Can we believe it? The Victorian government has announced its intention to build a light rail to Monash and a train link to Tullamarine airport – policies that have been on the drawing board for decades, and are intermittently revived, only to be shelved when the feasibility studies come in.
In April, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews defied the sceptics and said a Caulfield to Monash light rail link would form stage one of a Rowville light rail line. “People have waited since the late ’60s … it’s time to stop talking about these things and start building them,” he said.
A train to Rowville line was first proposed in the 1969 Melbourne Transportation Plan. The Baillieu-led Liberal opposition promised to build it, including a stop at Monash, before its election in 2011, but a 2012 study concluded the line would not be economically feasible until 2027. The state government improved the Rowville bus service instead.
Monash's Professor Graham Currie, who holds the Chair of Public Transport, says public transport to the University has been woeful since the ‘drive in’ university was founded in 1958. “This whole Monash region is a national economic growth centre, Monash is going through the roof, and the transport system to this area is completely inadequate. Unless we provide high-capacity alternatives of high quality – which is what light rail is – we're going to end up with lots of delays, lots of frustrated people, and we'll limit the growth potential of the region.”
Monash already supports the largest concentration of jobs in Victoria outside the central business district, and more than 25,000 students are enrolled at the Clayton campus.
Past rail link proposals to Monash have failed to materialise on the grounds that “the economic costs are bigger than the economic benefits,” Professor Currie says. “But I think there are much wider benefits that are not included in current evaluations, such as the idea that Monash is going to be a major world innovation city in its own right, and we need a railway network to realise its potential.”
Read more: Melbourne public transport: a wish list
To Monash via Chadstone
The Andrews government said $3 million would be set aside in the coming budget for designing and planning the light-rail route. The first stage would involve building a line between Caulfield station and the University, via Chadstone Shopping Centre. (Chadstone needs a rail link, too, Professor Currie says, because it can't afford to keep expanding its car parks.) The route would include the Australian Synchrotron, the Monash Medical Centre and the future Victorian Heart Centre.
Professor Currie conceded that the bus services to Monash had improved – the 601 express bus from Huntingdale Station to Clayton campus is the state’s busiest bus route – but said buses alone were still too infrequent, and become caught in traffic. He warns that this should not be allowed to happen to the light rail, because if it becomes “just a traditional tram extension with trams in mixed traffic, there’s limited return for the investment”.
“I don’t want to walk to the tram across a traffic sewer like Dandenong Road. I don’t want to see it winding its way through the ocean of traffic on the intersection of Dandenong and Wellington Road. I would like to see the tram in its own right of way coming into the campus, right in the middle of the activity, within the ring road in campus to provide door-to-door service,” he says.
Dandenong Road carries about 67,000 vehicles a day between Caulfield and Clayton, while Wellington Road carries up to 46,000 vehicles a day.
Professor Currie believes the proposed railway’s “real potential is in land development and liveability improvement for the Clayton region”. The rail link would encourage higher-density housing development along the Caulfield to Huntingdale corridor, as well as private student accommodation around the campus perimeter. “If we're going to put the money into such high-quality infrastructure, you need the volumes of people to use it,” he says.
Tullamarine more likely
Professor Currie is more confident that the Tullamarine rail link will be given the green light in the short term – and not only because the federal government has promised to provide $5 billion towards its development if the state government matches the funding (which the latter did not announce in the state budget). “We have a great, successful airport, but its future relies on a railway. You can’t expand, where it is now, with the transport it’s got. The proof of that pudding is that the commercial operator of the airport now recognises that they need a railway. Their main revenue is from car parks. Airports are a secondary income. Now, isn’t that funny? And the reason is that they've built as many car parks as they can, and they can’t realistically build any more and still function.”
The Tullamarine rail link was first suggested in 1958. The airport lies between two existing train lines – the Craigieburn line, which goes through Broadmeadows, and the Sunbury line, which goes through Sunshine. Last November, Mr Andrews outlined an airport rail line plan that involved building a train hub at Sunshine to link the city to Tullamarine, and that would also form part of a high-speed train link to Geelong and Ballarat.
"They've built as many car parks as they can, and they can’t realistically build any more and still function.”
Professor Currie says the problem with extending either the Sunbury or Craigieburn lines to include the airport is that both lines are “going gangbusters and are full. They are also ‘dog-leg’ routes to the airport, so are indirect.” He's proposed constructing a direct new line that would link the airport to Highpoint Shopping Centre, to undeveloped Department of Defence land on the Maribyrnong River (a proposed new suburb), and then connecting to an existing spur railway line at Flemington Racecourse before going to the city. Building a new line would be expensive, but some of the cost could be recouped from the sale of the Crown land and by charging commercial fares to the airport, as is done in Sydney. He suggests the airport railway will mostly be used by “businessmen coming to Melbourne”.
“They aren’t paying our taxes. Why should we subsidise them?”
As for the widening of the Tullamarine Freeway that's now taking place, Professor Currie says transport research has shown that “the more you expand roads, the more demand you create”.
“The rest of the world’s cities don’t build urban road projects any more. Why should we?” he says.