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The Doncaster Rail Project - Feb 2013.

The State Government promised it would commission a study to look into the feasibility of building the Doncaster Rail Line - which it did. However the results of this study do not provide good justification to build the rail line.



The Doncaster Rail Project Has Had A Troubled History.

Over the past 120 years, the history of the Doncaster Rail line has shown that Labor governments tend to shut the project down at the first opportunity. Liberal governments consider the project but are always stopped by the high cost.

Please let me give you a brief history of the Doncaster Rail Line.

  1. A proposal for a Doncaster Rail Line in the 1890's stalled because of cost considerations and disagreements.
  2. A proposal for a similar line in the 1920s stalled, first due to cost considerations and then because of an economic downturn
  3. The idea was revived by the Liberals in 1969. This time the Box Hill and Doncaster/Templestowe Councils objected to the route and Doncaster residents objected to it going through the Eastlinks Golf course. The Hamer Liberal government purchased land for the rail line and construction actually commenced in 1974 but stopped in 1976 due to financial problems of the contractor. The government then turned it's attention to developing the freeway system and filled in the rail excavations done to date. The Cain Labor government turned it's back on the Doncaster Rail Line and around 1984 actually sold off land reserved for the Doncaster Rail Line.
  4. In the 1990's the Doncaster Rail was considered by the Kirner Labor government. Professor E. W. Russell, who has over the years provided valued research to several Victorian Labor governments, found the Doncaster Rail line "desirable but too expensive".
  5. In 2006 the Victorian Liberal party undertook it's own costings and found a heavy rail (that is our standard rail gauge line) to Doncaster was too expensive in the short term and instead offered to extend the number 48 tram to Doncaster Hill.
  6. Around 2006 local councils began to fully support the construction of the Doncaster Rail. In 2008 a forum of councils investigating the Doncaster Rail Project noted that 41% of Manningham residents were classified as low-income earners (despite stereotypes for people living in the area). Then some rather bizzare reasoning took place. It was suggested that this was due to the greater reliance Manningham residents have on private automobiles. [However motor vehicles are owned and used by people all across the Melbourne suburbs. Is it true that the use of private cars is what makes 41% of Manningham residents low-income earners?] Then Peter Newman, a Greens activist and academic from W.A., saw similarities between the Doncaster Rail Line and the Mandurah line in WA and suggested that the Doncaster Rail Line was the ONLY viable option for both the short and long term transportation needs of Manningham. This rather stretched logic has since been incorporated into the policy of the Australian Greens.
  7. In 2008 the Brumby Labor government ignored the Doncaster Rail project and decided to instead focus on developing Melbourne's freeway system. Then in 2009 the same government gave Manningham the widely used and far more cost effective and efficient DART bus system, by developing the existing bus services and infrastructure in Manningham.
  8. In 2010 the Liberal Party again pledged to look into the feasibility of the Doncaster Rail Project.



Are there good reasons to build the Doncaster Rail Line now?

It has been said that the Doncaster Rail Project is important and critical for Manningham and that it will deliver benefits to the city of Manningham. However, what does the report say?The Doncaster Rail Study Phase One Recommendations Report does not give any good reasons to build the Line.


Lets look at two of the reasons usually given for building the Doncaster Rail and see what the Recommendations Report says.

a) The Doncaster Rail will provide a stimulus to the economy, business, land use and population growth.

The report considered several routes for the Doncaster line:

  • The Rapid Transit route basically runs along the freeway median strip to the city.
  • The Local Access Routes are basically fully underground lines running largely under Doncaster Road linking Doncaster, Bulleen, Kew to the CBD.
  • Orbital routes that circle around Melbourne and connect to existing lines were also considered.

Rapid Transit Route.

The report says (section 6.5) that the Rapid Transit routes would bring some growth to the Doncaster Hill area. It would further stimulate the mixed use of the land at Doncaster Hill which has already begun and bring forward the development of Doncaster Hill. It says the rail is unlikely to generate employment and residential development around rail stations proposed to be built on or near the freeway and that this cheaper route only serves a purely transport movement function.

