Wills Candidates pushed on Upfield Duplication at Climate Election Forum

Metro trains on Upfield line

Duplication and upgrading of the Upfield line has come up as part of the Federal election in the seat of Wills. Transport is usually a state issue but the Federal Government plays an important role in infrastructure funding, even at the local electorate level.

The poor and sometimes unreliable service and low frequency on the Upfield line comes from decades of neglect of funding Melbourne’s public transport system. The community fought hard several times to save the line from being closed and turned into a freeway, or made into a light rail, both of which would have been disastrous given Melbournes population growth in the northern suburbs and northern transport corridor.

The argument here is on timeframes.

Track duplication, Upgrade and extension of the Upfield line to Wallan is all in the Long term Network Development Plan formulated in 2012 and updated in 2016.

The community wants track duplication and a second platform at Upfield made an immediate high priority to help resolve reliability problems, irrespective of the Metro tunnel 2025 completion date.

We also want to lift the priority on the Somerton link and extension to Wallan to address the poor public transport for the northern region, which feeds into addressing high car dependency and road congestion problems from urban residential development in the new suburbs to our north. This is a social equity issue. Read our article on Federal funding urged for Upgrading the Upfield line for Northern Melbourne region

We argue there is a strong case for track duplication and a second platform at Upfield as a high priority project to be done in conjunction with Coburg level crossing removal, to minimise disruption to passengers that use the Upfield train service.

Public inconvenience is not included in cost benefit, but it should be, as it costs the public both in time and money in alternative transport arrangements, every time there is major maintenance or upgrade. If work can be done concurrently, it is a major saving for the community.

The issue of public transport and upgrade for the Upfield line came up in a question on transport, climate and the urban form asked at the Wills Climate Forum on Monday 29 April at the Merlynston Progress Hall.

Three candidates in Wills responded to the question: Labor MP Peter Khalil, Greens candidate Adam Pulford and Victorian Socialists candidate Sue Bolton.

Greens signal that track duplication a high priority

Adam Pulford highlighted the high priority need for track duplication and the announcement that the Greens would federally fund $150 million towards the track duplication, and highlighted the report in the Moreland Leader.

“Today on the Moreland Leader front page you will notice $150 million to duplicate the Upfield line track north of Gowrie Station and that is because in our community we need urgent investment in our infrastructure and public transport to get people out of their cars and onto our trams and trains.”

They have been criticised by some that even if Pulford is elected, they do not control the funding purse. This is correct, but it ignores that the announcement is an important signal to Upfield rail users that they understand the problems of reliability of service and short shunting that currently afflicts the line, especially impacting passenger north of Coburg station.

Adam Pulford (Greens) on on Upfield track duplication

Peter Khalil: delay track duplication for 6 years

Labor MP Peter Khalil said he had conferred with Anthony Albanese (Shadow Cities, Infrastructure and Regional Development spokesperson) and state counterparts, and detailed that “the actual cost of the duplication of the Upfield line is upwards of $500 million.”

This seems like a huge amount of money just for track duplication and Khalil has not given further details of what this $500 million covers. Perhaps it covers the Somerton link extension.

To give some comparison on cost, the Mernda line extension for 7 kilometres with four new elevated stations was made a high priority project and cost around $700 million.

Khalil needs to explain the costings figure he quoted, and what exactly they apply to.

The State Government would have a good idea of the cost details of track duplication and extension to the line as they requested preparation of a $5 million report which has been completed on the Somerton link and Upfield upgrade. The State Government is so far refusing to publicly release this report.

Khalil argues that we need to wait until after the Metro tunnel is complete in 2025 to do the track duplication.

“And then only then can you start to look at duplicating the line. You can’t duplicate the line before you finish that work, because there is going to be a jam of trains going through the tunnels. So you need that first. So that’s just engineering. The science of it as well.” said Khalil.

Khalil ignores the fact that doing track duplication now would substantially improve service reliability for everyone north of Coburg, and this is a big issue for current train users, who don’t have alternative public transport such as the No 19 tram along Sydney Road which terminates at Bakers Road in North Coburg.

Khalil is expecting us to wait for more than 6 years for an improvement to reliability of service.

People are hurting (see our Vox pop) from almost daily train cancellations, delays and short shunting of services at Coburg. Putting off track duplication till after Metro tunnel ignores the current needs of citizens in Moreland’s north.

Peter Khalil seems to fail to grasp that improving the Upfield service reliability is urgently needed, that track duplication and a second platform at Upfield would go a long way into fixing reliability problems on the line, without even considering the frequency issues.

Peter Khalil MP (Labor) on Upfield track duplication

Sue Bolton: Track duplication and Upfield upgrade now a community issue

Sue Bolton is a Moreland Councillor and a community activist standing for Wills. She was one of the people that helped bring together the Upfield Transport Alliance.

Bolton articulated the problem succinctly: “People from Merlynston, Fawkner, Upfield are sometimes waiting an hour for a train at peak hour. Which means people have to beg for lifts into the city. Which brings more [cars] into the city.”

