Metro Tunnel

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Metro Tunnel
Logo used for the project: the words METRO TUNNEL emerging from a stylised tunnel portal.
Melbourne Metro Rail Tunnel route map.svg
Map of the Metro Tunnel (thick orange line), existing passenger railway tracks (white/grey dashed lines) and major freeways (green and blue lines)
Overview
Other name(s) Melbourne Metro Rail Project
System Melbourne rail network
Status Under construction
Locale Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Termini South Kensington
South Yarra
Stations 5
Services
Website metrotunnel.vic.gov.au
Operation
Commenced  2018MM (2018MM-DD)
Planned opening 2025
Character Underground
Technical
Line length 9 km (5.6 mi)
Number of tracks 2
Track gauge 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in) Victorian broad gauge
Electrification 1500 V DC overhead catenary
Route map

Up arrow Towards Footscray
(Up arrow Services continue to Sunbury)
Down arrow Towards West Melbourne (renamed from North Melbourne)
North Melbourne
Parkville
State Library
Town Hall
Left arrow City Loop Right arrow
Anzac
Up arrow Towards South Yarra
Down arrow Towards Hawksburn
(Down arrow Services continue to Pakenham or Cranbourne)

The Metro Tunnel (sometimes also known as the Melbourne Metro Rail Project or the Metro Rail Capacity Project) is a metropolitan rail infrastructure project currently under construction[1] in Melbourne, Australia. It includes the construction of twin 9-kilometre rail tunnels between South Kensington station (north west of the Melbourne City Centre) and South Yarra (in the south east) with five new underground stations. The southern portal for the tunnel is to be located to the south of South Yarra station. As a result, the tunnel will connect the Pakenham and Cranbourne lines with the Sunbury line, and allow these lines to bypass Flinders Street station and the City Loop while still stopping in the Melbourne central business district.

The project will allow for the operational separation of various existing lines and increase the capacity of the rail network to metro-style frequencies. The project is part of the PTV Network Development Plan.

In February 2015, the State government established the Melbourne Metro Rail Authority, with $40 million in funding, to oversee planning of the project and $1.5 billion to commence land and property acquisitions and detailed route investigation, and a further $3 billion in funding was committed. Most of the project would be built as a public-private partnership, with private sector investors funding much of the estimated $9 billion to $11 billion cost upfront.[2] Early enabling works commenced in late 2016. In late 2017, sections of the Melbourne central business district, including City Square and parts of Swanston Street, were closed to enable construction of the tunnel and stations. The project was originally expected to be completed in 2026,[3] but has now been revised to late 2025.[4]

History[edit]

Background[edit]

Melbourne's original development at a time when railway technology began to emerge as a feasible and efficient mode of transit led to a symbiotic relationship between the CBD and the rail network which grew to surround it. An almost purely radial system of lines, developed largely before 1930, linked the growing suburbs to the economic hub of the city centre, producing a system which supported a daily flow of passengers into and out of the city to work. Despite the increasingly car-oriented developments of the mid-20th century, the suburban rail lines in Melbourne continued to discourage any decentralisation of employment, leaving the city unusually dependent on its central core when compared to cities of similar size globally.[5]

The first underground rail line to be built in Melbourne was the City Loop, which began construction in 1971 and opened gradually between 1981 and 1985. Among its aims were to reduce pressure on Flinders Street station by distributing passengers to three additional stations in the city centre, and to improve the capacity of the railway network's central core by eliminating the need for trains to change direction after terminating at Flinders Street.[6] However, it was not entirely successful in achieving these aims: the four tunnels of the Loop proved to be a capacity constraint on the ten main lines entering the CBD, and the peculiarities of operating four single-direction balloon loops meant that inner-city rapid transit was difficult for passengers.[7] At the same time, the Loop consumed much of the available capital available for investment in the city's rail system; as a result, the extensions to the outer suburban network which had been envisaged as a succession to the Loop itself did not eventuate. Meanwhile, patronage on the network had entered a long period of decline, which culminated in the Lonie Report of 1980 recommending the closure of several lines.[8]

