Metro Tunnel to deliver almost nothing to Melbourne’s west

‘More trains more often’ is one of the line being used by the Melbourne Metro Rail Authority to spruik the benefits of the new rail tunnel being built under the Melbourne CBD – but in reality it is a half-truth.

Site clearance works continue at City Square

With the tunnel linking the Sunbury line in Melbourne’s north-west to the Pakenham and Cranbourne lines in the south-east, the two additional tracks and five new stations will free up space in the existing City Loop tunnels, providing benefits to rail users all across Melbourne.

'More trains in and out of the city' poster outside the City Square construction site

Government media releases are using language such as:

“This project will create space to run more trains, more often, right across Melbourne. We’re getting it done.” said Premier Daniel Andrews.

As well as:

“We know these changes will be disruptive but we need to get on and build the Metro Tunnel – so we can deliver the frequent, reliable, turn-up-and-go transport system passengers need.” said Minister for Public Transport Jacinta Allan.

But if the Melbourne Metro Program “Business Case Baseline” document dated February 2016 is anything to go by, it appears that the full benefits of the new rail tunnel won’t be taken advantage of. It starts explaining why the document was created:

This document summarises the service plan expectations for lines affected by the Melbourne Metro program:

– immediately after completion of the Melbourne Metro program; and,
– subsequent to completion of an extended program of works designed to demonstrate benefits enabled by future provisions being made as part of the Melbourne Metro design.

These proposed service plans are the baseline that should be adopted to underpin development and evaluation of the Melbourne Metro Rail Project (including preparation of the business case and associated scope for the project).

As well as what the plan will deliver to rail passengers.

The service plan should:

> establish the Sunshine – Dandenong line operation via the new tunnel alignment, including:
• commencing passenger services to the new stations at Arden, Parkville, CBD North, CBD South and Domain;
• providing service increases appropriate to meet the demands forecast for the corridor; and,
• operating all services on the line with HCMT rolling stock.

> re-establishing a consistent Frankston line routing through the inner core:
• with all services operating via the city loop (Caulfield underground loop); and
• providing service increases appropriate to meet the demands forecast for the corridor.

> re-establishing a consistent routing of Craigieburn and Upfield lines within the inner core:
• with all services operating via the city loop (Northern underground loop); and
• providing service increases appropriate to meet the demands forecast for each corridor.

> establishing a consistent through operation from the Sandringham line via Richmond, Flinders Street and Southern Cross and North Melbourne stations as part of the Cross City group:
• including provision of additional peak period services from South Yarra to Flinders Street; and
• providing service increases appropriate to meet the demands forecast for the corridor.

> modify service operation on the Werribee, Williamstown and Laverton lines as part of changes to the Cross City group, to provide service increases appropriate to the demands forecast for the corridor.

Then gives a real kick in the guts for anyone living west of Footscray.

Services – Melbourne Metro Day 1 (Day 1 = Modelled 2026) AM Peak Hour (peak direction) AM Peak 2-hours (peak direction) Inter-peak and counter-peak (tphpd)
Typical other off-peak (tphpd)
Sunbury services 6 9 3 3
Watergardens services 9 15
West Footscray turn-back services) 3 7 3 3
Sunshine/Dandenong line from west (suburban services – total separates turn-back services) 15 (+3) 24 (+7) 3 (+3) 3 (+3)
Bendigo Line (V/Line diesel service) Total, inclusive services originating from Swan Hill, Echuca, Epsom, Eaglehawk, Bendigo and Kyneton 3 5 1 1

Yes, you read that correctly – under this plan only three trains off-peak per hour will head west to Sunshine, St Albans and Watergardens – with 50% of services from the city terminating at an expensive turnback siding at West Footscray!

Can you imagine such a poor service being provided to the likes of Camberwell or Caulfield?

PIDS at Camberwell - three lines on the screen dedicated to citybound trains, and one line for outbound service

Living with a train every 20 minutes

Three trains per hour is the current level of service provided off-peak on the Sunbury line.

Watergardens station displays the next three up services, and the down service

Resulting in grossly overcrowded Sunbury line trains as soon as the clock strikes 9am.

Crash loaded Comeng train on a citybound off-peak Sunbury line service at Footscray

Running trains 10 minutes apart off-peak isn’t a new idea – way back in 2009 it was tested on the Werribee line, then permanently introduced to the Frankston line in 2011, and the line as far as Dandenong in 2014.

