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3.1 Shape the transport network for better access

Victorians depend on transport infrastructure to support their economic, social and cultural connections. Prosperity and productivity partially rely on public and private transport moving smoothly on road and rail networks, creating reliable and efficient movements of people and goods. Transport connects people to their jobs and livelihoods. It helps people access the services that help them stay productive and well, such as health, education, community and recreational services. It connects them with friends and family, and opportunities to take part in cultural and civic life. Build’ initiative includes 165 road and rail projects, with approximately $80 billion worth of transport infrastructure projects currently underway.1 The program’s flagship projects include the Metro Tunnel project, Level Crossing Removal Project, North East Link and early works for the Suburban Rail Loop. Our recommendations will secure or further realise benefits from these Big Build investments, including for major projects we have strategically assessed. For example, upgrading road management systems (see recommendation 24) can more easily accommodate changing travel patterns, including from these projects.

The transport system must continue to adapt as the city expands. Transport infrastructure is costly and often disruptive to build, and infrastructure projects will become more expensive and complex as Melbourne develops. Many of our recommendations provide ways to better use existing infrastructure, minimising the need for more new construction. But if rapid economic and population growth returns, Victoria must build extra transport infrastructure to keep the economy moving and underpin Victorians’ quality of life.

To maximise the long-term benefits of major projects, transport infrastructure planning and delivery must be strategic, select the best projects in the right order, and be integrated with land use planning, including the protection of corridors. The Victorian Government must strike a balance between responding to existing demand and shaping future growth. It can create a financially, socially and environmentally sustainable transport system by combining efficiency improvements with carefully selected new construction projects.

Victoria’s population has been growing

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Victoria’s population had been growing strongly for over a decade.

Never had the state added so many new residents so quickly.2 In 2019, Victoria added 132,400 extra people to its population – a 2.0% increase on the previous year, and the largest increase of all Australian states and territories.3 Migration was the largest single driver of population growth, with new births also contributing significantly.4

Greater Melbourne absorbed most of this increase with only 15% settling in the regions in 2018-19. Population growth is far from uniform or certain, and some places will grow faster than others. In our modelling for this strategy, we examined population scenarios with three to six million extra Victorians by 2051.6

 As the COVID-19 pandemic illustrated, population growth is uncertain. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to initially pause population growth and then progressively increase over the coming decade. The Australian Bureau of Statistics projects Victoria’s population growth will recover to pre-pandemic growth rates by 2023–24, faster than other states and territories.7 Even with these uncertainties, we still expect most of Victoria’s population growth will concentrate in Greater Melbourne. Over the next 15 years, over 30% of Melbourne’s population growth will occur in new growth areas in the north, west and south-east.8 Regional population growth will disproportionately occur in the major centres like Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo. The location of population growth fuels demand for more transport trips, and so requires more transport infrastructure.

Victoria’s population has been growing

We expect Victoria to have five to six million jobs by 2051.9 We expect service sectors to disproportionately generate new jobs, including in the health, education and professional services sectors. In all our modelling scenarios, most of Victoria’s extra jobs were created in Melbourne’s established areas. Different jobs have different productivity effects, meaning they produce different economic contributions.

Better paid jobs tend to cluster in certain locations, like the central city, and generate higher economic output for each worker. Plan Melbourne identifies National Employment and Innovation Clusters to encourage these clusters outside the central city. Transport infrastructure can help develop these clusters, by expanding the labour pool and allowing quick trips between clusters.

Connecting people to opportunities

Future population growth and job creation have different distribution patterns. Some urban areas are projected to combine strong population and job growth like Melbourne’s inner and eastern suburbs. People living in Melbourne’s established inner and middle ring suburbs have access to comparatively diverse local job and education options. A well-developed motorway network serves these suburbs with high quality road links and interchanges, offering motorists many route options. Inner suburbs also enjoy plentiful public transport options, with trams, trains and buses offering good connectivity. The ring suburbs have regular train and bus services. But in other places, strong population growth is not accompanied by much employment growth, such as in Melbourne’s outer northern and western growth areas, as shown in Figure 17.

These places are distant from areas projected to generate many jobs, especially higher-paying specialist employment. This means people living there have fewer job choices and must travel further to reach them. This potentially means people may settle for lower paid work than they are capable of, and places extra pressure on transport networks to accommodate longer trips. Figure 18 shows that without further investment, large sections of Melbourne’s rail network will be heavily congested by 2036. As rail and other transport networks become more congested and unreliable, fewer workers can access employment precincts. This also means employers can find it increasingly difficult to find skilled staff willing to travel to their business, compromising business growth and productivity.

Figure 16 Melbourne functional urban areas
Source: Infrastructure Victoria, Major transport program strategic assessment report, 2021

Figure 17: Comparison of employment and population growth projections (2018 to 2051). This graph shows that inner Melbourne employment is projected to grow more than its population, while in new growth areas, population growth will far outstrip employment opportunities.

