Dandenong Skyrail debate continues

There are some incredible sights coming out of the Bentleigh/Mckinnon/Ormond level crossing removal works, and I’ll post some pictures (and hopefully video) tomorrow.

But in the mean time, early works on the “CD9” Caulfield to Dandenong 9 “Skyrail” crossings is also happening.

I don’t have a big update for you, but I recently bashed out this summary of the debate around this project on Reddit, and I thought I’d repost it here:

There’s the residents who live very close, many of whom don’t want an elevated line next to their houses (though some do not object as they see the advantages from the land opened up). Some of their concerns are perhaps exaggerated, but some are genuine and legitimate.

There’s the Liberals who sense this is a weakness of the Dandrews ALP government, and are exploiting it for all its worth.

For most other people, I suspect they just want the crossings gone ASAP, and with the least disruption possible. (For perspective, the Frankston line shutdown that has just begun is said to be the biggest since the City Loop was under construction, and involves 100+ buses at peak times. The Dandenong line is twice as busy and involves three times as many stations.)

Removing crossings doesn’t just benefit motorists. It also benefits pedestrians, bus users, cyclists and emergency services, and it enables more (and eventually, longer) trains on the most crowded line on the system, as well as improving safety/train reliability.

At least, that’s how I see it. What do you think?

The discussion on Reddit raised some interesting points, and is worth a look if you’re not offended by an occasional smattering of coarse language.

They’re never going to convince those most vehemently opposed to it, but it is important that the government keeps talking to everyone involved, and accommodates any reasonable request for information, or that can help minimise impacts from construction and from the final design.

PS. There have been some good discussions on Twitter about the project, but a small number of people have resorted to throwing insults and accusations around. I’m going to stop engaging with those people, and though I hate to do it, will block people who become abusive.

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.

17 replies on “Dandenong Skyrail debate continues”

Well write Daniel, yes I originally had concerns about Skyrail but have now a better understanding of the overall project (thanks to extensive consultation with Level Crossing Authority & PTUA committee members) & I just want to see it really start to be built & the sooner it starts the sooner it’ll be finished.

I think the project is unethical- crosses a line in a way thats unprecedented. Essentially it places the value of a few months of increased convenience for PT users/ the inconvenience of moving a gas pipe and draining the site over a community’s right to decide what they will live with for decades. When inconvenience is placed higher on the list of concerns than the right to self determination, then watch out Victorians

I’ve been reading your Bentleigh updates with interest and admittedly a bit of envy too Daniel (not withstanding the bustitution hassles!), wondering what would have been if we were getting trenches instead of elevated rails in our neck of the Carnegie woods. Whilst the same pro & con arguments keep getting trotted out because of the lack of any new meaningful/reliable information being publicly released, the LXRA have been much better of late with contacting us about preliminary work and what impacts we can expect. It’s mainly involving tree removal for the moment (AKA ‘vegetation management’) but more frustrating is still not being advised about eligibility in relation to the voluntary purchase scheme despite registering a couple of months ago, plus of course the mysteries around construction timelines and final design.
Given the lack of concrete (!) information it’s no surprise that the Libs have taken to agitating the waters but that’s not particularly helpful to those who are living with uncertainty, it just creates more spin around what we don’t know. Carnegie is a fairly big suburb and I’d say maybe 90% of residents won’t even see the rail so for the other 10% it seems reasonable that we demand more than survey results and gas pipeline lessons.

I’m convinced a lot of people don’t know the difference between trench and actual underground rail. When Bentleigh to Ormond is finished, it’ll give a local example of what the CD9 could otherwise look like and maybe change a few minds (hopefully it looks a little better than Gardiner outbound, but not holding my breath).

A lack of details in light of the reasons for the EW Link cancellation doesn’t help the cause either..

@Murrumbeena resident, this is a real quandry, and of course not uncommon with big projects.

In this case we’ve got the differing interests of local residents, traders, rail users, road users and others (remembering that there’s some overlap). Each proposal has pros and cons for each group; it’s not black and white, which is why I disagree with those like the Opposition who claim rail under is the “proper” way of doing it.

Sure, permanent resident impacts might theoretically outweigh temporary inconvenience… but it’s a bit more difficult to weigh it up when we’re talking about hundreds of residents vs disruption to tens of thousands of train/road users over a very long period… let alone the trader impacts (those in Bentleigh/Mckinnon/Ormond are REALLY upset about their loss of livelihood over a much shorter period). There are also immediate huge benefits if the project is completed more quickly.

There are no easy answers here, and the Libs getting stuck in (including ridiculous claims that they didn’t build rail over road even though they did just that at Sunshine just a few years ago) isn’t helping at all.

@Deb, it’s good to know LXRA is getting better at information, but given the criticisms I keep hearing about detailed modelling and voluntary purchase, it seems clear improvement is needed.