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. Other problems faced by the network in the first decade of the 21st century included inefficient operations which had developed during years of low patronage, and a loss of corporate memory, caused in part by the privatisation of rail services in the late 1990s, which limited the flexibility of planners in dealing with the burgeoning passenger numbers. Consequently, a large number of services were experiencing major overcrowding in peak periods.[9] A series of planning documents released during the early 2000s, including Melbourne 2030 (2002), Linking Melbourne (2004) and Meeting Our Transport Challenges (2006) identified that significant capacity constraints existed in the central core and on the Dandenong corridor, but did not propose any significant capital works in the city centre, instead suggesting that the issues could be resolved by relatively minor operational changes and construction of a third track to Dandenong.[10]

Outside the state government, support grew for a more substantial augmentation of the rail network, with many such ideas based on new underground lines through the CBD. In 2005, The Age reported that it had received a number of proposals from planning experts and engineers for rail "loops and arcs" in the central city, and publicised a plan published by Monash University professor Graham Currie for a tunnel between the University of Melbourne to the north of the city and South Yarra station to the south-east. Currie's plan also envisaged extensive improvements to the Melbourne tram network, including upgrading lines along St Kilda Road and Chapel Street to light rail standards.[11] In 2006, the state government considered a plan to construct a combined road and rail tunnel beneath the Yarra River to provide an alternative to the West Gate Bridge, but the idea was deemed unfeasible.[12]

By 2007, the planned third track to Dandenong was effectively abandoned, with no money provided for the project in that year's state budget, and opposition growing from the Public Transport Users Association and others.[13] Later that year, it emerged that train operator Connex and coordinating authority Metlink were among stakeholders encouraging the government to consider a proposal similar to Currie's, but extended to Footscray in the city's west.[14] Melbourne City Council, on the other hand, proposed a tunnel conceptually similar to the Currie plan, but running from Jewell station in the north to Windsor in the south-east.[15]

Planning and implementation[edit]

In 2008, British transport planner Sir Rod Eddington handed down the findings of a report into Melbourne's east-west transport needs, following a commission by the Brumby Government. The Eddington Report recommended two key projects in the city centre: an East West Link road tunnel providing an alternative cross-town route to the West Gate Bridge, and a 17 km (11 mi) rail tunnel from Footscray to Caulfield via the CBD. According to Eddington, the tunnel would increase the capacity of the central rail network by removing some trains from the City Loop, allowing future extensions to the suburban lines.[16] In December that year, the project was incorporated into the government's Victorian Transport Plan, to be built in two stages: the first from Footscray to St Kilda Road, and the second along the rest of the route.[17]

Following the 2010 Victorian election, the newly elected Baillieu Government abandoned the Brumby transport plan, and announced that each of the projects would be individually reviewed, some by a newly created Public Transport Development Authority.[18] Then, in its 2012 budget, the government announced a revised version of the tunnel plan: a "Melbourne Metro" from South Kensington to South Yarra along a similar city centre route to Eddington's original proposal. [19] The revised project included five underground stations, and was submitted to Infrastructure Australia where it was deemed "ready to proceed" and listed as the highest-priority infrastructure project in Melbourne. A business case was quickly developed based on the constraints of the existing rail system, which was rapidly approaching its maximum capacity.[20] The Department of Transport commenced geotechnical drillings and route investigations.

