Melbourne’s rail viewing platform

In quiet Railway Place, North Melbourne, just south of the station, there’s long been a viewing platform for rail enthusiasts to gaze upon the glory of the tracks between Southern Cross and North Melbourne.

Rail Viewing Platform, near North Melbourne station

It must have at least pseudo-official status as it’s marked in the Melway (map 2E, reference F1).

Google Maps doesn’t show it… but I guess that’s in keeping with GMaps not having public transport data

Rail Viewing Platform, near North Melbourne station

Rail Viewing Platform, near North Melbourne station

Happily, the recent Regional Rail Link upgrades to the rail flyover left it in place, and it now provides a close-up view of the many V/Line RRL trains now using it to get into Southern Cross.

Unfortunately RRL’s widening of a bridge in Footscray resulted in the demolition of a former trainspotters’ favourite, the Small Poppies cafe on Nicholson Street, overlooking the western side of the station (including the Bunbury Street tunnel) though this had long since changed hands, and wasn’t such a great venue for simply dropping in.

If you’re ever passing North Melbourne and want to have a sit down and watch a few trains, the Rail Viewing Platform is recommended.

  • eMelbourne says it was built in 1994. Designer Bernice McPherson; architects Craig Perry and Peter Dann, and officially opened by Michael Leunig

The Murray Road conundrum: can a crossing be provided?

As I’ve touched upon in previous posts, there are numerous technical hurdles with the Bentleigh area level crossing removals.

Via the stakeholder group I’m learning that a lot of the cost with any removal where the railway line is dropped down under the road is related to carefully moving all the services that are buried — gas, water, phone, electricity and no doubt others. A lot of the cost is also in “occupations” – shutting down the rail line and providing replacement services.

My previous post on the project has a lot of detail on the overall project, if you’re not familiar with it, but one issue has come up repeatedly which hasn’t been resolved:

Can a pedestrian crossing be provided at Murray Road?

Murray Road, Ormond

Ormond (Map: Melway online)

Murray Road sits midway between Ormond and Mckinnon stations, which is one of the longest sections of track in this area that has no crossings.

While the road has the same name on both sides of the railway line, it appears the road was never joined, or perhaps it was joined only before the railway line was built in about 1880.

The history is hazy, but I’ve heard numerous accounts (including a blog commenter) of a pedestrian underpass having been there in the past — possibly an informal crossing which was really part of a creek/flood plain running underneath the tracks, which is clearly shown in this MMBW plan of the area.

Murray Road crossing - MMBW

Apparently the underpass was filled-in in the 1980s when the third track was added, and any trace of it has since disappeared, with the local roads having been fully sealed over the top, and houses built right up to the line on the western side.

The only real indicator I could see is a small park on the western side with obvious water-related infrastructure present, with manhole access to pumps, floats, vega and penstock.

(What is a Penstock, anyway? Oh — Wikipedia says it’s a “a sluice or gate or intake structure that controls water flow, or an enclosed pipe that delivers water to hydro turbines and sewerage systems.” And a vega? It might be this: “a meadow located within a forested and relatively small drainage basin”.)

Murray Road, Ormond: Penstock

Because of this underground water and the pipes that carry it, the level crossing removal project has to build the line back up to street level between the new Ormond and Mckinnon station underpasses. And this appears to be the key problem in providing a pedestrian crossing.

Above, between, below?

Not unreasonably, the government doesn’t want to build at-grade pedestrian level crossing. The project is focussed on removing level crossings, not building new ones. In fact there’s a government policy of not providing new crossings, and the project team says the only way it would be done is if the Minister for Public Transport specifically approves it, based on advice from the relevant authorities.

The safety record for at-grade crossings isn’t great, though it seems to me the big problems occur where they occur on busy streets, particularly in busy shopping centres and adjacent to railway stations.

Putting in an overpass appears to be problematic, with issues of privacy from views into back yards, and a lack of space to build ramps that would be required to make such a structure accessible. The project team says acquisition of public and private land would be required.

