How to make a railway cutting look good

Since plans were released easier this year for the construction of elevated ‘skyrail’ along the Dandenong line, there been plenty of debate as to the the best way to grade separate road and rail. I’ve previous written about how Melbourne’s unsightly trenched railway lines – but what about some more aesthetically pleasing examples?

Alstom Comeng 339M heads through the cutting  towards Footscray with a down Sunbury service

We’ll start with this rather scenic view down on the tracks – trees and bushes cover the cutting walls, providing nothing for graffiti artists to leave their mark on.

Freight train passes through the cutting outside the Bunbury Street tunnel at Footscray

And here is a more urbanised example – the railway tracks passing beneath the neighbouring streets, while the cutting walls covered with low bushes and grass, and a row of shops lines the road overbridge.

Looking east towards Footscray and the Nicholson Street overbridge

And finally – concrete strikes back. However in this example, despite the cutting walls being clear of vegetation, there is a strange lack of graffiti – the use of concrete ‘crib’ walls means no blank canvas for vandals.

Alstom Comeng 523M trails a down Werribee train at Footscray

You can read more about crib walls in these lecture notes:

Crib walls are one of the oldest gravity wall systems, comprised of a series of stacked members creating hollow cells filled with soil or rock.

So the lesson for building good looking rail under road grade separations – say no to vertical shotcrete and concrete pile walls, and instead make room for vegetation and ‘natural’ cutting walls.


As for the photos above:

Unfortunately for rail passengers, examples two and three no longer exist – the Regional Rail Link project ignored all of the above design considerations when building the extra set of tracks through Footscray, and filled the entire area with shotcrete and vertical concrete walls.

P16 leads an up Bacchus Marsh service towards Footscray on the new RRL tracks

Concrete – you’ve gotta love it!

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12 Responses to “How to make a railway cutting look good”

  1. All the ‘rail under road’ grade separations built in Melbourne in the past few years have been vertical concrete piles with shotcrete infill, or angled batters also covered with shotcrete.

    In some places, tackside development has introduced vertical concrete structural walls to the rail corridor (eg Clara Apartments, South Yarra).

    The Ormond McKinnon Bentleigh grade separation will introduce a new form of hard, sound reflective, vertical wall – steel sheet piles. It will be interesting to see if they get covered by some sort of screening, either for aesthetics or noise reduction. I’m tipping that’s unlikely, due to cost.

  2. Ian Woodcock says:

    It’s true that some of the pre-WW2 cuttings can look nice because of the sloping sides and the vegetation – the same could also be said of the embankments. However, the rules have changed about vegetation, meaning that a 1:1 ratio (mature height: distance from track) applies to prevent the planting of trees that could fall across tracks. Many trees have been removed because of these rules, and new trenches, cuttings and embankments, as well as surface-level rail are not going to be screened with trees. Sound and privacy walls, maybe, but not trees.

  3. Michael says:

    Out of curiosity. With regards to the dual gage line that runs underneath Footscray. How many trains run through there a day? Could you use it to run Seymour/Shepparton trains through it to the Albion-Jacana line (provided it was upgraded) and allow more frequent V/Line trains without swallowing up capacity on the Craigieburn/Upfield coridor?

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Every freight train to/from the Port of Melbourne uses those goods lines – a few dozen a day, and all slow moving as they exit the freight terminals.

      However to send Seymour/Shepparton trains via the Albion-Jacana line, you don’t need to use the dual gauge – just send them along the Regional Rail Link tracks to Sunshine then along the suburban lines to Albion:

      The broad gauge part of the dual gauge under Footscray peters out at West Footscray, passing through Tottenham Yard, then joining the mainline at the city end of Sunshine station.

  4. rohan says:

    So sad – you’d think they’d at least do what Vicroads does with sound barriers these days, get architects involved, or at least use patterned precast – not that expensive, though probably more expensive than shotcrete. And at least for the stations, please !

    Also you previously had a photo of the brick-walled cutting west of Camberwell station, I always admire that when growing up in Camberwell and using the train a lot – such a shame that its covered in grafitti now !

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Regional Rail Link used a mix of patterned precast concrete panels and fake textured and coloured ‘rock’ walls between Maribyrnong River and Footscray – all have since been covered by graffiti.

      VLocity 3VL06 and classmate cross over the Maribyrnong River flyover

  5. A says:

    Crib walls used in Queens Way at St Kilda Junction. Certainly better than any flat vertical surface. Although now the 96 light rail, the former St Kilda train line has some nice embankment treatment.

  6. Chris Gordon says:

    In defence of RRL, when you widen the cutting from 4 tracks to 6 tracks without land resumption then you don’t have the width in the corridor for a nice 1:2 battered slope and have to go to walls that are near or at vertical. I don’t think it is fair to say “the Regional Rail Link project ignored all of the above design considerations”, sometimes the engineers have no choice between a slope and a wall without huge cost and land resumption.

    Couple of other points, the metal sheet piling for Ormond – McKinnon – Bentleigh is final, not temporary.

    Finally not all grade separations (with rail going down) will be vertical walls. Re-visit this post next year when a few more grade separations have been completed and you will have an example of existing battered slopes being enlarged for lowered tracks and not replaced with vertical concrete walls, maybe then some credit will be given to an example of someone doing what you suggested is better.

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