Skyrail part 2: Clayton station open

The new Clayton station opened this morning, and I went down to take a look.

The design is very similar to Noble Park, which opened in February.

A ramp just west of the station (and Clayton Road) brings the trains up onto the elevated section.

From there, the track is entirely elevated as far as Centre Road, where it then drops back down to ground level before reaching Westall station.

Skyrail ramp west of Clayton station

The new track alignment is on the north side of the old one, with the old station building remaining in place for now. (The old outbound platform shelter was removed some time ago, and will be re-located somewhere in the station precinct in the future.)

New Clayton station on opening day

Skyrail looking towards city from Clayton station

Old Clayton station alongside new elevated station

There’s a lot of work continuing today, but the basics are in place: the main structure is there, along with temporary buildings at ground level for PSOs and Metro staff.

New Clayton station entrance on opening day

Fare gates (with the newer fast Vix readers) have been installed, as have screens at the entrance displaying train departures. They’ve had live music performers there this morning, as well as giveaways of coffee and snacks.

New Clayton station fare gates on opening day

To get to platform level you have a choice of escalators, stairs or lifts (one of the two is working today). I did encounter one lady who seemed very nervous about going up – she didn’t want to use the escalator, and also seemed reluctant to use the stairs or lift. Hopefully she can find a way to still catch a train here.

Lifts, stairs and escalators at Clayton station

Some signage would probably help educate passengers of the etiquette of standing on the left of the escalators.

Escalators at Clayton station

As at Noble Park, the island platform is pretty spacious. A wraparound structure gives a degree of weather protection, though I’d have to say it was pretty windy up there. (It was a windy morning. At ground level, the wind blew over one of the performer’s music stands.)

Inbound Metro train at Clayton station

The eastern end of the platform has less weather cover, though more is coming.

Inbound Metro train at Clayton station

Platform PIDs (Passenger Information Displays) were operating, though I noticed a glitch or two. Pretty sure this train wasn’t going to Traralgon.

Outbound Metro train at Clayton station

…and when a V/Line train did appear, “Not taking suburban passengers” was displayed, which is correct — but subsequent train departures disappeared off the screen, which is not ideal.

V/Line train inbound towards Southern Cross at Clayton

Having arrived by bus, I caught a train to Westall and then back again. The ride was pretty smooth, and it’s not noisy.

Outbound Metro train approaches Clayton station

V/Line train inbound towards Southern Cross arrives at Clayton

Skyrail is controversial, but the Clayton section, like Noble Park, is less so than the inner section around Murrumbeena, because there is some space around the tracks, reducing impacts on local residents.

As at Noble Park, the challenge at Clayton will be for the Level Crossing Removal Authority to beautify the area beneath the tracks and get it functioning.

This will include an access road so that passengers can interchange between trains and northbound buses without crossing any roads — which will make up a bit for the station itself not having exits on both sides of Clayton Road.

But the station itself is functioning, which is good. The benefits of the Clayton level crossing removal will be widely felt – ambulances to/from nearby Monash Medical Centre will no longer get held up, and we should expect to see bus punctuality in the area improve. (Already the 703 into Bentleigh from Clayton seems to have improved already.)

The old Clayton station design also meant that passengers had to regularly cross the tracks when using the station. No more delays, and disruptions due to incidents should disappear.

The inner section of skyrail (covering Carnegie, Murrumbeena and later Hughesdale stations) is expected to open after the winter school holidays.

Caulfield to Dandenong skyrail nears completion

Now that the new Noble Park station (aka “Area 3” of the Caulfield to Dandenong “skyrail”) is open, what of the rest of the project?

It’s moving fast. “Area 2” in the Clayton area is coming along, and a rail line closure from the 3rd to the 15th of April will allow construction workers to hook up the new elevated section and get Clayton station opened.

This will remove the crossings at Clayton Road and Centre Road. Clayton Road in particular will bring huge benefits by improving safety and cutting delays — for passengers trying to get to/from the station, for ambulances going to/from Monash Medical Centre, motorists, cyclists…

Clayton station

Clayton station under construction

Importantly, grade separation at Clayton Road will also markedly cut delays for buses. Three routes currently cross the rail line here, often suffering delays due to train delays keeping the boom gates closed, or faults. All three are quite long routes, so this will bring benefits to bus passengers right across the east and south-east of Melbourne.

