Bentleigh/Mckinnon/Ormond level crossings: update and Q+A

OK, back to level crossing removals. My local ones are going full bore, and I thought I’d post an update and provide a Q+A opportunity.

The project summary

  • Originally removal of just the Ormond level crossing was funded by the Coalition. The project was expanded to include adjacent crossings at Mckinnon and Bentleigh after Labor came to power in November 2014 with a pledge to start removal of 20 crossings by 2018.
  • Project works commenced in 2015, and an accelerated schedule will see it wrapping up by the end of 2016.
  • Each will be rail under road, with all three stations rebuilt.
  • All stations will sit under the roads. Ormond will get entrances on both sides of North Road. Mckinnon and Bentleigh stations will only have entrances on the northern side. All three to have pedestrian crossings right outside. In most cases bus stops will be moved to be outside the stations.
  • Unfortunately no additional pedestrian crossing points or access or is currently planned.
  • Bentleigh (Premium) will have fare gates. Ormond will have provision for future Premium status, including provision for gates.

My long post last year has a lot more on this (though some details have changed since).

Bentleigh station during level crossing removal works

Removal of Ormond station, Mar-Apr 2016 for level crossing removal works

And so to some updates and questions I’ve been asked:

Currently

Last year all the palm trees were temporarily relocated. Apparently this is thanks to their root system; most other types of trees are difficult or impossible to move with any great success, and have been cleared from the corridor. Some trees on adjacent private land have been affected by this too.

The “up” (westernmost) track has been ripped up and works continue. Digging has started at some locations. They’ve had to investigate what is being dug up for contamination. In some cases asbestos has been located and safely removed — but don’t panic! Importantly, none of it was in the unsafe fibre form.

With only two tracks in service, all trains continue to stop at all stations. For passengers between Highett and the City, this has actually been better — effectively doubling the peak hour service frequency. For some of us, it’ll be sad to see it go.

Mckinnon and Ormond stations closed in March. Bentleigh will close in early June. All three will open at different stages during August once the major works are complete.

Buses are running between Caulfield and Moorabbin for passengers going to/from those stations.

Despite the PTV web site showing the buses as not stopping at Glenhuntly or Patterson, I’m told they are officially “stopping all stations” buses, so for instance a passenger from Glenhuntly to Mckinnon doesn’t have to double-back via Caulfield or Bentleigh… though the timetables (which also drive the Journey Planner and Google Maps) say they do.

There are other quirks with the buses. On weekends they run every 7 minutes during the day, despite the trains being every 10 minutes… this is okay given the combined frequency at the Caulfield end (where most passengers need to change) is 12 trains per hour. It’s a similar story after 10pm on weekdays.

And curiously on Friday and Saturday nights the all-night trains run every 60 minutes, but the replacement buses run every 30 minutes, probably to better connect at both Moorabbin and Caulfield. So if you are coming home late (after 1am) on the weekend and live on that part of the Frankston line, catch the first train to Caulfield, and if it’s a Dandenong train, change to the bus — you’ll save about half-an-hour (less any walking time from the bus stop) by not having to wait for the next Frankston service.

Apparently some of the equipment on the project is being used in Australia for the first time, including the “silent piler” used for some of the piling. It would seem the government’s commitment to fifty level crossing removals is already paying off — it’s worth the contractor bringing in the best gear in the world if they know more projects are coming, and it’s likely they’ll win some of them.

Bentleigh station during level crossing removal works

What’s happening during the big shut?

Before the big shut there are two more weekend shutdowns: 14-15 of May, and 4-5 June.

From the start of the June/July school holidays, the rail line will close for 37 days for major works, with no trains between Caulfield and Moorabbin for that time. Obviously the first part of that covers the holidays, but 3 weeks or so will be normal weekdays.

Expect lots of buses running up and down. For previous shuts, up to 100 have been in action during peak periods, and they were mostly during school and/or university holidays.

Apparently roughly a third of the buses will be stopping all stations, and two-thirds express, reflecting the overall travel patterns on the line. For the express buses they’ve been trying different routes to spread the load a bit, which has worked out well — though for the major works period there may be a lot of truck movements to deal with as well.

