ I like.

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