Fact check on the Frankston line

On August 1st trains returned to the Frankston line after a five week long shutdown that allowed the tracks to be lowered beneath Centre, McKinnon and North Roads, eliminating three level crossings. A media release was released by the State Government to celebrate the completed works, but the ‘facts’ included within deserve further examination.

'Service to Frankston stopping all stations' displayed on the PIDS of a X'Trapolis train

You can find the media release here:

Crossings Gone, Tracks Lowered, Trains Returned
Premier of Victoria
31 July 2016

Trains return to the Frankston line tomorrow after three level crossings were removed during the longest rail line closure since construction of the City Loop more than 30 years ago.

To enable these works to occur, the Frankston line was closed between Caulfield and Moorabbin for more than five weeks, and replacement buses moved thousands of passengers every day.

This is the first time in Victoria’s history that three level crossings have been removed concurrently and means the Andrews Labor Government has now removed four level crossings in less than 18 months.

Longest rail line closure since the City Loop?

Five weeks is a long time to shut down a railway line, so one can be forgiven to think that it is a record breaker. So what other projects was it up against?

My first thought was the Mitcham level crossing removal project – in 2014 it removed two level crossings and delivered a new railway station at Mitcham, with a long concrete trench being built along a constrained rail corridor.

X'Trapolis 58M passes beneath Rooks Road, Mitcham with an up service

Close, but no cigar – the longest shutdown stopped trains for three weeks:

The major cut over construction phase occurred in January 2014 (Phase Two). The plan being a 3 week closure of the railway between Ringwood and Blackburn to cut over from the high level tracks and old railway station to the new low level tracks and railway station. The extensive construction during this period will be lowering the railway through Rooks Road on the same alignment.

My next thought was the Middleborough Road project – in 2007 it removed one level crossing and delivered a new railway station at Laburnum.

Citybound X'Trapolis train emerges from the Middleborough Road cutting at Box Hill

Getting a little closer, but trains only stopped for four weeks.

The major construction phase was completed in January 2007 (Phase Two). This included a 4 week closure of the railway line between Blackburn and Box Hill and the closure of Middleborough Road to through traffic.

I then drew a blank, until I was reminded that the city end of the Upfield line was closed for an extended period in the late 1990s to allow for the construction of the CityLink viaduct over the top.

EDI Comeng on a down Upfield service at Macaulay

The plan was announced in 1997:

Rail line closure for freeway construction
February 19, 1997
Sean Lennon

Victoria’s new transport minister, Robin Cooper, caused outrage in the northern suburbs on February 4, when he announced that the Upfield line, long a battleground between the authorities and residents, would close for six months to allow construction of the City Link freeway project.

This flies in the face of a public statement by the head of the Public Transport Corporation that the line would remain open during construction.

Under the government’s plan, the line would be closed between Flemington Bridge and North Melbourne stations, with buses ferrying people to Newmarket station, on the Broadmeadows line. From there, passengers would catch another train to the city.

Originally a six months closure was approved:

Having regard to construction and safety requirements, the State, the Company and the Trustee may agree that the section of the Upfield railway line between Racecourse Road and Arden Street be closed from 1 May 1997 to 31 October 1997 (or such other period as agreed), and on such terms and conditions as may be agreed.

But it took until May 1 1997 for the line south of Flemington Bridge to be closed to passengers, with it eventually reopening in February 1998 – nine months without trains!

But the real slowpoke was rebuilding the V/Line service to Albury in the late 2000s.

N464 ready to lead the train back south from Albury

The last broad gauge train ran to Albury on November 8 2008, to allow the railway to be converted to standard gauge. Work took an eternity, with many ride quality issues, with V/Line services not returning to Albury until 26 June 2011 – 2 years, 7 months, and 16 days without trains.

Frankston line passengers – consider yourself lucky!

What about the City Loop?

Another point to examine is the comparison with the City Loop – construction of which was a massive project, but how did it disrupt rail services?

Siemens train emerges from the Caulfield Loop portal at Southern Cross

For a start, much of the City Loop was constructed beneath the streets of Melbourne’s CBD, with the only visible impact being the diversion of La Trobe Street between Swanston and Elizabeth Street to make way for the construction of Museum Station.

La Trobe St and its tram tracks were re-routed during construction of Museum Station, now known as Melbourne Central Station. This photo was taken on 1 October 1975 (Public Record Office Victoria)
Public Record Office Victoria image (via ABC News)

It was where the tunnels connected into the existing rail network that more disruption occurred.

Construction in the Jolimont rail yard on 28 May 1973 (Public Record Office Victoria)
Public Record Office Victoria image (via ABC News)

But aerial views show that the impact was minor – existing trackage was slewed away from the work sites, allowing trains to continue to run.

Construction of the Melbourne Underground Rail Loop's Jolimont access tunnel, as viewed from the Reserve Bank building on 6 October 1972 (Public Record Office Victoria)
Public Record Office Victoria image (via ABC News)

So were multiple week shutdowns required to build the City Loop? I doubt it.

Most concurrent level crossings removals?

The final fact to check is the “first time in Victoria’s history that three level crossings have been removed concurrently”.

Main Road at St Albans closed for grade separation works

The Mitcham level crossing removal project came close – it removed the Mitcham Road and Rooks Road level crossings as part of a single works package.

But we need to go much further back in time to blow that number out of the water – the first being the regrading and duplication of the railway between South Yarra and Caulfield in 19121915, the construction of five new stations at Malvern, Armadale, Toorak, Hawksburn and South Yarra, and the removal of seven level crossings.

