The Victorian government has committed to a significant upgrade of the Dandenong line. And the committment may even be genuine this time, as it occurred through the government's new unsolicited bids process — which means that a consortium of companies (MTR, John Holland and UGL Rail Services) approached the government with the proposal and the government accepted it. Furthermore, it appears that money has already been allocated to the project. This, combined with the fact that Labor has already committed to doing at least as much through its Project 10,000, seems to be an assurance that the line really will be upgraded this time. Here is what the plan includes, direct from the media release (hence the exuberant wording):
- 25 new next generation, high-capacity trains;
- 21st century high-capacity signalling on the Pakenham and Cranbourne lines – one of the first uses of this technology in Australia that will enable more trains to run, more often;
- Four level crossing removals at Murrumbeena Road, Murrumbeena; Koornang Road, Carnegie; Clayton Road, Clayton; and Centre Road, Clayton;
- Planning and preconstruction funding to remove a further five level crossings;
- Newly-rebuilt stations at Clayton, Murrumbeena and Carnegie; and
- A new train maintenance depot at Pakenham East, which will create local jobs.
The grade separations described in (3) and (4) will mean that the entire line from Dandenong to the city will be free of level crossings. There has been a lot of discussion about the implications of this already (e.g., see RailPage, SkyscraperCity, PTUA, RACV, Daniel Bowen, Marcus Wong and not to mention The Age and the Herald Sun). Naturally, the discussion has focussed on the implications for passengers in the catchment area, as well as implications for future projects (given the unsolicited nature of the bid).
Of course, my focus is slightly different. Currently, the shortest scheduled trip from here to the city is about 40 minutes, and other trips are more typically in the range of 45-50 minutes. It is possible that, with these separations, improved expresses, and the new signalling system (not to mention the possibility of the Metro tunnel and quadruplication), this could be cut down to under 30 minutes. (I'd imagine an express on its own track that only stopped at (say) Dandenong, Clayton (or Huntingdale), Oakleigh, Caulfield and Melbourne might even graze 20 minutes — but that's just speculation based on best possible drive time.)
This might be viewed as a negative. Many more people that live here will find working in the city attractive if travel time can be cut down that significantly. Consequently, jobs that used to be viable here, might then shift to the city and the inner suburbs. While I do think this is a real concern, there will be many counteracting effects that I think will be more significant.
First, people who work in the city will find living in Dandenong viable. Combined with Dandenong's affordability, this should see some of those people moving here, which ought to address the disparity in wealth that exists between here and the city. (Unfortunately, this will subsequently make Dandenong less affordable, but a new higher equilibrium will be struck that I imagine will still be quite affordable.) I should stress that I hope this does not occur at the expense of those that live here who are not as well off. There should be a place here for people of all means, and this should always be the city of opportunity.
Second, it will be more convenient for companies to setup offices here, whether primary or secondary, given the increased ease with which employees and clients can travel between Dandenong and the city. In particular, it should make business parks that have good road connections but poor public transport seem significantly inferior to more affordable offices that have excellent road connections and very good, quick public transport.
Third, there will be a vast increase in the number of travellers passing through Dandenong, not just due to the capacity increases, but also due to the increase in populations around the Pakenham and Cranbourne lines. This should create many opportunities for both small and big business in and around the station. (If those businesses are ever given a chance to establish themselves around the station!)
Given all this, it leads me to one major question: Are any universities paying attention? Because, given how eager they are to have good transport connections for their campuses, (and, though they may not admit it, a financially suited catchment) it may be time (finally) to take a Dandenong campus very seriously.