A history of synchronous condensers in Victoria

In the past decade wind and solar generation has been displacing older coal fired power stations in Australia, with the stability of the electricity grid coming into question. One of the proposed solutions is something called a synchronous condenser – a technology that the State Electricity Commission of Victoria took advantage of fifty years ago.

Codrington Wind Farm

So what am I even on about?

ABC News looked into the topic of grid stability back in 2017.

Power grids are complex machines, dependent on the laws of physics. The national grid is designed to operate at a consistent frequency of 50 Hertz, or 50 cycles a second.

Traditional coal, gas and hydro power stations are considered “synchronous” because they use turbines or spinning wheels to produce electricity. Those spinning parts need to stay close to 50Hz to help keep the grid in synch.

But most of Australia’s installed wind and solar systems are not considered to be. That’s because they use inverters to connect to the grid, rather than spinning wheels.

If too much power is fed in relative to demand, the frequency will increase. If demand outstrips supply, the frequency drops. Regulators rely on a suite of technologies to help keep the grid frequency close to 50Hz.

Synchronous condensers are one of the technologies used to maintain the frequency of the grid, with Energy Networks Australia explaining the technical details in their piece, The age of the syncons.

What is system strength?

System strength is important as it relates to the ability of the power system to withstand changes in supply or demand while maintaining stable voltage levels.

When system strength is low, generators may not be able to remain connected to the grid, control of the power system voltage level becomes more difficult and protection systems (which control and maintain the safe operation of the network) may not operate correctly. This can result in supply interruptions to customers.

System strength is typically provided by synchronous generation such as coal or gas-fired generation or pumped hydro.

What are synchronous condensers?

Synchronous condensers are an old technology, commonly used as far back as the 1950s to stabilise power systems.

They are large machines which spin freely and can absorb or produce reactive (Alternating Current – AC) power in order to stabilise and strengthen a power system.

Synchronous condensers help when there are changes in load as they increase network inertia. The kinetic energy stored in a synchronous condenser contributes to the total inertia of the power system and is beneficial from a frequency control perspective.

What is inertia?

Inertia in the energy system refers to the continuous momentum of energy typically provided by the large spinning turbines of synchronous generators like large coal-or gas-fired power stations. This type of generation helps withstand changes in generation output and load levels to keep the system stable.

The retirement of synchronous power plants and more renewable generation coming into the energy system means there is less inertia available, so flexibility or stability must be found elsewhere in the system to back it up.

And their usage in Victoria

Until the 1990s the electricity network in Victoria was managed by a single government entity – the State Electricity Commission of Victoria.

State Electricity Commission of Victoria warning sign

Brown coal from the Latrobe Valley was their fuel of choice.

Hazelwood Power Station - 1960s chic

But despite all of the old fashioned spinning metal in their power stations, in 1966 the SECV installed a 750 rpm +125 -75 MVar at 22 kV capacity synchronous condenser at the Templestowe Terminal Station in north-east Melbourne.

A few years later a second synchronous condenser was installed at the Fishermans Bend Terminal Station, south of the Melbourne CBD.

Looking down on the Bolte Bridge and Yarra River

And in 1971 a third unit at Brooklyn Terminal Station, in Melbourne’s west, with a salient pole design rotating at 750 rpm, with a rating of +110 -64 MVar at 14.5 kV, and a short time overload rating of 140 MvAr (10 min).

Front gate to the electrical substation

Following privatisation the reliability of the synchronous condensers declined, with availability falling below the 91% target in 2003. As a result network operator SP AusNet launched a refurbishment program to address degradation of stator winding sidewall and rotor pole insulation, but by 2013 only the unit was Brooklyn had been upgraded.

As a result reliability declined, with the end coming in October 2016.

AusNet Services and AEMO agreed in October 2016 that it was prudent to retire, rather than replace, these three synchronous condensers on the transmission network. These assets were in extremely poor condition and studies confirmed that their replacement would not have provided a net market benefit.

