Melbourne Metro Rail Project

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This article is about the planned rail tunnel. For the suburban train operator, see Metro Trains Melbourne.
Melbourne Metro Rail Project
Melbourne Metro Rail Authority logo
Locale Melbourne
Number of lines 1
Number of stations 5
Headquarters Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
System length 9 kilometres

The Melbourne Metro Rail Tunnel, formally known as the Metro Rail Capacity Project, is a planned metropolitan rail infrastructure project in Melbourne, Australia. It includes the construction of a twin rail tunnel to travel from South Kensington railway station (north west of the Melbourne CBD) to South Yarra railway station (in the south east).

Metro Rail Capacity Project is the centrepiece of a suite of infrastructure projects designed to significantly increase capacity and to transform the rail network from a commuter-style suburban rail system to a metro-style rapid transport system. In particular, the aim of the project is to 'untangle' and significantly add capacity to much of the inner core of the network. The project has been touted as a precursor for various other expansion projects as outlined in the Metropolitan Rail Network Development Plan, in particular an expansion of rail services to Doncaster, Melbourne Airport and Rowville. Furthermore, the project will allow for the operational separation of various existing lines, creating a true 'turn-up-and-go' Metro style service.

The project is currently the subject of further planning and geotechnical investigations, with community consultations and development works already underway. In February 2015, the Andrews Labor Government announced $40 million in funding to establish the Melbourne Metro Rail Authority, to oversee planning of the project and $1.5 billion to commence land and property acquisitions and detailed route investigations.

Construction is expected to commence in late 2018 at an estimated cost of between $9 and $11 billion.


The need for an overhaul of the existing commuter rail network was first discussed in the early 2000s as unprecedented population growth began to place significant pressure on existing rail infrastructure and constraints on the inner core of the network as it approached capacity. A plan to create a London-style underground 'tube' system for Melbourne was first proposed in 2005 running between the inner-north and linking up to the south-eastern suburbs via the CBD and St. Kilda Road.

By 2008 the Brumby Labor Government, as part of the now defunct Victorian Transport Plan, envisaged a two-stage project known as Melbourne Metro 1 and Melbourne Metro 2. The 17 km twin rail tunnels would run from Footscray Station to Domain Interchange via the CBD (Stage 1), costing approximately $4.5 billion, with the second stage running from Domain to Caulfield. Combined, this plan would link the Sunbury and Dandenong lines, recreating a point-to-point 'Metro-style' system, freeing up capacity within the existing City Loop to add more services.

In 2012, the newly elected Baillieu Liberal Government combined the two projects together, significantly shortening the route and adding a station at Arden, within North Melbourne to allow for urban renewal. The project was known as the Melbourne Metro Rail Project. This allowed for the benefits of both projects with a simplified scope as submitted to Infrastructure Australia for federal funding approval. The envisaged project would allow for 5 underground stations, with interchanges at Melbourne Central and Flinders Street, with funding provisionally allocated by the Commonwealth and State to further develop a business plan and subsequent early construction works.

In 2012, the Victorian Department of Transport commenced geotechnical drillings and route investigations.

By May 2013, with a newly installed premier, the project was significantly reworked and renamed the Melbourne Rail Link under Premier Denis Napthine. The line would run from Southern Cross Station to South Yarra Station, with stations at Fishermans Bend (to be known as Montague Station) and Domain Interchange, with significant modifications made to the City Loop to allow for bi-directional running. Stations at Parkville and the northern and southern ends of the CBD were scrapped in favour of avoiding years of disruption along Swanston Street. Coupled with the project was the long awaited plan to build a heavy rail link to Melbourne Airport, which would be subsequently incorporated into the newly reworked project. By this time, the project completion date had been extended to 2026 with no additional Commonwealth funding allocation. Some $820 million had been provisionally allocated by the State Government for commencement of pre-construction works.

