Huge Suburban Belt Metro Proposed for Melbourne

Victoria state's Labour government pledges to build a suburban belt subway around Melbourne if it is re-elected, Aarhus places a second light rail "tram-train" line in service and the oldest subway on the US West Coast is now ready for a second century of service.

(Photo by Bahnfrend)

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Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects worldwide.

A Huge Belt Metro for Melbourne Is Placed on the Table

Melbourne’s century-old regional rail system and its city loop subway are straining under the weight of growing ridership. And as work continues on a new center city relief subway tunnel, yet another suburban extension opens, and plans advance for regional rail service to the city’s airport, the parties vying for control of the Victoria state government are placing plans for even more new and improved rail infrastructure on the table in the runup to November’s election.

The biggest of these comes from the governing Labor Party, which has pledged to build an all-underground suburban belt line that would connect with all of the main lines that emanate from the city center if it is re-elected. Global Rail News’ report on the proposal states that Australian planners call the “Suburban Rail Loop” proposal “the biggest transformation of public transport in Australian history.”

The proposed belt line would have up to 12 new stations, including one at the airport. The government says that the line would eliminate the need for residents of Melbourne’s outer suburbs to travel into the city to reach other outlying destinations, remove up to 200,000 cars from the roads daily and take thousands of passengers off of existing lines.

Labor’s announcement comes on the heels of its pledge to commit A$5 billion (US$3.65 billion) to the Melbourne Airport Rail Link if re-elected.

Its immediate promise is to spend A$300 million (US$218.88 million) to build the business case for the line and conduct design and pre-construction work. If the project is greenlighted, work on its first section could begin in 2022.

The official opposition Liberal Party (Australia’s conservative party) did not oppose the proposal outright but said that Infrastructure Victoria should do a proper cost assessment of the entire project first.

The Victoria Green Party, which votes with Labor on many issues, put forth its own A$5 billion plan to improve what it called Melbourne’s “inadequate” regional rail network this past spring. Its proposal, however, was noncommittal on the airport rail link and called for improvements elsewhere on the system before the center-city Metro Tunnel opens.

Aarhus Letbane’s “Tram-Train” Line Opens

Quietly, without fanfare, and on schedule, Aarhus Letbane placed its second light rail line in service Aug. 25, Metro Report International reports.

This line, known as a “tram-train,” runs 29 kilometers (18 miles) from Aarhus H to Odder, with 16 stations. It uses an existing mainline rail line connecting the two points, which closed in 2016 for upgrading and electrification.

On the same day, a 3-kilometer (1.86-mile) extension of the initial tram line opened between Universitetshospitalet and Lisbjergskolen.

Future extensions will take the tram-train line, which is worked by three-section Stadtler Tango cars, through the city center northward to Grenaa via another mainline railway and the tram line from Lisbjergskolen to a connection with the tram-train line at Lystrup, north of the city.

San Francisco’s Twin Peaks Tunnel Returns to Service

The oldest subway tunnel on the American West Coast took a vacation this summer when the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency closed the 101-year-old Twin Peaks Tunnel on June 25 for a two-month, top-to-bottom rehab job.

Railway Track & Structures reports that the agency took the wraps off the rebuilt tunnel Aug. 25, when service through it resumed on the Muni Metro K-Ingleside, L-Taraval and M-Ocean View lines. Service on the NX-Judah Express line resumed the following Monday, Aug. 27.

The project completely rebuilt the walls, tracks and drainage systems in the tunnel, allowing a speed restriction that had been placed on trains operating through it to be lifted. It also installed four new track crossovers that will improve operating flexibility and allow trains to pass one another when delays develop. It also made seismic and fire safety improvements.

The tunnel and the Muni Metro tunnel through Castro and Church stations will close overnight on two weekends this fall for additional upgrades.

Know of a project that should be included in this column? Send a Tweet with links to @MarketStEl using the hashtag #newstarts.

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Next City contributor Sandy Smith is the home and real estate editor at Philadelphia magazine. Over the years, his work has appeared in Hidden City Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Inquirer and other local and regional publications. His interest in cities stretches back to his youth in Kansas City, and his career in journalism and media relations extends back that far as well.

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