City Loop, Melbourne

City Loop, Melbourne

type = mel
name = City Loop
yearcommenced = 1971
yearcompleted = 1981
yearclosed =
fate =
lengthkm =
stations = 5
tracks = 4 single bidirectional tunnels
users = Connex Melbourne
servicepattern =
RollingStock = all
connections = All suburban lines
formerconnections =

The City Loop (properly called the Melbourne Underground Rail Loop or MURL) is a mostly-underground, partly surface-level and partly elevated railway around the central business district of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

The loop includes the city's two largest (both above-ground) stations: Flinders Street and Southern Cross (formerly Spencer Street); and three underground stations: Flagstaff, Melbourne Central (formerly Museum) and Parliament.

Melbourne's 16 radial suburban railway lines feed into the Loop at its northwestern and southeastern corners. The underground section of the Loop follows La Trobe and Spring Streets along the northern and eastern edges of the CBD's street grid.


Problems and solutions

Prior to the construction of the Loop, Flinders Street and Spencer Street stations were connected only by the four track Flinders Street Viaduct beside the Yarra River. The suburban terminus of Flinders Street had become seriously congested by the 1970s, with a throughput of only ten trains per platform per hour (roughly 1,700 trains a day) — compared to a maximum of 24 if there was though running.cite book | author = S.E. Doorman and R.G. Henderson | title = Electric Railways of Victoria | publisher = Australian Electric Traction Society | page = p.92 | year = 1979 | isbn = 0 909459 06 1 ] Many trains were though routed from the southern and eastern suburbs though to the north and west, but the flow was imbalanced and a number of trains were required to reverse direction. The Epping and Hurstbridge lines were stand alone from the rest of the network, having Princes Bridge station for their own exclusive use.

Several plans had been proposed over the preceding decades to alleviate the bottleneck. The one that was built was a circular railway allowing trains to continue past Flinders Street, turn around and return to the suburbs. It would boost platform capacity, allowing more trains per platform per hour on the same number of Flinders Street platforms. The loop would also bring train commuters directly into the northern and eastern sections of the CBD, delivering workers closer to their offices, students closer to RMIT University, and government officials directly to the Parliament buildings. Although the city's tram network already covered the CBD extensively, trams are not as efficient as trains when bringing large numbers of commuters into the city.


Plans for an underground city railway in Melbourne are almost as old as electrification of the network itself. In 1929 the Metropolitan Town Planning Commission released a report recommending an underground city bypass from Richmond to North Melbourne stationsvia Exhibition and Victoria streets.cite web
author=C L Fouvy
title=The Melbourne Region's Opportunity and need for Rapid Transit
publisher=Railway Technical Society of Australasia
] The 1940 Victorian Railways Ashworth Improvement Plan recommended a different approach, with additional platforms at the Flinders Street/Princes Bridge station complex to be built over two levels, along with a connection to an underground City Railway.cite book | author = S.E. Doorman and R.G. Henderson | title = Electric Railways of Victoria | publisher = Australian Electric Traction Society | page = p.32| year = 1979 | isbn = 0 909459 06 1 ] The Victorian Railways promoted another route in 1950 as part of the Operation Phoenix rehabilitation plan, the line running from Richmond towards Jolimont station, under the Fitzroy Gardens and Lonsdale Street then turning north to North Melbourne station. A branch line turned north from William Street, and went though though the Flagstaff Gardens.cite book |author=Public Relations and Betterment Board |title=Operation Phoenix |publisher=Victorian Railway Commissioners |date=1950 (VR publicity brochure)] In 1954 the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works released their Planning Scheme for Melbourne report, which included the Richmond - North Melbourne Lonsdale Street route.

A Parliamentary Committee on Public Works reported favourably on a city loop in 1954, and in 1958 a City Underground Railway Committee was appointed by the Transport Minister. It stated bluntly that the aim of the loop was not to just to relieve crowding at Flinders Street, but to win back patronage from private cars, and if it did not then the project was a waste of time and resources.cite book |author=Lee, Robert |title=The Railways of Victoria 1854-2004 |publisher=Melbourne University Publishing Ltd |date=2007 |isbn= 9780522851342 |page=p.190] The plan included four stations, being cut to the present three by the elimination of one under Latrobe Street.

The 'City of Melbourne Underground Railway Construction Act' was passed in 1960, and test bores were sunk by the Mines Department in 1961, but no funding was provided. Throughout the next few years many proposals were made for providing more car parking in the city, so in 1963 the Government set up the Metropolitan Transportation Committee to look at both road and rail transport. It released a report in 1965 that included the same rail plan as the 1960 Act.cite book |author=Lee, Robert |title=The Railways of Victoria 1854-2004 |publisher=Melbourne University Publishing Ltd |date=2007 |isbn= 9780522851342 |page=p.191]


Following the 1969 Melbourne Transportation Plan, the Melbourne Underground Rail Loop Act 1970 was brought forward by Transport Minister Vernon Wilcox, with the Melbourne Underground Rail Loop Authority (MURLA) created in January 1, 1971 to oversee the construction and operation of the Loop. The City of Melbourne, the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works and the Victorian Railways all made annual contributions to support the operating costs of the authority. Requests were made to the Federal Government for funding but no assistances was given.

