What is Metro 2?

If you live in Melbourne, you’ve almost certainly heard of the Melbourne Metro Rail Tunnel project (MMRT for short, but to avoid confusion here, I’ll call it Metro 1).

You may or may not have also heard of the Metro 2 project. So what is it?

It used to be the second stage of Metro 1, but around 2012 that tunnel was changed to be built as one big project.

Metro 2 is a second metro rail tunnel.

It was glimpsed in PTV’s rail plan of 2013, and at the time was seen as a tunnel from the South Morang/Mernda line, just north of Clifton Hill station, diving under Fitzroy (possibly with a station there), Parkville (with interchange to Metro 1), then Flagstaff, Southern Cross, and finally out to new development at Fishermans Bend.

The latest thinking has it extending further, under the river to Newport, to connect with the Werribee line.

This modified plan hasn’t officially been published by PTV, so here’s one I’ve cobbled together that shows it (on top of everything else in Stage 4, much of which seems to be under review):

PTV map (NDP stage 4) modified to show Metro 2

So basically the South Morang/Mernda line would be separated from the Hurstbridge line, boosting capacity on both (and allowing the Doncaster line to be built — though some argue that this can be done sooner, with high-capacity signalling). And the Werribee line would be separated out from the Williamstown and Altona Loop (Laverton) lines.

This has a lot of merit. Although the Werribee line has been freed of the contraints of the Geelong line trains thanks to the Regional Rail Link project, it serves a massive growth area to Melbourne’s south-west, and eventually the line will fill up again. South Morang/Mernda is also seeing a lot of growth, and enabling high frequencies on the line might also make possible a branch to Epping North.

Alongside other rail projects it would improve connections, allow and far more trains to run.

Metro 2 diagram (from Infrastructure Victoria)
(Source: Infrastructure Victoria/KPMG Preliminary Demand Modelling/Economic Appraisal)

Passengers on both lines would have a faster, more direct trip into the CBD, which if accompanied by quality local feeder services (buses) and infrastructure (bus and bike lanes, and pedestrian facilities) would better compete with car travel.

From Werribee the new direct route would make the train would be a better match for the Westgate Freeway. And not just for western suburbs to CBD commutes; it would also cater much better for trips to the Fishermans Bend area — currently completely noncompetitive by public transport.

If the line ran 15 trains per hour (up from about 7 in the busiest hour now), that’s at least 8800 additional people, assuming 7-car HCMTs, well above what the proposed 3-lane West Gate Tunnel could handle.

But that wouldn’t be stretching the rail infrastructure. More can be squeezed out the current lines right now, and a new tunnel should be able to run at least 24 trains, but up to 30 or more using high capacity signalling, and if built for it, 10-car trains.

Singapore MRT under construction

Some think the ideal time to start building such a project isn’t after the metro tunnel is finished in 2026 — rather, it’s in the next few years — starting with detailed planning, surveying, soil testing, property acquisition, all the stuff that the first metro tunnel went through ten years ago in preparation for major works.

And preferably major works (including excavation) start on Metro 2 as they finish on Metro 1 — which isn’t the end of the first project, but some time early next decade. This would allow expertise and equipment to roll off one onto the next.

There’s a cost to all this of course — well above $10 billion, according to Infrastructure Victoria.

But again, the choice between a project like this and Yet Another Massive Road Project means the difference in future between getting thousands more people onto public transport, or thousands more people onto the roads.

The metro tunnel stations will be called…

So the Metro tunnel station names will be, from south to north…

Anzac (working name Domain) — located more-or-less underneath the Shrine of Remembrance, of course. (The Shrine Trustees didn’t want the word Shrine used, by the way. I wonder how they feel about Anzac. Given the usual tight control over the name, I assume appropriate approvals have been granted.)

Town Hall (working name CBD South) — which will have entrances adjacent the Town Hall, in the City Square, as well as direct connections to Flinders Street

State Library (working name CBD North) — entrances along Swanston Street, and connections to Melbourne Central Station. It’ll be a bit north of the library, but takes its name from the nearest major landmark. (I think “Library” would have been snappier, but oh well.)

Parkville — same as the working name, and adjacent to Melbourne University and the hospital precinct. (One of the things the naming panel suggested was signage wording such as “Parkville, for University of Melbourne”, similar to that used at Glenferrie for Swinburne.)

…and are you ready for the twist?

North Melbourne (working name Arden) — yes, they’re going to rename the existing North Melbourne to West Melbourne, to reflect where it actually is located… and use North Melbourne for the brand new station.

