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the long-held view that a heavy rail link to the CBD is the answer to the public transport needs of the area are now out of date and the reality of cost and demand means it is no longer a viable option.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