According to Bolton, twelve months ago no-one was talking about track duplication and upgrade, and at least now it is on the agenda. The grumblings, pain and distress of passengers continually inconvenienced is on the political radar.

“I think what this shows is we need to force politicians to acknowledge the reality of what is happening in peoples lives. People like casual workers can’t rely on public transport to get to work.” said Sue Bolton.

“What we are talking about with public transport is to replace all that transport that was wrecked by succeeding Liberal and Labor governments from the 1950’s on, following the US path. They had to wreck our public transport to force us to buy cars, and we have to reverse that and do far more.” proclaimed Bolton.

Sue Bolton (Victorian Socialists) on Upfield track duplication

Action
What can residents do on making track duplication and upgrade a high priority? Question the candidates in this election, but follow up with emails and letters to our state MPs and whoever wins in Wills, Calwell or McEwen. Download our latest campaign leaflet (PDF)

John Englart
Sustainable Transport Campaigner


Full transcript of the Question on urban form, Transport and climate
This audience question was asked at the Wills Climate Forum organised by Climate Action Moreland on 29 April 2019
Question starts at 44:00. Answers from Adam Pulford, Peter Khalil, Sue Bolton

Audience Question from Nic Dolby: Can you talk to me about the link between urban form, Transport and climate?

Adam Pulford (Greens): Transport is one of the fastest growing sectors for Emissions. We can’t just talk about electricity, but we need to look at the future of our transport systems in this country. The Greens are the party of public transport. Today on the Moreland Leader front page you will notice $150 million to duplicate the Upfield line track north of Gowrie Station and that is because in our community we need urgent investment in our infrastructure and public transport to get people out of their cars and onto our trams and trains. Investment in public transport. We also need to create tough vehicle emissions standards. We are one of the only countries in the world who doesn’t have strong vehicle emissions standards which would help clean up the particulate emissions from cars and trucks. We also need to put a target in to….The Greens policy is to ban the sale of new diesel and petrol vehicles by 2030. Norways is doing this by 2025. Other countries are also doing that. Labor’s policy is to do about half that by 2025, I’m not 100% sure. Really experts say that will happen under business as usual scenarios. The Coalition is beating up Labor’s policy really doesn’t do much more. We need to ban the sale of those cars by 2030.

Peter Khalil (Labor): Good question because transport is responsible for very high emissions, a significant percent of the emissions and we have got to tackle transport. I know a lot of people here are very active about public transport and transport solutions. I am a bit surprised at Adam and the Greens are the party of public transport. Well, I can tell you the Labor Party is the party that delivers on transport and public transport. Billions of dollars have been invested by the Victorian State Labor Government in projects like the Metro Tunnel.

I did see the article in the Moreland Leader, and it is great you announced $150 million, but the actual cost of the duplication of the Upfield line is upwards of $500 million.

I’ve been talking to Albo [Anthony Albanese – Shadow spokesperson on Cities, Infrastructure and Regional Development] about this and the article that Adam mentioned also noted at the end that they would have to go to talk to the state Labor Government to get the rest of the money.

Lets be realistic about what we are talking about. I’ve been talking to Albo about the importance of duplication on the Upfield line for over a year now. We’ve been in opposition Federally. I’ve spoken to Tim Pallas, the treasurer of the State Government about the importance of this for the community as a transport solution. The Metro tunnel, which I think is going to be completed in 2022, will allow more trains to come through the Upfield line, to free up and reduce the wait time and frustrates so many people. And then only then can you start to look at duplicating the line. You can’t duplicate the line before you finish that work, because there is going to be a jam of trains going through the tunnels. So you need that first. So thats just engineering. The science of it as well. You have got to look at that.

There are a lot of important initiatives. I did announce with Albo a couple of days ago some cycling infrastructure – $500,000 for additional cycling infrastructure for our electorate, connecting Coburg to Glenroy bike path – the missing link effectively. From the Upfield path right up to Cumberland Road, which is significantly important to fill those gaps in our area. That is going to be delivered if we win government.

Sue Bolton (Victorian Socialists): Given the Upfield transport issue has come up, I do feel passionate about that because I know the people of Merlynston, Fawkner, Upfield suffer from the fact that trains get terminated at Coburg. Which means if you have…[late] you can be sacked from your job for that.

People from Merlynston, Fawkner, Upfield are sometimes waiting an hour for a train at peak hour.
Which means people have to beg for lifts into the city. Which brings more [cars] into the city.

Now the Upfield line is not the only public transport issue, but it is an example of the issues we need to fix. It’s an issue we can really only fix with a community campaign. Because 12 months ago no-one was talking about this issue.

I think what this shows is we need to force politicians to acknowledge the reality of what is happening in peoples lives. People like casual workers can’t rely on public transport to get to work. We have a casualising work force at the moment.

What we are talking about with public transport is to replace all that transport that was wrecked by succeeding Liberal and Labor governments from the 1950’s on, following the US path. They had to wreck our public transport to force us to buy cars, and we have to reverse that and do far more.


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