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

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

9 replies on “Under, over? Level crossing removal techniques compared”

The image of the grade separation timeline is a little disappointing to put in mildly. Lets pick it apart until I get bored:
* The timeline is basically 10 years out
* The grade separations are listed by station name mostly, but not always. Given grade separations are road projects they should list the road names (With a station or suburb name).
* There is a lack of information if the grade separation required a new (rebuilt) station or not.
* Errors:
– Watsonia was in the 1970s, Canterbury in the 1960s, yet they are out of order.
– Anderson Road (Sunbury line) shown as a road under (correct), but misses the adjacent Anderson Road (Ballarat line) as the rail under.
– What is “Williams Landing”? I assume it should be Kororiot Creek Road in Altona (Main Line, not to be confused with the planned one)
– It shows many greenfields constructions, ie Glen Waverley Line and Regional Rail Line as the two main ones that the railway line was built with no level crossings, hardly a “grade separation”. Likewise the Epping and South Morang ones were a railway line that was closed for decades then reopened with no level crossings. I suspect likewise the Collingwood – Princess Bridge link was the same, as was Flinders Street Viaduct.
– “South Morang” I am assuming is Pindari Avenue (in Mill Park, as the railway line is yet to pass through South Morang, that will happen when it is extended to Mernda), this one is an example of the road going up and the railway going down (from its closed alignment from decades earlier), its a 50/50 split. Bayswater for Mountain Highway which will be undertaken later this year will be a combination of rail down and road up.
– I am sure there are many missing, ie Narre Warren (Narre Warren – Cranboure Road), Werribee (Derrimut Road), Keilor Plains (Taylors Road), and I am sure there are more……

This comment posted last night on a different post, but moved here because it’s more relevant. –Daniel

Apparently, LXRA today confirmed that it is their intention to have changes made to Glen Eira Planning Scheme via ministerial intervention: no notice, just a fait accompli. Just another example of apparent lack of community consultation. This makes those of the No SkyRail livid and rail against the Andrews Government even more. But I am very pleased that the Andrews Government is rapidly implementing their policy of removing level crossings in the most effective way that is possible, notwithstanding the community consultation debacle. To suggest that there were no studies for removal of level crossings, since the programmed removal of ALL was stopped in 1970’s is sheer non-sense. To suggest that Labor or Liberal Governments of the past did not take advise from professionals and the public since 1970’s is simply disingenuous and untrue. There was plenty of evidence, forums, submissions, consultations around both Frankston line and Dandenong line. There was plenty of talk but no action. Enough of YAPPING. Action is what is needed and quickly.

Glen Eira is the best example of how well the Andrews Government is doing its job in regards to the removal of level crossings. They came in and accelerated the implementation of North Rd, McKinnon Rd, and Centre Rd crossings. Dorothy Ave bridge at EE Gun Reserve was to be lowered, thereby cutting the car crossing from Oakleigh Rd to Dorothy Ave. After consultation with residents and sporting groups it went back for redesign, so that the car crossing now remains open. The Dandenong line design is now being finalised and hopefully fully implemented by the end of 2018, with Glen Eira getting probably the best deal it ever had from any State Government. While Ormond to Bentleigh rail has gone under the road, the Grange Rd to Hughesdale is going with a SkyRail. Why? Because like with any infrastructure development it is ‘horses for courses’. What is best in one area may not be best in another area. There is no such thing as one solution fits all.

But, there is more level crossings to be removed in Glen Eira, after the 50 level crossings being planned and/or implemented at the moment. They are, 2 level crossings in Glen Huntly (Glenhuntly Rd and Neerim Rd), and one in Ripponlea on Glen Eira Rd. I do not expect all of the level crossings to be of the same kind. Ripponlea is likely to be a trench rail, because Hotham St and Elsternwick station are in a trench already. And although Balaclava Station is on embankment, it will probably be still cheaper to have a trench rail at Ripponlea. On the other hand Glenhuntly Rd and Neerim Rd crossings should have a SkyRail. It’s just NO BRAINER. The EE Gun Reserve bridge is on an embankment, and so is the lead up to Caulfield Station. The embankments and the rail tracks are always a disgrace, because they are not being properly taken care of. To get trenches under roads and tramways would be much, much more expensive than constructing a SkyRail. There is also the issue that with SkyRail 3km under the SkyRail becomes available for Open Space or Community Space or Car Parking in such a ‘hungry’ for such spaces area. Jut right now the Woolworth car park areas was reduced from 3 hours to 2 hours. Ask anyone trying to park in Glen Huntly now and they will be screaming ‘blue murder’.

