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:


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.

Plan for new Mckinnon station (as at May 2015)

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.

11/5/2016 – Some more Q+A

Gene: Any word from the LXRA about leaving trench space for a 4th track from Caufield to Moorabbin to later account for a sprawling Bayside corridor plus upgrades and electrification from Frankston to Baxter according to Laborís Anthony Albanese?

Electrification to Baxter is a good idea, because it would help serve the Peninsula (Leawarra) campus of Monash Uni, and it provides a chance to move the Frankston stabling yards out to Baxter, freeing up land for urban renewal.

Baxter is also a better location for a Peninsula Park And Ride.

I don’t know if it would necessarily result in a huge increase in passenger numbers, making four track express running necessary on the inner part of the line, but the LXRA has consistently said the project has passive provision for the fourth track (which basically means not doing much to provide it, other than not putting anything huge in its way). My assumption is it would result in demolition of platform 3 between Glenhuntly and Patterson, so the fact that the rebuilt stations are getting a third platform certainly indicates the fourth track won’t be happening any time soon.

Warwick: Why does a station need to be staffed to have gates? Is it for wheelchairs and the like?

Yes. One of the options I hope they’re exploring for Bentleigh (and in future for Ormond) is having the wide gate adjacent the booking office, so it can be monitored and opened by staff from within the office. This is commonly used around the world to minimise additional staff requirements, while still ensuring gates are kept closed.

They have used this design at modified setups at Parliament (northern end) and Flagstaff, though I don’t know if they make use of it yet.

(I’ll take your other points as comments!)

Michael (off-blog): Will any noise abatement treatments be applied to surfaces of the cuttings?

Based on what the project team has told me, apparently not.

D (off-blog) wanted to know what would be provided: Lifts, escalators, ramps, stairs?

Stairs and lifts for each platform, with an additional set at Ormond for the entrance on the south side of North Road.

Correction: Bentleigh and Mckinnon will have stairs and lifts. Ormond will have stairs and two lifts for each platform (eg one on each side of North Road), but no ramps.

It sounds like they’ve learnt lessons from Laverton and Epping, where stairs and lifts were provided, but at the former the lifts aren’t big enough to fit ambulance stretchers, and at both they have semi-regular problems due to power failures. These will have additional failsafes such as battery backup.

At Springvale and Mitcham, ramps were also provided, but these are problematic — for DDA compliance, the gradient has to be very slight, with regular flat rest areas, meaning they take a lot of space, and barely anybody uses them.

18/6/2016 – Liam via Twitter: any likelihood of better traffic management for the busses when the big shutdown happens? Caulfield to Ormond in the PM is atrocious

Yes, the northern section is problematic both in the AM peak and PM peak. Buses get stuck for long periods at some of the traffic lights, and in traffic around Glen Huntly, and of course (ironically) at the Neerim Road level crossing.

Metro is offering free parking at Caulfield Racecourse. It’s unclear how many people are using this, but obviously the more people do, the worse this will be for the buses along Queens Parade.

During the big shut, the express buses are likely to run via Bambra Road/Thomas Street. The stopping buses obviously won’t be subject to the Neerim Road crossing during this time, but other delays will be a problem.

Vicroads has been asked several times about allocating bus-only lanes. They’ve declined – of course unlike Ballarat Road, which used them, all the roads used for the bustitution routes here (apart from South Road) are max two lanes each way. All the same, it would make sense to look at specific bottlenecks and ensure buses (which may be carrying 70 or more people each) aren’t delayed.

I think they should also deploy some traffic control on Station Street at Caulfield, to ensure the buses turning right to loop back to the station waiting area aren’t held up as at present.

What Vicroads has said is that they’ll be monitoring traffic flow, and tweaking traffic light sequences. This seems to already be the case at North Road/Grange Road, where the southbound cycle is normally very short (if no pedestrians are crossing). Hopefully they’ve also looked closely at the right turns at Neerim/Grange Roads and Jasper/South Roads.

Keep the questions coming. There’s also an official Community Information Sessions: Monday 16th May 2016 from 2pm to 8pm (drop in at any time) at the Bentleigh Club, 33 Yawla Street, and every Wednesday (same location, 5pm-8pm) during the big shut from 25th June to 31st July.

