In response to the 2014 Doncaster Rail Study Phase One Draft Recommendations Report I would like to present a number of scenarios based on my own research as a public transport advocate and one who has a basic knowledge of rail engineering.
The final Doncaster Rail Study Phase One Recommendations Report was released on 28 October 2014. This was for any future rail line to be built after 2026 to run only as far as the Doncaster Park and Ride facility along the Eastern Freeway and for the line to be networked into the existing Clifton Hill group in the vicinity of Collingwood Stn after using the freeway median.
There had been considerable time and money spent on this report, but it was greatly overshadowed by the then proposed East West Link motorway, which was later scrapped by the Andrews Labour government coming to office a short time later. Although this study did indeed look at three different options for a rail alignment from the City out to Doncaster it lacked good investigation and scope for other options viable options that the public may have embraced. One of which I would like to discuss in greater detail in my scenario below. This would be for a new rail group to be created through the proposed decoupling of the South Morang Line and to group it up with the proposed Doncaster Line as a means to both value capture the high infrastructural expenditure and also importantly increase passenger attraction to the project. Nonetheless to this day the freeway median is still in tact, but without a rail link to Doncaster, best illustrated in Michael Leunig's above drawing.
There have been a number of ideas thrown up for a Doncaster Rail Line since the 1890s. In 1928 one serious proposal was recommended by the Railways Study Committee to the Victorian Legislative Assembly for an 8 station / 10.5KM line to continue from the then railhead at Kew. One kilometer of tunneling was to take the line under already developed land to the north east of Kew Junction. The estimated cost for that line was estimated to have been 438,500pounds (over AUD $30 million). The terminus station in Doncaster was to be at the corners of Doncaster Rd and Council Street. Later on in the 1940 Ashworth Proposal a similar line pointed in the direction to as far as North Balwyn. Nothing ever came about of these ambitious proposal and eventually the branch line to Kew was closed down. When the Eastern Freeway was constructed in the late 1970s the motorway was provisioned with a wide enough median, with foresight, for a planned railway link to Doncaster.
It is important to note that in the visionary 1969 Melbourne Transport Plan passengers travelling on the proposed Doncaster Line would have been required to transfer at an upgraded Victoria Park Stn interchange. There however did appear scope for a probable tunnel connecting to Museum Stn (Melbourne Central) on the City Loop, via a sub-surface Fitzroy Stn. This intriguing detail illustrated on the period map below confuses, but shows what was intended to be built by 1985.
Fig. 02: In the 1969 Melbourne Transport Plan serious proposal for a rail line to Doncaster was proposed where the line would have mostly run along the Eastern Freeway median. During construction of the motorway a wide enough median was provisioned, with the foresight for a planned railway link to Doncaster. In the plan there were to be 5 stations along this proposed rail corridor - project completion date was forecast for 1985.
In the 1980 Melway Street Directory (Fig. 03 - 05) it appears only three new stations are given along the entire length of the proposed rail alignment to the suburb of Doncaster - indicating some modification to the 1969 proposal. The first stop would have been technically located in the suburb of Balwyn North and adjacent to Koonung Reserve, but probably would have been called Bulleen Stn. This was to be some 8.8KM after Victoria Park Stn. The second stop along the line, Doncaster Stn, would have been reached via 2.8KM of tunnelling beneath Lower Templestowe and at 13.2KM out. It was to be near to the junction of King Street and Williamsons Rd. The terminus station, East Doncaster Stn, also reached via some additional tunnel segments totalling 0.8KM, was to be near to the junction of King Street and Blackburn Road in Templestowe / Doncaster East. This station was to be some 16.2KM beyond Victoria Park Stn. There was not actually in any proposal to my knowledge by the late 1970s for the line to connect to Doncaster Shopping Town (Westfield). Then in 1982 the Caine Labour Government scrapped plans for any Doncaster Rail Line and land along the given corridor was sold off for low density housing development. However after more than 40 years since the 1969 Melbourne Transport Plan (Fig. 02) there has been renewed interest in this missing rail link.
