Bentleigh/Mckinnon/Ormond level crossing removals update

The second big (longer than a weekend) shutdown for this project has commenced, so where are we at?

The project summary

Click here for my long post on the project details, or here’s a summary:

  • Originally just removal of the Ormond level crossing was funded by the Coalition. The project was expanded to include adjacent stations Mckinnon and Bentleigh after Labor came to power in November 2014 with a pledge to start removal 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.

The second big shutdown

This shutdown kicked off on Thursday night (24/3/2016), and will run through until Sunday (3/4/2016) — see more detail at the bottom of the post on this.

Bus replacements at Bentleigh during level crossing removal works

Ormond and Mckinnon station have now closed until they are rebuilt under the roads, so buses will continue running for those passengers, though many may find it quicker to walk to Bentleigh or Glenhuntly.

Here’s a bunch of pictures… (Click through to see them at a larger size on Flickr)

Around Bentleigh

By Saturday morning, they’d removed the westernmost of the three tracks.
Bentleigh - Third track removed during level crossing removal works

View to Patterson station, showing third track temporarily removed for level crossing removal works

The Centre Road level crossing was awash with construction workers and equipment, busy constructing the new bridge. Later on during the June/July shutdown, they’ll tunnel underneath it.
Bridge construction at Centre Road for level crossing removal works

Some video of works on Saturday at lunchtime, with bonus giant Easter bunny!

More trees are being removed along the rail corridor. Mostly it’s only a few palm trees that are left. The other palm trees have been moved into storage until the project is complete, but most of the other trees won’t be back.
Tree removal for level crossing removal works
Tree protection during level crossing removal works

Nearby house construction looks a bit mickey-mouse compared to the grade separation works. I suppose it might be a $10m project versus one 10-20 times that big.
Nicholson Street, Bentleigh during level crossing removal works

Pedestrian access is available across the tracks. The diversion route lets you see things you don’t normally get a good look at, for instance the appalling state of some of the wooden sleepers. Thankfully this particular section will be removed as part of the grade separation.
Track at Bentleigh

Despite buses being diverted around the area, the Smartbus sign was happily claiming the bus would be showing up soon.
Bus diversions in place for level crossing removal works

By Sunday afternoon, some of the concrete for the new bridge deck had been poured. More to come, I expect.
Centre Road - level crossing removal works


Looking south towards Bentleigh from Mckinnon, you can see all the equipment stored for works, and they’ve started building the safety fence to separate the workers from the trains when they return next week.
At Mckinnon, looking towards Bentleigh during level crossing removal works

As at Bentleigh, they’ve building the bridge for tunnelling under later.
Mckinnon bridge construction during level crossing removal works

It’s harder to see the works up close at Mckinnon, but they’ve made quick work of removing the station buildings.
Mckinnon station demolition, during level crossing removal works


As you go up towards Ormond, part of Cadby Avenue has been closed off during construction, and in fact it’ll be made permanently one way at the northern end to accommodate the extra station entrance. Again, most of the trackside trees have been removed, and it appears won’t be coming back. (Hopefully at least new ones will be planted.)
Between Mckinnon and Ormond, during level crossing removal works

Unlike the other two crossings, the road is open at North Road — they got the bridge for this one built in January.
Ormond station being demolished, during level crossing removal works

The station buildings here have also been demolished.
Ormond station being demolished, during level crossing removal works
Ormond station - during level crossing removal works
Ormond station platforms 2+3, during level crossing removal works
Ormond station demolition during level crossing removal works

Oh dear, looks like someone foolishly had left their bike chained up on the platform when the station closed.
Ormond station ramp - during demolition for level crossing removal

Where to from here?

Some of the information is quite confusing, so here’s a timeline of where things go from here.

(I’ve rounded to the nearest day. For instance if a closure starts late on Friday night, I’ve listed it as starting Saturday.)

