Carnegie and Murrumbeena stations opened

The new Carnegie and Murrumbeena stations opened on Monday morning.

These used to be my local stations. I lived close to Murrumbeena in my teens, and again from 2003 to 2005, and occasionally used Carnegie as well, and still sometimes pass through on the bus to Chadstone.

As this photo from Saturday shows, immediately after the train leaves Caulfield it starts climbing to go up and over Grange Road. It then stays elevated through Carnegie, Murrumbeena and Hughesdale (yet to be opened) before descending back down to street level.

Skyrail driver training - a 3-car Siemens train leaves Caulfield towards Oakleigh, Sat 16/6/2018

The trains running on the elevated track seem a fair bit quieter than they were at ground level.

This is the view from Dandenong Road, where the impact of the elevated rail is far less than the other side where there is housing.

View of Caulfield to Carnegie skyrail, from Dandenong Road 16/6/2018

The old railway has been mostly cleared away.

View towards Caulfield, from Carnegie 16/6/2018

Both Carnegie and Murrumbeena are basically the same design, and similar to Clayton and Noble Park.

This photo from Saturday shows the wraparound shelter – note the jagged edges – it’s not completed yet.

623 bus passes underneath Carnegie station, 16/6/2018

Metro and V/Line trains were running between Caulfield and Oakleigh on the weekend ahead of opening, for driver training purposes. This is continuing during normal running days, with already-trained “On The Job Trainers” accompanying drivers through the new section. This is a train leaving Carnegie towards Caulfield on Saturday.

Train leaves Carnegie towards Caulfield on a skyrail training run, 16/6/2018

Monday was opening day. At Carnegie the old subway has already been filled-in with concrete.

Carnegie skyrail station - operational but still under construction. Old subway filled in

Temporary stairs up to the platform, while they get the lifts and escalators working — unlike Noble Park and Clayton, these stations are in exactly the same spot as the old stations, so this will take a while to get done. In the meantime, there are shuttle buses between Caulfield and Oakleigh for those who can’t use stairs.

Carnegie skyrail station - temporary stairs

At Carnegie there were lots of staff, ABC 774’s Jon Faine was doing a live broadcast, and a number of politicians and senior government and operator types were milling around, as well as some police.

Carnegie skyrail station opening - live broadcast by Jon Faine of ABC Radio Melbourne

The wraparound roof structure is similar to the other skyrail stations. Unfortunately it doesn’t run the length of the platform, but other shelters provide some coverage further along. This is Carnegie…

Carnegie skyrail station - open but not completed

…and this is Murrumbeena, basically the same design.

Murrumbeena skyrail station - open but not completed

At Murrumbeena I had a chat to some locals, including Twitter’s “CrossingWatchin”.

Given it refers to the crossing, this sign seems to have been recycled…

Spot the recycled sign, at Murrumbeena skyrail station

This view from the temporary stairs at Murrumbeena shows the space where the escalators and lifts will go.

Murrumbeena skyrail station - open but not completed

Here’s the view from Murrumbeena looking towards Carnegie and the City. Note the Eureka building on the right.

Looking towards the City from Murrumbeena skyrail station

View from Murrumbeena towards Hughesdale — same design, but flipped around 180 degrees, as the new station is on the western side of the road, not the eastern side.

Murrumbeena skyrail station, looking towards Hughesdale

The train back to Carnegie was delayed… eventually it arrived, and it was packed. A reminder than reliability, frequency and capacity on this line needs to improve, given it’s the main route for a huge area of Melbourne.

Citybound train at Murrumbeena skyrail station

Grievances

Back at Carnegie a local resident spoke to me – he is one of those affected by the line being just above his backyard. He made it clear he’s not very happy, and he berated me somewhat for a somewhat jokey tweet from Singapore back in 2016. Hopefully he’s read the rather more detailed, nuanced, post about it.

His main beef was with the government – he said the local MP had refused to meet, and he cited a Level Crossing Removal Authority survey which claimed 82% of people support elevated rail — but it actually excluded people living within 400 metres of it!