Figure 17 Comparison of employment and population growth projections
Source: Infrastructure Victoria, Major transport program strategic assessment report, 2021

These places also have fewer transport
options. Motorists have access to fewer
nearby arterial roads or motorways, and
fewer route choices. The radial nature of
the train network means the distance
between rail lines, and often train stations, grows with distance from the central city, making access to trains in outer suburbs and new growth areas difficult. Bus and

train services are less frequent. People living in fast-growing areas of Melbourne’s north and west also use the same transport corridors as growing regional centres, such as Geelong and Ballarat. This can compromise access to
metropolitan Melbourne from these
regional centres

In outer growth areas of Melbourne, projected strong population growth is not accompanied by similar employment growth, which impacts access to where jobs are located.

Figure 18: The rail network is projected to become crowded without change.
This map shows the rail network in 2036 is likely to be heavily congested in the mornings without further investment, especially in the west, north and north-east corridors.

Figure 18 The rail network is projected to become crowded without change
Source: Arup, Strategy update: Problem definition modelling outcomes, report for Infrastructure Victoria, 2020.

Achieving environmental and resilience outcomes

Victoria will not meet its net zero emissions target if transport sector emissions keep growing. If Victoria does not transition to zero emissions vehicles, and cars stay the dominant form of transport, emissions will increase drastically. In this scenario, transport emissions from private vehicles would double to 288,000 metric tonnes each weekday in 2051, equal to burning 1600 railcars of coal.10 To meet emissions targets, Victoria will need to transition to zero emissions vehicles (see recommendations 1 and 2), but can also accelerate emissions reductions by switching to less emissions intensive transport modes, like walking, cycling and public transport. Transport projects also generate emissions during their construction. Transport projects can also convert natural landscapes to impervious surfaces.

This can increase waterway pollution from road runoff and affect biodiversity by fragmenting habitats and movement corridors. Construction projects may remove established trees, contributing to the loss of tree canopy, and worsening urban heat island effects. Future uncertainty and more regular disruptions mean the transport network needs adapt and perform in different scenarios. For instance, some people may continue working from home all or part of the time after the COVID-19 pandemic. Automated vehicles may also dramatically change transport use and vehicle performance. For this strategy, we have assessed different scenarios, including a permanent shift to more people working from home, different population growth rates, and the introduction of electric and automated vehicles.

The benefits of major transport projects

City shaping transport projects that significantly improve accessibility can influence household and business location choices, by reducing travel times and congestion, and improving transport network capacity. These types of projects can shape urban development and strengthen Victoria’s economy by delivering broader economic benefits. For example, over time, businesses will gravitate towards areas with high accessibility, reducing transaction costs by easier contact with suppliers and customers, and better access to skilled workers. Business preferences vary by industry. For instance, manufacturing and logistics requires larger plots with good access to freight links and ports. In contrast, knowledge-intensive firms require offices with a smaller land requirement, and access to a deep labour pool. These differences drive the location choices of firms, and influence benefits likely to arise from major transport projects. Transport projects can also affect the location of demand for housing. They can support greater residential development in established areas by reducing congestion in these places, if supported by appropriate land use settings. This reduces demand for homes in new growth areas. Infrastructure capital costs in greenfield areas can be two to four times higher than in established areas, when existing infrastructure in established areas has the capacity to support growth, excluding transport costs.11

Transport projects improve access to employment opportunities, education, health care, and community and social services, helping reduce disadvantage, particularly in areas that currently have limited access to these services. Suitable and accessible transport options can also reduce the risk of exclusion from economic, social and political participation in society for at-risk groups. Transport projects can also improve health outcomes if they encourage more active transport trips, such as walking or cycling.

Residents living in neighbourhoods with better active and public transport options are likely to undertake more physical activity when travelling. Public transport projects that encourage more walking and less car-based transport will contribute to improved health outcomes. Transport project delivery can also help achieve other social and environmental objectives. For example, good environmental and climate change assessment can reduce greenhouse gas emissions (see recommendation 11). Similarly, social procurement can help achieve social policy objectives, such as providing jobs for Aboriginal Victorians and helping Close the Gap in outcomes for Aboriginal Victorians. The final section of this strategy, ‘Delivering infrastructure policies, reforms and projects’, documents other ways to produce benefits during infrastructure delivery.

Recommendations to improve transport access

Infrastructure Victoria makes the following recommendations to improve transport access. They build on recommendations elsewhere, including to adopt new transport technology (see section 1.3), support more homes in existing suburbs (see section 2.2), adopt transport network pricing (see section 2.3), support freight movements (see section 3.2), plan for growth areas (see section 3.4) and support regional Victoria’s economic development (see section 4.1) and connectivity (see section 4.2). Adopting and combining these approaches can get the most from major transport projects. Transport investments should be based on robust evidence, including detailed feasibility studies and businesses cases.

