Whilst Manningham council should be supported in its intention to expand the evaluation conducted in the Doncaster Rail Study (DRS) Phase One, it should be noted that the study was completed in full. Further that it was confined by its terms of reference to consider only a heavy rail service, though it did make some recommendations for the short term improvement to existing public transport.

Anticipated Patronage Click to enlarge

Anticipated Patronage
Click to enlarge

It would appear that phase two. of the Doncaster Rail Study will not proceed because the current projection of $11 billion for the Doncaster heavy rail, equivalent to the Melbourne Metropolitan Project itself, has already been deemed unviable. Phase one of the Doncaster Rail Study found that there would only be a 2 per cent mode shift from private vehicle to the rail line in the morning peak period in 2031 consistent with previous findings that the vast majority of morning peak traffic on the Eastern Freeway were not travelling into the city. Manningham council, who have confirmed they will pursue an extension of light rail from North Balwyn to Doncaster Hill in any event, should now advocate for light rail, at a fraction of the cost of heavy rail, to branch off Doncaster Road and along the eastern freeway and exploit the existing infrastructure to the city. Track and Signal Magazine have published a compelling report on a light rail service for Doncaster.


Article in Track and Signal Magazine

Track and Signal

Light Rail to Nth Balwyn and  City Via Freeway Click to  enlarge

Nth Balwyn-D’caster Hill       D’caster Hill-City Via F’way
Click to enlarge

A Victorian transport lobby group has urged the state government to defer any thoughts of a heavy rail link to the high-activity centre of Doncaster in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs in favour of a light rail link down the Eastern Freeway.

The Victorian Transport Action Group (VTAG) estimates the cost of such as link at $1.5 billion and argues it could be completed within 5 yrs. The group

says the long-held view that a heavy rail link to the CBD is the answer to the public transport needs of the area are now out of date and the reality of cost and demand means it is no longer a viable option.

VTAG’s submission says light rail is recognised as a catalyst for attracting investment in domestic and commercial  property around stops and along routes. It says the permanent aspect of light rail transit’s (LRT) fixed infrastructure provides certainty for developers.

It also offers the ability to closely integrate into the community and very efficiently bring people into the centre of high- density activity areas such as Doncaster Hill. This is demonstrated on the Gold Coast in Queensland, where the recently commissioned LRT has already encouraged development and increased land values in the vicinity of the GoldLinQ service and improved livability and amenity for residents. VTAG argues that a light rail link should be financed through state borrowing rather than costly public-private partnership.

It says with the interest rate at historically low levels now is the time to borrow and protect those low rates by using appropriate hedging instruments.

The group says the proposal for a heavy rail connection between Doncaster and the city should be deferred for several reasons including:

  • In the longer term, future patronage is very unlikely to justify the expenditure of $3 billion-$5b as per the Doncaster Rail Study.
  • Demand can be fulfilled by LRT long term.
  • The corridor between Doncaster and the city is physically constrained, making inclusion of a heavy rail corridor particularly challenging, especially for extension beyond the Doncaster park and- ride facility.
  • Heavy rail capacity between Clifton Hill and the city cannot be expanded beyond that required to service future increased services from the Hurstbridge and Mernda lines.
  • LRT engineering standards are quite different to heavy rail standards, hence infrastructure can be provided at much lower cost. VTAG then lists what it sees as reasons the state government should consider light rail for the eastern suburbs:
  • It can be operating in three years from the day on which agreement to proceed is reached.
  • Cheap to build, a significant mass transit system could be constructed for less than $1.5b, matching pricing for three comparable projects now in operation, construction or planning around Australia.
  • Convenient light rail would start from a terminus in the Doncaster Activity Precinct and deliver inbound and outbound access to the city.
  • Cheap to operate, light rail has similar overheads to regular tram operations.
  • Compared with cars, it would afford faster access to the city in peak hours and would be comfortable, with improved amenities such as WiFi to enable the use of mobile devices.
  • Increased-capacity light-rail vehicles can carry more than 300 passengers and up to 9000 an hour on a two-minute headway.
  • With flexible services to meet demand, light rail services can be increased or decreased more conveniently to accommodate demand fluctuation.
  • It would use existing pathways along the Eastern Freeway easement, then share the tram route into the city down Nicholson Street or other options off Alexander Parade.
  • It would have minimal impact on land use across the municipalities of Manningham and Yarra.
  • It operates safely in mixed traffic situations; cars and light rail can intermingle.
  • It is safe and friendly for passengers and motorists.
  • Offering enhanced passenger comfort levels, LRVs are both quieter and smoother than bus services.

VTAG has held a meeting with state Minister for Transport Jacinta Allan who, according to group secretary Mike Reece, appeared interested to learn of the proposal

Track + Signal July-September 2015

Rail Freeway Route  Click to enlarge

Rail Freeway Route
Click to enlarge

 Doubt on Phase 2.Study Click to enlarge

Doubt on Phase 2.Study
Click to enlarge


  1. Tracy says:

    Unless the heavy rail line could be built to a railway station on Doncaster Hill the study will have been a complete waste of $6.5 million. What annoys me is that they knew this before the study was commissioned at the behest of a politician who had used it as a campaign stunt.

