Melbourne used to plan for the future. We built train lines to the country side and invited people to build around that train line. Now we wait for people to build houses and spend decades trying to find a transport solution to move them around the city whilst they drown in congested roads. There is no doubt that our public transport network has suffered from decades of under investment and if we are serious about changing the way we move around our city, we must plan and build infrastructure that will last for centuries, rather than short-term solutions that will simply need to be replaced in years to come.
The 1969 Melbourne Transportation Plan proposed a railway from Huntingdale Station through Rowville, linking up to Ferntree Gully station on the Belgrave line. Subsequent proposals looked at extending the Glen Waverley line to Rowville via Wantirna South. The Baillieu-Napthine Government commissioned a feasibility study of Rowville Rail and the Andrews’ Government has recently announced a feasibility of a tram route from Caulfield to Rowville via Monash University.
The announcement of a possible Tram line running from Caulfield to Rowville caught a lot by surprise and no reasoning has been provided for what the line would hope to achieve. There is little room along Dandenong Road between Caulfield and Oakleigh where congestion is already beyond sufferable, even in off-peak periods. There can only be two logical reasons for a tram line as proposed. One is to create a transport hub at Chadstone Shopping Centre and the second is to create a direct link between the Caulfield and Clayton campuses of Monash University.
Chadstone Shopping Centre is the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere. The fact that it does not already have a train station is somewhat bemusing and only speaks to our lack of proper transport planning. Congestion around the area is often at gridlock in peak periods, hampered by the fact that two of the biggest arterial roads in the South East go straight past it; Dandenong Road heading East-West and Warrigal Road heading North-South. There is no doubt that the centre requires public transport, but is a tram route the best long-term option of relieving congestion and creating a viable public transport hub for the South East?
Monash University is the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere and it has ambitious plans to double its size over the next few decades. The Monash Employment Cluster, in which the University sits, is the biggest employer in Melbourne outside of the Central Business District. Travel to the main Clayton campus of the University, and more broadly to workplaces within the Employment Cluster, is essential for the long-term viability of the region and indeed the City. Arterial roads in the area including Wellington, Blackburn, Springvale and Dandenong are gridlocked during peak periods and our population is growing at a rapid rate. There is also no doubt that the area requires public transport, but again, is a tram route the best long-term option?
I believe that there is a better option to address both of these issues. I acknowledge that the costs will be substantially higher than either heavy rail from Huntingdale to Rowville, or a Tram route from Caulfield to Rowville, but if we are serious about addressing our long-term transport needs, isn’t it better that we spend the money upfront, get the right solution, and then move on to other areas of the city? If history has taught us anything, it’s that proper planning of public transport will deliver in spades in years to come.
Think about this for a minute; trains first ran to Frankston and Lilydale in 1882, to Dandenong in 1887 and to Ferntree Gully in 1889. These were times when our population was less than half a million people and when the outer suburbs of Melbourne consisted of Footscray, Preston, Heidelberg, Hawthorn and Brighton. The City Loop was first proposed around 1929. By the time construction finally commenced in 1971, it was considered controversial and in the eyes of many was a colossal waste of money. Where would Melbourne be today without those train lines built 140 years ago, or without the City Loop?
The best long term transport solution for the region is to extend the Alamein Line underground; creating an interchange hub at East Malvern Station and a train station at Chadstone Shopping Centre before linking up to the Dandenong Line between Oakleigh and Huntingdale Stations. From there, the line would head out to Ferntree Gully Station via Monash University and Rowville. This would also require track duplication between Ashburton and Alamein Stations.
There are a number of reasons why this would be the more suitable solution. It would effectively recreate the old outer-circle line between Alamein and the Dandenong Line, closed in 1895, creating a cross city train connection linking up the Belgrave, Lilydale, Glen Waverley, Pakenham, Cranbourne and Rowville lines. It would also provide passengers from any of those lines a direct train connection to Chadstone Shopping Centre and access to both campuses of Monash University; something which the Tram option would not. In fact, there would be no access to Chadstone, or either University Campus from anywhere North of the Monash Freeway under the Tram proposal, except by existing bus routes. There would also be a possibility of running alternate trains City bound, one via the Alamein route with the next via the Caulfield route, providing a single direct train link between the Caulfield and Clayton campuses of Monash University.
Even if trains were to only run along the new route, and not alternate via Caulfield, this solution would be substantially faster for students and staff wanting to move between campuses of Monash University. A train between Caulfield and Huntingdale takes 8 minutes according to current timetables, and a train from Huntingdale to Monash Clayton would take 2-3 minutes at the most. This would be a much quicker trip than what it would take a Tram from Caulfield, especially with the “turn up and go” service that is being promised along the Dandenong rail corridor.
Rowville Rail has been talked about for decades, as have train lines to Doncaster and the Airport. If we are serious about tackling our congestion issues and providing alternative transport options to the motor vehicle, then we need to start looking bigger picture. Rather than commissioning feasibility study after feasibility study on short term fixes for our network, we need to take a more holistic approach. That includes creating cross city connections to enable people to move around our city without having to catch a train in to the city and out again. This is an ambitious concept, and it will be expensive, but like the City Loop and the train lines built in the nineteenth century, history will show it to be a masterstroke.
Cr Stuart James is a Councillor at the City of Monash and former Deputy Mayor. He is the Chair of the Eastern Transport Coalition, member of the Metropolitan Transport Forum, member of the MAV Transport & Infrastructure Committee and PTUA member