(By the way, PTUA obviously primarily represents passengers, not residents, but we said very early on in talks with LXRA that they should offer voluntary purchase to those who want it. I’m glad they finally accepted that it had to be provided as an option.)

@Nick, I think in this context when people say “underground” they mean “trench”… yes perhaps seeing the project finished will provide some perspective, though Springvale is a recently completed project in the area too.

I noticed that Brighton Beach railway station car park was almost full at 6:30 this morning (it’s usually about one third full by then). Clearly commuters from Frankston line are parking there and taking Sandy train. I wonder how quickly the car park will fill once school holidays finish?

Agree its not black and white but still feel fundamentally wronged. Permanent residents opposing this are exhausted, want to resolve it- are trying to reconcile themselves to losing so much they care about in this process, (in favour of a whole bunch of things they care alot less about), but its not easy when there is so little to go on. If you know for sure that rail under is impossible, or astronomically expensive you might be able to square it up in your mind, but we have been presented with no evidence- no business case, no other design quotes to examine, just “the design”, a few pamphlets on problems with gas pipelines and drainage that independent engineers tell us are not hard to solve. If this solution is just so fantastic, surely we can be trusted to reach this conclusion for ourselves, given all the right information ie via genuine consultation- instead we are being sent to the corner and told to stop whinging when we are just asking legitimate questions! The only aspects of this project that I liked- could console myself with were access under the line and the possibility that our trees and heritage stations might be preserved. Now they are cutting down our trees and telling us the stations will be demolished. I do empathise with passenger disruption- thats really hard- but I just don’t feel its fair to value a few extra months disruption higher than the long term rights of a whole community. 500-1000 (depending on who you speak to) have marched against this project 10 days ago and there is a petition against it with nearly 9000 signatures- thats much more than “hundreds of residents”. And it includes plenty of local traders.. Sorry to rant but I have never felt so pushed around by a state government in my entire life and most of my neighbours feel the same.

@Murrumbeena Resident, the slow drip feed of information really isn’t good enough. Whether one supports the project, is against it, or is on the fence, the evidence really should be presented. Instead we’ve seen some information released well after it should have been, and other questions remain unanswered.

Following up some points made on Twitter today about skyrail vs trench rail outcomes for passengers:

@Nsrlizzy > Better access particularly for disabled. If there are stoppages mid stations which we know there will be then evacuation easy

I’m not sure how getting people out of a train stuck in a cutting is easier than if stuck on an elevated track. Anything’s going to be harder than ground level.

@Nsrlizzy > They are only replacing 2 with 2. Go down and they can replace 2 with 3 or 4 & trains CAN keep running. Govt is hiding info

Whether the line is up or down isn’t a factor in that though. And the other upgrades coming will more than double capacity. Agree they’re not being very good at talking about it.

@Nsrlizzy > Did you know there is no nett overall increase in car parking? They can’t achieve it with all the pylons.

The government is promising more parking, but I’d be happier with no overall increase in spaces. It’s a very inefficient way of getting people onto trains. There are better uses for the space.

It seems unlikely to me that they wouldn’t be able to put parking under the structures due to the pylons. Having seen elevated rail recently in Singapore, there’s no shortage of space available. Closer to home, they’ve managed parking underneath existing road overpasses, eg Oakleigh (where the space under the structure is much more restrictive).

@Nsrlizzy > There is no open space gain between Grange and Poath Rds. Skyrail is the quickest way for my daughter to get a car.

Assuming these are two separate points, I’m not sure what you mean here. If space underneath and around the tracks becomes usable, that’s clearly a gain in open space.

I’m not sure why sky rail would make a difference whether your daughter gets a car, compared to elevated rail or the status quo?

@murrumbeena resident
I’d be very sceptical of assurances given by so-called independent engineers. I’ve looked at some of the material offered as alternatives by the “you deserve to know more” crew. They contain fundamental flaws, grossly inadequate assumptions, and do not address the technical challenges of deliverability. And they are entirely uncosted. They offer false hope of alternatives that have not been helpful to the debate.

I agree that the official design process has been unsatisfactory – the stunning lack of published options and design detail would never pass a normal Victorian council or state planning authority process. But this is not limited to the Skyrail project – it is true of all the level crossing removal projects I’ve followed, over or under, past and present. Try, for example, to find options, designs, coatings and discussion about how best to achieve grade separation at Springvale Rd Springvale, or Taylors Rd Keilor Downs, or Anderson Rd Sunshine. The details are known, obviously, but are held tightly inside the development authority. If there’s one thing we should all be campaigning for, collectively, it’s greater transparency and access to designs, options and costing documents that we – as state residents and voters – are paying for.