Digging out the trenches will take roughly the first third of the shutdown period. Apparently they’ll move about 240,000 cubic metres of earth, and each truck carries 14 cubic metres. By my calculations this means a staggering 17,142 truck movements in 12 10 days, or about 1400 1700 a day. Yikes! So expect to see a lot of trucks. Edit: It’ll be in the first 10 days, not twelve.

During major works, a viewing platform is likely to be set up at Ormond, and cameras were set up some time ago to film time-lapse video for later publication.

Part of Gunn Reserve in Glenhuntly has been set aside for dumping earth, but this will used for contingency purposes if they can’t move stuff off-site quickly enough.

Roughly the second third of the 37 days will be structural works.

The last third will be station works and so on. All being well, the line will re-open on Monday 1st August, with Mckinnon station also opening then, though Ormond and Bentleigh stations won’t re-open until late August.

Mckinnon station - Level Crossing Removal Authority render of station entrance design

Will pedestrian crossings at Centre Rd & McKinnon Rd be right outside the station plazas, and be programmed for minimum pedestrian wait time?

The plans I’ve seen show crossings directly adjacent the station entrances at all three stations.

I’m told by Vicroads that they will be designed to prioritise pedestrians, while still keeping road traffic moving. (Under their Smartroads strategy, Centre Road is a “pedestrian priority” and “bus priority route”. Mckinnon Road is considered a minor road. North Road overall is a “preferred traffic route” and “bus priority route”, but the shopping centre is marked for “pedestrian priority”.)

How well this works in practice remains to be seen — I’d imagine this will be easier at Centre and Mckinnon Roads, given they are narrow and not priority traffic routes. The balance may be more in favour of cars at North Road, which given the plans for Ormond station to have entrances on both sides of the road, is not a huge problem, at least for most station users.

Will McKinnon and Bentleigh stations be accessible from north approaches, and if so, will there also be pedestrian bridges at the northern ends?

It seems not. As with now, access will only be via the main roads.

Have any locals given feedback that they’re getting cold feet about the rail-under design, now that works are under way?

There is certainly a lot of angst from traders about the closures and their effect on passing trade and revenue, particularly during the periods involving road closures.

To an extent there has been a backlash to these complaints — from what I’ve seen, cafes do okay under these conditions, including from the construction workforce. But I suspect some traders such as The Paint Spot in Bentleigh, which inherently rely on nearby parking and have lost most of it temporarily (and all of it for some periods), are badly affected.

If Bentleigh had got skyrail, the closures and disruption and noise would have been far less.

(Dandenong skyrail early works started this weekend just gone, causing some complaints from residents.)

Bentleigh level crossing works - pipes

Everyone wants to know the differences in cost and noise between trench and viaduct methods. Are there any reliable, public, referenceable figures?

I don’t think so. Obviously skyrail/viaduct requires fewer underground services to be moved. In the case of Bentleigh (near Centre Road) and Mckinnon (Murray Road), two sets of major water pipes are being moved. For Bentleigh, they actually got in a tunnel boring machine for this purpose — I got the impression that these were only normally used on major tunnelling jobs.

Along much of the corridor they’re having to move the water table down by several metres, to help ensure water won’t flow into the trench in the future. To my untrained ear this sounds like messing with nature, but apparently from an engineering point of view, it’s straightforward if carefully designed. It just costs a bunch of money to do it.

One view I’ve heard about the Dandenong proposal is that a bunch of money is saved not moving services, and with reduced closures and savings from bus replacements — these funds are then put into better station and urban design, for instance escalators at all the stations, and all-over covering (though in the concept designs this does not include the entirety of the platforms). I haven’t seen any publicly available figures for just how much money we’re talking about.

Got more questions?

Ask them in the comments and I’ll try and get them answered in the coming days.

(However if it’s something critical, such as concerning local resident impacts, you should talk to the Level Crossing Removal Authority.)

Some questions from the comments…

yog: Do you have any idea of a detailed timeline for the Grange Road level crossing removal, as well as the others on the Dandenong line?

