For economic reasons the High Speed Rail/Fast Freight Rail (HSR/FFR) route into Melbourne should be from the east via Gippsland, rather than the north via Albury/Wodonga. The latter route was mooted in the HSR Report of the previous Government. The addition of FFR makes a huge difference to project profitability and so counter-balances risk. In summary, the eastern route would reduce net investment and increase net profit vastly more than the northern route.
These notes give the reasons for the eastern route and practical details of entry into Melbourne.
Economics of the Eastern Route
The HSR/FFR corridor would connect Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, and Brisbane along the coast and beyond. FFR tracks would be built side-by-side to and at the same time as HSR tracks. The route would run east of Melbourne. The eastern route offers a higher existing Victorian regional population and industrial base for growth than the north. The population of Gippsland is projected to grow to about 400,000, some 10 times that of the northern route in Victoria without HSR. The route is more likely to attract another million people to live in a new, compact city and in existing towns in the Gippsland region within about 50-100 km of the sea than towards Albury/Wodonga 300 km inland. Already 85% of Australians live within 50km of the coast. The population of Gippsland demonstrates the preference of most people about where to settle compared to the inland route. Two-way 30-60 minute HSR commuting between Melbourne and the new city CBDs with a larger regional population would increase patronage. Population growth would expand in the regions and relieve congestion in Melbourne.
The 30 km route from Dandenong to Melbourne would have housing over a long trench rather than a tunnel from the north with no value capture. City property values are higher on the eastern route. The VFT 2 would turn relatively low value, undesirable property near railways into high value, desirable property above and near railways. Trains would be below ground out of sight and out of sound. Residents in four story units above tracks would conveniently travel by train to their jobs from stations within 1 km walking distance of home along a walkway and a bicycle track connecting Dandenong and Melbourne. It would be well within the 30 minute rule for all residents in a 1½km radius of a station and new jobs in shops and high rise offices and dwellings built above new stations. Up to half a million more people could be accommodated. Parking and bus stations would provide access for more people in the eastern suburbs. For these reasons total value capture will be great on the eastern route.
HSR trains would run at only 100 km/h in trenches for 30km, like the Shincansen for 25 km out of Tokyo to reduce noise. Rails would be on rubber to further deaden noise and vibration for residents above.
More business people live in suburbs between the CBD and Dandenong where there would be a HSR hub station for their ease of access and time saving in travel to Sydney. The eastern route would also erase 10 level crossings which would be of great value to the Government and reduce road congestion.
Sale Air-force Base would be developed into the eastern airport to serve the eventual 1.5m people in Gippsland. It would be converted to a commercial and military airport like Canberra and Newcastle, all connected by HSR. People living to the east would not wish to travel to Melbourne and change trains for Tullamarine. HSR would connect Sale, Tullamarine and Avalon airports.
Just as people living on the south coast of NSW drive 50-60km for an hour to Bombala and towards Cooma to take the straighter and less congested road to Sydney instead of taking the twisted and more congested coastal road to cut half an hour from the six hour journey and reduce their stress, they would drive the same distances to HSR stations at Bombala and Cooma to cut three and a half hours off their journey. Population would grow and rail patronage would increase; a virtuous circle. Sydney and Melbourne would have more population relief when people decentralise as population grows.
The seasonal attraction of snow would increase visitors from Sydney to Thredbo in NSW. They would travel 1½ hours by HSR to Cooma and 1 hour by VFT 2 bus, 2½ hours compared to a five-hour drive. The Mt. Hotham snow fields are 1½ hours by VFT 2 bus from Bairnsdale which would be about 1 hour by HSR from Melbourne, 2½ hours compared to a 6 hour drive via Wangaratta. The sea and beach would attract people to Bairnsdale, a 20 minute drive to reputedly the largest lake system in the southern hemisphere at Metung and Painesville and ½ hour drive to Lakes Entrance for lake and beach summer season recreational activities. These would increase annual visitors, patronage and local population.
