I was looking through the Eddington Report public submissions (by which I mean browsing Vicsig and looking at what the media’s picked up on), and I was somewhat surprised to see that Highpoint’s submission being picked up by the Herald Sun for its suggestion that the Flemington Racecourse line be extended to Highpoint Shopping Centre. Extending the Racecourse line is a suggestion that comes up occasionally (and is currently being discussed on Railpage), so I thought it might be worth looking at what such a plan might involve, and whether it would be worthwhile. Below is the ‘Highpoint Environs’ and Eddington study area taken from their submission.
What Highpoint want
The fact that Highpoint was allowed to be built how and where it was is symptomatic of a broader Melbourne failure to put patronage generators near the existing rail system – a costly mistake. But now Highpoint seem to be angling for a railway line via the racecourse – among the numerous road upgrades, of course. They also advocate extending this line to the airport in the future. But let’s look at the immediate, lowest cost rail proposal, the approximate route of which is shown below.
This proposal calls for around 2.65km of underground rail and 0.7km of surface rail, as well as one station and a bridge. Using the per km costs I calculated a while ago ($78.72m for underground rail minus station fit out and $13.7m for surface rail), we could expect the track to cost around $218.2m. Throw in say another $30m for station fit out (remember the shell is already included) and $15m for flyover works at Newmarket, and it’s a bit under $265m. Not an obscene amount of money, but quite a bit for just one station when so many other projects are crying out for funding.
Whilst rail may be still be option for Highpoint, there’s plenty of tram infrastructure nearby that, while almost useless in its current form, could be made to work well for Highpoint at minimal cost and in a more timely fashion. Both the 57 and 82 trams run tantalisingly close to Highpoint, but in the case of the latter especially, follow pointless diversions to make them useless for highpoint shoppers. For example, the 82 diverts around the back of Highpoint when it should go straight past the front door, and runs at such a bad frequency that it offers no competition to the car anyway. Moreover, instead of running as a feeder from the Craigieburn line, poor station placement at Ascot Vale means that train/tram interchange is very inconvenient. The most frustrating part of this mess is that trams should be in their element for these kind of shopping trips, but poor planning and infrastructure has left them useless for highpoint.
So what’s the solution and how much would it cost? I’d advocate the extension of the 57 to Buckley St, rerouting the 82 via the Highpoint front door, moving Ascot Vale station north to provide a train/tram interchange and running the trams on a 6 minute headway all day every day. The 57 extension, some 3.4km long, should cost around $37m (@$10.87m/km) and the 0.85km 82 diversion should cost around $9.25m. Assume that Ascot Vale station costs $15m and we’re looking at capital costs in the order of $61.25m. Of course, more trams and drivers would be required to operate these services. The map below shows the broad plan I’m advocating.
The main problem with this plan is that it still doesn’t get the 57 into Highpoint properly. But with 6 minute headways, passengers would only have to wait 3 minutes on average to transfer to an 82 tram. Ultimately, this sort of thing is basic stuff which should have been done decades ago, if not from the beginning.