Metro rail tunnel: the South Yarra conundrum

The major point of differentiation between the government and the Coalition (and the Greens) on the metro rail tunnel is whether or not it should have platforms at South Yarra.

The current thinking, which is in line with PTV plans going back to at least 2013, is for Dandenong line trains to run in from Caulfield express, diving under South Yarra station but not stopping there, then heading west to the next station at Domain. It’s shown on the PTV rail network development plan:

PTV rail network plan (2013) stage 2

The debate is nicely summed-up in this Age article:

Federal cash for the Melbourne Metro Rail tunnel is under a cloud because the Andrews government is refusing to include a $1 billion new station at South Yarra. … State Opposition leader Matthew Guy has also been lobbying Mr Turnbull over the need for a new interchange at South Yarra, claiming the rail link without it would be like building a house without doors.

(Note: the State Coalition’s rail tunnel proposal last year included platforms at South Yarra, but didn’t explain how they would be built.)

The importance of interchange

Providing platforms at South Yarra would enable passengers to interchange between the Dandenong, Frankston and Sandringham lines, as they do now. Interchange to other lines will become more important once the tunnel is running, because the Dandenong line will bypass Richmond, Parliament, Southern Cross and Flagstaff, so some passengers will want to change trains to reach those destinations.

Of course, interchange will also be possible at Caulfield, Flinders Street (CBD South) or Melbourne Central (CBD North), or Footscray though that may involve a slightly longer trip, particularly for those wanting to head down the Sandringham line.

Dandenong line, AM peak at South Yarra

Local destinations

Currently a lot of people change onto the number 8 tram. But many would be doing that to reach destinations around the Shrine and St Kilda Road, but of course with the tunnel in place, they instead get an express train ride to Domain.

The question to ask would be how many people who currently hop off the Dandenong line at South Yarra are actually going to destinations in the vicinity of the station (such as Melbourne High School, the nearby workplaces, and the shopping precinct), and how many have a final destination that is closer to or beyond St Kilda Road.

Local residents

Many local residents board trains at South Yarra, and those numbers are increasing all the time, with some huge apartment blocks going in around the station. Others are changing off the tram.

While they would benefit from Dandenong trains continuing to stop there, with direct rail access to Domain, Parkville, Huntingdale (for Monash University) and eventually the Airport, there are also plans to reuse the current Dandenong platforms to originate Werribee/Williamstown/Laverton trains from South Yarra, providing a big boost to services into the city — and plenty of seats, unlike all the other trains. (These additional services would help balance out the Newport lines with the Sandringham line; as you can see from the numbers in the diagram at the top, they would be connected, but the projected numbers of services aren’t balanced.)

Either way, congestion in the station entrance is a huge problem.

(By the way, the headline on this article the other day was nonsensical: Melbourne Metro: South Yarra commuters face longer journey to town.)

South Yarra station, evening peak

The problems of platforms

The government position is that providing them would cost almost a billion dollars, and result in acquisition and demolition of over a hundred properties (double the number of 44 for the entire project as it stands), including part of the Jam Factory.

If that’s true, it doesn’t seem viable.

Part of the problem is that the current platforms can’t be used, because the plan is for the new Dandenong line trains to be up to 50% longer, and there wouldn’t be space to dive under the Yarra river. So any platforms provided would have to be new, underground, and in keeping with modern standards, dead straight for about 250 metres.

As I understand it, the plan is the tracks through South Yarra platforms 5+6 will still be connected to the Dandenong line tracks, with a junction near the tunnel portal, to provide for V/Line and freight services, which couldn’t use the tunnel. The freed up platforms at South Yarra would also be used to originate additional services into the City and to the west. (Perhaps ideally the tracks would be swapped around a bit, so an island pair would be used for this purpose.)

What to do?

Greg Barber is right when he says it’s worth looking at the design again.

As I understand it, the announcement this week that the Swanston Street section of tunnel would go deep, avoiding massive disruption on the surface, was made after senior people running the project sensibly considered that Melbourne hasn’t built many rail tunnels recently, and got in some of the best experts in the world to look at the design. While they’re reviewing it, it makes sense to look at the South Yarra question again to re-evaluate if it’s viable.

If it’s possible, not too expensive, and doesn’t require the mass demolition of properties, it would be good to provide the platforms.