  • 631 – Southland – Waverley Gardens via Clayton, Monash University
  • 703 – Middle Brighton – Blackburn via Bentleigh, Clayton, Monash University
  • 733 – Oakleigh – Box Hill via Clayton, Monash University, Mt Waverley

703 buses

The 703 is also my local bus route. Twice this month I’ve spotted two buses arriving at once at Bentleigh in morning peak, meaning one was delayed at least 15 minutes. (Clayton may be the worst crossing it encounters, but it’s not the only one; this bus route also crosses the Sandringham line at the North Brighton level crossing.)

Bus/train interchange will also be easier at Clayton, as northbound buses will use a service road which means passengers no longer have to cross multiple roads to between bus stops and the station. (This won’t be the case for buses at the other rebuilt stations.)

So by the time the Easter school holidays are finished, the new Clayton station should be open, with trains running above Clayton and Centre Roads.

Carnegie/Murrumbeena/Hughesdale

Meanwhile in “Area 1” (Caulfield to Hughesdale), the straddle carrier is expected to have finished by the time you read this.

The main reason it’s been used to build the elevated railway in this section is because of the lack of space in the rail corridor – which is also why this section has been so controversial.

Courtesy of the Level Crossing Removal Authority (LXRA), I got to go up onto the elevated structure and take a closer look at the straddle carrier last Tuesday, along with various other advocates, bloggers and stakeholders.

Daniel at Murrumbeena Station under construction (Pic: LXRA)

The big blue things towering above the rail line (behind me on the left) are gantry cranes, designed to lift the pre-built sections of elevated structure up off the ground, to where the straddle carrier (on the right) can get them.

From there, the carrier drives along the existing structure, to where the new sections are lowered into place – as shown in this video from the LXRA from February:

The existing Murrumbeena and Carnegie stations are both operational as works continue. Hughesdale has been closed for some time, as this is where the trains will come back down to street level.

Murrumbeena Station under construction

Murrumbeena Station under construction

Shown above, at Murrumbeena, the main wraparound shelter for the new station is taking shape. Platforms will accommodate the new 7-car High Capacity Metro Trains, with future provision for platform extension to 10-cars.

This photo supplied by the LXRA shows the view from the elevated structure, looking from Carnegie towards Caulfield:

Level crossing removal project, towards Caulfield (Pic: LXRA)

Work will be ongoing as trains continue to run underneath. Not confirmed yet, but expect a shutdown during the winter school holidays to hook up this section and get it operational.

Because the new Clayton station is being built alongside the existing station, they’ve already installed escalators, and lifts should be available from day one of operation, just like at Noble Park.

But it’s a different story at Carnegie and Murrumbeena, where the new stations are directly above the old ones. It sounds like temporary stairs may be necessary – with those requiring stepfree access initially using a shuttle bus to another station until lifts are installed a few weeks later.

Murrumbeena Station notice

Mostly this project seems to have been achieved without long disruptions to rail users, at least, not as long as those felt on lines where tracks have been dug up and lowered into a cutting/trench.

That said, those who travel in the evenings (particularly Sunday to Wednesday) must be getting used to regular replacement buses.

And I’m told rail shutdowns will continue after all the level crossings from Caulfield to Dandenong have been removed. Upgrades to signalling and power and platforms to cater for the new High Capacity Metro Trains (HCMTs) will be ongoing for a while yet, until they come into service sometime next year.

Tens of thousands of people use the Dandenong line every day, and it’s only going to get busier. It’s great to see it finally getting the investment and upgrades it has needed for so long.

Noble Park skyrail nears completion – and measuring traffic benefits

On Wednesday the State Government announced that the first section of “skyrail”, at Noble Park, will open on Thursday 15th February, along with the new station, following a two week disruption to rail services between Westall and Dandenong.

This will mark the removal of three level crossings: at Corrigan, Heatherton and Chandler Roads. Trains will pass over all three of these, as well as over the Mile Creek.

As it happens, I went past there on Tuesday for a look. Here are some photos.

Whether you approach by road or rail, the first impression you get is how big it is.
Noble Park skyrail under construction: Heatherton Road

The overhead wire is going up, and news reports indicate much of the track has also been laid.
Noble Park skyrail under construction: Heatherton Road

There have been some disruptions to rail services, but for most of the time, trains keep running alongside the new structure.
Noble Park old station
Noble Park skyrail under construction: view from Noble Park station looking towards Heatherton Road

What will life be like walking around under the skyrail? You can already get a taste of it – this is the access to the existing station’s pedestrian subway to go under the tracks.
Noble Park skyrail under construction

The station will include a wraparound structure to provide good weather cover, though only along part of the platforms. Its prominence means it’s likely to become a landmark of the area.
Noble Park new station under construction

