The major point of differentiation between the government and the Coalition (and the Greens) on the metro rail tunnel is whether or not it should have platforms at South Yarra.
The current thinking, which is in line with PTV plans going back to at least 2013, is for Dandenong line trains to run in from Caulfield express, diving under South Yarra station but not stopping there, then heading west to the next station at Domain. It’s shown on the PTV rail network development plan:
The debate is nicely summed-up in this Age article:
Federal cash for the Melbourne Metro Rail tunnel is under a cloud because the Andrews government is refusing to include a $1 billion new station at South Yarra. … State Opposition leader Matthew Guy has also been lobbying Mr Turnbull over the need for a new interchange at South Yarra, claiming the rail link without it would be like building a house without doors.
(Note: the State Coalition’s rail tunnel proposal last year included platforms at South Yarra, but didn’t explain how they would be built.)
The importance of interchange
Providing platforms at South Yarra would enable passengers to interchange between the Dandenong, Frankston and Sandringham lines, as they do now. Interchange to other lines will become more important once the tunnel is running, because the Dandenong line will bypass Richmond, Parliament, Southern Cross and Flagstaff, so some passengers will want to change trains to reach those destinations.
Of course, interchange will also be possible at Caulfield, Flinders Street (CBD South) or Melbourne Central (CBD North), or Footscray though that may involve a slightly longer trip, particularly for those wanting to head down the Sandringham line.
Currently a lot of people change onto the number 8 tram. But many would be doing that to reach destinations around the Shrine and St Kilda Road, but of course with the tunnel in place, they instead get an express train ride to Domain.
The question to ask would be how many people who currently hop off the Dandenong line at South Yarra are actually going to destinations in the vicinity of the station (such as Melbourne High School, the nearby workplaces, and the shopping precinct), and how many have a final destination that is closer to or beyond St Kilda Road.
Many local residents board trains at South Yarra, and those numbers are increasing all the time, with some huge apartment blocks going in around the station. Others are changing off the tram.
While they would benefit from Dandenong trains continuing to stop there, with direct rail access to Domain, Parkville, Huntingdale (for Monash University) and eventually the Airport, there are also plans to reuse the current Dandenong platforms to originate Werribee/Williamstown/Laverton trains from South Yarra, providing a big boost to services into the city — and plenty of seats, unlike all the other trains. (These additional services would help balance out the Newport lines with the Sandringham line; as you can see from the numbers in the diagram at the top, they would be connected, but the projected numbers of services aren’t balanced.)
Either way, congestion in the station entrance is a huge problem.
(By the way, the headline on this article the other day was nonsensical: Melbourne Metro: South Yarra commuters face longer journey to town.)
The problems of platforms
The government position is that providing them would cost almost a billion dollars, and result in acquisition and demolition of over a hundred properties (double the number of 44 for the entire project as it stands), including part of the Jam Factory.
If that’s true, it doesn’t seem viable.
Part of the problem is that the current platforms can’t be used, because the plan is for the new Dandenong line trains to be up to 50% longer, and there wouldn’t be space to dive under the Yarra river. So any platforms provided would have to be new, underground, and in keeping with modern standards, dead straight for about 250 metres.
As I understand it, the plan is the tracks through South Yarra platforms 5+6 will still be connected to the Dandenong line tracks, with a junction near the tunnel portal, to provide for V/Line and freight services, which couldn’t use the tunnel. The freed up platforms at South Yarra would also be used to originate additional services into the City and to the west. (Perhaps ideally the tracks would be swapped around a bit, so an island pair would be used for this purpose.)
What to do?
Greg Barber is right when he says it’s worth looking at the design again.
As I understand it, the announcement this week that the Swanston Street section of tunnel would go deep, avoiding massive disruption on the surface, was made after senior people running the project sensibly considered that Melbourne hasn’t built many rail tunnels recently, and got in some of the best experts in the world to look at the design. While they’re reviewing it, it makes sense to look at the South Yarra question again to re-evaluate if it’s viable.
If it’s possible, not too expensive, and doesn’t require the mass demolition of properties, it would be good to provide the platforms.
But if platforms aren’t provided at South Yarra, then it’s important to improve interchange at Caulfield (cross-platform interchange should be the goal here, similar to Richmond platforms 7+8, and 9+10) and of course to provide top notch interchange at Flinders Street and Melbourne Central.
And either way, South Yarra station needs an upgrade to unclog it. For instance an additional concourse at the northern end, to provide better access direct into the growing Forrest Hill precinct, would help a lot.
Update 2:15pm: It may be a complete coincidence, but shortly after I published this post, I was told that the MM tunnel guru has looked at South Yarra, and that good information on why the government doesn’t believe platforms are viable will be published soon.
Update Monday 26/10/2015: Local Greens MP Sam Hibbins has released FOI documents about the station on his web site.
I found the Alignment Options Assessment document particularly interesting, and I wonder if given fuss around South Yarra, and the Libs’ push to spend more money on the tunnel project as a whole, if they should be looking again at the Dandenong Road/St Kilda Road option.
It resolves a number of problems, including future Caulfield-South Yarra track capacity for V/Line and freight (though the report says these may not be needed until 2046); opening up rail access at the Alfred Hospital precinct and possibly St Kilda (though the latter was not proposed; instead it suggested stops at Windsor and Orrong Road), and the relative ease of building along wide boulevards, thanks to all the space available. The Dandenong Road option would also result in more PT trips.
Of course, much longer tunnels equals bigger cost. It seems the State Liberals are trying to convince the Feds to insist on a change for funding (which hopefully would counter the additional cost); maybe they should think bigger than just a South Yarra stop that’s likely to have a big surface impact with (apparently) minimal patronage difference.