The eastern route offers some +300km of flat land to traverse from Bairnsdale and beyond to Melbourne at lower cost and faster construction compared to 200km over the high cost Great Dividing Range from Seymour to Albury/Wodonga, 300km from Melbourne. The route from Canberra to Bombala is relatively flat; at least much more so than the longer Canberra to Albury/ Wodonga stretch. The route south along the Cann and Genoa Rivers from Bombala is costly. The eastern route from Melbourne via Canberra Airport is a little longer than the northern route to Sydney, though possibly not to Canberra via the proposed spur line. The eastern route may not cost more in total after the flat land offsets and crossing the Divide are considered. Net investment on the eastern route would be many $billions less than the inland route after value capture is taken into account. Transit time between Melbourne and Sydney by express would still be 3 hours CBD to CBD.
Lower cost and higher profitability will aid realisation of the VFT 2 HSR/FFR Project, which in turn will lower the cost of inter-state freight for the leading manufacturing State of Victoria.
If regional centres do not attract 1-2m people from Melbourne by following the eastern route and Sydney and Brisbane each decentralise that number in new cities, people will drift north to escape the rising congestion and declining liveability of Melbourne. Victoria may receive lower Federal funds based on relatively smaller population numbers.
In East Gippsland to across the NSW border there are heavy forests with wild-life. It should be noted Mr. Bob Brown, the former Leader of the Green Party in the Federal Parliament, has said HSR was such an important project to cut green-house gases that some, minimal, degradation of bushland during construction was acceptable. This degradation can be turned to a positive that ameliorates damage.
As HSR passes through bushland and State/National forests anywhere along its length it would form serious, effective fire-breaks, with water-holes, creeks and rivers for water, to protect, succour and give sanctuary to wild-life during bush fires. There would be tunnels and nature bridges for access and movement of wild-life across the fenced tracks, and access roads for fire-fighters. For passenger and fire-fighter safety, fire-breaks would be as wide on each side of the tracks beyond the tallest tree that might fall and the maximum that flame radiation might reach. Train drivers would be fire-spotters and report any sign of smoke.
The intentions of the VFT 2 would be to save flora and fauna and avoid their damage. The area taken up by tracks through State Forests would be compensated for by an equivalent amount of purchased land.
Entry of FFR
The HSR/FFR route from Warragul/Drouin to Dandenong is relatively straight forward at grade. At Dandenong the side-by-side FFR would separate from HSR. The aim is to avoid taking freight through the centre of the city as at present. FFR would pass around the east and north of Melbourne to the western inter-modal freight hub at Tottenham in built-over trenches wherever possible.
There are two alternative approaches to the FFR route around Melbourne. A challenging route follows the M3 highway and Mullum Mullum Creek north from Dandenong and then crosses the Yarra River to reach and follow the existing Melbourne/ Eltham railway to join up with the Metropolitan Ring Road, where provision for a railway has already been made, from the north to the west. Tracks would be in trenches in order to build dwellings above them and capture value from up to 3 square kilometres of new “land” created along this 60-70km of track which would be added to that created by HSR. Where necessary creeks would be followed as they were for the Eastern and South-eastern Freeways.
It is a remarkable convenience that existing electricity transmission line right-of-ways circle Melbourne and provide an excellent route for FFR to follow. Transmission lines start at the BHP Steel-works at the Port of Hastings and travel north to Hallam where they cross the east/west broad gauge railway. They traverse to the north and west to meet with the north/south standard gauge railway near Tullamarine Airport, which FFR would follow to the Tottenham hub in the west near the Port of Melbourne. Since planning permission to build dwellings on power rights-of-way would be unlikely, though railways should not be an issue, tracks would be mainly at grade without buildings above or their value added. However, if power lines were followed, construction at grade would be lower cost than in trenches. This alternative route may be more acceptable than by creeks and highways.
Both routes cross flat ground from Hastings to Ringwood, half the distance. From Ringwood on there are undulations, but no really difficult country.