Local Access Routes.

The benefits for the Local Access routes are very much different. The report says (section 7.0) that a Local Access route is expected to generate distributed land use uplift (promote land development around stations) and provide local business and investment opportunities. Section 7.5 says the local access routes are expected to support an increase in urban growth and employment potential along the [rail] corridor.  Unfortunately, the Local Access routes, are mostly underground and are much more expensive to build.


There is a difference between 'bringing development forward' and 'adding to that development'. The cheaper Rapid Transit routes provide some stimulus to one area only and brings development forward – development that is already under way. However, the more expensive Local Access rail routes actually adds business, employment and land development opportunities to all the areas they travel through. However it is very unlikely that one of the Local Access routes will be built due to their much higher cost.


b) The Doncaster Rail Line will get people out of their cars and onto trains.

This is the key issue behind the Environmentalist's push for the Doncaster Rail.

The short answer is no, the rail line will not do this.

A 'Victorian Integrated Transport Model' (VITM) (Section 3.5) and an adaptation of it (Section 4.2) were used to peek into the future to see what impact the various rail options would have on public transport usage. These things are some sort of mathematical computer model which are used to look forward to 2031. There are two things that give us reason to question the results produced by these 'mathematical models':

  • The VITM did not take into account the car parking facilities at the proposed stations nor did it take into account the capacity of the trains (Section 6.3). I think car parking greatly affects train usage. The report admits that car parking will be an issue (Section 6.3) and it puts a lot of reliance upon people walking and cycling to the stations. While walking and cycling to the stations may be desirable, the numbers this computer model produces for train users into the future could easily be over-estimates.


  • There is some question whether the models took into account the planned growth in population in the Doncaster Hill area. I would argue that section 4.2 says the planned population increase has been taken into account, even though the population increase at Doncaster Hill has not specifically been referred to. Also table 4.5 indicates a very large growth in bus usage from Doncaster to the CBD should the Doncaster Rail not go ahead, further indicating that the planned population growth of Doncaster Hill has been taken into account. [Actually, this is correct. This question was put the the government study team at the meeting on 16th May 2013 at Manningham council offices. The model takes into account the 4600 new homes planned at Doncaster Hill, the 1200 new homes planned in the redevelopment of the golf course and the new homes planned at the old APM paper mill site on on Chandler Highway.]


There are some questions about the accuracy of this mathematical computer modelling. While population growth has been taken into account, certain assumptions regarding travel to and from the stations might might cast doubt on the accuracy of the forecasts.

Despite these reservations, we come to the key environmental argument for the Doncaster Rail Line - that the Doncaster Rail Line will get people out of their cars and onto the train.

In section 9.1.3, the report makes this interesting statement: 'All of our heavy rail options effectively transfer the bus patronage to the new rail line, however we expect negligible further forecast mode shift from car to train'. This simple statement indicates that this argument for the rail line is unfounded. People who already use public transport will switch from bus (and tram) to train however car users basically will not switch to using the train. This train line is not going to reduce car usage as environmentalists hope.

After we spend some 4 billion dollars or more on the Doncaster Rail, we will not have reduced traffic on our roads or at  Doncaster Hill. All we will gain is 10 minutes. The train will cut ten minutes off the travel time by bus or car to the city. (See Page 67 Rapid Transit – At a Glance).

Justification for the Doncaster Rail on community, economic, business, land development and environmental reasons is very hard to find.



The State Government Appears To Have Already Made A Key Decision.

It appears the State Government has carefully read the Recommendations Report and already made a key decision about the Doncaster Rail project.

The Victorian government has done the sensible thing - they read the report carefully (in particular Section 9.3.1) and agreed with the report (and with past Labor governments) that the Doncaster Rail is a good idea but not just yet.

