About 140 people attended Manningham City Council’s forum on February 20 to hear speakers discuss the case for a railway line to Doncaster, Victoria.
Doncaster Rail has been promised since the late 1890s and Manningham City, comprising 10 suburbs and only 12 kilometres from the CBD, is the only Melbourne municipality without a railway line even though it is a rapidly growing area.
At the 2011 Census, Manningham had a population of 111,300.
Speakers at the forum included Monash University Professor Graham Currie, Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) president Tony Morton, and Chris Trikilis from the Doncaster Rail Advocacy Steering Committee.
Well-known Melbourne comedian Rod Quantock chaired the meeting and Manningham Mayor Jim Grivokostopoulos welcomed speakers and guests and gave a brief introductory history of Doncaster Rail and the situation.
Currie, who researches public transport planning, said urban traffic congestion costs Melbourne $3 billion a year and would double by 2020. Melbourne is expected to grow by a further 1.3 million people in 20 years. Yet the state government plans to provide only two more bus routes and one rail line. This is woefully inadequate and would mean going backwards.
Trikilis said a petition for Doncaster Rail had collected more than 2000 signatures. Manningham residents had signed several hundred postcards calling on the government to commit to building the train line.
Morton used the history of the Mandurah rail line in Perth to demonstrate the benefits that a rail line to Doncaster would create. The weekday patronage forecast for the Mandurah rail line when it opened in 2007 was 25,000 passengers. The actual weekday patronage in its second year was 50,000 and its weekday patronage is now 75,000 passengers.
He said rail could reduce Doncaster–City travel time from 40 to 25 minutes. Bus resources that take passengers to the city could be redeployed to increase frequency and coverage throughout Manningham and some areas of the neighbouring Whitehorse Municipality. It can also cater to non-central city travel that jams major roads in the area.
The PTUA said investing in world-class public transport infrastructure reduces traffic and pollution. It is cost effective — the planned East West Link toll road will cost $9-15 billion whereas Doncaster rail would cost $2 billion; it is sustainable and makes Melbourne a liveable city for all, including motorists.
It was evident at the forum that everyone wanted a rail line and most believed that the East West Link was a waste.
ALP candidate for Bulleen Adam Rundell was the only politician to attend the meeting. Rundell tried to suggest that voting for the ALP would be the solution, but his statement that the rail line would be built sometime in the future was a dead giveaway along with the ALP’s history that it was no more committed to building Doncaster Rail than the Liberal Party.
Mary Merkenich, from the Doncaster Rail Advocacy Steering Committee, said the big political parties, including the Greens, had to give an unequivocal guarantee that they would invest in public transport and begin the Doncaster rail project now, not sometime in the future.
The meeting unanimously passed a motion supporting the council’s continued advocacy to the state government to build Doncaster Rail and for this essential public transport infrastructure not to be delayed as a consequence of investment in road-based infrastructure such as the East West Link.
Unfortunately, Manningham Council has refused to take a position on the East West Link road, saying it would detract from its campaign for Doncaster Rail.
However, the majority of its Advocacy Steering Committee made up of local residents believes this is a mistaken view and the many negative comments and questions about the East West Link from the audience at the forum indicate the residents of Manningham also disagree.
Furthermore, construction of the East West Link will require using some of the land set aside for the rail line and the huge cost of the toll road will mean there will be no money left for any other big state projects for years to come.
Many of the Manningham councillors are aligned to the Liberal or Labor parties, and this seems to be the reason that they are out of step with the community that they should be representing and giving a lead to on such an important issue.