@Michael Bell you’ve got an excellent point, obviously being an affected resident I hate the prospect of living next to/under elevated rail lines but if that’s what it takes to lose the crossings and get rid of the dysfunction on this line then I will find a way to live with it. But in the vacuum of space created by the government’s woeful lack of transparency & secrecy around critical information, is it any wonder that we end up with conspiracy theories, opportunistic politicians and special interest groups giving false hope to people who are being kept in the dark and not being given the answers they desperately need.
It must be convenient that the public are distracted by thrashing this out on social media whilst the govt quietly keeps the good, bad & ugly to themselves but like you said, we’re all paying for it and as such we are entitled to more than a couple of glossy brochures and empty promises.

In response to a series of tweets from @NoSkyrail after I asked a different Twitter user: “Can you point me to something which outlines a better outcome for (rail users) from rail under?”

@NoSkyrail: “less unplanned interruptions. Chaotic rushed Skyrail works building temp signalling caused 9 major malfunctions so far.” … ” 7 signal malfunctions, barriers stuck for 4-5 hours blocking cars and major unplanned delays for train passengers. 2 for 1-2hr”

This seems to be the claim from some of the anti-skyrail activists. Yet when I’ve asked around, it seems it’s more about the upgrades for axle counters due to the V/Line level crossing issue that emerged earlier this year.

It is true that any level crossing removal might require moving of some rail-related infrastructure – whether it’s skyrail or trench. But I’m struggling to think of why it would be worse or more risky with skyrail.

@NoSkyrail: “station platforms are not 10m high in the air, scary for those afraid of heights.”

That’s the first time I’ve heard that one. Intesting thought. Has anybody complained of fear of heights in this context? It’s not as if elevated stations are new… think Balaclava, Gardenvale, Glenferrie, Newmarket, plenty of others.

@NoSkyrail: “rail under platforms more open and pleasant than giant dark metal cocoon used in Skyrail. Also wind tunnel when wind blows.”

That might be your opinion. I didn’t get that sense seeing similar elevated platforms in Singapore – the “cocoon” is partly open to the weather. There was no wind-tunnel effect, though I don’t remember it being particularly windy.

Some have complained about platforms below road level, such as this from commenter Andrew: 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.

@NoSkyrail: “Drilling by @levelcrossings causes underpass tunnel to flood. Residents nearly hit crossing dark bridge #LXRAWatch” and “No one will die with organised planned rail under works unlike chaotic rushed Skyrail works”

I hate to break it to you, but moving the railway line under the road requires WAY more drilling and tunnelling and digging. Flooding the Carnegie underpass sounds like a big stuff-up, but could happen no matter which method is used. (For instance some of the early works digging at Bentleigh resulted in a gas leak which stopped trains for some hours.)

@NoSkyrail: “commuters are also taxpayers, Skyrail is novel project with no plan, cost, business case. “Just get it done” =MykiV2″ … “it’ll end up taking twice as long, cost twice as much, more disruptions. People will be wishing tried true rail-under instead”

Well, that starts to sound like speculation to me.

@NoSkyrail: “passenger/train commuters are one small part of the community. Many other people/factors to consider with Skyrail”

Yep, as noted above in comment 5.

As a resident of Carnegie of 33 years I fully support Skyrail. However, it should be 4 tracks and continue over Warrigal, Golf Links, and North Roads. Warrigal Rd and North Road flyovers to be removed and both roads widened to improve traffic flow. Both those flyovers are nearing the end of their use by date. A short spur could be constructed at the North Rd median strip for the rail line to Monash University so there is no disruption to the Dandenong rail service when that rail line is built. Do it now and do it properly and it will save so much money and disruption in the future.

Murrumbeena resident. To get rid of the level crossings is commendable and long overdue. However to remove so many large mature trees is nothing short of environmental vandalism. If there is good reasons for this tree removal, why isn’t this information readily available? Haven’t seen the Owls that were frequenting our area since these works began, coincidence?

In terms of land use, viaducts use significantly less space horizontally. With a cutting, it’s not the tracks that take up the space. It’s the associated earthworks to stabilise the walls and soil. A battered wall takes up a lot of space, and a piled wall while uses less, is much more expensive (but still isn’t zero).

Whether a tree is kept or not is based on an arborists assessment, which will usually look at the root mass. Tree roots are shallow, but can extend quite far. Trees won’t only be removed if they are in the way – they will also be removed if there is a risk of destabilisation, destruction to root mass that could eventually kill that tree (and hence fall on someone), even the risk of it falling in a wind event, or causing “tree stress” that can shorten the life of a tree significantly. It is all good to say save the trees, but people’s safety comes first. And with trees in close proximity to each other, the root masses will cross each other. Meaning that if you remove one tree, you will destabilise the other. So they all have to go.

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