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Suburban rail loop – how can this mistake be prevented?

By Alan Davies - posted Friday, 8 March 2019

What's really needed is a metropolitan-wide 'grid' of multiple radial and orbital lines that maximises the number of travellers who can access high-frequency public transport by foot. A mammoth sum like $50 billion could fund a 'spider's web' of fast light rail and BRT routes every 2 km (say) with dedicated rights-of-way and priority at intersections (see Isn't there a much, much better way to do cross-city public transport?).

It would be a more effective way of providing orbital routes across all of Melbourne than a single suburban rail line. It would cost less, deliver greater benefits sooner, and provide many more public transport users with improved accessibility.

How can we help?


I expect wiser heads within the Andrews government know this is not the right project; at least not for some decades yet. The government needs help to walk back from this mistake.

It's probably too late to do anything about the whopping $600 million the government and a (future) Shorten federal government have jointly promised to spend on business planning and preparatory works by 2022. There's a case for preserving an alignment for the future, but the government has no idea if this is the best route or if something closer or further from the CBD would be best.

There are at least two actions that must be taken, starting now.

First, public transport advocates, academics, planners and the media need to be vocal in pointing out this is the wrong project (for now) and that there are many higher priorities that demand investment. So far almost all of them have nodded it through approvingly, save for mild complaints about the lack of a business plan. But not all rail projects are good just because they're rail; a bad project is a bad project.

Second, the same group also needs to give the government room to back away. If it proposes modifications – say to use light rail instead, or a longer time frame, or if it tries to sell the airport rail line as the first stage of the loop – it should be supported, not mercilessly hounded for failing to deliver on an election promise. It needs to be given a pass to reinvent the promise as something better; perhaps, as a 'grid' of medium capacity transit as proposed above (see Isn't there a much, much better way to do cross-city public transport?).

This is a silly, careless and cynical promise that, if implemented, could put real improvements to public transport in Melbourne on the back-burner for decades. It's not the way to improve travel for public transport users or to increase transit's share of travel from its current desultory level i.e. 10% and static (see Where to with transport in our capital cities?)

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This article was first published on Crikey.

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About the Author

Dr Alan Davies is a principal of Melbourne-based economic and planning consultancy, Pollard Davies Pty Ltd ( and is the editor of the The Urbanist blog.

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