So why is the Metro Tunnel business plan aiming so low? They do state that their assumptions aren’t a limit on services to be provided.

The proposed service plans do not represent a recommendation to limit development of the future network and should not constrain Government from making further improvements to the Public Transport Network.

Implementation of the proposed service plans is subject to the discretion and influence of the stakeholders in Victoria’s public transport network, in the context of information available closer to the time of implementation – including growth rates and policy changes.

By it does give some oxygen to a theory Daniel Bowen came up with back in 2016 – Labor seems to be better at building new public transport infrastructure, while the the Coalition seems to be better are funding additional services to take advantage of them.

Remember the promises of Regional Rail Link?

Back in the early-2010s Melbourne’s west was promised that the Regional Rail Link project would enable additional suburban rail services to operate, by building new tracks to be used by V/Line services to regional Victoria.

VLocity train finally on the move after delays at the North Melbourne flyover

But the extra track capacity yet to be fully taken advantage of – with the Victorian Auditor‐General’s stating in May 2018:

The project has not yet fully realised some specific benefits articulated in the Victorian Government’s 2013 booklet Regional Rail Link Benefits for Victorians, particularly the creation of capacity for an additional 10 metropolitan services in the two‐hour morning peak period at the RRL’s opening, with only five new metropolitan services delivered to date.

Will Melbourne Metro follow the same path?

And the ‘Extended Program’ service proposal

The Metro Tunnel business case also includes an ‘Extended Program’ service proposal – described as:

The Melbourne Metro program business case identified a series of subsequent investments with benefits substantially relying on ‘future-proofing’ elements on the Melbourne Metro design.

An ‘Extended Program’ including a range of these investments to enable the operations and passenger catchment of the Sunshine-Dandenong line to be expanded was therefore included in the business case to demonstrate the longer-term benefits of the Melbourne Metro investment. These subsequent investments, and associated benefits expected, include:

> substantial increase in capacity and service provision to the growth area west of Sunshine through amplification and electrification of the rail line to Melton, to enable:

• a high-frequency, high-capacity suburban service to be provided to this growth area; and
• improved and maintained separation of suburban and regional trains operating on the Regional Rail Link corridor to improve capacity and reliability of regional services on the Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong corridors.

> introduction of Extended HCMT (10-car) across the corridor to accommodate rapid growth forecast for the growth areas east of Dandenong and west along the Sunbury and Melton corridors.

It provides a long list of other yet-to-be funded infrastructure upgrades:

To support this outcome, the following subsequent investments are expected to be required:

> Provision of an additional track pair between Sunshine and Deer Park for dedicated use by regional services operating on the RRL trunk.
> Electrification of a track pair between Sunshine and Deer Park, providing platforms suitable for Extended HCMT operation at all existing stations in this section.
> Provision of a grade-separated junction enabling electric services to operate on the newly electrified track pair west from Sunshine to merge into the Sunshine Dandenong line on the Down side of Sunshine station (continuing to/from the CBD) without facing conflicts with any other services.
> Duplication and electrification of the track pair between Deer Park and Melton, with provision of Extended HCMT stabling and a turn-back facility at Melton for electric services.
> Provision of an at-grade junction between the RRL and electrified track pair on the Down side of Deer Park, to enable regional services operating on the Ballarat line to merge with suburban services to Melton.
> Expansion of the number of HCMT trains dedicated to operation of the corridor and lengthening of some trains to provide a mix of Standard and Extended HCMT trains.
> Upgrade to any surface stations, stabling, maintenance or traction power systems on the Sunshine-Dandenong line not already supporting Extended HCMT operation at MM Day-1.
> Upgrades in the regional area to accommodate growth and changes to regional paths.

And the level of service possible once it is built.

Services – Extended Proposal (2031) AM Peak Hour (peak direction) AM Peak 2-hours (peak direction) Inter-peak and counter-peak (tphpd)
Typical other off-peak (tphpd)
Sunbury services 6 9 3 3
Watergardens services 8 14
Melton services 9 15 3 3
Total suburban from West 23 38 6 6
V/Line express services to/from beyond Sunbury (share corridor Sunbury – Sunshine only) 3 6 1 1 1/2 1 1/2
V/Line express services to/from beyond Melton (share corridor Melton – Deer Park only) 3 6 1 1 1/2 1 1/2

Note that despite the amount of upgrade works required to support this ‘Extended Program’ an off-peak service of three trains per hour still applies for passengers beyond Sunshine – both the Sunbury and Melton lines will see a train every 20 minutes, providing a train every 10 minutes to stations between Sunshine and Footscray.

