North/Mckinnon/Centre grade separations: update

A quick update on my local grade separations at North Road (Ormond), Mckinnon Road (Mckinnon) and Centre Road (Bentleigh).

In most respects, what I wrote on the detail of the project in this post from July still applies, so read up on that if you haven’t already — or check out the official web site.)

Work is very visible along the rail line — trees are being cleared (in the case of palm trees, going into storage to be put back later), and road closures have started. There’s been piling, and relaying of railway-related cables (such as for signalling), and parts of station car parks are closed.

Nicholson Street during level crossing removal early works
Nicholson Street, between Mckinnon and Bentleigh. Note the gift-wrapped palm tree. I assume that’s what they do when they’re about to go into storage.

Schedule and design

The first (I think?) of the rail closures for this project will occur next weekend and of course there’ll be others.

Road closures are expected in North Road in January, and in Mckinnon and Centre Roads at Easter next year, ahead of the major shut down, still expected to involve stations closed and demolished while trains keep running, then a complete shut down of the rail line during major works.

The Bentleigh Sunday market will keep going throughout the project, but a section of the car park it uses won’t be available. Local traders at all three locations are considering street festivals or other events during works (and/or “welcome back!” events as the project finishes up) to encourage people to keep visiting.

I understand the overall project schedule is being reviewed, and details such as bus replacements (not just replacing trains, but also re-routing of regular local bus services) should get nailed down soon.

Most of the design is as previously flagged, but the project team are trying to incorporate a second entrance to Ormond station on the southern side of North Road. Of the three stations, this is the most important at Ormond given the width of the road. It may be difficult to fit the lifts/stairs for platform 3 on that side.

One option might be making the North Road entrance to Cadby Avenue one way. If I were a resident there, I’d happily take a partial one way street (with traffic reduction) in exchange for a much more convenient entrance. Mind you, I wonder if the project team has considered the additional entrance only for the island platform 1+2, given platform 3 is barely used by trains and people?

They’re also still determining the final decision on the Dorothy Avenue underpass, which originally was part of the Rosstown railway. The underpass will still be there, but with reduced clearance, and the question is whether it will be only for walking and cycling, or if cars will be able to use it too. Various locals seem to have views both ways on this. Some would like to see it closed to bring a local traffic reduction, some would like continued local access to destinations such as the oval.

I’m inclined to think traffic will reduce even if it’s still available for cars, as it will obviously no longer be a rat run for those avoiding the North Road level crossing. If it’s closed off, events at the oval may mean additional weekend traffic for Woodville Avenue and other nearby streets.

On the other hand, closing it off may discourage through-traffic along Oakleigh Road across Grange Road — that intersection scares the heck out of me. Either way, clearly this is one of those cases where you can’t consider the level crossing removals in isolation; they have to be looked at as part of the broader local transport network.

There’s still much debate about the possibility of a pedestrian crossing at Murray Road. I’ll have more on this in a post later this week.

Cadby Avenue during level crossing removal early works
Cadby Avenue between Ormond and Mckinnon. Half the road is closed so they can work along the rail line removing the trees.

Two track operation

This part of the Frankston line has three tracks, which allows express trains in peak hour to overtake stopping trains in peak hour. By my count in the current timetable, overtaking is used 8 times in the AM peak, and 14 times in the PM.

From November, the third track will be closed until the end of the project.

This will mean no express trains for about a year. I’m told all trains will stop all stations (presumably this means between Cheltenham and Caulfield, but unaltered between Caulfield and South Yarra), adding up to 9 minutes to travel times — but on the flip side, meaning more services for some stations.

(On one occasion in the past they swapped the stopping patterns between Caulfield and Cheltenham, so some trains could still run express. I’m speculating, but perhaps it didn’t work too well. It’s quite confusing for passengers; trains would be likely to catch up to each other, negating any express benefit; and it’s problematic that with such a swap the express trains would mostly terminate well short of Frankston.)

Obviously only having two tracks operational will allow the project team to do a lot of work on the rail corridor while trains keep running. The track which is closed won’t be constant. Two out of three will be in service, but the closed track will vary over the life of the project.

Updates

A “popup” information session is expected in November, and for locals a community update newsletter will be out in late-October. These are also published on the official web site, which is a good place to stay up to date.

