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PLANS to boost train services along the Dandenong corridor could have a disastrous impact on road traffic, with some major routes tipped to be almost perpetually blocked by boom gates in peak periods unless more level crossings are removed.
A secret letter to the Baillieu government predicts peak-hour gridlock in some suburbs by 2018 if much-needed boosts to train services go ahead.
While the government has promised to remove 10 of Melbourne's level crossings, the letter says at least another two along the Dandenong corridor will have to go - putting more pressure on the state budget - to deal with the traffic crisis.
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The warning came in a letter to Public Transport Minister Terry Mulder in June by VicRoads chief executive Gary Liddle and Department of Transport director Hector McKenzie.
The letter, obtained by freedom-of-information request, said: ''If more peak-hour trains are added to the Dandenong line, by 2018 or earlier, boom barriers at many crossings are forecast to be closed for 70 per cent to 90 per cent of peak periods … Realistically, some crossings will be effectively closed during peak periods.''
Commuters and traders who use streets that cross the Dandenong rail line complain that the congestion is already intolerable. Carnegie pharmacist Gerald Galatis said the line was ''almost like the Great Wall of China … It just jams up this entire area … we can have a kilometre to two-kilometre bank-up of cars.''
His business is near the level crossing on Koornang Road - one of two that the government has been told it must add to its list of removals.
An engineers report commissioned by VicRoads found that sending trains underneath Murrumbeena Road, which the government has promised to do, can only go ahead if the same is done at Koornang Road and Poath Road as well. For engineering reasons, the three crossings are too close together for trains to be diverted under only one of them.
The findings were not revealed as part of VicRoads' public consultation process into the Dandenong Rail Study, which was due to be completed this year but has been held back until mid-next year. But VicRoads said its findings would be given consideration.
''The study is giving consideration to issues at these two level crossings adjacent to Murrumbeena Road, including grade separation options,'' Anita Curnow, VicRoads' south-east metro director, said yesterday. ''Following the completion of the study, VicRoads will advise the government on the optimal solution to removing the Murrumbeena Road crossing.''
The government's May budget included $16.5 million for planning work on 10 level crossing removals. There is no set date for removing the Murrumbeena Road crossing, although it is on the priority list.
The crossings at Koornang and Poath roads are not on the priority list. But one at New Street, Brighton, ranked 223 in urgency, is on the list - at a projected cost of up to $15 million. It is in deputy Liberal leader Louise Asher's seat.
The warnings on traffic come as the government undertakes a study aimed at boosting capacity along the Dandenong rail corridor, where patronage is growing 5 per cent a year.
The line is already stretched beyond capacity, according to the Department of Transport, with 17 city-bound services in the morning's busiest hour - or almost one every three minutes.
A 2010 study by the department found there was no capacity to increase trains along the corridor without removing most of the level crossings. Already, boom gates can be down for seven minutes at a time during the morning peak, it found.
The Dandenong rail corridor services the Cranbourne and Pakenham metro lines, V/Line trains to Gippsland and freight to the Port of Hastings. Freight volumes are expected to surge when Hastings becomes a container terminal in the next 10 to 15 years.
A spokeswoman for the government said it would wait for VicRoads to complete its study before making a decision.
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