Bentleigh station isn’t finished

Now that we’ve finished talking about names of yet-to-be-built stations, let’s talk about some recently built ones.

Last Saturday a steam train ran to celebrate a year (and a bit) since the new Bentleigh/McKinnon/Ormond stations re-opened, following level crossing removals.

But while they’ve now been in use for well over a year, the stations aren’t actually finished.

Even leaving aside the controversial Ormond tower, there are numerous little things that haven’t been completed.

The bike cages at Ormond and McKinnon seem to be in use (after some delays), but the one at Bentleigh is suspiciously empty, leading me to believe the issues with its construction are still not resolved — though Bentleigh is listed on the Parkiteer web site.
Bike cage at Bentleigh station

The retail space at Bentleigh and McKinnon hasn’t been leased… it hasn’t even been fitted out! I’m told this is in VicTracks’ hands. This should be a prime location. How much revenue (that could offset the project cost) has been foregone? (Ormond doesn’t have such a space.)
McKinnon station retail space
Retail space at Bentleigh station

The Smartbus signs at Bentleigh still aren’t operational. The eastbound sign hasn’t been fully working since 2011 when the train departure times were switched off. It was removed completely for the level crossing removals, and then put back — but now even the bus times are displayed at present. Its smaller twin (with space for bus times only) for westbound buses doesn’t work either.
Bentleigh station Smartbus sign, not working

The small picnic area between Bentleigh and McKinnon appeared to be completed, and was looking nice, until recently when someone took away the benches. Only the rubbish bin has been left. It’s not clear why, nor if it’s permanent.
Small recreation area between Bentleigh and McKinnon stations

Also of note: some pretty sloppy work that has left drainage problems on platform 3 at Bentleigh…
Bentleigh station platform 3

…and on the south-east side of the bridge.
Footpath opposite Bentleigh station

This is just what I’ve noticed when using the stations. There seems to be a steady stream of workers still doing little jobs — is it maintenance, or are there other things not completed?

The achievements of the level crossing removal project — a massive upgrade that has benefited motorists, pedestrians, cyclists, public transport users alike — are to be celebrated.

But with dozens of similar projects underway around Melbourne, it seems to me they need to get better at ensuring everything gets finished so they can draw a line under it and move on.

Update 6/12/2017:

I noticed another thing: despite me asking Metro about it multiple times, the signage at Patterson advising which trains use which platforms at which times, removed during the project, still hasn’t been replaced:

Patterson station entrance

And: Liberal Bentleigh candidate Asher Judah has posted this on Twitter, about the Smartbus sign:

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:

Currently

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.

Mckinnon:
Plan for new Mckinnon station (as at May 2015)

Bentleigh:
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.

Smartbus sign still not fully working after 18 months

There used to be realtime train information displayed on the Smartbus sign outside Bentleigh station (as there is at many other Smartbus stops near railway stations around Melbourne).

Bentleigh Smartbus sign (when it worked)

The information was provided partly for the benefit of bus drivers, so they could see if a train was imminent, and if so wait for passengers (though it was never clear if they’d been instructed to wait a bit longer if they were due to depart).

But of course, the information was useful to the general public as well — the countdown timer was a prompt you might need to walk faster to catch your train… and it’d be good advertising for the frequent (ten minutes or better) we now get every day on the Frankston line.

About a year and a half ago in February 2011, around the time of the last fatal accident at Bentleigh station’s level crossing, the train information on the sign was turned-off.

Last year it was also the case that some other similar signs elsewhere in Melbourne didn’t properly work, though others continue to work fine.

It was switched-off because the Department of Transport believed the information on it was sometimes wrong (though I don’t actually recall spotting any glaring errors on it). A notice was placed at the stop explaining why.

Bentleigh Smartbus sign: apology 1

Time passed…

…months flew by…

Just in the past few weeks, there’s finally been progress. What progress, you ask?

A new notice! With the Metlink logo replaced by a PTV logo! Hooray!

Bentleigh Smartbus sign: apology 2

In all seriousness, I’ve checked — they’re still working on a solution, but they don’t want to use the old apparently dodgy data feed (I think it may have been provided by insane monkeys hidden away in some basement underneath Flinders Street, pressing and listening to green buttons before bashing the information into keyboards to display on the screen).

Instead they’re going to switch to a shiny new rocket-powered, laser-guided data feed that apparently also feeds the information provided on the platforms — in this case, the green button, I guess.

(I hope this doesn’t mean it’s waiting for the repeatedly delayed Metrol upgrade project to be completed.)

And there’ll be another improvement: it used to be that after the last bus had gone, the entire sign switched itself off, even though trains keep running for several hours afterwards each night. I’m told that when the sign is working again, the train times will still be displayed when buses have finished for the night.

When this will all happen, however, is unclear.

And so, we wait.

Art on local stations

Some local railway stations seem to have gained a lot of art in the last few weeks.

Patterson station’s road underpass got a mosaic mural, with local schools contributing to a project devised by Pamela Irving. There’s some quite good pieces:

Patterson station mural

Patterson station mural

It’s all aimed at improving the look of the station and reducing graffiti.

THE population of Patterson, near Bentleigh, has just risen by 650 and the new faces on the block are staring down the graffiti taggers who make the local station one of the most repeatedly defaced in Melbourne. — The Age

More recently, just yesterday this rather more temporary-looking display popped-up at Bentleigh station:

Metro art at Bentleigh station

I note that there seems to be a battle of wills going on between some vandals and Metro’s painting crews on the gents’ toilet door at Bentleigh. It must have been painted a dozen times this year. With luck this won’t fall victim to the same people.

It’s no Moscow Metro, but who knows — it might even be found that the costs of installing art works like this is less than the constant re-painting, and it certainly makes these stations more pleasant to look at.

Update 9:30am

I suspected the gleaming white of the new art installation at Bentleigh put in during school holidays would be too alluring to the local barbarians. Sadly it has already been vandalised. Sometime between 6pm and 8:30am, it was tagged.

New art installation at Bentleigh tagged already

Update 8pm. The whole installation at Bentleigh was removed some time today.

I can’t help but think that given the repeated vandalism of other parts of the station, a fresh coat of paint and a few police waiting nearby for the culprits might fix the problem once and for all.