I had been writing a blog post about proposed rail lines, and even went to the trouble of drawing a map of what was known about the various proposals floating around. Yesterday a very detailed PTV Network Development Plan for the rail network was released with lots of much prettier and more comprehensive maps.
The portents of its release have been there. In the past few weeks, several studies into proposed rail lines have been released: Doncaster, Rowville, and the Airport. The PTV document incorporates these, and lays out how they would build them, and a few more besides.
What some people hadn’t registered until now is that the wish list now includes not one rail tunnel, but two.
The “metro” (north-south) rail tunnel has been proposed for a few years now — that’s the one leading from the Sunbury line at South Kensington via Parkville, the city to Domain, then to South Yarra to connect with the Dandenong line. The Rowville and Airport studies both conclude that their new lines rely on this for capacity through the CBD.
The Doncaster study had flagged the theory that a second tunnel — re-routing the South Morang line from Clifton Hill via Fitzroy and Parkville to Flagstaff — is necessary to provide enough capacity for the Doncaster line to run into the city via Jolimont. The PTV document says this should then extend to Southern Cross and eventually to the new suburb at Fishermens Bend.
Wishlist maps for the Melbourne rail network are a dime-a-dozen. Every gunzel has drawn one. But it’s rare to see something official, and PTV are to be congratulated for publicly putting out the Plan.
Forward planning is essential. Vicroads do it all the time, and put their proposed motorways into the Melway. It’s been lacking in public transport, leading to debacles like the Footscray pedestrian bridge being partly demolished only just after it had been built.
And there’s a lot to like in the document. It explains how each project will build on the overall capacity and reliability of the network. The overall strategy is a good one — to move towards self-contained lines, with a minimum of junctions and interactions with other lines that limit train throughput.
Even stage 1, the 2016 service plan (basically “how do we run the trains once Regional Rail Link is built”), includes some great outcomes for passengers, including seven day services every 10 minutes from the city to Newport, Dandenong, Ringwood, Glen Waverley, Sandringham, Sydenham and Craigieburn (joining Frankston, which already has it).
Governments might baulk at the cost of some of the later more expensive upgrades, but those initial service upgrades should be a priority for funding. They bring great benefits for little cost.
The Plan also includes things you don’t normally hear about, like modern in-cab signalling systems, which allow up to 50% more trains to operate on a line, for a relatively low outlay.
And while it only covers Rail (apparently the Bus and Tram plans will be out later), it does have a section talking about connections between modes, including timetable coordination.
There are heaps of good ideas in the Plan. If I have anything bad to say about it, it’s that the running theme with both it and the Doncaster/Rowville/Airport studies appears to be along the lines of: there won’t be enough central core capacity in future year X, therefore we can’t build any new rail lines until the metro and/or Fitzroy rail tunnel have been built first.
It’s a kind of innate conservatism in the planning: that new lines have to be built with all possible future growth catered for, and if we can’t do that, we shouldn’t build them at all.
This is quite unlike the road lobby, who will happily build virtually anything, knowing that if later growth blows the capacity, it will just provide the political impetus for the next big project (and in the mean time it will still provide some “benefit”).
For instance, the Eastern Freeway was built knowing full well it would terminate at Hoddle Street, creating a snarl there.
The risk of wanting the multi-billion dollar tunnel before anything else can happen is that if funding for that is delayed, everything else is delayed.
In reality, there is scope for building lines and extensions now. Extending South Morang to Mernda, for instance, should be a no-brainer. Dipping a toe in the water towards Doncaster, by building the first, easy bit to Bulleen, would get scores of buses and their passengers out of inner-city traffic. The line to the city would cope for a good few years yet, especially if high capacity signalling was included.
The Plan has the Altona Loop duplication waiting until stage 4. It could easily be done earlier. Even much of the signalling won’t get upgraded until after the metro rail tunnel is built — when the signalling would deliver similar benefits in terms of capacity, but years earlier and at a fraction of the cost.
The Road Lobby knows all about salami tactics. The Rail bureaucracy need to learn the same strategies.
The way forward
Criticisms aside, it’s great this plan is out. If the relatively cheap upgrades that are part of the 2016 stage haven’t yet been fully funded, the government should show it’s serious about the rail network, and fund them pronto. (Yes, Southland station is included in that.)
It’d be nice to see signalling upgrades across the most congested parts of the network in the short term. It’s cheaper than building tunnels, and although there’s some complexity in ensuring all trains on those sections have the right equipment, the capacity benefit of up to 50% is obviously beneficial.
Whatever the precise order of implementation, the government (and politicians on both sides) need to start pushing these projects. In particular, the current government would do well to remember that they were voted in on the back of public transport issues — not the proposed east-west road which was barely mentioned during the election but somehow has morphed into their top infrastructure priority.
As for plans for the rest of our multi-modal network, while the tram and bus Plans haven’t yet been released, let’s hope they’re not too far away… and that they’ve been prepared in tandem with the rail Plan!