Melbourne needs integrated transport plan: Committee for Melbourne

The Committee of Melbourne has called for the development of an integrated transport plan for Melbourne to coordinate the provision of transport infrastructure in the city.

While a number of government plans have been developed to guide infrastructure investment, the Committee for Melbourne has found that none are truly comprehensive, detailed, or strategic enough to outline how Melbourne will grow in the long-term.

Martine Letts, CEO Committee for Melbourne said that now was the right time to plan for the future of Melbourne.

“Mobility in Melbourne has reached a tipping point. With the growth pressures the city is facing that continue to build, more than ever a plan is required to accommodate the efficient movement of people and freight. A business-as-usual approach will see road congestion cost Melbourne’s economy up to $10.2 billion per annum by 2031 in operation and pollution costs.”

The report calls for a plan that integrates mobility patterns, land-use, and economic patterns, to enable seamless mobility throughout Greater Melbourne. This would mean that projects such as Suburban Rail Loop and the Melbourne Airport Rail Link would be included as certain aspects of the city’s future, along with further projects such as Melbourne Metro 2.

In addition to the infrastructure itself, the integrated plan would also combine elements such as demand management, technology, land-use planning, and economic development. These elements would guide measures such as public transport frequency, integrated mobility services, transport-oriented development, and using infrastructure investment as a level for investment.

The report recommends that with Melbourne’s population expected to continue to grow, and freight volumes also expected to increase, there is a need for integrated transport planning.

“It is not in anyone’s interest that Melbourne’s transport network returns to the state that it was in prior to the COVID-19 crisis. Peak hour commutes on public transport had become increasingly uncomfortable, while traffic congestion on the road network was worse than any other Australian capital city,” said Letts.

Melbourne was recently highlighted as a major Australian city with worsening congestion and reliability in travel in research by Infrastructure Partnerships Australia and Uber.

“As our economy recovers and we once again welcome increasing numbers of new residents and visitors, and as we produce and consume more goods and services, we must ask ourselves what it will take to remain a highly liveable, prosperous, and sustainable, twenty-first century city. Designing, publishing, and implementing a strategic plan which considers transport, land-use, and economic development planning is a good place to start,” said Letts.


Getting back to basics in infrastructure delivery

While governments are recalibrating their infrastructure pipeline, Peter Gill of DCWC argues that this presents an opportunity to get the build right.

In the morning before Rail Express speaks with Peter Gill, director for Infrastructure at Donald Cant Watts Corke (DCWC), Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has just announced a $2.7 billion building blitz, including $328 million for transport infrastructure.

The funding is designed to get Victorians back into work following the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and associated lockdown. However, the package has a different flavour to the state’s so-called Big Build, where billions were allocated to major infrastructure packages. Instead, the funding has been directed towards renewal of sleepers on regional rail lines, tram and train maintenance, and local pier upgrades. In his announcement, Andrews flagged that further announcements would similarly focus on smaller projects that get people into work.

The shift from major infrastructure projects to smaller, distributed works programmes is one that Gill has been watching closely since earlier in 2020.

“There have been a lot of natural disasters, and the result of that is that governments have had to implement smaller infrastructure projects to accommodate the repair of the damage the disasters have caused,” said Gill. “With COVID, the economy has been hit really badly and the primary area for repairing the economy and getting us out of it will be in infrastructure projects.”

Prior to 2020, Andrews and his counterparts in other states had been in the habit of announcing major rail infrastructure programs, delivered by standalone authorities and with budget sizes running to 10 figures and beyond. With the dual shock of the bushfires and COVID-19, Gill see the market shifting somewhat.

“We believe that the government will have to deliver smaller infrastructure projects, not the major ones of 5, 6, or 10 billion dollars, but a lot more smaller infrastructure projects to help the economy, help the tier-2, tier-3 contractors, the subcontract market, the builders, and all of those associated with infrastructure to get this economy out of its current scenario.”

Gill has been warning government and project authorities for years that the way that they had been approaching cost planning assurance and project management was leading to cost blow-outs and a lack of trust in the infrastructure sector. With a turn to a smaller, more distributed program of works, Gill sees governments as having the opportunity to get things right again.

