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Plans to dig a shallow rail tunnel just 10 metres beneath Swanston Street have been binned by the Andrews government, which has chosen instead to go deep and put a new CBD station almost 40 metres underground to avoid digging up the city's spine.
The decision to dig deeper beneath the CBD means trams will be able to run along Swanston Street during construction of the $9 billion-$11 billion Melbourne Metro tunnel.
But it is also a backflip from the government's earlier stance that deeper stations should not be built because they are less safe and less convenient for passengers.
The government said in April that "burying the platforms more than 12 storeys underground is impractical for commuters and not as safe in the event of an emergency".
Plans for a shallow tunnel that would pass over the City Loop at Melbourne Central station were dumped on Wednesday for a new station in the CBD's north that will be 37 metres below ground, making it Melbourne's second deepest station after Parliament, and in the CBD's south near Flinders Street 28 metres below ground.
Opposition Leader Matthew Guy said the design change was a sign the government "is starting to botch this project".
He also slammed the decision not to build an underground interchange station at South Yarra as part of the project, promising to lobby new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to chip needed billions into Melbourne Metro, but only if South Yarra station is included.
"Building Melbourne Metro without including a South Yarra station is like building a house without doors," Mr Guy said. He acknowledged this would make the project more expensive but said it "needs to be generationally right".
The government said connecting South Yarra to Melbourne Metro would actually make it more difficult to win federal funding, because it would worsen the project's benefit-cost ratio.
Melbourne Metro will pass just metres beneath South Yarra station but will not include an interchange, because Labor has put the cost of building one at between $700 million and $924 million.
Trams will continue to run on Swanston Street during most of the development, easing traders' fears of lost business.
Current and previous governments had warned of severe disruption to the city's main thoroughfare, with trams to be re-routed during a cut-and-cover build.
Under the revised plan, large pits will be dug next to Swanston Street at two locations for the new stations – at Flinders Street where the current Port Phillip Arcade is, and La Trobe Street opposite RMIT – with major work for the stations and tunnels built from within the pits.
Transport Minister Jacinta Allan said the cost of the new construction process was "comparable" to the cut-and-cover plans, and would fit within the $11 billion budget.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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