Fri 25/3/2016 Easter shutdown begins. Ormond and Mckinnon stations now closed until rebuilding is complete. Trains replaced by buses from Mordialloc to Caulfield, and also Frankston to Stony Point (because the Sprinter trains can’t get to the city for maintenance and refueling).

Centre and Mckinnon Roads are closed to traffic, causing diversions for buses 701, 703, 626 and nightbus 979.

Tue 29/3/2016 From this day the bustitution section shortens to Moorabbin to Caulfield for the (short) working week.
Mon 4/4/2016 Trains are back, using the remaining tracks 2 and 3, but not stopping at Ormond and Mckinnon. Timetables won’t be adjusted — the trains may not be able to zoom through fast anyway given the presence of workers.

Buses still operate from Moorabbin to Caulfield (but presumably less frequently) for Ormond and Mckinnon users. Centre and Mckinnon Roads still closed to traffic

Tue 5/4/2016 Centre and Mckinnon Roads reopen to traffic.
Tue 4/6/2016 Bentleigh station closes.
Sat 25/6/2016 The big shut commences for five weeks (the first two overlapping with school holidays). No trains between Moorabbin and Caulfield.

This is when they rip up all the track and dig out the trenches. They’ll take much of the dirt up (along the rail alignment) to the E.E.Gunn Reserve in Glenhuntly, where part of the park will be used to pile it up, then ship it away by truck.

No road closures, but lots of truck movements.

Early August Mckinnon station re-opens, trains resume running.
Late August Ormond and Bentleigh stations re-open.
Late-2016 Finishing touches; project completion.

Update: Video from Tuesday night. Bridge construction is well under way.

Finally Melbourne has Google Transit

So, today Google Transit (Maps) enabled public transport planning in Victoria, including right across Melbourne.


PT planning in Google Maps

This has been a long time coming.

Google Transit and the GTFS file format originated about ten years ago, and quickly took hold in North American cities, as well as elsewhere around the world.

Around the same time, the then transport body Metlink was in the midst of gathering stop and schedule data from a myriad of operating companies, and combining it all into one database, allowing them to coordinate timetable printing, and also to launch their own Journey Planner, using proprietary software from MDV, the same company that had done it for Transport For London. Unfortunately this Journey Planner was beset with problems producing some really strange results, and the interface left a lot to be desired. Trying to see a map in particular often didn’t work.

As early as 2005, when Metlink’s Journey Planner was undergoing internal testing, I talked to Metlink about integrating into Google Transit and other services. In fact I found an email to them (December 2005) where I noted Google Transit’s release:

Google are working on providing public transport trip planning, and will be asking PT agencies to participate by providing data … While Metlink will obviously want to run their journey planner themselves, it would appear to make sense to (if possible) provide data to other organisations to make trip planning as widely available as possible.

In December 2009 Metlink published the timetable data in their own format. It was used by the PTUA for a study to highlight how poor some train-bus connections were — this put some noses out of joint, but it helped to progress the debate from “There’s no problem with connections” to “Connections are difficult to coordinate”. The first stage of fixing a problem is recognising you have it, and subsequently PTV has put a lot of effort into fixing it, with some success.

In 2011 we got a whisper that the Department of Transport was talking to Google about Transit integration, but it seemed to stall for a while.

But under the Coalition government of the time there was a push to make a lot more government-owned data open and freely available — this has been continued by Labor. By 2014, PTV had taken over from Metlink. They published an API, but still in a proprietary format. Some app writers have made use of this to do some clever things, particularly with realtime information. By this point, every other state in Australia had Google Transit.

It wasn’t until 2015 that the data was published in GTFS format, with some vendors such as Bing and Here loading it into their web sites and apps.

But it seems the format might have met the GTFS standard but wasn’t quite good enough for Google. It’s taken another year to get it into Google Maps.

Last week there were hints it was on its way. Now it’s finally here. Better late than never.

It doesn’t seem to have realtime bus and tram data in it yet, despite it being available in some apps. Hopefully that isn’t too far away. Realtime train data is probably not going to happen until the train control systems are upgraded — a long term project.