Under, over? Level crossing removal techniques compared

Ian Woodcock (RMIT) and John Stone (Melbourne Uni) have a new report out comparing level crossing removal methods. The Age has a story on it this morning, and hopefully the full report will be online very soon. UPDATE: Here it is.

I did manage to get a sneak preview, and looks at various case studies around Melbourne, and tries to evaluate aspects such as: connectivity, accessibility, intermodal access (eg interchange), safety, economic development and amenity. The summary table is here:

Summary of level crossing evaluation (from Woodcock and Stone, 2016)
(Click to see the table larger on Flickr)

Method depends on motivation

One of the really interesting points it makes is that the motivations for using various methods have been quite different over the years.

Prior to World War II, it was mostly about improving rail efficiency, and whichever method resulted in the slightest gradient was what got used. So if one looks at the Glen Waverley line, extended from East Malvern and opened in 1930 (and the last big suburban rail project until Regional Rail Link opened in 2015), there are no level crossings, and it’s a mix of rail over and rail under.

After World War II the emphasis was about moving cars, and the cheapest method was road over, such as at Burnley, Oakleigh and Sunshine. The result, the report authors point out, disconnects communities and makes life very difficult for pedestrians and cyclists at street level.

More recently the trend has been trenched rail under road. The high cost of decking mostly prevents additional connections across the tracks or use of land above it. I suspect some people like that it’s out-of-sight, out-of-mind (well, except to train passengers and pedestrians), but the report points out problems with this method — particularly in terms of lack of integration between stations and local neighbourhoods.

As I understand it, putting stations at the bottom of a trench also has poor consequences for rail efficiency. One of the numbers I’ve heard is that it can add 6% to train energy consumption. From this perspective ideally you want stations on a hump, so they can easily brake into stations, and use minimum energy accelerating out of them again.

The report authors have plotted the history of Melbourne grade separations in this fascinating graphic, and you can see the trends over time:

Timeline of grade separations (from Woodcock and Stone, 2016)

As I’ve said many times, all methods have pros and cons.

One lesson here is that one shouldn’t judge current proposals based on what’s been done before. Melbourne has no good past examples of grade separation that was designed to maximise connectivity, economic development and amenity. Most of the past projects have only been targeted at improving rail or road operations, and that’s all they’ve achieved.

Elevated rail such as proposed for the Dandenong line has obvious impacts on those living closest to it, but if designed well it also brings a lot of benefits in terms of overcoming engineering challenges, construction impacts and eventual outcomes such as land use.

The report is well worth reading: Level crossing removals: learning from Melbourne’s experience

Burke Road crossing removal progressing

On Saturday I took a look at the Burke Road level crossing removal — it’s being done as part of the same package as the North/Mckinnon/Centre Roads crossings, but is well ahead of them in terms of progress.

The official web site has details of the project — because there’s space available, the new rail line and new station are being built parallel to the old ones, similar to how Springvale was done.

Level crossing removal works, Gardiner

Level crossing removal works, Gardiner

Level crossing removal works, Gardiner

Last week the Glen Waverley line and Burke Road were both closed so they could build the new bridge deck, then dig under it later. (A similar method is going to be used on the Frankston line crossings in the package.) During this time train passenger connected from Darling Station to Caulfield by bus. This seems to have gone quite well, with plenty of staff to direct people. Being school holidays no doubt helped.

At Burke Road, signs proclaimed the local businesses are open, but they looked pretty dead. Perhaps they always are on Saturday afternoons; I don’t know. The scuba shop highlighted in the local paper a few weeks ago had signs up saying they had moved to Camberwell.

Level crossing removal works, Gardiner

Gardiner level crossing removal works

A new island tram platform stop is being built, which looks like it’ll be adjacent the new station entrance.

The plan is to close the rail line again over Christmas for about 4 weeks to do major construction and connect the new tracks, with the project mostly finished by mid-2016.

There were a few curious locals wandering about taking a look, and of course government propaganda signage reminding us why the project is being done. Despite this specific crossing removal having been funded last year before Labor was voted in, the Andrews government “Getting on with it!” slogan is used.

Level Crossing Removal Authority signage, Gardiner

To be fair, the current government signed the contract, and while it’s not cheap, $534 million for four (an average of $133m each) has started to bring the average price back down after the $200 million price tag at St Albans. Hopefully this downward trend continues as more crossings are done.

The sign was of course authorised by the Victorian government, and printed by the good people at [printer name] in [place of business].