Recommendation 57: Reshape the metropolitan bus network and introduce ‘next generation’ bus services

By 2025, reshape the metropolitan bus network in Melbourne’s north-west and south-east in time for the opening of the Melbourne Metro Tunnel. Introduce ‘next generation’ bus services, beginning by using them on the new Doncaster busway. In the next 10 years, continue reforming bus networks in Melbourne and Geelong, including by revising the coverage standard and using more flexible bus services in lower demand areas.

For most Victorians, buses are the closest public transport option to home. Buses do not require large, expensive, immovable infrastructure investments and can operate on most roads. The relatively low capital cost of buses means they can respond quickly to changes in population, technology, policy and behaviour.12

Melbourne’s bus services run long distances, making up 72% of public transport service kilometres in the city each year, but they only account for 21% of passengers.13 In 2016, only around 60% of the metropolitan bus routes averaged more than 20 boardings each hour.14 The remainder are infrequent, meandering services, many running in low density suburbs with high car ownership.15 This is partly influenced by the current metropolitan bus coverage standard that specifies that 95% of households must be within 400 metres of a bus route.16 But as people will often walk further to a frequent, high-quality bus service,17 this distance could be expanded when this type of service is available. Introducing new, more efficient bus services helps to improve access to larger suburban centres and new growth areas, enhancing accessibility and amenity for residents, workers and visitors. Victoria has successfully introduced premium bus services and reshaped bus networks. The Victorian Government is proposing to undertake network reform to the metropolitan bus network as part of Victoria’s Bus Plan.18 The introduction of premium ‘SmartBus’ services in the last decade have delivered more direct and frequent services, longer operating hours, better on-road bus reliability, faster travel times and better customer information. Passengers increased by up to 70% in the first two years, and have continued to grow faster than other bus routes.19 Similarly, the redesigned bus networks in Brimbank20 and Wyndham, high frequency shuttle buses from train stations to universities and shopping centres, and Skybus improvements, have also boosted bus patronage.21

High quality, sustainable public transport is needed to support rapid growth in Melbourne and Geelong. The Victorian Government should progressively reform Melbourne and Geelong’s22  bus network, including developing a ‘next generation’ of zero-emissions, frequent, high quality bus services. The reformed network should be based on new route classifications that distinguish between different types of public bus services (see box):

  • ‘Next generation’ bus services
  • Connector bus services
  • Local bus services.

The time is right for reform. Changes to bus contracts have made it much easier to change bus routes.23 Expiry of the myki contract in 2023 may also make restructuring services easier and provides an opportunity to introduce more flexible service options.

 In particular, the opening of the Melbourne Metro Tunnel in 2025 will require changes to the bus network. Reforming bus networks is a particular priority in Melbourne’s north-west and south-east, where buses will connect to the Sunbury, Cranbourne and Pakenham train services proposed to use the new rail tunnel. The Victorian Government should take this opportunity to reshape, reform and expand the bus network at the same time.24 The Victorian Government should also use this opportunity to reform the metropolitan bus coverage standard to better align with community needs and consider also applying it to Geelong. Similarly, the opening of the Doncaster Busway in the mid-2020s provides an opportunity to introduce the ‘next generation’ bus service across that network,25 which could then be used as an approach for improvements on other corridors (including those prioritised in recommendations 58 and 75).

Case study.

New ‘Next generation’ bus services can be the top of a three-tier public bus network.

Around the world, governments are using new technology and infrastructure to re-imagine bus services to provide a superior public transport experience, more like a train or tram. For example, the Netherlands is aiming to make all buses zero emissions by 2025, and using the opportunity to create a new level of service, with a quiet, comfortable riding experience that improves amenity and health, while reducing emissions.26 Many stakeholders advocated the benefits of these type of technologies, including ‘bus rapid transit’ or ‘trackless trams’.27 These ‘next generation’ services can become the top level in a three-tiered bus network:

‘Next generation’ bus services

Running on the Principal Public Transport Network, these bus routes would be frequent, direct, prominent, and coordinated with other public transport modes. They would use zero emission technology. They can include rapid, limited stop services, including having dedicated rights of way in reserved busways or sharing existing tram rights of way. Introducing zero-emission buses (see recommendation 2) provides an opportunity to procure new, modern buses with attractive features and greater comfort. These services can have universally accessible tram-style stops and charge the same fares as other buses.

Connector bus services

These medium level services provide direct, regular connections to the nearest activity centre and link to higher quality ‘next generation’ bus services and other public transport modes. Their service frequency and operating hours would be coordinated to connecting train and tram services.

