The letter arrived in the mail so long ago Nigel Cowan cannot recall what year it was – 1969 is his best guess.
But he remembers vividly what it said. The Victorian government was going to build a railway line to East Doncaster and the three-bedroom house he and his wife owned in Bulleen was among those that would be acquired to make way for it. Melbourne’s public transport-starved north-eastern suburbs would have trains at last.
The railway line, a part of the Liberal Bolte government’s 1969 transport plan, would run along the Eastern Freeway median then enter a tunnel at Dale Street, where the Cowans lived, on the way to East Doncaster.
Within a year, Mr Cowan and his pregnant wife had reluctantly sold their first home to the government and moved elsewhere…
But the push for Doncaster rail might be building again.
On Thursday night hundreds gathered at Fitzroy Town Hall for the launch of a campaign calling on the Napthine government to ditch its favoured east-west toll road project for Doncaster rail.
The Coalition raised hopes at the 2010 election that the line might finally be built.
”This has been discussed for years and years. We intend to plan it, find the funds and then build it,” Ted Baillieu, then opposition leader, said days before his election victory.
It spent $6.5 million on a study, which reported in March it would cost $7-$11 billion to deliver Doncaster rail due to the need for extensive tunnelling.
But the government’s long-term rail plan, released in the same month, states that the line cannot be built before the Melbourne Metro rail tunnel is built. Estimated at $9 billion, Melbourne Metro is largely unfunded and has been given lower priority than the east-west link.
More than 50 years could pass between the Cowans being moved on and earth being broken to build Doncaster rail.
Guest speaker at Thursday night’s campaign launch for Doncaster rail was Alannah MacTiernan, the former Western Australian transport minister. Ms MacTiernan saw through the construction of a 70-kilometre rail line from Perth’s southern suburbs into the city.
The line runs mostly along a freeway median, just as the Doncaster line might if it is ever built. It was built for $1.69 billion, opened in 2007 and quickly outstripped patronage forecasts, carrying 56 million in 2010-11.
”The semiotics of actually having the rail down the centre of the freeway, with everyone seeing the trains travelling faster than the cars, was really important,” Ms MacTiernan says.
Mr Cowan, now 71, still regrets that his life was pointlessly upended. ”Why put us through this trauma if there was no way they were going to get this project up and running in a reasonable time?” he says.
Another family lives in his old house on Dale Street, where the dull, relentless roar of freeway traffic is just loud enough to penetrate consciousness.
Inna Kravtchenko and her husband bought the house from the government 14 years ago.
Ms Kravtchenko says almost everybody drives in Bulleen because public transport is so bad. ”We only got buses a few years ago,” she says.
Adam Carey, Aisha Dow, The Age, June 15 2013