Departure side platforms and St Albans station

Recently in the news the idea of ‘departure side platforms’ was floated as a way to reduce traffic congestion at railway station level crossings. So what are they, and where have they been used in Melbourne before?

Arriving into the down platform at Seacliff: the up platform is on the 'other' departure side of the level

The concept

The RMIT website has more on the concept:

Level-headed approach to reducing train crossing congestion
22 Jan 2016

An RMIT researcher has devised a way to slash traffic congestion at railway station level crossings that is 160 times cheaper than digging a multi-million dollar underground tunnel.

At $1 million per crossing, the new approach called Departure Side Platforms (DSP) would cost just a fraction of the budget needed for a full-blown $160 million grade separation.

Dr William Guzman used traffic simulation software to prove that re-positioning the city-bound platform on the opposite side of a level crossing would reduce the time the intersection was closed by more than half.

Guzman’s theory involves situating the arrival (city-bound) and departure platforms diagonally opposite each other on either side of the crossing rather than facing each other on the same side.

His modelling suggests this would cut the average time the level crossing was closed to traffic from one minute and 41 seconds to just 46 seconds, as the city-bound train would have already crossed over to collect and disembark passengers, bringing it into line with trains running in the opposite direction.

Guzman said his research had revealed congestion was not caused by the actual closing of a level crossing to traffic, but the arrival of trains at the platform, forcing the intersection to remain closed for longer than necessary.

In recent years the departure side platform layout has been used when building new platform tram stops across Melbourne, and the concept is also common on the Adelaide rail network – the lead image on this post is approaching Seacliff station on the Seaford line.

However if we go back further in time, we find another Melbourne example.

St Albans station

St Albans station opened as an intermediate station on the railway to Bendigo way back in 1887, but the pair of platforms was located on the Sunbury side of the Main Road level crossing.

St Albans station - 1945 and now
St Albans 1945 and today, via 1945.melbourne

Suburban electric trains were extended to the station in 1921, but thanks to cars being few and far between, traffic congestion at the level crossing was not yet a problem.

Tait sliding door electric train showing headlights (VPRS 12800/P4, item RS 0391)
VPRS 12800/P4, item RS 0391

But with car ownership taking off after World War II, forcing each and every suburban train to travel twice across Main Road was delaying motorists, so the decision was made to build a new station on the city side of the level crossing. The 1959-60 Victorian Railway annual report has the full details:

Work was commenced on relocating St. Albans station on the south side of the Main Road level crossing. When this is completed, interference to road traffic will be greatly reduced as all suburban electric trains to St. Albans will be terminated short of the crossing and the number of trains passing over it will be only 22 per day compared with 124 at present.

The new station opened in 1959 and added two new platforms on the south side of the level crossing – giving a total of three:

  • one dead end platform for the use of terminating suburban trains,
  • a new through platform for country trains bound for destinations further north,
  • and the existing existing citybound platform on the north side of the level crossing, now solely used by country trains.

Both ‘through’ platforms were located on the approach side of the level crossing, but with only a handful of trains to Bendigo each day, removing the more frequent suburban trains was still an improvement for motorists.

St Albans station, May 1969 (VPRS 12800/P1, item H 3392)
St Albans station in May 1969 (VPRS 12800/P1, item H 3392)

This split platform layout remained in place until 2001, when suburban electric services were extended to Sydenham and a new departure side platform was built for citybound trains, leaving all three St Albans platforms on the south side of the level crossing.

Alstom Comeng arrives into St Albans with an up service

And all this will change again in 2016, when the new two platform St Albans station will open at the bottom of a concrete trench, part of the grade separation of the Main Road level crossing.

Footnote

For a few weeks in early 2016 St Albans station held the distinction of having more disused platform than active ones – only platform 1 was open to passengers, with platform 2 and 3 closed pending grade separation works, and the original platform 1 still lurking on the north side of the level crossing.

Alstom Comeng 586M departs St Albans with a down Watergardens service

Further the purposes of comparison, here is a late 1950s photo of the original St Albans station, located north of Main Road.

Further reading

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11 Responses to “Departure side platforms and St Albans station”

  1. Alan says:

    The St Albans setup was more “approach side platforms”, wasn’t it? Really not what you want at a busy level crossing.

  2. Andrew says:

    For that to make much difference to traffic at level crossing will require booms to rise as soon as the train has passed, not very belated as happens at many automatic crossings and something like over 30 to more seconds at manually operated crossings. Why does this happen? Train passes, booms rise immediately. How hard is that?

    • andrew says:

      The delay in the booms rising behind a train is due to a design feature of modern track circuits. Modern track circuits have a built in delay – typically 2 seconds – between the train leaving the track circuit and the track circuit registering ‘clear’. This is a safety feature.

      Older track circuits would register ‘clear’ as soon as the train left the track circuit. This can cause serious problems with modern short trains (e.g rail motors like the Vlocitys) which can ‘disappear’ from the track circuit for brief periods of time as they travel along. This could cause boom barriers to momentarily cease operating (and start to rise), or even a signal behind the train to momentarily clear.

      The delay built into modern track circuits reduces significantly the likelihood that these problem will occur. A modern short train would have to ‘disappear’ from the track circuit for 2 seconds before problems would occur – which is very unlikely.

  3. Warwick Brown says:

    The thing I love most about this story is that the crossing could have been separated in 59 and wasn’t (with a nice little quick fix applied instead) and that it definitely SHOULD have been in 2001 but wasn’t.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      I’d cut them a little slack – it took until the 1970s for St Albans to become connected to the rest of Melbourne by suburbia.

      • myrtonos says:

        Looking at the arial photo on the left, you can see that St. Albans wasn’t yet that built up in 1945.
        If those level crossings were grade separated before the area was built up, they would have been much cheaper (even in today’s dollars) and much less disuptive. It would have been as simple as shifting the road level above or below the surrounding land and the railway would have stayed at ground level.
        Similar grade separations were built at Sunshine station, Ballarat road, also in Sunshine, later at Taylors Road, Delahy, Kings Road, Taylors Lakes and Anderson road, again in Sunshine.

        There were also road-over grade separations in areas already built up at the time, such as at West Footscray, Oakleigh and Huntingdale and these gave road overpasses across railways a bad reputation.

        • Marcus Wong says:

          Ballarat Road and Hampshire Road in Sunshine were both 1960s projects, when the area was already built up – the latter overpass required a big chunk of the shopping centre to be demolished.

          • myrtonos says:

            There is still a shopping centre in Sunshine, so I wonder this is that same shopping centre that was relocated during the works. As long as there is room to relocate, an overpass will still do.

          • myrtonos says:

            There was a similar grade separation in Geelong road, West Footscray. Again in an already built up area. It’s quite hard to cross the railway there on foot. That’s a location where rail under may have been a better choice.

  4. William Guzman says:

    The position of platforms in relation to level crossings intersection, combined with increases in train traffic along rail corridors, creates additional and longer intersection road closures; these road closures exacerbate road traffic congestion in the vicinity of railway stations level crossings, congestion which is not conducive to the efficient running of 21st century transport networks, either road or rail.

    The road traffic congestion in the vicinity of station level crossings is caused by the level crossing intersection remaining closed for long intervals; the position of one of the station platforms and its relative position to the level crossing area, forces the intersection to remain closed during the unloading and loading of passengers from train carriages.

    Traffic congestion at level crossings is expected to worsen in the future. The need for public transport in Melbourne, particularly the train network, will increase during the next twenty years to new heights. According to a Federal Government new audit report of Melbourne

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