Since the agreement to retire the synchronous condensers, all three units have failed due to their poor condition. Given that the synchronous condensers were due to be retired by 1 April 2017, AusNet Services and AEMO agreed that it was not efficient to repair and return the synchronous condensers into service.

With SP AusNet realising an additional $7.0 million depreciation charge in their 2017 annual report.

Everything old is new again

In 2017 synchronous condensers hit the news, when AGL flagged them as one part of their transition away from coal fired power.

Liddell Power Station is a 2000 MW black coal fired thermal power station, commissioned between 1971-73. The site also includes associated infrastructure required for power generation, including water, coal and transmission plant.

In April 2015 AGL released a revised Greenhouse Gas Policy. The Policy outlined AGL’s commitment to the decarbonisation of our electricity generation portfolio, confirming closure dates for our coal-fired power stations. The announced closure date for Liddell is the end of 2022.

AGL believes that the installed capacity and energy output from Liddell is best replaced with lower emissions and more reliable generation, with a longer lifespan.

As part of our NSW Generation Plan we are investigating the use of one Liddell generating unit as a synchronous condenser.

As part of new solar farm proposals.

Many other wind and solar projects in Victoria and elsewhere are having to go back to the drawing board because of connection requirements the developers either ignored, or didn’t know about.

The issue is most acute in western Victoria, but is also being felt in northern Queensland and south-west NSW.

Many new projects are being told that they face significant curtailment without either adding battery storage or old-style machinery known as synchronous condensers to deal with system strength issues.

Both options are causing headaches for developers, because either way they are trashing their financial models, and could cause extensive delays to projects that many expected would begin construction anytime soon.

As a high cost fix for system flaws.

RenewEconomy has been told that a synchronous condenser could add $8-$10 million in costs to projects already tight on margins. A group of solar farms in north-west Victoria have been told, RenewEconomy understands, that their additional costs could total $60 million.

And to reinforce the South Australian power grid.

As more energy sources such as wind and solar are connected to the grid, traditional power generation sources such as gas-fired units, operate less often. This has created a shortfall in system strength which was declared by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) on 13 October 2017 and a shortfall in inertia which was declared on 24 December 2018.

A secure power system needs adequate levels of system strength and inertia, which to date have been provided by traditional synchronous generators.

Following an analysis of these options, the installation of synchronous condensers on the network was determined to be the most efficient and least cost option to ensure there is adequate system strength and inertia.

On 20 August 2019, the AER approved $166 million to fund the capital cost of delivering the synchronous condenser solution.

The first two of four planned synchronous condensers will be installed at the Davenport substation in mid-2020 and the second two will be installed at the Robertstown substation by the end of 2020. They will be commissioned by early 2021.

How things change in the course of two years!

Footnote: alternate sources of voltage support

Static VAR compensators are another way of stabilising the electricity grid.

A static VAR compensator (SVC) is a set of electrical devices for providing fast-acting reactive power on high-voltage electricity transmission networks. SVCs are part of the Flexible AC transmission system device family, regulating voltage, power factor, harmonics and stabilising the system.

A static VAR compensator has no significant moving parts (other than internal switchgear). Prior to the invention of the SVC, power factor compensation was the preserve of large rotating machines such as synchronous condensers or switched capacitor banks.

Four SVC units are installed on the SP AusNet Network in Victoria – two +100 -60 MVar capacity units at Rowville Terminal Station, and one +50 -25 MVar unit at each of Kerang Terminal Station and Horsham Terminal Station.

Installed by the SECV during the mid-1980s and with a technical life of between 40 and 60 years, the control systems are now obsolete technology unsupported by the manufacturer, so an upgrade program is underway to replace them with modern equipment.

Footnote: and something really fruity

Down at Wonthaggi is a real power hog – the Victorian Desalination Plant.

It is supplied with electricity by a 88 kilometre long twin circuit 220 kV AC underground transmission line – the longest of its type in the world.

Underground 220 kV transmission line at Clyde that serves the Victorian Desalination Plant

With the underground cable run requiring something odd at the halfway point – a ‘reactive compensation station’.

