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More peak-hour and nighttime trains will run on some of Melbourne’s most overcrowded railway lines from June and August, as the Andrews government races to ease the strain on frustrated commuters by completing three major rail projects before November’s state election.
The final unfinished section of the “skyrail” through Melbourne’s south-east is due to open on June 18, The Age can reveal, ushering in a major boost to services on the choked Pakenham and Cranbourne lines.
Once the $1.6 billion skyrail opens, trains will run every 10 minutes between Dandenong and the city from 7pm to 10pm on weekdays.
Commuters on Melbourne's busiest suburban rail corridor will also get relief from extra services in the morning and evening peak shoulder, a Metro Trains letter obtained by The Age states.
But passengers on the Dandenong corridor are set for 20 days of frustration from next month when part of the line is shut down before the full skyrail opens.
The line will be closed for works between May 29 and June 17, forcing travellers onto replacement buses for part of the journey between Dandenong and the city.
Passengers travelling from beyond Caulfield Station will be affected.
When it reopens, four congested level crossings at Murrumbeena Road, Grange Road, Poath Road and Koornang Road will be gone and two new stations at Murrumbeena and Carnegie will be in use.
A new station at Hughesdale will open later in the year.
The South Morang and Hurstbridge lines in Melbourne’s north are also due to get a complete timetable overhaul later this year, once the $600 million Mernda line extension is built and tunnelling and level crossing works are finished on the Hurstbridge line.
The South Morang line, which services Melbourne’s booming northern suburbs, will be extended eight kilometres north to Mernda, with three new stations to open, adding an expected 8000 extra commuters a day to the line.
An extra five peak-hour train services will run from Mernda in the morning, and an extra four outbound trains in the evening will cater for the anticipated surge in demand.
In all, 980 trains a week will run between Mernda and the city.
In August, four extra peak-hour services a day will also be added to the Hurstbridge line in Melbourne’s north-east, after the $140.2 million duplication of the single track bottleneck between Heidelberg and Rosanna stations and the removal of level crossings at Grange Road, Alphington and Lower Plenty Road, Rosanna.
Extra evening services are also planned for the Werribee line from August, on the edge of the peak, the Metro letter shows, although the government could not confirm this on Thursday.
The extra services might not benefit all Werribee line travellers though - stopping patterns on some services will be altered “to ensure consistency”, the Metro letter says.
The extra services will be funded in the 2018-19 state budget, to be handed down on Tuesday.
Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan confirmed that from the end of June, “every level crossing between Caulfield and Dandenong will be gone, fulfilling another election commitment”.
“We’re delivering the services passengers need now and building for the future – removing level crossings, ordering new trains and delivering the Metro tunnel,” Ms Allan said.
The Hurstbridge line upgrade will benefit commuters in the marginal, Labor-held seats of Ivanhoe and Eltham, where the opposition unveiled its own rail promises last week.
Opposition Leader Matthew Guy promised to spend more than $300 million to duplicate the Hurstbridge line between Greensborough and Eltham, and $4 million on extra car parking at Eltham, Montmorency and Greensborough stations.
Daniel Bowen, spokesman for the Public Transport Users Association, said it was encouraging to see the government planned to add extra services after many months of disruption.
“Extra peak-hour services on the Mernda and Hurstbridge lines will be particularly welcome, given regular overcrowding on these services,” Mr Bowen said.
But he said the government would need to closely monitor patronage on the new Mernda line in particular, given it services some of Australia’s fastest-growing suburbs.
“With the three new stations serving a huge growth area, further service upgrades will be needed sooner rather than later,” he said.
The South Morang line suffered a spike in overcrowding last year.
Thirty three per cent of all services recording load breaches - up from 26 per cent in 2016, PTV data shows.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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