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Understanding the Suburban Rail Loop

Rail Express toured two Suburban Rail Loop sites to gain a greater understanding about the work being done and what it means for local communities.

Suburban Rail Loop (SRL) will deliver 90 kilometres of rail line linking every major train service from the Frankston Line to the Werribee Line in Melbourne.

The SRL project is broken into four sections, which include SRL East, North, Airport and West. The North section will connect to the Melbourne Airport and the Airport section will connect to the west.

Melbourne Airport is ranked as the 50th busiest airport in the world but is among only six of those 50 to not have an airport link.

SRL East is now under construction and the Rail Express team was given access to the sites at Box Hill and Burwood to learn more about the project and speak to some of the team putting the project together.

SRL is designed to future-proof Melbourne for growth. The areas around the new stations will have diverse housing options, local services and jobs closer to where people want to live.

Three transport super hubs at Clayton, Broadmeadows and Sunshine will connect regional services, so passengers outside Melbourne won’t have to travel through the CBD to get to employment, hospitals and universities located in the suburbs.

Construction of SRL East from Cheltenham to Box Hill is underway following the release of the SRL Business and Investment Case and planning approvals, leading on from a detailed Environment Effects Statement.

SRL East will slash travel times, connect people to the network from the Gippsland corridor and create up to 8000 direct jobs during its construction.

Construction is forging ahead across the project. More than 1,200 people are already working across all sites, and expressions of interest are now open for the two contracts to build the six new underground stations.

Construction started in June 2022 and trains will be running on the East section by 2035.

As an integrated transport and planning project, Suburban Rail Loop will deliver both more public transport and more homes in the right places – with a long-term vision revealed for 70,000 more homes above and around the six SRL East precincts.

Lissa van Camp is the Executive General Manager, Land Planning Environment and Sustainability at the project. She explained what the project means for the communities and Melbourne more broadly.

The concourse at Burwood will have a major skylight installed. IMAGE: Suburban Rail Loop

“We are going to grow from 6 million people to about 9 million people living in Melbourne by 2050 and Victoria itself will have over 11 million,” van Camp said.

“That is a lot of growth to get ready for and we know it can only happen in a planned and coordinated way.

“We began in 2019 with a reference design, which highlighted the way in which the project can proceed. What we are proposing is a rail line that links all of the major lines between Frankston and Werribee and that will in turn transform Melbourne into a city of multiple centres.”

Van Camp explained that this project will alleviate the need for residents to go into the city and then back out on a different line to get to different suburbs. SRL East will provide easier access to universities.

Monash University and Deakin University will have train stations nearby to support staff and students. Van Camp explained that the SRL will provide equity of jobs not previously seen.

“A person may not have taken a job in Box Hill previously because the commute would have taken them away from their families,” she said.

“SRL will cut traffic off the road for commuters going to other areas as well. We are expecting 70,000 trips every day on Suburban Rail Loop East, with 40 per cent shifting from their cars”.

Van Camp said Suburban Rail Loop is based on the core values outlined in the reference design of productivity, connectivity and liveability – ensuring Melbourne remains one of the world’s most liveable cities for generations to come.

All of the technical studies were peer reviewed to ensure accuracy and this is what helped decide the locations for SRL East. The team then moved onto consultation with a range of stakeholders.

Consultation

The SRL team is making a concerted effort
to consult with local communities throughout the planning, design and delivery of the project.

The latest phase of community consultation is about how the future of the neighbourhoods around the new underground SRL stations and how they evolve in the decades ahead.

‘Key directions’ are now open for community feedback, which outline how SRL precincts can host more jobs, housing and services over time – and offer more choices for the next generation who want to live closer to their family and work.

“We want to hear as much as we possibly can – working with communities and councils to understand what the areas around the stations should look like.”

SRL East is the first section to get underway and will connect the Frankston line to the Lilydale line. IMAGE: Suburban Rail Loop

This latest round of consultation follows the release of a Discussion Paper in August 2023, followed by Draft Precinct Visions for each of the six SRL East neighbourhoods in December, outlining opportunities for more housing choice, increased economic activity and open spaces for the areas around the new underground SRL stations.

The interactive online survey was visited more than 33,000 times and the Draft Visions were downloaded more than 6800 times, with more than 3400 responses received.

A key component of the consultation process has been working closely with local organisations and institutes in each area, including education stakeholders like Deakin University and the Box Hill Institute. The station is also across the road from a high school in Burwood.

“We can help shape Burwood into a world-class education precinct and Box Hill into a world-class retail area,” van Camp said.

“A major part of this is about making sure there are logical and easy access points for people to move around.”

Another component for this project is cultural vibrancy and van Camp said this is particularly important in the Box
Hill precinct.

“A thing we spoke about is the vibrancy because I feel it every time I come here,”
she said.

“It is about enhancing that and using it to drive the project forward. We want to understand what communities love about this area and bring that to life at the new Box Hill station.

“We then also need to plan for sustainable outcomes including future buildings and creating open green spaces.”

Van Camp said the project is working closely with businesses while construction occurs and incentivising to help keep
people coming to the areas. The project
will aim to minimise the impacts of construction for local residents and businesses in these communities. Over a recent long weekend, the project shut down to ensure the area maintained its vibrancy and residents could have peaceful surrounds during their time off.