In November 2014, the newly elected Andrews Labor Government, dumped the Melbourne Rail Link and revived the original Melbourne Metro Rail Project committing $300 million in the first year of government to commence detailed pre construction planning and procurement. In February 2015, the Premier Daniel Andrews announced the creation of the Melbourne Metro Rail Authority to oversee planning and procurement of the project with $40 million 'fast-tracked' prior to the release of the budget. In April 2015, the route for the project was announced which would provide new underground stations at the Domain Interchange (on St Kilda and Domain Roads), and the Parkville university/hospital precinct (near Grattan Street and Royal Parade), as well as a station in North Melbourne to be known as Arden. The route would run via Swanston Street with interchange opportunities at Melbourne Central and Flinders Street Stations. Construction is expected to commence in 2018 and link the Sunbury and Cranbourne/Pakenham lines.

A $3 billion credit facility previously allocated to the controversially axed East West Link road project was redirected to the Melbourne Metro Rail project instead.

Project description[edit]

The project will deliver two 9-kilometre rail tunnels from South Kensington to South Yarra via the CBD. There will be 5 new underground stations located, to be known as Arden, Parkville, CBD North, CBD South and Domain. The line will run from the north-west to the south-east and combine the Sunbury Line with the Cranbourne/Pakenham Line.

Whilst the rail tunnel is the centrepiece of the project, further works will also be carried out on the Craigieburn and Upfield lines and complement existing projects underway on the Dandenong line, to create four 'metro-style lines which each run independent of each other. This includes the provision of high speed signalling, level crossing removals, track and station improvements and additional train stabling facilities. In addition to this, high capacity trains will be procured to add further capacity to the network.

Current status[edit]

Map of the planned route.

With the election of the Andrews Labor Government in November 2014, the project was positioned as a priority for ongoing future development and eventual construction.

On February 18, 2015, Premier Daniel Andrews, along with Minister for Public Transport Jacinta Allan and Transport Head Ian Dobbs, announced the creation of the Melbourne Metro Rail Authority and the bringing forward of $40 million to commence detailed planning works, community consultation, route design and development of a refreshed business case. The balance, some $260 million, is to be delivered in the May 2015/16 Victorian State Budget.[1]

It was revealed that a line of credit facility, originally proposed for the now-cancelled East West Link, would be used to provide up to $3 billion in funding for the project, over the forward estimates.

On April 16, 2015, Swanston Street was announced as the preferred CBD alignment for the tunnel, to run at a depth of 10 metres across the length of Swanston Street between CBD North and CBD South Stations, running above the existing City Loop tunnels. Tunnelling to a depth of 40 meters below Swanston Street was considered however it was determined to be cost prohibitive with issues arising around safe evacuation of passengers in the event of an emergency from such depths. Alternatives routes down Elizabeth and Russell Streets were considered, however unfavourable ground conditions and limitations in connecting with existing heavy rail infrastructure ruled these route options out.[2]

Progress on the project proceeded further, when Premier Daniel Andrews announced $1.5 billion would be allocated in the upcoming 2015/16 State Budget for the full cost of pre-construction works, geo technical drilling, land and property acquisition and detailed route investigations.[3] This is on top of a previously announced $300 million earlier in the year. Furthermore, some 150 bore holes will be dug along the route across Melbourne to investigate soil and ground composition, including the Yarra River. [4]

Tenders are expected to be brought to the market in 2016, with major construction to commence before the end of 2018.


Improve network capacity[edit]

The primary aim of the project is to increase capacity within the inner core of the metropolitan network, as well as improving reliability and efficiency when linking up two of Melbourne's busiest train lines, the Sunbury and Cranbourne/Pakenham lines. It is estimated that once complete, the project will allow for an additional 20,000 passengers during peak periods and provide for additional points of interchange with existing light and heavy rail transport.[5]

Relieve Swanston Street tram services[edit]

With the proposed route expected to run directly under Swanston Street and towards the south-eastern suburbs, the project will provide much needed relief to existing and overcrowded tram services that run from St Kilda Road into the CBD. Currently, St Kilda Road is the busiest tram thoroughfare in the world, with up to 10 tram routes running into the CBD via Swanston Street. The Melbourne Metro is expected to relieve this pressure by allowing commuters to catch the train into the Domain Interchange and CBD from either the north-west or south-eastern suburbs, avoiding already congested tram routes. In particular, many of the existing tram routes that run through St Kilda Road terminate at Melbourne University, which can be accessed more seamlessly once the Melbourne Metro is complete, via the new Parkville Station, adjacent to the university.

