The apparent aim of the SkyRail Metro railway viaduct project is to increase public transport capacity for 200,000-400,000 new settlers in the fringe Melbourne suburbs of Cranbourne, Berwick and Packenham, and to remove level crossings, mainly between Caulfield and Dandenong. Why was the SkyRail viaduct adopted? Largely, it seems to be as it is lower cost to build and quicker for the urgent need of the Government to complete it before the next State election.
The first comment is that SkyRail is not necessary because the High Speed Rail (HSR) project would trench alongside the existing suburban railway, build tracks and stations in the trench for 4 tracks instead of the original 2 tracks, including the Metro between Caulfield and Dandenong. When complete, trains would be switched to the new tracks and a trench for HSR dug under the old suburban tracks. All level crossings would be removed. Four stories of dwellings would be built over the trenches and sold to pay for railway construction. The project would pay for all construction in return for free rail-air rights.
If this had been supported when proposed to State and Federal Governments and had occurred, the Government would have saved the best part of $2.6b which could have been spent on other State infrastructure projects. The fringe suburbs would have had better public transport and a new city for 1m more people would be built on the HSR line in Gippsland within an hour computing time from the CBD.
Consequences of SkyRail
SkyRail blocks access to dig trenches for suburban rail and HSR. It also destroys property value for up to 1km on each side of the viaduct for 15km to Dandenong. If, say, the SkyRail reduction in value is 10% on average; the number of adjacent properties per km² is 4,000 on average for 30 km² (2x 15km); and the average value of property is $500,000, this destruction would total about $6b.
There is no compensation to owners of this property for their $6b SkyRail loss.
The HSR project would not destroy property value. It would increase it by some $6b for 30km², if SkyRail is removed, and by some $3b for removing suburban rail at ground level for ½km on each side, being 15km² before SkyRail was built. HSR would also have relieved Melbourne of growing by 1m more people and its concomitant loss of liveability by facilitating their settlement in a new city in Gippsland.
Should construction of SkyRail cease? It would be beneficial, but unlikely. Should it be demolished to unblock HSR? The cost would be significant. The removal of level crossings before the next election seems compelling, even though the connecting Melbourne Metro tunnel would not be finished until later. Demolition is unlikely.
A new approach
It is envisaged that a trench would be dug to the south side of SkyRail between Caulfield and Dandenong, four new tracks and stations built in it and then suburban and Metro trains switched to the new tracks. Another trench would be dug under the old tracks and 4 stories of dwellings built above the trenches, leaving SkyRail standing hidden between them. (HSR needs to be on the north side to avoid the suburban tracks which join the Melbourne to Dandenong line from the south.)
SkyRail would become a long, 15km equivalent of the “High Line” in New York. It would have gardens, footpaths and bicycle tracks to the nearest station within 1km. This would continue above the 4 story dwellings built over tracks from Caulfield to the Melbourne CBD.
All level crossings would be removed. The fringe suburbs would be served as they grow and 1m would settle in Gippsland. The value of property adjacent to trains would be increased, not destroyed.
This concept would be more expensive than the original, as more property would have to be acquired and there would be more temporary disruption than SkyRail. More dwellings above tracks would be needed to pay for the unnecessary extra cost. Government cooperation would be required to facilitate the project. Government funds may be contributed to HSR from a small increase of land tax of the unearned improvement of the many properties whose value has been increased by rail in trenches.
The concept is practical and viable, as sale of dwellings within the overall interstate HSR project construction period would pay for the total Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane project cost and keep fares down. The same approach would be applied to the west of Melbourne, including connection to Tullamarine and Avalon Airports. HSR would connect to another new city of up to 1m to the west of Geelong, on the route to Adelaide later. The Melbourne population growth would be saved an extra 2-3m people, including those settling above the inner-city tracks, in the new cities, in Geelong and in regional towns connected by fast rail.
Melbourne’s liveability would be saved.