A dispute between the federal government and state government over the funding for the tunnel intensified in 2013 with the approach of that year's federal election. The state budget in early May revealed that none of the $50 million in planning money allocated the previous year had been spent, with new premier Denis Napthine deferring the project in favour of the East West Link.[21] Despite this, with the release of the federal budget a week later, the government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard committed $3 billion to the project on the condition that the state match the contribution. The remaining money was to be raised by a public-private partnership with the possibility that the contractor could take over running of the line in addition to its construction.[22] However, federal opposition leader Tony Abbott declared that if he was elected to lead a government that year, no Commonwealth money would be spent on urban passenger rail, and that any commitment to the Melbourne Metro project would be revoked.[23]

Meanwhile, Public Transport Victoria's Network Development Plan Metropolitan Rail (NDPMR), released in early 2013, identified the Metro Tunnel as the centrepiece of a 20-year strategy for improving the Melbourne suburban rail network. CEO Ian Dobbs, launching the plan, argued that any expansion of the system was "impossible" without vastly improved capacity in the core of the network.[24] The NDPMR envisaged the tunnel's construction taking place in a wave of major development from 2017 to 2022, enabling the segregation of the rail system into four independently-operated lines, each with their own routes through the CBD.[25] It also outlined a service plan for the tunnel, proposing an initial peak hour flow of 8 trains per hour in each direction.[26]

In February the following year, the state government announced that it was considering alternative alignments for the tunnel, because of concerns that cut and cover construction in Swanston Street in the central city would result in massive disruption to traffic and retail activity for an extended period of time.[27] Then, at the launch of its 2014 budget in May, the Napthine government announced that the Metro Tunnel project would be abandoned and replaced with an alternative proposal called "Melbourne Rail Link". The MRL route consisted of a tunnel from South Yarra to Southern Cross via Kings Domain and Fishermans Bend, where it would join existing City Loop tunnels reconfigured for bidirectional traffic. Furthermore, the government promised that the realignment would enable a Melbourne Airport rail link to be constructed from Southern Cross at the same time.[28] Ultimately, the reconfiguration of the rail network was to have produced similar operational outcomes as the Melbourne Metro plan, with a Sunbury-Dandenong corridor operating directly between Southern Cross and Flinders Street in both directions, but with an additional end-to-end line from Frankston to Ringwood via the new tracks.[29]

According to government ministers, the Melbourne Rail Link offered greater capacity increases and less disruption during the construction phase than existing plans.[30] However, it was heavily criticised, including by Lord Mayor of Melbourne Robert Doyle, who described the route change as a potential "100-year catastrophe" because of its failure to service the Parkville medical and research precinct. Furthermore, the government revealed in the days following the budget that it had not produced a business case for its plan, and that the decision had been taken primarily on the basis of a "common sense" need to service its urban redevelopment project at Fishermans Bend.[31] Other concerns emerged in the months following the budget, with experts publicly questioning whether the Napthine government had committed sufficient funding,[32] and whether the proposed tunnels could be engineered to successfully avoid the main Melbourne sewer.[33]

By November, with the state election approaching, the rail tunnel had become a major point of contention in the campaign, with the government apparently prioritising the East West Link (EWL) road tunnel, and the Labor opposition promising that "under no circumstances" would it build the EWL if elected.[34] As an alternative, Labor proposed reinstating the original Metro Tunnel plan, which retained the support of senior public servants in the Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure. According to this analysis, the original tunnel route performed substantially better than the EWL in a cost-benefits analysis, but no such calculation had been performed for the new Melbourne Rail Link.[35]

On the eve of the election, it emerged that the Abbott federal government had redirected $3 billion in funding to the EWL, and would refuse to allow it to be used for the Melbourne Metro project instead, despite mounting pressure to reconsider his intransigence.[36] A Labor state government under Premier Daniel Andrews was elected the following day, and immediately set about cancelling contracts for the EWL.[37] At the same time, however, new Treasurer Tim Pallas conceded that it would be "difficult" to deliver the Metro Tunnel given the complexities of the funding dispute.[38]

In February 2015, the Andrews government announced $40 million in immediate funding to establish the Melbourne Metro Rail Authority, in order to commence detailed planning work along the original route, and promised a further $300 million in its upcoming budget. It also revealed that a $3 billion line of credit established to fund the EWL would be redirected to the Melbourne Metro project. A timeline was provided, with construction expected to commence in 2018 and the tunnel to be open in 2026. Meanwhile, however, the federal government continued to refuse to fund the project, which led some observers to describe Andrews' commitment as a significant political risk.[39][40]