Anyway, he was invited to express his grievance on-camera by Channel 9, and did so.

This should be obvious, but just in case not: PTUA did call for impacts on residents to be minimised, but this is not the first priority of public transport advocates — the focus is on services for passengers, amenity and disruptions.

Track expansion

One other point raised by detractors is that the project hasn’t added two more tracks. (Adding just a third track is not very useful.)

As noted previously, removing the crossings and other upgrades mean a huge increase in the passenger carrying capacity of the line, even if it doesn’t allow expresses or fast V/Line services.

But what about additional tracks? The government says this would only have been possible with large-scale property acquisition through Carnegie and Murrumbeena, where the existing rail alignment is quite narrow. The skyrail design as built allows light and rain to get in between the tracks, giving flora a chance to develop — but a four track viaduct wouldn’t allow this, and in any case would need more space through the alignment.

Will they need to do something about this in the future? What will the plan be? It’s clear there’s provision for future tracks on the south side of the line between Dandenong and Huntingdale, but what about closer in?

Some propose an entirely new alignment along Dandenong Road, though this may not be possible if Caulfield to Rowville light rail is built along there.

But ultimately, more tracks between Dandenong and Caulfield are of limited use without more tracks between Caulfield and South Yarra, and that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

Murrumbeena skyrail station - open but not completed

Premium!

So, apart from improved safety, better train reliability, the ability to run more trains (which starts with extra evening services later this year), better access into the stations and across the tracks (especially Hughesdale where there was no alternative to waiting at the gates), DDA compliance, and cuts to delays to buses, what has grade-separation ever done for us?

Well…

Unlike at Clayton and Noble Park, the original plans for Carnegie, Murrumbeena and Hughesdale stations actually excluded escalators, and had no changes to staffing levels: morning peak only at Carnegie and Murrumbeena, and PSOs after 6pm at all three.

PTUA lobbied for both. Escalators just seemed obvious given the distance from ground level up to the platforms, and if you’re spending all this money on stations in fast-developing areas, why wouldn’t you spend a little more and give them extra facilities and a full-time staff presence?

Fairly early on we had a win on escalators.

Just recently it was confirmed that the new stations will also have full-time staff. The State Government and the LXRA are to be congratulated on this – it means better amenity for passengers, and all the security and assistance benefits that a proper staff presence brings.

So, everybody will welcome the removal of the crossings, and the rail line having re-opened. But there are also some definite wins for passengers with these new stations. Now, bring on the development of the space under the tracks.

Noble Park station and the first section of skyrail is open

For two weeks the Cranbourne/Pakenham line was shut between Westall and Dandenong, allowing construction crews to complete the ramps and connect the first section of skyrail to the line.

It re-opened on Thursday. I and other stakeholders got a preview on Wednesday, but we weren’t allowed to take photos inside (because construction work around the station was still proceeding apace, so they didn’t want anybody distracted by their phone or camera).

So I went back on Thursday afternoon to see it in action. After all, what is a station without trains and passengers?

If you’re travelling outbound, the line starts to rise after Sandown Park station, to go over Corrigan Road, and then over Heatherton Road. The two tracks diverge as they approach Noble Park station with its island platform, but this has also been done to maximise light and rain below, to help future vegetation growth.

View towards Sandown Park at new Noble Park station

The view from the train is certainly better than that in a below-ground level trench/cutting.

View from train on skyrail

There are barriers along the tracks that prevent you seeing anything of ground-level at close range, though it appears not all of these are in place yet. This is the view over Heatherton Road.

View over Heatherton Road, Noble Park

Noble Park station has an island platform, designed to cope with the new 7-car High Capacity Metro Trains when they come into service next year. There seems to be provision for extending the platforms for future 10-car trains, but this will come later.

