There have been rumblings for a while that some of the level crossing removals might include elevated sections, but finally we have a concrete (pardon the pun) proposal to look at: the crossings along the Dandenong line, known internally as “CD9” or the “Caulfield To Dandenong Nine”. (Sounds like a music group.)
It’s become more popularly known as “Skyrail”.
The “Skyrail” name seems to have originated either with a journalist or an Opposition MP, as it first appeared in this Herald Sun article in January. I checked with the journo, and he’s not sure — it may have been the work of a subeditor — but certainly the name has stuck.
Since then the Government (MPs at least, not necessarily bureaucrats) seems to have tried to embrace the nickname rather than ignore it, and it’s handy shorthand.
So, what do we know?
Pulling together the information provided publicly and more gleaned from discussions with the Level Crossing Removal Authority (such an unwieldy name; LXRA for short), here’s what I’ve learnt about the project.
It’s three sections of elevated track:
The first section will go up and over Grange, Koornang, Murrumbeena and Poath Roads, incorporating new stations at Carnegie, Murrumbeena and Hughesdale. This is probably the most controversial section, as it is very close to homes, due to the narrow width of the rail corridor.
The second section will go over Clayton and Centre Roads, including a new station at Clayton.
The third section will go over Corrigan, Heatherton and Chandler Roads, including a new station at Noble Park — though they come pretty much down to ground level between Heatherton and Chandler Roads. Apparently a rebuild of Noble Park station isn’t really required to do the grade separations, but they’ve decided to do it anyway, to move it closer to the local shopping centre and provide new facilities at the station.
The height is mostly between 8 and 10 metres. This is well above the 5ish metres required for road clearance, because they want to maximise light underneath the structure and into neighbouring properties. For the same reason, most of the way along, each track will be on a separate structure. It also helps assists with construction while the existing railway and roads stay open.
The extra height should also help prevent any nasty incidents with trucks hitting bridges.
Light and shadow is important issue. Minimising shadow impacts can help with growing vegetation underneath, which will make it more pleasant.
It also makes a difference to nearby residents, particularly between Caulfield and Hughesdale where some houses are very close to the line — though of course it doesn’t even come close to eliminating the impact. More on that later.
The LXRA have got a 3-D model showing the light and shadow at different times of day, using the sun’s position on 22nd September — which is apparently the standard.
The new stations won’t straddle the roads. Exits will only be on one side. This seems a shame, though most of the roads (currently) are only 4 lanes total, unlike at Nunawading or Ormond (which have got or are getting exits on both sides). I suppose sticking to a single exit may help with sight lines and personal safety.
With platform level being up to 8-10 metres from ground level, access becomes important. I’m told each station will have lifts, stairs and escalators. They will all be island platforms, which is good for safety, maximising space and access to station facilities.
So what about bus interchange? Most of the new stations would be on the eastern side of the main roads (Hughesdale the exception, it would move to the western side of Poath Road) so southbound bus stops will be on the road, next to the station entrance.
Northbound? Well it seems (at Clayton and others, it appears) they may loop around via an access road, to avoid passengers having to cross the main road. Hopefully that doesn’t add to delays too much — an opportunity there for traffic light priority. Yes, it’ll be faster than long waits for boom gates, but will it be as fast as it would be sticking to an unencumbered main road?
Update: Additional diagrams have been released that show a number of bus stops being across roads from stations (as well as other detail). This needs further explanation.
The line will stay as two tracks with “passive” provision for extra tracks — the project will be in line with a longer term plan for two additional tracks later. Elevated instead of in a cutting apparently makes this substantially easier, as expanding a cutting is difficult without shutting down the line.
Edit: It’s assumed that the two extra tracks later will be for freight and express services, therefore they don’t need platforms at most stations. See also the section on Capacity, below.
The promise: reduced disruption during construction — it’s widely known that there are huge disruptions when putting rail lines under roads, particularly when there’s very little space alongside the existing line.
For some (eg Gardiner, Springvale) they can do a lot of the construction alongside the existing corridor, and minimise shutdowns. But for narrow alignments that’s difficult. The Ormond to Bentleigh project will have something like 10-12 weeks of shut downs in total, covering numerous weekdays including peak hours.
Running buses (properly!) in peak hours is a huge operation. The recent late-January Frankston line shutdown used around 100 buses at times, and huge numbers of support staff. And that was outside university term times, so the loads were less than there will be for the big shutdown this winter.
The Dandenong line is far busier than the Frankston line, so longterm bustitution really wouldn’t be pretty, particularly as they want to push ahead and get the whole project built within three years.
The LXRA says the Skyrail design means much of the disruption can be avoided. A lot of the structures can be built around the existing infrastucture, including building some off-site. Estimates, subject to change, are that there will be perhaps 15 to 20 weekend shutdowns, with only two longer shutdowns of around 9 and 16 days — I’d hope the latter could be contained to school holidays. (Edit: corrected number of days.)
