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.

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 member 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.

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:

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.

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.

Level crossings: Which are funded to be removed, which are promised?

I’ve been trying to sort out the status of all the level crossings from the various lists. Some are fully funded, others are funded for planning, and some are merely promises/pledges from the politicians.

I ended up going back to the ALCAM 2008 list, and working through which have already been grade separated, and which are now proposed.

Mckinnon level crossing

The full list is below, and I’m sure will make for a riveting read (note also some footnotes at the bottom) but first a summary of what I found:

The ALCAM list included 1,872 crossings across Victoria. 180 are railway crossings in the metropolitan area. Another 5 are on the light rail lines to St Kilda and Port Melbourne. The rest are on non-metro lines (including on the Stony Point line, and V/Line areas within metropolitan Melbourne), so typically have much fewer rail services and less road and pedestrian traffic.

Of the 180 metropolitan crossings, 9 have already been grade-separated: 4 by Labor between 2007 [See note 8] and 2010, and 5 by the Coalition since then, leaving 171 level crossings around Melbourne (excluding light rail).

The most expensive funded or completed crossing by far is Main Road, St Albans, at $200 million. The cheapest was Kororoit Creek Road in Altona, at $48.5 million, which included road duplication, but no new station.

The average cost since 2007 is $130.1 million. Some have included new railway stations. Some such as the $173.9 million grade separation of Footscray Road in the Port of Melbourne area have included large-scale roadworks. (The project also included two much further down the priority list, and not counted as “Metro”: Appleton Dock Road, ranked 1325 and Enterprise Road, ranked 651.)

More level crossing removals are currently fully-funded by the Coalition: 4 via the budget and 4 as part of the Dandenong rail project. A further 7 have planning or early works funding from the Coalition. [Update: In March 2015 the Coalition’s Dandenong rail project was scrapped and replaced by Labor’s version.]

Not hard to see why pedestrians, cars, buses, ambulances get delayed in Clayton. Grade separation needed!

Coalition claims

Strangely the Coalition has repeatedly claimed to have completed or commenced 40 grade separations. I can only count 5 completed, 4 fully funded in the budget, 4 via the Dandenong project, and 7 partially funded = 20.

The only possible way to get close to their claim is to include Regional Rail Link bridges, which are on a new line, so are not “level crossing removal” because there was never a level crossing there. There’s also Christies Road on the Ballarat line, which is a road extension over an existing line, not on the RRL route but done as part of the project. Again, no level crossing has actually been removed, though at a stretch you might count all of these 13 as “grade separation”. If you did, you’d also need to count three similar instances along the Epping to South Morang extension, funded by Labor.

(There are four river bridges on the RRL line as well, but they can’t count as they don’t involve roads or level crossings.)

So unless I’m missing something, the closest I can get to the Coalition’s claim of 40 grade separations is 33.

I asked anonymous Coalition blogger SpringStSource about this some time ago, but have not had a reply. Since then the 40 claim hasn’t been used as much, but was repeated by Coalition MP David Southwick at the MTF Glen Eira forum a couple of weeks ago, and tweeted by Treasurer Michael O’Brien last week as well.

Update: Michael O’Brien has advised me that funding was provided in the 2014-15 budget for investigating another 7 (as-yet unnamed) grade separations. From page 17 of the Budget Information Paper: Infrastructure Investment: $21 million in new funding provided in the 2014-15 Budget to commence planning for seven priority level crossing removals as the next stage of the Metro Level Crossing Blitz program.

Labor promises

Meanwhile Labor is pledging to remove 50, with 40 on their list from last year, and another 2 so far added.

Their priority list includes many (but not all) of the top crossings in the ALCAM list. They say they’d do this over 8 years (two terms), funded by sale of the Port.

All of the current 8 fully funded crossings are included on the list pledged by Labor so far. Effectively this means those 8 will happen no matter who wins the election… well, if whoever wins fulfils their promises.

Does this make Labor’s pledge empty on those 8? Perhaps, though Labor pledged them before the Coalition funded them.

The top 300 crossings

Note the Location really refers to the types of trains, not where it is. Some “Non-Metro” are in Melbourne. The Risk Score is a formula based on a number of factors, including the likelihood of collisions; the number of trains, motor vehicles and pedestrians; and the consequence. See this document, section 4/page 3.

Edit: This list is only the top 300, which includes all of the Metro crossings. There are actually another 1,572 non-Metro crossings not included here. You can see them on the original list. (Thanks David S for noticing my error.)
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Labor pledges to grade-separate Bentleigh level crossing

As I walked to the station this morning there seemed to be an unusually long tailback of cars approaching the level crossing.

I found a gaggle of reporters at the station, and shortly afterwards state opposition leader Dan(iel) Andrews showed up, with public transport spokesperson Jill Hennessy and local Bentleigh candidate Nick Staikos, to announce Labor will grade separate the Centre Road crossing if elected.

Labor pledges Bentleigh level crossing grade separation

It’s part of Labor’s scheme to remove 50 level crossings over 8 years (two terms). They had announced 40 based on the official ALCAM (Australian Level Crossing Assessment Model) risk ratings, and said they’d announce another 10 in due course… closer to the election.

Evidently the first of those ten is Bentleigh, which is slap bang in a marginal seat, though this doesn’t mean it’s not deserving — in the 2008 ALCAM list (it appears this is the most up-to-date one that has been completed), it sat at number 60. Since then, numerous others in the top 50 have been completed or funded, and there are many more still are in Labor’s first 40 — though I haven’t yet checked if they are all included.

I couldn’t stay for the full press conference (alas, I had a train to catch), but Daniel Andrews said they wouldn’t comment on costings for individual crossings, as they didn’t want to flag to contractors how much they’d be willing to pay. Costings are a hot issue — St Albans has set a record at an estimated $200 million, but some other recent, less complex, crossings have been much much cheaper — for example Middleborough Road (including a new Laburnum station) was $66 million in 2007. And the Springvale and Blackburn crossings completed earlier this year were three for $350 million, or an average of $117 million each — and you’d expect economies of scale to drive prices down if you were doing 50.

I think most locals will welcome this pledge. It’s not just traffic (including buses and cyclists) which is frequently delayed — people walking to and from the station often have to wait… though the programming of the gates sometimes sees long delays for distant approaching trains, and some people lose patience and skip around the gates.

And though it’s not as big a problem as it is at Clayton, it’s not unknown to see emergency vehicles having to wait as well.

Along with other grade separations along the line, it allows more trains to run without impacting local road traffic.

Bentleigh also has a less than stellar record for safety, with a number of fatal accidents over the years — though fewer since the pedestrian gates were upgraded. Here’s an interactive timeline created by Amy Foyster:

But the pledge raises a question: given North Road is funded to be grade separated, would Labor propose to do Mckinnon Road as well? It’s midway between them, only 800 metres from North Road, and 800 metres from Centre Road. Unless all three are done (preferably as one project, to save money and minimise disruptions) the line could resemble a roller coaster, and play havoc with the freight trains, which already have problems getting up the hill northbound into Ormond.

The local Leader newspaper is seeking comment from sitting Liberal member Elizabeth Miller on the crossing. Nothing yet.

Update 18/9/2014: