Melbourne trains on the open plains

Melbourne’s railway network has a special feature that most cities of the developed word don’t have – unfenced tracks running through the suburbs.

Alstom Comeng leads an up service out of Spotswood

You can find unfenced tracks in the west.

Up Comeng train heads for Keilor Plains

You can find them in the north.

Citybound Upfield service departs Upfield on the single track

To the south.

EDI Comeng on an up Frankston service approaches Glenhuntly station via the centre track

And even the east.

X'Trapolis 881M departs Lilydale on the up

Is it any wonder that Melbourne has so many incidents relating to ‘trespassers’ on the tracks?

So why is it a problem?

The lack of fencing on the Melbourne railway network has been a problem for years – here is a 2012 report from The Age:

At least five people have died at an east suburban Melbourne railway black spot since a government working party recommended ‘‘suicide proofing’’ measures five years ago.

No action has been taken at that black spot — or at others — despite at least $2.2 million in funding allocated for trial suicide-prevention measures in recent years.

With most of the Melbourne rail network unfenced, Victoria has the highest railway suicide rate in Australia — until now a rarely acknowledged issue that takes a heavy toll on train drivers and other rail workers, emergency responders, commuters and network timetables.

Research obtained by The Age reveals more than 200 people died by suicide on the state’s rail network between 2001 and 2007.

In 2008, a rail suicide working party identified a black spot in Melbourne’s outer east. One train station, which The Age has chosen not to identify, had the highest rail suicide rate of any station between 2006 and 2011.

The working party recommended trial protective measures — clearing trees and shrubs, and adding security fencing and lighting, Lifeline signs and a public telephone — and the project received state funding. But the trial is yet to begin.

In the past six years, seven people have taken their lives at the black spot and 11 have been injured there attempting suicide, according to documents collected by The Age under freedom-of-information laws.

But it took until 2014 for money to be spent on a mere 20 kilometres of new fencing elsewhere in Melbourne:

Up to 20 kilometres of fencing is going up at known suicide ”hot spots” around Melbourne as part of a $3.9 million program funded by the Commonwealth.

But this work was only targeted to specific locations, not complete railway lines:

MTM has engaged Sterling to provide engineering design, feature and level survey and underground services detection for corridor security fencing along approximate 20 kilometres of the Frankston, Dandenong and Pakenham lines. The final design provided fencing along and around track access points such as pedestrian / vehicle level crossings, unfenced boundaries, bridges and car parks to restrict access.

With only ad-hoc installation of fencing elsewhere on the network, such as this upgrade in Laverton:

Metro is putting up the fences near Aircraft train station next Monday between the level crossing and Bruce St pedestrian crossing on both Maher Rd and Railway Ave.

Metro Trains spokeswoman Pauline O’Connor said commuters illegally parking on verges next to the train line and then crossing the tracks had almost been hit by trains in recent weeks.

Slow progress, isn’t it?

Footnote

From top to bottom, my photo locations were:

  • Werribee line at Spotswood
  • Sunbury line at Keilor Plains
  • Upfield line at Upfield
  • Frankston line at Glenhuntly
  • Lilydale line at Lilydale
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10 Responses to “Melbourne trains on the open plains”

  1. Julian Calaby says:

    My question is:

    Where is the point closest to Spencer and Flinders Street Stations where one can walk from a public place directly onto the track without passing any physical or visual barrier. I.e. climbing over any fence of any height, passing a “no trespassing” sign or equivalent, opening an unlocked gate, climbing down from a platform, entering the track area from a level crossing, climbing a significant embankment, etc.

    My guess is Victoria Park Station, where you can enter the track area through a white railed staircase after diverting off the path to the station from Lulie Street.

    The staircase is shown here:

    https://www.google.com.au/maps/@-37.7974199,144.9954123,3a,75y,262.77h,94.97t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m5!1sKl3oH_6e4YrcQtfNRRImKw!2e0!6s%2F%2Fgeo0.ggpht.com%2Fcbk%3Fpanoid%3DKl3oH_6e4YrcQtfNRRImKw%26output%3Dthumbnail%26cb_client%3Dmaps_sv.tactile.gps%26thumb%3D2%26w%3D203%26h%3D100%26yaw%3D97.51506%26pitch%3D0!7i13312!8i6656?hl=en

    You enter the fenced carpark by leaving the marked path to the station that’s about 100m down the street towards Johnston Street. The staircase in question leads up to the entrance to the siding over the Eastern Freeway and there is nothing preventing you from walking directly onto the main lines.

    (If the “opening an unlocked gate” restriction is removed, then I’d nominate the section of track between West Footscray Station and the Tottenham yards, where there are at least two unlocked gates leading from a public footpath directly onto the track.)

  2. Dani says:

    I question the ‘need’ for the rail network to be fenced. Is expensive infrastructure such as fencing the best way to reduce/ prevent suicides? There’s a range of research that illustrates the greater value of ‘softer’ measures in preventing suicide.

    Further, my understanding is that the Brisbane rail network is fully fenced yet suicide rates are comparable to Melbourne.

    Another question- have suicide rates in Melbourne/ Victoria reduced since the barriers went up on the Westgate Bridge or has the location just shifted? My understanding is the latter.

    A more holistic approach is required and fencing is not the answer, in my view.

    • Julian Calaby says:

      I’d point out that fences do a lot more than just prevent suicides.

      Looking at this from a cold, purely economic perspective, there is a demand for places to do such things and a supply of potential places to do it. Arguably, as an incident can cause a lot of disruption to other parties and assuming that the demand can’t be brought down, the logical next step is to reduce the supply of places where incidents can cause mass disruption. Fencing rail lines (and bridges) is a way to do this.

      I agree that fencing is not the solution to the problem of people committing suicide on rail lines, but it’s definitely an action that would help.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      On Hong Kong’s MTR they take isolating the public from trains one step further – platform screen doors prevent anyone from accessing the track at stations.

      Research has been done into the effectiveness of them

  3. Bobman says:

    I’ve noticed in recent months a long line of fencing has gone up near Jacana station on Pascoe Vale Road, Broadmeadows. Looks rather unsightly though.

  4. Beren says:

    You know the problem with the fences is you are making the tracks less accessible. Meaning if anything does happen on the tracks, or any sort of work is needed, you have a fence in the way. Honestly, the number of suicides on train tracks is literally so low it doesn’t even factor, also compared to the total it’s very minor. But, let’s talk about prevention, why would fencing fix this problem when you can just do it at a platform? Wouldn’t you prefer someone kills themselves where nobody can see it? Think about this, you are forcing the suicide to occur at a platform where hundreds of people could be there to watch it, in relation to just the train driver witnessing it. I’d probably just spend the money on the damn drivers and forget about the victims who will simply just do it somewhere else. What about on the front of trains you put an airbag designed to throw the person clear of the tracks? That’s an affordable idea.

  5. myrtonos says:

    The replacement of hand gates, interlocked gates and wicket gates by booms and crib crossing and later booms and pedestrian gates was actually a step backwards when it came to fencing.

    Lack of fencing on our railways is a bit of a worry. Officially, railways are private property, but lack of fencing marks them as public property, like the roads next to them.

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