I don’t have anything detailed, other than you can expect them to push ahead with it pretty fast. One of the reasons they brought the Bentleigh area crossings forward by six months was to avoid having closures on both lines at once.

You can also expect them to be done and dusted by mid-2018, because this government is being very smart about project staging, and they know it would be electorally risky to not have it finished before the 2018 election period.

Me again: Are there any more indications of station design beyond the one image per station on the LXRA website?

I haven’t seen very much out there publicly, which is a shame, as there are some very detailed designs being used by the project teams. I’ll see if I can coax them into publishing more detail.

There were some not-very-detailed plans published in May 2015 for Mckinnon and Bentleigh only. These may have changed.

Mckinnon:
Plan for new Mckinnon station (as at May 2015)

Bentleigh:
Plan for new Bentleigh station (as at May 2015)

Steve: Do you know if the Glenhuntly tram square ‘upgrade’ that was supposed to have been done last year as part of the Bayside rail project will be done during the long shutdown?

I haven’t heard, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they do it at the same time. They’re getting smarter about piggybacking works… but I’m told this won’t be included during the shutdown.

Me again: What are the weekend shutdowns for? (Presumably rail-only)

As I understand it there’ll be no more road closures as part of this project. I’d assume the weekend shutdowns would be relatively minor works that have to be done in the rail corridor in preparation for the major works period.

DD: I wonder how many minutes per hour in the peak North Rd traffic can expect to be stopped for pedestrians in future? And whether the crossing lights at the station will be coordinated with those at the pedestrian crossing a few hundred metres to the east?

Hopefully they’ll be coordinated with the four (I think?) existing crossings between Booran/Wheatley and Grange/Jasper Roads. In any case, for traffic, the delays will be far fewer and shorter than the somewhat unpredictable boom gate down time experienced now. (I don’t know if an emergency vehicle has ever had to wait as a train driver struggled with a difficult ramp to unload a wheelchair passenger, but given the proximity to the Ormond fire station, I’d be surprised if it hasn’t happened.)

Thanks for the comments, keep them coming.

State Budget 2016

Wednesday’s State Budget has a lot of good rail projects funded. It seems the State Government is serious about upgrading the rail network to cope for the future.

Going through the press release and also the Budget Papers (Budget Paper 3 “Service Delivery” has always been my favourite; it has all the juicy stuff in transport), I’ve tried to summarise the new spending below… hopefully I haven’t missed anything, or doubled-up.

Project Cost Notes
City Loop security upgrade $134m Recommendations from the Victorian Ombudsman. By the way, the “platform barriers” are to try and stop people getting into the tunnels, not to stop them falling on the track, which would be almost impossible to implement given non-standard train doors and no automation to ensure trains stop in the right spot.
Ballarat line duplication out to Melton, platforms, stabling $518m Means Caroline Springs has to be modified with an extra platform before it’s even opened! And it’s only duplication, not electrification.
Hurstbridge line duplication Heidelberg to Rosanna $140m In addition to level crossing removal projects
South Morang to Mernda rail extension $588m Great to see this fully funded
28 additional High-Capacity Metro Trains $875m On top of the 37 funded last year. Includes running costs ramping up to $25.4m/year
27 V/Line V/Locity carriages and stabling $280.4m Relieve V/Line overcrowding, especially since RRL opened last year
5 X’Trapolis trains $105m Seems to be a stopgap order while the HCMTs are designed and tendered
V/Line North-East line upgrades $15m An additional carriage to change from 3 x 5 car trains to 4 x 4 car trains; refurbishment of other carriages
V/Line next generation train planning $10m The V/Locity design is great, but well over ten years old
Other upgrades for V/Line $198m  
V/Line major maintenance $141m Seems to be directed at the kind of proactive maintenance intended to prevent a repeat of the wheel wear debacle from earlier this year
1500 commuter car spaces across Melbourne and regional areas $19.9m Not clear if this is included in one of the other buckets. Note the average $13266 cost per space. There are cheaper ways of getting people to stations – without them having to own a car.
Frankston station precinct upgrade $50m  
Metro rail service improvements $35m Additional services, but not detailed precisely what. Hopefully more 10 minute services.
Minor regional rail improvement works $23.6m  
Bendigo and Eaglehawk station improvements $15.8m  
Gippsland line station improvements $9m  
Business case for future improvements for Bendigo, Gippland, Armstrong Creek (Geelong) $7.6m  
Upfield to Somerton upgrade business case $5m Future planning for re-routing Seymour trains via Upfield line, which has more capacity than Craigieburn
Planning for Regional upgrades $5m Linked to imminent release of Regional Network Development Plan
South Geelong to Waurn Ponds duplication business case/detailed design $3m Would help increase train frequencies south of Geelong
Bus improvements $25.2m Numerous local bus improvements, including those pledged in Labor’s 2014 election commitments.
Metro rail tunnel funding $2.9b $2.9b over four years (the “forward estimates” period) with more to come later
Bridge strengthening for E-class trams $1.8m The only extra tram spending I spotted; so insignificant it’s not mentioned in press releases.

