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Skyrail or Train Trenches with The Lot?

No Train Trenches

Feb 29, 2016 — Skyrail Objectors

Many "sky rail" objectors have emerged along the Caulfield to Dandenong corridor, and they have the public support of their local Liberal party MPs. They're worried about the visual impact of "sky rail". They're worried about shadowing and overlooking. They're worried about "sky rail" being inappropriate for the area.

The objectors' preferred alternative is to put the rail under the road "as promised".

Rail Under Road

The Labor party made no such promise. But the Liberal party did.

In March 2014, the Liberal government received an "unsolicited proposal" from Rail Transformation Consortium - backed by Hong Kong's MTR, the parent of Metro Trains Melbourne - to remove 4 level crossings (Murrumbeena Road, Koornang Road, Clayton Road and Centre Road), to rebuild 3 stations (Clayton, Murrumbeena and Carnegie), and to make various other improvements, for a price-tag of $2.5 billion.

Through July-August 2014, the Liberal government consulted with the community on their proposal to put the rail under the road at 4 locations and to rebuild 3 stations. Up to this point, the community accepted that they were going to get level crossings removed using "rail under road" techniques (Train Trenches).

The Catch

Why would RTC/MTR make such an offer, and what did they stand to gain?

They proposed to undertake the rail improvements, and to become the operator of the rail line, for a nominal fee of $360 million per year, for 15 years ($5.2 billion nominal).

Additionally, they brought with them an established pattern of undertaking intensive property development adjacent to the rail lines that they operated. Even though it wasn't widely publicised, the Liberal government had the same idea in mind when they entered into negotiations with RTC/MTR for the Caulfield to Dandenong corridor.

Then Minister for Public Transport, Mr Terry Mulder, stated in PAEC May 2014:

"we believed that we could utilise railway land that basically had no future use for public transport purposes — usually dirty, untidy, unkempt"

"We believed we had a great opportunity to capitalise on the use of that underutilised land"

"we are going to use railway station land that has been underutilised in the past"

"That is what we are talking about in relation to the Cranbourne-Pakenham-Dandenong corridor. We want to make sure in the work we undertake as part of the development of the new stations and in the work we undertake in relation to grade separations that we do not rule out the possibility that we could gain significant development rights going forward."

"I believed the projects had fantastic opportunities for improvements to the railway station precincts, had great development opportunities and were a way in which we could generate income to put back into the public transport network"

"we just want to make sure we can develop these stations, look at these grade separations and ensure that they take into consideration our opportunity to further explore use of our existing land bank"

Suddenly, the RTC/MTR proposal for rail improvements looked more like a #SkyHigh property development proposal. Based on their history in Hong Kong, RTC/MTR would have suggested including intensive high rise commercial and apartment development around stations and along the rail corridor.

Planning Regulations

In PAEC May 2014, Shadow Minister Mr Martin Pakula, addressed Mr Mulder:

"You talk about the development community being excited and generating income and all these future opportunities, but I am sure the communities around places like Murrumbeena, Clayton and Carnegie would like to know what kinds of developments they are likely to face as a consequence of the deal you have done.

Are you going to put in place height limits or development restrictions as part of this arrangement, or is that all just in the ether for a conversation at a future time?"

The answer came in October 2014, when then Planning Minister, Mr Matthew Guy, prepared an "intervention", giving himself absolute discretion over planning controls for the Dandenong-Pakenham-Cranbourne rail corridor.

This paved the way for the Liberal government to approve any and all development along the rail corridor, with no requirement to consult or notify, and no avenue for appeal.

Train Trenches with The Lot

I wonder how many "no sky rail" objectors are aware that the alternative Liberal government "rail under road" level crossing removal project, was actually more like a "big fat burger with the lot":
- That it would have given them intensive commercial and apartment development around stations and along the rail corridor;
- That it would have delivered visual intrusion, shadowing and overlooking issues;
- That it would potentially have given their suburbs a whole swathe of development that was highly inappropriate for the area.

Both of Melbourne's major newspapers carried this story in 2014. I wonder if those who have aligned themselves with "no sky rail" Liberal party members have forgotten?

Final Word

The final word goes to Mr Terry Mulder, former Minister for Public Transport:

"You can understand people who want to buy into these projects that are very close to railway stations. They want to come home at 6 o’clock at night, step off a train, be greeted by PSOs and walk through the forecourt into a residential development, perhaps with some retail."
(PAEC May 2014)

If you though the former Liberal government's plan for "rail under road" was better than "sky rail", think again. The Liberal members supporting the "no sky rail" campaign are being disingenuous, because their alternative Train Trench plan would have been worse, bringing ugly intrusive #SkyHigh developments to YOUR suburbs.

Yet another reason to say #NoTrainTrenches


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