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Tram options back on the table

08 Sep 2020

By Sean Car

A call to bring forward the start of the Metro 2 rail project to Fishermans Bend has renewed hopes for alternatives to a “costly” tram bridge over the Yarra River through Docklands.

On August 24, a bipartisan strategy including 66 new major projects to kickstart Melbourne’s economic recovery post-COVID-19 was launched as part of the Commonwealth’s City Deals scheme by former Labor Premiers Steve Bracks and John Brumby, as well as Liberal Party federal senate president Scott Ryan.

The standout in the blueprint was the highly anticipated next phase of Melbourne’s Metro Rail project, which would see a new route from Mernda via the city and under the Yarra River to Fishermans Bend and Newport.

The catalyst project, which is also supported by the City of Melbourne as part of its 2030 transport strategy, is seen by many experts as the key to unlocking the growth of Melbourne’s west.

With around 60 per cent of Fishermans Bend’s current workforce travelling from the west, the project also supports the 80,000 additional workers and 80,000 new residents projected for the urban renewal area by 2050.

While the government hasn’t committed to funding or a timeframe for the project, Fishermans Bend Business Forum (FBBF) executive officer David Weston wrote to new Minister for Public Transport Ben Carroll expressing his delight with the announcement, noting its importance for the University of Melbourne’s new campus at the former Holden site.

However, he added that the new underground service to the Employment Precinct should eliminate the need for the government’s proposed tram bridge, which would see a tram link over the Yarra River from Collins St through Yarra’s Edge and eventually onto Turner St.

“As you know the cement industry is key to the infrastructure-led recovery and our members in the Employment Precinct have expressed some concerns about the proposed tram route along Tuner St,” he said.

“With Metro 2 servicing the Employment Precinct we believe that government should reconsider the need for the Turner St tram. This would have significant savings in terms of no longer needing a tram bridge over the Yarra and land acquisition costs for sites that were to be impacted.”

While the group has put forward a number of alternatives to the Turner St option, it continues to strongly advocate for a spur line off the existing 109 route through Southbank to Port Melbourne, which would branch off to Boundary and Ingles streets.

Mr Weston told Southbank News that the bringing forward of Metro 2 provided the state government with more flexibility to consider all possible options, including other modes of active transport such as scooters, buses and autonomous vehicles like trackless trams.

As part of last year’s budget, the state government announced $5 million in funding over two years to explore options and a business case for a tram route linking the city to Fishermans Bend by 2025.

This is despite the tram bridge extension from Collins St, which is expected to cost in excess of $1 billion, already being marked in the planning scheme as part of the state government’s revised framework and planning controls for Fishermans Bend.

While the state government faces mounting pressure to deliver light rail to the Employment Precinct, which is earmarked as a national employment and innovation cluster (NEIC) focused on advanced manufacturing, the economic pressures of COVID-19 are understood to have forced a rethink of the tram bridge.

Many are hoping that the announcement of Metro 2 as a recognition of Fishermans Bend’s importance to both the state and federal economies of the future will bring good news for a tram solution in the state government’s delayed October 2020/21 budget.

Chairman of the Yarra Residents Action Group Keith Sutherland, whose group of Docklands residents remain strongly opposed to the tram bridge proposal, has been actively lobbying Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan on the issue for some time.

He said he was of the strong belief that the state government was looking at all the options and was supportive of the Fishermans Bend Business Forum’s alternative for a spur line off tram route 109 to Port Melbourne.

“If they [state government] look at it logically now, the expense of the tram bridge is so non-productive,” he said. “It is a waste of money, an absolute waste of money.”

“Why wouldn’t you be looking at Metro 2? We’ve got all the equipment here already with Metro 1 … I think it makes absolute sense to continue on.”

Minister Allan said a potential tram route, including options for a river crossing, and potential corridors along Turner and Plummer streets, continued to be investigated.•

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