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.

PTV rail map – latest draft

Since our last exciting episode, PTV have made a number of revisions to the draft rail map. Here’s the latest version:

PTV rail map concept design, October 2014 (cropped)
(Click to see it larger, and uncropped)

As I said back in April, I really like this new design, which better represents how the rail network operates.

Changes since that earlier draft that I can see include:

  • Sandringham line at an angle which better reflects geographic reality, rather than implying it runs into the middle of the bay!
  • Likewise some other line directions have been modified to reflect reality, for instance Warrnambool, Stony Point, Bairnsdale, Belgrave
  • The Showgrounds/Racecourse line has been lightened so it’s not stark black now
  • Most of the complicated dashed lines have been taken out, such as Alamein joining the main line at Camberwell, and the strange dual Glen Waverley markings on the old version
  • A triangle indicator representing the last stop in zone 2 — while zones will be much less important (in Melbourne at least) it’ll be helpful for Melbourne users (especially those on Passes) to easily see how far they can go without incurring a zone 3 or higher fare
  • Regional Rail Link is shown as a dotted line on the map… to become solid when it opens
  • The earlier one had an airport indicator at Southern Cross, which some people claimed was confusing. It’s goneski.

Some people have complained it doesn’t allow space for the Doncaster line. I reckon if that’s the worst problem, that’s not saying much — unfortunately neither side of politics is saying they’ll build it anytime soon… ditto Rowville. It does have space for two that are more likely to get up in the near future: Airport (Coalition), Mernda (Labor)… though the designers may have to do a bit of fiddling to get either rail tunnel scheme in.

What do you think? Leave a comment here or on the PTUA’s Facebook page — they will be passed back to PTV.

(Yes, I’ll tell them Balaclava now needs to be marked in as Premium ahem a Customer Service Hub. And the asterisk can disappear from Flagstaff soon — hooray!)

Update

I should have posted this originally, but it slipped my mind… the text from an explanatory note (following up from the previous draft) provided by PTV:

Victorian Rail Network Map
Concept 2 – Explanatory Note

This document outlines some of the changes to the new train map that have been made as a result of public consultation and feedback. The new map is proposed to be introduced in 2015 when Regional Rail Link Stations at Wyndham Vale and Tarneit are opened. Feedback is sought on this revised version so further improvements can be made.

  • Feedback on the new map has generally been positive.
  • While the map is designed to be schematic, the direction of some lines has been altered
    to be more geographically accurate following customer feedback.
  • Feedback indicated that using a dotted line to indicate direct services from Glen Waverley to Flinders Street was confusing. In this version Glen Waverley has been given its own line colour. It is usual that Glen Waverley trains operate direct to Flinders Street, but generally return to Glen Waverley via the loop in the afternoons and on weekends. This information has been included in the key.
  • The dotted line at Camberwell to represent peak hour Alamein trains travelling to/from the city was viewed as being misleading and has been removed, replaced with a note in the key. This map will be primarily used by occasional users, and reflects that passengers traveling from the city to Alamein will normally need to change at Camberwell.
  • The new Regional Rail Link stations have been shown in this version.
  • New stations that will open later this year (Waurn Ponds and Epsom) are now shown
  • The special events line has been lightened to avoid giving the impression that it operates all the time.
  • The boundary of the metropolitan area (Zone 1+2) has been indicated by little triangles – so that passengers can see the boundary of the metropolitan fare (which will be a maximum of a Zone 1 fare from 1 January 2015).
  • Transfer points between V/Line and Metro service have been revised to reflect where transfers are more likely to occur.
  • The designation for the Stony Point line has been changed to make it clearer that the service is operated by Metro. The line has been kept in grey as the line is operated by trains branded with V/Line and the service level provided is more consistent with a V/Line service than other Metro lines.
  • The Airport bus designation at Southern Cross was perceived by some users to be confusing and this has been removed.
  • There is now clearer designation of the boundary of the myki area on V/Line services. Feedback indicated people preferred the boundary to end at a station rather than between stations.
  • East Richmond is shown on the Glen Waverley Line even though some Lilydale/Belgrave trains do stop there. In the long term, it is intended that East Richmond will be exclusively a Glen Waverley Line station.
  • When Regional Rail Link opens, the V/Line service running parallel with the Werribee Line will be removed and the map will reflect this. This may provide the opportunity to improve the design of the Werribee Line, including swapping certain station names to the other side of the line.

A number of changes that were suggested have not been included. These include:

  • Consideration was given to including Overland stations but this was decided against as the product provided to customers differs from that offered on V/Line. There are two Overland services between Adelaide and Melbourne per week in each direction.
  • It is not proposed to include tourist railways.
  • While bus and tram connections are not proposed to be shown on this map, it is intended that electronic versions of the map will be display connecting bus and tram services when customers select a particular station.
  • This map is designed to be part of a suite of products for customers. Local area maps that show train, tram and bus services will be improved to assist passengers making multi-modal journeys.
  • Line diagrams for each line, based on the colours shown in the new map, will include a range of information that cannot be easily shown on a network map.
  • The map is intended to show the network as it will exist from 2015 and does not include proposed train stations or train lines that will not be completed by this time.
  • Consideration was given to showing loop directions. At present only the South Morang/Hurstbridge Loop has been altered to operate clockwise seven days a week. When more loops are altered to operate in a consistent manner, then loop direction will be included on the map.