It’s good to see this project moving ahead. Apart from delays to traffic (including buses and emergency vehicles), it’s pretty common as a pedestrian and passenger to get stuck at the gates, so grade separation will bring benefits for all.

Later update: November 2015

Bentleigh: old real estate ads

I was looking on the State Library’s web site for material related to my local suburb, and found these old real estate ads.

This one is from back when Bentleigh was called East Brighton. It’s dated 1885. It’s the area immediately to the east of the railway station, which opened in 1881, and was renamed to Bentleigh in 1907, the year after the local post office was renamed.
Ad for East Brighton Estate (Bentleigh)
(Source: State Library, Victoria)

Note that Bent Street had that name well before the area was named Bentleigh.

130 years later, this area immediately around the station is subject to a lot of real estate ads again, as many of the houses are being replaced by apartment developments. Being close to the station is obviously still an advantage.
Bentleigh development, 2015

On the other side of the railway line, closer to what is now Nepean Highway, was the Zion Hill estate. This ad is also from 1885. Note it implies it is much closer to Brighton than it really is — it’s actually far closer to East Brighton/Bentleigh. Some real estate agents were obviously in the habit even back then of exaggerating.
Ad for Zion Hill estate, Bentleigh 1885
(Source: State Library, Victoria)

Further south east from the station was the Marriott Estate. The date is unclear, but it’s assumed to be 1920s.
Ad for Marriot Estate (Bentleigh)
(Source: State Library, Victoria)

Note again the location of the estate. If you didn’t spot the small gap in the road markings, you’d assume it was a quick walk from both Bentleigh and Moorabbin railway stations (Patterson station didn’t open until 1961), but actually it’d be at least a fifteen minute walk.

Zoom up on the photo at the bottom-left and we can see a group of “recently erected” shops at Bentleigh. This is looking west towards the railway line, from roughly where Target is now. A support for the railway overhead electric wire is visible in the background, meaning this would be 1920s or later — electrification occurred in 1922.
Bentleigh shops, 1920s

The track in the foreground was used to guide heavily laden carts full of produce going to market, and manure on the way back, one of a number of such “tram” tracks built in the area.

Here’s a similar view today:
Bentleigh, Centre Road, 2015

There’s some interesting stuff in the State Library collection, much of it online — well worth a look if you’re researching local history.

Bentleigh/Mckinnon/Ormond grade separations: Lots of detail

To their credit, the state government is initiating Stakeholder Liaison Groups for the level crossing eliminations to happen across Melbourne.

The first of these covers the three Bentleigh area crossings: North Road, Ormond; Mckinnon Road, Mckinnon; Centre Road, Bentleigh. It’s convened by local MP Nick Staikos, and members include representatives from local traders, schools, community groups and public transport users. The latter is myself, as a local and with my PTUA hat on. (Note it’s not a group just for interested individuals — there are public forums for that — see below.)

Ormond/North Road level crossing

The first meeting occurred last week, with an overview briefing from the Level Crossing Removal Authority and contractor John Holland. The representatives at the meeting were very helpful, gave a lot of information and took a lot of questions.

Below I’m going to dump a bunch of notes — both information conveyed at the meeting, and some comments from me thrown in as well.

Any errors, misunderstandings or omissions in the information below are my own.

While part of the role of group members is to share project information out to those in the community who are interested, I should emphasise that I do not speak on behalf of the Stakeholder Liaison Group, or any other members. And any journalists reading who want more information should seek it from the Level Crossing Removal Authority (LXRA).

Initial projects

The pledge was for twenty crossings in this term of government, thirty the next. (The full list is here — most of them make sense with the possible exception of Werribee Street in Werribee, unless the Metro line is extended through to Wyndham Vale.)

In the Bentleigh area, three plus Burke Road, Glen Iris were awarded to John Holland and friends at a cost of $524 million.

Two in St Albans (Main and Furlong Roads), Blackburn Road, Blackburn, and Heatherdale Road, Heatherdale were awarded to Leighton and friends at a cost of $480 million (including a Commonwealth contribution of $151 million).

Add the nine along the Dandenong line (yet to be awarded, but there is a shortlist just announced), and that’s seventeen of the twenty, with the next three yet to be determined.

The Bentleigh area grade separations is the focus of the rest of this blog post.

