Expansion of the Level-crossing Removal Programme

The Premier’s office has announced 25 additional crossings will be added to the list of 50 to be removed by the LXRA. The added crossings mean the expiration date of the programme has been revised from 2022 to 2025. This is part of a broader suite of promises made by the Labor party going into the November 24th state election, which includes a massive expansion to the metro system, and upgrades to the regional rail system.

I just want to address two particular crossings, one of which happens to be local to me, which has been added to the list — Argyle Avenue, Chelsea. I’ll talk about Glenhuntly Road later in the post.

En-queued at Argyle Avenue

En-queued at Argyle Avenue

Argyle Avenue

The crossing itself is a well-known bugbear of locals in the Chelsea-Bonbeach community, and I doubt I’m the only one relieved to see it announced as a target for removal. The nearby Bonbeach and Edithvale stations have had their adjacent roads already slated for removal in the initial list of 50 put forward in 2014. A long process was undertaken to determine the preferred model for removal of Bondi and Edithvale Roads.

The government initially put forward elevated rail (‘skyrail’) as its preferred option, with the possibility of rail-under-road (trenching) depending on community feedback and an environmental impact assessment related to the closely situated and internationally-protected Edithvale-Seaford Wetlands.

You may call me a cynic, but I believe that the state government, owing to the marginality of the sandbelt electorates, wanted to go forward with skyrail only on the condition that no protests were made. Even a little bit of protestation was bound to tip the scales, given that the seat of Carrum was won at the last election on a margin of just 0.72% of the vote, or roughly 500 votes. Needless to say, there was a campaign, with the backing of local Liberals, to stir up anti-skyrail sentiment. Labor was completely unwilling to rock the boat by doing anything even slightly controversial, and thus caved. Trenched rail effectively represents the status quo, whilst skyrail represents a reconfiguration and re-imagining of the local area, due to its more outstanding and obvious nature.

The reason that the government initially put forward skyrail, in spite of the risk of hostility, as its preferred option is for two reasons: firstly, skyrail is cheaper. The more you save on each individual crossing, the more you can do overall. Secondly, it was the obviously superior option for the area. Indeed, skyrail is a preferable option as a general rule, for a variety of reasons.

Skyrail is cheaper. It enables amenities or shops to be built underneath, as well as parking or bus loops close to railway stations. It allows easier crossing on foot, by opening up an effectively unlimited number of crossing points. Bonbeach and Edithvale in particular are each areas waiting for a commercial boom to happen, which I believe to only be inhibited by the ghetto-isation created by the Berlin Wall that is the Frankston Line. This could so easily be achieved by making it easier to move around on foot, by bicycle, as well as by car. There are already burgeoning residences in the locality moving into medium density apartments and flats; the consumers are there, they have only limited options for consumption.

Chelsea is at the midway point between Bonbeach and Edithvale, and it is indeed already burgeoning commercially, albeit not as much as it once did. The past saw a broader variety of stores which have in the intervening decades fallen to the onslaught of shopping centres. This is not unique to Chelsea, nor even Australia. Still, all big four banks have branches here, there’s a post office, numerous restaurants and cafes, and a major grocery chain. The pristine beach, and the successful local businesses, draw in visitors by road and rail to shed their cash and clothes to take a dip in the water on Melbourne’s notoriously hot summer days.

Whilst the decision to trench the railway at Bonbeach and Edithvale represents a lost opportunity, my hope upon hearing the announcement that Argyle Avenue, Chelsea Road, and Swanpool Avenue, all localised to Chelsea, would be grade-separated gave me pause to wonder the enormous possibilities. Imagine a central plaza, a proper bus interchange, the unlocking of Station Street retail opportunities.

Alas, the Premier pre-empted all discussion or possibility of a future satellite business centre at Chelsea by conceding on the same date of announcement that there would be only trenches in Chelsea. There was no community consultation, no independent bodies analysing the proposal, not a single academic lending a word on the matter. The 500 voters prized by Labor had their way. The Premier had made his decision, and it was an easy and cowardly one. Now a massive gash will open wide across our beachside community. Foot crossings will be closed, people forced into their cars. We will all become a little more isolated, and our community will whither. Those situated west of the canyon will get richer, and those to the east will be crammed into smaller and smaller units on increasingly subdivided blocks. There will be no inter-cooperation or interchange of people. We will become two separate communities. I bemoan yet another lost opportunity for revitalisation and local economic growth.

I am left with only one last speculation on the Bonbeach-Chelsea-Edithvale Project. Will it be a single trench? In the case of a similar project to the north at Bentleigh-McKinnon-Ormond, the decision was made to have three successive trenches in short intervals so as to save on expenditure, at the cost of a lengthened timetable due to excessive train acceleration and deceleration. Passengers are left with an irksome feeling as the train makes repeated dives and halts. Will this shortsighted design be re-employed in my locality? Will commuters from Frankston be made to endure a rollercoaster of design compromises on their daily commute?

That brings me to the second crossing project I wish to discuss.

Glenhuntly Road

This is probably the worst level crossing in metropolitan Melbourne. It severely negatively impacts on all who use it: motorists, train and tram passengers, and pedestrians. The pain of Glenhuntly is felt all up and down the Frankston line owing to the fact that all trains, including expresses, must slow to a crawl at the intersection due to logistical issues to do with the intersection of overhead wires of both the railway and tramway. This severe slow down leads to backed up queues of pedestrians, trams, and cars. That this nightmare of a level crossing has finally been listed for removal is something for which it is worth praising the transport deities.

That said, why in said deities’ names was this crossing not removed when the three to the direct south were thusly removed? There was huge impact on services as the line was suspended for weeks at a time as the crossings at Bentleigh-McKinnon-Ormond were removed. Now, due to lack of foresight, we commuters of the Frankston line will be made to endure this nonsense over again. The local businesses of the area adjacent to the stations, who have only just recovered from the enormous disruptions caused by dust clouds and the fleeing of customers, will once again face the exact same. Level crossing removals will have and will continue to take place all up and down the line with an order that indicates no rhyme or reason other than political expediency. The Frankston line, by the time all is said and done, will have only been haphazardly usable between the years 2016 and 2025. Nine years of continuously interrupted travel is not something that freeway users would expect or tolerate, so why should commuters of Melbourne’s second busiest railway line tolerate such?

Conclusion

I thank good fortune for Victoria having a government that finally, after decades of neglect, is paying attention to rail transport. I will fiercely defend said government insofar as they continue to pursue an agenda that is anti-congestion and pro-rail, and I will likewise heavily criticise the flaws which have pockmarked the litany of announced projects; pockmarks emergent almost entirely from political expediency and the desire to cling to power. Labor is no better than the Liberal party when it comes to splurging billions to win votes, damn the consequences. I want a government that thinks far into the future, and doesn’t just make decisions for the here and now.