‘Part of modern rail’: Suburban Rail Loop not continuous circuit, minister confirms

The Andrews government’s flagship Suburban Rail Loop project will not be a continuous loop connecting Melbourne’s western and south-eastern suburbs, with commuters forced to change trains at least once to complete the 90-kilometre journey.

Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan confirmed on Monday the new Melbourne Airport station would feature an interchange and indicated passengers could also be required to change trains at other stations.

Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan, with her backbench colleagues and Nicole Stoddart from the Suburban Rail Loop Authority (far right), providing an update on the underground line at Clayton station. Credit:Joe Armao

“Given … that’s a 90-kilometre loop, I think it’s fair to say there will need to be key points on that loop, just as there is on the existing train network interchange,” Ms Allan said.

“Interchanging is just part of a modern rail network. It hasn’t necessarily been a feature of Melbourne’s network because we haven’t had the population that needs a different sort of rail network.”

The 90-kilometre line will run between Cheltenham and Werribee via the airport and include 12 new stations, with construction on stage one of the project set to begin next year.

However, the government is yet to release a business case and Ms Allan on Monday refused to provide an approximate figure on how much the rail line’s 26-kilometre first stage could cost and when it was slated to be completed.

The Suburban Rail Loop will connect Melbourne’s western and south-eastern suburbs. Credit:

“We’re working through all the details of the investment and business case, which will be released in coming months, and this investment case will look at all elements including the costs,” she said.

The huge train line, which the government announced ahead of the 2018 election and said would cost $50 billion, is the most expensive transport project in the state’s history.

Rail Futures Institute president John Hearsch said it was reasonable for the Suburban Rail Loop to feature interchanges and that not many people would be completing the full 90-kilometre journey between Cheltenham and Werribee.

However, he reiterated concerns about the state government committing to the project without a business case.

“The thing we’re concerned about is that this project is so big that it’s likely to, in many ways, quarantine a lot of other very worthy projects from being able to be done because it’ll absorb so much of the state’s capacity to fund public transport projects,” Mr Hearsch said.

Designed to link major suburban business and activity centres, including La Trobe, Monash and Deakin universities, Premier Daniel Andrews said at its launch the Suburban Rail Loop was inspired by major cities around the world such as London and Tokyo that have “polycentric” train networks.

Melbourne’s current network is “monocentric” because all routes go to the centre of the city.

Ms Allan visited Clayton station on Monday to unveil new modelling that suggested the Suburban Rail Loop would cut travel times in stage one of the project for Cheltenham, Clayton, Monash, Glen Waverley, Burwood and Box Hill.

Premier Daniel Andrews and Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan in Box Hill in August 2018 after announcing the $50 billion Suburban Rail Loop plan.Credit:Joe Armao

“It will make significant travel time savings for people wanting to get to key locations on the heavy rail network, and it will also open up access to a whole lot of jobs, education, health services, retail centres in Melbourne’s middle suburbs, further changing the way people will move around our city and state,” Ms Allan said.

“The travel time saving comes … because people don’t have to go into the city to get around the city. People will have direct access.”

The government in November notified 300 home and business owners whose properties may need to be acquired as part of stage one works. Details will be finalised after planning processes are complete.

Opposition transport infrastructure spokesman David Davis said the announcement continued to lack detail and the government had not been transparent about how it would fund the multibillion-dollar project.

“They still can’t tell us how much it will cost, but industry and department sources are suggesting it’s in the range of $150 billion to $200 billion,” Mr Davis said.

“There is also a question for the government on how they will fund this and it seems they are determined to put a levy on businesses and households within a radius of the line and the stations. It’s time they came clean. Will it be $5000 a year? Will it be $10,000 a year? They won’t say.”

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