You also need to be wary of directions around large station complexes. The GTFS spec seems to know where a station is, but not necessarily where the exits are, which becomes important for big stations like the CBD stations and Richmond. And platform numbers aren’t provided in the PTV feeds.

But it’s great to see this finally happen.

This is a real boon for locals and tourists alike when making unfamiliar trips. The interface — whether it be on desktop PC, phone, iPad — is excellent; way ahead of anything PTV has been able to provide.

If those who got it over the line happen to be reading, well done. So, where should I plan a trip to?

Edit: Added quote from December 2005 email.

Dandenong line capacity boost undersold

On the weekend I was chatting about the Dandenong skyrail proposal to rellies at their house near Hughesdale station. They are keeping an open mind; they are not immediately under the rail line, and they can see the obvious benefit from getting the level crossings removed quickly, but are concerned about some aspects, which it sounds like are not being adequately explained.

For instance: condition and maintenance of any parkland created by the elevated rail. The Level Crossing Removal Authority (LXRA) seems to be forming the view that they would fund at least ten years of maintenance.

And of course after media attention last week a lot of local chatter is about the future need to expand the line to four tracks. (Three tracks isn’t nearly as useful as four.)

It’s worth noting that the skyrail project, along with other measures, buy a lot of extra capacity for the line.

How much? I’ve been trying to work it out, but official information is really scarce. The official figure thrown around is 42%, but this doesn’t seem to take into account all the upgrades.

Dandenong line at Richmond


Looking at what might well be the busiest hour, inbound AM peak 7:31-8:30am at Caulfield, there are 15 Metro services and 2 V/Line services scheduled, or 17 trains per hour in all.

The current signalling allows for a train every 3 minutes, or 20 trains per hour. The widely used practice is to use 80% of the theoretical capacity (to allow for short delays), which means the line is using just over its practical capacity. No wonder delays so easily occur.

Each train’s desired load standard is 798 (133 per carriage), but seat modifications currently underway are meant to increase that to 900 (150 per carriage). Remember, this is NOT a capacity figure.

New signalling

Firstly, the signalling (with conventional technology) to allow a train every 144 seconds (eg 25 trains per hour), in line with a long term plan that was kicked-off with the Westall upgrade project some years ago.

Staying within the 80% of theoretical capacity (so it runs more smoothly than now) therefore gives you 20 trains per hour — 18 Metro and 2 V/Line.

Why not high-capacity (in-cab) signalling? They want to prove it first on the Sandringham line — not unreasonable given the complexities of shared running between Metro, V/Line and freight. What they are saying is that any upgrades in the mean time will be future compatible with in-cab signalling.

Removing the crossings

Secondly, you couldn’t just do the signalling upgrade without removing the crossings, because it would lock up the road system across the south-eastern suburbs, delaying motorists, pedestrians, cyclists and bus users alike. So grade separation helps unlock that track capacity.

Dandenong line, 6pm

High capacity trains

The third major point is the trains to run on the line. The new High Capacity Metro Trains (HCMTs) will run on the Dandenong line in the next few years. As detailed in this extensive post from last year, they’ll start as 7 car sets with a load standard of 1100 people (157 per car).

This is achieved by having continuous usable space and, I expect, fewer seats. Hopefully a balance will be found between carrying capacity and ensuring those travelling the longest distances can get a seat.

Later on, when the Metro rail tunnel opens, the plan is for the HCMTs to expand to 10 car sets — a load standard of 1570.

Longer trains obviously involves extending platforms — something not possible in the City Loop, but included in the Metro rail tunnel and the rebuilt skyrail stations. It will also obviously be necessary on all the other stations out to Cranbourne and Pakenham, as well as Sunbury (as the rail tunnel will connect them).

Put it all together – what do you get?

Somewhere in the mix would need to be duplication of the Cranbourne line, and flying junctions (overpasses) at Dandenong so trains don’t get delayed waiting for each other there.

