Compared: Metro rail tunnel vs East West Road – which is more efficient at moving people? #SpringSt

The way the state budget has been framed in terms of transport was almost inevitable: the East-West motorway (stage 1) vs the Metro Rail Tunnel, with the motorway winning this round.

Melbourne Metro tunnel station artists impression

While they are quite different projects, serving (mostly) different markets and (attempting to be) solving different problems, I thought it might be interesting to look at them side-by-side them, based on known facts and some slightly shaky estimates, and using some doubtful metrics to compare.

Project Metro rail tunnel East-west motorway tunnel (stage 1)
Where South Kensington to South Yarra Clifton Hill to Flemington
Estimated cost $5-9 billion $6-8 billion [cite]
Length 9 km [cite] 8 km [cite]
Cost per km $0.56 – 1 billion per km $0.75 – 1 billion per km
Theoretical capacity per hour 30 trains
x 1000 people per train
x 2 directions
= 60,000 [cite]
3 lanes
x 2000 vehicles per hour
x 1.2 people per vehicle
x 2 directions
= 14,400
(or some capacity for freight)
Approx cost per person capacity per hour $83,000 – $150,000 per person $416,000 – $555,000 per person
Stations/interchanges Arden (North Melbourne)
Parkville (University)
Melbourne Central
Flinders Street
(Unfortunately it appears the tunnel will not include an interchange station at South Yarra.)
Hoddle Street
Flemington Road citybound
Citylink southbound
Citylink northbound
Main trips/destinations served
(excluding future extensions)
University/hospital precinct
St Kilda Road
Tram connections to inner suburbs
Sunbury corridor
Dandenong corridor
Between Eastlink/Eastern freeway corridors and:
CBD and University/hospital precinct via Flemington Road
Construction funding Zilch so far, only planning money
$0.293 billion from the state government
(about 4% of total cost, though it’s suspected some of this is planning money)

As I said, they are different projects serving different markets, and probably shouldn’t be directly compared like this. But there are some points to be made by doing so.

For both, reaching the theoretical capacity depends on removing other bottlenecks, and making sure feeder routes (whether PT or road) are completely optimised. But if you can do it, even the huge cost of underground rail is still many many times cheaper for the capacity brought than underground roads.

The government is talking of the road in terms of “city-shaping”. The problem is it’s city-shaping towards more car dependence, with all its problems and inefficiencies. As some have pointed out, the Eastern Freeway already gets clogged in the Box Hill area — inducing more traffic (motorists heading west from Clifton Hill) is not going to help this; nor is it going to help motorists heading south down Hoddle Street towards the inner-city.

If they were serious about ensuring the efficient movement of the city’s growing population, they’d be investing heavily in the most efficient mode, and helping more people get around more often leaving the car at home (or even ditching one of the cars in their household).

That would be city-shaping, in a good way.

9am: updated with higher $9b rail tunnel cost estimate.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

10 replies on “Compared: Metro rail tunnel vs East West Road – which is more efficient at moving people? #SpringSt”

Don’t worry about congestion at Box Hill, worry about Hoddle St.

Since the government is currently not proposing exits to north/south roads, the effect of the freeway on the congestion that currently occurs at the exit to Hoddle St/Alexandra Pde will be almost negligble. Use of the freeway is likely to be limitted in the am peak westbound because users simply won’t be able to get to it.

I’m yet to have anyone explain to me why we actually need metro rail tunnel. It will do nothing that can’t currently be done. You want to get on a train at south yarra and go to south Kensington? You can already do that, you only have to change trains once. You want to go from pakenham to sunbury? Well you can already do that too. Want to go up Swanston street? Hmmm, oh wait, you can do that too. It’s called a tram. We don’t need 9 carriage, triple deck, 3x wider trains that can run at a frequency of 3 trains per 10 seconds, we need more staggered running conditions. Most people have a seat on most trains out of the city by oakleigh. So you’re spending $9 billion to go from south Kensington to south yarra without having to change trains a whole one time. So that from oakleigh to pakenham you can have a virtually empty train. Why not just run some more oakleigh or westall locals and run all the Cranbourne/pakenhams express? I will never be a supporter of Metro Rail, an expensive beat up, preached that we desperately need to the masses, when really it’s all a crock. Every other rail project hinges on Metro Rail? bollocks. The money really should be going to extentending the suburban network and a third or even fourth track to Dandenong. Go East West Link. I don’t really like that either, but at least it’s not completely pointless like Metro Rail.