Electrical transmission infrastructure at The Gurdies for the Victorian Desalination Plant

The yard full of high voltage switchgear contains three 52 MVAr oil-filled shunt reactors to compensate for the capacitance of the underground cables.

Electrical transmission infrastructure at The Gurdies for the Victorian Desalination Plant

COVID-19 related public transport observations

I’ve managed to completely avoid the topic of COVID-19 over the past few months, so here goes – a quick collection of coronavirus related public transport observations.

Bourke Street Mall completely empty

Changes

I’ve been lucky enough to be able to work from home since March, but I ventured back in early April to pick up some stuff from the office – where I found the Melbourne CBD virtually empty.

E2.6071 heads north on route 96 outside Southern Cross Station

Normally parked cars at Tottenham station overflow into the neighbouring grassy patch, turning it into a mud hole, but it’s now empty with everyone staying home.

Everyone staying home due to COVID-19, so the overflow car park at Tottenham station is empty

At railway stations coronavirus posters have replaced the usual promotions.

'We only accept card payments at this location' and 'Reduce your risk of coronavirus' posters poster at Sunshine station

Encouraging social distancing on escalators.

'Keep a 1.5m distance from others on escalators' poster at a station

Victorian Government announcements on repeat.


Recorded by Philip Mallis

And cash payments stopped at the ticket office.

'No cash payment accepted' signage at the Sunshine station ticket office

Trams have blocked the front row of seats out of use, to shield drivers.

With Transdev Melbourne taking it one step further – asking passengers to use the rear door to enter and exit the bus.

'Please use rear door to enter and exit bus' sign on a Transdev bus

But V/Line replacement road coaches make do with a government health warning sticky taped to the door.

Victorian Touring Coaches #33 6233AO with a Geelong line rail replacement service along Hampshire Road, Sunshine

And the same

Back in early April SkyBus was still serving Melbourne Airport – the passenger on the top deck of this service wearing a mask.

SkyBus Melbourne double decker #116 BS04NV exits CityLink bound for Southern Cross Station

As was the City Circle tram around the Melbourne CBD.

W8.983 heads east on the City Circle at Docklands Drive and Harbour Esplanade

Authorised Officers were still roaming the rail network.

Authorised Officers still roaming the rail network

Freight trains have also kept moving.

XR558 and 8130 on a westbound standard gauge grain at Sunshine

Transport steel, containers, grain, and everything else that usually moves by rail.

Great Southern liveried NR30 leads NR85 and NR106 on SM2 up steel and intermodal at Albion

So what have I been up to?

If you’re a regular visitor to my photo gallery you might have noticed I been uploading a lot less photos recently – this graph really shows the decline.

The last time I uploaded so few photos was when I went overseas!

But luckily for you I haven’t been wasting the Coronavirus lockdown – I’ve been still regularly updating this blog, along with my Hong Kong transport and European rail spinoffs, and slowly uploading my backlog of non-train photos to Flickr.

You can head over to https://www.patreon.com/wongm to get a sneak peek at what’s coming soon on my blogs.

Footnote

Daniel Bowen has written more about COVID-19 and Melbourne transport on his blog.

Old and inappropriate subdivisions of Victoria

A recent theme on my blog has been “zombie subdivisions” – suburbs that were created but never took off, resulting in empty streets in the middle of nowhere. It turns out Victorian planing policy has an official name for them – “old and inappropriate subdivisions” and a method of dealing with them – “restructure overlays”.

Starting in the land boom of the 1880s, and continuing until the introduction of formal planning controls in the 1950s, speculative subdivision of land into small blocks, many less than 0.1 hectares (1/4 acre) was rampant across Victoria.

These estates lay empty until the 1970s, when improved road access and the outward expansion of Melbourne saw pressure to develop these empty blocks, which saw the State Government fund the restructuring of inappropriately subdivided areas, a process that continues today through a “Restructure Overlays” applied to the affected land.

Failed speculative estates turned industrial

The first zombie subdivisions I found was Solomon Heights in Sunshine North – subdivided for residential purposes but related rezoned as industrial.

A similar example is the ‘Burns Road Estate‘ in Altona – subdivided in the 1920s, but never developed.