Allow for further network expansion[edit]

In 2012, Public Transport Victoria or PTV, the body charged with planning and coordination of public transport services in Victoria, released the Metropolitan Network Development Plan. It emphasised the need for the project as a precursor for other heavy rail expansion projects, given current limitations on existing inner city infrastructure to cope with additional services running into the inner part of the network. In particular rail lines to Doncaster, Melbourne Airport and Rowville require additional inner core capacity to enable services to run on those lines into the CBD.


The project is expected to employ up to 3,500 people during peak construction.[5]


Increase existing capacity[edit]

The need for a new tunnel to increase capacity has been subject to criticism that capacity on the existing network is under utilised or hamstrung by operational inefficiencies. Paul Mees in 2008[6] noted that the claim the new tunnel would allow 40 extra trains per hour through the city should be compared to an increase of 56 trains per hour by increasing line capacity to 24 trains per hour per line (80% of the theoretical 30 trains per hour allowed by the current signalling system), reducing dwell times and other efficiencies such as terminating some trains at Flinders St Station rather than Southern Cross Station. Mees also criticised the proposal for absorbing rail investment at the expense of extending the network at its periphery. Other proposals have also been suggested for some relatively minor alterations to the City Loop to allow different groupings of the lines without any new stations.

Critics have also argued that by implementing High Capacity Signalling (HCS) across the network, additional services would be able to run on existing infrastructure, by reducing headway between trains allowing more services to run. In March 2015, the State Government announced a trial of HCS would commence on the Sandringham line, with a view to expand it across the network once successful trial were complete.

Lack of interchange at South Yarra and Richmond[edit]

Criticism currently exists surrounding the lack of integration with South Yarra and Richmond stations, both of which are ageing and require significant renovation and expansion to accommodate the growing number of passengers during peak periods. The current scope of the project means that services that use the tunnel will bypass South Yarra Station and Richmond Station, limiting passenger access to the MCG and the Melbourne Sports and Entertainment Precinct.[7]

Cost and funding[edit]

A significant point of contention has been the relative cost of the project and the capacity of the State to afford up to $11 billion. The current Abbott Federal Government has specifically ruled out funding urban rail projects across the country, limiting funding options for the Melbourne Metro project and placing pressure on the Victorian State Government to fund the project with a mix of debt and private business investment. Significantly, funding allocated by the Abbott Government for the now-scrapped East West Link has been specifically ruled out for use on urban rail projects in Melbourne.[8]

Commonwealth funding options for the project can be realised through the Abbott Government's 'Asset Recycling Program', which matches 15% of the cost of any State Government asset that is sold to be used for infrastructure projects. The sale of the Port of Melbourne by the Andrews State Government could provide additional funding to the Melbourne Metro project once sold, including an indirect contribution by the Commonwealth.[9]

Swanston Street & CBD Disruption[edit]

The current agreed route alignment down Swanston Street means significant disruption will be required to dig up much of the thoroughfare to lay new tracks and build underground stations. It has been widely reported that the route within the CBD will require a 'cut and cover' method for construction. This means lengthy and prolonged road closures limiting access for pedestrians and requiring the rerouting of tram routes down alternative corridors within the CBD. Swanston Street is currently the most congested tram corridor in the world. Business has expressed concern around the impact prolonged construction will have on street traders down Swanston Street. Former Premier, Denis Napthine controversially described aligning the tunnel down Swanston Street akin to a 'Berlin Wall', which would "tear the city in half for up to two years".[10]



The northern portal of the tunnel is set to commence in South Kensington adjacent to South Kensington Station running below Moonee Ponds Creek and CityLink. Arden Station is the first of 5 underground stations as part of the project. The station, to be built near the intersection of Arden and Laurens Streets in North Melbourne, allowing for urban renewal of the formerly industrial suburb. The station is expected to serve some 22,000 residents once complete.