The FFR would connect freight to and from Brisbane and Sydney to a new eastern inter-modal freight hub at Hallam, some 6km from Dandenong CBD. This would be established to service freight destined for the Dandenong industrial area nearby from the north, east, and west by broad and standard gauge rail, road and sea. The hub would provide the distribution centre for the new deep-water port at Hastings. FFR standard gauge and broad gauge would connect the Port of Hastings to the eastern hub for freight collection and distribution in Dandenong. The Hallam hub would avoid carrying goods to a ‘Hastings hub’ and back again for freight destined to the Dandenong area. Rail connection from the port to the hub would eliminate need for short haul road transport to and from hub and port through what will become a built-up, congested area. These were the reasons for developing the Tottenham hub.
It may be that shippers would decide to send freight by FFR to Sydney and Brisbane from ships that unload more than half their cargo in Melbourne and have a full cargo immediately available there to ship overseas. This would save the cost and time of sending ships north laden well below capacity and would shift freight from sea to lower cost rail. Similarly, shippers may build loads for their ships by railing freight from Sydney and Brisbane to make up full ship loads in Melbourne for overseas at either the Port of Hastings or Port of Melbourne. It would increase the market for FFR and these Ports.
Broad gauge rail would connect the Port of Hastings to the Dandenong hub with tracks in trenches next to FFR in trenches. It could be extended next to FFR in trenches or by transmission lines around to the Tottenham hub. Broad gauge could run both freight and passenger trains. This would serve people living above the tracks or near new suburban outer circle stations along the route who want to travel around Melbourne to their jobs in the west and in the east at Dandenong and Hastings, instead of going into Melbourne and out again by public transport or cross country by car. There would be an increase in employment at the Dandenong hub and the Port of Hastings and shops and offices above stations. Parking stations at rail stations would be convenient for people living in the outer suburbs. New broad gauge rail services around Melbourne would be very convenient to workers, especially those living above the tracks.
At the cross-over junction of the north/south and east/west HSR/FFR and also broad gauge lines at Hallam a new station would be built to give greater access to jobs for workers thereby increasing demand. It would be the terminus for Melbourne/ Dandenong trains to reduce rail congestion at the busy Dandenong passenger hub station with its new HSR station. It would have shops, offices and parking above and around. The station would be connected to the near-by Hallam freight hub.
Entry of HSR
HSR would follow existing suburban tracks from Dandenong to Southern Cross Terminal and through there to the west and by a loop to Tullamarine Airport in trenches with buildings above.
A Lend Lease led consortium is planning to expand the suburban rail services from Cranbourne and Pakenham through Dandenong, removing three level crossings. The VFT 2 Consortium would negotiate an agreement for HSR entry through Dandenong. The prospect for HSR Dandenong Station is to become a suburban hub with high-rise housing, offices and parking, and extensive commercial and social activity for the area. There would be significant value to capture contributed by HSR.
The VFT 2 Consortium would obtain from the Victorian Government the air rights above suburban tracks from Dandenong to Southern Cross (and to Tullamarine and entry to Tottenham) for HSR/FFR and access rights to transmission lines for FFR. It would buy extra adjoining land and property plus Government land as appropriate. The aim would be to own at least a 100m width for the length of the 30km tracks to Dandenong. This would represent 3 square kilometres of inner-city new “land” for development and value capture. (A similar approach would be taken for the 30km into and out of Sydney and Brisbane increasing the new “land” by some 12 square kilometres. New “land “beyond Southern Cross may add another 2 square kilometres and say 3 square kilometres above FFR in Melbourne, a total of 20 square kilometres of valuable major city property to build on by the VFT 2.)
The new suburban stations in trenches would be sited where possible no more than 2km apart to facilitate pedestrian access. Housing built above tracks in trenches would be no more than four stories to avoid providing many lifts over 30 km of buildings. Parking stations would be built at railway stations to facilitate vehicle access and provide income. Shops and high rise offices and flats would also be built over railway stations to be sold or leased. Bus, taxi and “kiss and run” space would be provide.