Construction[edit]

On 15 April 2015, the government announced that the MMRA had selected a route along Swanston Street as the preferred option for the project. The announcement revealed that routes under Elizabeth Street and Russell Street had been considered but were rejected on the basis of engineering difficulties and lack of connectivity respectively. For similar reasons, the route selected along Swanston Street was a shallow tunnel above the City Loop and CityLink tunnels, at a depth of 10 m (33 ft) and therefore to be constructed using cut-and-cover methods. The announcement was criticised by representatives of city retailers, who claimed that the disruption would cause enormous damage to their businesses; the government acknowledged massive changes to city access but assured retailers they would be treated fairly.[41][42] Further concerns about the proposed route emerged some days later when it emerged the tunnel would not connect to South Yarra station, and that Pakenham and Cranbourne services would bypass the station when the tunnel opened.[43]

Discussions about the funding of the project continued into late April. The state government acknowledged that the Abbott federal government would not make any contribution to the project, but stated that it remained "hopeful" a future federal government would change the policy.[44] Towards the end of the month, the Andrews government announced that $1.5 billion would be allocated in the upcoming state Budget for the full cost of pre-construction works, land and property acquisition and detailed route investigations, on top of the already announced money for planning.[45] Among the work funded was drilling 140 bore holes to establish ground conditions along the route. However, questions remained about the state government's capacity to fund the remainder of the project, and it was reported that no business case had been completed, despite this being Labor's key objection to the Melbourne Rail Link plan when in opposition.[46] A levy on land tax for commercial properties benefiting from the tunnel, similar to that used on the City Loop and on the contemporary London Crossrail project, was proposed as one possible solution.[47] At the same time the funding announcement was made, MMRA announced it had appointed technical and planning advisors for the project.[48]

After the state Budget in May, details gradually emerged of the revised business case for the tunnel, including specific routes and tunnel options. The government's announcement that an interchange to the existing station at South Yarra because of its expense was heavily criticised by opposition parties and public transport advocates.[49][50] Invetigative drilling along Swanston Street began in early June,[51] and in the middle of that month, the state government announced negotiations with the financiers of the cancelled EWL had concluded, enabling the $3 billion credit facility to be redirected to the Metro Tunnel.[52] In August, tunnel boring machines were announced as the preferred engineering option for the sections of the project under the Yarra River.[53] The September federal Liberal leadership spill, which saw Malcolm Turnbull replace Abbott as prime minister, led to new hope for federal funding of the project when Turnbull announced he would consider all transport projects on their merits.[54]

In October 2015 the government announced it had abandoned earlier plans to run the tunnel just metres beneath Swanston Street and above the existing City Loop tunnels and instead place parts of the project 40 metres underground between CBD North and CBD South stations. The decision was made to reduce disruption to trams and traders on Swanston Street and avoid removing critical utilities, such as telecommunication lines, from beneath the street.[55] The cost of such a change was disputed, with the government claiming the additional tunnelling expense would be met by the savings of services remaining in place, but opposition parties arguing the change could be up to $1 billion more expensive.[56]

With the key engineering details in place, the scope of the project and its associated disruptions gradually became public. The government first announced in October it would compulsorily acquire the properties of 63 households and 31 businesses at several locations on the tunnel route.[57] Later, in November, road closures for up to five years were announced near construction sites, and specific station designs were released for the first time.[58] The first package of works, a $300 million contract for site preparation and services relocation, was opened for tenders by MMRA on 25 November.[59]

Early in 2016, geotechnical drillling was extended to the Yarra River,[60] as political arguments continued over the Metro Tunnel's funding arrangements. Having selected a public-private partnership model based on long-term maintenance and commercial opportunities for investment,[61] and with a new business case released publicly, the state government continued to request a significant federal contribution, but the Turnbull government said it would not consider the project until it had been independently analysed by Infrastructure Australia.[62] Despite the ongoing dispute, a shortlist of bidders was announced in late February for the early works package, and the construction timeline continued to suggest a 2016 start to works.[63]

