I’ve touched on this before, but I keep seeing comments about it, so I think it’s worthy of a blog post of its own.
Some say that motorists are the primary beneficiaries of grade separation, and that they should be classed as road projects. Certainly motorists gain, but so do others.
Here are seven benefits to people other than motorists from level crossing removal.
Pedestrians, especially station users — at most ground level stations, there’s no way to get across the tracks (including to/from some or all of the platforms) without waiting for trains. I know from personal experience that if I have to wait at the gates for a train heading in my direction, I’ll probably miss it — unless I put on a Usain Bolt burst of energy and sprint for it — and a fair few other people are boarding — and the Myki reader chooses to respond particularly quickly.
At some stations you can wait an awfully long time at the gates for all the trains to clear. A Greens survey some years ago cited waits of up to 17 minutes at Yarraville station. That was before Geelong trains got moved off that line, but eventually it will fill back up with more Werribee trains.
Cyclists — if you’re cycling down one of these roads, long waits can occur, particularly during peak hour. It also adds to traffic queuing, which may make for a less pleasant (and possibly less safe) ride.
Bus and tram passengers — Passengers on trams and buses also suffer from delays at level crossings. In fact it’s quite common for routes that cross a lot of level crossings to have severe punctuality problems, so it can affect passengers right along the route.
I don’t know if any exhaustive studies have been done, but if you compare tram routes 3, 5, 64 and 67, all four have similar mixes of dedicated track (along Swanston Street and St Kilda Road) and mixed traffic running. But route 67 is the only one with a level crossing. In the past twelve months, route 67 has the lowest punctuality figure of those four routes, and in fact every month showed worse on-time performance than the others.
R703 & 733 are running up to 25mins late due to boom gates at clayton. IJO
— Ventura Bus (@VenturaBus) December 3, 2015
Train safety and reliability — near misses and collisions at level crossings are common occurrences, and often, tragically, result in deaths or serious injury. This results in long delays for emergency services to do their work, including time to gather evidence for investigation. Quite apart from improving safety, the prevention of these types of incidents means far fewer unexpected suspensions of train services.
The Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator annual report says that in 2013-14 there were 13 level crossing collisions between passenger trains and road vehicles. 12 of these were in Victoria. There were also some 45 deaths due to trespass and/or suspected suicide, though it doesn’t break it down to which occurred at level crossings and which occurred elsewhere. They also said they received 400 notifications of vehicle near-misses nationwide.
Train frequency improvements — this depends on a number of factors, including individual rail line and road conditions, and whether adjacent crossings are removed.
Perhaps the best practical current example in Melbourne is the proposed Dandenong line grade separations. They will remove every remaining crossing from the City to Dandenong, and PTV has said in the past that this is a barrier to running more trains in peak, due to the impacts it would have.
The Dandenong project will be accompanied by upgrades to signalling (using conventional lineside signalling, but still an upgrade), and other upgrades to increase train capacity, as well as frequency.
Emergency services — it’s common to see ambulances and other emergency vehicles stuck waiting for trains. This is particularly problematic where hospitals are adjacent to crossings (for example, Monash Medical Centre Clayton) but it happens in a lot of other locations too.
Better station design — many of our railway stations date back 100 years or more. Rebuilding them is a chance to incorporate newer, better designs. For instance:
- Full accessibility — many Melbourne stations have ramps but few have DDA compliant ramps, with regard to gradients etc
- Designing out crime — CPTED — “Crime prevention through environmental design” — ensuring all areas are easily visible and well lit, for instance
- More shelter — many older stations have hardly any undercover space on the platforms
- Toilets that don’t look (and smell) like they date from the dark ages
- Passive cooling (Bentleigh’s waiting room is like a greenhouse in summer)
- More CCTV
- platforms which slope away from the tracks (improving safety)… the list goes on.
At Ormond, the new station is to include a second entrance on the south side of North Road, meaning people headed that way (including to/from westbound buses) can avoid having to cross six lanes of traffic.
This is not to say newer designs are automatically better — recent efforts in platform shelter have left a lot to be desired, for instance.
In summary, it’s a bit blinkered to paint grade separation as only benefiting motorists. Many others, including train users, directly benefit from removal of level crossings.
They’re very expensive projects, certainly, and they need to be done cost effectively. But do bring a lot of pluses to the wider community, and it’s good to finally see progress on them.