The VFT 2 Consortium would cut a trench within the 100m between Dandenong and Melbourne next to the existing railway and build a new expanded capacity suburban railway and stations in the trench, which would eliminate 10 level crossings in the process. The trench would be on the south side of the existing railway as there are three joining suburban tracks entering from the south to the new suburban network. It would avoid crossing HSR tracks. Heritage stations would be preserved.
When completed, existing suburban train operation would be transferred from old to new tracks in the trench. The VFT 2 would then cut a new trench under the old suburban tracks to the north for four HSR tracks, two for current operations and two for future expansion. Once constructed it would be difficult to cut a new trench for future operations. It has to be done as one project.
Near South Yarra Station HSR may have to tunnel to a new bridge over the Yarra River to the east of the existing suburban rail bridge. On the north side of the river HSR would cross above 4 suburban tracks that are on an embankment onto the south side, cross a road bridge to enter Richmond Station on the south side. It may be possible to tunnel under South Yarra Station and bridge the Yarra to the east of the existing bridge on the south side of the suburban tracks, instead of cross over them just before Richmond Station. Richmond is due to be rebuilt. There would be large value capture in building above and near Richmond Station in place of old adjacent warehouses between the station and the river.
The HSR tracks need to be on the south side in order to enter Flinders Street Station at platform 11b and disused platform 12, the most southerly, which would be demolished for two HSR tracks. Platform 11a may have to be demolished and an adjacent through broad gauge track may have to be given up for future HSR tracks. If Southern Cross can manage with 4 suburban rail platforms, Flinders St. should be able to manage with 10. Alternatively, it may be necessary to excavate platforms 11b and 12 and reinforce station foundations to double deck for future tracks above. There would be a short, steep incline onto the viaduct between Flinders ST. and Southern Cross, if the excavation option were taken. This would not be a problem given the assistance of momentum of a heavy HSR train at low speed.
The original VFT Project determined that there was 12 meters between the World Trade Centre building and the existing suburban rail viaduct, sufficient for a new HSR viaduct from Flinders ST. to Southern Cross. Part of the existing viaduct may be used by HSR and part of the new viaduct used by suburban rail to avoid moving the Aquarium. The viaduct may be double decked to provide for future HSR.
Lend Lease is planning the construction of a multi-story building over Wurundjeri Way to the south west of Southern Cross which may reduce the options for building the HSR tracks into Southern Cross Terminal. This would be subject to further negotiations with Lend Lease.
The HSR terminal would be built above a sunken Wurundjeri Way to the west next to Southern Cross Station. It would have two islands and four platforms. It would be connected to the Southern Cross inter-modal passenger hub. It would be a through terminal with tracks looping to Tullamarine and train stabling and maintenance facilities. It would connect with an expanded Geelong and possibly another new city of a million further to the west to redistribute population growth of Melbourne and reduce congestion. There would be high-rise office, apartment and hotel opportunities above and around the HSR terminal and tracks. A new city square and high-rise offices and parking would be built over the existing tracks to the north part of Southern Cross Station and adjacent to the HSR terminal to the west. Future platforms for HSR may require demolition of office buildings to the west of Wurundjeri Way when passed their used-by date. Two new islands would be constructed and new office buildings above.
Preparation for extra tracks for future HSR expansion would not be necessary in the regions, except for significant salient features passed through and regional stations in trenches.
HSR/FFR infrastructure would cater for population doubling in the next 50-60 years and freight more than doubling in this time. It require foresight, planning and fortitude as they cannot be constructed incrementally. Net investment is reduced and net profit increased hugely when value capture is taken into account. This makes the project far more viable and bankable in the necessary feasibility study.
The eastern route is totally practical. The engineering is not extreme. The results would be especially valuable and make the whole project more profitable than following the northern route. There would be unavoidable temporary disruption in the suburbs. Properly explained people will be patient with it to achieve the great benefits. Environmental impact would be minimised and offset to great advantage. The Conundrum of how to carry freight around not through the centre of Melbourne would be solved using transmission lines. The cost/benefit of the eastern route undoubtedly would exceed the northern tunnel route in the feasibility study. The eastern HSR/FFR route is in the interest of Victoria.