“The larger projects have much more risk in them, and they take a lot longer to establish the requirements for those projects, and this is where governments are making mistakes. On the major high-risk, high-value infrastructure projects, they have been political footballs in the past and they’re rushing them through the system, not doing the proper geotechnical, site, and community investigation and not getting the price right.”

Instead of going through the proper process, contingency percentages have been added to the project’s cost to make up for gaps that were missed in project scope
or planning, said Gill.

“To accommodate the lack of information that they’ve got, they’re adding a percentage for contingency. Risk is not for missed scope and bad planning, or bad pricing for that matter, risk is to give you more certainty around what you already know. Missing scope or missing pricing are the two areas that they are getting wrong.”

By approving and funding smaller projects, planners have fewer unknowns and there is more chance to get those who have been most affected by the crisis to benefit.

“By getting smaller projects you get much more certainty in the project outcomes because it doesn’t take as long to do those investigations that you require for the major infrastructure projects,” said Gill. “With smaller projects and smaller requirements, you can put more time into it and get greater certainty on scope, budget, and time.

Gill cautions, however, that the major infrastructure projects should not be forgotten about just yet.

“The great thing is we take the lessons learnt from the big projects and apply them to the small projects. We don’t need as much time, so we can put the effort into and provide greater assurance.”

Another benefit of the new project pipeline is the lack of any need for extra labour or expertise from overseas. The relative complexity of the smaller projects can absorb those who are out of work or moving from one job to the next.

“We have enough resources in the country at the moment to accommodate these
big projects,” said Gill. “We have a unique situation where some projects are on hold at the moment and there are tunnel boring machine experts, for example, that can be used on other projects. There are tradesmen from those projects and there are blue collar and professional workers that can be moved to another.”

In addition, as has been shown in the projects that have continued throughout
the pandemic, infrastructure building works can continue with effective social distancing and not lead to outbreaks of infection. While some extra hygiene measures have been put in place, these issues are not insurmountable, said Gill.

“The designers, quantity surveyors, and planners can work from home, they can use platforms to continue those meetings, discuss with clients, and continue that work. What is going to be a challenge is the skilled and trade labourers on site, where they’ll have to have more space requirements for break out spaces, their lunch rooms, cleanliness, hygiene. All of those issues will have to be worked through.”

While the challenges in delivering a distributed works program may be different from a major infrastructure pipeline, Gill notes that there is an opportunity for
lessons to be learnt. As governments look for projects with value for money, providing a comprehensive understanding of a projects’ costs and risks is critical. DCWC has found bringing together design and cost engineering as one way to provide certainty.

“We wrote a paper last year on integrated quantity surveying teams, where we bring together engineers, planners, schedulers, and project managers, and if we use those integrated teams, we can get greater certainty in project outcomes and costs,” said Gill.

Although the purpose may be just as much about getting people into jobs as it is about “congestion busting”, projects still need to be delivered by a competent, knowledgeable team, preferably with local expertise.

“These projects need to be project managed – designed and scheduled properly – and we need professionals that understand the location of these projects, who understand the ground conditions and the risks associated with building in those areas,” said Gill. “Bring those people into the team to give the best possible advice for those major infrastructure projects, as one company cannot do it on their own, it has to be an integrated team approach. If we have to go externally to find the right people we will do so.”

As attention turns to what is needed to get the economy back up and running now, governments have a little more breathing room on the larger projects which were planned for pre-COVID-19 levels of congestion and patronage. If travel patterns take a bit of time to return to those levels, this means those projects can be looked at comprehensively.

“The government has an advantage here to take the time to really look at the requirements of those major infrastructure projects like the Suburban Rail Loop, the Melbourne Airport Rail Link and stage 2 of the Melbourne Metro,” said Gill. “Stop rushing these big projects, take the time to get the requirements right, use this pandemic as an opportunity to let smaller projects get people back to work.

New public transport minister in Vic cabinet reshuffle

A reshuffle of minister in Victoria has seen changes within the transport portfolios.

Ben Carroll has been appointed Minister for Public Transport and Minister for Roads and Road Safety, taking the Public Transport portfolio from Melissa Horne.

Premier Daniel Andrews said in a statement that the former Minister for Crime Prevention, Corrections, Youth Justice, and Victim, support would be stepping forward.

“Ben Carroll will step into the frontline roles of Minister for Public Transport and Minister for Roads and Road Safety, continuing to ensure we have the reliable and integrated transport network we need to get Victorians home safer and sooner.”

