Victoria, Rail industry news (Australia, New Zealand)

Is a Frankston extension achievable?

The push to extend the electrification of the Stony Point line in Melbourne to allow Metro trains to run further has become a hot topic of discussion with federal opposition leader Peter Dutton announcing a proposal to extend the Frankston Line.

The Stony Point line acts as an extension of the Frankston line with services running from Frankston station to the small town of Stony Point in south-east Melbourne. It serves 10 stations including Leawarra, Baxter, Hastings, and Bittern. The Stony Point line is operated by Metro Trains Melbourne and is the city’s only diesel service on the metropolitan network and the tenth longest line at 31 kilometres.

The line operates for 13 hours a day from 5:30 in the morning to 10:30 at night, unlike other lines on the network, which provide 24-hour service on Friday and Saturday nights.

Headways of 90 to 120 minutes are operated throughout the day due to limited patronage and infrastructure constraints. Trains on the Stony Point line run as two one-car formations of V/Line Sprinters.

The business case

In May 2018, the Australian Government committed $225 million to deliver the Frankston line extension. Subsequently, a preliminary business case investigating the project was undertaken by the Victorian Government and released in November 2020.

The business case centred around the need for electrification of the Frankston line as the areas around Frankston and the Mornington Peninsula have poor access to public transport.

According to the report, less than three per cent of residents use public transport in the Mornington Peninsula and less than six per cent in Frankston, which the study contends is far lower than other municipalities that are similar.

This low patronage of the line is indicative of several issues in the area, including accessibility, reliability and poor travel times. For residents in the area, less than 10 per cent of all jobs are accessible by public transport within an hour.

All investment options will provide public transport benefits for Frankston and the Mornington Peninsula. However, the economic costs of all options will exceed the benefits, in particular for electrification of the line, which requires a large capital investment of stabling, stations, level crossing removals, and signalling works.

It is believed that the cost to electrify and duplicate the line all the way to Stony Point would be up to $1.5 billion, which included new stations at Frankston East, Baxter and Langwarrin.

Of the assessed investment options, the Stony Point Uplift is the likely preferred plan. This option requires less capital investment and has less impacts than the electrification options. It also provides additional rail services for population centres at Somerville and Hastings, which would not be provided under the electrification options.

The Stony Point uplift would see passing loops added along the Stony Point line at Tyabb and Bittern – to allow trains travelling in opposite directions to pass each other. The track would not be electrified, and the project would not include level crossing removals.

Joshua Sinclair from the committee for Frankston and Mornington Peninsula explained that the committee hoped a full business case as opposed to a preliminary business case would establish if the project was feasible.

“What is clear is that communities in Langwarrin and Frankston East – along with Frankston’s Education and Health precinct, which house Monash University and Frankston Hospital – do not have adequate public transport service,” he said.

“There is clearly a need to address that – and the electrification and duplication of the Frankston line to Langwarrin or Baxter overwhelmingly addresses those issues.”

While the committee is a firm believes in the duplication and electrification project, it is open to the prospect of the Uplift.

“In our view this is an option the Government should actively be considering,” Sinclair said.

“It’s significantly cheaper, does not require multiple level crossings and freeway connections, and could – according to the preliminary business case – provide services on the Stony Point line in both directions every 20 to 30 minutes. This would be more than enough to satisfy Mornington Peninsula residents in Western Port.”

Recent developments

Federal opposition leader Peter Dutton appeared in the region back in February where he made the pledge that if his party won the next federal election, he would commit to a 50-50 partnership with “a future Victorian state government that is willing to deliver this project”.

Dutton pledged a capped commitment of $900 million to support the delivery of a full business case and contribute to early works and construction of the project.

“This is a substantial commitment, which reflects the importance of delivering this critical project to give residents in Frankston South, Langwarrin, and Baxter faster and more reliable transport services and improved community infrastructure,” Dutton said.

“Traffic congestion and the availability of public transport is a major problem for this growing region. We have listened to local community concern, and we are delivering.

“The electrification of the Frankston to Baxter line will improve the efficiency of train services and reduce commuting times.”

In 2022, ahead of the state election, the Victorian opposition committed to the project if they won.

In 2023, the Victorian government made the commitment to no longer provide funding to the project.

This along with other projects were declined if the government believed they were not realistically going to be delivered with the funding available, have made little to no progress over a significant amount of time, and they do not align with Commonwealth or state and territory priorities.

A Victorian Government spokesperson explained what the current government has done to support the region.

“We’re already investing $4 billion to make the Frankston line level crossing free and providing more train stabling so that it can return to the City Loop when the Metro Tunnel opens, allowing more trains to run more often. We’ve also upgraded Lathams Road, the Westernport Highway, Golf Links Road and have almost finished work to upgrade Hall Road,” the spokesperson said.

Local perspective

Sinclair explained that the Stony Point train line is the worst performing in Melbourne according to Metro trains.

“It’s the only train line in Melbourne that runs on a diesel service, and it is constantly plagued by faults, level crossing issues, and safety issues. It’s also incredibly unreliable, infrequent, and does not encourage Mornington Peninsula residents to use it,” he said.

“Improving the line via electrification and duplication is the gold-plated approach and will need to pass a full business case. However, many other projects across Victoria deliver worse returns and quite often receive upgrades.

“If Langwarrin or Baxter was the ultimate destination for the Frankston line extension, it would significantly improve the ability of Mornington Peninsula Shire residents to catch the train. Many would use Peninsula Link (the M11) exit to a train station with park and ride facilities. Currently, their only option is to drive into Frankston CBD and battle for a car park,” Sinclair said.

He said the project would free up Frankston Station car park, connect growing communities like Langwarrin, would better connect residents from the Mornington Peninsula to the greater Melbourne area, and improve connectivity between the region’s only University and major hospital.

“Somerville, Bittern and Hastings are communities with growing populations, and getting them into Frankston CBD with frequent and effective train services would encourage more people to use the line. This can all be done with a handful of passing loops and improvements to infrastructure that don’t include duplication and electrification,” he said.

“If cost is an issue for the Victorian Government, this is something they should be actively considering. The total cost for a Stony Point uplift option is a quarter of what the electrification and duplication would cost.”

Suburban Rail Loop

While the Suburban Rail Loop (SRL) will not solve the Stony Point connection challenge, it will better connect the region to the East.

The SRL East will run between Cheltenham and Box Hill with stations at Burwood, Glen Waverley, Monash and Clayton.

Cheltenham is currently 11 stations before the end of the Frankston line so this connection to Melbourne’s east will better support those in Frankston and the Mornington Peninsula.

SRL East is expected to be completed in 2035, with construction beginning back in 2022.