Melbourne Metro and West Footscray station

The other day I stumbled across an interesting titbit on the Melbourne Metro website – they are planning to build a third platform at West Footscray. So what is the thinking behind the project?

EDI Comeng arrives into West Footscray with an up Sunbury line service

The Melbourne Metro webpage for the third platform project has the full details:

A new platform for West Footscray Station

To get the most out of the new underground rail line and the relief it will provide to crowding, we will be building a new platform and track at West Footscray. This will allow some Sunbury line services to turn around at this station.

This additional platform will enable trains to terminate and commence services at West Footscray station. It is not anticipated that Metro trains will be stabled at the station.

Image showing the location of proposed new station platform at West Footscray station, ton the Cross St side

How Melbourne Metro will benefit West Footscray Station

The additional platform and track to the north of the station (Cross Street side) will service city bound trains coming from Sunbury in the morning and afternoon peak periods. The existing city bound platform will be used for Sunbury line trains to terminate and commence services at West Footscray station. This will help trains run on time and reduce delays.

Providing an additional platform and length of track for Sunbury line trains will also facilitate an increase in the number of services at West Footscray station during the morning and afternoon peak.

Works at West Footscray station involve realigning regional, suburban and freight tracks, construction of new tracks and turnouts (to enable trains to change direction), a new passenger platform and alterations to the existing station concourse. No works are required on private land.

Track and station work would likely be conducted in stages to limit disruption to commuters and the local community.

So time for a critical look at what is being proposed – I’m going to ignore the fact that West Footscray station just got rebuilt as part of the Regional Rail Link project – and instead explore why the proposal is a triumph of operator convenience over passenger amenity.

An additional platform at West Footscray doesn’t make things any easier for passengers – it makes things harder. With the new platform isolated on the north side of the tracks, citybound passengers will be presented with a new choice:

  • walk down to the new platform 1 to board the next train ex-Sunshine and hope you can fit onboard,
  • or walk down to the existing citybound platform where an empty train is currently awaiting departure back to town, and hope that it leaves soon.

And good luck to any passenger who makes the wrong choice – by the time you can see the next citybound train, it will already be too late to change platforms via the overhead concourse!

Alstom Comeng arrives into West Footscray with an up Sunbury line service

The only redeeming feature I can see with the proposed works that any outbound passengers on a train terminating at West Footscray only need to walk across the island platform in order to catch the next train towards Sunbury.

EDI Comeng arrives into West Footscray with a down Watergardens service

One has to take the small wins.

Elsewhere in Melbourne

Melbourne’s rail network has a number of triple track sections, and all suffer from the same problem – in the middle of the day the centre track changes direction, which requires passengers to check their watch before choosing a platform.

Platform directions at Canterbury station

And at Watergardens station, citybound passengers face the same problems that West Footscray passengers will face in future – services coming from Sunbury use platform 1 while terminating trains head back to the city across the tracks on platform 2.

Looking down Watergardens platforms 2 and 3 towards the footbridge

We also have Laverton station – $93 million was spent in 2009-10 to rebuild the station, with a third platform being added to the north side, freeing up space for trains from Altona to terminate free of the mainline. Again the same problem – citybound trains leave from different sides of the station.

Siemens train on a down Werribee service arrives into Laverton

And finally Westall station – a total of $153 million was spent in 2009-10 on a third track and turnback platform that spent the first year out of service, and suffers from the same flaw – citybound trains don’t depart from the same island platform.

Siemens arrives into Westall platform 1 with an up service

Notice a recurring theme?

A solution

Centre turnback platforms aren’t something new that Melbourne has invented – they exist on rail networks all over the world, and can be incredibly convenient for passengers.

This is achieved with a ‘Spanish solution’ platform layout – four platforms are provided to serve three tracks, with the centre track having platforms on both sides, allowing passengers from either side to board the train.

In Hong Kong I found one at Choi Hung station on the MTR Kwun Tong Line.

