Trains along freeways aren’t necessarily a good idea

From time to time people suggest that train lines should be built in the middle of all new freeways.

The problem with building train lines along freeways is you’d be in danger of them all ending up like Jacana or Kannanook.

Jacana Station

Because freeways take up so much space, make so much noise, and generate so much pollution, any stations are likely to be a long way from houses, shops, or other places people can get to on foot, which is a necessity for making public transport work well.

If there’s nowhere to walk to from the station, you end up with people having to drive to the station (which means it’s a source for trips, but never a destination, and severely limits passenger numbers, since carparks fill rapidly), or you have to have very high quality feeder bus services (which can be done, but it’s not something often done very well in Melbourne, and it’s not letting the railway live up to its full potential).

Warnbro station, Perth
(Warnbro station in Perth — from Nearmap.com)

The same debate happens elsewhere, and with light rail:

“Light rail works best when people are getting on and off – there have to be destinations along the route”

— Urban Taskforce chief executive Aaron Gadiel, quoted in the Inner West Courier (Sydney)

It’s not just a question of distance, it’s also the environs: a station in the middle of lanes and lanes of traffic (and its noise) and huge carparks, reached via long pedestrian overpasses is just not a nice place to be.

It’s so much more pleasant if the station is integrated into the streetscape, with lots of other people around for passive protection, and attractions close by — in other words, stations in the middle of activity centres, as in most suburbs of Melbourne, with businesses and residents nearby.

Toorak Road, South Yarra

The buzzword for what’s needed is Transit-oriented development.

Which is not to say that railway lines shouldn’t be considered along some freeways. Perth has used it to rapidly and cost-effectively expand its railway network.

And in Melbourne a link from Victoria Park along the Eastern Freeway (which was specifically designed to cater for a rail line in the middle) to a Park+Ride/Bus station at Bulleen (eg the cheapest easiest bit of the long-proposed Doncaster rail line), with a nice bus interchange would allow all the freeway buses to be redeployed to provide frequent connecting services into the station, instead of being stuck in traffic on Hoddle Street and Victoria Parade.

But trains along freeways shouldn’t generally be the preference, if there are viable alternatives. There are usually better places to build them.