Construction

Christian D’Agnolo is the Package Director, Stations, Rail and Infrastructure Delivery on the project and has been part of SRL since day one. He explained that the network had the benefit of being a standalone rail network.

This freedom allows the venture to be purpose-built to suit specific needs of Victoria into the future, including modern high-tech trains that can travel at speed and provide a turn-up-and-go service.

“We have conducted extensive market sounding, and we have strong market participants,” D’Agnolo said.

The six stations in SRL East are split into two station packages according to D’Agnolo.

“We are putting together the station architecture kit of parts,” he said.

“It is always important that we have common elements amongst all of our stations. We are looking to get consistency so the touchpoint for users is considered and thought out.

“This approach has been well received by market and will be helpful when we engage with the ultimate operator.”

D’Agnolo explained that SRL East is looking at future precinct integration and consistently understanding what intermodal benefits and connectivity can be achieved.

“The success of the project will really be centred on how we manage and minimise impacts of construction on residents, businesses and local organisations during the delivery,” he said.

“That is an ongoing task and a key focus for the team, and we are working in that space with some key processes and encouraging collaboration and engagement with the community.”

SRL will be building a new temporary electricity substation near the site in Burwood to support the power needed for the tunnel boring machines. Once tunnelling works are complete the facility will be reconfigured to provide a permanent power supply to operate the stations and the
train line.

Burwood site

Adam Mellino is the Senior Delivery Manager for the Burwood station and explained what the important components of this site are.

“SRL is bringing options to people who may not have previously had them – whether that’s educational opportunities, job opportunities, housing opportunities,” he said.

“People who may not have chosen Deakin or Monash Universities due to inaccessibility, for example.”

Mellino explained that a component of the Burwood site is the pedestrian overpass that crosses over the Burwood Highway connecting the station to Deakin University and the high school.

“We explored the options of an overpass and underpass but from a safety perspective, and through our consultation with community and stakeholders, an overpass was the best solution,” he said.

“We have a bus interchange adjacent to the station and the new tram stop as well so we have some excellent connections with other transport for users.”

Burwood Station will connect Deakin University to a train line for the first time. IMAGE: Suburban Rail Loop

The new station’s 94m long platform will sit around 18m below ground, with lifts and escalators connecting passengers to SRL’s ‘turn-up-and-go’ train services.

A new tram stop outside the station on Burwood Highway, near Deakin University, will make interchanges quick and easy, providing a new rail connection for local workers, students and residents.

The project is also looking at improving the Gardiners Creek waterway along with the green areas around it.

“What we found with consultation with the community was there were opportunities to improve the water, trees and trails so the naturalisation project associated with SRL will improve this,” Mellino said.

“We will have separated walking and cycling tracks that will connect to existing infrastructure.”

The station will have a range of bicycle parking to encourage users to ride to the station and utilise them once the naturalisation is completed.

Mellino said that each SRL station will have unique aspects that reflect the local areas, but also common elements to make the train journeys simple for passengers.

“You will have those common elements at the platform and concourse level, but individual features outside of that. This station will have a large skylight to let in plenty of natural light for example,” he said.

“We will consider meeting places and different paths people will be taking when designing the station and its surrounds.”

Box Hill

Similarly to the Burwood station, Box Hill Station will have a large skylight to provide natural light onto the platforms, but it will then have a range of design elements unique to the Box Hill area.

The challenge with the Box Hill site is the narrow construction zone in a relatively built-up area, and minimising disruptions to the community. The tram terminus for the 109 service has been shifted further west along Whitehorse Road to accommodate the construction site and keep tram services running during construction.

The Box Hill station will be well connected with a pedestrian promenade linking it to Box Hill Gardens and an enhanced open space.

It will have traffic-free connections to buses and the moved tram terminus. It will have a pickup and drop off area, taxi bays and more than 500 bicycle parking spaces.

The station will be located in the heart of Box Hill with two station entrances at Market Street and another north of Whitehorse Road.

The 94m-long platform will sit 23m below ground, with lifts and escalators connecting passengers to SRL.

Anthony Baldi is the Senior Project Manager at Box Hill and explained the site in greater detail.

“Our station intends to operate with up to 15,000 people per day and we expect one third of those passengers to interchange with the metro network,” he said.

“Coming up to the surface level we have the ancillary buildings that will house our critical station infrastructure. It will store the tunnel ventilation system.

“At surface level we will also have this rolling linear reserve path running between Whitehorse Road, from Lesley Street down to Nelson Road. That is about 800 metres of public space, which will create a new
plaza area.”

It has been imperative for the team at Box Hill to minimise disruption as much as possible. Contractor Laing O’Rourke is building a temporary bridging structure to allow Whitehorse Road to remain open to traffic during construction.

“We needed to have a solution so we did not impact road users, and this bridging structure ensured we could have continuous traffic while we were working,” Baldi said.

It is expected that employment in Box Hill will double to 48,500 jobs as a result of SRL.

“We are looking to make this into a real cultural hub and pedestrian friendly once completed,” he said.

“This area is a real asset to the community of Box Hill and we will look to build upon that.”