Abandoned subdivision at Burns Road, Altona (cadastral data from Land Victoria)

Closer to home for me are two Geelong examples – ‘New Station Estate‘ on Broderick Road – since restructured as larger industrial allotments.

Abandoned New Station Estate, Corio (cadastral data from Land Victoria)

And ‘New Corio Estate‘ on Shell Parade – purchased by council to become a grassland reserve.

Abandoned New Corio Estate, Corio (data from City of Greater Geelong)

Land boom hits Whittlesea

Eden Park west of Whittlesea was develpped during the 1880s land boom.

The subdivision of Eden Park sits six kilometres to the west of Whittlesea and 40 kilometres to the north of Melbourne. It is located between the lines of a geometric grid that in 1888 was prepared by the Burwood Land Building and Investment. Co. Ltd. The development featured 1324 lots, ranging from one to four acres in size.

But was unsuitable for such intensive development.

By 1901 upwards of 100 persons of small means had acquired lots at Eden Park, some no doubt tempted by the subdivider’s persuasive description of the advantages of a rural retreat.

In time many owners sold or surrendered their holdings by adverse possession until about 30 families owned small farms, intersected by the estate’s avenues. In the late 1960s the estate was again actively promoted, and in 1980 there were 450 individual owners and 175 detached houses.

Resulting in the restructure of the estate as a rural living area.

Created by bureaucratic bungling

Cemetery Estate in Hastings – approved for housing in 1960 with 230-plus lots sold. The Long Island Point gas fractionation facility was then built next door, rendering the unsuitable for residential development. Six households and 100+ privately owned allotments remain today.

And victims of dodgy developers

Midway between Werribee and Rockbank is Chartwell Estate – a subdivision created in the 1950s and marketed to new English migrants, and since restructured in the 1980s to facilitate limited residential development.

Swallowed by suburbia

The township of Kalkallo is located on the northern edge of Melbourne, on the Hume Highway just north of Craigieburn, and predates current planning rules.

The Kalkallo township was established in the pre-1851 squatting era and is an excellent examples of early rural town settlement. The township was subdivided into small allotments without regard for the provision of services or the effects of inadequate effluent disposal. As a result many of the allotments are incapable of adequately supporting a dwelling.

So as Melbourne has crept towards the township, a restructure overlay has been placed over it, to ensure that sympathetic development occurs.

Fire hazards

In the hills east of Melbourne, the Yarra Ranges Council is worried about the bushfire risk.

The objectives of the Restructure Plans under the Restructure Overlay are to:

  • Ensure that existing old and inappropriate subdivisions are restructured in a manner that reduces development densities, that provides development opportunities consistent with the capacity of the site and the area to absorb such development without adverse impact on the environment and landscape of the area and without creating undue social and utility servicing pressures.
  • Ensure that the restructure of old and inappropriate subdivisions assists in achieving environmental and landscape objectives for the area generally and that development of these lots is environmentally sensitive in its siting, design and construction.
  • Ensure that adequate and proper servicing arrangements are made whilst recognising that there are often environmental impacts and high costs associated with infrastructure and utility service provisions.
  • Recognise that restructure lots generally have poor accessibility and are often in isolated locations removed from community and other service facilities.
  • Recognise that restructure areas are often located in high fire hazard areas and that any new development must be sited and designed to minimise fire hazard.

The end result – a total of 134 separate restructure overlays.

Holiday homes by the beach

I discovered Summerlands Estate of Phillip Island and the mysterious “This area is subject to a Government acquisition program” note alongside as a child. Developed from the 1920s in the middle of the penguin habitat, environmental concerns saw the “Summerland Estate Buy-Back Programme” launched in 1985, that saw the entire suburb wiped off the map by 2010.

The nearby ‘Scenic Estate’ was a similar situation – again redeveloped as a nature park.

Abandoned subdivision - Scenic Estate, Phillip Island

The same concerns apply along the Victorian coast.

Old and Inappropriate Subdivisions along the coast is an issue that planning has been attempting to deal with for some time. Most subdivisions occurred prior to formal planning laws being introduced. Issues being grappled with include: potential coastal erosion; climate change impacts; and development thresholds.

