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.

Level crossing removals: a status update

Three years ago in 2014 I attempted to summarise level crossing removals, based on the old 2008 ALCAM list, which is (still) the last public safety evaluation of level crossings in Victoria.

Things have moved on a lot since then. Labor was voted in with a policy of grade separating 50 level crossings in 8 years (20 in their first 4 year term). And you’d have to give them credit for storming ahead on this.

So here’s an update of the list. I’ve tried to include the latest status of the various projects completed, underway or pledged – and where I could find the information, I’ve also included which side funded them.

(This is an embedded Google Drive document… Use the scroll bar at the right to move through the list. Hopefully it works okay. If not, try here.)

Notes:

  • 7. Werribee Street, Werribee. Since the ALCAM evaluation almost ten years ago, the number of trains has dropped markedly due to Regional Rail Link opening in 2015, meaning a new list would place this much further down.
  • 57. Fitzgerald Road, Ardeer and 115. Station Road (Mt Derrimut Rd), Deer Park: If the list was being evaluated today, these would both rank higher, especially the latter, due to RRL moving lots of trains away from Werribee and onto this line. Derrimut has also had huge residential development in the last ten years.
  • 91. Eel Race Road, Carrum is being permanently closed at the railway line, with an extension of Macleod Road under the railway line instead, because most of the traffic is actually heading to/from Macleod Road.
  • 111. Park Road, Cheltenham wasn’t on the list, but was added due to proximity with Charman Road.

Most of the status info is gleaned from the official Level Crossings list. Funding information was found via trawling old media releases and budget papers. “Planning funding” means money was allocated to plan a grade separation, but not to do the actual work (which obviously cost more). As I find more/corrected info, I’ll add it.

I’d originally also wanted to include the cost of each project, but this is difficult in some cases, because multiple projects have been rolled into one. The complexity also varies widely. Many include stations, but some don’t. Some have related local upgrades bundled into the cost. I’ll save that for another time.

Updates to ALCAM

The ranking shown is almost ten years old now, so a refreshed list of crossings would be shorter… but if there is one, it’s not public.

Bearing that in mind, as of September 2017:

  • The top 5 have all been removed
  • Of the top 10, 9 of these are expected to be done in coming years (see below).
  • Of the top 20, 16 are on the list and expected to be done in coming years.

Level crossing removal at Bentleigh, July 2016

How many per year?

“Year” on the list means year completed, with it obviously being the expected year for the crossings not yet done. Some of them say “by 2022”, meaning they might move forward. And some projects don’t yet have public end dates.

With that in mind, how does it look year-on-year? If they all finish on time, it looks like 2018 is going to be a bumper year… just in time for the election!

In fact, if all of those scheduled for 2018 come in before the election, Labor will have achieved their goal of 20 in their first term, with 23 actually completed. We’ll see what happens.

Glenhuntly station: passengers waiting for passing freight train

Which missed out?

In the list I’ve highlighted those with no status, eg they aren’t currently on the list of crossings to be grade separated.

Remember, the Level Crossing Removal Authority didn’t choose which crossings are getting removed, and which are missing out. The list was selected by the ALP when they formulated their policy in 2013-14.

Some worth noting that missed out are:

  • 9. Macaulay Road, Kensington might be difficult because it’s on a hill; the easiest solution of elevating the road over the line would obliterate the shopping centre. It’s also nearby to the elevated Citylink tollway, and the Moonee Ponds Creek, though perhaps not so close they would cause issues? — unlike number 77, also on Macaulay Road, which is sandwiched between the creek and the tollway.
  • 15. Union Road, Surrey Hills, the scene of a double fatality a year ago, and one of the last two remaining crossings on the busy City to Ringwood line (the other is ranked 88, Mont Albert Road)
  • 19. Old Geelong Road, Hoppers Crossing, next to the Werribee Mercy Hospital, and in the middle of a fast-growing suburb, with far more suburban trains than ten years ago
  • 75. Glen Huntly Road, Glenhuntly. Not ranked very high on the ALCAM safety list, but one of the prime causes of delays to Frankston line trains and route 67 trams alike. It along with nearby Neerim Road (ranked 152) would need to be done as one project, but would remove the last crossings between the City and Moorabbin.

My hope is that many that missed out in the initial list of 50 will be added for removal post-2022, and that government will see what the benefits of keeping this program rolling until more crossings are grade separated right across Melbourne — particularly the rest of those in the top 50 most dangerous.

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.

Under, over? Level crossing removal techniques compared

Ian Woodcock (RMIT) and John Stone (Melbourne Uni) have a new report out comparing level crossing removal methods. The Age has a story on it this morning, and hopefully the full report will be online very soon. UPDATE: Here it is.