Printed by [Printer name]

Anyway, it’s good to see the project proceeding. As an occasional motorist and tram passenger in the area, I know it regularly clogs up, and I’m sure train passengers will be happier when they no longer have to slow down to 15 kmh crossing the tram line.

  • Update January 2016: the grade separation was completed, with the station and road re-opened this month, with some finishing touches are still underway. Notably while the Coalition first announced and funded this project in 2014, they planned to see it completed in early 2017, so under Labor it’s been finished about a year earlier than expected. Teamwork, I suppose.

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.


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

Level crossing removals en masse – important to get them right

I was planning on writing a blog post on the potential of close to 40+ railway stations being completely rebuilt via the fifty level crossing grade separations the state government is intending on doing over 8 years — most of which are adjacent to railway stations.

But last Thursday night’s PTUA member meeting with Ian Woodcock, who has studied this in some detail, somewhat stole my thunder.

I can’t do justice to all the great material in his presentation, but to my mind, his main points were:

  • Doing a series of grade separations makes the most sense, to allow more trains to run on a section of line (or an entire line)
  • Some of the architecture of recent stations is pretty horrible — needs to be improved
  • Integration with surrounding urban form is really important. Shops, businesses, “destinations” are vital.

Balaclava station

But his big idea was to consider elevated rail. He says it’s cheaper than trenches (the default method of grade separation) — about 1/3 of the cost.

It allows more places to cross the line, and in fact can make use of the land underneath — something which is generally not economic with trenches. It’s also operationally cheaper — trains can slow down coming up the hill into a station, and have gravity help them accelerate away as they depart.

There are old examples of elevated rail working well with the urban landscape, such as around Glenferrie station, providing good proximity for the station to the connecting trams and the shops and the university around it. Canterbury, Balaclava, and others also have elevated rail, though these were all developed many decades ago.

A more modern (Australian) example is the Sydney North West rail link, much of which is elevated through parks and suburbs.

I think he’s got a point. Elevated rail may be the best solution in some cases, and it doesn’t have to be ugly or impinge on the community if it’s done well. The cost difference alone — saving up to two-thirds — should have authorities carefully considering where it can work.

For some examples, see these designs on the ABC web site: Dream train stations designed by Melbourne students.

Proposal for Moreland station, by Evelyn Hartojo (Ian Woodcock's Dream Stations)

Closer to home: Ormond/Mckinnon/Bentleigh

Vicroads had an information tent for the North Road level crossing grade separation, at the Ormond traders festival a month or two back, and I also had a brief chat about it with local MP Nick Staikos about the same project when I ran into him one Monday morning at Bentleigh station.

The new line will be in a trench. As Ian Woodcock noted, the only two options presented to the community for this project were: rail under road in a trench, or road under rail. (Elevated rail may or may not have worked in this spot, though it would have resolved the problem with the Dorothy Avenue underpass, which looks set to close to motor vehicles and/or pedestrians and cyclists. The point is it doesn’t even seem to have been considered.)

As was already known from the information they have put out, the project is set to start major construction in 2016, with major works including a complete rail shutdown for a month in the 2016/17 Christmas holidays.

Other partial shutdowns will occur, including closing the westernmost track for a period of time, which will obviously require a modified peak hour timetable to operate. (Not impossible: it’s been done during Glenhuntly rail crossing rejuvenation works.)

What’s interesting is that Vicroads said, and Nick confirmed, that they are studying whether they can do the Mckinnon and Bentleigh crossings at the same time. This makes a lot of sense; the latter two are less challenging, narrower roads, and it would minimise the rail closures and costs.

Vicroads said they are hopeful, but it’s subject to the state Budget funding the extra two crossings. If I were Nick I’d be pushing for it, as if they can finish them all well before the next state election in 2018, it’s a better look for him being re-elected than if the job’s only half done, the stations are piles of rubble and replacement buses are running every weekend.

I guess we’ll see tomorrow (Tuesday; State Budget day) how many level crossing removals get full funding — as well as what other projects, such as Mernda rail, go full steam ahead.

Update: The State Budget provided funding for 17 crossings, including Mckinnon and Centre Roads, and the 9 crossings between Caulfield and Dandenong.

Update 19/5/2015: Sure enough, the government has announced the contracts have been awarded for these three, as well as Burke Road. All four will be rail under road.