Recently they announced the development of the freeway median strip into additional freeway lanes and quite rightly said that this does not exclude the Doncaster Rail project. The recommendation the state government appears to have adopted is near the middle of section 9.3.1 in the Recommendations Report.



Are residents really in favour of this rail line being built?

The government project team held 'Community and Stakeholder Feedback' sessions to obtain suggestions, ideas and feedback from the future users of the Doncaster Rail Line. As you read through the comments made my members of the public at these sessions, you get the impression that the public was not completely convinced about the need for the Doncaster Rail line.

Let me give you some comments that were made by members of the public.

  • 'it was noted the existing DART buses provide an excellent service to the CBD along a very similar route' (Section 6.6)
  • 'this option would be costly to build' (Section 6.6)
  • 'However it was acknowledged that the area is already well service by public transport services and these services may impact on future train patronage' (Section 7.6)
  • 'Concerns indicated that given these costs [of building the line], improvements to existing public transport should be considered' (Section 7.6)
  • 'the overall cost may not be beneficial as the Local Access Options would largely attract mode shift from existing bus and tram passengers and not new customers' (Section 7.6)
  • 'that the existing services provide good connectivity to Box Hill' (Section 8.6)
  • 'the rail service would need to provide a superior journey and travel time to bus travel to be worthwhile' (Section 8.6)


I think these comments show that many in the community expect all possible options to be carefully considered. Also I think these comments indicate that residents of these parts are a sensible and practical group of people who expect real benefits to be delivered especially when such large amounts of money are spent.

It is possible that comments like the above did not sit well with advocates of the Doncaster Rail Line. Comments like the above could be interpreted to mean that Manningham residents were not completely behind this push for this expensive and questionable project.

As you know, a Doncaster Rail Advocacy Committee was formed to encourage the residents of Manningham to support the rail project.



The Doncaster Rail Advocacy Committee.

Below is a transcript taken from the February 26, 2013 Council Meeting. In this meeting the Doncaster Rail Advocacy Committee was announced. The Committee consists mostly of public transport proponents, left wing activists, environmental advocates and other community activists who intend to convince us why we need this rail line.

Mayor: Item 10.1 Doncaster Rail Advocacy Steering Committee. Selection of committee members. Do I have a mover and seconder? Moved, Councillor McLeish, seconded Councillor O'Brien. Counciller McLeish.


C. McLeish: Thankyou Madame Mayor. I am pleased to see this matter finally coming before council. It would have been good for it to come a little sooner but it is good to see us finally now forming this advocacy committee. The purpose of this committee is to assist Council in devising an advocacy campaign to be run on behalf of Manningham to promote the development of the Doncaster Rail Project. This is a very important project for the City of Manningham and we need the assistance of this committee to make recommendations to our Council to heighten public awareness about the project and to encourage the residents of Manningham to support this particular initiative. Some of you may be aware that even as recently as a couple of weeks ago our Major wrote to the Premier encouraging the Premier to once again to release the stage 1 report. That ... into the feasibility of the Doncaster Rail Project. And advocating that the Premier allocate funds in the upcoming budget towards stage 2 which is the business case analysis for the project. And we have seen the government continue to delay the release of that report. They have now finally conceded that it will be released in early 2013 but it hasn't happened yet. Both ourselves and Yarra City Council have written to the Premier in this regard so. It is a pretty critical time for this project with other projects coming up. With freeway tunnels being considered ... and it's important that we continue the good work and part of that work is encouraging the citizens of Manningham to support this project and to understand the benefits that this project will deliver to the city of Manningham. Hence this committee has been formed. We have got eight community members coming on to the committee. There are a range of skills coming on board. We have got people like Chris Trikilis, my apologies if I haven't quite pronounced it correctly. He is a former member of the Public Transport Users Association. He is also a local resident and transport advocate. And he is a member of one of our task forces, the Park and Ride Task Force. We have got Nick Defteros who has previously been involved in the Doncaster Rail Study and has authored reports on the Doncaster Rail Project. We have also got former councillors. David Elllis has agreed to join this particular committee and we think that is a great step forward to see such a strong advocate for Doncaster Rail and former councillor remaining involved in this project which is so critical for Manningham. So I commend this particular decision to Council and ask that Council approve the members of the committee so that we can start the work in educating the citizens of Manningham and encouraging them to support the project.

