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The $1.6 billion sky rail in Melbourne's south-east may be set for further expansion, costing millions more dollars and reviving residents' fears of large-scale home acquisitions.
Just two weeks after its official opening, a transport expert says the government didn't consider long-term planning for larger trains in its haste to remove level crossings.
As a result, new stations will need to be rebuilt or "quite extensive" property acquisition will be necessary to meet future demands, the expert says.
A 2017 Public Transport Victoria document obtained by residents under Freedom of Information laws shows the new station platforms will need to be extended by 65 metres to allow for 10-car, high-capacity trains.
It has also confirmed plans to build a third and fourth track between Caulfield and Dandenong.
The government celebrated the opening of the elevated rail on June 18 with live music and commuter giveaways. The 3.2-kilometre sky rail stretches between Caulfield and Hughesdale, and creates capacity for an extra 11,000 passengers during the two-hour morning peak.
But locals, who endured several months of noisy, 24-hour construction work to remove the last four of nine level crossings between Caulfield and Dandenong, are now bracing for more pain.
An internal planning document confirms stations have been "future proofed", or designed to allow for them to be extended by 65 metres to fit the extended high-capacity trains.
Mary Hogan's home is 60 metres from the elevated Hughesville station now under construction.
Photo: Justin McManus
A government spokeswoman refused to say when the station platforms would be expanded, but Oakleigh MP Steve Dimopoulos has told a local news outlet that he believed the 10-carriage trains would be on the network within three to four years.
Infrastructure Victoria recommended that the longer trains run on the network by 2026 – after the Metro Tunnel opens – or by 2031 at the latest.
The government spokeswoman said the government did not have any current plans to run 10-carriage trains.
"The removal of 14 level crossings, 65 new high-capacity trains, the Metro Tunnel and a massive power and signalling upgrade will provide for a 42 per cent increase in peak-hour passenger numbers on the Cranbourne and Pakenham lines," the spokeswoman said.
"These projects, worth nearly $20 billion, are the government’s current priority."
But opposition public transport spokesman David Davis said the government should have lengthened the platforms during recent construction to avoid further disruption to residents.
Ten-carriage trains should be running by the time the Metro Tunnel opens in 2025, he said.
"It's bizarre that they are going to bring all the workmen back again and cause more inconvenience to the community," Mr Davis said.
"This is a serious mismanagement of the project and could well see costs blow out even further ... this would easily cost hundreds of millions of dollars."
The PTV document also confirms plans to build a third and fourth track between Caulfield and Dandenong, which would enable express V/Line trains to run to and from the city.
Building the two tracks would be expensive and complex, particularly along the rail corridor, which is just 20 metres wide at its narrowest point between Murrumbeena and Carnegie.
The new tracks would likely require homes to be acquired in suburbs where property prices are more than $1 million.
Level Crossing Removal Authority chief executive Kevin Devlin said the authority had "no plans to build a third or fourth track on the Cranbourne/Pakenham line".
However, the authority's website states sky rail has been built to allow for the extra tracks – needed in just 20 years time.
Bill Russell, secretary for the Rail Futures Institute think tank, said the extra tracks would be needed even sooner.
He questioned the decision to build a platform between the two elevated tracks at some of the south-eastern stations, instead of leaving space for extra tracks.
Now, he said the new stations would have to be rebuilt, or "quite extensive property acquisition would be necessary".
"In the haste to get the level crossings finished, the longer-term planning wasn't done and proper provision wasn't made for future needs of the line," Mr Russell said. "There is no easy way to install those extra tracks."
The think tank will soon unveil a plan for an entirely new rail corridor between Caulfield and Dandenong that includes stops at Chadstone and Monash University in Clayton.
This would also allow for express trains from Gippsland and Pakenham, where passengers face a 73-minute journey to the city.
Mary Hogan, who lives about 60 metres away from the elevated Hughesdale station (which is still being built) said she was disappointed that residents were not properly consulted about the future plans for sky rail.
Residents claimed in an unsuccessful Supreme Court bid to stop the project in 2016 that the government's consultation process was inadequate.
Ms Hogan said she felt that residents were again being kept in the dark.
"We've had no information about this," she said. "I'm very disillusioned with this government, they haven't told us anything about this, and anything that we are told is usually some form of spin."
Ms Hogan said she would sell her property if the government went ahead with building another two tracks.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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