It's a common peeve for many Melburnians: the fact that catching the train to another part of town often means hauling all the way into the CBD before you can switch routes and travel back out. Well, that headache could potentially be removed, if the Victorian Government's incredibly ambitious (and pre-election) plans for a huge underground suburban rail network come to fruition.
In the latest (and biggest) of the government's policy promises ahead of the November state election, Premier Daniel Andrews this morning released a proposal for a brand new 90-kilometre Suburban Rail Loop, which would link all of the city's major rail lines, from the southeast in Cheltenham all the way to the west in Werribee. It's a huge undertaking, and one that's largely unfunded at the moment — The Age is reporting that the whole thing will cost around $50 billion, but the State Government has only committed 300 million to it so far. For comparison, the current Metro Tunnel project has been estimated at costing around $11 billion.
Premier Daniel Andrews took to his Facebook page to announce the plans this morning, posting a video that details how and where the project will operate. The proposed new line would run a loop around Melbourne's outer suburbs, connecting the existing train lines at a point outside of the CBD. The current plans have it starting at Cheltenham on the Frankston line, connecting to the Cranbourne/Pakenham line at Clayton before running through Glen Waverley and to Box Hill on the Lilydale/Belgrave line. From there it will go underground to connect to Heidelberg on the Hurstbridge line, Reservoir on the South Morang, Fawkner on the Upfield and Broadmeadows on the Craigieburn before heading to the new Melbourne Airport station that we'll supposedly have by then. From there it will head down to Sunshine, which is on the Sunbury line, before finishing up at Werribee.
All this work could include up to 12 new underground stations and would provide train services to suburbs that don't currently have them, like Monash, Burwood and Doncaster. If all goes as planned, the new network would carry 400,000 people a day, which the government hopes will reduce congestion on both roads and existing train lines.
Of course, this is far from a done deal — it's the Andrews Government's flagship promise in the campaign to be re-elected in November. And, if his government does get re-elected, the project will then have to find funding and be passed by parliament to begin on the proposed start date of 2022. At the moment, the government has only committed 300 million towards a business case, design and pre-construction work, which means there is still a lot of work to go to prove that the project is viable (not to mention finding the extra $49,700,000,000).
It's not something you want to hold your breath for. That said, the Andrews Government has been the administration to actually make the Metro Tunnel happen, remove multiple level crossings in the city's east and commit to an Airport Rail Link (although that one's not quite confirmed yet), so we'll wait to see what happens both at the election and in the next 18 months. We'll keep you updated.