Since 1825, when George Stephenson first ran his iron horses in England, the general opinion has been that roads and railways don’t mix.
Today that opinion is shared by most of Melbourne’s rail passengers and motorists who face the uneasy – frequently dangerous – interface between the two transport modes at the city’s 170-odd level crossings.
Now there’s a light at the end of the tunnel – the light of a train passing swiftly under or over a road where traffic has banked up on and off for well over a century.
There’s also light in the air – the light of trains that on some lines will run on tracks about two storeys above current ground level.
50 crossings to go
The State Government has pledged to remove 50 level crossings from 13 Melbourne rail lines by 2022 in a process costing at least $6 billion and providing more than 4500 jobs in the construction phase.
One of the most notorious rail/road trouble spots has already been removed in the current program: the Burke Rd crossing at Gardiner Station in Glen Iris. Work included rebuilding the station, taking the rail line under the road and coordinating trams and road vehicles accessing major roads including the adjacent Monash Freeway.
“That has been a very complex operation,” Kevin Devlin, CEO of the Level Crossing Removal Authority said. “It had to be done with a minimum of disturbance to many thousands of daily road, rail and tram passengers, together with the usual services such as electricity, sewerage, gas and telephone.
“We had hundreds of workers occupying a very tight space so logistics and co-ordination had to be carefully planned.”
The finished job may please Greg Champion, who decades ago sang: “Never turn right at Burke Rd, Malvern or you’ll be there all the day.”
But this is by no means the most difficult task in the program – think High St Reservoir, where six roads and four boom gates share one intersection. “The planning for that one is very complex,” Mr Devlin said.
Special construction methods
An added degree of difficulty attends the Frankston line. For a considerable distance its track runs on deep, sandy soil and across sensitive watercourses and wetlands.
All of which calls for specialist construction methods involving massive caissons driven deep into the ground to support the new structures.
Mr Devlin said the Level Crossing Removal Authority is taking on board best-practice methods from around the world.
“We’re doing much more than merely removing level crossings. In many cases we’ll be creating new stations the like of which Melbourne hasn’t seen before, some with retail, commercial and community components.”
New public spaces
The Level Crossing Removal Authority is promising opportunities for new public spaces, such as gardens, playgrounds, linear parks, bike tracks and walking paths.
The state government pledged six weeks of community consultation.
Dave Jones, Manager Roads and Traffic at RACV, said it was important people go to information sessions and check the Authority’s website to ensure their views are shared and heard.
One of the most controversial ideas is the so-called Sky Rail, elevated sections of track that are being considered for sections of the Dandenong and Frankston rail corridors.
The plan to have elevated tracks replace some of the level crossings on one major line immediately drew criticism. The $1.6 billion project would see nine level crossings removed between Caulfield and Pakenham and Cranbourne. Work, including five new stations, is scheduled for completion in November 2018.
Opponents have forecast increased noise for trackside residents and said more than 8km of elevated tracks would divide neighbourhoods. Critics also said the spaces underneath the twin tracks could attract unsavoury activities.
The Authority’s Mr Devlin said elevated railways would cause less noise pollution than on-ground tracks, and that they would be safer by making public access to tracks harder.
RACV’s Dave Jones said elevated tracks provide the opportunity to build bikeways along the old tracks and to create additional open space and car parking. He said there must be a commitment to ensure any public spaces created are well maintained.
Consider commuting alternatives
Mr Jones said the overall program might mean cancellation of services while changes are made, and alternative means of commuting to minimise delays should be considered. He said the Authority would alert the public when roads and public transport were affected by level crossing removals.
Read about the World's Top 5 Sky Rails at royalauto.com.au.
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