Point Roadknight near Anglesea is an uncontentious example.

The Anglesea Neighbourhood Character Study (2003) identified two areas in Point Roadknight where the lots are substantially smaller in width and site area to the general pattern of allotments in the area.

Lots in the area adjoining Great Ocean Road are approximately 9.3m wide and have an area of 523m². Lots fronting Eighth and Eleventh Avenues are approximately 9.3m wide and have an area of 417m². This compares with the predominant lot size of 1000-1500m² in the surrounding areas. These lots result from past inappropriate subdivision, and in the majority of cases are owned in groups of two or three, with an existing dwelling constructed across the boundaries of the lots.

The Study flagged that if the lots in these land parcels were to each be developed individually for a dwelling, or re-subdivided to facilitate this outcome, it would result in an adverse impact on the character of the surrounding area. A recent example of the type of development being discouraged is at 59 Eighth Avenue, where the boundaries of two lots (each 417m²) were realigned to facilitate the construction of two dwellings, resulting in a crowded development that is uncharacteristic of the area.

Since restructured.

Landowners fight back

Attempts to restructure land in South Gippsland saw landowners fight back – Toora being one example.

But the Wellington Shire Council’s handling of Ninety Mile Beach subdivisions went to the Victorian Ombudsman:

The story of the development of Ninety Mile Beach is a sorry tale indeed. Thousands of people, mostly migrants, lured by developers with the promise of their own slice of paradise on Victoria’s own Gold Coast. The brochures promise a well-planned resort, with shopping centres and amenities, illustrated by pictures of glamorous women in bathing costumes on the golden sands.

Then as the years wear on the promises unravel. Much of the land cannot be developed, at least in its present form. Some of it is beach dunes. Some of it is flood-prone. Much of it is inaccessible. Successive environmental studies confirm what should have been seen at the outset, that it should never have been sold off in the first place. The original developers have disappeared.

In the meantime, some owners have continued to pay rates and other charges on their now worthless slices of paradise. Others have refused to pay. Yet others have sold their land back to the council for the nominal sums reflecting the land’s current value, later accusing the council of profiteering. In recent years the anger and frustration of many current and former landowners seems to have escalated, and to date has resulted in 67 complaints to my office.

Since then it has been recommended that blocks on coastal dunes and in flood-prone areas should be acquired by the State Government, while those in ‘urban settlement nodes’ can be developed, but only if the original individual lots are combined with three others to form a single block.

Impacts on agriculture

In Melbourne’s outer east Cardinia Shire Council has seen inappropriate subdivisions encroach on agricultural land.

In the area south of the Princes Highway, there are also many areas that were subdivided into 20 acre parcels as part of the draining of the Koo Wee Rup Swamp. These areas often contain high quality productive soils and many are within the Koo-wee-rup Flood Protection District, therefore they are subject to regular flooding. Many of the lots are also held in contiguous ownership and are being farmed as one farming unit.

It is considered that the development of housing on lots at the density of the original subdivision will compromise the long term agricultural productivity of the land and would substantially alter the character of the area. The Restructure overlay has been put in place to restrict the number of dwellings being constructed on lots that are in contiguous ownership.

The Mount Alexander Shire Council has similar concerns in the Victorian gold fields, where farmland around Ravenswood, Muckleford and Maldon is at risk of being developed for residential uses.

The lots in these areas mainly comprise old Crown Allotments which are significantly smaller than the minimum lot size allowed under the Farming Zone (40 hectares) and which if developed with dwellings could lead to the entrenchment of these areas as rural living areas.

This is not supported because it would remove land from productive agricultural use and in many cases will also be incompatible with the environmental values of the areas. In addition, some of the areas are relatively remote from townships and services.

And protecting townships in the middle of nowhere

In the south-west the Colac Otway Shire has restructured subdivisions in Cressy, Gerangamete, Pirron Yallock and Irrewillipe.

The Surf Coast Shire has restructured the outskirts of Deans Marsh.

