A little bit more on level crossings.
Since I posted the update, I’ve received some useful corrections, which I’ve applied to the list.
But last week there was an interesting update on some of them.
Pakenham line to be extended
The Pakenham crossings will be skyrail – we already knew that. But there’s an interesting twist to the design.
Pakenham is the end of the Metro line, where trains layover between services, and also sees V/Line trains coming through. This causes delays for the latter.
Meanwhile, the new HCMT fleet for the line is stabled at a new depot, a few kilometres further out. Which means the overhead wire already goes as far as the depot.
Rather than build additional platforms at Pakenham, which would complicate the skyrail design, they’ve decided to instead build an additional station at Pakenham East, where the Metro trains will terminate. Extra tracks there will allow V/Line trains to easily get past them.
This will also serve a new housing estate nearby – though it seems the current structure plan doesn’t yet take into account the new station.
Overall this seems to be very smart planning – resolving a number of problems by thinking outside the square.
Surrey Hills and Mont Albert
Potentially more controversial: removal of the level crossings at Surrey Hills and Mont Albert was always going to be tricky, because modern standards dictate straight platforms, and the current locations of the two stations are on curves.
Gradients in the area (the clue is in the names of the stations – Mont meaning mount) also complicate things. Skyrail isn’t really an option, and retaining a station at Mont Albert below street level would require, they say, “a daunting 12 metre climb from platform to ground level”.
A 1970s plan involved demolishing half the suburb to extend Warrigal Road over the railway line. That plan, understandably, got enough pushback that it never happened.
The 2020 plan, given that Surrey Hills and Mont Albert stations are only about 800 metres apart, is that they will merge them into one station, on a straight section of track between.
The new combined station will have entrances at both ends, making it about 150 metres from the existing Surrey Hills entrance, and about 400 metres (including across a main road) from Mont Albert.
Closing/merging stations is a first for the Level Crossing Removal Project. Other sites have seen station locations move slightly (such as at Hughesdale, where the station swapped from the east side of the road to the west) but until now, none have involved reducing the overall number of stations.
The government says a rewrite of the Belgrave/Lilydale line timetable will result in more peak trains stopping at the new station, which presumably means better service, particularly for current Mont Albert users.
The project is going to need to provide good quality walking and cycling paths to the new station, but a few other questions spring to mind.
- How will the Hamilton Street shopping centre (adjacent to Mont Albert station) survive given it’s about to lose a chunk of its walk-up patronage?
- Will the traffic lights to cross Mont Albert Road (between the old station/shopping centre, and the new station) be programmed to be very responsive to pedestrians and cyclists, or will it be the standard Melbourne practice of leaving them waiting for ages for traffic?
- Will the new rail alignment have provision for a future 4th track? One day this is going to be important to cater for express trains in both directions.
- Possibly the least important issue here: what to call the combined station? (One wag’s suggestion: The Full Monty)
- Will the Robinson Road underpass stay? It’s one of Melbourne’s lowest clearance bridges, fortunately on a side street (see below) – less than 400 metres from where the rail line will dip under Union Road. A handy shortcut for pedestrians, despite it having no footpath, but arguably less important for vehicles once Union Road is crossing-free.
- And what do the locals think of all this anyway? Apart from concerns about the shops, and one bloke on the news who wasn’t sure he wanted a railway station on his doorstep (I’m sure he’ll be happy enough once his home value starts rising), I’ve barely heard a peep.
This is the Robinson Road underpass (2.5m clearance), which is about 370m from Union Road, Surrey Hills, where the railway line will go under the road.?— Daniel Bowen (@danielbowen) December 9, 2020
I’m speculating, but I would guess this underpass won’t be here once the project is completed. pic.twitter.com/wlHqnaudnu
Entrances at both ends of the new combined Surrey Hills/Mont Albert station will definitely help the locals easily access trains.
It would be nice to see a lot more stations provided with multiple entrances. It brings a lot of walkability benefits, and it’s minimal cost (especially when rebuilding stations) but – apart from those added to cover for slow Myki readers – trying to get more than one entrance/exit per station is like pulling hens teeth.
As for merging stations, it’s understandable why they’ve chosen this design, to overcome some genuine engineering challenges. But I absolutely wouldn’t want it to become a regular pattern.