Photos from ten years ago – August 2006

Another instalment in my photos from ten years ago series – August 2006 was a month filled with trains.

First off, here we see a failed V/Line service being assisted by a freight locomotive.

On the morning of August 2 the locomotive due to lead the Melbourne-bound V/Line service out of Warrnambool developed a fault, so some quick thinking saw the otherwise idle locomotive from the Warrnambool container freight service attached to the front of the train and rescue the stranded train.

Freight Australia liveried A81 leads a failed N452 on the up Warnambool service at Newport

On arrival at Southern Cross Station the failed V/Line locomotive was replaced by a working unit to take the train back to Warrnambool, along with a freshly refuelled freight locomotive to replace the unit ‘borrowed’ that morning.

A79 and N453 ready to depart on the down Warrnambool service from Southern Cross
A79 and N453 ready to depart on the down Warrnambool service from Southern Cross

Another odd sight in August was a special charter train operated by V/Line for the members-only Kelvin Club.

N452 departs Southern Cross Station with Kelvin Club charter to Bendigo

The train included heritage dining car ‘Avoca’ for a sit down lunch, and Club Car ‘Victoria’ so club members could prop up the bar afterwards.

N452 departs Southern Cross Station with Kelvin Club charter to Bendigo

Dining car ‘Avoca’ was in the custody of Seymour Railway Heritage Centre, so V/Line attached it to the rear of a normal passenger service to get the carriage back home following the charter.

A66 bound for Seymour with a H set, with dining car 'Avoca' on the rear

Over on the suburban network, 3-car ‘half length’ trains were still a common sight a decade ago – such as this citybound Watergardens service passing through South Kensington.

3-car Siemens train 722M leads an up Watergardens service at South Kensington

A less common sight were Hitachi trains – but six sets were still in regular service, wearing the green and gold ‘The Met’ livery that dated back to the 1990s. This set was departing the train wash at North Melbourne, with the Docklands skyline in the background still on the rise.

Hitachi train departs the train wash at Melbourne Yard

Retirement of the rest of the Hitachi fleet had commenced back in 2003, with the carriages being sold to new owners for reuse. An exception was four 3-car Hitachi trains that were transferred to the Bendigo North Workshops in 2004 and placed into open storage pending possible reuse.

Left unsecured, vandals soon stripped the trains of parts, smashed the windows and covered the bodies with graffiti. There the trains remained until August 2006, when it was decided to drag the now useless body shells back to Melbourne, where there were stored at Newport Workshops pending sale to private owners.

Damaged Hitachis arrived back at Newport

Newport Workshops was also a dumping ground for other damaged suburban trains, such as Comeng carriage 500M.

Burnt out 500M stored at Newport Workshops

Burnt out in 2002 by vandals on the Sandringham line, the remains were stored at Newport until there were eventually scrapped.

Burnt out 500M stored at Newport Workshops

Footnote

Here you can find the rest of my ‘photos from ten years ago‘ series.

Napthine’s train crashes Daniel Andrews’ party

Politicians have been influencing the direction of Melbourne’s rail network for decades, but down on the Frankston line the removal of the North Road, McKinnon Road and Centre Road level crossings has seen the decisions of two former political foes collide, with no acknowledgement from either side.

X'Trapolis 183M approaches the newly rebuilt low level station at McKinnon with a down Frankston service

The story starts in May 2013, when then-Premier Denis Napthine announced the $100 million ‘Bayside Rail Project’ to appease voters along the Frankston line, home of a number of marginal seats. The headline:

$100 million Bayside rail upgrade brings newest trains to Frankston line

Then elaborated further:

“Since the November 2010 election, the Coalition Government has announced orders for 15 new X’Trapolis trains, but these trains could only carry passengers on the Alamein, Glen Waverley, Belgrave, Lilydale, Hurstbridge and South Morang lines due to the different position in which the driver sits in the cab, affecting the ability to see some signals.

“This $100 million will mean the Frankston line will also be able to accommodate the X’Trapolis trains, giving passengers the fastest, most reliable and most comfortable commute to and from the city,” Dr Napthine said.

A year later in May 2014 another story starts, when the same Liberal government announced a $457 million package of works to remove level crossings at Burke Road in Glen Iris, Blackburn Road in Blackburn and North Road in Ormond.

We now move to the leadup to the 2014 State Election, and both sides of politics pulling out all stops to wow voters.