Fig. 03: 1980 Melway Street Directory. The Doncaster Rail alignment (highlighted in yellow) as it was originally proposed to commence from Victoria Park Stn.
Fig. 04: 1980 Melway Street Directory. The Doncaster Rail alignment is highlighted in yellow and orange, while the first station on the then proposed line is in pink, the tunnel alignment is in purple.
Fig. 05: 1980 Melway Street Directory. The Doncaster Rail alignment is highlighted in orange, while tunnels are in purple. The second and third stations are highlighted in pink. Note that the line is some distance to the north of Doncaster Shopping Town (Westfield Doncaster).
In 2008 the Victorian Greens advocated for a metro style underground line running parallel with the proposed Melbourne Metro Rail Tunnel (Sunshine - Dandenong Metro). They state in their plan: Instead of connecting into the Epping / Hurstbridge line at Victoria Park Stn, a city bound Doncaster Line would continue westwards in a tunnel from Hoddle Street, curving through Parkville and then south to Flinders Street Stn. New underground stations would be constructed at Fitzroy and Carlton. Further west, the line would connect with the proposed Melbourne Metro Rail Tunnel station at Parkville, providing passengers with the opportunity to change for services to Melbourne’s west at Parkville. Their Doncaster Line would continue southwards in its own tunnel(s), next to the Melbourne Metro Rail Tunnel, to another station allowing interchange at Melbourne Central, then onto Flinders Street Stn. This route option would connect the eastern suburbs of Melbourne directly into the busy fringe areas of the CBD, most importantly the university and hospital precincts, and into the CBD itself. With this option, a new Victoria Park Stn would be built over the Eastern freeway at Hoddle Street, allowing interchanges between the new Doncaster Line, the Epping / Hurstbridge train lines and buses.
The Victorian Greens in their Public Transport Plan for Melbourne's East, the City of Manningham and the PTUA (Public Transport Users Association) have all advocated for a Doncaster Rail Line in one form or another. In 2011 the Baillieu Liberal government committed $6.5 million towards a two stage feasibility study where Phase One was completed in October 2014. The incoming Labour government has it appears abandoned any further investigations into rail to Doncaster until at least after its commitments towards the Melbourne Metro tunnel are met. While this rail project is of national importance there must be further feasibility into a Doncaster rail line.
In response to the 2014 Doncaster Rail Study Phase One Recommendations Report I have put forward the below scenario which should indeed be investigated if there may be any further feasibility studies into Doncaster Rail. I have called this the Doncaster Hill / Mernda Metro.
Firstly once construction commences on the Melbourne Metro Rail Tunnel in 2018 there should be scope in its design for an interchange at Parkville Stn with the proposed decoupling of the South Morang (Mernda) line. This should be in the form of a two level sub-surface station in the vicinity of the junctions of Royal Pde and Grattan Street in Parkville.
In the case for the Doncaster Rail Study it was proposed that the South Morang Line would be decoupled from the Hurstbridge Line and be re-routed a new rail tunnel to as far as Fishermans Bend via Parkville, Flagstaff and Southern Cross Stations. The tunnel was proposed to begin south of the existing Northcote Stn to a new sub-surface Merri, Clifton Hill and Fitzroy Stations en route to Fishermans Bend. This proposal came as a surprise to many transport advocates as it was the Doncaster Line which was the primary focus of the feasibility study. Nonetheless it was for the very fact that the Clifton Hill group - South Morang and Hurstbridge Lines would reach operational capacity after 2021. However there was an overwhelming lack of good planning when considering the cost of these two projects - most evident in the map illustrating where both alignments for the proposed Doncaster Line and decoupled South Morang Lines would run close to one another without any interchange facility. The new Northcote to Fishermans Bend rail tunnel was given its own dedicated alignment to Parkville Stn thus shooting on past the Doncaster Line altogether. Therefore the much needed Doncaster Line was preferred to join up with the existing rail alignment in the vicinity to Collingwood Stn to follow the circuitous route via Jolimont Stn into the City Loop. I believe that the Doncaster Rail Study only made preferences for this given alignment and ignored the huge potential for a more cost effective new rail group including the Doncaster Rail Line and the decoupled South Morang Line.