Platform at new Noble Park station

The wraparound structure is quite impressive, providing good weather cover along part of the platform at the southeast end — though there’s plenty of ventilation in it, so it’ll be interesting to see how well it deals with Melbourne’s diagonal (sometimes near-horizontal) rain.

Citybound train arrives at new Noble Park station

Some of the structure is wood, which gives it a warm appearance. The top of it includes transparent plastic-like sections which let the light in, and move about slightly in the breeze, a bit like sections of the Southern Cross station roof. Apparently they wanted to avoid glass for safety reasons — perhaps weight too.

Outbound train at new Noble Park station

Train departs new Noble Park station

Beyond the end of the wraparound roof, there is less cover — more is being installed, but at the moment much of the platform is out in the open.

New Noble Park station

Apparently this is some kind of architectural flourish. It’s unclear if it’s actually useful for anything.

New Noble Park station

At the northwest end of the platform is this structure, which is contains an emergency exit down to street level.

Emergency exit at new Noble Park station

The escalators are in place, but not yet operational. Lifts and stairs are being used between the platform level and the concourse.

Escalators not working yet at new Noble Park station

Escalators not working yet at new Noble Park station

The concourse is still a work in progress, but is functional. Fare gates (the newer fast Vix design) are installed.

Concourse at new Noble Park station

Concourse at new Noble Park station

The view of the station from Mons Parade. Pedestrian access is currently limited to this side. As this diagram from PTV shows, it will open up to the other side (Douglas Street) later this month as work progresses. In the mean time, access is via the old pedestrian underpass.

New Noble Park station diagram (from PTV brochure)

New Noble Park station

From below, you can certainly hear the trains, though it’s not particularly noisy — certainly no worse than when they were at ground level. Hopefully there will be a proper study comparing the volume of ground/above/below.

After leaving Noble Park, the line goes down to nearly street level, goes over the Mile Creek, then starts to rise again as it approaches Chandler Road.

Note the track structure, which is designed to absorb vibration and noise.

View towards Yarraman at new Noble Park station

View from Mons Parade near new Noble Park station

The bridge over Chandler Road almost looks like it could have been standalone, but obviously it made sense to do it with the other two crossing removals in one project. From this angle it looks steep, but presumably meets the 2% gradient standard — it doesn’t feel step when you’re actually in the train.

Skyrail bridge over Chandler Road

Either side of the skyrail are Sandown Park and Yarraman stations — destined to remain their drab selves, alas.

Yarraman Station

But Noble Park? I think it looks good.

It’s not complete yet. Works will continue, including bus replacements right through from Caulfield to Dandenong after 8pm each night from Sunday to Thursday next week.

The Noble Park section of skyrail is the least controversial, thanks to most of it being a reasonable distance from residential properties — an exception being at least one gentleman who was eligible to have his property acquired, but chose not to take the option, and continues to complain about the project.

This first section of completed skyrail will be the litmus test. The government has shown they can deliver on crossing removals, a new station that looks and works pretty well, and fewer (but not zero) rail disruptions to do it.

But can they also deliver on the promise of more open space, structures that don’t get constantly tagged, and privacy for residents?

And can they convince people that overall it’s been a good project, before the November election? Time will tell.

  • PTV information and brochure on the opening of the new Noble Park station
  • The Coalition’s plan from 2014 proposed removing 4 out of the 9 crossings. It wouldn’t have removed any of the crossings around Noble Park, but it would have included planning and early works.
  • The Labor Government continues to push the line of “more trains more often” being possible once all nine crossings are removed. They’ll need to be held to this, especially given the horrendous peak hour crowding on the line. It’s unclear if this could include the Dandenong to Cranbourne section, given it’s still got single track.

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.

Some brief transport stuff from this week

A post in an occasional series wrapping up a few brief transporty things from the last week or two.

The new train design

This might be the least crowded train I’ve ever caught. That’s because it’s a pretend train, a mock-up of a carriage and a half, somewhere in a warehouse in outer-suburban Melbourne. I got to see it last week on behalf of PTUA — we’ve been included in stakeholder consultations this year on the design.