It’s not a totally crazy idea. The level of confusion will depend on how well it’s handled.

I’d hope the renaming would happen as early as possible (perhaps when all the network maps are all re-printed for the Mernda rail extension opening in 2019) — well ahead of the new station being completed.

Metro tunnel construction on Swanston Street

As for the others… they’re all good location-based names, which tell you precisely where the stations will be, and that was always the priority in my opinion.

Many people said would have liked CBD South to be named as part of Flinders Street, and CBD North as part of Melbourne Central, but emergency services and others raised concerns about confusion with this in emergencies. Hopefully the new rail maps will show the direct connection — this is done on many networks, such as London.

London Tube map showing station connections

I was on the naming panel which gave recommendations to government. I can’t tell you who gave which opinions, but a wide variety of names were thrown around; some geographic/landmarks, some cultural and historic figures and references.

So all in all, a pretty good set of names, which should help people navigate their way around.

… Though fans of the Simpsons, Game of Thrones and Vegemite may not be happy.

And while we wait for the tunnel to be actually built, let’s not forget that some service upgrades (such as all-day ten minute train services to most stations) are possible now, before it’s built.

What should they call the metro tunnel stations?

Just posted on the holiday blog: Brussels — where I meet my new baby cousin in a tram museum (of course!)๐Ÿ‘ถ๐Ÿš‹

The state government are running a competition for naming the new stations to be built as part of the metro rail tunnel.

It’s a good idea to get suggestions. Some of the working names are a little uninformative, and someone out there might have a brilliant name idea that nobody in officialdom has thought of.

A panel will look at the suggestions and make recommendations to the government.

My thinking is the names should be dull but informative.

Melbourne metro rail tunnel alignment map

For all the bright ideas of naming them after people or using historical or cultural references, fundamentally these names are a navigation aid to be used for decades to come.

The first aim is not to honour something or somebody, but to help people get around, so the names have to tell you where the stations are.

As one observer pointed out: Jewell and Anstey stations (which are both named after politicians) just don’t work as names.

Perhaps in time major stations can become landmarks in their own right, but I suspect this is unlikely with underground stations without a big surface footprint.

So for the tunnel, here is my initial thinking, from south to north, and using the working names as a reference:

Domain: To be located underneath the current Domain tram interchange. While Kings Domain (park) is further north, the broader Domain Parklands includes the area around the Shrine immediately next to the station site. So “Domain” or “Shrine” would work, as both are well-known landmarks. “St Kilda Road” would be too vague.

CBD South and North are too similar, so I think it would be unwise to keep the working names.

CBD South: If you were aiming to use a local landmark, then the station’s location is close to Town Hall, the City Square, and St Paul’s Cathedral.

But this station will also have a direct paid connection into Flinders Street Station, so to aid rail network legibility, it would make a lot of sense to simply call it (part of) Flinders Street.

CBD North: Some people have suggested RMIT, but RMIT has multiple campuses including in Bourke Street, and out at Bundoora. The major landmarks are the State Library (so perhaps “Library”) and the City Baths.

But as with CBD South, this station will include a direct connection into Melbourne Central, so again, there is a strong argument for calling it “Melbourne Central”.

There’s also a strong argument that “Melbourne Central” is not a very good name for Melbourne Central Station. It couldn’t stay as Museum after the museum moved away. You could rename the whole complex “Library”, but I suspect that ship has sailed. It may not be a main central station, but there are others around the world called “central” that aren’t the main station (I found one in Exeter) and at least the shopping centre is a landmark.

Parkville: This one will directly serve Melbourne University and the hospital precinct, and I can’t immediately think of any other landmarks in the area. I wouldn’t call it “University” — we’ve only in the past decade or two got away from trams using that name, which is vague given the number of universities in Melbourne. “Parkville” is probably a pretty good name.

Arden: This will be in a new development area. The name Arden is derived from Arden Street, but is that name locked-in as a suburb name? Whatever the suburb is going to be called, I’d use for the station.

Those are my initial thoughts.


Update Friday:

Metro rail tunnel: The time is right

The metro rail tunnel concept is about ten years old, having first publicly emerged in late-2005.

In some quarters, it’s been seen as an unnecessary white elephant — an expensive way of providing for extra passenger capacity in the CBD, when other cheaper ways were available to cope with increased patronage.

But time has passed, and many of those cheaper measures have either been implemented, or are on the way.