But if platforms aren’t provided at South Yarra, then it’s important to improve interchange at Caulfield (cross-platform interchange should be the goal here, similar to Richmond platforms 7+8, and 9+10) and of course to provide top notch interchange at Flinders Street and Melbourne Central.

And either way, South Yarra station needs an upgrade to unclog it. For instance an additional concourse at the northern end, to provide better access direct into the growing Forrest Hill precinct, would help a lot.

Update 2:15pm: It may be a complete coincidence, but shortly after I published this post, I was told that the MM tunnel guru has looked at South Yarra, and that good information on why the government doesn’t believe platforms are viable will be published soon.

Melbourne metro rail tunnel: alignment options

Update Monday 26/10/2015: Local Greens MP Sam Hibbins has released FOI documents about the station on his web site.

I found the Alignment Options Assessment document particularly interesting, and I wonder if given fuss around South Yarra, and the Libs’ push to spend more money on the tunnel project as a whole, if they should be looking again at the Dandenong Road/St Kilda Road option.

It resolves a number of problems, including future Caulfield-South Yarra track capacity for V/Line and freight (though the report says these may not be needed until 2046); opening up rail access at the Alfred Hospital precinct and possibly St Kilda (though the latter was not proposed; instead it suggested stops at Windsor and Orrong Road), and the relative ease of building along wide boulevards, thanks to all the space available. The Dandenong Road option would also result in more PT trips.

Of course, much longer tunnels equals bigger cost. It seems the State Liberals are trying to convince the Feds to insist on a change for funding (which hopefully would counter the additional cost); maybe they should think bigger than just a South Yarra stop that’s likely to have a big surface impact with (apparently) minimal patronage difference.

  • Update 20/4/2016: City of Stonnington says State Government estimates for passenger numbers at South Yarra are too low, and believes interchange platforms can be provided more cheaply – principally by locating rail flyovers at Caulfield instead of in the constrained area around Chapel Street.

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.

24 replies on “Metro rail tunnel: the South Yarra conundrum”

The problem here is that the Liberals are demanding both a business case before any Federal funding is considered, and this extra station to be included in the plan – which would demolish any business case. Daniel Andrews knows this and so isn’t interested.

The Liberals still want EW link, and so this is a clever plan to appear pro metro rail, while also sabotaging it – and thus allowing funding of EW link.

I’m a bit unclear what the Jam Factory has to do with providing platforms at South Yarra station. Aren’t they a long way a part?

@Roger – The new station platforms would be to the south of Toorak Road, in order to allow the tunnel to continue on to Domain without having to make tricky turns or dives to avoid the river. Existing station to Jam Factory along the rail corridor is just over 250 metres – the length of the proposed platforms.

This article where they were trying to justify it on grounds of BCR of 0.2 is a fairly poor showing. If you can justify going within 150m of one of the major interchange stations in melbourne and bypassing it without a platform you have to wonder why we don’t just not stop at the majority of stations in melbourne I mean think of the time savings :
Even calling this a merto tunnel is a joke the point of a metro is to allow easy transfer between other lines not make it harder. As it stands sandy/dandy passengers will either have to go all the way to FSS to transfer or transfer at South Yarra and again at Caufield. If the cost/impact is really as great as stated you have to wonder why not go back to the plan to get the tunnel all the way to caufield. I mean the 4 or more lines that will eventually be needed on both the frankston and dandy lines with RRLeast and outer/inner express aren’t going to magically work on the 4tracks of the caufield to south yarra section anyway. Personally the tunnel portal is virtually straight and everyone knows that tunnel portals are far greater in diameter than the tunnel itself meaning the platform should basically be able to be accommodated within a modified portal design with about 150m walk to the existing platforms.
I also say I have some serious questions of the BCR/viability etc. on this project due to its nearly $10b capital cost let alone its operating cost. When you consider the M1 project cost by comparison was less than $2b and added around 50% better throughput (about 25% from FMS) and 15-30% travel speeds improvement and significant travel reliability benefits (daily to more users than the entire rail network of Melbourne) its hard to see how urban rail projects are going to stack up at infrastructure Australia etc. Metro will be delivering nothing like that benefit for nearly 5times the capital cost alone.
Just FYI i got my figures from the VicRoads managed motorways framework which was recently released from section 2 and Appendix A. (its worth a read in particular as it flags the potential for implementing an new Arterial Road Management System ARMS which could provide similar potential benifits to arterial roads and particularly benefit the 80% of PT trips which are onroad along with the potential future functionality improvements to FMS).

