Comment: Melbourne should heed the lesson of Sydney Metro

On Monday the New South Wales Government kicked off the formal planning process for the second stage of the Sydney Metro project. It comes as the heavy work for the first phase - rebranded as Sydney Metro Northwest a few months ago - is nearing completion with the TBM tracker map for the project showing two of the four TBMs in use on the project only having approximately 1-1.5km until they complete their run.

What started as a project to bring rail services to one of Sydney's largest rail service black-spots has morphed into a very long metro line that will eventually run from Sydney's North West through North Sydney and the CBD and out to the South West.

Construction timeframes for the Sydney Metro North West phase

The 'Northwest' section which is under construction, when open, will see passengers needing to change to existing services at Chatswood to continue journeys toward central Sydney.

This point along with the "back to the future" moment of the new metro line not running double-decker trains which are synonymous with Sydney has generated a lot of discussion & dabate.

For the most part the debate around the type of trains to be used on the new line has been derailed (pun intended) and the launch of the formal planning process has neutered concerns over long term viability of moving more people over/under Port Jackson in trains.

While the second City and Southwest phase of Sydney Metro is a natural extension of the first phase, the key lesson for us south of the Murray is to ensure that after Melbourne Metro, we don't play the "balance" card and then go on a publicly-funded road building boondoggle.

The heavy and expensive equipment to be procured for Melbourne metro like Tunnel Boring Machines (TBMs), not to mention the vast knowledge people who are working on this project are gaining, should not be wasted and put on the backburner. We should be following Sydney Metro's lead and kicking off the formal planning process for our next rail project during the construction phase of Melbourne Metro.

Enter Infrastructure Victoria and Plan Melbourne

Two sizeable pieces of a large strategic planning jigsaw puzzle seem to have fallen into place.

A refresh of Plan Melbourne has been launched which seeks to add components such as affordable housing mechanisms, Melbourne as a poly-centric city and climate change preparedness to the original plan and Infrastructure Victoria has been born and will be tasked on providing advice to Spring Street on the State's infrastructure needs and responses.

Fishermans Bend's structure plan will be changing and Spring Street recently announced that the Australian Education City consortium was the preferred bidder to develop a large site in East Werribee.

Melbourne's sole advantage over all other big Australian cities is land, and not just the productive agricultural land that the sprawl-belt is constantly infringing upon.

Fishermans Bend alone will make Sydney's Barangaroo and Perth's Elizabeth Quay look decidedly miniscule in comparison owing to the sheer amount of land that could be redeveloped along the lower Yarra.

There's decades worth of redevelopment potential but before we get bogged down on what kind of urban form Fishermans Bend should take we must first ensure the right type of Public Transport is selected and put in place early. Likewise we must ensure it provides maximum connectivity from both the east and west of the metropolitan area.

I am of course referring to the Fishermans Bend line that was present on the PTV's heavy rail plan, released soon after Denis Napthine took over the Premiership during the last Government. This is the kind of project we should expect to see near the very top of Infrastructure Victoria's initial 30 year infrastructure strategy and similarly in Spring Street's mandatory response.

The Australian Education City marketing material paints a grand picture of urbanism out west and the associated numbers - 80,000 to 100,000 people to eventually live in the new 'city' - is nothing to sneeze at either. Earlier reports in other media suggested that a rail station was to be a part of the project however this still remains uncertain and once again, given the immediacy of the redevelopment project, we should expect Infrastructure Victoria to pay attention to this part of the city.

And that leaves us with the East. Monash University-Mulgrave is a major employment precinct in its own right, very much a player in the drive to bring high quality jobs closer to where people live.

As the SNAMUTS map shown below alludes to, the Springvale Road/Wellington Road area has two smart buses routes and possibly the most appalling thing on that map is that it highlights how there are not many other semi-decent public transport services that run at least every 20 minutes on week day off peaks.

The map shows that back in 2011 the smart bus routes in the area were seeing a higher degree of network stress than other parts of Melbourne Public Transport network. Do we need to see some out-of-the-box thinking for Public Transport in the area?

Melbourne Public Transport Network Stress. SNAMUTS

Plan Melbourne has that aspiration to make Melbourne more poly-centric, or more to the point, a "20 minute" city. There's one giant employment centre in Melbourne at present, it's the centre of the city where our current Publc Transport network excels in moving people in and out of it.

Monash University-Mulgrave is a major established employment node simply lacking in direct rail access and East Werribee could very well become an equivalent major employment mode for the west.

This emerging picture of a Melbourne with three major employment nodes centred around Universities dispersed equally in the metropolitan area - West, Central and East - is not all too dissimilar to the story of Sydney with its CBD/inner south (potential metro station near the University of Sydney) and Macquarie Park / North Ryde (Macquarie University and two other metro stations in the immediate vicinity).