Funding of the project was though debentures, with the State Government paying 60% of the cost, while a special city levy from 1963 was to fund the remainder. The levy was to last for 53 years, but was ended in 1995. A consortium of four engineering companies was established to construct the project: one Australian, one British, one Canadian and on from the United States. The first sod was turned in the middle of Jolimont Yard on June 22, 1971 by then Transport Minister Vernon Wilcox.cite book | author = S.E. Doorman and R.G. Henderson | title = Electric Railways of Victoria | publisher = Australian Electric Traction Society | page = p.93 | year = 1979 | isbn = 0 909459 06 1 ]

Tunnelling works under the city streets commenced in June 1972, using a tunnel boring machine and conventional boring methods. At North Melbourne, Spencer Street and Jolimont Yard cut and cover tunnelling was used to build the access ramps, with the above ground running lines being slewed from time to time as work proceeded. The first completed tunnel was the Burnley Loop, with the final breakthough made on June 8, 1977 near the Museum station site.

The Loop comprises four single-track tunnels on two levels, and the use of four pre-existing elevated tracks between Flinders Street and Spencer Street stations. A new dual-track concrete viaduct was erected beside the existing four track Flinders Street Viaduct in order to replace capacity for non-loop trains. Construction begun in 1975 and was completed in 1978. Of the three new stations, Museum was built using the cut and cover method in a 26 metre deep box, while Flagstaff and Parliament were excavated using mining methods. During the excavation of Museum station, La Trobe Street and its tram tracks were temporarily relocated from December 1973 to the south onto the site of what is now the Melbourne Central Shopping Centre, and was moved back in 1978.

The traction power was turned on in October 1980, and the first test train ran in December 1980.cite web
title=Public transport - City Loop history
author=Department of Infrastructure


The Loop was opened gradually between 1981 and 1985. Museum station and the Burnley and Caulfield tunnels opened first, on 24 January 1981. The City Circle tunnel opened with special services on 6 December 1981: Clifton Hill services started using the Loop on 31 October 1982. Parliament station opened on 22 January 1983, the Northern tunnel on 7 January 1985 (14 January 1985 with limited services) and Flagstaff station on 27 May 1985.

Queen Elizabeth II toured Museum station during her 1981 tour of Australia. Two short documentary films, "Loop" and "Action Loop", were commissioned by the MURLA to advertise the new railway to Melburnians, as well as abroad. (These videos can be downloaded from the [ Department of Infrastructure] ). A third film was planned, but never shot.


The total length of tunnels in the Loop is convert|12|km|mi|abbr=on and convert|10|km|mi|abbr=on of circular tunnels, and convert|2|km|mi|abbr=on of box tunnels. The four tunnels have an average length of convert|3.74|km|mi|abbr=on, with a further kilometre of track connecting with surface tracks. Some convert|900000|m3|cuft|abbr=on of earth was removed and convert|300000|m3|cuft|abbr=on of concrete poured to form the stations and line the tunnel walls. convert|30000|t|ST|lk=on of steel reinforcement were used, with another convert|10000|t|ST used temporarily during construction.

The General Manager and Chief Engineer of MURLA, Frank Watson liaised closely with the engineers working on Sydney's Eastern Suburbs Railway and was struck by their 'degree of unpreparednesses' and sought to improve on the contemporary project. The 'double sleeper' floating track system used solved the problem of ground transmitted vibration and track noise, and the loop has some of the best designed and quietest underground stations in the world. At the time of construction Parliament station had the Southern Hemisphere's longest escalators.

In 1965 the cost of the project had been estimated at between £30 and £35 million, by 1975 high inflation had resulted in it rising to $255,600,000. The final cost was $500 million and resulted in reversing a 30 year trend of falling suburban rail patronage.cite web
title=MURL Booklet
author=Metropolitan Transport Authority

Future expansion

The Victorian Government has intimated that the Loop could be expanded with the addition of a further two tunnels on a third level. The Loop (and particular tunnels especially) is slowly approaching capacity, but any extension would not occur for at least 20 to 30 years at current service levels. Other more nebulous schemes have been suggested that would see a new linear railway running under the city centre from north to south, following the line of Swanston Street. The north-south plan has been suggested by Sir Rod Eddington, In his report that examines possible options to relieve the pressure on Melbourne's rail network. A third level to the loop is not believed to be under consideration, and is not suggested by his report.

Suggestions have been made to include Melbourne University, with adjacent Royal Melbourne Hospital, Royal Women's Hospital and nearby Royal Children's Hospital, on the Loop. This proposal was considered at the time of Loop construction, but was ruled out for cost reasons. With the increase in passenger numbers since then, the trams currently servicing this area suffer severe overcrowding at peak times and the call for a Loop expansion has been raised again. [ [ The Age: Call for 'tube' line underneath Melbourne - November 7, 2005] ]

ervices and direction of travel

All suburban trains serve Flinders Street, some having travelled through the Loop first, some travelling directly to Flinders Street then through the Loop, and a small number reversing at Flinders Street (as many trains did before the Loop was built). The reversal of the loop gives most passengers the best possible route into and out of the city, but at the same time gives a minority of passengers the worst route twice a day.

Until 1993 a 'City Circle' service operated continuously around the Loop to provide cross-CBD travel, and was replaced by the much slower City Circle Tram in 1994. As a result depending on the time of day, direction, and stations chosen; when travelling between adjacent stations by train a change at the third station may be required. In 1997 regular Sunday services though the loop were introduced, as before this time they only stopped at Melbourne Central until 6.45pm. In 2000 Sunday services were expanded to the last train.

The direction of travel changes in each tunnel according to the time of day and day of week, as shown in the table below. Each suburban line belongs to one of four groups, each group running through one tunnel. The direction change occurs between approximately 12.30 and 1.00 pm, during which time no trains run through the Loop.


External links

* [ Metlink] - official website of Melbourne's public transport
* [ Zen and the City Loop] (a more detailed explanation of the five train direction configurations)
* [ Department of Infrastructure] - City Loop history and photo page
* [ Publicity leaflets circa 1970]

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