The 10 transport projects that shaped Melbourne

The West Gate Bridge

Craig Duff

Posted April 11, 2022

These 10 vital projects have transformed the way people have travelled, explored and experienced Melbourne as we know it today.

While statues, towers and skyscrapers have helped cities become iconic, it’s the transport network that gives the city life. Melbourne’s transport projects over the past 100 years have helped our city become what it is today, and there are more transformative projects in the pipeline. 

We look back on some of the most significant infrastructure investments that have helped Melbourne grow as a city and look ahead to the next generation of transport initiatives that will ensure Melbourne’s heart continues to beat.

A Metro and V-Line train pass each other in Melbourne.

Melbourne's rail network is still expanding.

Victorian rail network

The Victorian Gold Rush of the 1850s and ‘60s powered the launch of railways in Victoria, with the first 3.6km of tracks linking Melbourne to the docks at Sandridge (Port Melbourne) to enable the shipment of gold-mining equipment, as well as the precious metal itself.

The initial tracks were privately operated but at high costs, which ultimately led to the government taking over.

The first official service launched in 1859 and travelled from Spencer St (now Southern Cross) station to Williamstown and Sunbury. 

By 1931, more than 7,500km of lines had been laid, providing rail access to every Victorian town with a population of more than 500.

The next transformation started in 1971 with construction of the 13km city loop tunnels. The project took 14 years to complete, but vastly improved the efficiency with which trains and people could navigate the CBD.

Suburban Rail Loop

The Suburban Rail Loop is the next evolution of Melbourne’s public transport infrastructure. Works have started on the 90km orbital rail line that will ultimately link all the major rail lines from Frankston to Werribee.

The first stage of the mega-project, dubbed SRL East, will feature 26km of underground tracks running from Cheltenham to Box Hill. Government costings put the price at $30-$34.5 billion and the first trains are predicted to run by 2035. SRL North is scheduled for completion by 2056 and a timeframe has yet to be announced SRL West.

Airport Rail Link

There was talk of a rail link to Tullamarine before the airport was built in 1970. By the end of this decade that talk will become a reality.

The link will be a 13km spur from the Tullamarine Airport to Sunshine station.  

At that point, passengers will be able to head into the CBD, or change trains and travel west to the outer suburbs and Geelong.

Early works on the link have already been approved and the $10 billion project is being jointly funded by the State and Federal Governments. 


A tram pulls up in Melbourne's CBD.

Melbourne's trams transport 200 million people a year.

Victorian tram network

The tram network was a spin-off of the early train transport. Trains transported people to key suburbs, but there was no infrastructure to commute within that suburb.

The first cable cars started operation in 1885, running from Bourke and Spencer Streets to Flinders Street, Wellington Parade and Bridge Road as far as the Hawthorn Bridge. 

Private enterprise was taken over by the government-operated Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways Board in 1919 and electric trams became the preferred mode of transport.

Today the system is operated by Yarra Trams, which states the Melbourne network is the world’s largest operational tram system with 200 million annual trips across 250km of track.


The public-private partnership with Transurban resulted in 22km of arterial roads linking the Monash, West Gate and Tullamarine freeways.

The construction is symbolized by the Bolte Bridge and Burnley and Domain tunnels. When construction started in 1996 it was the biggest infrastructure project in the country since the Snowy Mountain Scheme of 1949 to 1974.

Today, the system is used by hundreds of thousands of commuters and trucks to trim transit times around the metropolitan area.


A man and his son ride on a bike track.

Melbourne's bike network runs for 135km. Image: Getty

Level crossing removal

With safety as the number-one priority, 85 of the most high-impact level crossings are being removed from the Melbourne streetscape. The tedium of waiting in a queue of cars for the train to go by and the boom gates to open has already been obviated at 58 sites, with the rest planned for completion by 2025.

It’s not just driver frustration that is an issue: removing those level crossing also has an economic and environmental impact, as up to 100 vehicles can be parked but still running on either side of the barriers waiting for the train to pass.

Cycling network

Be it recreational or as a commuting method, cycling continues to grow in popularity. 

Melbourne has more than 135km of on and off-road bike paths and is fast-tracking another 40km to improve rider safety and convenience in the city.


Workers constructing the West Gate Tunnel

Around 9,000 trucks every day are projected to use the West Gate Tunnel.

West Gate Tunnel

The West Gate Tunnel project is one of the most visible transport works now underway. 

The aim is to reduce reliance on the West Gate Bridge, which is now at capacity with more than 200,000 vehicles using it each day.

The outbound tunnel will run for 4km from Footscray to Millers Rd, while the 2.8km inbound route starts near Williamstown Rd. An anticipated 9,000 trucks a day will use the tunnels once they are operational.

The project involves digging through 1.5 million cubic metres of rock and soil. 

West Gate Bridge

The Melbourne landmark is also a symbol of Australia’s largest industrial tragedy.

Construction of the bridge began in 1968 but two years later, a 112m span collapsed, killing 35 workers. 

The bridge was finally completed in 1978 and the structure has been a vital conduit for transport from Melbourne to the western suburbs and Geelong.

The bridge is 58m high to enable ships to pass underneath and at 2.58km in length, it is more than double the length of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. 

Outer Metropolitan Ring Road

The Outer Metropolitan Ring Road is a 100km rail and road link that will connect the M80 Metropolitan Ring Road, Hume, Calder, Western and Princes Freeways. The proposal will see four to six road lanes running in each direction, with four rail tracks occupying the median.

The concept was proposed in 2008 and public acquisition overlays have been put in place covering 15,000 hectares of land along the proposed route.

The Federal Government, as part of the 2022 Federal Budget, have committed $920 million for the Outer Metropolitan Ring Road - South Rail connection to the Western Interstate Freight Terminal.