Flagstaff station, morning peak

For instance, a 2007 PTUA paper, written as the patronage boom really took off and crowding became a serious issue, noted these suggestions:

More shoulder-peak services to help spread the peak load. This has happened on most lines. As an example, the 2006 Frankston line timetable had 5 trains departing Flinders Street between 6pm and 7pm, then they fell back to half-hourly — and almost no expresses after 6pm. The current timetable has 9 trains in that hour, including expresses, then trains at 10 minute intervals until about 7:35, then every 20 minutes until 10pm, before they fall back to half-hourly.

Return to service Hitachi trains that can be brought back cost-effectively. This happened, until the next point took effect in a big way…

Order extra trains — scores have been delivered since then, substantially increasing the size of the train fleet.

Run all trains as 6-cars until 10pm, 7 days-a-week — this happened (with some, understandable, exceptions such as suburban shuttle services), in fact they stay as 6-cars until the last service each night.

Simplify stopping patterns to maximise track capacity and make the timetables more legible — this has happened on most lines that had express trains. For example the Ringwood group had about a dozen stopping patterns in the AM peak — this has been reduced markedly, though the PM peak is still a mess.

More off-peak services — the longest (and thus busiest) lines now run every 10-15 minutes all day, every day. Plans are in place to spread this to more of the network… when the politicians provide funding.

More tram/bus services to feed into the rail network. Some progress where Smartbus services have been provided, and some minor tram improvements, but you’d have to say most connecting bus routes are still lacking.

The paper also criticises City Loop operation, taking aim at the midday Loop reversal (since removed on the Clifton Hill group, and rumoured to be on the way out for the Northern Loop soon), and suggests running more trains direct to Flinders Street to take advantage of track capacity — which now happens, with changes over the past few years meaning CBD track capacity is getting much closer to full.

Flagstaff station

Some (but not all) of the points raised by others in the debate (such as in the late Paul Mees’ excellent 2008 paper on the topic) are also under way, or at least being planned, including:

Improving wheelchair loading/unloading with more staff. In fact what’s happening is raised “humps” at CBD stations (and some others) allow wheelchair users to board and alight the train themselves.

High capacity signalling — now flagged to be trialled on the Sandringham line, before rollout to the rest of the network.

More efficient train designs to carry more people and speed up loading/unloading — modifications to X’trapolis trains have already occurred, and changes to Siemens and Comeng trains are under way. The next train design (initially for the Dandenong line) is likely to be a more space-efficient design from the beginning.

Moving driver changeovers out of Flinders Street — not yet, though there have been moves towards this, with driver facilities being built at the outer ends of suburban lines.

Other relatively minor changes have flown under the radar a bit, for instance after widely publicised problems with gate queues at Flagstaff, the booking office was moved to allow more gates, a bypass gate was installed for surges, and faster gates have recently been installed.

Not every suggestion has been taken up — duplication of single track on numerous lines is a problem which continues to result in delays quickly snowballing.

And some still believe double-decker trains are the answer — that’s a debate that will rage for decades to come, but the official position seems to be that longer dwell times make them less efficient than well-designed single-deck trains.

But many of the cheaper/quicker initiatives have happened. And meanwhile, the CBD (and inner suburbs) keep growing. To keep the City’s economy growing and thriving, the transport system needs to be able to keep feeding it with people — and heavy rail is the most efficient way of doing that.

I can’t speak for everyone, but the fact constructing the tunnel will take a decade, and that many of these (relatively) cheap and easy upgrades are coming into place provides the confidence that now is the right time to push ahead with the rail tunnel.

MMRP tunnel depth infographic

Tunnel benefits

On top of the other changes happening, the tunnel will bring another huge boost in rail capacity, particularly for the growth corridors to the north and west: the lines set to benefit the most are the Sunbury, Craigieburn and Upfield lines (remembering that the Werribee line is getting a boost from the opening of Regional Rail Link this year).

Also benefiting will be the Dandenong line, with — it’s expected — the new stations being designed for longer trains than the City Loop can cope with. Swanston Street/St Kilda Road trams will also see relief from crowding, thanks to serving stations at Domain and Parkville.

So there will be a lot of benefits.

But the plan isn’t absolutely perfect, and it’s inevitable with any project of this type that some trains will be re-routed, requiring people to change their travel patterns.

The government will need to tread carefully as they plan and build this project, and communicate what the design decisions are, and why they are happening.

As opposition public transport spokesman David Hodgett said in The Age yesterday, “Melbourne is growing at almost 100,000 people per year and this is an incredibly important project that we have to get right.”

Melbourne Rail Link: has it been properly planned?

