It is a cold Thursday evening in Doncaster, east of Melbourne’s centre, and 22 people sit under fluorescent lighting, waiting to talk about trains. It is a mostly middle-aged male demographic: there are just two women, and only five people under the age of 60.
Engineer Tim Gosbell, who heads the Doncaster Rail Study, fronts the group that has gathered at the Manningham Civic Centre to present initial findings about the possibility of a rail service that could one day shuttle up to 56,000 city-bound commuters a day.
The event – and a follow-up Facebook forum – are part of efforts to encourage submissions from residents during the study’s extended public feedback period, which closes on Friday, 28 June before the engineering blueprint is finalised and sent to the State Government.
But history, and a decent dose of skepticism, suggest that few, if any, of those present will actually be alive to see the first train negotiate the 20 kilometres between Doncaster and the CBD.
On a promise? Click here for an illustrated history of proposals for a Doncaster railway line.
Sam and Ross Gould are among those who doubt the likelihood of progress. The couple, in their late twenties, who live around the corner from the Civic Centre, have barely heard of the $6 million-plus study, but both long for a public transport solution to Doncaster’s commuter woe. “Nothing’s going to happen in the next five years,” says Mr Gould. “They’re always going to get opposition from the people who want to put tolls on the Eastern and other freeways.”
They are not alone: the residents of Doncaster have watched the years tick by, and political leaders come and go, as they have waited for the train line that would complete a network – the City of Manningham is the only metropolitan municipality that has neither train nor tram services.
The first serious proposals for a train line date back to the 1890s when the world was gripped by railway fever. But even after the 1930s Depression had put a halt to the dream of an extensive rail network, the notion of a Doncaster line continued to be floated as an important and viable investment.
Early proposals suggested an extension of the Kew railway line, the closest and most logical connecting route at the time, but the Kew service closed in August 1952 and the grander plan of a line to Doncaster was shelved before re-emerging in the 1970s.
Initial excavation work for a line along the Eastern Freeway was abandoned in the late 1970s, but plans for a line have persisted in transport and infrastructure studies ever since.
The Doncaster Rail Study is the most recent iteration of these plans, although a striking point of difference is that it is the very first independent study to concentrate solely on a detailed plan for a Doncaster Line.
To the small band of enthusiasts gathered before him in Manningham, Mr Gosbell presents three possible routes for the line, but says the Study’s “preferred alignment” would start at the site of the Doncaster Park and Ride – a large parking lot adjacent to the Eastern Freeway from where a regular bus service shuttles travelers to and from the CBD.
Resident Ross Gould says that despite needing his car to visit clients in his advertising sales role, both he and Mrs Gould – who coordinates a childcare centre in Clifton Hill – would use the line. They each drive toi work and are unable to carpool due to their job locations and working hours.
The lack of a viable service also impacts their leisure. “We drive and park in Kew to catch a tram to the footy,” says Mr Gould. “It takes more than hour to get to Hoddle [Street] if you drive in, and it’s a nightmare once you get there.”
The Goulds are currently searching for a home, and say that access to public transport is a factor in their decision. Despite the frustrations, Mr Gould believes he and his wife are in a better position than some people. “We’re lucky enough to have relatively high incomes. But without that, there’d be no chance, you have to drive everywhere.”
Tim Gosbell is certain the Doncaster Rail Study represents the best chance yet for Doncaster residents finally to get their own railway line. But even he concedes, it remains some time away yet.
“There are many years of planning work to be done before construction could commence and construction of a project like this, itself, could take several years,” he notes. “So it’s going to be some time before there’s a railway line to Doncaster.”