Mayor: Thankyou. Councillor O'Brien.

C. O'Brien: I support the statements that have just been made by Councillor McLeish, Madame Mayor.

Mayor: Anyone to speak against? If not I will put the motion. For all those in favour? Against? That is carried.



Members of the Doncaster Rail Advocacy Committee.

When we look at who is on this committee, we find a consistent political and ideological bias. Below is some background of the eight community members.

James Adams. - a public transport advocate who does not like to hear things he does not agree with.

"The State Government needs to commit to these integral projects for Melbourne's future. They promised feasibility studies, yet they can hardly deliver that. How can we trust them to deliver the infrastructure itself? The price will only go higher and higher each year we wait." [Commenting on Herald Sun Article 'Eastern Transport Coalition of Seven Councils Wants Fast Tracked Plans for Doncaster And Rowville Rail Lines' 15 Feb 2013]

"Poor choice by the study team today. As with the rest of the studies, there is the standard "other infrastructure that must be done first" so that the rail line itself can always be put off by governments. I seriously question the team's independence. The fact that the line does not even reach Doncaster Hill is mind-boggling [actually, it was a carefully considered cost/benefit argument. See section 9.1.1], considering that is a huge activity centre that receives the most traffic. It's unfortunate to say the least that the proposed "Doncaster" line only stretches within the borders of Doncaster and Manningham by less than 100m, so how can it possibly be said to be serving that area? What a disgrace." [Commenting on Doncaster Rail Study Website 13 Mar 2012]

"Why is there always talk of the train costing billions upon billions of dollars? This is a much better investment than the East-West tunnel." [Commenting on Doncaster Rail Study Website 23 July 2012]


Nick Defteros. Another public transport advocate. Only he goes to greater extremes and descends into an 'ad hominem' tirade when he hears something he doesn't agree with:

"Once again, these studies have amounted to nothing. The only good outcome is that they all back the Doncaster, Rowville, and Airport lines. However, these so called independent consultants relied on the same advice from the same bureaucracy that are stuck in a time warp and have outlasted many governments since John Cain was Premier. This is the same self-serving bureaucracy that brought us myki and regional farce rail. They did not even bother to look at any alternatives like light rail, and South Morang line realignment was never mentioned publicly previously. The consultants were never interested and never independent. I feel like we were all lied too directly to our faces. If I were transport minister I would sack all the bureaucrats who are currently in charge at PTV and DoT. They think the public are mugs and have thought that way for many years. If I had my way the bureaucrats would be in the centrelink queues. These over complicated designs were purely designed to make the rail so expensive and to make sure it never happens! " [Commenting on Doncaster Rail Study website 13 Mar 2013]


Chris Trikilis. Another public transport advocate and environmentalist who also cannot deal with hearing things he does not agree with.

The following article reports on his views on the extension of the 48 tram to Doncaster.

The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) said today that the Doncaster Hill project was destined for failure without a proper rail transport link and renewed calls for the immediate extension of tram 48 to Doncaster.

"There’s no chance of a successful Doncaster Hill without a tram connecting to the city and nearby suburbs,” said PTUA spokesman and Doncaster resident Christopher Trikilis. "All the plans show a boulevard streetscape but there is no boulevard for people to enjoy if it is jammed full of traffic all day and night creating an unhealthy environment for all”. 

Recent reports (Manningham Leader, 05/12) that the Hill could become a leader in environmentally-sound practice and construction would be countered by transport pollution problems caused by excessive, forced car use both by locals and visitors to the Hill. Transport emissions are one of the highest contributors to household greenhouse emissions.

