Thursday, February 11, 2016

Underground rail with a linear park is better that overhead Skyrail

The Victorian government has announced plans for "Skyrail" overhead rail along sections of the Dandenong line.  Daniel Bowen provides a good overview of the proposal.

Murrembeena Station concept drawing Source
Community consultation by the Victorian government regarding this proposal seems to be "we are providing elevated rail and we want feedback on the details".

An underground rail option is not being publicly canvassed by the government.  Underground rail would probably cost twice as much as the overhead rail so it has apparently already been ruled out.

While underground rail would cost more it would have much less long term impact. A linear park can be built above it with bike and pedestrian paths and a mix of some residential and commercial buildings. 

Cities around the world such as London, Paris, Stuttgart, Naples and Tokyo all have underground rail. 

If you want to see how overhead rail ends being a disruptive divisive eyesore visit the Canterbury Railway station or have a look at the wasteland under Flinders Street viaduct in Melbourne's CBD.

Flinders St viaduct source: Wikimedia
The "Skyrail" proposal includes:

"an extra 12 km of cycle paths will be added, linking existing sections to make a single stretch for bikes from Caulfield to Dandenong, with local councils contributing additional links to Monash University and the Gardiner Creek trial, which provides an off-road path all the way into the city."

Bike path near overhead infrastructure

However, bike paths on the surface need to cross roads like the current train line does. This is a poor outcome for cyclists, less so for pedestrians. 

Here are some pros and cons of underground versus overhead rail for grade separation.

Overhead rail
  • Achieves grade separation between roads and rail
  • Cheaper to build
  • Bike and pedestrian paths can be built under gantry that can provide overhead cover

  • Creates an eyesore
  • Divides communities
  • Propagates noise further
  • Space under the gantry has low sunlight and low amenity - three or four tracks cover a lot of area
  • No opportunity for residential buildings along rail easement
  • Bike path road crossings impede cycling

Underground rail
  • Achieves grade separation between roads and rail
  • Provide linear park above with mix of residential and commercial buildings and bike and pedestrian paths
  • Less noisy, low impact on  local communities
  • Can include bike and pedestrian underpasses in tunnels (next to rail tunnel) under busy roads.

  • Expensive to build
  • Separate overhead cover required for bike and pedestrian paths
  • Diesel fumes from regional and freight trains need to be dispersed

The Level Crossing Authority should provide the best transport outcomes for motorists, public transport, cyclists and pedestrians with all grade separation projects.

So far the track record for grade separations is appalling.  For example, feedback to provide good pedestrian and bike underpasses at Springvale and Rooks Roads was ignored even though the Box Hill to Ringwood Rail Trail was an approved project when they were planned and built.

More recently, the need for a tunnel under Burke Rd for pedestrians and cyclists during the grade separation was also ignored with the usual litany of excuses such as "there isn't room for it" and "it would cost too much".

I provided feedback that a bike and pedestrian underpass should be included during consultation for the Middleborough Road grade separation.  A pedestrian underpass was belatedly provided but bikes cannot use it.

The plans for Blackburn Road grade separation show now indication of a bike pedestrian underpass

Blackburn Road separation concept [source]
Pedestrians and cyclists are forced to use pedestrian crossings at all these locations - they must press and wait for pedestrian crossing lights that then impede the traffic - that the grade separation is supposed to have prevented!  This is an absurd outcome for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists.

Tunnels should be also be provided for pedestrians and bikes next to train tunnels - its is much cheaper to do this during construction.

Linear parks over underground rail with covered solar bike paths and a mix of residential and commercial buildings provide the best amenity for all users and the lowest impact on local communities.

Linear bike path in Hungary

Linear bike path concept in Sydney


Ian Woodcock said...