So, pulling together all the various upgrade figures (which have been gleaned from various government information — it doesn’t seem to all be in one place anywhere), what do we get?

Dandenong line capacity

The government often quotes a 42% capacity boost. As I understand it, that figure includes the level crossing removals and new trains, but excludes the metro rail tunnel. I’m trying to find out how precisely they get that figure, but taking the tunnel into account, it woefully undersells the true capacity boost anyway.

Perhaps these numbers don’t exactly tally the official ones, but 28,000 per hour is huge. That’s about the equivalent of 12 lanes of traffic. Behold, the power of mass transit!

From trying to explain some of this to my relatives, it’s clear to me that the government/LXRA hasn’t communicated this point very well (if at all).

With all these upgrades, a huge amount of extra capacity is provided, much higher than the quoted 42%, putting off the need for extra tracks for many years.

How long will this last? Well, that depends on the future growth along the corridor, obviously. Capacity can grow even further with high-capacity in-cab signalling, provided it’s okay to have all trains (including V/Line) run at a consistent speed. That should allow enough trains to provide a line out to Rowville.

Hopefully I haven’t messed up these figures. And this is not to say that planning shouldn’t happen now for future track expansion.

But if basically you’re more than doubling peak capacity by 2026 when the metro tunnel opens, that’ll take a while to fill up again.

  • Submissions to the Dandenong Skyrail project close TODAY at 5pm. If you have any thoughts, even just a few words, good or bad, put them in.

Station codes: yes, FKN is the code for Frankston

From time to time I’ll refer to the Frankston line on Twitter with the abbreviation FKN.

I’m not just trying to get a cheap laugh. Well okay, perhaps I am, but what people might not realise is that’s actually the official station code for Frankston.

Every station (and a good many other places, such as passing loops and sidings) in the state has a three letter code, used in railway circles. Occasionally you’ll see them creep into the public arena:

"Fkn" - the official abbreviation for Frankston

Here’s a complete list of Melbourne codes:
Continue reading “Station codes: yes, FKN is the code for Frankston”

What if Bentleigh had got Skyrail?

A few people have asked me about this in the past few months — what if Bentleigh had got “skyrail”?

It’s interesting to consider, though it was never going to happen.

Firstly, the timing was wrong. The Coalition had fully funded the Ormond level crossing for removal in May 2014, with designs already having determined that it would be rail under road. In late-2014 the incoming Labor government spotted an opportunity to piggyback the Mckinnon and Bentleigh crossings onto it, which made logistical sense as well as political sense — Bentleigh being a marginal electorate, they knew to have the multiple crossings removed before the 2018 election would be a plus.

It was only after the Level Crossing Removal Authority came into being that alternative strategies such as elevated rail have been considered.

Secondly, having rail over road may have caused complications at the southern end, where the rail line goes under Brewer Road, necessitating rebuilding of the road overpass.

There are pros and cons with every design. By missing skyrail, we missed out on some good outcomes.

No doubt some locals are relieved rail is going into a trench. But rather than elevated rail and a park outside their back fence, they get an impassable cutting. The jury’s still out on whether noise is worse at ground level from skyrail or trench rail.

Better outcomes from skyrail?

Murray Road pedestrian/cyclist crossinglocal campaigners are continuing to fight for this, but the presence of a storm water pipe means the project team says the only viable solution is an at-grade crossing. Will it happen? Only if the safety audit comes up green and the minister can stomach approving an additional (non-car) level crossing as part of a level crossing removal project. With skyrail it would have been easy.

More pedestrian access — apart from Murray Road, there could have been additional pedestrian/cyclist (and possibly even motorist) crossing points anywhere and everywhere. The most obvious locations are midway along Glen Orme Avenue (Ormond, where the tennis courts access is provided), connecting Foch Street and Leila Road (Ormond), Blair Street and Ward Street (Bentleigh), and connecting the car parks just south of Centre Road. Mind you there aren’t unlimited opportunities, as for most of the length of the rail line in this section, there are houses on at least one side.