Local bus services

These local services provide access to the nearest activity centre or public transport interchange for those unable to access a direct service, especially in low density, low demand areas, like in industrial precincts such as in Dandenong. These can include greater use of flexible bus services that are universally accessible, with some demand-responsive features, like the Woodend FlexiRide Service or Telebus services.28

Recommendation 58: Connect suburban jobs through ‘next generation’ buses and road upgrades

In the next five years, create new ‘next generation’ bus services and better roads to connect outer and growing suburbs to National Employment and Innovation Clusters and major employment centres. Consider using a ‘next generation’ bus service instead of trams between Caulfield and Rowville.

Public transport is more effective in places where many jobs cluster together. In the next five years, the Victorian Government should design and deliver ‘next generation’ bus services between the National Employment and Innovation Clusters (NEICs), their surrounding suburbs and other nearby employment centres. It should begin with the Monash, La Trobe and Sunshine NEICs, before extending to other NEICs and Plan Melbourne’s 12 Metropolitan Activity Centres. Prioritising ‘next generation’ bus services (see recommendation 57) would:

  • Improve frequencies and modify alignments of some existing bus routes, and introduce new services to connect the proposed train stations along the entire Suburban Rail Loop project, to start building patronage for it.29 Upon the project’s completion, the bus network should be simplified.
  • Better connect the La Trobe NEIC to the eastern suburbs and northern growth areas.30 This could include services to better connect South Morang, and potentially sharing the Plenty Road median with trams to achieve faster, more reliable travel times.31
  • Upgrade bus services to the Sunshine NEIC, including connections to growing areas in Highpoint, Footscray and Hobsons Bay. These new services would include on-road priority and dedicated lanes, recognising that the fast-growing inner west does not have an extensive tram network, unlike other inner areas. Complementary road improvements timed with the opening of West Gate Tunnel will help achieve this.32
  • A tram service connecting Rowville, the Monash NEIC, Chadstone, and Caulfield Station is unlikely to attract enough extra passengers or stimulate sufficient new development to justify such a large public investment, compared with other, more cost-effective options that can be delivered faster. Instead, the Victorian Government should consider a high frequency,33 ‘next generation’ bus service with its own right of way. Priority bus lanes could be delivered, including with a potential Wellington Road upgrade. A new ‘next generation’ service can provide better access to the knowledge and industrial parts of the Monash NEIC, and deliver better coverage to lower density areas in the east, towards Rowville, and to multiple destinations in the west.34
    Private vehicles provide good access for jobs in dispersed industrial precincts, which can be difficult for public transport to serve efficiently. However, more flexible public transport services (see recommendation 57) could connect these areas to nearby public transport interchanges.35 The Victorian Government should develop road network improvement projects to better connect nearby suburbs to industrial areas. For example, priority areas could be the Dandenong NEIC and Plan Melbourne’s designated State Significant Industrial Precincts. Beyond improving outer suburban arterial roads (see recommendation 76), the Victorian Government should:

  • Continue to improve access into Dandenong South NEIC from Casey and Cardinia growth areas by developing east-west arterial road links
  • Upgrade the Calder and Western Freeways and continue to develop the Palmers Road and Calder Park Drive corridor
  • Upgrade the Hume Freeway, Mickleham Road and Somerton Road, and consider building the Bulla
  • Recommendation 59: Increase off-peak service frequencies and suburban rail corridor capacity

    Over the next five years, increase Melbourne’s train service frequencies for off-peak, counter-peak and weekend services. Develop and progressively deliver a prioritised 15-year network service upgrade program for suburban train corridors, including track and signalling improvements, higher capacity trains, carriage retrofits and an upgraded train control centre.

    Our modelling shows train travel is the fastest growing form of motorised transport, with the metropolitan train network expected to carry an extra 500,000 to 900,000 passengers each day by 2036. Growing rail service demand could worsen train overcrowding, preventing passengers boarding at some stations on multiple rail lines, and restricting further land use development around them. Infrequent train services can also inhibit development in some places. Regular rail infrastructure upgrades can adjust the network to cater for more passengers to help accommodate this extra demand and prepare rail corridors for major projects.


    For example, the Clifton Hill rail group will soon become very congested. The corridor faces constraints which restrict service frequencies, including antiquated signalling and track layout. Without upgrades, Clifton Hill train services will experience severe overcrowding in coming years, particularly during peak periods.36 Corridor upgrades can also prepare the line for the potential Melbourne Metro Two project (see recommendation 61).

    Most people take the train to travel to work or education, often in peak periods, meaning significantly fewer passengers travel in off-peak periods. Melbourne’s rail network is an outlier among global urban rail systems, with most others having more frequent off-peak services, used for a greater variety of trips throughout the day and evening.