Currently people who will use the tunnel say going from Doncaster to the airport use alternate arterial roads north of the city. The capacity of the eastern freeway will remain constant thus when these trips move onto the freeway I imagine there will be some displacement of people that currently use the Hoddle Street exit (in other words hoddle street will become less congested similar to what I imagined happened over time to batman av and Punt rd following the opening of the citylink tunnels). The fact is that if the freeway is nearly at capacity now and more potential trips/destinations are added some of the existing traffic logically will be displaced to other routes, other modes or at other times of day.
On a side note rail may have a theoretical capacity of 60kph at peak time but outside peak time it has an actual patronage level likely to be far lower (if you want apples with apples financial cost per user comparison how many actual people and actual freight will each carry across the whole day). Also from a government’s financial perspective how much do you discount the road cost by to make it comparable to the rail. i.e. the road will likely collect its operating cost and enough to pay back its capital or some part thereof through user charges verses a PT project that will involve both a significant capital subsidy and an ongoing operating subsidy.

I will NEVER support this new rollroad!!! Especially when it could jeopardise our liveability ranking. Oil Prices are rising and is more limited!! Royal Park could also be jeopardised as well as beautiful homes in the area!!!

A rail tunnel does not actually “serve” a “corridor”, if there is no way to actually get into it or out of it.

As a user of both the Tullamarine Freeway and the Sunbury line I think that the rail tunnel should’ve been the priority as having 9 carriage trains and new stations north of the city would be handy for users of all lines as well as facilitating new lines like Airport Rail. While the east-west link might be convenient off peak, I don’t understand how the Tullamarine freeway in between the Brunswick road and Flemington Road exits will handle more traffic flowing into it from the new tunnel during morning peak times when the road network around there can be very heavily congested going into the city and southbound on the Bolte Bridge.

@andrew, it’ll be interesting to see if they want to widen the section from the Eastern into the tunnel… and whether in the process they want to use part of the proposed Doncaster railway alignment.

@Terry, I used 1000 per train based on the expected load standard of a train (which also seems to match the figure given in the IA submission).

@Jonathon, it’s not really about making cross-city trips possible – for much of the week you can catch a train from South Yarra to South Kensington without even changing trains, because the Frankston and Newport lines are interconnected. It’s about capacity building, though it’s certainly been argued that there are cheaper quicker ways of doing it, such as next generation (moving block) signalling.

And of course any of these types of measures are about planning for future capacity given population growth, and an assumed growth in CBD/inner-suburban commuters.

@Austin, if past examples are taken, yes there is a displacement of people from other roads onto the new motorway… for a while… then the traffic grows to fill all capacity up again. See

@nocomment, what is a “rollroad”? (It looks like you need to calm down, don’t blow a gasket, and lay off the multiple exclamation marks.)

@enno, they’re called stations and portals. The rail tunnel would provide a huge amount of capacity to the Sunbury and Dandenong lines, thus serving trips in those corridors.

@John, that’s a good point; the Tulla clogs up now – it won’t get any better with more cars brought in and out of it.

Reading directly from the Eddington Report, Hoddle St is the main sticking point for everything from high capacity transport out to Doncaster to the East-West rail link. No doubt they will just go with what can make the construction companies and operators the most money.

Removing the level crossings between Caulfield and Oakleigh (while providing additional tracks) should come BEFORE the Metro! What’s the point of a Metro if you can’t run extra trains because of the level crossings?!

And have people forgotten that a major capacity constraint lies in the archaic operational practices at Flinders Street? And that it could be fixed rather easily?

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