Who builds what rail infrastructure in Melbourne?

All across Melbourne there is finally some progress being made on new rail infrastructure – level crossings removals, a new tunnel under the CBD, track duplication to Heidelberg and Melton, and an extension to the suburban network to Mernda. So who is building it all?

Still finishing off the platforms at Ginifer station

If you said Public Transport Victoria, you’re wrong – they have a page listing their current projects, but none of the above big ticket items are being delivered by them.

Instead, special purpose authorities have been established by the government to deliver these major works.

February 2015 saw the first two announcements –

Work Begins On The Melbourne Metro Rail Project
16 February 2015

Premier Daniel Andrews joined Minister for Public Transport, Jacinta Allan, in Parkville today to announce the establishment of the Melbourne Metro Rail Authority.

Work Begins: Removing Our 50 Worst Level Crossings
16 February 2015

Premier Daniel Andrews joined Minister for Public Transport, Jacinta Allan, at the level crossing on Centre Rd in Bentleigh today to announce the establishment of the Level Crossings Removal Authority, which will deliver the project.

The creation of these special authorities isn’t anything new – here is list of previous examples from Victoria.

But in 2016 things started to get weird, as random projects were piled onto the Level Crossing Removal Authority.

Getting On With It: Mernda Rail Project Released To Market
28 February 2016

The Mernda Rail project will be delivered by the Level Crossing Removal Authority and will include five grade separations, guaranteeing no new level crossings are created by the new rail line.

A bit of a long bow to draw – a new railway avoiding level crossings – but what about building a parallel rail tunnel on an existing railway?

Duplicated Hurstbridge Line Will Run More Trains
27 April 2016

A notorious single-track section of the Hurstbridge line will be duplicated with a new rail tunnel to enable faster, more frequent and more reliable services for Melbourne’s north east.

Under the plan, funded in the Victorian Budget 2016/17, $140.2 million will be invested to duplicate 1.2 kilometres of single-track between Heidelberg and Rosanna, with a new tunnel to be constructed alongside the existing tunnel in Heidelberg.

As part of the plan, the Level Crossing Removal Authority (LXRA) will also undertake the planning work on possible future rail duplications on sections between Greensborough and Eltham, to further boost services.

This package of works will be delivered by the LXRA.

The Melbourne Metro Rail Authority sounds like an organisation with a very focused mission, but it didn’t escape the scope creep either.

Ballarat Line Upgrade To Be Delivered By Australia’s Best
9 November 2016

The Authority overseeing Australia’s biggest public transport project – the Metro Tunnel – will now also deliver the Andrews Labor Government’s transformation of the Ballarat line.

Minister for Public Transport Jacinta Allan announced today that a dedicated project team within Melbourne Metro Rail Authority (MMRA) will officially oversee the $518 million Ballarat Line Upgrade.

MMRA has some of Australia’s most experienced rail experts and is perfectly placed to deliver the upgrade, which includes duplication of the line between Deer Park and Melton.

Building a second track through empty paddocks west of Melbourne is just building twin rail tunnels under the Melbourne CBD, doesn’t it?

VL14 passes the Melbourne CBD skyline at Rockbank

At the rate Victoria is going, in a decade’s time we will have with two parallel special purpose government authorities building rail infrastructure – neither of which is working on the project they were originally established to deliver!

A sidenote on management

Turns out both the Level Crossing Removal Authority and the Melbourne Metro Rail Authority share a common board – the Major Transport Infrastructure Board.

Les Wielinga To Head Major Transport Infrastructure Board
17 April 2015

The delivery of the Andrews Labor Government’s unprecedented transport infrastructure program will be overseen by an expert Board, to ensure all projects are delivered in a coordinated and cost-effective way.

The Major Transport Infrastructure Board will be chaired by eminent transport expert Les Wielinga, who will ensure effective governance in the delivery of the Melbourne Metro Rail Project, the Level Crossing Removal Project and the Mernda rail extension.

Mr Wielinga has more than 35 years’ experience in the design, delivery and strategic planning of major transport projects, most recently the $8 billion North West Rail Link and the Sydney Light Rail Project.

The appointment of Mr Wielinga and the establishment of the Major Transport Infrastructure Board will complement the robust delivery mechanisms already established through the creation of the Level Crossing Removal Authority and the Melbourne Metro Rail Authority.

Both are also part of the Major Transport Infrastructure Program – a post created in 2014. Here is a 2014 interview with Corey Hannett, the current Coordinator-General of the office.

What I’m responsible for now is a series of mega projects, being the Melbourne Rail Link, the western section of the East West Link, the Cranbourne–Pakenham Rail Corridor Project, and the CityLink–Tulla Widening Project. So four big things where I’m going to have four project offices report to me. It’s called the Coordinator-General, Major Transport Infrastructure Program. Really, I’m going to do what my boss’s job was here, plus more.

With the recent State Budget and the program that is coming up, the position was created by the sheer fact that there are these mega projects, which got the go-ahead from government, and they need someone to sit across the projects and ensure a coordinated, collaborative program approach. It’s certainly a big challenge. It is the same type of work that I’ve done except it is over four projects.