  2. Mike says:

    Manningham Council has decided that it can build Doncaster rail far cheaper than the $6-$11 billion estimated by its own Doncaster Rail Study in 2013. Therefore it will continue advocating for heavy rail, despite other impediments to the implementing a service
    Manningham cites heavy rail constructed in Perth and Sydney several years ago as examples of heavy rail built much cheaper than the quotes for Doncaster Rail. Manningham believes heavy rail could be delivered for less than $3 billion, a figure that transport experts point out is beyond belief, as connecting Doncaster Rail to Metro Rail at Clifton Hill is conservatively estimated at $3 billion!
    Unfortunately Manningham’s position is like someone saying because two vehicles can both drive from A to B, why does a Ferrari cost $400,000 and the Mazda $20,000. They are not comparing apples for apples.
    Manningham’s position also ignores the lack of capacity at Clifton Hill to facilitate services from Doncaster, that will cost between $6-8 billion to address in the next decade and that a light rail service could deliver similar capacity, performance and convenience levels as heavy rail for around $1,5 billion and be in service in five years.

    1. Francis says:

      One point you have not mentioned is that if the light rail is going to connect to the Lygon or Nicholson Streets infrastructure then we won’t need the Bus lanes in Hoddle Street/Punt Road where the extra traffic lanes are desperately needed. The same would apply on the eastern freeway if the Bus lanes were removed.
      Francis Day

      1. Mike Reece VTAG says:

        Hi Francis,
        Your suggestion seems logical until you consider the following:
        1)Light Rail will take around five years to be completed, from whatever start date is adopted, so for at least 5 years the bus lanes are very much needed.
        2) VTAG does not suggest that Light Rail will eliminate buses, in fact it proposes an increase in bus services, short term.
        3) Bear in mind that even with Light Rail the volume of traffic heading to the city will increase significantly over the next decade so buses and LR will run together to keep the city moving.

  3. Fairweather says:

    On a benefit-cost ratio the light rail extension from North Balwyn to Doncaster Hill and to the city via the eastern freeway is a “no brainer” I think we owe it to the Chinese people who are taking all the risks by building and buying ALL the Doncaster high rise apartments to start construction of a light rail to Doncaster Hill, not a mile away at Park and Ride, immediately.
    I am especially disappointed with the Manningham council, who knew full well, in advance, that the rail route in the current study’s terms of reference would not be viable but now want to keep the pipe dream alive by suggesting an alternative route could be built for $3 billion without providing any detail. This of course relieves the Manningham executives of any responsibility and extra work load that would occur with the construction of light rail to Doncaster Hill, the only alternative.

  4. Whittens says:

    There were undertakings made that a first class public transport system would be delivered when the Doncaster Hill strategy was first approved and accepted into the then 20/30 program. It was hailed as a the jewel in the crown of Melbourne’s activity centres but unfortunately it was all to do with political grand standing and the promised funding for infrastructure has not materialised.
    I don’t know why the Manningham council gave credence to Mary Wooldrige’s campaign promise of a rail study. When they knew what the outcome would be. Previous studies, over the last 100 years, have all found the small catchment areas (in this case three stations including the terminal at Doncaster Park and Ride) have found the cost could not be justified. If Manningham want to extend the light rail from North Balwyn to Doncaster Hill, and if it was only going to cost $1.5 billion, why not continue it on to the city?

    1. Lance says:

      I prefer a train but it would be useless for Doncaster if the railway line went only as far as a railway station on the eastern freeway. There would be even more Doncaster residents driving to the station car park if the study’s patronage predictions are correct. How would the limited area around a future station co-exist with the bus exchange which takes up such a large area and cope with the additional parking demand? If it were possible to extend the parking area how could further expenditure be justified when it is so far away from Doncaster Hill?
      The most viable option would be the VTGA light rail option to extend the light rail from North Balwyn to Doncaster Hill and then extend the service to the City, if and when funding was available. This would help reduce the number of cars on the road and be a boon for the Hill’s major developments who could claim to have a “fixed rail to the city and neighbouring suburbs at your front door”.

      1. Tapico says:

        It has been suggested that the Manningham Council torpedoed the possibility of an extension of the North Balwyn tram to Doncaster by unduly influencing the outcome of the Tram study.
        Around August/ September 2009 the Manningham council executive refused to pay for the second stage of a tram study because of the negative findings of a consultant, whom they had first chosen. The first stage cost $40,000 and the second would have cost further $40,000

        The consultant’s report concluded that the traffic movements through the area would be impacted as a result of the tram line along Doncaster Road and based on “technical engineering considerations” the consultant did not support extension of the tramline. Even though Doncaster Road is 30 meters wide, compared to most of Melbourne Tram routes which are on roads 20 meters wide!

        Council’s consultant also “found” that Tram stops cannot be located on steep grades due to the access ramp requirements of DDA compliant tram stops even though Council’s own geographical information system (GIS) data suggested otherwise. The council’s GIS data shows only a 480m section of Doncaster Rd rises above a 5 per cent gradient, from the Eastern Freeway to Golf Hill Ave, after that that section Doncaster Road levels out.
        There are scores of steeper gradients than this small section of Doncaster Road, Scotch College Hill for example has a long section with a gradient of at least 8% which is negotiated by the old green Trams.

        The Manningham Council executives rejected the suggestion that the same consultant that was used by Whitehorse council in the successful Whitehorse Road, Box Hill Tram extension, which was narrower and had a similar but longer gradient than Doncaster Road.

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