Metro rail project would divide Melbourne
Premier Denis Napthine confirms reports that the state government is looking at alternative options for the Melbourne Metro rail tunnel.PT1M27S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-32w52 620 349 February 17, 2014
The alignment of the Melbourne Metro rail link could be shifted one block east to Russell Street to avoid the nightmare scenario of shutting down Swanston Street for two or more years.
Fairfax Media understands that influential voices within Public Transport Victoria are arguing that the disruption caused by building the multibillion-dollar rail link between South Kensington and South Yarra could be much reduced if Russell Street was dug up and shut down instead of Swanston Street.
"There are some parties [within PTV] who have expressed the view that the alignment should go up Russell Street," a source who is close to the project said.
Russell Street, having a higher elevation than Swanston, might be an easier option for Melbourne Metro rail link tunnel engineers. Photo: Mal Fairclough
Aligning the rail tunnel along Russell Street would require the construction of lengthy pedestrian tunnels so that passengers could interchange at Melbourne Central in the City Loop. But it would have a number of advantages, the source said, including removing the need to shut down the world's busiest tram route and the fact that Russell Street is at a higher elevation than Swanston Street, which would make tunnelling less difficult.
Officially, state authority Public Transport Victoria remains committed to constructing the underground rail link beneath Swanston Street.
"If anybody suggests that Russell Street would be a better alignment, the authority says it is not considering other alignments at this stage," the source said. "[But] if the problems are insurmountable then they might consider other alignments and other designs, perhaps going up Russell Street."
On Monday, Premier Denis Napthine confirmed that the government was looking at other options for the rail tunnel, saying tearing up Swanston Street for more than two years would divide Melbourne worse than the Berlin Wall.
Dr Napthine said the government was still committed to building the rail project to increase capacity on the state's passenger and freight networks.
"We have a lot of options on the table, the original Metro rail capacity project had raised some challenges, particularly the proposal in that project of having Swanston Street closed for two years-plus, and completely dug up," he said.
Under the current plan, Swanston Street would be ripped up to build the rail line with a "cut-and-fill" technique, with engineers saying it was the best and most appropriate way to build the railway.
"I'm only a humble citizen of Melbourne and Victoria, but having a massive hole dividing Melbourne would be worse than the Berlin Wall; it would be absolutely detrimental to the operation of Melbourne," Dr Napthine said.
Melbourne Metro would intersect with the City Loop and project engineers have rejected tunnelling under the Loop because it would mean building stations more than 40 metres underground, which is considered dangerous in the event of an evacuation. Therefore, the new rail link would have to be built above the Loop, requiring digging up the road.
News that rail planners could be headed back to the drawing board on Metro rail has put Transport Minister Terry Mulder under internal pressure ahead of a cabinet reshuffle – Dr Napthine said a reshuffle would not occur this week but soon.
Mr Mulder rejected claims that he had failed to carry out the government's election pledges on public transport, saying the service on Metro's network had vastly improved since the government came to office. The Coalition went to the polls in 2010 with plans for rail links to Rowville, Doncaster, Melbourne Airport and Avalon, but has committed to none of those projects.
Shadow Public Transport Minister Jill Hennessy said Labor backed the original plan for Melbourne Metro that had been submitted to Infrastructure Australia, highlighting the fact it was rated a higher priority by the authority than the east-west link road tunnel. She said talk of making changes to Metro rail was further proof of the government's inaction on public transport.
Chris Hale, from the University of Melbourne's Department of Infrastructure Engineering, said the fact the government was considering major changes to the alignment of Metro rail indicated the project was going nowhere, despite having been planned for some years.
"At the moment it seems we're back on square one," Dr Hale said. "The message from the government on rail extensions is we can't do anything until we've done Melbourne Metro, and we haven't got our act together on Melbourne Metro yet."