We can only hope that provision is made for a future connecting South Yarra Station. I’ve heard it argued that half the Jam Factory would need to be demolished, which is nonsense. A construction hole may need to dug, with the loss of a building or two but entrance and exit points of an underground train take up minimal space. As Australia does with rail (and roads), we do it half baked and on the cheap without looking to the future.

Re congestion at South Yarra: does that convenience store really have to be there? Removing it would allow a better layout for the Myki gates. Sure, by no means a total fix, but it would alleviate things a bit.

People wanting to alight at Sth Yarra will change at Caulfield, exactly as do existing trips to the other MATHS stations. And you have also identified Domain and Flinders St as other options via the new tunnel.
People switching to Sandy would be few because it’s already inefficient (reversing direction) and for some trips they are better off to switch to east west services at or before Caulfield.

Here are some ideas for all you experts to pick apart and tell me why I’m wrong:

In future by building 2 new platforms at Caulfield, instead of originating at St Yarra, local running trains could start from Caulfield, freeing up Frankston trains to run express from Caulfield thus adding even more capacity to the network. This could be done by building the new platforms underground as part of the Dandenong tunnel at some future date.

Hopefully, people swapping out at Caulfield will create some capacity for people to board at Domain. The people boarding at Domain will be people getting off trams there. They will alight trams at Domain and switch to trains if that’s quicker, or change trams to get to their City destination more directly on a different tram route. Before you all scream that no-one wants an extra change, my experience of St Kilda Rd trams is they are painfully slow, being held at so many traffic lights. Switching to the train could be faster than staying on the tram even if your tram is going up St Kilda Rd.
That will leave the only trams in Swanston st as the 1 and the 8 which run through to Coburg, and maybe one more line that terminates at Melbourne University. With a more sensible load in Swanston St the silly tram stops can be redesigned as island stops with bicycles separated from tram passengers, better for everybody.
Here’s an example of how it could work: 67 and 64 trams re-routed to William St – total of 3 lines in William St.
Route 5 re-routed to Spencer St. 72 & 8 continue to use Swanston st, with 8 running through to Coburg, joined at the Arts Centre by route 1. This gives a balanced distribution across the city’s north south routes, providing more direct routes for tram passengers heading to the western half of the City.

These problems are another reason why the Northern Caulfield Loop Connection is better than the Metro Rail Tunnel: as well as being vastly less expensive than the tunnel (for the same rail capacity increase), it has better outcomes for the connectivity of the rail network as a whole.

With the Northern Caulfield Loop Connection all three through city track pairs would pass through North Melbourne and Richmond, thus maximising transfer opportunities. [note 1]. There would be same direction transfers at North Melbourne and Richmond for people whose train goes to Flinders St but they want to go to the loop and vice versa [note 2], and reverse direction transfers for cross-suburban trips such as Sunbury line to Craigieburn line via Nth Melbourne or Dandenong line to Ringwood line via Richmond.

As inner Melbourne outside the Hoddle grid redevelops, it’s important to develop the public transport network on the principle of ‘anywhere to anywhere with good transfers’, as opposed to the old paradigm of maximising one-seat travel to the Hoddle grid which drove the design of the city loops. The Northern Caulfield Loop Connection serves the new paradigm better than the Metro Rail Tunnel – in particular, it gives much better connections for through city trips to city fringe development areas on the opposite side, such as Arden and Egate.

note 1. After the Northern Caulfield Loop Connection there would be track pairs from Werribee to Dandenong via Flinders St (these could be 9-car trains as an extension project), Sunbury to Glen Waverley via Flinders St (ditto), and Craigieburn to Frankston via Melbourne Central. More description is in my comment on Daniel’s post of 25 August (‘Metro Rail Tunnel ads’).

note 2. Same direction *cross-platform* transfers (very useful) at Nth Melbourne and Richmond could be arranged as follows: At Nth Melbourne, a new flyover west of the station and a new platform on the south side for the Werribee line, so that the Craigieburn and Sunbury lines run up-up-down-down through platforms 2-3 and 4-5. At Richmond 3-4 and 5-6: the Frankston and Dandenong lines are converted to up-up-down-down with a new flyover immediately south of Caulfield station to take the down Frankston line over the Dandenong lines.

And of course, in case I wasn’t clear enough, with the Northern Caulfield Loop Connection no South Yarra problem arises, as the Dandenong and Frankston lines lines would be running on the surface through the existing station.