    Increasing frequencies towards ‘turn-up-and-go’ train services, including for off-peak, counter-peak and weekend services, brings people more travel choices for more types of journeys in more of Melbourne’s suburbs, including getting across to the other side of the city. With roads getting busier for more hours during the week, improving train frequencies helps to reduce car trips, thus reducing congestion. More frequent services outside peak periods can combine with off-peak fare discounts (see recommendation 45) to give people easier, cheaper travel choices, help spread out demand on the train network, and make better use of Victoria’s existing assets. A train network with separate, segregated rail lines can carry more passengers and is more resilient to disruptions. The Melbourne Metro Tunnel project is a step toward untangling the network and enabling more capacity on some rail lines.37 Realising these potential capacity benefits requires extra, currently unfunded, complementary corridor upgrades. The train network’s capacity and service quality also contributes to the complex choices people make about where to live and work, and informs decisions on investing in and developing new housing and mixed-use developments.38,39 Our modelling has also shown that improving service levels can make places around suburban stations more attractive places to live and work.40

    In the next five years, the Victorian Government should increase Melbourne’s train service frequencies for off-peak, counter-peak and weekend services. It should also develop, progressively deliver and regularly update a 15-year network service upgrade program to cater for growing demand along each suburban rail corridor. This program should prioritise infrastructure upgrades to rail lines with high population and passenger growth, and that are nearing their maximum capacity. For each train corridor, the program should identify infrastructure upgrades and priority timetable improvements to allow more trains to run more frequently, and more reliably.

    The upgrade program should address regional and freight train needs on relevant corridors, realise capacity benefits enabled by the Melbourne Metro Tunnel, and modernise the existing train control centre.

    The corridor upgrades program should consider all methods of delivering extra capacity, such as track and signalling improvements, new higher capacity trains and train carriage retrofits. The program should clarify rail service improvements that better respond to demand changes, and coordinate with tram and bus service improvements.41 It should comprise a continuous flow of projects to support a sustainable and competitive rail manufacturing and construction industry.


    The program could also provide opportunities to help reduce rail disruptions, and coordinate with other projects to realise delivery efficiencies. Developing and publishing the network service upgrade program would help identify places where more intensive land use can be supported, such as train stations attaining ‘turn-up-and-go’ services. This helps identify priority places for more intensive land use, including more housing (see recommendation 35), and gives investors, homebuyers and employers the confidence to take full advantage of future public transport investments.

    Recommendation 60: Reconfigure the City Loop for more frequent and reliable services

    Within the next two years, complete a business case to reconfigure the City Loop, including determining its timing. Include planning for more frequent metropolitan services on the Craigieburn, Upfield, Frankston, and Glen Waverley services, while considering a future express railway line between Camberwell and Burnley to prepare for future rail patronage on the Lilydale, Belgrave, and Alamein lines. Explore options and staging to extend metropolitan services to the Mitchell local government area, including possible station locations.

    The current train network is nearing capacity and will not support many more trains to enter the City Loop. Major rail projects are underway or planned that will allow more trains to reach central Melbourne, including the Melbourne Metro Tunnel project, currently under construction and due for completion in 2025.42 But different parts of Melbourne are growing at different rates. This means patronage is increasing faster on some rail lines than others. For instance, the Shepparton, Seymour and Craigieburn line faces increased demand, driven by the expansion of the northern growth corridor beyond Craigieburn to Donnybrook, Beveridge and Wallan, and more homes being built in existing suburbs along the Upfield and Craigieburn rail lines.43 The Victorian Government’s fast-tracking of precinct structure plans in the northern growth corridor could further increase the rate of growth and rail demand on this corridor, also affecting V/Line services to Shepparton and Seymour. Our modelling suggests the Craigieburn suburban line, and Shepparton and Seymour regional lines, will reach capacity in the 2030s.44 Once the Melbourne Metro Tunnel is completed, the Craigieburn and Upfield lines will still share one City Loop track, constraining the number of train services on each line. Similarly, the Belgrave, Lilydale and Glen Waverley lines will still share one other City Loop track, constraining the number of services on each. Increasing demand for more Belgrave and Lilydale train services will create pressure to schedule more Glen Waverley trains to avoid the City Loop and terminate at Flinders Street Station. This limits the frequency of Glen Waverley trains, because each service needs extra time to turn back afterwards.

    Changing the way that the City Loop works can help relieve this pressure. The City Loop consists of four sets of tracks that circle central Melbourne. Building three kilometres of new train tunnel would allow for the redesign of two of the four City Loop tunnels, creating a pair of underground cross-city tracks from Richmond to North Melbourne. This will allow more trains to pass through the city and continue to the other side, rather than travelling around the City Loop and returning. For example, services on the Werribee and Frankston rail lines already use this method to run more train services into the city.

    Reconfiguring the City Loop would separate the Craigieburn and Upfield lines, allowing trains to run through the city and continue to the other side, such as onto the Frankston or Glen Waverley lines. They would no longer need to share the same City Loop track, meaning that a disruption on one line will not affect others. Many more services could operate, increasing the capacity, frequency and reliability of train services.