If those estimates are correct, it’s certainly a far cry from the Frankston line shutdown this winter which is expected to be around 5-6 weeks long, only partly during school holidays — and the three stations themselves will closed for up to 3 months.
Opening up public space. 225,000 square metres, they say, or the equivalent of 11 MCGs. When did MCGs become a standard measurement of land area?
There’s extra space for parks (worth noting that Glen Eira, covering the inner section, has the least open space of any metropolitan council area). In some spots there’s potential for existing parks or facilities (such as the aquatic centre at Noble Park) to be expanded under the tracks.
Seventeen extra cycle/pedestrian crossing points have been flagged — presumably this excludes the parks, which you could also walk through.
And five new rail/road crossing locations have also been identified with help from Vicroads and councils. Hopefully they don’t become semi-arterial rat runs, and shift traffic rather than creating more. My assumption is few if any of these extra crossing points would be economically viable if road bridges had to be built across the rail line.
An extra 12 km of cycle paths will be added, linking existing sections to make a single stretch for bikes from Caulfield to Dandenong, with local councils contributing additional links to Monash University and the Gardiner Creek trial, which provides an off-road path all the way into the city.
Urban slum? — Open space only works if people use it. As noted above, the LXRA’s claim is that by building the rail higher than needed, and mostly along separate structures, it maximises the light.
I’m not convinced by the assertion that such a space automatically becomes urban blight. Comparisons to existing elevated rail lines in Melbourne aren’t really fair, because they are decades old and haven’t been designed with these issues in mind. Comparisons to road overpasses are doubly unfair, as roads are wider, tend to be lower to the ground, and as with those older rail examples, haven’t been specifically designed for space underneath them.
If we avoided building anything that could attract graffiti, we wouldn’t build much, because just about any close-to-vertical surface attracts graffiti these days. That said, most of the structures near the ground are columns, so far less “canvas” than the retaining walls used on most past Melbourne elevated rail, as well as on most cuttings.
Any public space can become vandalised and littered. The question is how it’s minimised and managed. It could be good, or it could be bad. Will people feel safe there, or will they avoid it like the plague?
Perhaps local councils will take on the ongoing maintenance — then as with their other parks, then you’d hope these new spaces can be maintained to a similar condition. Hopefully the LXRA is thinking carefully through this.
Concerning is the pledge that the space will also be used to provide “thousands of new car parks” — I can understand why they might want to preserve the number of spots currently offered at stations, but a huge expansion of car spots is a terrible use of space, and will only encourage more cars into these busy suburban centres.
I can certainly believe that big car parks underneath the rail line might become well urban blight, much like the similar spaces underneath the Westgate Freeway.
Mile Creek — if rail is elevated, getting over the Mile Creek in Noble Park isn’t an issue. Otherwise there would have been some serious challenges doing this, especially with Chandler Road only a few hundred metres away.
The Coalition’s plan in 2014 did not include funding for Chandler Road — in fact it only included funding for removal of 4 of the 9 level crossings, with money to study the rest. Given their fierce opposition to SkyRail, I wonder if asked now, what they would say about how they would address Chandler Road? (The same goes for roads along the southern end of the Frankston line, near the Patterson River, for instance.)
Capacity — this project is part of the overall Dandenong line upgrade project. Level crossing removals enable more trains. Platform extensions (30 of them in all) will enable the longer “High-Capacity Metro Trains” that will be bought in coming years. The total is claimed to be a 42% boost to peak capacity, and that’s before any moves to high-capacity signalling. This project will include new conventional signalling.
That said, the longer trains can only be used once the Metro rail tunnel opens circa 2026, because existing CBD stations can’t handle them. There’s been no commitment yet on platform extensions for the Sunbury line, but that would also need to happen, as post-tunnel, the Dandenong line will connect to it.
But in the meantime, you can at least move closer to filling the line with trains (up from around 15 per hour now) without locking up the road system. And I think we all know the Dandenong line needs more trains.
(I’m awaiting an answer on precisely how many trains the new signalling will allow. The current theoretical headway is 3 minutes, at a maximum speed of 80-95 km/h.)
So in terms of extra passenger capacity, and new station facilities at five locations, there are some pretty good outcomes for train passengers.
Noise reduction — the LXRA are firm in saying that the noise from trains would be far less than with them at ground level. Noise barriers will apparently prevent most of the sound reaching ground level, and they plan to test them after installation to make sure they work.
They also claim vibrations from trains on the viaduct would be less than at present.
Rail safety — apparently it’s now a world standard for elevated railways to include derailment protection. Derailment beams will stop the train from falling off the viaduct if the wheels leave the track, so the effects of any derailment would be less than if it happened currently at ground level.
