The Melbourne Metro Rail Project (marketed as the Metro Tunnel and formally known as the Metro Rail Capacity Project) is a metropolitan rail infrastructure project currently under construction in Melbourne, Australia. It includes the construction of a twin rail tunnel between South Kensington station (north west of the Melbourne City Centre) and South Yarra (in the south east) with five new underground stations. As a result, the tunnel will connect the Pakenham and Cranbourne lines with the Sunbury line, and allow these lines to bypass Flinders Street Station and the City Loop while still stopping in the central business district of Melbourne.
The project will increase the capacity of the rail network to metro-style frequencies. The project has been touted as a precursor for various other expansion projects outlined in the PTV Network Development Plan, in particular an expansion of rail services to Doncaster, Melbourne Airport and Rowville. It will also allow for the operational separation of various existing lines.
In February 2015, the State government established the Melbourne Metro Rail Authority, with $40 million in funding, to oversee planning of the project and $1.5 billion to commence land and property acquisitions and detailed route investigations. A further $3 billion in funding, redirected from the now defunct East West Link project, was committed. In November 2015 it was announced that most of the project would be built as a public-private partnership, with private sector investors funding much of the estimated $9 billion to $11 billion cost upfront. Early enabling works commenced in late 2016. In late 2017, sections of Melbourne's central business district including City Square and parts of Swanston Street, were closed off for construction of the tunnel. The project was originally expected to be completed in 2026, however in February 2018 Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced that the project was ahead of schedule and was working towards a revised opening date of late 2025.
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The need for an overhaul of the existing commuter rail network was first discussed in the early 2000s as unprecedented population growth began to place significant pressure on existing rail infrastructure and constraints on the inner core of the network as it approached capacity. A plan to create a London Underground style "tube" system for Melbourne was first proposed in 2005 running between the inner-north and linking up to the south-eastern suburbs via the CBD and St Kilda Road.
By 2008 the Brumby Government, as part of the now defunct Victorian Transport Plan, envisaged a two-stage project known as Melbourne Metro 1 and Melbourne Metro 2. The 17 km twin rail tunnels would have run from Footscray station to Domain Interchange via the CBD (Stage 1), costing approximately $4.5 billion, with the second stage running from Domain to Caulfield. Combined, this plan would link the Sunbury and Dandenong lines, freeing up capacity within the existing City Loop to add more services.
In 2012, the newly elected Baillieu Government combined the two projects, significantly shortening the route and adding a station at Arden Street in North Melbourne to allow for urban renewal. The project was known as the Melbourne Metro Rail Project. This allowed for the benefits of both projects with a simplified scope as submitted to Infrastructure Australia for Federal Government funding approval. The envisaged project would allow for five underground stations, with interchanges at Melbourne Central and Flinders Street, with funding provisionally allocated by the Federal and State governments to further develop a business plan and subsequent early construction works. In 2012, the Department of Transport commenced geotechnical drillings and route investigations.
By May 2013, with a newly installed Premier, the project was significantly reworked and renamed the Melbourne Rail Link under Premier Denis Napthine. The line would run from Southern Cross station to South Yarra station, with stations at Fishermans Bend (to be known as Montague Station) and Domain Interchange, with significant modifications made to the City Loop to allow for bi-directional running. Stations at Parkville and the northern and southern ends of the CBD were scrapped in favour of avoiding years of disruption along Swanston Street. Coupled with the project was the long-awaited plan to build a heavy rail link to Melbourne Airport, which would be subsequently incorporated into the newly reworked project. By this time, the project completion date had been extended to 2026 with no additional Federal Government funding allocation. Some $820 million had been provisionally allocated by the State Government for commencement of pre-construction works.
In November 2014, the newly elected Andrews Government dumped the Melbourne Rail Link and revived the original Melbourne Metro Rail Project, committing $300 million in the first year of government to commence detailed pre-construction planning and procurement. In February 2015, Premier Daniel Andrews announced the creation of the Melbourne Metro Rail Authority to oversee planning and procurement of the project with $40 million fast-tracked prior to the release of the budget. In April 2015, the route for the project was announced which would provide new underground stations at the Domain Interchange (on St Kilda and Domain Roads), and the Parkville university/hospital precinct (near Grattan Street and Royal Parade), as well as a station in North Melbourne. The route would run via Swanston Street with interchange opportunities at Melbourne Central and Flinders Street stations and connect the Sunbury line with the Cranbourne and Pakenham lines. The State Government redirected the $3 billion credit facility previously allocated to the axed East West Link road project to the Melbourne Metro Rail Project.
With the election of the Andrews Government in November 2014, the project was positioned as a priority for ongoing future development and eventual construction.
