As part of the construction of Regional Rail Link, V/Line trains that once stopped at North Melbourne now bypass the station, forcing passengers to change trains elsewhere. So why was the stop removed?
The reason was the separation of V/Line trains from the existing suburban tracks, removing the delays that used to occur when country trains headed into and out of Southern Cross Station. The new track layout has two routes.
The first one leads towards Southern Cross platform 15 and 16, with two tracks running along the western side of North Melbourne station then south over Dudley Street.
Meanwhile a second track pair lead to Southern Cross platforms 1 through 8. Once only used by the interstate trains to/from Adelaide and Sydney, these tracks skirt the railway sidings west of North Melbourne station.
Then pass over the top of the suburban tracks via an upgraded flyover.
Which brings them down onto the eastern side of the railway corridor, which leads directly to the country platforms at Southern Cross.
The Regional Rail Link Authority has the following to say about the removal of the North Melbourne stop.
Q: How do regional passengers connect to North Melbourne railway station, the Route 401 bus and City Loop services?
A: Regional passengers have two options to connect to metropolitan trains and other transport modes; they can either continue to change at Southern Cross Station or change at Footscray railway station.
Regional passengers wishing to use the Route 401 bus can change at Footscray railway station for high frequency trains to North Melbourne railway station.
Regional passengers travelling directly to Southern Cross Station can connect to metropolitan trains operating through the City Loop.
The above doesn’t help much for existing commuters, who have to traipse around Footscray station to change trains.
So why were platforms not built on the new Regional Rail Link tracks?
In the case of the tracks that lead to Southern Cross platforms 15 and 16, there is plenty of room for new platforms to be built at North Melbourne.
Platform 6 at North Melbourne currently only has tracks along one side, so it would be easy enough to bring the citybound RRL tracks onto the other side as ‘platform 7’, and then build a new ‘platform 8’ for outbound tracks, with passenger access being provided via an extension of the existing concourse at the north and south ends of the station.
A more complicated problem to solve is platforms on the tracks leading to Southern Cross platforms 1 through 8 – the RRL tracks are about a hundred metres west of the existing North Melbourne station and separated from it by a number of existing railway sidings.
The tracks also split into a ‘V’ shape once they leave the flyover, with one leg of the tracks leading towards the main railway to Adelaide and Sydney (right hand side in the photo below), while the other carries V/Line trains towards Footscray.
Building platforms on the flyover, on a curve and atop the suburban tracks, would be a difficult operation.
As would be linking the new platforms to the existing station concourse – a long walk would be required, as well as a number of changes in elevation to dodge the existing tracks.
In the end I reckon the omission of platforms came down to finances – back in 2011 cost increases put the entire project in jeopardy, so presumably something had to give.
At least building platforms 7 and 8 at North Melbourne to serve trains headed for Southern Cross platforms 15 and 16 would have been an achievable project. However the usefulness of them would have been doubtful – V/Line appears to be incapable of making their trains use the same platform at Southern Cross each day, so it would be pot luck for passengers whether they would be able to count on the North Melbourne stop for their everyday commute.
Another possible way to provide a North Melbourne stop for all V/Line trains would have been to build four new RRL platforms immediately west of the existing station. Two of the tracks would lead into Southern Cross platform 15 and 16 as per the current arrangement, while the other two would continue south a short distance, and then cross over the suburban tracks via a new flyover, reaching ground level just before the La Trobe Street bridge.
Given the number of tracks already in place between North Melbourne and Southern Cross, I hate to think of how much disruption building said flyover would require!