Can you imagine such a poor service being provided to Melbourne’s east?

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11 Responses to “Metro Tunnel to deliver almost nothing to Melbourne’s west”

  1. Tom the first and best says:

    Melton electrification should be built to open with the tunnel and the plans for the West Footscray turnback scrapped. If only Melton electrification had occurred earlier, there would have been 6tph off-peak to Sunshine for years (although they probably would have started as off-peak shuttles) and increasing inner-city suburban peak capacity for the west would have been higher on the priorities for the state government for longer.

    Given the two lines in the west planned to use the tunnel (or 3 if the tunnel ever gets the RRL suburban section sent through it), having the turnback on the eastern side would be sensible (likely the existing turnback at Westall, given the recent loss of the turnback platform at Oakleigh) or running 6tph each to Pakenham and Cranbourne.

  2. Tony Smith says:

    Just uploaded my presentation to the project’s EES IAC in which I seem to have been the only voice calling out the premature locking of the WeFo turnback. Obviously these people never use the Sunbury line. https://www.slideshare.net/ynotds/melbourne-metro-rail-ees-iac-submission

    • Marcus Wong says:

      At least we aren’t the Craigieburn line – their overcrowding is even worse, with no improvements in the pipeline.

      • Tony Smith says:

        Extending and duplicating Upfield to Roxburgh Park is in the pipeline and should divert a lot of outer growth. Need to add short run services turning around at Essendon and Coburg, especially during peak.

        • Marcus Wong says:

          Even thorugh there has been massive growth in the inner suburbs, I wonder if Essendon is too close to the city to make shortworkings efficient – the main reason to use it is the third platform that already exists.

  3. Heihachi_73 says:

    The Metro Tunnel is not delivering anything to Melbourne’s east or north-east either. I don’t need to imagine such a poor service at Camberwell or anywhere else on the Burnley group, it happens seven days a week in the early mornings and after 8PM regardless of whether you’re all the way out at Belgrave or only two stations from the city at East Richmond. As a bonus, not only are trains infrequent, but they are also every thirty minutes, because a train every twenty minutes is too good for this side of town (even though they run to this frequency on the weekend).

    In fact, the half-an-hour services even occur between AM and PM peaks for those stuck beyond Ringwood, courtesy of the single-track sections and lack of provision for intermediate off-peak services to Mooroolbark and Upper Ferntree Gully, which could be used to duplicate trains between Ringwood and Flinders Street without needing shuttles. A high frequency “train link” express bus between the single-track stations would fix the problem of Lilydale and Belgrave passengers being stuck at Mooroolbark and UFG, but that’s well and truly beyond what PTV could ever think of.

    The only “Hillside” group to see any major improvements over the past decade has been the Epping/South Morang/Mernda (/Whittlesea?) line, as the numerous level crossing removals on the Ringwood line did not have any effect on the timetable whatsoever; neither did the removal of the Gardiner tram square on the Glen Waverley line. I doubt the Hurstbridge timetable will change much even after the LXRA/duplication works are done, as it’s still going to be single-track after Greensborough.

  4. Heihachi_73 says:

    Self-correction, it’s every half an hour from Camberwell to the city after 9PM (2102, an up Lilydale with 3 carriages), not 8PM. The first four down trains towards Box Hill from Camberwell are 0516, 0545 (+29), 0611 (+26) and 0630 (+19) before the peak timetable sets in. The Alamein line from Camberwell in the morning is just as bad, if not worse: 0521, 0543 (+22), 0603 (+20), 0626 (+23), 0655 (+29), 0718 (+23), 0733 (+25), 0754 (+21) and 0819 (+25) before finally closing the 20-odd minute gap.

    But yes, if you only need Camberwell station during the middle of the day or during peak, then yes, Camberwell is quite well served.

  5. […] Marcus Wong recently noted that the business case for the Metro 1 tunnel didn’t even include anything better than a 20 minute frequency to stations west of West Footscray. The government rang me to say that’s just a “base case” and not a service plan. But it’s not surprising people assume it is a service plan when it looks like a service plan, and there’s no other public documentation available. […]

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