Parkville Station is to be located on the intersection of Grattan Street and Royal Parade in Parkville, in proximity to the Royal Melbourne Hospital and Melbourne University. The station, to be located underground, will relieve pressure on north-south tram routes and the congested 401 bus service between North Melbourne Station and the university/hospital precinct. New tram stops are to be constructed as part of the project allowing for seamless tram and train interchanges. The station will service the busy hospital and research precinct, including the currently under-construction Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre. The station is expected to service 21,000 passengers during peak periods.

CBD North[edit]

CBD North Station is to be located underground on the intersection of Swanston and La Trobe Streets in the Melbourne CBD above the existing Melbourne Central Station. This will allow for interchange opportunities between stations and existing lines and relieve pressure on Swanston Street tram routes. The station will service the northern end of the CBD, as well as the State Library of Victoria and RMIT University. The line will continue underneath Swanston Street at a depth of approximately 10 metres, running above the existing City Loop tunnels. The station will serve up to 40,000 passengers once complete.

CBD South[edit]

CBD South Station is to be located underground on the corner of Swanston and Flinders Streets, with direct connections to Flinders Street Station, adding further relief to tram services and servicing the southern end of the CBD. The station will be within proximity to St Paul's Cathedral, the Arts Precinct, Southbank and Federation Square and have exits on Collins Street. The line will proceed south running below the Yarra River and the Burnley and Domain tunnels. The station is expected to serve some 55,000 passengers during peak periods.


Domain Station is to be located underground on St Kilda Road and Park Streets adjacent to the Domain Interchange, with interchange opportunities with existing St Kilda Road tram services. The station will service the Shrine of Remembrance, the busy St Kilda Road office precinct and Royal Botanic Gardens. The station is expected to serve approximately 14,500 passengers during peak periods. The southern portal for the tunnel is to be located to the south of South Yarra Station.

Proposed route[edit]

Melbourne Metro Rail Tunnel
Sunbury Line
CBD North
Melbourne Central
CBD South
Flinders Street
Yarra River
Cranbourne/Pakenham Line


  1. ^ Adam Carey (2015-02-16). "Melbourne Metro rail tunnel project revived by Daniel Andrews". Retrieved 2015-05-14. 
  2. ^ "Swanston St The Smartest Option For Melbourne Metro | Premier of Victoria". 2015-04-16. Retrieved 2015-05-14. 
  3. ^ "$1.5 Billion To Get Started On Melbourne Metro Rail Project | Premier of Victoria". 2015-04-28. Retrieved 2015-05-14. 
  4. ^ "Geotechnical investigations". 2015-05-07. Retrieved 2015-05-14. 
  5. ^ a b "Frequently asked questions". 2015-05-01. Retrieved 2015-05-14. 
  6. ^ "Does Melbourne need another central rail tunnel?" (PDF). July 2008. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  7. ^ Farrah Tomazin. "Thousands may lose direct rail services to South Yarra and Richmond". Retrieved 2015-05-14. 
  8. ^ Adam Carey, Josh Gordon (2013-04-04). "Abbott warns Victorian Libs: no money for urban rail". Retrieved 2015-05-14. 
  9. ^ "Port sale standoff threatens to derail Andrews government's transport promises". 2015-04-09. Retrieved 2015-05-14. 
  10. ^ Richard Willingham (2014-02-17). "Swanston Street rip-up for Melbourne Metro rail akin to Berlin Wall: Napthine". Retrieved 2015-05-14. 

External links[edit]