Frankston line commuters could miss out on more express train services due to a stand-off between the federal and state governments over $1 million.
The Turnbull government has expressed its support for the construction of a third track between Frankston and Moorabbin to allow for express services along the rail line, which runs through several marginal state and federal seats. But the so-called “Frankston flyer” proposal has been dismissed the Andrews government.
It claims the project would cost well in excess of $20 billion, require hundreds of homes and businesses to be acquired, and the removal of all level crossings along the line.
In 2016, the federal government committed $4 million for Frankston line upgrades.
The money was intended to be split evenly between a business case for the Frankston flyer project, and a business case for extending metropolitan rail services from Frankston to Baxter – two stops south, on the Stony Point line
Of that money, $3 million is being spent on the Baxter business case, while the remaining $1 million promised is sitting idle.
Acting Minister for Public Transport Luke Donnellan said the extra $1 million had not been provided to the Victorian government, and the government would not undertake a business case into the project.
The Frankston train line is an extremely narrow corridor, and expanding it would involve lane closures on Station Street and the Nepean Highway, the removal of car parking, and the acquisition of hundreds of properties, he said.
All of the level crossings along the line (about 30) would also have to be removed, to allow for trains to run fast enough to complete the journey from Frankston to the city in 30 minutes, the minister said.
“If Chris Crewther and the Turnbull government want to do a business case into the ‘Frankston flyer’, they can go for it. We will continue to deliver real projects that deliver more public transport options for Victorians,” Mr Donnellan said. “We don’t support the third track as it would destroy hundreds of homes, close roads and cost well in excess of $20 billion. If the Liberals do – they should say so.”
The stand-off over the express train proposal threatens to become tense as state and federal elections draw nearer. Dunkley, on Melbourne’s south-eastern fringe, is a marginal seat for the Liberals, just as the four state seats along the Frankston line are marginal for Labor. Federal Liberal MP for Dunkley Chris Crewther said the Turnbull government was powerless to act on the plan without state government involvement, because the rail line is state-owned.
The Andrews government is removing nine level crossings on the Frankston line by building a mix of rail trenches and bridges, including a 900-metre rail bridge to remove three crossings in Carrum and Bonbeach. “Since the federal government committed [to the Frankston flyer], they have built sky rail in three inappropriate locations and they haven’t future-proofed it for a third future track,” Mr Crewther said. He said it was likely that a shorter express track between Carrum and Moorabbin stations could still be built, although it would do less to cut the journey time between Frankston and the city, which takes about an hour in the morning peak.
Opposition public transport spokesman David Davis accused the Andrews government of leaving no spare room for a third track in their level crossing removals, but refrained from committing to the project if the Coalition wins the November election. Instead, he said that his party would look at the feasibility of creating additional passing loops for the line, “which could provide enhanced capacity for expresses”.
A third track was built from Caulfield to Moorabbin in the 1980s, but the original plan was to extend the track as far south as Mordialloc – six stations away. Some express services run along the Frankston line during peak periods, but they still take an hour.
The fate of another project – electrifying the rail line to Baxter – appears more positive after the Turnbull government committed $225 million to the project in its last budget. Transport for Victoria started on the project’s business case in April. But Mr Crewther said the extension would cost between $500 million and $800 million, and he hoped the Andrews government would match the federal contribution before the state poll.