As I’ve written already, both the Metro Rail Tunnel and the Melbourne Rail Link provide similar benefits in terms of rail capacity in the central part of Melbourne’s rail network. In those terms, they are roughly equivalent.

But MRL does have problems. For example, I think it connects the wrong lines.

Connecting lines

Both MRL and the Metro Rail Tunnel (I’m going to abbreviate it as MRT, in lieu of another convenient acronym) create an extra track pair through the city, connecting two existing lines together, freeing up capacity elsewhere. The whole idea is to isolate rail lines, to let them run independently.

MRT does it by connecting the Sunbury and Dandenong lines through a tunnel via Domain and Parkville, creating a cross-city connection.

MRL does it by connecting the Frankston and Ringwood lines through a tunnel via Montague and the City Loop, creating a connection from the south to the east, via north and west of the CBD.

Such a connection has obvious impacts on passenger movements. Let’s look at one example: Richmond.

Interchange at Richmond

Does anybody want to take the long way around?

Richmond is a major interchange, but isn’t significant as a destination at peak hour. It is during big events in the sporting precinct. As such the handling of big crowds is a huge issue, to the point where special measures are often in place to deal with the large numbers of people, particularly just after events conclude.

The current trip from South Yarra to Richmond is 2 minutes. Via MRL it could easily be 15 minutes or more. And remember, it doesn’t just affect the Frankston line — it also affects passengers at the MATH stations (Malvern, Armadale, Toorak, Hawksburn), who in the future are likely to not have Dandenong line trains stopping at their stations.

A trip from Malvern to Richmond is currently 8-11 minutes, depending on stopping patterns. Via MRL it’ll be around 21-24 minutes or more.

So then, what is the consequence of this?

Is this extra travel time enough to prompt large numbers of people to try and change to another train to avoid going all the way around?

At times of big sporting events, when the train system is trying to shift the bulk of a 100,000-strong crowd out of the MCG, will the Dandenong and Sandringham lines be completely swamped by Frankston line people trying to get home as quickly as possible?

Will people who are actually trying to make a connection from the south to the east be happy to take the 15 minute detour (say, students heading to Swinburne in Hawthorn), or will they also want to use the other lines to cut their travel time? What effect on dwell times (and thus, track capacity) would there be from large numbers of people changing trains at Richmond and South Yarra?

I don’t know what the answer to these is, but you’d hope they’ve been looked at.

Flagstaff station, peak hour

Lots of other issues – have they been studied?

This is only the tip of the iceberg. There are questions about how they’d build extra platforms at/under South Yarra (something MRT never resolved, and so ruled out).

How will it get under the river? Where will the extra platforms at Southern Cross be? I expect there are solutions to these (including the sewer), but have they been worked out, and costed?

Is Montague, with scads of potential users, really more important than Parkville, which has scads of users now? If the rail tunnel can’t run north-south to relieve St Kilda Road trams, what will be done to help them cope? I can think of lots of potential ideas on that one, but it’s unclear if this has been properly thought about and measured against prospective demand.

All trains not serving all CBD stations is inevitable, but what is the likely passenger demand from the Frankston and Ringwood lines for Flinders Street, and where are those passengers likely to change? Are the Frankston and Ringwood lines likely to be well-matched as far as future passenger/train demand goes? Ditto the other pairs: Sandringham and Newport, Sunbury and Dandenong.

And this is the real problem: the Metro Rail Tunnel project has its faults, but has had years of study (much of it published) done into it, part of a broader network development plan that studied not just where the tunnels would go, not just the number of trains flowing through, but also the effects of different upgrades on where and how passengers travel.

MRL in comparison has come from nowhere. There’s a complete lack of evidence that it’s gone through the kind of thorough study and planning that a multi-billion dollar project should have to get to a point where the State Government is funding it*.

Maybe in the few months since the project materialised, all these questions have been resolved. Maybe. But it doesn’t look like it.

That doesn’t bode well for avoiding cost blow-outs, nor for Melbourne getting the best solution for the billions that will go into it.

  • *The State government might claim MRL is fully funded, but the budget allocations so far are minimal — $40m this year, $50m in 2015-16, $140m in 2016-17, $600m in 2017-18. So around 90% of the cost of it is as-yet unfunded. It could easily slip off the funding radar after a couple of years, in the same way the Metro rail tunnel has.
  • In comparison the East West Link, you know, the road they said before the last election they weren’t even thinking about building, is being pushed along. For instance, the western section has $3.2 billion against it by 2017-18.