V/Line North Melbourne flyover

Worth noting:

  • V/Line gets a handful of extra services on the Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong and Gippsland lines every day, and three more to Wyndham Vale on weekdays as well. They also get extra services to Shepparton (extension of an existing service everyday) and Warrnambool (Sundays only it appears), and a bunch more services to Geelong on weekends (this might fix the dire hourly service)
  • The Budget Papers have some amusing references to V/Line’s “Classic fleet” of older carriages – the N and Z-class carriages are getting aircon and seating upgrades.
  • There’s continued funding for Melbourne Bike Share ($2.5m per year) and the Westgate Punt ($300,000 per year) — again, not flagged in the press releases. Interestingly the Bike Share seems to be being funded a couple of years at a time.

I’m not going to dwell on the road upgrades, other than to say it’s a relief that the government haven’t sprung a new major road project on the community. One (Western Distributor) is plenty — yet two days later there are already noises about the NorthEast Link. Obviously this is on the agenda for coming years.

In some ways the big surprise is full funding of the Metro Rail Tunnel, assuming the Commonwealth still refuses to provide any funding. I suspected this might happen — yes at $11 billion it’s a huge project, but construction is over 10 years, making it a bit over an average $1 billion per year — it’s within the state’s capabilities, though it probably means other needed projects may not happen during this time if the Feds don’t contribute.

Also somewhat surprising is the large amount of money for V/Line — it’s worth remembering that the regional train network (including the suburban sections of RRL) carry less than a tenth the number of passengers that the metro rail system carries (though over longer distances). But it’s also a natural response to the dire problems the service has had, and also a good strategy to support a vital service in regional Victoria, and better link country towns to Melbourne. Hopefully the investment in V/Line helps bring the service back up to standard, and get more passengers on board.

And plenty of improvements funded on Metro as well, including the logical expansion of the new train fleet to eventually support the entire Cranbourne/Pakenham to Sunbury line when the rail tunnel opens — and of course remembering the already substantial investment in level crossing removal and station rebuilds.

While there’s not much for buses, and even less for trams, but overall it’s good to see so many rail upgrades coming through, including sometimes forgotten but important upgrades like track duplication.

The new improved Preston tram depot

Back in September 2010, the then-Brumby government announced an $807 million investment in new trams and infrastructure:

Dandenong based company Bombardier will design, construct and maintain 50 new low floor trams for Melbourne as part of an $807.6 million investment by the Brumby Labor Government including a new tram maintenance and storage depot at Preston.

This was an upgrade to the existing Preston depot, originally built in 1924 for construction of the W-class fleet. The renovations took some years, and had to respect heritage aspects of the complex, as well as cope with tram operations during construction. But it’s now completed, and on Sunday Yarra Trams held an open day, with an official opening from the Minister for Public Transport. I went along for a look.

