Rail Futures Institute's Melbourne Rail Plan 2019-2050 (mct is medium capacity transit e.g. light rail)
It's hard to pin down what's truly "visionary" from what's merely "a nice possibility", but Victoria's Rail Futures Institute's promised Melbourne Rail Plan 2019-2050 looks a lot more like a game-changer than the Victorian Government's headline election pledge to build a suburban orbital rail line through Melbourne's middle-ring suburbs.
The Institute's Plan proposes construction of a high-frequency rail 'grid' network to serve Melbourne's expansive metropolitan area. The key elements are 6 new cross-city heavy rail routes, 15 new light rail routes, 8 outer suburban electrifications, 28 new tram routes, and 13 tram extensions. These would be supported by expanded feeder bus/tram services.
The Plan is estimated by the Institute to cost $109 billion over 21 years, including rolling stock.
It's not perfect, but the Melbourne Rail Plan does a number of things well. I'm not going to discuss the merits of the individual track proposals because the information provided by the Institute is skimpy at best, but there are positive things to say about the plan as a whole.
First, it's a plan for building infrastructure over the next 20 years; it's not an immediate Government commitment. It's lacking in detail at present, but since it's only a plan, that can be filled in over time as the various components are assessed in detail. Following analysis, some of the initiatives might be accepted, others amended, or some might be rejected. The key point is it's a plan.
That's in marked contrast to the $50 billion rail loop, which the Andrews Government has committed to without analysis. It's promised to spend a whopping $300 million to develop the idea in its next term if it wins the state election in November and commence construction by 2022. The Federal Opposition has promised to tip in an additional $300 million for the business case if it wins next year's national election i.e. there could be $600 million for devising a business case to support a decision that's already been taken.
Second, the Melbourne Rail Plan isn't a one trick pony; it's a comprehensive plan for a heavy rail, light rail and tram public transport 'grid' covering the whole metropolitan area. The Government on the other hand seemingly eschews the idea of a strategic framework, preferring ad hoc projects like the rail loop i.e. a single suburban line with 15 stations. The state bureaucrats might be quietly thinking in (somewhat) bigger terms, but the politicians apparently aren't (see Leaked rail plan shows few extra services for regional commuters).
Third, the Plan sensibly specifies priority initiatives that would "deliver immediate benefits", rather than focussing solely on the more glamorous new-builds that politicians find so attractive. The Institute says the "urgent projects" are rail electrifications, additional train and tram rolling stock, one rail duplication, tram track improvements, one rail extension and one tram extension. In other words, the Plan recognises the immediate priority in Melbourne should be getting the basics right, even if they're relatively unexciting by the usual political measures.
But the Melbourne Rail Plan isn't without shortcomings.
First, like the Government's loop promise, there's no information on the benefits. For example, there's nothing on estimated levels of patronage, on how travel times might improve, or on the forecast change in the level of car travel. Nor is there any way of assessing if the stated cost figures are reasonable or not; as the Institute is a lobby group, they should be treated with caution.
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