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A plan to build a railway line to Doncaster at a cost of up to $11 billion is so costly that the proposal risks being permanently shelved. But it could be rescued with two major changes, the state's public transport lobby group says.
Responding to the Napthine government's Doncaster rail study, released in March, the Public Transport Users Association argues the study's proposal to terminate the rail line at the Doncaster Park and Ride bus interchange should be scrapped.
The line should end instead at Westfield Doncaster, one of Melbourne's largest shopping centres and an area earmarked for future growth, the association says.
The study's related plan to build a brand new rail tunnel from Northcote to Flagstaff in the city should also be rejected in favour of a much cheaper investment in new high-speed signalling that would allow trains to run closer together.
The government-commissioned study, by consultancy URS, said a new tunnel was needed because the existing rail corridor between Clifton Hill and Jolimont stations has very little capacity for more frequent trains. It proposed a new tunnel for the South Morang line at a cost of $4 to $6 billion, freeing up the existing corridor to be used by Doncaster and Hurstbridge trains.
Tony Morton, the Public Transport Users Association president, said the high price-tag of the URS proposal for Doncaster rail was prohibitive.
''We say [the tunnel] is not necessary because Doncaster rail could be realised through other means,'' Dr Morton said.
Dr Morton said some European cities had high-speed signalling systems that enabled trains to run together at headways of less than two minutes.
The London Underground was bringing in high-speed signalling at a cost of about $2.5 million euros ($3.5 million) a kilometre, he said.
Terminating the line at a bus interchange rather than a town centre also undermined one of the project's main aims of supporting urban growth and productivity, Dr Morton said, which was why the line should run to Westfield.
But Tim Gosbell, URS' Doncaster rail study leader, said running the train up the steep hill to Westfield would have needed more tunnelling at a cost of another $800 million. The station would have been the deepest in Melbourne, he said.
Instead, URS' study proposed running buses between Westfield and Doncaster Park and Ride about a minute apart.
''In our view that's a better value-for-money arrangement,'' Mr Gosbell said. High-speed signalling would not fix capacity constraints in the City Loop and at Flinders Street Station.
''Our high-level view was that there is only so much that can be done before you need to decouple the South Morang line and provide it with its own connection point into the city that's independent of the current line, which we think the Doncaster line can utilise,'' Mr Gosbell said.
The URS study predicted 56,000 people a day could use the Doncaster line by 2031.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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