New train mock-up

It looks pretty good, and has more places standees can hold on than the current Siemens and Comeng fleet, but could do with more still.

There’s photos of the mock-up over on the PTUA web site — take a look (and please consider joining if you’re not already a member — the PTUA’s work is only possible thanks to member subscriptions).

Busway knocked back

A few weeks ago The Age reported on Transdev’s plan for a busway from Doncaster to CBD.

  • Dedicated bus lanes along middle of Eastern Freeway (in the median originally designed for rail), with stations at interchanges, including pedestrian access from overpasses
  • Busway would continue along Hoddle Street, Victoria Parade and Lonsdale Street, to a new terminus underneath Southern Cross Station
  • Double-articulated buses with doors on both sides to allow centre platform stops along Hoddle Street in a centre median
  • Every 3 minutes in peak, every 5-6 minutes off-peak
  • $500 million build cost
  • Transdev wanted it to run as a PPP for 30 years, effectively locking them in as the operator for that time
  • Off-board payment with Myki readers on platform stops, to speed up dwell times

It would have been cheaper/more achievable than Doncaster rail, remembering that a lot of benefits of Doncaster rail would be gained by first doing the cheap easy bit: rail to Bulleen, and feeding all the buses into there.

The plan has officially been knocked back.

The question is: can the problems of greater capacity (to cope with crowding) and speed (to encourage more people out of cars) be resolved another way?

Better traffic priority along Hoddle Street, Victoria Parade and Lonsdale Street is the key: both bus lanes where missing, and traffic light priority.

More articulated buses would help with capacity. There seem to have a handful now, but not many.

Skyrail under construction near Murrumbeena station

Can Skyrail carry freight?

I’ve been asked about this twice this week alone, once online, once in the barber shop this morning.

Can the Skyrail (under construction from Caulfield to Dandenong) handle freight and V/Line trains? The rumour that it can’t persists.

It’s not an entirely silly question. Freight trains in particular can be heavier than passenger trains, and the diesel locomotives used for freight and long distance V/Line services to Bairnsdale are heavy beasts.

The answer is an emphatic yes, they will run on the Skyrail — just as they run on the 1970s era viaduct between Flinders Street and Spencer Street stations.

Here’s the official answer from the Level Crossing Removal Authority:

WILL YOU CONTINUE TO RUN DIESEL TRAINS ON THE OLD TRACKS UNDERNEATH THE NEW RAIL LINE?

The new elevated structure will be designed to safely carry both Metro passenger trains and diesel freight trains. Just as passenger and freight trains share tracks currently, they would continue to share tracks in the elevated design. The tracks underneath the elevated structure will be removed to create new community spaces.

It’s fascinating that this rumour continues to do the rounds.

And it’s certainly not helped that this completely discredited Railpage article from five months ago has never been corrected.

By the way, now that construction is in full swing, the photo above, and the one below show just how close the elevated rail will be to some people’s homes/gardens. It’s not hard to see why some residents aren’t too happy about it.

Dandenong line capacity boost undersold

On the weekend I was chatting about the Dandenong skyrail proposal to rellies at their house near Hughesdale station. They are keeping an open mind; they are not immediately under the rail line, and they can see the obvious benefit from getting the level crossings removed quickly, but are concerned about some aspects, which it sounds like are not being adequately explained.

For instance: condition and maintenance of any parkland created by the elevated rail. The Level Crossing Removal Authority (LXRA) seems to be forming the view that they would fund at least ten years of maintenance.

And of course after media attention last week a lot of local chatter is about the future need to expand the line to four tracks. (Three tracks isn’t nearly as useful as four.)

It’s worth noting that the skyrail project, along with other measures, buy a lot of extra capacity for the line.

How much? I’ve been trying to work it out, but official information is really scarce. The official figure thrown around is 42%, but this doesn’t seem to take into account all the upgrades.