'Moving Victoria' propaganda among the advertisements on the big screen at Flinders Street Station

The Labor Party promised to remove 50 level crossings across Melbourne if they won the election, while the incumbent Liberal Government pushed Metro Trains and PTV to introduce a token X’Trapolis train to the Frankston line before infrastructure works were completed, requiring special speed restrictions to be put in place due to level crossing issues.

Labor came out in front on election day and Daniel Andrews took the reins as Premier of Victoria. He didn’t spare any time in putting his level crossing plan into action, and wasn’t afraid to revisit existing projects – in May 2015 the scope of the North Road works was expanded to include the neighbouring Centre Road, Bentleigh and McKinnon Road, McKinnon level crossings.

July 2016 saw work on the Frankston line kick up a gear, with train services being shut down for a month to allow all three stations to be demolished and the new railway cutting to be dug.

North Rd crossing at Ormond station - Herald Sun photo by Chris Eastman
North Rd crossing at Ormond station – Herald Sun photo by Chris Eastman

Rail services returned on August 1st, with Premier Daniel Andrews’ office releasing a media statement:

The crossings are gone, the track has been lowered and tomorrow the trains are back, completing one of the biggest construction efforts in Victorian history. We said we would get rid of these dangerous and congested level crossings – and we have got it done.

With the work completed, trains now pass beneath the former level crossings.

Alstom Comeng arrives into the newly rebuilt low level station at McKinnon on a down Frankston service

Among them is Denis Napthine’s election train – despite his loss at the 2014 State Election, the token X’Trapolis service continues to run.

X'Trapolis 183M on a down Frankston service stops for passengers at the newly rebuilt low level station at McKinnon

Each weekday morning the dedicated X’Trapolis train to makes two return trips to Frankston, then returns to the city to stable until next day’s junket.

X'Trapolis 183M departs the newly rebuilt low level station at McKinnon on a down Frankston service

I wonder what will come first – the completion of 50 level crossings removals projects across Melbourne, or the rollout of X’Trapolis trains to the Frankston line?

Footnote

Freshly shotcreted walls were the main sight on my recent trip along the Frankston line.

Fresh shotcrete covered walls at Ormond station

But vandals haven’t wasted any time – trains been back for just a week, and the trench walls at McKinnon station have already been graffitied.

Trains been back for just a week, and the trench walls at McKinnon station have already been graffitied

Fact check on the Frankston line

On August 1st trains returned to the Frankston line after a five week long shutdown that allowed the tracks to be lowered beneath Centre, McKinnon and North Roads, eliminating three level crossings. A media release was released by the State Government to celebrate the completed works, but the ‘facts’ included within deserve further examination.

'Service to Frankston stopping all stations' displayed on the PIDS of a X'Trapolis train

You can find the media release here:

Crossings Gone, Tracks Lowered, Trains Returned
Premier of Victoria
31 July 2016

Trains return to the Frankston line tomorrow after three level crossings were removed during the longest rail line closure since construction of the City Loop more than 30 years ago.

To enable these works to occur, the Frankston line was closed between Caulfield and Moorabbin for more than five weeks, and replacement buses moved thousands of passengers every day.

This is the first time in Victoria’s history that three level crossings have been removed concurrently and means the Andrews Labor Government has now removed four level crossings in less than 18 months.

Longest rail line closure since the City Loop?

Five weeks is a long time to shut down a railway line, so one can be forgiven to think that it is a record breaker. So what other projects was it up against?

My first thought was the Mitcham level crossing removal project – in 2014 it removed two level crossings and delivered a new railway station at Mitcham, with a long concrete trench being built along a constrained rail corridor.

X'Trapolis 58M passes beneath Rooks Road, Mitcham with an up service

Close, but no cigar – the longest shutdown stopped trains for three weeks:

The major cut over construction phase occurred in January 2014 (Phase Two). The plan being a 3 week closure of the railway between Ringwood and Blackburn to cut over from the high level tracks and old railway station to the new low level tracks and railway station. The extensive construction during this period will be lowering the railway through Rooks Road on the same alignment.

My next thought was the Middleborough Road project – in 2007 it removed one level crossing and delivered a new railway station at Laburnum.

Citybound X'Trapolis train emerges from the Middleborough Road cutting at Box Hill

Getting a little closer, but trains only stopped for four weeks.