Centre platform at Choi Hung, with a platform located on each side

But a rail network doesn’t need to have platform screen doors in order to place platforms on both sides of a track – Fo Tan station on the MTR East Rail line is out in the open.

Centre platform at Fo Tan

And closer to home, even Adelaide can do it – Glanville and Brighton stations feature centre turnback tracks with a platform on each side.

Centre turnback platform at Brighton railway station, Adelaide (photo by Normangerman via Wikimedia Commons)
Brighton station photo by Normangerman via Wikimedia Commons

Why should we in Melbourne settle for anything less?

Diving deeper

After I shared my initial thoughts about centre turnback platforms, I got the following response:

why not send those “short run” Sunbury trains to say Melton.

Why didn’t I think of that!

With the growth of Melbourne’s western suburbs, Footscray station will soon be the equivalent of South Yarra, and Sunshine station will be the equivalent of Caulfield. If someone proposed turning back trains at Toorak station they’d be laughed out of the room – so why is it any different for the other side of Melbourne?

While West Footscray station located on a double track railway, it is only two stations beyond the massive apartment developments of Footscray, and two stations from the major rail junction that is Sunshine.

Provided the new high capacity signalling system is rolled out as far as Sunshine, there isn’t any technical reason why trains for the Melbourne Metro can’t be split between the existing Sunbury line and the future electrified Melton line – just make sure to build a grade separated flyover to split trains on the two routes.

Footnote

Building a new station only to tear it down a few years later – the same thing happened at Footscray where a new footbridge opened in 2010, only to be partially demolished in 2013 for Regional Rail Link works.

New footbridge at Footscray by dusk

When will they learn – you can’t plan ahead if you don’t know where you are headed.

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16 Responses to “Melbourne Metro and West Footscray station”

  1. Beren says:

    Could you imagine right, if someone were to be intelligent enough to have designed stations in the city with a platform on either side of the train? One side being for passengers to exit the vehicle, and the other for passengers to board? Think about that in terms of the city loop, where there is nothing on the other side of the train, just empty dirt.

  2. Julian Calaby says:

    When I was reading this my first reaction was “where will it go?” My recollection was that the freight tracks to the North are fairly dense and take up almost all the space until a couple of meters shy of the Cross Street car park. (Which, checking with Google Maps, is correct)

    So let’s assume they do the right thing and construct a double-island, centre turnback design with the current north side track being the turnback track.

    They’d need to:
    1. Widen or split the existing wide overhead gantries to encompass the new platform
    2. Move the yard exit westwards to move the “exit track” that splits to join both through freight lines out of the way
    3. Realign the southern yard track to clear the north-most suburban track
    4. Realign or replace the east end yard lights

    Sending those trains to Melton sounds like a much better plan.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      The current citybound track at West Footscray is actually located on the former down track – when the station was rebuilt as part of the Regional Rail Link project, the entire island platform was built clear of the mainline, with the tracks being slewed across when it was time to close down the old station.

      Future up platform at the new West Footscray station

      This means adding a cheap and nasty turnback platform isn’t difficult – just relay a track on the former up track alignment, and reclaim some land from Tottenham Yard for the platform.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      From the south the tracks are as follows:

      – RRL track pair
      – suburban track pair
      – down broad gauge goods line
      – Tottenham Yard sidings
      – up broad gauge goods line
      – standard gauge track pair (bidirectional )

      At present Tottenham Yard is more graveyard for unwanted wagons than an active freight yard, so losing a few sidings isn’t a major issue – the handful of grain and container trains that are stabled there between runs will still be able to fit.

  3. Seph Murphy says:

    While putting in turn backs closer to the city is a good idea, especially in the case of emergencies and partial shut downs, and I support that fully, I really think Sunshine would be the better place for it (and Sunshine station, also brand new, could be upgraded with things such as escalators and more ticket barriers, thing I don’t understand why they weren’t installed in the first place).