Let me guess… You have a bet with someone that you can use the word ‘conundrum’ in the titles of two consecutive posts without anyone noticing. ;)

This South Yarra conundrum contains many transport twists. The Western Portal transfers all Dandenong trains to the Metro Tunnel under and beside South Yarra station. Although an extra interchange is important for every commuter but this issue is not as simple as “building a house with no doors”. Commuters coming from Pakenham, Cranbourne and Dandenong corridors who alight at South Yarra either work, school there or take Route 8 tram to Domain Interchange. It’s a rare case for commuters to interchange here for a Sandringham train because the journey would be impractically long for them. The platforms at other new stations are planned to be about 230 metres long with limited bending and sloping to cater for next-generation high capacity trains and safe alighting/boarding. If an interchange were to be built at South Yarra, there is limited space for construction materials at this worksite while minimising property and business acquisitions such as the Jam Factory. The people who would often use this interchange are local South Yarra residents travelling to St Kilda, CBD, Melbourne Uni and Royal Melb Hospital, and commuters coming from the Dandenong and Sunbury corridors alighting here for work or schooling. In any case, only transport enthusiasts would travel the length of the Metro Tunnel to and fro the Western and South-Eastern suburbs.
At this stage, it’s too early to conclude that a South Yarra interchange would justifiably be needed given the residential density and busy shopping districts there. Hopefully, the detailed plans for the Western Portal would be released sooner or later and the government has illustrated their reasoning not to include a South Yarra interchange before we can give better judgments on this issue.

This conundrum has been apparent since at least 2008, when track and portal options were discussed in the Eddington report “East West Rail Analysis – Analysis on Rail Capacity” (

I’m not so concerned about the South Yarra interchange discussion. Under the original proposal, the new Metro didn’t even go to South Yarra anyway – it went to Caulfield. I’m much more concerned that part of the original intent of the new Metro line has been forgotten: providing additional track capacity between CBD and Caulfield.

The “Analysis on Rail Capacity” report considered South Yarra-Metro connection options, and dismissed them very quickly in preference of a connection at Caulfield. The main concerns were not the difficulties of providing a station interchange at South Yarra, but the difficulties in providing extra track capacity between South Yarra and Caulfield, that it pointed out would be increasingly necessary for freight and regional rail services.

If the South Yarra interchange advocates win this argument, and the project ends up needing another $1 billion dollars, I’d argue that the whole section south of Domain should be reconsidered. Instead of wasting billions tunnelling east from Domain to South Yarra, and building the South Yarra interchange, the whole South Yarra plan should be scrapped, in favour of returning to the original alignment all the way to Caulfield.

Michael Bell,
The issue of capacity between Caulfield and South Yarra can be solved in another way which recently occurred to me that combines the original conception of Melbourne Metro Rail and Denis Napthine’s Melbourne Rail Link (which wasn’t a bad idea – just not as good as Melbourne Metro Rail).
Stage 4 of PTV’s Network Development Plan calls for the electrification of the Geelong Line, with services running through to Flinders Street or South Yarra (turning around at Platform 2, which Melbourne Metro Rail will free up as Daniel points out). When the time comes to increase capacity between Caulfield and South Yarra, post-Stage 4, the Geelong Line can be diverted into a Melbourne Rail Link-style tunnel with underground platforms at Southern Cross, a new station at Montague and new platforms at Domain (allowing interchange with Melbourne Metro Rail). *This* tunnel can *then* turn down St Kilda Road to join up with the south-eastern lines at Caulfield. If you quadruplicated between Caulfield and Dandenong, you could then send trains from Geelong through to Pakenham – running express to Dandenong, leaving Cranbourne trains to stop all stations via Melbourne Metro Rail. This approach has the additional benefit that the North-South (Wallan to Sandringham) Line proposed for Stage 4 would no longer have to share the southern-most Flinders Street to Southern Cross viaduct with Geelong Line trains.

Michael and Michael,

Remember that a track with a practical capacity of about 20 per hour with stops (typical at present) has a capacity of up to 40 per hour providing there are no intermediate stops. [note 1]

Accordingly, if and when the present track pair for the Dandenong line becomes insufficient, I suggest that the most cost-effective amplification would be:

– track pairs from South Yarra (surface) and from the Metro Rail Tunnel merge to one track pair south of South Yarra (the portals need to be placed to expedite this, either between or outside the existing Dandenong tracks).
– these tracks diverge again just north of Caulfield continuing as a four-track Dandenong line, with two new platforms at Caulfield.
– All trains run non-stop over the merged section.