The weather was fine, and there was a pretty good turnout. It’s quite an impressive facility. Some photos:

The automated tram wash. It can handle any class of tram — though presumably someone needs to close the windows (where applicable) first!
Preston tram depot: tram wash

The sanding area, where trams sand hoppers can be refilled. Sand is dropped on the track when extra grip is needed.
E-class and B-class trams in the sanding area, Preston tram depot

A traverser, for moving trams from track to track. Our guide wasn’t sure if the new, 33-metre long E-class trams might just fit. I like that it’s in “Met” colours. You can see at least one Z1 tram in the background; they will be out of service forever, retired by the end of this month.
Tram traverser, Preston depot

B-class tram up on jacks for repairs. It’s quite impressive to see up close. The depot can handle repairs to any class of tram, though normally it appears only B and E-class trams are stabled here. Minor repairs are also done at local suburban tram depots.
B-class tram being serviced, Preston tram depot

Another B-class tram with the front taken off. The depot workers had a say in how it should be laid out after the renovation.
B-class tram being serviced, Preston tram depot

E-class tram in for some work.
E-class tram being serviced, Preston tram depot

The E-class trams are not perfect, but they do bring welcome extra capacity, and importantly increase the number of accessible trams on the network. And they do look rather splendid in the sun.
E-class trams at Preston tram depot

Yarra Trams has several tram simulators. One portable one was set up in the depot for visitors to have a go on (and boy was it popular), but this is the permanent, more fully-featured version.
Tram simulator, Preston tram depot

Spike the rhino on display outside. The campaign around awareness of trams continues.
Rhino!

B and E class trams, and some dork in high-vis. I was surprised at how orderly the depot appears.
Daniel at Preston tram depot

The official opening:

Just outside the depot is the tram and pedestrian-only Miller Street, over the South Morang line, connecting to nearby route 86. If it looks familiar, I’m pretty sure it’s where that iconic scene in Malcolm, of the title character coming over the hill, was filmed.

One sad note. Sadly, at the southern end of the depot, well away from the operational part of the complex, two W-class trams sit neglected, vandalised.
Vandalised W-class trams outside Preston Depot

But that said, the depot upgrade is great to see. This kind of investment in the capacity and efficiency of the tram network is important to keep services improving.
Preston tram depot

Now, if only the government would get fully behind proper tram traffic priority, so these valuable assets could spend less time waiting at traffic lights and stuck behind queues of cars, and help trams reach their true potential to keep Melburnians on the move.

The Montague Street bridge strikes again

It used to be that the fashionable bridge for high vehicles to crash into was the Spencer/Flinders Street rail overpass — eleven hits in five years.

But it’s been usurped by the Montague Street tram bridge.

At lunchtime on Tuesday I went down to have a look.

Certainly no shortage of warnings signs. In this view alone I count four, plus the stripy guard barrier in front of the bridge:
Montague St bridge, looking south

What you may not realise is that it’s actually two parallel bridges. One takes tram route 109; the other has spare tracks used for tram storage, as part of the nearby Southbank depot. (Originally one was the Port Melbourne line; I’m guessing the other was freight tracks or sidings.)
Montague St bridge, looking north

Similar to train bridges, there are signs indicating you should ring Yarra Trams straight away if a vehicle hits the bridge. Presumably that phone number has been rung a few times recently.
Sign on Montague St bridge

I was only there for about ten minutes, but unbelievably, another vehicle hit the bridge while I was there. This truck’s exhaust pipe hit the barrier. The pipe bent markedly, but stayed on. The truck driver stopped momentarily, then just kept going.
Truck damages exhaust, Montague St bridge

Not a serious collision of course, but amazing that despite all the signage and all the publicity, it still happens so often — this was the day after it had been hit twice.

And thankfully the vehicles are really hitting the super-tough guard barrier, so damage to the bridge itself (which would cause untold delays for many tram services and passengers) has so far been avoided.

Impact from road and rail shut downs

We survived! Ten days of bustitution is over… well, almost.

Just to be clear — because some of the information is either vague, misleading or missing:

  • The Frankston line is running again, including to Bentleigh station.
  • Bentleigh station will close for demolition and rebuilding in June.
  • But Mckinnon and Ormond stations are closed and demolished. There are still buses for them every 5 minutes in peak, 10 minutes daytime, 20 minutes evening. (Oddly they don’t stop at Glenhuntly or Patterson).
  • Mckinnon Road is closed today, but will re-open to road traffic tomorrow.
  • Centre Road re-opened at lunchtime on Monday, earlier than expected.