This project (and I think the others also) is handled by what’s termed an alliance, consisting of: LXRA, VicRoads, PTV, John Holland, KBR Construction (the designer) and Metro.

Bentleigh station and level crossing

Overall design

For better or worse, all three grade separations will be rail under road. (I hope they are actively considering other options which may provide better community outcomes more cheaply, but given the Ormond design had already advanced considerably last year, I’m not surprised all three will take this option.)

There’s to be no net loss of station parking. Some parking will need to be rebuilt, and apparently the standards now are different, with bigger spaces, so they are looking at options such as increasing spaces at Glenhuntly to make up for any loss of spaces at the rebuilt stations. This may be an issue with other grade separation projects as well.

The Dorothy Avenue underpass (midway between Ormond and Glenhuntly) will become pedestrian/cycle only. — Update: This was changed; it will remain as-is. See update links below.

To my surprise, between stations the line will come pretty much back up to ground level. One of the main reasons for this is the high water table — some fairly elaborate designs are being used to ensure drainage isn’t made any worse, and this includes identifying paths for water flow underneath the railway line, and technology to keep water out of the railway alignment where the line is below the water table.

This also helps them with the various underground utilities which either have to be avoided or moved (expensive!).

Brighton sands are also likely to cause some challenges during excavation. (See also: Melbourne geology.)

All this should serve as a reminder that elevated rail may be a better/cheaper option at some locations.

The grade of the line will be no more than 2%, to allow freight trains to continue to use it.

With the track at ground level near Murray Road (between Ormond and Mckinnon), the hope of a pedestrian crossing of the railway line appears to be dashed. They are resistant to an at-grade pedestrian crossing due to safety risks, and an overpass would have very long ramps due to DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) requirements. And I’m sure they suggested the ramps would stretch almost back to North Road. Hmmm.

Impressive sounding statistics: They’ll remove a lot of earth during the construction, with some 280,000 cubic metres taken out, and bring in 12,000 cubic metres of concrete. It’s a big project.

Plan for new Mckinnon station (as at May 2015)
Indicative plan for Mckinnon station from May 2015. Subject to change.

Stations

Ramps, lifts and steps likely at all three stations.

Three tracks maintained, with “passive provision” for a later fourth track (which similar to Springvale, seems to mean not building anything in the way of it).

Mckinnon and Bentleigh to have retail shop frontages built into the structures.

It appears bus stops will be moved closer to station entrances, which is good, though it sounds like precise locations haven’t been finalised. This is particularly an issue at Bentleigh presently, where westbound bus stops are awkwardly placed, and at both Mckinnon and Bentleigh there is no nearby pedestrian crossing to access them — with the new designs, there will be pedestrian crossings directly outside the station entrances.

I wonder if it would make sense to re-route bus 625 at Ormond — at present it runs eastbound via schools in Leila Road, but westbound via North Road, probably because the lack of traffic lights makes it impossible to make the westbound trip via Leila Road.

Interestingly the Ormond traders may campaign for a lower speed limit on North Road once the level crossing is gone, so their shops aren’t a blur in motorists’ windows as they pass. This makes sense as a traffic calming measure — the Bentleigh shopping centre is a 40 zone from 7am-7pm, and Mckinnon has no signage, and therefore is 50 (the default speed limit in built-up areas — though I suspect many people treat it as if the limit is 60). It sounds like VicRoads is resistant to a lower limit on North Road though. It’s now 60, though once was 70… but it is flagged under the SmartRoads scheme as a priority pedestrian area, though it’s also part of a preferred traffic route.

There will be limited provision for possible future decking of the rail line. (I would note that while this is often talked about, there so far have only been very limited examples where it’s actually proven to be economically viable.)

Bentleigh, being a Premium station, will get Myki fare gates. Ormond, being a Host Station, will get provision for future Premium status, including gates, but for now will have standalone Myki readers. Mckinnon (neither Premium nor Host, though you sometimes see Host staff on duty there) will have standalone Myki readers and it sounds like it may have only limited provision for later upgrade.

One consequence of the gradients is that the station platforms will go under the roads, which helps provide extra weather cover.