More efficient train operation. Apparently it can be a difference of up to 6% of energy consumption, as stations underneath ground level require extra braking and extra power to depart and accelerate out. This will be particularly apparent with the design as planned, where the line will come back up to surface level between stations.

Better stations. With a high proportion of costs of trenched rail going into moving underground services, and bus replacements, if these can be avoided then more can be spent on the stations and other outcomes — this seems to be what’s proposed on the Dandenong line. It’s not really working out cheaper overall, but stations are getting fully-enclosed weather cover, and (at least some; it’s not finalised) escalators — none of the Ormond-Mckinnon-Bentleigh stations will have escalators, although parts of the platforms will be underneath the roads, partly enclosing them from the weather.

Future 4th track without disruption. Supposedly if skyrail goes ahead on the Dandenong line, the 3rd and 4th tracks will be able to be built largely without disrupting the initial two tracks. It’s unclear what will happen if the 4th track ever goes in on the Frankston line. It might require partial closure again to widen the cuttings.

Pictured: Nicholson Street: October 2015 vs December 2015 after tree clearing
Nicholson St, near Mckinnon station, October 2015 (from Google Maps)
Nicholson St, near Mckinnon station, during level crossing removal works

Saving more trees. While a special effort has been made to remove and store the palm trees for re-planting later, almost every other bit of flora in the corridor has been cleared away. From some angles it resembles a moonscape.

As this Dandenong line FAQ notes: One of the benefits of the elevated rail design is the ability to retain trees and vegetation close to the rail corridor. By elevating the rail line, we minimise our impact to the root systems of trees, and are able to retain a significant amount of trees within the rail corridor.

Parkland underneath. Glen Eira council is forever reminding us that they have less green space than anywhere else in the state. Some of what little green space there is in Bentleigh will be taken by car parking, to make up for a small loss of spaces at Ormond. Skyrail could have enabled more green space right along the line.

Continuous bike/shared user path. The current project will restore the bike path from Bentleigh to Mckinnon, but there still won’t be a connection from Mckinnon to Ormond — cyclists and walkers have to divert via local streets, because the rail corridor is too narrow. If it were skyrail, a shared user path could easily fit underneath.

A more prominent train system. Some might not consider this important. But out-of-sight, out-of-mind is a concern. At ground level or elevated, the trains are prominent. Hide them away and they are less obvious to people. Does that influence how people think about their transport choices? I don’t know.

Trains will still be visible in their trench of course, if you’re a pedestrian walking by, but less so if driving past. Hopefully good prominent signage and stations will make up for that. (I’d like to see signage include a countdown timer to the next trains, more prominent than the one we once had.)

Better views from the train. OK, no biggie, but it’s more pleasant looking out over your suburb than staring at a plain (or graffiti-covered) wall. It’s also easier to navigate if you can see where you are.

That said, the current plan is for trains to return just about to street level between stations. Roller coaster!

Train trench, Gardiner. Opened in January. Already tagged.
Train trench near Gardiner station

And then of course there’s the disruptions

Road and rail shutdowns. The LXRA claims Dandenong skyrail will involve about 15-20 weekend shutdowns, and two longer shutdowns of 9 and 16 days. Yesterday the government claimed that if it was done as trenches, the Dandenong line would require shutdowns “for 230 days during construction” and that “these closures would be between 30 hours and eight weeks long”.

For the Bentleigh project, it’s shaping up as numerous weekend shutdowns, plus 9 days (January 2016), 10 days (Easter 2016) and the big one: about 35 days (TBC; June-August). That’s a total of about 70-80 days in all, though in some cases (such over the past weekend) they closed the line for the weekend as early as 7pm on Friday.

