The $2.2 billion in funding for initial works – including moving utilities, power and road upgrades and acquiring property – is probably the most expensive early works project on a Victorian transport project to date and adds to $300 million set aside in last year’s budget for planning. The money has been committed without a business case being finalised, a step that is set to occur early next year.
Distressed neighbours gathered in driveways on McComas Grove to discuss the news on Monday afternoon.
One family receiving the notice of possible acquisition moved into the home they had built just one month ago. A host of new apartments are also being built in the targeted area.
Joanna Swanson has lived there with her husband and two daughters for more than two decades and over the years have renovated their home, building a large deck, a courtyard with extensive landscaping and a treehouse that doubles as an art room.
The family got a letter telling them their property “is in an area of interest for the proposed station at Burwood” on Monday morning and were visited by Mr Fowles, who also delivered the news in person.
Ms Swanson’s daughter Jemma said it was as if they were in The Castle – the 1997 film about a family fighting the acquisition of home due to the expansion of Tullamarine airport.
“We’re in shock,” Ms Swanson said. “They don’t tell you what’s going on. We noticed they were doing some boring in the park, but we assumed it would just be the park impacted, not this whole area.”
She said she believed the proposal was a “pie in the sky” idea and other projects such as the North East Link and the Airport rail link were more important.
Construction will start on the first stage of the project in 2022, with an environmental effects statement assessing the project’s impacts getting underway early next year.
Many of the underground stations will link up with existing stations at Southland, Clayton, Glen Waverley and Box Hill, while the proposed new stations at Monash and Burwood will be built beside Monash and Deakin universities.
Monash station would be built north of Monash University on the corner of Normanby and Howleys roads, while the proposed Burwood station would be built south of Deakin University, near the corner of Burwood Highway and Elgar Road.
Mr Andrews said the price tag for the Suburban Rail Loop should be viewed in light of the “aggregate cost” of not building it.
“The cost of not building this … will be freeway networks that just do not work at all,” he said. “That pre-pandemic traffic will be nothing compared to what we will see in decades to come.”
He said the link would allow commuters to avoid travelling into the city and give them access to every major rail line, providing links to jobs, education and activity hubs. The project is also designed to create 800 new jobs.
“Going to the city if they need to, but not being forced to do that,” Mr Andrews said. “No need for a timetable so frequent are these services [going to be].”
The government has signalled that construction at Box Hill will be especially complex due to it being a dense urban area, while the project will include a brand new fleet of trains and a stabling facility for the rolling stock. The rail corridor will also be realigned between Cheltenham and Box Hill.
The early works would be aimed at relocating gas, water and other utilities, power and road upgrades and enabling launch sites for tunnel-boring machines. It will also go towards the purchase of land and building new substations. The package will be released to the market by the end of the year.
The government is planning to purchase brand new rolling stock for the rail link, flagging it will be looking at purchasing smaller trains that will be four to five carriages long.
The proposed station locations follows 18 months of site investigations, engineering assessments and community consultation. The state stumped up $300 million for the project’s planning in last year’s budget and today’s announcement takes the total amount committed to the scheme so far to $2.5 billion.
Suburban Rail Loop Minister Jacinta Allan described the project as a “game changer”, and “should have been built many decades ago”.
“We are committed to delivering the Suburban Rail Loop,” said Ms Allan.
“We will be guided by the advice that comes through from the investment case.”
The project has been broadly welcomed by public transport advocates, who say it is a welcome boost to the city’s network, even if it is expected to take 30 years to build.
But there are calls for light rail to be used instead of trains, while some have pushed for a different rail link – the Melbourne Metro 2 – to be prioritised. That line would connect Clifton Hill station with Newport via the CBD and Fishermans Bend.
Opposition transport infrastructure spokesman David Davis said the “concept of cross linking our radial rail services is a good one”, but a business case was needed, along with greater detail of “where the line will go and precisely how much it will cost”
“The community are entitled to know how it will be paid for. Will local households or businesses be hit with levies on their rate notices for 10, 20 or 30 years or more into the future.
“Andrews should rule out today levies or new taxes on households and small businesses along the route.”
Timna Jacks is Transport Reporter at The Age
Rachael Dexter is a breaking news reporter at The Age.