The major construction phase was completed in January 2007 (Phase Two). This included a 4 week closure of the railway line between Blackburn and Box Hill and the closure of Middleborough Road to through traffic.

I then drew a blank, until I was reminded that the city end of the Upfield line was closed for an extended period in the late 1990s to allow for the construction of the CityLink viaduct over the top.

EDI Comeng on a down Upfield service at Macaulay

The plan was announced in 1997:

Rail line closure for freeway construction
February 19, 1997
Sean Lennon

Victoria’s new transport minister, Robin Cooper, caused outrage in the northern suburbs on February 4, when he announced that the Upfield line, long a battleground between the authorities and residents, would close for six months to allow construction of the City Link freeway project.

This flies in the face of a public statement by the head of the Public Transport Corporation that the line would remain open during construction.

Under the government’s plan, the line would be closed between Flemington Bridge and North Melbourne stations, with buses ferrying people to Newmarket station, on the Broadmeadows line. From there, passengers would catch another train to the city.

Originally a six months closure was approved:

Having regard to construction and safety requirements, the State, the Company and the Trustee may agree that the section of the Upfield railway line between Racecourse Road and Arden Street be closed from 1 May 1997 to 31 October 1997 (or such other period as agreed), and on such terms and conditions as may be agreed.

But it took until May 1 1997 for the line south of Flemington Bridge to be closed to passengers, with it eventually reopening in February 1998 – nine months without trains!

But the real slowpoke was rebuilding the V/Line service to Albury in the late 2000s.

N464 ready to lead the train back south from Albury

The last broad gauge train ran to Albury on November 8 2008, to allow the railway to be converted to standard gauge. Work took an eternity, with many ride quality issues, with V/Line services not returning to Albury until 26 June 2011 – 2 years, 7 months, and 16 days without trains.

Frankston line passengers – consider yourself lucky!

What about the City Loop?

Another point to examine is the comparison with the City Loop – construction of which was a massive project, but how did it disrupt rail services?

Siemens train emerges from the Caulfield Loop portal at Southern Cross

For a start, much of the City Loop was constructed beneath the streets of Melbourne’s CBD, with the only visible impact being the diversion of La Trobe Street between Swanston and Elizabeth Street to make way for the construction of Museum Station.

La Trobe St and its tram tracks were re-routed during construction of Museum Station, now known as Melbourne Central Station. This photo was taken on 1 October 1975 (Public Record Office Victoria)
Public Record Office Victoria image (via ABC News)

It was where the tunnels connected into the existing rail network that more disruption occurred.

Construction in the Jolimont rail yard on 28 May 1973 (Public Record Office Victoria)
Public Record Office Victoria image (via ABC News)

But aerial views show that the impact was minor – existing trackage was slewed away from the work sites, allowing trains to continue to run.

Construction of the Melbourne Underground Rail Loop's Jolimont access tunnel, as viewed from the Reserve Bank building on 6 October 1972 (Public Record Office Victoria)
Public Record Office Victoria image (via ABC News)

So were multiple week shutdowns required to build the City Loop? I doubt it.

Most concurrent level crossings removals?

The final fact to check is the “first time in Victoria’s history that three level crossings have been removed concurrently”.

Main Road at St Albans closed for grade separation works

The Mitcham level crossing removal project came close – it removed the Mitcham Road and Rooks Road level crossings as part of a single works package.

But we need to go much further back in time to blow that number out of the water – the first being the regrading and duplication of the railway between South Yarra and Caulfield in 19121915, the construction of five new stations at Malvern, Armadale, Toorak, Hawksburn and South Yarra, and the removal of seven level crossings.

Metro liveried EDI Comeng 440M on the up at Hawksburn

But there was another project that removed even more level crossings – the regrading of the railway between Hawthorn and Camberwell in 19151920, the construction of three new stations at Glenferrie, Auburn and Camberwell, and the removal of eight level crossings – Glenferrie Road, William Street, John Street, Henry Street, Auburn Road, Albert Street, Burwood Road, and Burke Road.

D1.3515 on Glenferrie Road below Glenferrie Station

So the sum up the Franskton line media release – other railway lines have been closed for longer periods for upgrade works, the City Loop is irrelevant when making these kinds of comparisons, and there have been much larger level crossing removal projects in the past that delivered far greater improvements to the rail network.

My verdict – nice try, but you’re going to need more than just a PR flack to pull the wool over my eyes!

