Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Why Melbourne Cannot Build Metro Rail 2 until Stage 1 is Complete

Correct call, Cap'n!
Victorian Transport Minister, Jacinta Allan

This week, the Greensparty in Victoria committed themselves to building Melbourne Metro 2, which is really a bit like Caligula committing his horse to the Roman Senate in terms of its impact on reality.

"If we held the balance of power in Victoria, committing to building this would be a key prerequisite for our support", is a very different message altogether, and one that would garner them a hell of a lot more credibility with public transport advocates and the general public alike.

Pretending that you'd ever be in a position to actually build the project yourselves, getting out your crayons and doodling wishful lines on a map (qv the umpteen dozen random and ridiculous tram extensions they took to the previous Victorian election) without any concern whatsoever for cost-benefit analyses, only undermines your credibility as a political party.

We are supposed to have turned a corner in this country in relation to infrastructure spending. We are supposed now, in Australia, to be driven by the imperative of allocating scarce resources to those projects with the highest benefit-cost ratios, and we've created a raft of semi-independent bodies to ensure this.

Now, it must be said that I very strongly feel that the way many of these bodies are making their assessments are still strongly based on methodologies that systemically bias road projects over public transport ones.

For Infrastructure Australia to start out with the assumption that "70% of Doncaster Rail's patronage would be cannibalised from existing public transport services" dooms that project's prospects before you've even got your calculator out, and it is completely fallacious when you look in detail at the evidence. Journey to work data shows that public transport mode share in areas proximate to heavy rail is SIGNIFICANTLY higher than this assumption presumes.

But for a party that currently holds two Victorian lower house seats to have put their plans for building a Metro 2  in the public domain whilst holding a straight face is just insulting to the voting public. Could one journalist not have insisted on their explaining how and in what parallel universe this is ever going to happen?

The Greensplan. Note also they are claiming credit for extensions to Wollert and Wyndham Vale,
both of which have been in PTV's Network Development Plan for YEARS ...

"If we held the balance of power in Victoria, committing to building this would be a key prerequisite for our support", would be a good answer to that question. Without that, we are left with - "well, we are going to quadruple our Statewide vote from current opinion poll data, and from our highest ever recorded level of support in just 3 months' from now, and thereby secure government".

But then you're also left with "and we're going to throw out any notion of deferring to Infrastructure Victoria and return to politicians using these billion dollar projects as political pork barrels." It's inspiring stuff, isn't it?

Transport Minister Jacinta Allan's response to the proposal was entirely the correct one. Even if the project stacks up, it absolutely cannot be built until the Metro One Project is complete. That is scheduled for 2021. 3 years from now.

You cannot undertake a project of this scale without fully three years of planning, systems and engineering prep work. That's exactly how long it has taken to get Metro 1's shovels in the ground after the election of the Andrews Government, so let's forget about implying sophistry on the Minister's behalf, and let's credit her with being the only party to the discussion who appears to be living in the real world.

You can add to that assessment the fact that there are actually a finite number of workers adequately skilled for these sorts of projects available at any given time, and if you try and build such a thing in an environment of scarcity, you wind up significantly driving up labour costs and ballooning the total cost of the project.

But there's another crucial reason why Metro 2 cannot possibly be built before Metro 1 is complete. We need to consider the interaction of the two projects and the overall project goals. In fact there may be a far more cost effective solution for Metro 2 which builds upon the infrastructure already in place for Metro Rail 1. Readers will be unsurprised at this point to learn there exists a patented Wombat Plan for Metro 2 which does precisely that.

Hang On, What IS Metro 2?

Broadly speaking, Melbourne Metro Rail 2 is the proposal to re-route heavy rail services from the western suburbs of Melbourne over the Yarra River from Newport Railway Station, thereby providing the new Fisherman's Bend development zone with much needed heavy rail access.

Most proposals to date have conceived this project as a rail tunnel running through Fisherman's Bend then back under the river to new underground platforms at Southern Cross Station, Flagstaff and CBD North, and continuing through the inner north before returning above ground at a junction with the existing South Morang and Hurstbridge lines.

However, we contend that there is a way of doing this which provides significantly better returns in the all important 'project benefits' column.

What's Wrong With These Proposals?

We start out with the proposition that the extra capacity potentially provided by this proposal at both Southern Cross and Flagstaff (the lowest trafficked city loop station by a significant quantum), is completely redundant to the network's needs.