The old railway line to Rutherglen and Wahgunyah

On the road to Rutherglen a few weeks ago, we came across this: the old railway. Some photos below.

Apparently it opened in 1879, with passenger trains running until 1962, and freight trains until 1995. These days the nearest operating railway is at Springhurst a few kilometres away, on the main line to Albury and Sydney.

If you take a look at Andrew Waugh’s excellent VRHistory web site, you’ll see maps that show just how extensive the Victorian Railways were. By 1940, the network reached most populated parts of the state, before it contracted in the decades following.

By the way, it’s notable that some argue that not only should the South Morang line be extended to Mernda, but also another 10 kilometres to Whittlesea where it used to run. I’m not convinced. Just because there used to be a line to Whittlesea doesn’t automatically mean it should be rebuilt. The Urban Growth Boundary doesn’t extend out that far. Serving the population, not empty fields, is the priority for public transport upgrades.

The old railway line to Wahgunyah, near Rutherglen, Vic

The old railway line to Wahgunyah, near Rutherglen, Vic

The old railway line to Wahgunyah, near Rutherglen, Vic

Regional Rail Link: Melbourne’s first brand new suburban train line since 1930

It’s often said that there hasn’t been a suburban rail line built in Melbourne since the Glen Waverley line opened in 1930. To be precise, that year it was extended from Darling to Glen Waverley.

Others built or extended since then have either been electrification along existing lines, or re-openings of lines along old alignments: Werribee, Sunbury, Craigieburn, Cranbourne.

The City Loop was all-new, but is not suburban and didn’t serve any areas that had no existing public transport routes. South Morang kinda re-opened an old line, but was basically a completely new alignment.

(Update: it’s been rightly pointed out to me that Westona station is on a section of line first opened in 1985.)

Regional Rail Link changes that. Despite the name, and despite being served by diesel trains, it will serve new suburban areas, with stations at Tarneit and Wyndham Vale, and is being built almost entirely in suburban Melbourne (both in fresh “green fields” and existing “brown fields” areas).

The RRL social media team has been busy, and they’ve posted a video flyover of the whole project.

When seen like this, it puts the size of the project into perspective, and at 47 kilometres long, it’s longer than any existing suburban line except the Pakenham line (though with far fewer stations).

At a full cost of around $4.8 billion (around $100 million per kilometre), it’s a lot of money… but it looks like a bargain against the proposed East West road tunnel stage 1, at $6-8 billion for just 6 kilometres (around $1 billion per kilometre). Of course, that’s mostly tunnel, which is more expensive — though even against the proposed rail tunnel the road expensive in terms of construction cost and particularly cost per person moved.

New Footscray station bridge now being partially demolished

This is Footscray railway station’s William Cooper bridge, pictured just after it opened in 2010. It’s almost brand new.

Footscray railway station footbridge in 2011

Preparatory work on replacing the old bridge had began in April 2009, with the first bridge spans put into place in around August 2009. It was opened in April 2010, at a cost of $15 million.

Meanwhile, the Regional Rail Link (RRL) project was first publicly mooted in 2006, and recommended as part of the Victorian Transport Plan in 2008. It gained the bulk of its funding (and thus the green light to proceed) from the Federal government in May 2009, with a preliminary route design being announced in June 2009.

But despite the RRL project having been given the go-ahead before the bridge started major construction, apparently nobody on the bridge project team thought to check if the it was long enough to handle the extra tracks and platforms likely to be built as part of RRL…

The bridge is not long enough.

Footscray railway station footbridge being partially demolished

Footscray railway station footbridge being partially demolished

Footscray railway station footbridge being partially demolished

The northern part of the bridge is being demolished, less than two years after it opened, so it can be extended a few extra metres over the new tracks. Harking back to a couple of years ago when the new bridge was built parallel to the remains of the old one, a temporary bridge has been constructed.

Your tax payer dollars at work.

The silver-lining is the upgrade will apparently make some improvements, including escalators and better weather-proofing… it’s unclear why the bridge design didn’t include these in the first place.

Of course in an ideal world, the bridge wouldn’t have been built in that form at all — as part of the wider Footscray $62 million redevelopment programme they should have looked at a Perth-style train/bus interchange which would fix the problem of most of Footscray’s buses terminating several hundred metres away from the station, at a myriad of different bus stops.

Update Monday: It’s been pointed out to me that once construction starts it’s hard to stop and change the design, and that the RRL design for Footscray station may not have been known before about October 2009 (which is certainly when I first heard it would be extra platforms on the northern side). Fair enough.

But I still think the point here is that as soon as RRL got funded/underway (in May), someone should have flagged the issue with the bridge project team immediately, and construction halted until it was known where the extra platforms would go, and whether the bridge needed to be modified.