The list of line closures so far is:

  • Third track closed (thus reducing capacity, and resulting in several cancellations daily) Mon 16/11/2016 until the project is finished in July 2016
  • Last two trains after midnight, Fri 13/11/2015
  • 1am Sat 21/11/2015 to last service Sun 22/11/2015
  • 1am Sat 28/11/2015 to last service Sun 29/11/2015
  • 1am Sat 12/12/2015 to last service Sun 13/12/2015
  • First service Sat 23/1/2016 to last service Sun 31/1/2016
  • 8:45pm Fri 12/2/2016 to last service Sun 14/2/2016
  • 7pm Fri 4/3/2016 to last service Sun 6/3/2016

And expected as the project progresses:

  • 9pm Fri 19/3/2016 to last service Sun 21/3/2016
  • Closure of Ormond and Mckinnon stations 25th March to late July 2016
  • First service Fri 25/3/2016 to last service Sun 3/4/2016
  • Closure of Bentleigh station from 4th June to late July 2016
  • Expected line closure from 25th June 2016 for about 5 weeks

Each time, they warn of travel time increases by up to 45 minutes. During the January shutdown, lot of people gave up and drove, switched to other train lines (causing crowding elsewhere), or made other arrangements.

Closures don’t just affect train passengers — many involve closing roads, which affects local businesses. There were claims of huge loss of earnings at Burke Road, Gardiner (though it was never the busiest of shopping centres). To counter the problem, the government has organised (no doubt at considerable expense) full colour brochures promoting local shops, sent to every resident in the area, and an accompanying web site. (I notice that the site lists Milsims Games, which moved out of Bentleigh some years ago.)

Would there be fewer shutdowns with skyrail? Parts of the alignment are very tight — perhaps tighter than the section through Carnegie. The north side of Mckinnon station looks like it’s a similar width to the narrowest section between Carnegie and Murrumbeena, but it’s got three tracks in it, not two. And what you don’t want to be doing is acquiring properties if it can be helped. (For the current design it was avoided.)

Hopefully it would have been possible to stagger the construction, building elevated new rail lines above the older ground level lines while they continued to operate.

The key is minimising weekday shutdowns, especially outside school and university holidays. Weekday shutdowns require 100+ buses in operation, as well as numerous support staff — two at every station replacement bus stop, plus many more at the interchanges from first to last service. There are often temporary road markings or modifications, signage, traffic light modifications and traffic monitoring. It’s a very, very expensive undertaking. (We don’t know quite how expensive, but by comparison, recent V/Line bus replacements have cost up to $300,000 per day.)

Risk of unplanned disruptions. So far I’m aware of only one incident: on February 12th, excavation at Bentleigh for the crossing hit a gas pipe, causing a leak, with a sudden road and rail line closure for some hours. As passengers who have been caught up in one know, any unplanned rail closures are messy. Buses often can’t be got to the scene quickly, and are rarely sufficient, especially if the closure extends into peak hours.

Truck movements. Apparently 280,000 cubic metres of earth are to be dug up and moved out. Expect to see thousands of truck movements in the area, particularly during the main shutdown in June/July/August.

E.E.Gunn Reserve partly closed. Parts of this park will be closed for months to temporarily store the earth. One of the benefits of skyrail is that components can be built off-site and shipped in and assembled, like some kind of massive Ikea flatpack — and of course there’s little or no earth to dig out and take away.

Stations shut. As noted above, Mckinnon and Ormond stations are shortly to close for about four months. Bentleigh will close for a shorter period of about two months. (Some of this overlaps with the entire line closing for about 5 weeks.)

Bentleigh now vs what if Bentleigh had skyrail? Yeah, my Photoshop skills aren’t up to much.
Bentleigh level crossing
Bentleigh if it got skyrail

Would it have been possible?

A Vicroads contact suggested skyrail might not work over North Road, because of space issues, but a slight re-alignment might have solved that. Certainly the road overpass in Brewer Road in Bentleigh may have caused problems.

Would it have been politically feasible? I wonder if the government could have stomached the risk in the very marginal seat of Bentleigh? They may yet face a similar conundrum further south on the Frankston line.

We might never really know, but had the concept of elevated rail been considered earlier for the Bentleigh area, the potential was there for a project with far fewer disruptions, and some markedly better outcomes for locals.