Video: Overview of planned Melbourne Metro tunnel
Video: Overview of planned Melbourne Metro tunnel

Premier Daniel Andrews is utterly shameless when it comes to political hyperbole. Here’s what he said yesterday when calling on the Commonwealth to kick in $4.5 Billion to build Melbourne’s proposed CBD rail tunnel:

Melbourne Metro will create thousands of jobs and create an international-style metro system to rival London, Hong Kong and New York.

What? Thanks to the outstanding leadership of Mr Andrews, sprawling Melbourne is about to get a full-blown “metro system”? And not an average one; it’s going to be on a par with the likes of “London, Hong Kong and New York”?

Rubbish; of course it isn’t. Simply naming a new rail line ‘metro’ doesn’t actually create a real metro. The name was coined for marketing reasons, not because it has the power to transform the metropolitan rail system from a frog into a prince.

Notwithstanding the misleading and pretentious name, Melbourne Metro is a planned 9 km twin-track tunnel with five new stations running under the CBD. It’s needed in order for the CBD to grow and to improve overall system reliability, but it doesn’t have magical qualities.

A single line does not a metro make. A real metro is a vastly larger and more complex undertaking. It’s an entire system, a network, within a relatively small geographical area. The Paris Metro, for example, stuffs 303 stations – 62 with interchanges – into an area roughly equivalent to a circle of 5 km radius (see Can we build a metro just like the one Paris’s got?).

Inner city Melbourne covers a similar area but has a mere 28 stations, of which just nine provide travellers with the ability to interchange between rail lines. Melbourne Metro will increase that to 33 stations, two with interchanges, at a cost of $11 Billion; but to portray it as a metro on par with world’s leading systems is grossly misleading.

As I’ve noted before, the key characteristics of a metro are (see What the hell is a bloody metro anyway?):

  • A high density of lines and stations forming a ‘grid’ pattern – there’s a station within a reasonable walk of virtually any origin or destination within the area of service.
  • A large number of interchange stations at key ‘grid’ nodes – they provide connectedness by enabling travellers to transfer between lines.
  • Very high frequencies – between 2 and 4 minutes during the day. Short headways maximise capacity and minimise waiting times.
  • High capacity carriages – The emphasis is on standing rather than sitting. Wide doors allow quick loading and unloading.
  • High speed and reliability – trains run in their own grade-separated right-of-way. Each line has a dedicated set of tracks from end to end i.e. no sharing.
  • Long hours of operation – the metro is used for all trip purposes, not just the 20% that are for getting to and from work.

Melbourne and other Australian cities should – and can – have public transport systems that emulate some of the characteristics of metros e.g. the added capacity provided by Melbourne Metro will enable all the lines on the metropolitan system to run independently of each other.

A sense of proportion is needed though. Inner city Melbourne, with a population of around 320,000 can’t support the density of stations, high frequencies, and constraints on car use that the Paris Metro, serving a resident population of 2,250,000 (plus visitors) over the same geographical area, can.

And then there are the suburbs where more than 90% of Melburnians live – they present a vastly bigger challenge for public transport than the relatively small inner city. It’s fair to wonder if Mr Andrews is even thinking about these residents when he blithely asserts Melbourne is getting an “international-style metro system to rival London, Hong Kong and New York”.

Perhaps the Premier learnt the art of extreme exaggeration from Transport Minister, Jacinta Allen. Yesterday she said: “Melbourne Metro is desperately needed – without it, our transport system, our city, and our state will grind to a halt.”