Eventually, in the May state budget, premier Andrews and his treasurer Tim Pallas declared that the state would bear the entire cost of the project in lieu of federal funds, using a combination of increased revenues from a strong property market, and an increase to the net debt of the state over the following decade.[64]

In June 2016, John Holland was awarded a $324 million contract which includes the excavation of 35 metre deep open shafts adjacent to Swanston Street to enable the underground construction of the two new city stations, and the relocation of up to 100 subterranean utilities. Utility relocations started in July 2016.[65][66] Ultimately, however, the federal budget released a week later included $857 billion redirected from other infrastructure projects to the tunnel; the funds did not represent additional support to Victoria but rather a reallocation of existing contributions.[67]

A shortlist of preferred bidders for the project's main contract, the "tunnel and stations" public-private partnership, was released in August, along with further details of the MMRA's recommended engineering solutions. The bidders were three consortia composed of engineering, construction and finance coompanies: Continuum Victoria, consisting Acciona Infrastructure, Ferrovial Agroman, Honeywell, Downer Rail & Plenary Group; Moving Melbourne Together, made up of Pacific Partnerships, CPB Contractors, Ghella, Salini Impregilo, Serco & Macquarie Capital; and Cross Yarra Partnership, including Lend Lease, John Holland, Bouygues & Capella Capital.[68][69] At the same time, the MMRA exercised its powers of compulsory acquisition to acquire City Square from the City of Melbourne, well head of the original schedule.[70]

Over the following months, further details of the construction process were made public, including long-term road closures and the precise location of construction sites. The revelations included the MMRA's concerns about the impact of tunneling on the structural integrity of CBD buildings, including Federation Square and St Paul's Cathedral.[71][72][73]

On 15 January 2017, works officially began on the project, with the partial closure of A'Beckett and Franklin streets in the CBD. Local media noted that the commencement marked almost precisely a decade since the project's inception.[74] The news was followed by Infrastructure Australia releasing a positive assessment of the project's business case and urging the federal government to contribute funding to the tunnel.[75]

Meanwhile, a case was lodged in the Supreme Court of Victoria by protest groups in an attempt to force the government and MMRA to reroute the project around the St Kilda Road precinct.[76] Objections to the tunnel's construction were strengthened in February, when the federal government implemented an emergency heritage protection order for the precinct, preventing the MMRA from removing around 100 trees. The Victorian government decried the move as a political stunt, and insisted that the project would go ahead as planned.[77] At the same time, the Liberal state opposition attempted to grant the City of Stonnington planning powers over the project with a motion in state parliament, in order to force the inclusion of a South Yarra station connection,[78] but eventually withdrew when sufficient support could not be secured in the Legislative Council.[79]

A major milestone was reached in mid-April when City Square was fenced off for the commencement of construction and staging works.[80] A few days later, the government announced that bids for the major construction contract had been received from each of the consortia selected on the previous year's shortlist.[81]

Cross Yarra Partnership, led by Lendlease, was named as the "preferred bidder" for the construction contract in July. The station designs presented by the consortium were released publicly, as well as details of connections to existing stations and streetscapes.[82] Shortly afterwards, Bombardier was announced as the successful tenderer for the signalling and communication systems contract, and supplied plans to build signal control centres in Sunshine and Dandenong.[83] The contract, including a rollout of high-capacity signalling (HCS) between Watergardens and Dandenong, was the first awarded in Australia for HCS implementation on existing rail lines.[84]

At the end of August, the state government launched a public naming competition for the tunnel's five new stations, to replace the working names used since the project's genesis.[85] The competition provoked a wide public response, with arguments over whether the names should reflect geographic location, cultural heritage, or tongue-in-cheek references such as Station McStationface. By the time the competition closed at the end of October, more than 50,000 submissions had been made, and the project had gained international attention with author George R. R. Martin commenting on suggestions that the stations be named after locations from his Game of Thrones series of books. However, the government emphasised that the competition was not to be judged by popular demand but by a panel of experts.[86][87]