This argument adds little to the discussion apart from pointing out the need to deal with cyclists and pedestrians better than we do now in Melbourne. The issues discussed relate to all the places where pedestrians and cyclists have to cross roads, not just those on rail lines. And whether the rail line is lifted or lowered, the issues and solutions are likely to be the same. The cost of grade separations for pedestrians and cyclists is always going to be an extra cost, because the primary reason for doing the grade separation is to change the relationship between rail and road. There are many other ways of dealing with the flow issues related to pedestrians, cyclists and cars than grade separation and these need to be considered as a priority because they apply everywhere and not just where rail lines exist. For example, in many places (eg Sydney, London, Europe) pedestrians have priority at crossings. Cars must give way to cyclists and pedestrians. There are no signals, just signs and road marking. Where there is a necessity for signals, these can be set to give priority to the needs of pedestrians and cyclists, rather than motorists. Currently, signal timings are set to the benefit of motorists, and the significant inconvenience of pedestrians and cyclists. Anyone with an interest in a more sustainable future should be arguing for measures that disincentivise the use of motor cars for all but the most essential journeys. This means lowering speed limits on all roads that are not freeways or toll ways, and a wide range of other policies. Also, improving public transport so it is competitive with car travel, and significantly upgrading facilities and infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists - separated bike lanes, universalising the provision of shade trees in streets, more places to sit, to lock up a bike, etc. None of this has anything to do with whether railways are elevated to undergrounded.

While some of London's rail lines are underground, over half of the Tube is above ground, much of it on embankments or viaducts. All of the rest of London's extensive passenger rail system is above ground, and yes, much of it is on embankments and viaducts. Many urban rail systems in Europe, North America and Asia have significant elevated components as well as at-grade and underground. But the underground segments are primarily confined to urban cores or historic areas of high density, that is, much higher density than most of suburban Melbourne. But even in some city centres - for exmaple, Paris, Berlin and The Hague - there is elevated rail, and it works very well. Undergrounding railway lines, rather than merely dropping them in trenches is far more than twice the cost of elevating them. The most comprehensive recent analysis I've seen suggests the costs of tunnelling could be well in excess of 5 times the cost of elevated rail. Capping trenches with decks is also very expensive - why would anyone do it at costs that far exceed the surrounding land value, like most of Melbourne suburbia? There was a project called 'Double Fault' several years ago that looked at burying the Glen Waverley Line through the innermost (and most expensive) suburbs and building parks, apartments and commercial property on top as a way of funding it. I'm reliably informed that it hasn't happened because it couldn't pay for itself. The height and density of the development required to make it stack up would be far more objectionable than an elevated railway!

Anonymous said...

Actually the Sky Rail cost of $177 million per crossing is significantly more than the cost of recent rail under road crossing removals. The one near me is great. You can barely hear the trains.

Peter Campbell said...

The need to deal with cyclists and pedestrians better is my main point - recent experiences with Burke, Springvale, Rooks and Blackburn Roads crossing removals have all been disastrous for bikes and pedestrians.

With major works like these it is important to cover all transport and access modes, not just consider roads and rail.

Another main point is no consultation on options. If it costs 200m more to go underground and they offered government bonds to raise the money I think they would get it.

Ian Woodcock said...

I couldn't agree more with the need to treat cyclists and pedestrians better! But whether it's elevated or trenched or evenb, tunnelled, the problem is the same: roads that need to be shared between cyclists, pedestrians, cars and trucks, and roads that need to be crossed by cyclists and pedestrians. Whether you spend 5 times as much putting the rail line deep underground, or elevate the line, or put it in a trench, none of them specifically address how to deal with cyclists and pedestrians. So, I agree with emphasising that, and many others would as well (and the LXRA is certainly aware of it), but it's a distraction to roll it in with calling for tunnels and trenches instead of viaducts!

Anonymous said...

It would be really nice if the likes of Ian Woodcock declared his affiliation with the level crossing removal authority, who are the government body responsible for the proposed skyrail project. His comments here, while appearing to be independent, clearly are not. Ian Woodcocks obsession with elevated rail dovetails nicely with the Government agenda.