And what our Glen Eira Councillors do about those things? Nothing, zilch, zero. Some of them, the Libs, have decided already that they are going to oppose any SkyRail proposals on ideological and principle reasons, as it is a Labor Government proposal! How unprofessional can one be? It has absolutely nothing to do with residents or community consultations or fiscal responsibility. As a further indication of how Libs operate see this explanation Sky Rail vs Train Trenches with the Lot

Anyone that agrees that SkyRail should be used where appropriate should sign the petition .

@Chris Gordon

I believe “Williams Landing” refers to the road over rail bridge between the Williams Landing Station and the Masters store. It is more of a new bridge than a grade separation. It also goes over the Princes Highway.

Though the year looks a bit off. Maybe it was the time when it was merely an entry ramp into the Princes Highway from Point Cook.

I’m surprised they don’t mention the feelings of security of intending passengers.

One of the first deep trenches was Watsonia in 1979. Even now I can remember standing on the platform at Watsonia at the time and feeling, not unsafe exactly, but isolated and hidden. Quite a different feeling to that on an elevated platform where you feel exposed and in the open.

(They definitely need some better historical information, though. That timeline is terrible.)

@Chris. Yes, Princes Bridge – Victoria Park was new construction. As was Windsor, South Yarra, Newmarket, Flemington Bridge, Burwood, Ashburton, and Hawthorn. The Flinders St viaduct replaced a ground level tramway that was only used for goods traffic.

I have no idea what they mean by Princes Bridge – the St Kilda Rd/Swanston St tunnel is much older and was never a level crossing. The South Yarra – Malvern grade separations predate the Camberwell line ones, and they have forgotten those between Malvern and Caulfield which are older still, and Caulfield (Queens Pde). They also haven’t picked up on the very old grade separations on the Frankston line – Brewer Rd, Patterson Rd, and Bay Rd.

They’ve missed many: Swan St Burnley, City Road South Melbourne, Kerford Rd Albert Park, to name a few.

Of course, errors on when grade separation occurred doesn’t invalidate their general conclusion about the social amenity of the various types of separation.

The reason why so many grade separations seem to be ‘missing’ from the report, is that it’s focus is on grade separations adjacent to stations. (See the somewhat obscure note at the top of page 7.)

It’s a pity the report doesn’t include examples of modern viaduct rail-over solutions – from cities elsewhere in the world of course, because Melbourne doesn’t have any of those (yet).

That orange and blue bar-chart thing seem quite unconvincing, it’s like they are just arbitrarily saying that rail up is good, and everything else is bad.

So how is that option uniquely good for intermodal access ? you still have to go up or down stairs from the bus stop to the platform.

And, it seems to completely leave out the aspects for which elevated rail may be an inferior choice, noise, overshadowing and visual impact being the obvious ones.

Hi Daniel.
An idea has occurred to me regarding the proposed skyrail along the Frankston line corridor which I’d be interested in your feedback.
The thrust of my proposal incorporates several stages.
Firstly leave the crossings as they are (more later) and dig road underpasses , eg , halfway between stations.
Secondly, construct four long ramps parallel to the underpass from both directions either side of the existing railway tracks.
Thirdly, develop a sophisticated traffic light signal system to cope with the traffic. Lastly, put extra boom gates at existing and still-operational crossings.This will stop illegal passage but allow emergency vehicle and oversize/height trucks to be able to pass through under Metro Rail camera management.
Due to the high water table along Nepean Highway I would also envisage the existing railway crossing s be utilised in the event of flooding in the road underpasses due to an unexpected rain deluge.

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