South Gippsland Shire restructured historically envisaged railway and port settlements, and State Government land settlement schemes from the late 19th century.

As well as former coalmining townships.

And the Pyrenees Shire in western Victoria have put in place restructure overlays on the townships of Avoca, Wattle Creek, Beaufort and Snake Valley, amongst others.

And the most bizarre example

Sandstone Island is a 20 hectare island located one kilometre southeast of Hastings, which was bizzarly subdivided into 142 suburban-sized allotments during the 1960s.

Sandstone Island is rural freehold land held in single ownership and is isolated and constrained by its geographical location and lack of infrastructure. The Island is bordered by steep, grassy coastal bluffs. The Island contains an existing dwelling and shed and there is no provision for tourism or commercial uses.

So the restructuring of them into a single allotment was an obvious solution.

The legal bits

The Victoria Planning Provisions detail what a “Restructure Overlay” is.

Restructure Overlays are shown on the planning scheme map as RO with a number.

Purpose

  • To implement the Municipal Planning Strategy and the Planning Policy Framework.
  • To identify old and inappropriate subdivisions which are to be restructured.
  • To preserve and enhance the amenity of the area and reduce the environmental impacts of dwellings and other development.

Subdivision

  • A permit is required to subdivide land.
  • A subdivision must be in accordance with a restructure plan for the land listed in the schedule to this overlay.
  • Each lot must be provided with reticulated sewerage if available. If reticulated sewerage is not available, the application must be accompanied by a land assessment report which demonstrates that each lot is capable of treating and retaining all waste water.

Decision guidelines

Before deciding on an application, in addition to the decision guidelines in Clause 65, the responsible
authority must consider, as appropriate:

  • The objectives of the restructure plan for the area.
  • Appropriate measures to cope with any environmental hazard or constraint affecting the land, including slope, drainage, salinity and erosion.
  • The protection and enhancement of the natural environment and the character of the area including the retention of vegetation and fauna habitats and the need to revegetate along waterways, gullies, ridge lines and property boundaries.
  • The availability of utility services, including sewerage, water, drainage, electricity, gas and telecommunications.
  • The relationship of the intended use and development to the existing or likely use and development of adjoining and nearby land.
  • The effect on surrounding uses, especially agricultural uses and nearby public land.

Photos from ten years ago: May 2010

Another instalment in my photos from ten years ago series – this time it is May 2010.

New construction around Geelong

There was plenty of work happening around Geelong, with construction of the stage 4A of the Geelong Ring Road underway at Waurn Ponds

New ring road bridge crossing over the highway, which crosses the creek

Passing over the original 1868 stone bridge built by the Barrabool Shire.

Built in 1868 by the Barrabool Shire

And the railway station car park at Geelong station was being rebuilt.

Digging up the car park, remains of the goods platform face now exposed

At a cost of $24.5 million.

Government propaganda in the middle of the car park works

The heritage listed signal box at the Melbourne end of Geelong station also having been restored.

Perspex sheet over the outside of the windows

Progress in Melbourne

Myki was now active on the Melbourne railway network, with a stall at Flinders Street Station was promoting myki to passengers.

Still plugging away at promoting Myki

While the rollout to trams was continuing, with the installation of ticket machines at CBD tram stops.

'We're getting trams ready for myki' sign at the Flinders Street platform stop

New X’Trapolis trains were arriving into Melbourne, and I found one on the wharf at Webb Dock.

Unidentified X'Trapolis M car sitting on the wharf at Webb Dock

But much slower were repairs to storm damage at Southern Cross Station – two months on, and counting.

Temporary scaffolding above platform 3/4 pending roof repairs for the storm a few months ago

Scenes that have changed

2010 saw Metro Trains ramp up maintenance across the Melbourne rail network, with one projects being the relaying of track through South Yarra station.

Topping off the last few containers on the spoil train

Back then there were gardens beside the railway lines at South Yarra – since cleared to make room for Metro Tunnel works.

Loaded spoil train at South Yarra

While the sidings at ‘E’ gate are now gone – cleared to make room for the West Gate ‘Tunnel’ project.