    Reconfiguring the City Loop achieves two-thirds of the capacity uplift of the Melbourne Metro Tunnel project for about a fifth of new rail tunnel length. In our strategic project assessment, we included extending metropolitan services to Beveridge and other upgrades to the Upfield rail line, such as better signalling and high power capacity to improve service frequency.45 The Victorian Government should complete a detailed business case for the project, which may also identify cost savings or further value creation, and provide options on disruption management during delivery.

    Reconfiguring the City Loop also has other benefits. It could allow more frequent services on the Frankston and Glen Waverley lines, using depot facilities in Melbourne’s north. Glen Waverley services could continue through the city rather than terminating at Flinders Street. It would also provide better access generally to an expanding central city, including jobs in Arden, Cremorne and Caulfield. With better access, more people will use public transport, reducing road congestion. Reconfiguring the City Loop also allows metropolitan services to be extended beyond Craigieburn towards Wallan (see recommendation 74). It provides options to improve V/Line services to Shepparton and Seymour, including getting them into the city more reliably. It also presents opportunities for better bus connections to rail services on these corridors.46

    Our modelling shows that providing more frequent train services in these parts of the network attracts more jobs and housing along the Craigieburn and Upfield rail lines and surrounding areas, and other places such as Cheltenham and Moorabbin. For example, running a more frequent Upfeld peak period train service could encourage greater development along its rail corridor. This helps suburban locations attract jobs closer to people’s homes. The Victorian Government should enable more intensive development along this corridor to maximise the benefits of the Melbourne Metro Tunnel project.

    The project also prepares for the potential separation of the Lilydale and Belgrave lines from the Alamein line. This requires a new express rail track to be built between Burnley and Camberwell. Our modelling shows this may be needed in the mid-2040s to manage patronage levels.47 This will mean Ringwood and Box Hill services stop at fewer stations between Camberwell and the city, and allows better stopping-all-stations services to Alamein, Auburn and Hawthorn.

    The Melbourne Metro Tunnel will enable some new services on Craigieburn and Upfield lines, but these would reach capacity by the mid-2030s. If these new services were introduced without reconfiguring the City Loop first, they would be heavily disrupted for long periods during the project’s construction, and affect many more passengers. Reconfiguring the City Loop immediately after completing the Melbourne Metro Tunnel minimises disruptions to passengers, particularly as the realignment of the Cranbourne and Pakenham services through the Melbourne Metro Tunnel upon opening can leave one of the two loop tunnels affected by this project empty. The Victorian Government should start detailed design and planning quickly to identify critical works to undertake before the Melbourne Metro Tunnel is completed. This can avoid significant disruption to the network. The window of opportunity to deliver the City Loop reconfiguration project will close as demand continues to increase, and the network may only temporarily have enough spare capacity to change train service patterns during construction to minimise passenger impacts.48 The Victorian Government should complete a business case for the project within the next two years. Reconfiguring the City Loop would enable more frequent and reliable services by creating two high frequency separated lines connecting northern and south-eastern areas. The business case should consider timing, including starting the project immediately after the Melbourne Metro Tunnel is completed, and planning for additional express lines between Camberwell and Burnley, and staging rail extensions to the Mitchell local government area.

    Figure 19: Reconfiguring the City Loop allows more trains to run through the city. This map shows the potential benefits of the Reconfiguring the City Loop project, with two new rail tunnels providing more capacity and services on several metro train lines, and enabling electrification of services to the growing north, towards Wallan.

    Figure 19 FA 1 Fig 19a 300dpi 1
    Figure 19 FA 1 Fig 19b 300dpi 1

    Recommendation 61: Prepare for Melbourne Metro Two and direct Geelong rail services

    Within five years, complete a business case for the Melbourne Metro Two Tunnel project, and protect the land required to construct it. Consider using the tunnel to re-route Geelong services direct to Southern Cross, and consider new stations or relocating existing stations. To shape demand for the project in the next five years, enable more intensive land use around the rail network, and introduce ‘next generation’ bus services between Newport and Fishermans Bend.

    Plan Melbourne identifies the central city, Fishermans Bend, Parkville, East Werribee and La Trobe as National Employment and Innovation Clusters (NEICs) and knowledge economy locations, needing high capacity transport connections.49 As currently conceived, the proposed Melbourne Metro Two (MM2) project includes a pair of new rail lines from the inner north, through Central Melbourne and Fishermans Bend, to Newport to provide these connections. Given the Victorian Government’s commitment to the Geelong Fast Rail project, the MM2 tunnel could provide a more direct service for electrified rail services from Geelong to Southern Cross station.