Level crossings removals and track duplication

When announcing duplication of the Hurstbridge line, the government had this to say on getting the best ‘bang for buck’.

Planning will aim to coordinate construction on the level crossing removals and duplication so both projects can be delivered quickly and efficiently, with fewer disruptions to passengers while work is carried out.

Over at Kororoit Creek Road on the single track Altona line, community pressure forced the government to add track duplication to a level crossing removal project.

The Altona Loop rail line is set to be partially duplicated in response to feedback received during recent community and stakeholder consultations for the Kororoit Creek Road level crossing removal project.

It is proposed that this level crossing be removed by building a rail bridge over the Kororoit Creek Road. It will now include two tracks, with the duplication extending for approximately 800 metres from the junction with the Werribee line to Kororoit Creek.

The partial duplication will enable trains to pass each other, or to wait off the main Werribee line, improving reliability and reducing the probability of trains bypassing the Loop.

But over on the much busier Cranbourne line, track duplication has been ruled out – the Abbotts Road level crossing in Dandenong will be replaced by a single track bridge.

Just another example of how the measure for success for the Level Crossings Removal Authority is the number of crossings removed – with any improvements to the rail network a side effect.

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11 Responses to “Who builds what rail infrastructure in Melbourne?”

  1. Seph Murphy says:

    In terms of the Metro Tunnel doing the Ballarat Line upgrades, the facilities built at Bacchus Marsh/Melton will probably be handed over to Metro as a part of Melton (or possible Bacchus Marsh) electrification so that makes a bit of sense in building the inner sections to Metro Standards by the people building the rest of it.

    I just wish the LXRA were forced to duplicate single sections, rather than only provide passive provision.

  2. andrew waugh says:

    There’s a long history of this.

    From around 1894 Victoria had a Railway Construction Branch of the Board of Land and Works. This was entirely separate from the Public Works Department. From around the 1930’s railway construction work dried up, but the RCB lingered on, tasked with building bridges and grain silos (and the occasional railway deviation). In the ’70s, MURLA was set up to build the Underground loop, but this was really just a renaming of the RCB. I think it was finally abolished in the 1980s when there was a big clean up.

    And, of course, there is the Snowy Mountain Hydroelectricity Authority, still around though privatised.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Thanks for the history of the Railway Construction Branch – presumably the 1980s cleanups came with the 1983 Transport Act reshuffle, followed by the creation of the Public Transport Corporation in 1989.

  3. Tony Smith says:

    Paid real $s to hear Corey Hannett provide a quick update to a bunch of engineers with particular interest in building transport infrastructure, when I could have been at IMPA’s AGM. His main point was that we are competing in a global pool for competent people where the aggregate demand looks like a huge bubble, so his job is to make Melbourne appear the most appealing place for such people to work.

    It is certainly a mixed bag on consultation with some pretty good local detail work on more recent projects since the first few starts were indecently rushed, even those like Main Road St. Albans which had been in the pipeline for 40 years but which didn’t seriously contemplate variations closer to lock in. However it is still overwhelmingly the “information session” model of talk but don’t listen of community “engagement”, less bad for rail than the new road malfeasance.

  4. Andrew S says:

    Another was the Lower Yarra Crossing Authority which was established in 1965 to facilitate construction of the West Gate Bridge and was to operate it charging tolls. Evidence is still there today with the different bridge designs, guard rails and light masts between Williamstown Road and Graham Street (now Citylink) as opposed to the standard CRB design used to the west.

    On the Abbotts Road crossing it has been a drawn out issue with the original intention to link it via a bridge to Pound Road West and close this particular crossing. Instead now they are retaining the current road with what appears another Reinforced Earth (RE) Wall overkill structure which will become another unsightly graffiti canvas – the benefit of this method is it minimised the bridge deck area reducing overall cost. Further along at Thompsons Road they are providing road over rail with a similar RE wall treatment.
    The latter is part of the road duplication project which quietly saw the interchange at Western Port Highway dropped from the scope – which is actually where the peak hour congestion occurs.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      I’m embarrassed to have forgotten the Lower Yarra Crossing Authority – I’ve got a few blog posts on that topic sitting in my draft folder. 🙂

    • Marcus Wong says:

      How does the long term maintenance cost of a reinforced earth wall compare to a bridge? Presumably a bridge needs to be inspected more often, but how can confidently check that the soil nails holding up the wall have not deteriorated?

  5. Rohan says:

    I hope your point is that there’s a lot of crazy duplication going on – surely it would be better to have a Rail Improvement Aurthority or similar that would be tasked with all these projects, so they would be coordinated without the need for a co-ordinator ! Such an authority would naturally include duplication where it was ‘part of the plan’ when doing a crossing removal etc. And constructing not only all the level crossings on Dandy/pakenham, but the metro tunnel and the signalling too – -after all they are all part of a package to turn it into a ‘metro style’ line, or at least that’s the ultimate plan….isn’t it ??

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Seeing the wasteful duplication was the reason behind this post.

      Gotta love that in reality the Level Crossing Removal Authority is building a single track bridge at the end of the new high capacity corridor being built by the Melbourne Metro Rail Authority!

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