This ten days was the second major shut for the project. The third (and longest) begins in late June, for five weeks. Originally it was scheduled for January, but was brought forward in part because of work proceeding on other parts of the network.

Impact on business

During road and rail shut downs, naturally some areas need to be fenced-off for safety. In Mckinnon, to my surprise, some sections of footpath immediately to the east of the station were completely closed off, on both sides of the street. At least some of the properties there appear to be vacant, but I didn’t think it was all of them.

Footpath closure during level crossing removal works at Mckinnon

In Bentleigh, this real estate agent on the western side of the station was basically isolated. You can navigate a way into their office, but any passing trade would have fallen to zero.

Footpath closure during level crossing removal works at Bentleigh

Some businesses are at a dead end, but are doing okay – for instance at Bentleigh on the SE side, cafes like Noisette and Mama G’s seemed to have a reasonable amount of trade, in part thanks to construction workers on the project. But some local traders have said that — despite considerable efforts to promote them being open — they are at risk from going under due to lack of revenue during closures. Mad Flowers in Mckinnon claimed it was threatening their viability, and clearly the Paint Spot in Bentleigh is feeling the impact:

Paint Spot, Bentleigh - not enjoying the level crossing works closures

Given these are both reasonably busy shopping streets, this seems a little more serious than the complaints from traders when the Gardiner crossing was being removed — Burke Road has long been a traffic sewer, with few shoppers around.

Route buses

Bus routes 701 and 703 returned to their normal routes early. Potentially confusing? Not really — the alterations meant they missed some stops. It’s no big deal if they now serve them again.

Bentleigh bus stop 703

Route 626 returns on Tuesday morning when Mckinnon Road re-opens.

For this period, these three routes plus Night Bus 979 all diverted around the works zone. From what I’ve been told, none were able to pick up or drop off passengers in the diversion section — even where there are existing bus stops. This meant for instance that bus 626 didn’t serve any stops on Mckinnon Road between Jasper Road and Thomas Street, a distance of 1.6 km. For a local route serving, in part, people with limited mobility, that’s a long way to walk for a bus.

Rail bustitution

The replacement buses have gone about as well as can be expected. With my PTUA hat on, I’ve given a bunch of feedback to the organisers (including issues from further down the line than me), but clearly significant resources went into bus operations.

There were up to five staff at replacement stops such as Bentleigh, and far more at interchanges such as Caulfield. And around 80-100 buses were operating every peak. By contrast, Melbourne’s busiest tram route 96, which is about twice as long, operates with about 20 trams in peak.

Rail replacement buses at Caulfield during level crossing works

Rather than use the buses, some people migrated to other lines (including me, on one day). Some drove to Caulfield to use the paid parking ($4/day) there, delaying buses further.

Overall it wasn’t as slow as in January when North Road was closed, but trip times from Bentleigh to Caulfield (4 stops) were up to 15 minutes longer than by train.

Workable? Just about. But I would think most people were eagerly anticipating the train service getting back to normal. And few would be looking forward to the long five week shut down scheduled for June/July — most of which isn’t during school holidays.

Remembering of course that Ormond and Mckinnon station users are on buses (or seeking alternative routes) for the next four months.

Rail replacement buses at Caulfield during level crossing works

My conclusion from all of this: it’s really really difficult to replace busy train lines with buses, even when well planned, will lots of resources.

Buses as a mode are very good for some things, but there’s a huge difference in capacity compared to trains. You get to the point where there are so many buses flowing through the road system, they’re even delaying each other.

Particularly in an urban environment where a dedicated right of way and priority can’t be provided, and longer articulated buses aren’t available, they just can’t cope brilliantly with Frankston line-sized crowds.

Now consider this: the Dandenong line is about twice as busy.

Minimising closures

The issues for traders and for passengers are a reminder than anything that can be done to minimise rail and road closures is a big help to the community.

No wonder there is a push for “skyrail” on the Dandenong line. With far fewer rail shut downs needed, all the benefits of grade separation can be achieved, while markedly reducing impacts during construction.