    MM2 will also support more travel to Melbourne and provide an attractive rail service for local travel in Geelong. It has enough seating to accommodate all passengers from Geelong in 2051. The project contributes to resolving network capacity issues, improving access to NEICs and Geelong, and can encourage more intensive development in some established areas of Melbourne and Geelong. Our strategic assessment indicates that MM2 has the potential to deliver substantial benefits, but requires refinement to find cost-effective solutions to the construction challenges.50 This includes considering electrification, alternative alignments through the northern section of the tunnel, and technology improvements for power and signalling. These considerations will have significant implications for cost, staging, delivery times, and the overall assessment of the project. Fishermans Bend, Australia’s largest urban renewal precinct, will require a heavy rail connection to achieve the 80,000 jobs and 80,000 residents anticipated for the precinct.51 The proposed new Fishermans Bend tram (see recommendation 43) is needed to support initial urban redevelopment by providing access to the central city in the short to medium term. But our modelling shows the tram line will reach peak period capacity by the mid-2030s.

    Our modelling also indicates that the Werribee and Wyndham Vale Regional Rail Link lines will be overcrowded in the 2030s, with Clifton Hill group services similarly affected in the following decade. Crowding is likely to prevent people boarding at inner city train stations, and those in Tarneit and Truganina. Urban development in Fishermans Bend and related tram crowding indicates that MM2 should be staged, starting with the western section between Newport and Southern Cross stations.

    MM2 will increase capacity and frequency on several rail lines, particularly those passing through Newport and Clifton Hill, as shown in Figure 20. It will provide a superior service and relieve future pressure on the public transport network. Its more direct connection will significantly improve access to jobs from areas that would otherwise have low access. MM2 could also allow potential new electrified Geelong trains to use the new tunnel as a more direct route to Southern Cross via new stations in Fishermans Bend. Our modelling indicates this new rail infrastructure and extra services may encourage more people to move to Melbourne’s northern and south-western growth areas. Realigning new electric Geelong trains through the MM2 tunnel can attract more people and jobs to Geelong. In completing the business case, the Victorian Government should consider new stations, or relocation of existing stations, on the Geelong rail line corridor to support development in Corio and at Avalon Airport, which could connect to a shuttle bus service to connect people to the rail line.52 Consideration could also be given to a potential new train station at east Werribee to support the development of the East Werribee NEIC.

    MM2 also creates new opportunities for residential intensification in Wyndham, Hobsons Bay, Darebin, Banyule and Whittlesea municipalities.53 This includes land near rail lines that indirectly benefit from the project, including the Wyndham Vale, Altona, Williamstown and Hurstbridge lines. To maximise the benefits of the project, the Victorian Government should enable more intensive land use along these rail corridors, and encourage denser development near Geelong’s train stations, to provide more housing options as alternatives to a more dispersed settlement pattern in Geelong’s northern and western growth areas.54 People living near the train stations are more likely to catch the train.55 This builds rail demand to enhance the benefits of MM2, and helps prevent road congestion that could otherwise reduce those benefits.

    Our modelling also suggests that realigning Mernda services through an underground tunnel through Clifton Hill and Fitzroy may not represent best value for money. An extensive tram network already serves this area, so a new rail tunnel delivers fewer transport benefits and limited land use changes relative to its cost. Instead, an alternative alignment may be a more direct and less costly option, such as along the former Inner Circle railway line, with a potential new station.

    The Victorian Government should begin the work necessary to retain MM2 as a future preferred corridor, refining this proposal and assessing alternatives with lower costs. In the next five years, it should complete an MM2 business case, detailing potential staging of the project, considering wider metropolitan and regional network benefits, and proposing strategies for more housing and jobs along existing rail corridors to enhance the project’s benefits (see recommendation 35). The business case should identify and protect the preferred corridor and station sites, particularly where development pressures threaten to inflate land prices or complicate construction. MM2, or a similar project, may be required as soon as 15 years from now, and may take a decade or more to deliver.56

    In the next five years, it should also introduce ‘next generation’ bus services with on-road priority (see recommendation 57) to connect the train stations on the proposed MM2 corridor. On-road priority and road space reallocation can be undertaken as part of implementing improved bus services between Victoria Park and Parkville to further improve service attractiveness. As part of introducing network reform in Fishermans Bend, new bus services should operate from Newport train station to Fishermans Bend, and on to central Melbourne. These reforms will help manage existing demand, help reduce crowding on the Werribee and Clifton Hill Group rail lines and develop future demand. A similar ‘next generation’ bus service from Armstrong Creek and Wollert to nearby rail lines would also support MM2 (see recommendation 75). Once complete, existing bus routes should also be reconfigured to make best use of the new rail connection.

    Figure 20: Melbourne Metro Two. This map shows the potential benefits of the Melbourne Metro Two tunnel project, with a rail tunnel providing train services from Newport, through the city and to Clifton Hill.

