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Sky Rail – just build the blasted thing

April 1, 2016

01 April 2016

Only in Melbourne, or only in Australia, can progress be hamstrung by a nation of whingers. First it was the East West Link, which would have provided a northern bypass of the CBD to relieve strain off the southern one. Now it’s railway crossings, which cause innumerable traffic jams and prevent any chance of increased rail capacity on the suburban network. Bizarrely, Victoria might get a second change of government on a promise of NOT to build something.

proposed sky rail - melbourne - victoria

Artist impression of Sky Rail

For those with short memories or unaware, the EWL was cancelled by the current Andrews state government at the cost – yes cost! – of $1.1b. Most of that was in compensation for breaking contracts, money already spent on the project and compulsory housing acquisitions. The promise to scrap it was to try save a few inner city seats going to the Greens. The seats went Green anyway, so now premier Daniel Andrews had the choice to keep his promise that northern cross town traffic remain gridlocked, or he break the promise and provide basic infrastructure for a burgeoning city. Andrews chose gridlock.

If keeping the idiotic promise wasn’t bad enough, Andrews embarked on other plans to alleviate the city’s traffic woes. Instead of an East-West link, he’s proposed the West-East link! Effectively it’s the same road, just starting from stage 2 – the western end. Furthermore, because Andrews scrapped the proposed airport train, he will widen the Tullamarine Freeway to the airport, along with the Bolte Bridge and sections of the West Gate Freeway. So it seems our premier is very much the premier of roads, as long as they are not the East West Link.

As works start to widen the Tullarmarine, guess what, that means lane closures and even worse traffic gridlock than ever before. If only Melbourne had an alternative East-West passage than the existing West Gate and Monash Freeways! Traffic could be funneled through there. Seriously, you couldn’t make up this madness if you tried.

Now to Sky Rail, or elevated rail if you remove the marketing spin. Melbourne has been blighted by railway crossings for decades – barely removing any of them despite rampant population growth and increasing traffic chaos. The population has doubled in the last 40 years to 4.5m and is expected to double to 9m in another 40 years.

One obvious solution to get cars off roads is public transport. The problem there is that the rail network reached capacity long ago, and simply can’t increase while railway crossings remain. Otherwise, the crossing gates will be down permanently. Ten minute services already can see some intersections blocked for 20 minutes at a time, so for three minute services – the minimum required for such a big city – the crossings must go.

Enter Sky Rail. 8km of elevated rail on the Dandenong line to remove 9 crossings. The rail will be built using pre-fabricated methods, so it won’t affect existing train services, and will cost just $1.5b. Elevated rail is also proposed on sections of the Frankston line. With that line being near Port Philip Bay, the high water table means there’s little choice than for elevated rail.

Now enter the classic Australian whinger. Residents are worried about the lack of privacy. No worries, the elevated tracks will be fenced. What about the noise? Hang on, you live next to a train line already, elevating it will reduce noise. Elevated rail is ugly. No more uglier than ground rail, and it’s far more safer, and works in the world’s great cities like Tokyo and New York. Why not lower the track or bury it underground? Sorry, it would be way too expensive, take too long, and could disrupt rail services potentially for years. You only need look at the proposed Melbourne Metro Rail Project – a tunnel of 9kms that will cost at least $11b and take 8 years to build. It would have disrupted the CBD for two years had the easier “cut and cover” method be used, as would be the method on the suburban lines. “We weren’t consulted”, local residents scream. Rubbish. Andrews claims residents were contacted individually. Let’s also not forget the biggest consultation of all: the last election. The promise to remove 50 railway crossings was one of the cornerstones of the campaign.

proposed sky rail - clayton - melbourne - victoria

Artist impression of Sky Rail in Clayton

Responding to this whinging, the premier came up with a great idea: if Sky Rail offends you so much, we’ll buy your property at market rates you can buzz off. Oh wait, that will cost $100m more and mean areas of entire “ghost streets”. No it won’t. The government would put the properties on the market. There would be plenty of people that will jump at the properties. The government will recoup most of the money and population levels would be unchanged. Sky Rail is not a toxic waste dump, for crying out loud.

You can already see the next election campaign, only the roles will be reversed. The now opposition will reciprocate the election strategy that worked for the current government: “We won’t build Sky Rail. We won’t remove railway crossings. We will preserve traffic gridlock, public transport crushes and general transport chaos. Vote for us!” Message to Premier Andrews: don’t be a wimp. Build the blasted Sky Rail and get Melbourne moving again.

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