The selected names for the stations – North Melbourne, Parkville, State Library, Town Hall and Anzac – were announced in November, with the government deciding on "common sense" options based on geographic location and ease of pronunciation. The names were welcomed by public transport advocates, but the plan to rename the existing North Melbourne station to West Melbourne was questioned as a source of potential confusion.[88][89]

The public profile of tunnel works increased through the end of 2017, with Lord Mayor Robert Doyle complaining that the City of Melbourne's pest controllers were being overwhelmed by rats disturbed by underground works, and a public viewing platform established at the City Square building site.[90][91] On 18 December, the state government announced that it had finalised its contract with Cross Yarra Partnership, with a value of some $6 billion. Opposition leader Matthew Guy immediately signalled his intention to bring the dispute over the tunnel's design to the 2018 state election, writing to CYP to indicate that he would seek to include a station at South Yarra should his party win government the following year.[92][93]

Despite ongoing legal battles, tree felling in the St Kilda Road precinct began in February 2018, marking the commencement of significant construction in the area and the consortium's commitment to its design solution for the tunnel.[94] Then, on 20 February, the state government released the tunnel contracts, and announced that the original completion date of 2026 had been brought forward to a new target of 2025. The annoucnement also included a response to the Opposition's intention to renegotiate the design, with Premier Daniel Andrews claiming it would mean a two-year delay to the overall project.[95]

In April, further concerns about the tunnel's impact on buildings near its route emerged, with managers of the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre in Parkville and the Manchester Unity Building in the CBD, along with the University of Melbourne, making submissions to the MMRA suggesting their properties were at serious risk of damage from construction and operation vibration. The authority responded that it would work with stakeholders to minimise impacts and ensure the project did not produce and adverse impacts.[96][97] In the same month, the state government announced an upgrade of South Yarra station separate from the Metro Tunnel, in order to address the concerns about its lack of connectivity to the project.[98]

Following a series of announcements of major rail projects prior to the state budget in May, the Melbourne Metro Rail Authority was renamed Rail Projects Victoria (RPV) to reflect its involvement in projects outside the Metro Tunnel.[99]

Final designs and concept images for the new stations were released in May 2018, using materials and features intended to reflect the character of the five station precincts. CYP, RPV and Minister for Public Transport Jacinta Allan expressed their hope that the designs would be accepted and integrated into the Melbourne landscape as new cultural icons following their completion.[100][101] Then, in June, the state government released modelling demonstrating the project's contribution to improved accessbility in the CBD, with travel time savings from virtually all parts of Greater Melbourne to the Parkville and St Kilda Road areas served by the Metro Tunnel.[102]

The tunnel is anticipated to be operational by the end of 2025.

Project description[edit]

The project will consist of two 9-kilometre rail tunnels between South Kensington and South Yarra via the CBD with five new underground stations. The line will run from the north-west to the south-east and link the Sunbury line with the Cranbourne/Pakenham line.

While the rail tunnel is the centrepiece of the project, further works will also be carried out on a new third turnback platform at West Footscray station and complement existing projects underway on the Dandenong line, to create four 'metro-style' lines which each run independently 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, High Capacity Metro Trains will be procured to add further capacity to the network.

Stations[edit]

The project involves construction of five new underground stations:

North Melbourne[edit]

North Melbourne station is to be located near the intersection of Arden and Laurens Streets in North Melbourne. It is planned to allow for urban renewal of the formerly industrial suburb, and is expected to serve some 25,000 residents once complete. The existing North Melbourne station will be renamed West Melbourne.

Parkville[edit]

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 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 Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre. The station is expected to service 60,000 passengers each day in 2031.

State Library[edit]

State Library station is to be located 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 under Swanston Street running below the existing City Loop tunnels. The station will serve up to 40,000 passengers once complete.