I did manage to get a sneak preview, and looks at various case studies around Melbourne, and tries to evaluate aspects such as: connectivity, accessibility, intermodal access (eg interchange), safety, economic development and amenity. The summary table is here:

Summary of level crossing evaluation (from Woodcock and Stone, 2016)
(Click to see the table larger on Flickr)

Method depends on motivation

One of the really interesting points it makes is that the motivations for using various methods have been quite different over the years.

Prior to World War II, it was mostly about improving rail efficiency, and whichever method resulted in the slightest gradient was what got used. So if one looks at the Glen Waverley line, extended from East Malvern and opened in 1930 (and the last big suburban rail project until Regional Rail Link opened in 2015), there are no level crossings, and it’s a mix of rail over and rail under.

After World War II the emphasis was about moving cars, and the cheapest method was road over, such as at Burnley, Oakleigh and Sunshine. The result, the report authors point out, disconnects communities and makes life very difficult for pedestrians and cyclists at street level.

More recently the trend has been trenched rail under road. The high cost of decking mostly prevents additional connections across the tracks or use of land above it. I suspect some people like that it’s out-of-sight, out-of-mind (well, except to train passengers and pedestrians), but the report points out problems with this method — particularly in terms of lack of integration between stations and local neighbourhoods.

As I understand it, putting stations at the bottom of a trench also has poor consequences for rail efficiency. One of the numbers I’ve heard is that it can add 6% to train energy consumption. From this perspective ideally you want stations on a hump, so they can easily brake into stations, and use minimum energy accelerating out of them again.

The report authors have plotted the history of Melbourne grade separations in this fascinating graphic, and you can see the trends over time:

Timeline of grade separations (from Woodcock and Stone, 2016)

As I’ve said many times, all methods have pros and cons.

One lesson here is that one shouldn’t judge current proposals based on what’s been done before. Melbourne has no good past examples of grade separation that was designed to maximise connectivity, economic development and amenity. Most of the past projects have only been targeted at improving rail or road operations, and that’s all they’ve achieved.

Elevated rail such as proposed for the Dandenong line has obvious impacts on those living closest to it, but if designed well it also brings a lot of benefits in terms of overcoming engineering challenges, construction impacts and eventual outcomes such as land use.

The report is well worth reading: Level crossing removals: learning from Melbourne’s experience

Burke Road crossing removal progressing

On Saturday I took a look at the Burke Road level crossing removal — it’s being done as part of the same package as the North/Mckinnon/Centre Roads crossings, but is well ahead of them in terms of progress.

The official web site has details of the project — because there’s space available, the new rail line and new station are being built parallel to the old ones, similar to how Springvale was done.

Level crossing removal works, Gardiner

Level crossing removal works, Gardiner

Level crossing removal works, Gardiner

Last week the Glen Waverley line and Burke Road were both closed so they could build the new bridge deck, then dig under it later. (A similar method is going to be used on the Frankston line crossings in the package.) During this time train passenger connected from Darling Station to Caulfield by bus. This seems to have gone quite well, with plenty of staff to direct people. Being school holidays no doubt helped.

At Burke Road, signs proclaimed the local businesses are open, but they looked pretty dead. Perhaps they always are on Saturday afternoons; I don’t know. The scuba shop highlighted in the local paper a few weeks ago had signs up saying they had moved to Camberwell.

Level crossing removal works, Gardiner

Gardiner level crossing removal works

A new island tram platform stop is being built, which looks like it’ll be adjacent the new station entrance.

The plan is to close the rail line again over Christmas for about 4 weeks to do major construction and connect the new tracks, with the project mostly finished by mid-2016.

There were a few curious locals wandering about taking a look, and of course government propaganda signage reminding us why the project is being done. Despite this specific crossing removal having been funded last year before Labor was voted in, the Andrews government “Getting on with it!” slogan is used.

Level Crossing Removal Authority signage, Gardiner

To be fair, the current government signed the contract, and while it’s not cheap, $534 million for four (an average of $133m each) has started to bring the average price back down after the $200 million price tag at St Albans. Hopefully this downward trend continues as more crossings are done.

The sign was of course authorised by the Victorian government, and printed by the good people at [printer name] in [place of business].

Printed by [Printer name]

Anyway, it’s good to see the project proceeding. As an occasional motorist and tram passenger in the area, I know it regularly clogs up, and I’m sure train passengers will be happier when they no longer have to slow down to 15 kmh crossing the tram line.

  • Update January 2016: the grade separation was completed, with the station and road re-opened this month, with some finishing touches are still underway. Notably while the Coalition first announced and funded this project in 2014, they planned to see it completed in early 2017, so under Labor it’s been finished about a year earlier than expected. Teamwork, I suppose.