Heavy rail to Highpoint?

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.


14 Responses

  1. In the overhead shot where you plotted the underground link to HIghpoint, I noticed a lot of seemingly empty land to the right of the underground rail. Wouldn’t it be possible to run surface rail through that land at lower cost?

  2. I’m not a fan of the proposal of extending the 57 further than it is now. The area around your northern terminus is already well serviced for CBD trips by the 465 bus (which needs to run more frequently – currently it is the same as train freq) so possibly it could be better served by frequent buses – which could run right into Highpoint, and not require a change.

    IMO the extension of the racecourse line to Highpoint would do little to bring in shoppers – it could bring in some as a feeder from the Broady line at Newmarket, but otherwise it would primarily be used by locals travelling to the CBD.

    The 82 tram could be very much improved – do you think that hill would be an issue for a tram to get up? At least you don’t want it extended to the CBD like the people on Railpage do.

    I have noticed that you never mention buses (or rarely) in your posts – aren’t you a fan of them in a proper transport network?

  3. Thanks Jono and Somebody.

    You’re right, Jono, there’s a bit of empty land around the place which has been included as park in the new Edgewater development. Aside from the political considerations, one could perhaps use some of it for surface rail, or at least cut and cover. I’ll have to look further into this.

    Somebody, you make a fair point re the 57 extension, the only reason I’d consider it is for local trips to Highpoint, and even then a decent bus might work out. The point is that you can get a lot of tram upgrades done for the price of the heavy rail and yielding potentially greater benefits.

    I don’t think heavy rail is really worth it either, to be honest. It would only really work for shoppers if they’re transferring from the Craigieburn line and an upgraded 82 can do this job for a substantially lower cost.

    On the bus issue – you’re right, I don’t really talk about them as much as I should. I do think should form an important part of an efficient transport system, and their failure to do so in Melbourne is of substantial detriment to the efficiency of the whole system. In general terms, I’d want to see basically every existing bus route axed (with some notable exceptions) and have a new system of frequent (at least every 10 mins) buses running only along main roads. This should apply to Highpoint too. I should mention them more often, it’s just that – and I know this sounds bad – I don’t always get around to talking about them because I assume you would include feeder bus route reform in any major train or tram extension plan. So not that I’m not thinking about them, I’m just a bit too absent minded to mention them when I should.


  4. Sorry to be boring, but agree with all of above!

    No new customers will go to Highpoint from the CBD side, so no need for a rail link from that end. It may pick up some local suburban commuters but I doubt Highpoint mgt suggested it for their benefit

    82 is a lost opportunity, it seems to be aimed at reaching abandoned factories in the backstreet, a legacy of what the line was built for, to get Footscray working class people to their jobs at the munitions factory, now not needed.

    I think 82 could be cost-effectively moved closer to Highpoint but 82 would need to better connected to the rest of the system as Phin said, for example at Ascot Vale or without doing the grand tour of Footscray.

    These off-network major traffic attractors definitely need rail in the longer term but the best way of proving the point is well designed, promoted and used bus services. These services, as I suggested with Oak-Chadstone, need to be very simple shuttles doing continuous round trips. They could then be shown on rail maps as part of the system.

    If such a bus was packed to the rafters every minute and needed further expansion that would be my cue for a new fixed rail link.

    It should be noted that I have no view of what rail technology might be best for these shuttles. While there is some good sense in using heavy rail, I am agostic as to whether light rail or monorail might also do the job – the key determinant should be fitness for purpose – speed, cost to run and so on.

    It is plausible that on a fixed rail shuttle from Oakleigh to Chadstone, a heavy rail underground might only cruise at 40km/h (not unreasonable on a short running underground section) but a light rail service on a separated, but otherwise low-scale corridor might equal this, as might a monorail.

    The main barrier to monorail would be aesthetics, and that you can only add stations at considerable expense. Light rail can have additional stops added fairly cheaply. Finding an above ground corridor could be a stretch – you might need to take land from Warrigal Rd.

    I certainly don’t favour heavy rail just because it would be compatible with the current legacy VR services – they are nothing you would want to lock in as a future standard!

  5. Just a comment for the benefit of Somebody and Peter Parker if he is around.

    Re the “don’t you like buses” comment – honestly no, I don’t, but I do recognise them as a very important part of the system.

    Having caught them a lot in Japan and found them perfectly fine which made me realise that the reason I didn’t like them here was because they were so bad here.

    That said, I’m a train fan, with no apology for it.

    But we see eye-to-eye because the best thing I could for rail, if I were in charge of it, is to stop wasting money on stupid ideas. Now most would think would that means don’t go listening to Railpage, which is true.

    But I would also say that stupid ideas are coming from the Birdpoo house and also from the government’s advisers such as Sir Rod.

    I don’t blame him; the parameters he was set make it impossible to come up with the sorts of ideas we come up with.

    Back to buses – I have had my hopes dashed by these silly smartbus nonsense and ridiculously long orbital routes which do not really meet any need in Melbourne. Not saying the individual sections, but these routes as a whole. I don’t believe they beat the radial rail network enough to be justified

  6. Just checked 888 from Nunawading to Chelsea – 1.15 hours end to end.

    This is not much better than a typical peakhour journey by rail between the same places.

