Suburban Rail Loop

The Suburban Rail Loop is a public transport project in Melbourne to build a new railway line running through the middle suburbs. Construction began in June 2022, with the first section scheduled to open in 2035. With the government claiming its ultimate price tag will be $50 billion, the line is planned to be built in three stages:

  1. SRL East: from Southland to Box Hill, via Clayton, Monash University (Clayton), Glen Waverley and Deakin University (Burwood)
  2. SRL North: from Box Hill to Melbourne Airport, via Doncaster, Heidelberg, La Trobe University (Bundoora), Reservoir, Fawkner and Broadmeadows
  3. SRL West: the western suburbs portion, route fundamentally TBD but planned to connect Melbourne Airport to Werribee via Sunshine

The project is enormously popular, because Melbourne’s current suburban train network is entirely a “hub and spokes” model where you have to take a train all the way into the inner suburbs if you want to change for a different line.1 There are bus routes and (in the inner suburbs) tram lines that connect different train lines, but buses and trams are slow, and bus frequency is usually abysmal. People want trains.

Nonetheless, the project has come in for a ton of criticism from people who are not the general public. The biggest criticism is that the project is so obscenely expensive that it’ll leave very little room in the budget for other public transport projects which are arguably more necessary and/or more cost-effective. Like for example, people hate buses because they’re infrequent and slow – how many additional buses, and how much bus priority in­fra­struc­ture could you afford with $50 billion? I mean, there’s just no universe where you’d need to spend even close to that much fixing our bus network – and you could connect a lot more destinations than just the few big ones scheduled to get SRL stops, too. Another project that “the experts” think is more immediately necessary than the Suburban Rail Loop is the proposed Melbourne Metro 2, connecting Clifton Hill to western suburbs lines via the planned high-density precinct at Fisherman’s Bend (which currently has no public transport at all except infrequent buses). Hell, the mere electrification of the lines to Melton and Wyndham Vale is also something long overdue that’d be really beneficial.

An additional criticism has been the project’s placement (and non-place­ment) of stops. For example:

  • The SRL is set to run 8km between Southland and Clayton, and there’s even supposed to be a stabling/maintenance facility built on top of what’s currently “green wedge” parkland in Heatherton… and yet there will be no train station anywhere near Heatherton serving the mostly low-income residential areas there (or the Kingston Centre which provides mobility rehab services).
  • It’s also set to not even run the extra 4km from Southland to San­d­ring­ham, because fuck all of us living on the San­d­ring­ham line I guess. (Also, if I never heard the line again that it’ll “connect every major railway line in Melbourne”, when due to the omission of the San­d­ring­ham line it doesn’t, I’d be happy.)
  • There is also criticism that the new stations will be built wherever is cheapest and not wherever is actually appropriate to serve the destination it’s supposed to be serving; for example, Southland’s SRL station is set to be built on the wrong side of Bay Road (a stroad) from Southland Shopping Centre, and it’ll be nowhere near Southland’s existing train station on the Frankston line, nor its bus interchange (and btw it already sucks that its existing train station and its bus interchange are nowhere near each other).
  • Monash University’s SRL station is set to be built across the road from the northern fringe of its campus, when its bus interchange and all the most-used buildings are 15+ minutes’ walk away on the south side of campus.

My opinion: I’d feel hard-pressed to say I “don’t support the SRL” because Melbourne does need way better cross-town public transport connectivity and, even though it seems outlandish because of the relative price tags, somehow a $50 billion dollar train line is more politically viable than spending, God, even just 2% of that upgrading bus routes. I feel like if the government was convinced to cancel the SRL in favour of upgrading bus routes, we would rapidly find the bus route upgrades to be scaled back into an irrelevant tokenistic effort like “one extra bus on each route each peak hour”. So I guess I support the SRL just because there is absolutely not the political will to do anything else even remotely as effective no matter how much cheaper it’d be.

But I also think if MM2 and other needed infrastructure improvements for the western suburbs are delayed because of the SRL, that sucks. And I also think the crappy design of almost all the interchange stations (and the lack of any station around Heatherton/Clarinda) sucks, and smacks of cheaping out on what’s going to be a major city-shaping project. (Like how the lack of a South Yarra interchange on MM1 is short-sighted and foolish!)

  1. I guess it depends how you define “all the way in”, because Caulfield, Camberwell and Newport are not like, INNER-inner suburbs, and Clifton Hill and Footscray are also further out than the biggest junctions at North Melbourne, Richmond and South Yarra. But all the aforementioned suburbs are certainly more “inner” than the majority of Melbourne’s population. (I know there are also junctions at Dandenong and Ringwood but I think of the lines that split at those more like branches than full lines.) ↩︎