"Any plans for ‘green’ credentials for the hill are thrown out the window without providing an adequate, environmentally-friendly public transport option such as the tram along Doncaster Road. Poor transport options, inadequate buses and forced car dependency in Manningham will only cause gridlock and pollution problems for the Hill,” Mr. Trikilis said.

The 4.5km extension of the tram along Doncaster Road, from North Balwyn to Doncaster Shoppingtown is not only achievable and affordable ($35m) but has considerable community support. Manningham also continues to be the only municipality in metropolitan Melbourne without any form of rail access.

"Manningham continues to have one of the highest car ownership rates in the country due to inadequate transport options. We must right the wrong immediately, and for the sake of the people of Manningham and the future of the Hill, the Brumby Government must commit to bringing the tram to Doncaster,” concluded Mr. Trikilis. [from PTUA Media Release - 'No Hill Without Tram' 18 Dec 2007]


Diana Brown. I can't find out much about her.


Mary Merkenich. A regular contributor to 'Green Left Weekly'.

She is an Environmental, Feminist, Leftist and Teacher's Union activist. She is more restrained in her language than other members of the committee but her writings in the Green Left Weekly report on, support and praise activists, leftists, trade unions and other left wing causes and groups. [From various articles on Green Left Weekly website]


David Ellis. Former greens party candidate. He campaigned against the construction of the Eastern freeway through the Yarra and Banyule flats.


Purna Gangopadhyay. Teacher. I couldn't find out much else about her.


Cynthia Pilli. Member of Victorian Branch of ALP.

All her comments that I can find, focus on promoting ALP policy and views. She is a voice for the ALP on the committee. Below is one example where she she speaks on behalf of the community:

"I RECENTLY read that the Aboriginal flag will fly at the civic offices at Ringwood, Croydon, Knox and Yarra Ranges on a permanent basis. I felt a sense of respect and pride and looked forward to hearing that Manningham Council had also stood tall in the acknowledgment of the land we all share with the first Australians. To read in your paper (March 5) that ... didn’t support a motion to fly the Aboriginal flag alongside the Australian flag at the Manningham office is unbelievable and out of step with contemporary Australia. Presumably they’ll be wanting to keep such attitudes hidden when it comes to seeking re-election later this year. [From ALP State Conference 21 May 2011 and Manningham Leader article 'Manningham's Aboriginal Flag Raising Debate' 1 Dec 2009]

It is interesting to note that some contemporary Australians criticised her attitude and ideas further down in the comments on the article.



The community members of the Advocacy Committee seem sensible, fair and civic-minded when reported on in the Manningham Leader Newspaper and in Manningham Matters council publication. But a little more investigation reveals their background and views.

I think this reflects very badly on the Manningham Council for putting together such a biased and politically slanted group of people to tell the residents of Manningham what they should think and support.

I do not know who actually selected and recommended the community members of the committee. Most likely, these people were recommended by council employees. Their names were then put forward to our elected Councillors for approval. It is possibly that many of our elected Councillors were not that aware of these people's backgrounds and attitudes.

This politically one-sided approach may be indicative of the political climate and ideology prevalent among Council employees at Manningham Council.


So Where Are We Now?

  • The Advocacy Committee may be too late. It appears the state government has made a key decision and adopted one of the recommendations made in the report. The Doncaster Rail has not been abandoned, it has just been put on hold.
  • State Labor governments have shown the least enthusiasm for the Doncaster Rail Line. A future Labor state government will most likely either halt the project or kill it off entirely.
  • We have a group of mostly extremists, leftists and activists who will be funded by our own money to tell us what to think and support.


By the way, I asked a member of the government's Doncaster Rail Project team at the meeting on 16th May 2013 if they knew of the Manningham Doncaster Rail Advocacy Committee. She told me she did not know it even existed. I question just how much advocating this Committee has done to date.


07 March 2013.

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