The proposed route of Melbourne Metro as shown in the December 2011 Business Case; it's the seeminly shy light blue line

The Victorian Government is copping heavy criticism because it says it won’t build a rail station at South Yarra as part of the promised Melbourne Metro rail line (see here and here). Opposition Leader Matthew Guy says “Daniel Andrews has cut South Yarra from the metro rail tunnel”.

The former Napthine government included a Sth Yarra station as part of its alternative CBD tunnel, the Melbourne Rail Link. Hence the Leader of the Opposition’s narrative is that the Government is “cutting” the station.

On the face of it, a new station connecting with the existing Sth Yarra station seems obvious for a number of reasons, including:

  • It’s consistent with the idea of creating a public transport ‘grid’ where opportunities for transfer multiply the effectiveness of the network.
  • Sth Yarra station is one of the busiest stations in Melbourne and an important junction; some argue it needs upgrading and others that it’s close to capacity.
  • It’s in a rapidly growing high-rise residential precinct (Forrest Hill) and close to Melbourne High School which draws students from across the metropolitan area.
  • The Opposition claims the station it planned to build when it was in government would’ve cost around half what the Andrews Government’s version will cost.

The counter-argument is that providing a station as part of Metro would be very expensive. The government says it would cost $0.7 – $1.0 billion. Moreover the the 2011 Melbourne Metro Business Case said it doesn’t make economic sense:

The relatively low patronage benefits provided by a station at South Yarra or Jam Factory do not warrant the substantial additional cost… (1)

The Government says the benefit/cost ratio is in the range 0.2 – 0.33; that’s lower than the East West Link!

It’s also relevant that Metro, which was the scheme Mr Andrews explicitly promised to build during the election campaign, never included a station at Sth Yarra in any of its official iterations:

  • The route of the original Melbourne Metro shown in the Brumby Government’s 2008 Victorian Transport Plan didn’t go anywhere near Sth Yarra. Stage one terminated at a new station at Domain and Stage 2 went direct from Domain to Caulfield.
  • The December 2011 Melbourne Metro Business Case prepared by the Baillieu Government deleted stage 2 and instead showed the line connecting to the Dandenong rail corridor at Forrest Hill, east of the existing station. However it did not include a station at Sth Yarra.
  • Public Transport Victoria’s December 2012 Network Development Plan, also prepared under the Baillieu Government, continued to show the line connecting into the Dandenong rail corridor at Forrest Hill, but no station.

A station at Sth Yarra wasn’t formally envisioned by government until Denis Napthine became Premier in March 2013 and subsequently announced Melbourne Metro would be replaced by Melbourne Rail Link (MRL).

It was a different beast in a number of  respects. MRL followed a different route; carried trains from the Frankston line (instead of Cranbourne-Pakenham); and used smaller trainsets than those envisaged for Metro.

The latter is a key reason why the estimated cost of a new station at Sth Yarra for MRL was considerably lower (around $0.4 billion) than is the case for Metro.

Metro is designed with the capacity to eventually carry large nine carriage trainsets (current maximum size is six carriages). These require very long platforms (circa 240 metres) that are expensive to build underground; for comparison the MCG pitch is 174 x 148 metres from fence to fence.

In light of the cost and the poor economic case, there are other reasons to think carefully about the warrant for a station at Sth Yarra. One is that the precinct has grown very strongly without Metro and is likely to be close to fully built out by the earliest date it could be operating (circa 2026).

Another is that Metro passengers who want to access Forrest Hill will still be able to do so via changing to the other (existing) rail lines routed through Sth Yarra station. Further, most patronage growth is expected to be between Forrest Hill and the CBD rather than between the south eastern suburbs and Forrest Hill.

As ever, the question is whether or not there are better ways the money can be spent. It had its virtues, but my hope is the Opposition will now abandon support for MRL and endorse Melbourne Metro (presumably with a station at Sth Yarra?).

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  1. Cost of construction of a station estimated at the time at $0.5 for Sth Yarra and $0.85 billion for Jam Factory.
  2. It shows the cost as $9-11 billion and the BCR as 1.2, at the time.