We also contend that Melbourne has created a significant urban problem in the Southbank residential redevelopment zone. One of the main benefits of this type of living is supposed to be reducing car dependency, but we've seen a lot of data recently suggesting that car use and certainly car ownership in Southbank is actually out of control.

The area is walkable to everything in the CBD, and has trams running along Kingsway, Queensbridge and Sturt Streets, but these tram routes actually really border the main areas of the suburb rather than running right through it. If the logic exists to provide heavy rail access to the Fisherman's Bend redevelopment zone, the same logic should have applied when we were planning Southbank. We believe the heavy rail opportunity now created at Fisherman's Bend provides an opportunity to remedy the lack of planning at Southbank.

Melbourne Metro Rail - Wombat Style

We therefore propose that instead of running via Southern Cross Station, Metro 2 should continue east via 1-2 new stations at Southbank and re-join the remainder of the network at the Metro 1 tunnel, whose capacity it would share through the CBD, before running underground through the northern suburbs and meeting South Morang/Hurstbridge roughly as per existing proposals.

Click the images below to enlarge.

So, we're essentially creating 4 new stations south of the river - Wirraway (which I've situated so it can in fact serve both the Wirraway residential zone and the designated employment zone to its north), Sandridge, Casino/Convention Centre, and Southbank.

In the north, which is really pretty well transport enabled already, it's just two new stations for the shorter tunnel - we see the return from the dead of Museum Station (at which far too many people arrive by car - the location was never sensible from this perspective) and Johnson St, approximately half way between Smith and Brunswick Streets. Alternative name would be "The Rochy" :)

Metro Tunnel Capacity

The obvious benefit of the Wombat proposal over anything running via Southern Cross is the shared tunnel infrastructure with Metro Rail 1. Armchair critics will already be reaching for their revolvers about the limited capacity of that tunnel reintroducing a bottleneck into the network.

I fully concede that would be the greatest weakness here, but I don't think it actually need be a limiting factor once we sit down and actually look at the numbers, given that we are building the Metro 1 tunnel with future high capacity signalling in mind.

Let's look at how this might work. We are suggesting that ONLY Werribee line trains be re-routed through the Wombat Metro Tunnel, and that Williamstown line services would continue to run above ground to Southern Cross and/or Flinders Street, otherwise we're left without any trains at Seddon, Yarraville and Spotswood.

Looking at the 2016 Network Development Plan's projections for 2026 - 20 peak hour services are scheduled to run via Newport. Unfortunately the plan is agnostic as to how many of these originate from Williamstown and how many from Werribee, but let's assume a ratio of approx 3:1 in Werribee's favour, so let's say 14 and 6. It assumes 14 services running via the Metro 1 tunnel by the same date.

PTV Network Development Plan
Peak hour projections for 2031

So the key limiting question here is whether the capacity of the Metro Tunnel would allow for 28 peak hour services within the tunnel under construction. Given the current, prehistoric, steam powered network signalling has an acknowledged capacity of 20 trains per hour, we're looking for a 40% improvement, to allow a train every 2.18 minutes.

Network signal capacity is something of a dark art - as we're already experiencing with the high capacity trials underway, but there is no denying that this demand would be within the acknowledged international capabilities of high capacity signalling systems of up to 36 trains per hour.

At the other end, we then have the option of re-routing either the entire Hurstbridge or South Morang Lines through the tunnel (both would not be an option for capacity reasons and it would again render a whole raft of inner city stations redundant), OR this could be the route of a future Doncaster rail link along the Eastern Freeway.

Looking ahead to 2031, if the Airport rail link DOESN'T utilise Metro 1 tunnel, and instead runs direct to Southern Cross, then we would need to be able to run 33 trains an hour through the tunnel, and we concede that this would be straining the upper limits of today's high capacity signal technology, but you would then have the option of running some Werribee services above ground to Southern Cross to further mitigate.

PTV Network Development Plan
Peak hour projections for 2031

Furthermore, if the capacity constraints were only in a single direction through the CBD, you would actually have the option of running some Werribee services BACKWARDS through the CBD - ie above ground from Newport - South Kensington then into the Metro 1 tunnel and returning to Werribee via Fisherman's bend.

So there you have it. We tender the merits of the Wombat Plan on the basis that it
1. Minimises costs through shared infrastructure
2. Provides heavy rail access to major destinations and public transport blackspots in Southbank
3. Creates future capacity for Doncaster Rail (the peak hour constraints would all be in the opposite direction)

Would love to hear your thoughts, opinions or feedback below.

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