Melissa Horne will continue as Minister for Ports and Freight and has added Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation to her portfolios.

Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan has retained her transport portfolio and added the title of Minister for the Suburban Rail Loop.

“Jacinta Allan will lead the delivery of our biggest public transport project and reshape our suburbs as the Minister for the Suburban Rail Loop. She will also continue to oversee Development Victoria and the key transport precincts of Arden, Sunshine and the Richmond to Flinders Street corridor,” said Andrews.

The ministerial reshuffle follows the removal of Adem Somyurek, Marlene Kairouz, and Robin Scott after the branch stacking scandal.

In a tweet, Allan said that she was proud to be Minister for Suburban Rail Loop.

“Victoria’s biggest ever project which will change the way we move around forever – creating 10,000s jobs during construction and more jobs and services in Melbourne’s suburbs.”

Drilling works continuing for Suburban Rail Loop

Early geotechnical works are continuing as part of the first stages of the Suburban Rail Loop.

Having begun in November 2019, during April a number of site investigations have taken place in Clayton, Burwood, Notting Hill, Mount Waverly, Highett, Cheltenham, and Glen Waverly.

The works so far include drilling to gain data and information about local ground conditions. This involves confirming an area is free of utility services, geotechnical drilling and testing, and installing a groundwater monitoring well for samples and measurement of groundwater levels.

Investigations have been focused in the south east of Melbourne, as the first stage of the loop will run from Cheltenham to Box Hill. Clayton will serve as a new transport super hub while new stations will be built in Burwood and Monash.

In March this year, a number of investigations were also carried out in areas from Box Hill to Highett. The project aims to have 100 boreholes drilled by mid-2020.

Once complete, the Suburban Rail Loop will connect each metropolitan train line in Melbourne and travel around the city from Cheltenham to Werribee via Melbourne Airport.

Initial construction works are expected to commence in 2022. When operational, the Suburban Rail Loop will run as a separate rail line, using dedicated rollingstock and separate systems. The same ticketing system will serve both networks, however.

Designs for Werribee level crossings revealed

Further designs for level crossing removals in Werribee have been released.

An alliance of McConnell Dowell, Arup, Mott MacDonald, and Metro Trains Melbourne will deliver the project, which covers two level crossings.

The crossings are located at Old Geelong Road in Hoppers Crossing and Werribee Street in Werribee.

The $355.5 million worth of work will involve the construction of a road bridge near the current Old Geelong Road level crossing and a rail bridge over the Werribee Street level crossing.

The same alliance have been working on replacing the nearby Cherry Street level crossing.

A pedestrian overpass will replace the Old Geelong Road level crossing.

Freight services will be able to continue to run on the corridor on a temporary track.

The level crossing works will feed into further network improvements as part of the Western Rail Plan and Suburban Rail Loop.

New areas of open space will be created between Werribee Racecourse and Werribee River underneath the newly raised rail line.

Victoria’s Suburban Rail Loop details revealed

The Victorian government has announced the details of its plans for Victoria’s dedicated, standalone Suburban Rail Loop.

“A year ago, Victorians voted for the Suburban Rail Loop and we haven’t wasted a moment getting on with it” premier Daniel Andrews said.

“We’ve removed 30 level crossings, we’re building the Metro Tunnel, and we’re doing the vital planning and design work for the Suburban Rail Loop,” minister for transport, infrastructure Jacinta Allan said.

After 12 months of technical, planning and design work, the government has announced that the 90-kilometre rail ring will be a twin-tunnel line solution with a dedicated fleet of quick, high-tech trains enabling ‘turn-up-and-go’ services.

It will fully integrate into the existing public transport network with up to 12 new stations connecting the existing rail system with the new standalone line. Passengers will be able transfer between both networks easily, using the same ticketing system servicing both.

Building the loop as a separate, standalone line will allow it to integrate state-of-the-art systems from around the world without having to retrofit technology into the existing network.

It will also mean that the design of the dedicated fleet won’t be constrained by the requirements of Melbourne’s hundred-year-old train network. As such, the new trains will be faster than the existing fleet.

They will be four to five carriages long, which means they can turn up more often. The platforms will also be shorter – reducing the distance passengers need to walk at the station each day to get on the train.