When Spring Street creates the response to Infrastructure Victoria's initial 30 year strategy (which it is required to do under the act), the Melbourne Metro project will likely be kicking off its construction phase.

Given all of the above and after Infrastructure Victoria's advice has been provided, Spring Street should heed the lesson from the Sydney Metro project and keep the major rail project planning and construction cycle rolling so as we get even more mileage out of the knowledge created and the equipment procured for the Melbourne Metro project.


Melbman's picture

It will all come down to $$.

We would all love to see a broader, more capable metro system created but the reality is that with so many other funding requirements it will always be a compromise.

The next projects will likely be the Metro Rail Tunnel and a road project. That road project will more than likely be the Western Distributor and Monash Freeway upgrades delivered together.

After those are done, the Vic govt will have a choice of rail or road projects, but we will wait to hear from Infrastructure Victoria on their priority list. There will be network capacity in the rail system for growth of new lines, but it will still likely leave a PT solution requirement for Fisherman's Bend.

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Rohan Storey's picture

So what are you exactly saying that Sydney is doing that we are not ? Extending rail into areas which have none ? (ie doncaster or monash uni ?) Or that the Melb Metro should be stand alone metro-style project (is it not ?). That the East West link is not the next priority ? No properly planed PT into Fishermans Bend ? ( I prefer extending the Collins St tram over the river personally).

Perhaps the most interesting question is where is NSW getting the funding to building a central city tram line, a cross city train line, and a huge road project all at the same time ! Thats what id like to know.

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Alastair Taylor's picture

The NSW Gov are wasting no time and keeping their cycle of rail projects going: planning kicked off this week for the 2nd phase of the Syd Metro while they're only halfway through the construction cycle of the first phase.

Melbourne Metro doesnt have a second phase dependent on the first, but we do have many other projects either previously mooted (Airport, Rowville and Doncaster studies) and other potential needs that IV may identify.

And trams won't really cut it in the long run for Fishermans Bend:

Tram 109 with C-class (maximum capacity of 150 seated and standing), lets say frequency eventually goes to 20 trams an hour, that's only capacity for 3000 people per direction, per hour (current timetable is 12 trams per hour in peak).

Like you said, another tram route down Collins Street over the River and into Fishermans Bend, assume it's 20 trams per hour with E-Class trams (210 people per tram), that's only another 4,200 passengers per direction per hour in capacity.

(12 trains an hour with a similar capacity as our current trains - ~1000 - is a far better outcome, with plenty of scalability built in).

There's various projections of 40,000 eventually working in and 80,000 living in Fishermans Bend (this was before the enlargement) - are the workers from the West going to drive over the West Gate? (because the trams will only connect the precinct from the East, on slow trams) - how about another 20,000 people wanting to get out of there in the morning and back in the afternoon (assuming a quarter of the projected population will be working in other parts of the city)?

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Aussie Steve's picture

We mustn't forget the numerous other smaller tram projects that could be undertaken in the middle ring suburbs to help link existing public transport. Tram extension such as the #3 Malvern East tram to Malvern East Train Station; #5 Malvern tram to Darling Train Station; #11 West Preston tram to Reservoir Train Station; #48 North Balwyn tram to Doncaster etc. Some of these are easy wins and would be welcomed by the community and especially public transport users. Others such as building a North-South tram along Burke Road from High Street, Kew East to Caulfield Train Station is also a great project, but it would require a bit more planning and infrastructure than some of the other simple tram extensions.

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Peter H's picture

Don't forget light rail as a viable option for these middle suburban areas, with stops every 600-800m rather than the 300-400m in the inner city. Such a route could be Ringwood to Knox to Monash Uni via Ferntree Gully Rd then via Wellington Rd to Huntingdale, with a possible extension to Brighton.

Another could be Caulfield (with an event day extension to the racetrack) to Chadstone then via Warrigal Rd to Box Hill.

Hoppers Crossing/Werribee could be a hub of a light rail network (not a single line) connecting Tarneit, Wyndham Vale, Point Cook, Werribee South, and possibly to link with the metro from Altona-ish to Doncaster vica Fishermans Bend & CBD rather than needing to travel west before heading east on the already crowded Werribee Line.

In the north, similarly light rail could service the Doncaster to Doreen area, linking with 3 existing rail lines (Box Hill, Heidelberg, South Morang) plus the Doncaster to Altona-ish metro.

Light rail can be almost as fast as trains (60-70kph) if run on dedicated lines, in the road corridor but not in traffic lanes.

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