By Stephen Cauchi, Suburban Rail Loop Authority

Melbourne’s Suburban Rail Loop (SRL) has taken another significant step forward, with Expressions of Interest to open for the next major works package – the contract for design, construction and operation of all tunnel systems and infrastructure for SRL East.

SRL East will deliver 26km twin tunnels and six new underground stations between Cheltenham and Box Hill – transforming public transport in Melbourne’s east and south east and creating up to 8,000 jobs during construction.

The new contract includes the trains, tracks, signalling and communications systems, as well as the maintenance depot and stabling facility. It also includes a 15-year term to operate and maintain SRL East.

Expressions of Interest will open this year, with final selection expected in 2025. It is a major procurement milestone for the 90km orbital railway and follows a tremendous year of progress for Victoria’s biggest-ever infrastructure project in 2022. In September, three global industry leaders were shortlisted to build the twin tunnels for SRL East, with tunnelling to start in 2026.

Early works for SRL East started in Clayton in mid-2022 and will ramp up through 2023, with works to be launched in Glen Waverley, Burwood, Monash, Cheltenham, Box Hill and at the stabling facility in Heatherton. Two of the four stages of SRL are now underway – SRL East and SRL Airport (being delivered by Rail Projects Victoria) between Melbourne Airport and Sunshine.

Responding to the needs of a growing city

Melbourne is growing rapidly and needs a public transport system to meet the challenge. Victoria’s population is expected to reach around 11.2 million by 2056, with Melbourne to be home to around nine million people – a global city the same size as London today.

Suburban Rail Loop is the first new suburban rail line in Melbourne since the Glen Waverley line opened in 1930. SRL will change how people move around Melbourne – setting a new benchmark for modern, convenient and efficient public transport.

More than 80 per cent of Melburnians will experience reduced travel times with shorter, faster and more reliable journeys, as well as less congested roads.

Minister for Suburban Rail Loop, Jacinta Allan, said Suburban Rail Loop will create thousands of jobs and deliver the critical wheel on the city’s hub-and-spoke train network.

“Victorians recognise Suburban Rail Loop is the project our growing city and state needs and these major works contracts are a crucial milestone as Suburban Rail Loop steams ahead,” Minister Allan said. SRL East will deliver six brand new underground stations – at Cheltenham, Clayton, Monash, Glen Waverley, Burwood and Box Hill – with trains running by 2035.

SRL Airport will help deliver the long-awaited rail connection from Melbourne Airport to Sunshine and is scheduled to open in 2029. SRL North from Box Hill to Melbourne Airport and SRL West from Sunshine to Werribee are in the early stages of planning and development.

Suburban Rail Loop will not only connect to every major existing line between Cheltenham and Werribee, it will deliver direct rail access to many areas for the first time.

SRL East will provide rail access to Monash and Deakin Universities; SRL Airport will provide stations at Melbourne Airport and at East Keilor and SRL North will offer rail service to La Trobe University and Westfield Doncaster for the first time.

“Suburban Rail Loop won’t just transform our public transport system – slashing travel times and easing congestion – it will help manage how our city grows, creating a long pipeline of jobs and training opportunities,” Minister Allan said.

“With trains running by 2035, SRL East will open up access to key education, health and employment centres in Melbourne’s east and south east, relieving pressure on roads and slashing congestion and travel times across the network.”

SRL East is estimated to cost between $30 and $34.5 billion. The Victorian Government has so far allocated $11.8 billion to the project, while the Federal Government has made an initial commitment of $2.2 billion. The SRL Airport stage is fully funded through a State and Federal Government partnership.

Beyond the many jobs delivered during construction, SRL will create major economic activity centres around the new stations, transforming Melbourne into a city of multiple employment centres. The section of line from Cheltenham to Melbourne Airport is forecast to become Melbourne’s busiest rail line by 2051.

SRL will slash travel times across the network, with the average one-way journey 40 minutes faster than a public transport journey today.

The estimated travel time between most SRL stations will be around three to four minutes. From Cheltenham, for example, commuters will save between 40 minutes to an hour when travelling to either Monash, Glen Waverley or Burwood.

It currently takes 56 minutes for a student to travel from Ringwood station to Monash University. With SRL, this will be slashed to just 25 minutes. SRL will be a ‘turn up and go’ service. Trains will initially run every six minutes in the peak between Cheltenham and Box Hill and frequency will increase as future stages are delivered.

Ultimately, service frequency will increase to a train every two minutes. SRL East and SRL North will be a standalone line, using a different gauge (standard) and power system (alternating current) to the rest of the Metro Trains network. It means SRL will be able to use state-of-the art systems without having to retrofit technology into the existing network.

The new automated, four-car trains will be comfortable and easy to access, with low internal and external noise, quality passenger information systems, and ergonomic seats. Carriages will have dedicated spaces for wheelchairs and passengers with special needs, as well as flexible use spaces for prams, assistance animals and other uses.