And the cost? There have been claims in the past that elevated rail is cheaper than putting it under roads. At $1.6 billion for the whole project, it seems reduced cost is probably not a benefit. The key difference seems to be that less of the money is going into disruption costs such as running buses, and moving underground services. (I stat I have written in my notes is that disruption costs can be up to 40% of the cost of a level crossing removal.)
Were the alternatives considered? I’m told yes, and they were significantly more disruptive during construction. And of course while debate rages, a big trench through the suburb might be “out of sight, out of mind”, but isn’t lovely to look at, and doesn’t provide many if any opportunities for extra line crossings of use of the space.
Local residents are angry
There’s no doubt you’d be angry if you lived next to the rail line, especially if you had no idea this proposal was coming.
Even if you accept that the noise from trains will be reduced, and like the benefit of the level crossing removals and extra pedestrian/cyclist/road connectivity, there’s a huge impact from having an 8-10 metre high railway next to your house. It will fundamentally change the feel of that part of those suburbs. So does a trench/cutting, as we’re discovering in Bentleigh, but it’s less visible from street level.
Currently you might look over your back fence and see sky and some electrical wires, and a train passing every few minutes. If this plan goes ahead, instead you’ll see big concrete columns, a high viaduct above your head, and trains going past.
Is the impact bigger than having it at ground level? Visually, of course it is.
But the impact is quite different according to exactly where you are. The LXRA is very keen for people to come along to the consultation sessions happening in the next few weeks, and/or to contact them for a one-on-one discussion.
They have got a 3-D model which shows the design, how it looks from all sorts of different angles, and where shadows are cast at different times of day.
And they’ll be asking residents what options they’d like to reduce the visual impact from peoples back yards, including building high walls, and trees. Obviously that’s only going to do so much.
Should we believe their claims about noise and vibrations? They’ve got some clever people, but I think they need to get better at presenting the evidence they have that it will be better with this project built and noise barriers in place. They should quantify the noise estimates. And prove afterwards that it worked.
They’re going to need to prove that privacy screens or other measures can successfully stop train passengers gazing down into peoples back gardens.
And there is a range of other concerns from residents that needs to be addressed.
If it were me
I’ve written before about living next to the Dandenong line, in Murrumbeena:
We moved into a flat just across the street from the Dandenong line. The noise isn’t noticeable after a week or two, apart from missing dialogue on the television when a freight train goes past.
My lasting memory is that the main impact of living by the line was the noise. The visual impact was that we saw the trains go by the window, but you get used to that, and eventually it’s meh, who really cares?
If the rail line was high up off the ground, then I’d have been looking out of the window at static columns instead. Assuming less noise and vibration, I personally think, in that context, I wouldn’t much mind. But we didn’t have a private garden to try and enjoy.
Everyone is different, every property is different, the impacts on each are different, and opinions are different. It’s very easy to see why residents are angry.
- Locals should quite definitely attend one of the consultation sessions or contact the LXRA for a discussion
- Official information: Proposed designs unveiled for Caulfield to Dandenong corridor
- Definitely worth reading for the broader planning context: Urban Melbourne: Was the Dandenong corridor’s fate sealed with the new residential zone rollout?
- Residents along the Dandenong line opposing Skyrail have a petition, as do those on the southern end of the Frankston line
- Some good reading from Alan Davies on The Urbanist blog: Is the future of this train line up in the air? and a critique of the reporting on the proposal.
- Meanwhile, in the west: Kororoit Creek Road, Williamstown North (on the Altona Loop) is also planned to be an elevated rail soluton, but is less controversial because it’s not in a residential area. However it has been flagged that the rail line there may be closed for up to three months, which seems excessive. This may be subject to change.
Thanks for the comments so far. Keep them coming — I’ll answer those I can, and will try and get clarity from the LXRA on the others.
Update 12/2/2016: More detailed designs have been released of each site. This raises questions about the continuity of pedestrian/cycle paths and the bus stops (mostly northbound) in relation to where pedestrian crossings will be provided.
For instance in this image of Murrumbeena:
- One bus stops in Railway Parade — this would be the 624. The westbound stop is across the road from the station, with no nearby crosswalk.
- The 822 is moved entirely into Murrumbeena Road, which is good, but access to/from the northbound stop requires going south to the crossing there.
- They’ve actually put an arrow indicating the bicycle/pedestrian path from the west, but led it straight to the main road! Those people too would need to divert south to cross safety, and how do cyclists navigate the station precinct, particularly the car park, to keep heading east?
- The potentially impressive station forecourt doesn’t seem to face the way pedestrians would be approaching, mostly from the north or south along Murrumbeena Road, or from the east. Only bus passengers changing from a southbound bus (not likely to be as useful as other bus connections) would approach from that direction.
Most of the other stations are similar (only Clayton seems to propose the northbound buses running around the station). This needs clarification… and, it appears, some revisions to the design.