    The whole thing depends on Melton not being electrified though which seems like more planning, especially when that’s what a significant portion of the Melbourne Metro capacity increase is designed to cater for.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      If the intended usage of a turnback is emergencies and trackwork shutdowns, than a simple crossover at one or both ends of a twin-platform station will suffice.

      At present Sunshine has crossovers at both ends allowing trains to turn back in either direction, and Albion has a crossover at the Sunbury end. A few months ago a car blocked the tracks between the two stations, and luckily that crossover configuration meant that Metro Trains only had to run buses that short distance.

      Compare that to Footscray station – no crossovers on the Sunbury line, while the Werribee tracks have a manually operated crossover that always seems to get forgotten during disruptions.

      • Seph Murphy says:

        Reading back, I may have conflated two points.
        I support adding additional redundancies into the network, and hopefully the platform here will be designed so that trains from the city and from Sunbury will be able to turn back outside of normal usage in the event of an emergency.

        I think an additional platform at Sunshine would be of more use, and better reflect actual service patterns of the eventual electrification to Melton, and eventual expansion to the Airport.

        The crossing for the Werribee Line at Footscray is interesting. If they don’t use it, presumably that means that Metro has no one at Footscray qualified to operate it?

  4. David Stosser says:

    I maintain that a better option would be to run the Metro tunnel from Jewell to Windsor, replacing Royal Park, Flemington Bridge, Macaulay and Prahran stations with Princes Park, Parkville, Melbourne Central, Flinders Street, Domain and Alfred.

    Then at the north end you could close Upfield and run via Seabrook, Broadmeadows, Westmeadows, Gladstone Park and Airport Drive to Tullamarine; at the south end Sandringham is fine for short term, but medium term extend to Southland, Moorabbin Airport, Dingley, Keysborough and Dandenong (with stations every 1.5km). Trains could run as often as required, up to every 90 seconds post removal of level crossings (RailUP solutions for Upfield line; need to solve all bar Union St and Greville St for the Sandringham line).

    That would be a real Metro, rather than just the name as a marketing gimmick.

    It also makes everything a lot simpler with regards to all the other lines through the CBD. You can make Flinders St 8/9/10/11 link via viaducts 5/6/7/8 to Southern Cross 13/14/15/16 for all through express trains; retain the four City Loop tracks as currently organised, or perhaps some through-routing. Also worth considering – if North Melb 3/4 exclusively become the Northern Loop, then 1/2 can extend to Southern Cross 7/8 and, if light rail (for gradients and curves), could weave between the viaducts and buildings and extend to the St Kilda line or a Fishermans Bend route.

    Also widen the platforms at Richmond (and possibly South Yarra) to current standards with only eight tracks (four at South Yarra), after Sandringham is removed.

  5. James A says:

    Just having a sign in the concourse or entrance to the station stating which platform the next departure is from should resolve the issues you’ve mentioned about platform confusion. At Canterbury, the system is very confusing and difficult for passengers. However at Laverton, there is an electronic sign which states how long until the next Flinders Street train from each platform, making it easy for passengers to decide where to go. Although in the morning peak, when direct city trains depart from both Platforms 1 and 3 at Laverton, it’s always faster to wait for the next express departure than any stopping all stations train via Altona.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Signage on the station concourse indicating next train departures would address some of the confusion, assuming it is located right where passengers are deciding which platform to use.

  6. Justin says:

    Why wouldn’t my Google transit or PTV app tell me what the departure times are?

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Smartphone apps will tell you when and where your next train will depart from, but it doesn’t remove the need for signage at railway stations, or give rail operators an excuse to build railway stations that are difficult to navigate.

      • Justin Mahon says:

        It’s two platforms? Signs, announcements, push to listen thingy’s, smart apps. How is it difficult? Maybe it’s the right solution given the constraints of all the rail lines around it.

  7. […] Yes, you read that correctly – under this plan only three trains off-peak per hour will head west to Sunshine, St Albans and Watergardens – with 50% of services from the city terminating at an expensive turnback siding at West Footscray! […]

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