  7. Phin: Like the 82 tram plan, though full treatment would involve addressing transport around VUT and the duplication of services (82/223/406) in the Footscray/VUT/Highpoint corridor.

    Doing the above would allow Route 406 to be abolished. This would strengthen the case for extending 57 to Milleara Mall/Buckely St, which chould become a local activity centre. From there, three or four routes could run, as follows: (i) existing 465, (ii) existing 475, but possibly extended to Airport West and (iii) a mini-bus route to Highpoint via unserved areas of Avondale Hts.

    Ricc: Agreed that 888 is not that time-efficient between Nunawading and Chelsea.

    Currently its timetable isn’t up to Smartbus standards, it has a reputation for late running and there’s poor pedestrian access at the Chelsea end.

    But, especially for those who live away from the station, it could be travel time competitive with the train (though not Eastlink). While the effect would be small not that many people travel from Nunawading to Chelsea), it could very slighly relieve peak train loading and provide a minor back-up during train disruptions.

    Almost all of the orbital routes (plus others) are justifiable as high frequency corridors. Whether they end up being long or short routes is probably less important than the service level actually being there. Having said that, I lean against long routes due to poor time-keeping and the inability to schedule multiple connections with trains.

  8. “Having said that, I lean against long routes due to poor time-keeping and the inability to schedule multiple connections with trains.”

    In any proper transport system, your main road bus routes and major rail corridors would have services frequent enough to not need to worry about scheduling connections.

  9. Thanks Riccardo and Peter.

    Agree re. the guiding principles for buses Riccardo. Bus routes need to be short, high frequency and well advertised (perhaps including being shown on rail network maps). The 401 follows some of these principles and is a good start. No need to necessarily use a VR style setup when fixed rail is put in – just choose the best technology to suit the task required of it. If that means Tyne and Wear or DLR style light rail, or even monorail etc then so be it. No need to stick to a certain mode – we should target a service standard and choose the best way to fit it.

    Also agree re. disliking buses. I’ve grown up in Melbourne and naturally grown to hate them because they are so damn bad here. But when you go overseas you realise they can work well in a public transport system(I think London buses even carry more passengers than the tube). With buses representing such an engrained rubbish service standard here, I suppose you can understand people wanting trains or trams as a way out of that rut though.

    Peter, completely agree – fixing up the whole 82 could yield some extra efficiencies with a clean up of bus services. To my mind, this is so important because every bus running a duplicated or otherwise useless service could be redeployed to boosting frequency on a worthwhile route for basically no money, which feeds into the tipping point issue being discussed over at Riccardo’s blog at the moment.

    Agree that the smartbus corridors are mostly viable for high frequency services. Chopping the routes into bits wouldn’t be a bad idea either – I doubt many people (if any) are going end to end.


  10. Somebody – completely agree that in a decent system everything is frequent enough to not worry about connections. However, I’d contend that shorter routes might be handy for minimising delays on the system – or at least containing them to a smaller area.

  11. Phin, just looking at your googlemap.

    Perhaps you could shorten the line by coming off Flemo Rc at a point where the line is heading WNW and continuing direct across the river, under the ground and terminating on the highpoint grounds but not as far in as shown.

    Maybe cut 25% off the lenght? Point still taken of course, not sure in whose interest this line is.

  12. I have to disagree that a line to Highpoint from east of Footscray would not pick up additional shoppers.

    Considering it as part of the larger network, i.e. CBD train + feeder bus from Highpoint it is quite possible that people would be encouraged to visit Highpoint on the way home from work to do their shopping where otherwise they may have gone home first and driven elsewhere. This is why feeder bus/tram access to and from Highpoint is such an important consideration.

    That said, I;m not a fan of the spur, regardless of cost. I would prefer Williamstown services to run to Highpoint via Footscray, complementing the future Newport to Southern Cross tunnel 😉

    If Highpoint was to get an east-west rail line it would likely come from Ascot Vale or Moonee Ponds (preferred over the showgrounds imho) and probably be a short tram stop away in the old defence lands.

  13. A great idea.

    You could do a cut & cover along Rosamond Rd and I would also suggest a station close to VUT or Western Hospital.

    The train line woudl like up a number of tram and bus routes from the west into the city much faster then what on-road PT offers now.

  14. If we want a train line to ‘Knifey’, it should probably be on a new line that goes from the Airport, through Airport West, Avondale, Highpoint, and then – and you might have to imagine this with the assistance of a map – Flemington Bridge (perpendicular to the existing line there), a new underground station at the Royal Children’s Hospital (where 3 tram lines intersect), then in to Melbourne Uni (new underground station, yes please), then to Carlton (north end of the Gardens, maybe? Or near the corner of Jonston + Elgin?), then have it merge with the South Morang line on its way into the loop at North Richmond.
    – Or it could just merge back at Flemington Bridge (would have to come out from underground somewhere – maybe under the freeway there?

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