On 18 February 2015, Premier Daniel Andrews announced $40 million had been allocated to commence detailed planning works, community consultation, route design and development of a refreshed business case. The balance, some $260 million, is to be delivered in the May 2015/16 Victorian State Budget. It was revealed that a line of credit facility, originally proposed for the now-cancelled East West Link, would be used to provide up to $3 billion in funding for the project, over the forward estimates.
Andrews announced in April 2015 that $1.5 billion would be allocated in the upcoming 2015/16 State Budget for the full cost of pre-construction works, geo technical drilling, land and property acquisition and detailed route investigations. This is on top of a previously announced $300 million earlier in the year. Furthermore, some 150 bore holes will be drilled along the route across Melbourne to investigate soil and ground composition, including the Yarra River.
In October 2015 the government announced it had abandoned earlier plans to run the tunnel just metres beneath Swanston Street and above the existing City Loop tunnels and instead place parts of the project 40 metres underground between CBD North and CBD South stations. The decision was made to reduce disruption to trams and traders on Swanston Street and avoid removing critical utilities, such as telecommunication lines, from beneath the street. The government said it would compulsorily acquire the properties of 63 households and 31 businesses at several locations on the tunnel route.
In January 2016 soil testing and drilling began in the Yarra River. In February 2016, CPB Contractors, a John Holland/KBR consortium and a Lend Lease/Coleman Rail consortium were shortlisted to bid for the early works.
In June 2016, John Holland was awarded a $324 million contract which includes the excavation of 35 metre deep open shafts adjacent to Swanston Street to enable the underground construction of the two new city stations, and the relocation of up to 100 subterranean utilities. Utility relocations started in July 2016.
In August 2016, three consortia were shortlisted to bid for the main contract:
In January 2017 works commenced in Melbourne's CBD to build shafts to allow the insertion of tunnelling equipment, and to build the new CBD North station. The works in the CBD have seen the closure of sections for Franklin Street and A'Beckett street for up to five years. Works also commenced along St Kilda Rd to prepare for the construction of both the tunnel and the Domain station.
In July 2017 the Victorian Government announced the Cross Yarra Partnership (CYP) as preferred bidder for the $A 6bn Melbourne Metro Tunnel and stations public-private partnership. The consortium led by Lend Lease Engineering, John Holland, Bouygues Construction and Capella Capital has been chosen to build the 9km long tunnel and five new underground stations.
Construction for the project commenced in 2017 and is targeted for completion by 2026.
The project will consist of two 9-kilometre rail tunnels between South Kensington and South Yarra via the CBD with five new underground stations, to be known as North Melbourne, Parkville, State Library, Town Hall and Anzac. The line will run from the north-west to the south-east and combine the Sunbury line with the Cranbourne/Pakenham line.
While the rail tunnel is the centrepiece of the project, further works will also be carried out on a new third turnback platform at West Footscray station and complement existing projects underway on the Dandenong line, to create four 'metro-style' lines which each run independently of each other. This includes the provision of high speed signalling, level crossing removals, track and station improvements and additional train stabling facilities. In addition, High Capacity Metro Trains will be procured to add further capacity to the network.
North Melbourne station is the first of the five new stations to be constructed. The station, to be built near the intersection of Arden and Laurens Streets in North Melbourne, is planned to allow for urban renewal of the formerly industrial suburb. The station is expected to serve some 25,000 residents once complete. The existing North Melbourne station will be renamed West Melbourne.
Parkville station is to be located on the intersection of Grattan Street and Royal Parade in Parkville, in proximity to the Royal Melbourne Hospital and Melbourne University. The station, to be located underground, will relieve pressure on north-south tram routes and the congested 401 bus service between North Melbourne station and the university/hospital precinct. New tram stops are to be constructed as part of the project allowing for seamless tram and train interchanges. The station will service the busy hospital and research precinct, including the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre. The station is expected to service 60,000 passengers each day in 2031.
State Library station is to be located underground on the intersection of Swanston and La Trobe Streets in the Melbourne CBD above the existing Melbourne Central station. This will allow for interchange opportunities between stations and existing lines and relieve pressure on Swanston Street tram routes. The station will service the northern end of the CBD, as well as the State Library of Victoria and RMIT University. The line will continue underneath Swanston Street running below the existing City Loop tunnels. The station will serve up to 40,000 passengers once complete.
Town Hall station is to be located underground on the corner of Swanston and Flinders Streets, with direct connections to Flinders Street station, adding further relief to tram services and servicing the southern end of the CBD. The station will be within proximity to St Paul's Cathedral, the Arts Precinct, Southbank and Federation Square and have exits on Collins Street. The line will proceed south running below the Yarra River and the Burnley and Domain tunnels. The station is expected to serve some 55,000 passengers during peak periods.