With SRL North connecting to Melbourne Airport, the train interior will be configured for flexibility and ease of movement, and with capacity for fit-out of convenient luggage storage.

More than a rail line

SRL Precincts around the new underground stations from Cheltenham to Melbourne Airport will be home to almost 550,000 jobs by 2056 – about the same number of jobs as there are in the Melbourne CBD today.

This means more than eleven per cent of Melbourne’s jobs will be located in the broader areas around SRL stations – almost as much as the 13 per cent in the central city. 165,000 of these jobs will only be delivered because of the transport benefits offered by SRL – bringing more jobs closer to where people live – all within a short walk from a station.

“This multi-faceted project will reshape how we grow in the decades ahead – creating major employment centres in the middle suburbs with more housing options, services, and open and public space all a short walk from an SRL train station,” Frankie Carroll, Chief Executive, Suburban Rail Loop Authority, said.

“The Suburban Rail Loop Authority has been engaging with community members, local councils and stakeholders about the opportunities to invest in and revitalise the neighbourhoods around the new stations, and this important precinct planning work will ramp up in 2023.”

Crucially, SRL will give regional Victorians much better access to job opportunities, education and health services and bring metro Melbourne and regional Victoria closer than ever. Eight regional lines link Melbourne to centres including Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, and the Latrobe Valley.

They will connect to SRL through transport super hubs at Clayton, Broadmeadows and Sunshine. Regional Victorians will be able to travel to and from key destinations across Melbourne’s suburbs without having to go through the CBD.

This will cut 80 minutes on average from return public transport trips and open up previously inaccessible jobs in high growth employment areas. Regional students won’t have to miss out studying at a major education institution in Melbourne because it is too difficult to get to. SRL will mean students have direct connections to Monash, Deakin and La Trobe universities and Box Hill Institute.

Access to Deakin University from Wallan, for example, will be around 45 minutes faster with SRL East and North – making it within an easily commutable travel time. Travelling to world-class healthcare will be more convenient with SRL stations to be built close to Monash Medical Centre, Monash Children’s Hospital, Monash Heart Hospital, Box Hill Hospital and Austin Health.

Significantly improved travel times between the regions and Melbourne’s middle suburbs will make regional centres and towns more attractive for investors, visitors and tourists. For example, a resident of Heidelberg could save an hour on a return public transport trip to East Gippsland by transferring at Clayton.

A big year ahead for victoria’s biggest infrastructure project

For SRL East, a major focus in 2023 will be the ramping up of early works to prepare for major construction to start in 2026. The first phase of early construction includes preparing sites for the launch of tunnel boring machines, moving and protecting underground services, and undertaking ground improvements, geotechnical investigations and road modifications.

After the completion of major underground service relocation works in Clayton, early works this year will extend to other SRL East locations. Works will start in Glen Waverley to relocate water, power and communications services. This will be followed by work at Monash. At Box Hill, a tram terminus on Whitehorse Road will be temporarily moved ahead of construction of the Box Hill SRL station.

Construction is also underway to build a new park and playground in Burwood to offset land required for station construction. This phase of works will create hundreds of local jobs, and opportunities for the next generation of skilled workers. Around 14 per cent of the total hours are being undertaken by Victorian apprentices, trainees or cadets.

A recruitment drive is now underway for hundreds of workers, including engineers, supervisors, planners and environment experts, with a focus on encouraging more women and Indigenous Victorians into the industry. As well, the first tunnelling contract will be awarded later this year.

The three shortlisted bidders are:

♦ CPB Contractors, Acciona Construction Australia and Ghella – This consortium has experience in Brisbane’s Cross River Rail, Sydney Metro, Vancouvers’ Broadway Millenium Subway and the Caulfield to Dandenong Level Crossing Removal in Melbourne

♦ John Holland and Gamuda Berhad (trading as Gamuda (Australia) Branch) – These companies have experience building Melbourne’s Metro Tunnel, Sydney Metro Northwest Tunnel and Malaysia’s Klang Valley Mass Rapid Transit, and both are currently constructing the MRT project in Singapore

♦ Webuild S.p.A and GS Engineering and Construction Australia – Companies with experience in projects including the North East Link tunnels in Melbourne, the Forrestfield-Airport Link in Perth, and Copenhagen’s Cityringen Metro

Two of the three bidders will be awarded tunnelling contracts – one from Cheltenham to Glen Waverley, the other from Glen Waverley to Box Hill. The Cheltenham to Glen Waverley contract will be awarded late in 2023, with tunnelling expected to start in 2026. The second tunnelling package from Glen Waverley to Box Hill will be awarded in 2024.

Construction of SRL East will create a long-term pipeline of work, generating thousands of local job opportunities and helping train the next generation of skilled workers. SRL East and SRL North will support up to 24,000 jobs across the Victorian economy.

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