Both major political parties are talking up level crossing removals as part of their transport policy repertoires; the ALP are promising to remove 50 and the Coalition promising 40. At the recent pay-TV only people's forum, Daniel Andrews was pressured on timeframes should the ALP win Government and he announced an eight-year period to complete the 50 crossing removals.
Eight years is an ambitious timeframe in anyone's book and should ALP form government after November 29th, it will be a benchmark that the Government (should they form it) will be judged on.
As for the coalition's promise of 40 level crossing removals either started, funded or planned, Daniel Bowen has an interesting write up breaking down the numbers; it appears the Coalition are claiming the 13 road over rail or rail over road bridges created as part of the Regional Rail Link project as true crossing removals (when there was no level crossing to begin with).
Regardless, the ALP and Coalition clearly aim to ramp up further removals throughout the metropolitan area and given promises from one side of politics - to do so many in a relatively short period of time - it's hard to not feel uneasy about the potential for inevitable compromise should the proverbial hit the fan.
The Office of Victorian Government Architect, as part of their Victorian Design Review Panel series, has a relevant two-pager with the title Level Crossing Removals: Lessons Learned. The strategic issues section is summarised:
Office of Victorian Government Architect
- A level crossing removal is more than an engineering project which physically separates road and rail.
- View the project as a catalyst for urban renewal.
- Establish a vision for the site that is broader than improving transport efficiency.
- Include the expertise of urban design professionals in the development of the design.
- Develop site-specific urban design guidelines.
- Allow a reference design to be revised and challenged by the project/bidding team.
I recently had the chance to take a wander around one of the most recent examples of grade separation + new station rebuild at Mitcham. All in all it's an impressive new station with all the trimmings you'd expect.
Station Street which intersects with Whitehorse Road now looks (and more importantly feels) connected with the new concourse built above the lowered tracks with an excellent less-than-50m walk to bus stops on both the northern and southern platforms. Slick deep blue tiles, modern ticket office and a healthy smattering of retail space meld the whole precinct together and the station feels truly a part of the existing commercial strip to the north.
Perhaps my only two criticisms for the station relate to the surface car parks that are a typical feature of many suburban railway stations. To the left of the picture above, an open-air car park sits wasting away when really the land should be put to more valuable use.
Sure there's always going to be a need for commuter car parking, but in situations like Mitcham it was disappointing that surface car parking still dominates the northern periphery of the station.
Visiting urbanist and former Chief Planner of Vancouver, Brent Toderian, last month made an extremely valid point when he said Australian cities have an enormous amount of heavy rail infrastructure in place already and our primary failing is getting the land use around stations right.
I guess my fears (and hopes) for Melbourne's grade separation frenzy that we're likely to witness whomever wins Government on Saturday can be summed thus:
We should expect nothing less than the architectural quality of Mitcham for each and every one of the projects which result in a new station rebuild. Plus the Planning and Transport Ministers should work together to ensure that each project doesn't surround each new station with hectares of wasteful surface car parking, regardless of whether a project is in the inner, middle or outer rings of Melbourne.
Modular and prefabricated approach should not only be encouraged but prioritised. If you look at the ALP's aspirations, 50 projects is a lot of work and there's going to be a great deal of commonality between them; a fantastic opportunity to put work in the hands of advanced manufacturers.
Where a station is currently two single platforms, rail engineers, urban designers and the purse string holders should look at rebuilding the new stations with island platforms where possible. Nunawading saw this happen, but Mitcham and Springvale have not had this treatment.
Island platforms make it easier for passengers - no need for passengers unfamiliar with a station's configuration to stop and think which platform they need to go to before heading through the ticketed area (one of many passenger-positive reasons) - and the platforms would have greater passive surveillance from concourses and from outside station boundaries above in the case where a station is lowered like at Mitcham.
And finally, let's get land use right. There is plenty of scope for PPP integration at new stations; the Residential Growth Zone should be employed liberally on land adjacent to new stations and car parking should quite literally be out of sight and and out of mind.
Lead image credit: Nunawading Station, Grimshaw via E-Architect.co.uk.
View more Mitcham Station images on modscape.com.au.