But what about an underpass?

Space is tight, and DDA (ramp) access is obviously an issue, but some local campaigners believe it should be possible to provide an underpass alongside the existing water pipes, either parallel or at an angle across the line.

Apart from the water pipes, there’s also a high pressure gas line somewhere there, and the project team says flooding would be likely to be an issue, with installation of a flood wall being necessary.

There might be impacts on the eastern (Cadby Avenue) side of the line, but this could be an opportunity to use a traffic-calming road chicane to slow down cars — chicanes are common around Glen Eira, with several in nearby streets.

There are concerns that an underpass might have to have blind corners, reducing visibility and safety. But these are not an insurmountable problem — mirrors and effective lighting can be used to improve visibility.

Theoretically another option would be to lower the rail line at this point instead, but the project team says that too would not be practical due to the cost of relocating services, particularly the storm water drain.

Murray Road, Ormond

Why would a crossing be useful?

To the west, Ormond Primary School is on Murray Road. To the east, there is Joyce Park and the northern end of Mckinnon Secondary College. And in fact a few years ago, a pedestrian crossing on Jasper Road was built close to Murray Road.

Providing an east-west route on that alignment would bring a vast improvement to mobility for those walking or cycling in the area, and is likely to reduce car use for local trips which are currently impractical on foot.

It would certainly be a lot safer for cyclists, who currently have little choice but to use the nearest main roads. North Road is a traffic sewer, with no bike lanes. Mckinnon Road is quieter and with bike lanes, but as local member Nick Staikos noted recently, narrow bike lanes that are full of parked cars aren’t very useful as bike lanes. Mckinnon Road doesn’t actually have a great safety record — there have been multiple bike vs car accidents recently.

What the outcome will be isn’t really clear. One would hope the project team are doing their best to explore every option to see if a crossing of some kind is possible.

A huge project like a grade separation shouldn’t be planned in isolation.

This has the broader point about level crossing removals having a big (positive) impact on local communities, and that they should be considered as part of broader transport and land use planning for these areas.

No doubt there are similar cases right across Melbourne, where grade separation should provide an opportunity to provide more places to get under or over the rail line, to improve amenity and access.

Notably, none of this would be a problem if the line was being elevated. Perhaps that was never going to happen here, given the housing in close proximity to much of the rail line and the North Road (rail under) plans having progressed well before the decision to include the other two crossings, but there are some clear lessons here for other locations.

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.


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

New camera

Obviously the best camera you have is the one you have with you.

Normally that’s my phone. Sometimes I’ll also have my ~4 year old Canon IXUS 115, which is compact, but takes some great photos.

But for my birthday I treated myself to a DSLR, a Canon 700D (spotted on sale + cashback offer + birthday contribution from family + birthday present to myself = hard to resist), and have been snapping away during lunchtime walks. Here’s a couple of pics from earlier this week with a telephoto lens borrowed from one of my sons. (We’re definitely a Canon family.)

Footbridge, Princes Bridge, MCG, Melbourne

Looking north up Queen Street, Melbourne

More to come, you can be sure of it.

View of the city from the outer west

If you catch a train towards Geelong, just after Deer Park, where the train branches off the Ballarat line to head south, you’ll see a great view of the city on your left.

Melbourne city, viewed from Regional Rail Link near Tarneit
(View it larger)

Against the bluey-grey skyline, the wheel stands out of course, as do the silos in Kensington-ish. In the foreground is lots of housing from the Derrimut area, and obviously construction going on.

I should probably try it again with a telephoto lens.

By the way, new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made a point of talking about the importance of cities while announcing his new cabinet today. Jamie Briggs was appointed as Cities And The Built Environment Minister.

Turnbull also talked about transport, and made a point implicitly criticising Abbott’s roads-only “knitting” policy — saying that Federal investment in transport shouldn’t discriminate against particular modes. Good, that’s a big step forward.