Eleven wagons and 22 containers all loaded with dirty ballast

Ding ding

Malvern tram depot celebrated its centenary this month, with a public open day held to commemorate the opening of the Prahran and Malvern Tramways Trust on 30 May 1910.

Tram 84 runs out of the depot for a filming run

Heritage trams #44 and #84 were brought down by road from the Bendigo Tramways for the occasion, with tram #44 running special trips between the depot and Dandenong Road.

Tram 44 head north up Glenferrie Road, D1.3533 following behind

Unfortunately in the decade since no heritage trams have operated on the Melbourne tramway network.

In the scrapyard

Rail freight operator Pacific National was busy scrapping redundant rolling stock.

Heading down the siding to the scrapping site

Lifting the wagons off their bogies.

Back down again

Lining them up beside the tracks.

Another louvred van lifted off the rails, the claw still absent

Ready for a claw equipped excavator.

Having got over the green van, hacking away at a new one

Ripping them up into a pile of shredded scrap metal.

The pile of scrapped wagons at Brooklyn not looking much bigger

Crash!

On 4 May a suburban train bound for Craigieburn proceeded past two red signals, and crashed into the rear of a stationary freight train.

Hacking away at the tail end of the Apex train

They came together at a speed of 47 km/h, pushing the freight train forward 30 metres, before eventually coming to a halt 16 metres after the point of impact.

661M and 310M very close, the scharfenberg coupler collapsed as designed

The driver and 14 passengers on the suburban train were treated by paramedics on site, with the driver and four passengers subsequently being taken to hospital.

Channel 7 6 PM news on location

The recovery of the train continued throughout the night.

Collapsed scharfenberg coupler between the two M cars

The investigation determined that the driver of the suburban train had passed two signals at stop and travelled at speeds up to 69 km/h, in contravention of the normal rules and operating procedures, but the reason for their actions could not be determined.

However the safety issue that led to the crash was only partially addressed, leading to a similar collision in 2014. The ATSB then became involved, and so in 2018 Metro Trains finally put in place engineering controls to prevent a similar collision occurring again.

Footnote

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

Ghosts of the past beside the Princes Freeway

As a kid growing up in Geelong during the 1990s, driving up the Princes Freeway to Melbourne was a regular occurrence. Back then empty paddocks were a common sight, but today they are all gone except for one – a paddock between Kororoit Creek Road and the Laverton railway bridge.

Exploring the paddock

The bulk of the land is open grasslands, but back in 2010 one landowner had fenced off their little portion.

And by 2019 they were planning to build a warehouse on the site.

Other landowners were trying to sell their slice.

One vendor selling multiple blocks.

But the strangest were these two blocks of land located on a non-existent road – ‘Danglow Avenue’.

Doing some digging

When I headed over to Google Maps, a grid of tiny blocks of land appeared.

With the state government Land Channel maps showing the same.

Including a larger block of land zoned for public parkland.

So why was the estate never developed, unlike the industrial complexes that now surround it?

SCT002 shunting wagons at the SCT Altona depot

And the answer

Hobsons Bay City Council has a page on what is called the ‘Burns Road Industrial Estate‘.

The Burns Road Industrial Estate is located between the State Baseball Softball Centre, Harcourt Road and Merton Street in Altona. It has 505 lots owned by over 170 property owners. The estate was subdivided in the 1920s. No roads, drains or other services have ever physically been created. The estate has remained undeveloped for almost 100 years due to a range of complex issues, including lot size and configuration, native vegetation, and the complexities of the multiple ownerships.

Including a detailed history of the estate.

1929: The Burns Road Estate was subdivided for the purpose of residential development, with the site set aside as a reserve to be used for private recreation to serve the residential lots. Although the site was identified for the purposes of public open space, it was not vested into Council’s name as part of the original subdivision.

Mid 1950s: The Estate was zoned ‘Rural’ (east of Henty Avenue) and Explosive Buffer Zone (west of Henty Avenue). The Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works also placed an Interim Development Order (IDO) on the Estate and detached houses were permitted provided the site was five acres (two hectares). Industrial development was prohibited.

