Under the current plan for the 9km tunnel, Swanston Street in Melbourne’s CBD could be ripped up to build the rail line with a ‘cut-and-fill’ technique that would reportedly see the street shut down for two or more years.
However, Dr Napthine said this was not practical, and having a “massive hole dividing Melbourne would be worse than the Berlin Wall.”
“It would be absolutely detrimental to the operation, to the economy, to the retail sector, to business in Melbourne. It would be an absolute disaster for Melbourne,” he was quoted as saying by the Herald Sun.
The tunnel’s current proposal – which has been renamed the Metro Rail capacity project – would see a 9km underground rail line bypass the CBD from the east to the west.
The line would run from the existing Sunbury line west of South Kensington station to the Dandenong line south east of South Yarra station and include five new inner-city stations along the tunnel at North Melbourne, Parkville, CBD North, CBD South and Domain.
While Dr Napthine did not provide specific details on any alternative alignment for the tunnel that is now being investigated, media reports suggest the government is considering moving the route further west as well as shifting the rail link to Russell Street in order to avoid Swanston Street.
The western proposal includes a potential new station for the emerging suburb of Fishermans Bend.
The Herald Sun reported Dr Napthine as saying that Fishermans Bend had enormous capacity for growth and had to be considered within new public transport projects.
“That area needs to be serviced by public transport. There are already plans about light rail and trams, but if we can look at a heavy rail option, that may be advantageous as well,” he said.
The Age reported that the disruption caused by building the rail link between South Kensington and South Yarra could be reduced if Russell Street was dug up and shut down instead of Swanston Street.
“There are some parties [within Public Transport Victoria] who have expressed the view that the alignment should go up Russell Street,” The Age quoted a source close to the project as saying.
The project is becoming a key issue in the November 29 election campaign.
The Victorian Government has so far provided $50m for the project for planning, though Labor has reportedly promised $300m to start construction on the tunnel if it wins the state election.
The tunnel was the only rail project that reached IA’s second highest ranking ‘threshold’ category in IA’s 2013 Infrastructure Priority List, which in the past, has given some indication of the likelihood of federal government funding.
However, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has been very clear in refusing to back any urban rail projects around the country.
Part of the reason the Victorian Government changed the tunnel’s name to the Metro Rail capacity project was reportedly to emphasise the project is also about ensuring greater freight capacity for Melbourne’s rail system – which could sway the Federal Government to fund it on the basis of this extra freight capacity.