Keeping idiot motorists out of railway cuttings

Motorists crashing through fences and onto the railway tracks seems to be an ongoing theme in Melbourne. Whether driving too fast for the conditions or confusing the brake pedal for the accelerator – it doesn’t matter how, but their cars end up on the tracks, delaying rail services. So how are they prevented from ending up at the bottom of a deep concrete hole?

X'Trapolis train approaches Mitcham with a down Lilydale service

Some examples from Melbourne

The railway cutting at Camberwell was built back in the 1920s, with the red brick walls having been patched up many times in the decades since.

Alamein shuttle running into Siding A at Camberwell

A low steel guard rail prevents cars on the parallel streets ending up on the tracks, with a rusted cyclone fence preventing people from doing the same.

Street view of the cutting at Camberwell

Gardiner station is a modern example where shotcrete and piling forms the cutting walls, but graffiti still covers virtually every surface.

X'Trapolis train arrives into Gardiner station via the new low level tracks

Here parkland separates the railway from the streets that parallel the tracks, so a cyclone fence along the top of the cutting wall has been deemed sufficient protection.

Cyclone fences are all that prevents cars from falling into the railway cutting at Gardiner station

At the other end of the cutting is the railway station car park, so a waist height concrete barrier has been added to prevent motorists ploughing through after confusing the brake and the accelerator.

Plenty of empty spaces at the east end of the new Gardiner station car park

Over at Mitcham station is a similarly deep railway cutting.

X'Trapolis train approaches Mitcham with a down Lilydale service

At the Ringwood end, concrete barriers prevent motorists from bunny hopping out of their parking spaces.

X'Trapolis train approaches Mitcham with an up service

But at the city end, a concrete kerb was deemed sufficient protection from motorists, who instead park at parallel to the tracks.

Expanded car park at the city end of Mitcham station

Finally we visit Wyndham Vale station – located on the other side of Melbourne and hewn out of solid basalt.

N466 leads the up Warrnambool service into Wyndham Vale

Here a residential street parallels the tracks, so a solid concrete wall follows the top of the cutting, topped with an even higher welded mesh steel fence.

Looking south along the cutting beside Academy Way

Do they work?

Turns out concrete barriers are a necessity anywhere cars get near a railway – normal fences aren’t enough to prevent idiot drivers from ending up on the tracks. Here are a few recent Melbourne examples:

And from elsewhere in Australia:

And in a similar vein is this incident from February 2016 – car lands at bottom of 10 metre deep hole after driver sends it crashing through hoardings at a construction site in Flemington.

Footnote

Have you ever noticed how news reports normally state that a car lost control, not the driver? The language of driving is hard, and even I had to edit my initial draft in order to get across that drivers are the ones that screw up.

A tree grows in the train trench

There has been much consternation across Melbourne as the level crossing removal program has ramped up, with trees being one of the casualties and barren concrete canyons taking their place. But there is hope!

X'Trapolis 62M departs Gardiner station on the down via the new low level tracks

This row of pine trees along the edge of Morton Park, Blackburn was one of the victims – cleared for a rail under road grade separation at Blackburn Road.

Row of pine trees felled along the edge of Morton Park, Blackburn

Meanwhile a few stations along the line at Camberwell, the railway passes beneath Burke Road, a grade separation project completed almost 100 years ago. Fast forward to today, and creepers are starting to reclaim the cutting walls.

Plants grow out of a crack in the retaining wall on the up side of Camberwell station

With a much larger bush taking hold down at ground level.

Plants grow out of a crack in the retaining wall on the up side of Camberwell station

But you don’t need to wait decades for nature to take over – the railway tracks through Mitcham station were only placed below ground in 2014, and this elm tree has already started to poke out of the concrete cutting wall.

Tree growing out of the concrete cutting walls at Mitcham station

So don’t lose hope – as long as Melbourne’s rail network is in the hands of a private operator more concerned with profits than infrastructure maintenance, nature will reclaim even our newest rail infrastructure.

Footnote

The Age has more on the clearing of trees at Blackburn for level crossing works.

​The “scorched-earth” felling of hundreds of trees by Andrews government contractors preparing the way for level crossing removal has left Blackburn residents fuming.

The Belgrave-Lilydale rail line is being lowered beneath Blackburn Road to remove the level crossing near Blackburn railway station.

But as part of the project, at least 220 trees will go, including 23 mature cypress and pine trees on the rail line in Blackburn’s Morton Park.