1960s: The Explosive Buffer Zone was replaced with the Rural Zone. From the late 1960s to the mid 1970s the minimum land requirements to construct a detached house were reduced to 3.5 acres (1.4 hectares) and industry and light industry were allowed subject to a planning permit.

1976: The land was rezoned to Reserved Light Industrial where light industry and detached houses were allowed (no conditions were attached).

1986: The Minister for Planning and Environment applied an IDO over and around the Altona Petrochemical Complex. This was followed by Amendment 404 to the Altona Planning Scheme.

1988: The new Altona Planning Scheme was introduced and detached housing was prohibited. The land at 18‐71 Harcourt Road, Altona was included as Public Open Space.

1993: Employee Population Density Controls were introduced to the Altona Planning Scheme to protect the State’s petrochemical industry and minimise the risk to personal safety from a major petrochemical accident.

1997: Given the long and complex history with the Estate, the Council engaged Ratio Consultants to prepare the Burns Road Industrial Estate Structure Plan. The Structure Plan, which was not adopted, recommended:
– A restructure of the subdivision to a minimum lot size of two hectares (which was based on the 1997 development market for industrial lots);
– Minimum road pavement of 10.2 metres for all internal roads and 20 metres for periphery roads; and
– Implementation facilitated by establishing a unit trust, whereby landowners register their lots with the trust which then offers the land.

2000: The New Format Planning Scheme was introduced and the Estate was zoned SUZ4 which specifies a minimum lot size of two hectares for development of this land and contains the Employee Population Density Controls.

2002: The Council began preparing the Industrial Land Management Strategy (ILMS) which was introduced into the planning scheme as a reference document via Amendment C33.

2008: Amendment C33 was approved by the Minister for Planning. The Estate forms part of Precinct 1 – Burns Road, Altona, which is identified as ‘Core Industrial’ in the ILMS reference document. A key strategic action/objective for this Precinct is to support its role as Core Industrial.

2011‐12: The Council undertook a policy neutral review of the Municipal Strategic Statement as part of Amendment C63. The Panel Report for Amendment C63 recommended that the
Council add under Further Strategic work in Clause 21.07 Economic Development, ‘review the planning framework for the Burns Road Estate area in Altona to determine the appropriate policy zoning, and overlays to address long standing use and development issues’

2013: Council adopted this recommendation and resolved to undertake a feasibility study for the Estate.

The most recent review was triggered by a group of irate landowners.

A group of up to 200 landholders, spearheaded by Laverton North business owner Michael Sergi, believe the council has not helped them make something of their investment.

Mr Sergi said the council had been “stealing rates” and had “failed the people of Altona”.

“In 1997, the council commissioned Ratio planning and development consultants to produce a structure plan for the Burns Road industrial estate,” he said.

“The report recommended a ‘unit trust’ scheme where individual lots would be pooled to form a minimum two hectares for development.

“The report was presented to landowners in July 2004 and promptly shelved. Why has Hobsons Bay not acted on the report of the consultants it has contracted?”

As the Weekly exclusively reported last September, Mr Sergi hopes to form a consortium and build a truck wash on the 40-hectare estate, which was rezoned light industrial in 1954.

To date, he has spent more than $1 million battling the council without progressing his plans.

In 2014 a consultant was engaged to negotiate a settlement between landowners, leading to the creation of the Burns Road Landowners Group in 2017.

Membership of the group had risen to 46 by August 2018, representing 230 of the 505 lots in the estate, while at the same time a group of five landowners rationalised their nearly 100 lots into less and more logical parcels.

100 years after the initial subdivision of the estate, it appears that development might finally be going ahead!

Further reading

And a Princes Freeway footnote

A short distance on the other side of Kororoit Creek Road is another seemingly empty paddock.

Laverton North Power Station from across the grasslands

Located in the triangle between the Princes Freeway and a car storage yard.


 
That’s the Laverton North Grasslands – 40 hectares of land reserved in the 1980s to preserve one of the few remaining grasslands in western Melbourne.