I asked if it also allowed the option of an extra station entrance on the other (southern) side of the road. Initially they cited DDA requirements — the need for more long ramps and lifts. I pointed out that DDA access was via the other entrance. After all, not all access points into a station (or any other building) need to be DDA-compliant, otherwise stairs would no longer be allowed, at all. They changed tack and said that a second entrance causes issues with sight lines for passive surveillance for staff (including PSOs), as well as staffing issues for gates. They may have a point.

(There are times when it seems to me that DDA is used by some organisations as a convenient way of dismissing an option that they don’t want to provide.)

Plan for new Bentleigh station (as at May 2015)
Indicative plan for Bentleigh station from May 2015. Subject to change.


Construction schedule

Traffic modelling tells them chaos would break out if they tried to close North and Centre Roads at the same time. Fair enough. Instead, they’ll stage things in such a way that at least one of them is open.

They’re also wary of closing half of North Road at a time and building the overpass in halves… it sounds like it has more cons than pros.

There are likely to be numerous weekend closures over the life of the project. During road closures, it’s likely that pedestrian access will be made available across the tracks (after all, trains won’t be running). Obviously buses will need to be re-routed as well, and they’re in discussions with bus companies about this.

So, the indicative schedule at the moment is:

Note: the schedule was later modified, with the major construction during July 2016, and completion of the project in late 2016.

July/August 2015 Test works
September/October 2015 Piling works, using some fancy new technology to avoid lots of noise called a “silent piler”, though they noted it’s not exactly silent!
2016 during winter school holidays Centre Road closed for 9 days.

Sounds like they are planning for early decommissioning of one track (the “up”, or westernmost track I believe) immediately after the Caulfield Cup in October 2016, which will obviously mean some timetable changes to deal with the current use of three tracks in peak. (It’s been done recently during major level crossing works at Glenhuntly. From memory they made the expresses stop at the MATH stations, and the stopping trains ran express. That meant no need for overtaking.)

November 2016 Close Mckinnon station and demolish. You’ll still have the option to walk to Bentleigh or Ormond!
December 2016 Close and demolish Ormond and Bentleigh station (with the line left open). Tip for Bentleigh peeps: for the time the station is closed but the line is open, it’s not too far to walk to Patterson, and since the January 2015 changes, the fare is the same.
27 December 2016 Close the line completely for 34 days and do major works.

Given the locations where trains can be shunted/reversed, I’d expect the section of the Frankston line from Caulfield to Moorabbin to be closed during this time, with “bustitution” (substitute buses) running instead. Given this is one of the busiest lines, I’m hopeful they will put some thought into where people are going, and not simply try to replicate the train service with the buses, which often doesn’t work well due to local road layouts.

One idea successfully used on the Regional Rail Link project was to provide cross-town links into other railway lines, where connections can be quick — linking the southern half of the Frankston line from Moorabbin through to Brighton Beach, with extra Sandringham line trains, might be an option for instance.

End of January 2017 Line re-opens — but not the stations just yet!
End of February 2017 Stations re-open, minor works continue.
Mid-2017 All works complete — well before the 2018 election!

Bentleigh level crossing

Where to from here?

All these details are of course subject to change as planning progresses.

A public forum has been set up: 7pm Wednesday 29th July, at Mckinnon Secondary College.

It’s not confirmed yet, but I believe the plan is for a drop-in info session the next day, or soon afterwards. I’ll post details here when that’s confirmed.

It’s exciting to see this project (and others) moving ahead. Removing the level crossings really will make a difference — whether you’re on foot, on a bicycle, in a car or a bus. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve missed my train due to a long wait at the gates.

How they handle the disruptions of course will be critical, especially for the extended closure of the stations and rail line.

Later updates: October 2015 / November 2015

I love Bentleigh

Do you want to do this thing, they asked? For a weekly feature in the local paper.

“Sure!” I said… all I had to do was nominated places (mostly restaurants) in my neighbourhood that I like. Easy, and it might help push the cause.

I got my photo taken in one of the local parks. You can’t tell from the picture, but I was crouching uncomfortably to get the flowers into shot, and it was starting to rain. But the photographer was a cheery bloke who made it work.

Fairfax Weekly Review 3/6/2015

This seems to be part of the Fairfax local paper strategy of filling its pages entirely with lifestyle pieces rather than news. It ended up basically being a plug for all my favourite local businesses.

I think I may have given a bigger plug to the Frankston line’s 10 minute services than PTV or Metro have managed since they were introduced.