Dandenong line at Richmond

Currently

Looking at what might well be the busiest hour, inbound AM peak 7:31-8:30am at Caulfield, there are 15 Metro services and 2 V/Line services scheduled, or 17 trains per hour in all.

The current signalling allows for a train every 3 minutes, or 20 trains per hour. The widely used practice is to use 80% of the theoretical capacity (to allow for short delays), which means the line is using just over its practical capacity. No wonder delays so easily occur.

Each train’s desired load standard is 798 (133 per carriage), but seat modifications currently underway are meant to increase that to 900 (150 per carriage). Remember, this is NOT a capacity figure.

New signalling

Firstly, the signalling (with conventional technology) to allow a train every 144 seconds (eg 25 trains per hour), in line with a long term plan that was kicked-off with the Westall upgrade project some years ago.

Staying within the 80% of theoretical capacity (so it runs more smoothly than now) therefore gives you 20 trains per hour — 18 Metro and 2 V/Line.

Why not high-capacity (in-cab) signalling? They want to prove it first on the Sandringham South Morang line — not unreasonable given the complexities of shared running between Metro, V/Line and freight. What they are saying is that any upgrades in the mean time will be future compatible with in-cab signalling.

Removing the crossings

Secondly, you couldn’t just do the signalling upgrade without removing the crossings, because it would lock up the road system across the south-eastern suburbs, delaying motorists, pedestrians, cyclists and bus users alike. So grade separation helps unlock that track capacity.

Dandenong line, 6pm

High capacity trains

The third major point is the trains to run on the line. The new High Capacity Metro Trains (HCMTs) will run on the Dandenong line in the next few years. As detailed in this extensive post from last year, they’ll start as 7 car sets with a load standard of 1100 people (157 per car).

This is achieved by having continuous usable space and, I expect, fewer seats. Hopefully a balance will be found between carrying capacity and ensuring those travelling the longest distances can get a seat.

Later on, when the Metro rail tunnel opens, the plan is for the HCMTs to expand to 10 car sets — a load standard of 1570. (Crush load around 2000.)

Longer trains obviously involves extending platforms — something not possible in the City Loop, but included in the Metro rail tunnel and the rebuilt skyrail stations. It will also obviously be necessary on all the other stations out to Cranbourne and Pakenham, as well as Sunbury (as the rail tunnel will connect them).

Put it all together – what do you get?

Somewhere in the mix would need to be duplication of the Cranbourne line, and flying junctions (overpasses) at Dandenong so trains don’t get delayed waiting for each other there.

So, pulling together all the various upgrade figures (which have been gleaned from various government information — it doesn’t seem to all be in one place anywhere), what do we get?

Dandenong line capacity

The government often quotes a 42% capacity boost. As I understand it, that figure includes the level crossing removals and new trains, but excludes the metro rail tunnel. I’m trying to find out how precisely they get that figure, but taking the tunnel into account, it woefully undersells the true capacity boost anyway.

Perhaps these numbers don’t exactly tally with the official ones, but 28,000 per hour is huge. That’s about the equivalent of 12 lanes of traffic. Behold, the power of mass transit!

From trying to explain some of this to my relatives, it’s clear to me that the government/LXRA hasn’t communicated this point very well (if at all).

With all these upgrades, a huge amount of extra capacity is provided, much higher than the quoted 42%, putting off the need for extra tracks for many years.

How long will this last? Well, that depends on the future growth along the corridor, obviously. Capacity can grow even further with high-capacity in-cab signalling, provided it’s okay to have all trains (including V/Line) run at a consistent speed. That should allow enough trains to provide a line out to Rowville.

Hopefully I haven’t messed up these figures. And this is not to say that planning shouldn’t happen now for future track expansion.

But if basically you’re more than doubling peak capacity by 2026 when the metro tunnel opens, that’ll take a while to fill up again.

  • Submissions to the Dandenong Skyrail project close TODAY at 5pm. If you have any thoughts, even just a few words, good or bad, put them in.