Firstly the need into getting rail out to Doncaster Westfield was put back further through only preferring the line to eventually reach a suburban multi-level car park at Doncaster Park and Ride - located on the Eastern Freeway. There is no doubt that the controversial and recently scrapped East West Link motorway had enormous influence on any outcome for the Doncaster Rail feasibility study.
The proposed model for the decoupling of the South Morang Line also has its issues. I have attempted to point these out below.
The PTV proposal for the South Morang Line decoupling would, as I've said, involve a dedicated line through an extensive tunnel system. The costs involved in building such a rail tunnel would be greater than the proposed Doncaster Line alone. However this tunnel would provide a seamless rail alignment into the City with new stations at Fitzroy and Parkville. It has been proposed that the new tunnel starting just to the south of the existing Northcote Stn would require a ruling gradient of of up 4% to reach a new in cut Merri Stn. The little used Rushall Stn would be closed down as the new tunnel would make a more direct route to a sub-surface platform at Clifton Hill Stn. While grade separation all along the South Morang Line would be desired, there are many level crossings through out the entire Melbourne rail network requiring higher priority. I believe that Merri Stn doesn't have high enough passenger attraction to justify building a new sub-surface station in its current location.
It would make better sense if such a tunnel were to be constructed from Northcote to Fishermans Bend then there should be the consolidation of the existing Merri and Northcote Stations. This new station would be best located beneath High Street at Ruckers Hill, Northcote. An alternative tunnel alignment could therefore be provisioned from the vicinity north of Arthurton Rd Northcote via this more centralised underground station at Ruckers Hill. Here there would be inter modal change with the 86 tram line and local area buses in an established busy inner city shopping district.
In my scenario for the decoupling of the South Morang Line - TBM dual tunnels would be bored from the north side of Beavers Street, south of a lowered Croxton Stn. The rail tunnel alignment would then pass beneath Arthurton Road and Helen Street Northcote at a safe depth going to approx AHD 36m below High Street from where the new station island platform at Ruckers Hill would be located some 25m below street level. From here en route to the new sub-surface Clifton Hill Stn the rail alignment then runs at a steep ruling gradient of 2.62% - far less the the PTV proposal of 4%. This would allow the railway tunnel to safely pass beneath Merri Creek at a depth of AHD 9.5m and then at a ruling gradient of 2.11% to reach the proposed sub-surface Clifton Hill Stn - at a depth of AHD 15m.
Once down the line further and where the proposed tunnel would make its alignment below the south lanes of Alexandra Pde would be located the Fitzroy Stn. When concerning the Doncaster Rail Study I believe that this station may have been better placed immediately west of Brunswick St and with close access to the busy Nicholson St 96 LRT route. It is before this node where the Doncaster rail line should indeed group with the decoupled South Morang Line rather than take the proposed route onto the existing Clifton Hill group near Collingwood Stn.
Through detailed mapping and using horizontal radii of greater than 400 m I have been able to come up with a realisable scenario for a rail alignment from the vicinity of the existing Flagstaff Stn and out to Doncaster Hill and South Morang. It is with the Doncaster Hill / Mernda Metro that effectively a new rail group can be created allowing for interchange at the proposed Fitzroy Stn regardless of its chosen location. In fact if in any case where the South Morang Line is decoupled it makes good sense demographically and economically to incorporate the Doncaster Line into this same project rather than two separate lines. Passengers originating from the Doncaster area would be more inclined to enter the CBD via the University precinct rather than the circuitous route via Jolimont Stn.