Anzac station is to be located underground on St Kilda Road and Park Streets adjacent to the Domain Interchange, with interchange opportunities with existing St Kilda Road tram services. The station will service the Shrine of Remembrance, the busy St Kilda Road office precinct, the Royal Botanic Gardens and Melbourne Grammar School. The station is expected to serve approximately 14,500 passengers during peak periods. The southern portal for the tunnel is to be located to the south of South Yarra station.
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The primary aim of the project is to increase capacity within the inner core of the metropolitan network, as well as improving reliability and efficiency when linking up two of Melbourne's busiest train lines, the Sunbury and Cranbourne/Pakenham lines. It is estimated that once complete, the project will allow for an additional 20,000 passengers during peak periods and provide for additional points of interchange with existing light and heavy rail transport.
With the proposed route expected to run directly under Swanston Street and towards the south-eastern suburbs, the project will provide much needed relief to existing and overcrowded tram services that run from St Kilda Road into the CBD. Currently, St Kilda Road is the busiest tram thoroughfare in the world, with up to 10 tram routes running into the CBD via Swanston Street. The Melbourne Metro is expected to relieve this pressure by allowing commuters to catch the train into the Domain Interchange and CBD from either the north-west or south-eastern suburbs, avoiding already congested tram routes. In particular, many of the existing tram routes that run through St Kilda Road terminate at Melbourne University, which will be more easily accessible from the nearby Parkville station when the Melbourne Metro is complete.
In 2012, Public Transport Victoria, the body charged with planning and coordination of public transport services in Victoria, released the Metropolitan Network Development Plan. It emphasised the need for the project as a precursor for other heavy rail expansion projects, given current limitations on existing inner city infrastructure to cope with additional services running into the inner part of the network. In particular rail lines to Doncaster, Melbourne Airport and Rowville require additional inner core capacity to enable services to run on those lines into the CBD.
The project is expected to employ up to 3,500 people during peak construction.
The need for a new tunnel to increase capacity has been subject to criticism that capacity on the existing network is under utilised or hamstrung by operational inefficiencies. Paul Mees in 2008 noted that the claim the new tunnel would allow 40 extra trains per hour through the city should be compared to an increase of 56 trains per hour by increasing line capacity to 24 trains per hour per line (80% of the theoretical 30 trains per hour allowed by the current signalling system), reducing dwell times and other efficiencies such as terminating some trains at Flinders Street station rather than Southern Cross station. Mees also criticised the proposal for absorbing rail investment at the expense of extending the network at its periphery. Other proposals have also been suggested for some relatively minor alterations to the City Loop to allow different groupings of the lines without any new stations.
Critics have also argued that by implementing High Capacity Signalling (HCS) across the network, additional services would be able to run on existing infrastructure, by reducing headway between trains allowing more services to run. In March 2015, the State Government announced a trial of HCS would commence on the Sandringham line, with a view to expand it across the network once successful trials were complete.
The current scope of the project has ruled out integration with South Yarra station, meaning it will be bypassed by trains using the new tunnel. This would prevent passengers using the tunnel transferring from the Dandenong and Frankston lines to the Sandringham line. Pressure from the State Opposition and the Greens to include the station in the tunnel's design have gone unheeded. The Melbourne Metro Rail Authority has defended the plan, saying the economic case for integration is poor, requiring the building of a new hub and the acquisition of 114 properties including part of The Jam Factory at a cost of an extra $1 billion; a business case estimate indicates a return of only 20c for every dollar spent on the station. Integration of South Yarra station into the project has been the subject of lobbying as a requirement for federal funding.
A significant point of contention has been the relative cost of the project and the capacity of the State to afford up to $11 billion. The previous Abbott Federal Government has specifically ruled out funding urban rail projects across the country, limiting funding options for the Melbourne Metro project and placing pressure on the State Government to fund the project with a mix of debt and private business investment. While funding allocated by the Abbott Government for the now-scrapped East West Link was specifically ruled out for use on urban rail projects in Melbourne, the new Turnbull government has removed this condition.
Federal funding options for the project can be realised through the Abbott Government's 'Asset Recycling Program', which matches 15% of the cost of any State Government asset that is sold to be used for infrastructure projects. The sale of the Port of Melbourne by the Andrews Government could provide additional funding to the Melbourne Metro project once sold, including an indirect contribution by the Federal Government.
Concerns existed over expected disruption along the Swanston Street corridor, with former Premier Denis Napthine controversially describing the alignment of the tunnel as akin to the Berlin Wall, which would "tear the city in half for up to two years". However, changes to engineering and construction plans indicate that tunneling, rather than the 'cut and cover' method of construction, will be employed. Minimal disruption for trams, pedestrians and traders along Swanston Street is thus expected.