Geotechnical drilling is now well underway on the Stage One route from Box Hill to Cheltenham. Fourteen boreholes have already been dug, with close to 100 to be drilled by mid-2020.

The information collected during this stage will inform the final alignment and station locations for the project. Construction on Stage One of the Suburban Rail Loop is expected to begin in 2022.

Suburban Rail Loop starts next phase at Box Hill

The Victorian Government is carrying out geotechnical work on the Suburban Rail Loop project, signalling the start of extensive ground works. 

The geotechnical work encompasses borehole drilling to depths of between 30-60 metres at the Box Hill site, with samples to be analysed over the next fortnight for soil and rock composition and stability. The work is intended to identify suitable locations for the underground stations.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan were in attendance at Box Hill to announce the next phase of the project as it moves towards its anticipated 2022 construction start date.

“We said we’d get the Suburban Rail Loop started and that’s what we’re doing – with geotechnical work now underway in Box Hill,” Andrews said.

The $50 billion Suburban Rail Loop, part of Victoria’s Big Build program, is intended to connect Melbourne’s middle suburbs through an underground 90-kilometre rail link running from the Frankston line to the Werribee line via Melbourne Airport. 

The project, which is planned to incorporate several new stations looping from the southeast to the northwest of the city, may not be fully completed until the 2050s. Andrews stated that the project would change the way people move around Melbourne, “slashing travel times and better connecting people with jobs, education and other vital services, wherever they live”.

The expensive project received a funding blow following Labor’s defeat at the federal election in May. Former Labor leader Bill Shorten promised $10 billion for the project in the event of winning the election, including $300 million in matched funding with the Victorian Government, but this failed to transpire due to his loss to Liberal leader Scott Morrison.

Labor to meet with stakeholders for Suburban Rail Loop planning

The Andrews Labor Government is due to meet with representatives from Melbourne suburbs for consultations on the first stage of the Suburban Rail Loop.

Labor will meet with representatives from the suburbs of Whitehorse, Monash and Kingston to discuss first-stage implementation of the proposed corridor for the $50 billion project’s South East Section. The talks will include consultation regarding ecological and geotechnical studies

The Victorian Government looks to be on its own in delivering the ambitious rail project, after Labor was defeated at the federal election over the weekend. Labor leader Bill Shorten had made a commitment to provide $10 billion for the project.

Billed as Australia’s largest ever public transport project, construction on the Suburban Rail Loop is currently pencilled for a 2022 start and may not be completed until the 2050s.

The project involves construction of a new underground rail line that will connect several Melbourne suburbs to the city’s existing major lines so that  improving connectivity and reducing commuting times. The line will run 90km from the Frankston line in the southeast to the Werribee line in the west via Melbourne Airport in the north.

Initial site investigations have been proposed for the second half of 2019, but the final number of stations has yet to be determined.

“The Suburban Rail Loop will change the way we move around Melbourne forever, and we’re not wasting a minute getting this vital project started,” said Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.

“It will create and support local jobs and slash travel times, getting people where they need to go.”

Labor lays out details of city infrastructure plan

Shadow Transport Minister Anthony Albanese has elaborated on Labor plans to partner with local and state governments through its City Partnerships program.

The program is intended to replace the Coalition’s City Deals program in the event Labor wins the upcoming federal election. Minister Albanese referred to the Liberal and Nationals plan as “ad hoc and politically motivated”.

The scope of the program includes extensive public transport plans, including new and expanded services through the inner and outer suburbs and investment in high speed rail to grow regional cities.

Other plans include the implementation of a national Park and Ride fund to invest in parking facilities at train stations across Australia.

The deal is planed to re-establish Infrastructure Australia’s Major Cities Unit, establish an expert panel and make changes to the National Urban Policy.

Labor has also promised $10 billion towards Melbourne’s ambitious Suburban Rail Loop, as previously reported.

“Labor will pursue a genuine partnership with local government and state governments, as well as with business and community to deliver this vision,” Albanese said in a statement

The program will also look into areas such as housing affordability, national bike paths, technology investment and the expansion of the Western Sydney Deal to incorporate Blacktown City Council.

“This election is a choice between Labor’s plan to invest in communities around Australia, or bigger tax loopholes for the top end of town under the Liberals and Nationals,” Albanese continued.

“After six years of cuts and chaos under the Liberals and Nationals, our united Labor team is ready.”