When I looked on Tuesday, I thought the station looked a fair way from completion, but I’m told by the Authority that by February 15th they’ll have the basics up and running.
Noble Park new station under construction

If you peek underneath the station structure, you can see stairs and escalators taking shape.
Noble Park new station under construction

The view looking southeast along Mons Parade. Unlike between Caulfield and Hughesdale, the Clayton and Noble Park sections of skyrail are mostly buffered from houses by roads or parks, which has made it much less controversial.
Noble Park skyrail under construction: Mons Parade

Looking northwest towards the City. At either end of the skyrail structure, a ramp brings the tracks back down to ground level.
Noble Park skyrail under construction: Heatherton Road looking towards City

Here’s Channel 9’s story from Wednesday, showing what it looks like on top of the structure:

This section will mark the first third of the Caulfield to Dandenong crossing removal project opening. How this goes will be important for the government in this election year, given how controversial the whole skyrail project has been.

Average time saved from crossing removals? Minimal

Also on Wednesday, The Age published figures supplied by the Level Crossing Removal Authority, measuring the average time savings at the various level crossings removed under the program.

An average of one minute saved really doesn’t sound too impressive, does it?

Problem is, it’s the wrong measure.

Firstly, if the only benefit of the project was more and faster traffic, it would be a supreme waste of money.

Obviously LXRA CEO Kevin Devlin realises this – he managed to backpedal on figures supplied by his own organisation.

There are numerous other benefits from crossing removals: everything from safety to allowing more trains without locking up the road network, to more reliable street-based public transport, to cutting delays to pedestrians and cyclists and emergency services, to new better railway stations.

But even if you look just at the changes to traffic, average time saving is still the wrong measure.

The problem with level crossings is the time spent travelling through them is so unpredictable. You might get through with zero delay; you might have to wait several minutes.

Standard deviation would be a far better measure for this type of thing. What a proper study should show is that travel time crossing rail lines at these locations is far more predictable – which is precisely why it’s important for buses and trams, which are trying to maintain a timetable.

Maybe next time, the LXRA will think a little more carefully before putting out such a one-dimensional evaluation of their work.

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.
— Update: LXRA tells me that in fact, the bike cage is in service. Perhaps they need to promote that fact.
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.)
— Update: LXRA tells me the fit-out won’t happen until a tenant is found.
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 even the bus times are not 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.
— Update: LXRA tells me the removal of the picnic facilities is permanent, and was the council’s decision.
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.
— Update: LXRA tells me the council signed-off on this work, so essentially it’s up to them to fix it!
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:

Update: After a shaky start, the Smartbus sign at Bentleigh station resumed operation (for bus times, not train times):

Trains through Glenhuntly are barely faster than walking pace

The other week I noted the current state of level crossing removals across Melbourne, and that Glen Huntly Road / Glenhuntly Station [1] isn’t on the list.

This used to be my home station, and with about a million boardings per year [2], it’s the busiest on the Frankston line south of Caulfield, apart from Frankston itself.

The locals know the trains (express or stopping services) crawl slowly across the tram square.

How slowly? The marked speed limit is 20 km/h, but I was wondering how that compares to walking pace:

The train is slow enough that when I walked from the back of the train, right along the platform, I still had to wait to cross the tracks at the other end of the station.

I’m a reasonably fast walker, but trains should be faster.

This low speed affects every train on the Frankston line, as well as delaying trams and pedestrians.

As I’ve noted before, it’s even worse when freight trains rumble through, and/or during peak hour when large numbers of people have to queue to exit the station.

Glenhuntly station: passengers waiting for passing freight train

Because of the tram tracks, about every ten years the crossing requires expensive renewal works to maintain even this low speed.

Thankfully this is one of only three remaining tram/train crossings in Melbourne. The others are at Kooyong (Glen Waverley line) and Riversdale (the relatively quiet Alamein line). The fourth, at Gardiner (Glen Waverley line) was removed during 2015-16.

The level crossing removal program seems to be popular. I look forward to the next tranche of crossings being added to the list for removal next decade. I hope this will be on it.

  • [1] The road is Glen Huntly Road, named for a ship that arrived in the bay in 1840. From 1882 to 1937 the station name matched, but was modified to Glenhuntly in 1937.
  • [2] The PTV train station patronage stats look doubtful, which is why I haven’t used them much. For instance they indicate that patronage at Frankston station dropped by about half between 2009 and 2013. This seems highly unlikely to me. I wonder if there has been a methodology change, or if there’s some other explanation.