    Figure 20 FA 1 Fig 20a 300dpi 1
    Figure 20 FA 1 Fig 20b 300dpi 1

    Recommendation 62: Protect a long-term option for a new cross-city motorway

    Within five years, determine an updated future alignment and preserve the option for constructing, if required, a new motorway linking the Eastern Freeway and CityLink. If delivered, implement the project with a transport network pricing scheme, and active and public transport improvements.

    Our modelling shows inner Melbourne road congestion will significantly increase in coming decades. Congested kilometres on roads during the morning peak will nearly double to 24% from 2018 to 2036, and then rise to 31% by 2051,57 even with greater use of public transport. Targeted demand management policy, such as a cordon charge in inner Melbourne (see recommendation 52), could almost halve the number of people driving within the cordon and significantly reduce road congestion.58

    Beyond transport pricing arrangements, other future changes could also increase or decrease the need for another cross-city road connection, making it prudent to review potential alignments and protect the corridor for a new cross-city motorway. For example, demand for cross-city travel could be affected by changes in population and economic growth or distribution, the lower costs of zero emission or automated vehicles, as could changes to people’s preferred method of travel as seen in the COVID-19 pandemic.

    In 2013, a business case was prepared for a new, 18-kilometre cross-city road connecting the Eastern Freeway at Hoddle Street, to CityLink, the Port of Melbourne Precinct and then the Western Ring Road, at Sunshine West. Since then, the West Gate Tunnel began construction, providing a connection from the Western Ring Road to CityLink and the Port of Melbourne, serving the same function as the western section of the original proposal. Our analysis indicates the need for the CityLink to the Eastern Freeway section of the original proposal is less compelling than in our 2016 strategy, as some major east-west movements have been improved from the widening of the Monash Freeway, the CityLink-Tulla Widening project, and the North East Link.59

    We commissioned transport modelling of a version of the remaining eastern section between CityLink and the Eastern Freeway. We found this would provide an alternative connection to the M1 Monash Freeway and North East Link and facilitate freight movement across Melbourne.

    The modelling showed the project produces a general redistribution of traffic by drawing small amounts from the North East Link, CityLink and the West Gate Freeway. Travel time gains for those using the new motorway are counter-balanced by more congestion on the Eastern Freeway, including towards the EastLink tunnel in Ringwood. This means the project has modest usage and network benefits, and its costs exceeded its benefits.

    Our modelling shows that streets leading to the freeway in the eastern suburbs become more congested and reduce the amenity of surrounding residential areas without substantial mitigation measures. In contrast, a reduction in traffic improves the accessibility and amenity of inner Melbourne, attracting more people to live in these areas.

    To successfully deliver potential benefits, any new cross-city motorway should be delivered with a transport network pricing regime in place (see recommendations 52 and 53). Transport network pricing helps mitigate adverse traffic impacts and produces better integrated network outcomes, compared with only tolling the motorway. These prices help manage otherwise congested traffic flows, including:

    • Into inner Melbourne including from the western and eastern side, including preserving uncongested access to the Port of Melbourne
    • Across the broader motorway network, including to help manage increased congestion along the Eastern Freeway towards the EastLink tunnels
    • Into roads and streets that connect into the motorway, which can be managed through ramp pricing.

    Any cross-city motorway project should include initiatives to help manage extra transport demand from extra inner Melbourne growth, such as introducing new Doncaster busway services that operate in their own lane along Alexandra Parade and Princess Street. It should clearly designate priority streets for accessing the Eastern Freeway. The project can also include local improvements for tram and bus services crossing Alexandra Parade, and for cyclists and pedestrians crossing the corridor, such as signal priorities, new tree planting, open space and vegetation buffers. People living nearby already cycle more than other Melburnians. The project can incorporate cycling infrastructure, such as dedicated cycles lanes or off-road paths above the tunnel alignment to facilitate east-west movements, a cycling path in the median of Alexandra Parade, or cycling priority on nearby local streets.

    With these pre-conditions, the Victorian Government should keep the option of a longer-term link between the Eastern Freeway and CityLink by preserving an updated corridor for it to be delivered if circumstances require. The updated alignment must consider the implications of the construction of the West Gate Tunnel Project, urban renewal in Arden Macaulay60 and at the Fitzroy Gasworks site,61 open space requirements, and its impacts on Moonee Ponds Creek, including its Aboriginal cultural heritage, biodiversity and water quality.62 Failing to protect a corridor could create unnecessary challenges in land acquisition and design, if the project is to proceed.

    Any business case for a cross-city motorway should also assess the likely impact of transport network pricing and automated vehicles (see recommendation 21), as potential alternatives as well as complementary options, and opportunities to improve public and active transport. While there is no immediate need for a road connection between the Eastern Freeway and CityLink, one may be necessary within the next 30 years.

    Figure 21 Protect a long term option for new cross city motorway 300dpi 2

    Figure 21: Protect a long-term option for new cross-city motorway

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