This arrangement would have peak hour, peak direction capacity of up to 40 per hour – say 30 per hour to allow for some inefficiency in the synchronisation of when trains present at the merging point.

Standard gauge freight trains would use the same tracks, using three-rail or gauntlet tracks (presumably with peak hour curfews) [note 2]

If that is done, I can’t see any need for further amplification of the South Yarra-Caulfield section for the indefinite future.

Note 1. With a fixed block signalling system like Melbourne’s the headway of a track is the minimum headway between non-stop trains determined by the details of the system, plus the time lost stopping at a station.

Note 2. Or freight could use the Frankston track pair, which has spare capacity. Whether future freight demand warrants a new, dedicated track to avoid curfews is another question. I am fairly sceptical about the likelihood of this ever happening, given that a fifth track to Caulfield would have high environmental impacts and runs through neighbourhoods of articulate, well-to-do people who will certainly object strongly.

Why not consider the original MM1+MM2 concept where the line would continue under Dandenong Road rather than turning up Toorak? Conceivably a tunnel under the southern parts of St Kilda Road and then Dandenong Road could be built almost entirely cut-and-cover (particularly if a top-down method is used) so the costs shouldn’t be excessive compared to a bored tunnel. A station could then be built at the corner of Dandenong and Chapel with an underground linkway into Windsor Station to provide interchange to the Sandringham line and then surface at Caulfield to interchange with the Frankston line.

The section of track between Caulfield and South Yarra could then be reused for a further extension of Newport services.

On that second part, I really feel PTV needs to actually get started on the through-routing proposed in Stage 4 of their plan so that on completion of the tunnel we’ll have a Sandringham-Upfield (via Flinders Street and Southern Cross), Frankston-Craigieburn (via Parliament, Melbourne Central and Flagstaff) and Dandenong-Sunshine (via MM tunnel) set of lines. This will provide an immense untangling and make it a lot easier to figure out where you’re going and how to get there.

They might build an underground station underneath an aboveground station – and connext them with lifts and escalators. It has been done in London in many places: Earls Court Station for example. It would be very expensive I am sure.

@Warwick Brown

I’ve always felt that if the Waurn Ponds Line was to be electrified, a good use of recourses would be to run it all the way through to caulfield, allowing Frankston and Dandenong Trains to run express Caulfield – South Yarra (or where ever the Dandenong trains will be routed after MM). And yes, the sooner they untangle the city loop the better, just for the fact that there will be some consistency in knowing that there will always be a train between richmond and FFS for instance, or flagstaff and north melbourne.

Re the Dandenong Road/St Kilda Road option, the 2011 Metro Business Case is on-line thanks to the Herald-Sun. It’s at . The additional cost for that option compared to the Toorak Road option was quoted as $2.5 billion (p108). So for $2.5 billion or $1.5 billion or so if South Yarra is built, there would be three more stations, a more useful Sandringham line connection and extra track capacity between Caulfield and the CBD. The Business Case unfortunately only mentions the reduction in costs and omits the change in the imputed benefits of the two options.

I still think they should just go ahead and build to Domain at the very least, and then forget about continuing on from there until much later! That way the dust will settle and it will be much easier to sort out the best option from there. Maybe we will need to run to Caulfield, but building the portals to South Yarra will mean it is far too late!

The distance between Caufield and Domain, is quite a long one. for that reason, why not have a stop at South Yarra.

and, there is a need to interchange between Dandenong and Sandringham lines there too.

This is a super interesting topic, and one I hope the MM development team are really taking a good hard look at.

It seems the Sth Yarra interchange is difficult to achieve given the cost, disruption, and influence of articulate residents, but at the same time no interchange on the MM (whatever the ultimate alignment) with other lines, would be a fail for the project IMO, and only achieves a reduction in overall system flexibility, eroding the network. this is a once in 50 year opportunity to get it right.

Personally I like the idea of one of the southern alignments. It broadens the network, and potentially makes the system attractive to new users who aren’t presently attracted by the slow, frequent stopping trams. It will also likely attract users from the outer reaches of the tram network along the dandenong line alignment (Line 64, 5, 16, 3 etc) with new stations providing a faster FSS / CBD trip for the North caulfield, Armidale area.

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