Town Hall[edit]

Town Hall station is to be located 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 near 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.

Anzac[edit]

Anzac station is to be located 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, the Royal Botanic Gardens and Melbourne Grammar School. The station is expected to serve approximately 14,500 passengers during peak periods.

Analysis and criticism[edit]

Network capacity[edit]

The primary stated aim of the project is to increase capacity within the inner core of the metropolitan network, as well as improving reliability and efficiency. It aims to accomplish this by creating a single, end-to-end metropolitan line between Sunshine in the west and Dandenong in the south-east, linking the existing Sunbury, Cranbourne and Pakenham lines and providing them with a dedicated city centre route. Because this re-routing removes services from two City Loop tunnels, more capacity will be available for the Werribee, Williamstown, Craigieburn, Upfield, Frankston and Sandringham lines. According to official project estimates, the result is a total capacity increase of 39,000 passengers in the city centre for each peak period.[103]

However, 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, since the project was originally proposed in Eddington's report. Paul Mees in 2008[104] 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 Street 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.

On the other hand, transport economist Chris Hale has argued that while the capacity increase offered by the tunnel is real and probably more significant than that offered by incremental upgrades to the existing network, the project is the product of poor planning processes in the Victorian transport bureacracy and consequently reflects a "single-issue" approach to infrastructure which is inconsistent with contemporary best practice. Hale contends that the tunnel's route, which reinforces existing transport networks and focuses on the inner city as the single connection point of all transport, exemplifies outmoded thinking and, therefore, achieves its primary aims while failing to accomplish more extensive benefits for a similar cost.[105]

Ultimately, the business case for the Metro Tunnel considered high-capacity signalling and other network upgrades as alternatives to the proposed route. It concluded that, when compared to the tunnel, upgrading to HCS would produce inferior outcomes because of its limited capacity benefits and its failure to integrate improvement of the existing network with service to new parts of the central city. Additionally, the business case noted that by making incremental upgrades to the rail system without substantially altering its structure, the opportunity for more reliable operations as a result of fully segregated lines would be lost.[106]

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 will be more easily accessible from the nearby Parkville station when the Melbourne Metro is complete.

Concerns existed over expected disruption along the Swanston Street corridor, with former Premier Denis Napthine controversially describing the alignment of the tunnel as akin to the Berlin Wall, which would "tear the city in half for up to two years".[107] However, changes to engineering and construction plans indicate that tunneling, rather than the 'cut and cover' method of construction, will be employed. Minimal disruption for trams, pedestrians and traders along Swanston Street is thus expected.[108]

Further network expansion[edit]

In 2012, Public Transport Victoria, 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.

Jobs[edit]

The project is expected to employ up to 3,500 people during peak construction.[109]

South Yarra[edit]

The current scope of the project has ruled out integration with South Yarra station, meaning it will be bypassed by trains using the new tunnel. This would prevent passengers using the tunnel transferring from the Dandenong and Frankston lines to the Sandringham line. Pressure from the State Opposition and the Greens to include the station in the tunnel's design have gone unheeded.[110] The Melbourne Metro Rail Authority has defended the plan, saying the economic case for integration is poor, requiring the building of a new hub and the acquisition of 114 properties including part of The Jam Factory at a cost of an extra $1 billion; a business case estimate indicates a return of only 20c for every dollar spent on the station.[111] Integration of South Yarra station into the project has been the subject of lobbying as a requirement for federal funding.

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 previous 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 State Government to fund the project with a mix of debt and private business investment. While funding allocated by the Abbott Government for the now-scrapped East West Link was specifically ruled out for use on urban rail projects in Melbourne,[23] the new Turnbull government has removed this condition.[112]

Federal 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 Government could provide additional funding to the Melbourne Metro project once sold, including an indirect contribution by the Federal Government.[113]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Dow, Aisha (16 January 2017). "CBD roads to be closed for years as Melbourne Metro Tunnel construction begins". 
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