Metro liveried EDI Comeng 440M on the up at Hawksburn

But there was another project that removed even more level crossings – the regrading of the railway between Hawthorn and Camberwell in 19151920, the construction of three new stations at Glenferrie, Auburn and Camberwell, and the removal of eight level crossings – Glenferrie Road, William Street, John Street, Henry Street, Auburn Road, Albert Street, Burwood Road, and Burke Road.

D1.3515 on Glenferrie Road below Glenferrie Station

So the sum up the Franskton line media release – other railway lines have been closed for longer periods for upgrade works, the City Loop is irrelevant when making these kinds of comparisons, and there have been much larger level crossing removal projects in the past that delivered far greater improvements to the rail network.

My verdict – nice try, but you’re going to need more than just a PR flack to pull the wool over my eyes!

Footnote

Somehow I forget about the Regional Fast Rail project works on the Bendigo line – the entire route between Sunbury and Bendigo was closed on 17 January 2005, reopening to Kyneton on 2 November 2005, and the rest of the line on 20 February 2006. That’s over a year of no trains!

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16 Responses to “Fact check on the Frankston line”

  1. Sir Thomas Bent says:

    Boronia Rd and Dorset Rd, Boronia went longer than three weeks in the mid-1990’s, and of interest, all of the dirt was removed exclusively by rail.

  2. Matthew Heyne says:

    While there have been projects that have removed more level crossings in the past, the projects you mention were completed around a century ago. As such you must assume that the population density of these areas was much lower, and following this logic, far lower demand on the roads and train services effected by these works. Rail infrastructure today is running at it’s absolute highest capacity during peak hours, the Frankston line alone moving tens of thousands of people daily. Taking into account the logistical nightmare of organising replacement bus services and around the clock works while minimising the impact on local road traffic, these most recent works utterly dwarf all but the city loop construction project. Thankfully skyrail will be a much smoother and far less disruptive step toward ensuring the future viability of our transport network.

  3. Joel Rowse says:

    Well said someone who isn’t blind to the political spin and removing level crossings quite simply don’t fix everything

  4. John Proctor says:

    Agree overreach here but for the majority of the population all statements may not be factually true but in practice they might as well be.

    Eg. the Upfield Line closure wouldn’t have registered in 1999… the closure for CityLink was in some ways a reprieve from other proposals at the time to close the line entirely and they probably didn’t bother with any replacement buses just letting people catch the tram or craigieburn line instead at a time when the overall rail network carried less than 1/2 what it does today and Upfield then perhaps 1/10 of the Frankston Line today.

    Also a subtle difference (although still does not meet the language of the presser) is that those works were a closure for road works above the rail with no direct interface with the rail at all. This was a rail closure for actual works on the rail line.

    Again re: 3 levels crossings the most ever removed at once the presser says ‘in Victoria’s history’ if it was worded ‘in Victoria’s living memory’ the statement would be factually correct for limited additional relevance to the reader. Good luck finding someone who remembers the impact of those sites under construction would need to be at least 100.

    Finally your own assessment is a guess that rail lines weren’t closed for more than 5 weeks during the construction of the City Loop. How can you critique the press release for its accuracy using supposition yourself? I too have no idea (through not being alive when it happened) how long any rail line was closed for the City Loop construction and while the historical photos indicates many running lines past the worksites I would think it quite likely that at least 1 line was shut for multiple weeks as the Frankston/Caulfield portals near Richmond were cut and cover constructed across the railyards between the MCG and Melbourne Park. (or the same portals through the Spencer Street yard)

    • Marcus Wong says:

      History of the Upfield line 1980s-2000s is a massive story – outright closure, conversion to a freeway, conversion to light rail – it had it all. Not to mention the lack of Sunday services in the earlier days!

      http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/not-the-end-of-the-line-how-people-power-saved-the-upfield-rail-line-20160602-gp9web.html

      With so much uncertainty the line was stuck in a time warm, with the 1990s upgrade program replacing manual signalling with modern equipment, and closing a slew of level crossings.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      When talking about the impact of the project on commuters the ‘in living memory’ caveat makes sense – but if the aim was to boast about how big the project is in engineering terms, less so.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      A token photo showing the temporary Upfield line terminus at Flemington Bridge:

      https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/7843520018/

    • Marcus Wong says:

      The disruption caused by the City Loop is something I need to research further, but from what I’ve found so far, multiple-week total closures of a complete railway line would be unlike.

      Another worksite was the city end of North Melbourne station, where one pair of tracks was taken out of service to allow for the Northern Loop ramps to be built:

      http://www.westonlangford.com/images/photo/113992/

      However to minimise disruption lots of temporary trackage was laid – for example, over the North Melbourne flyover:

      http://www.westonlangford.com/images/photo/112508/

      I’ve also seen photos of the Spencer Street carriage yards filled with temporary decking, as the cut and cover work went on underground – I can’t for the life of me find it again, but the MURLA annual reports mention it:

      http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/papers/govpub/VPARL1976-78No45.pdf

      • Chris Gordon says:

        The Jolimont Rationalisation project in the late 1990s had pairs of tracks and platforms at Flinders St closed up to 4 weeks at a time, complete with temporary timetables. Big disruptions, but kept trains running through out. I suspect the City Loop works would have been much the same.

      • I don’t recall any weekday peak period closures account constructing the city loop, at least from 1977 onwards when I started working for the Victorian Railways, travelling by train into the city each weekday. Admittedly work had started before then, so I can’t absolutely rule out closures before 1977.

        Incidentally, I do recall reading about an incident before 1977 when a crane employed on loop construction work toppled over onto traction power lines near the old Flinders Street E Box. This connected traction power to signalling power, which burnt out signal cabling affecting most signals between Flinders Street and Richmond. Emergency rules were brought in to keep trains running, where instead of drivers being given written instructions by a signalman to pass a given signal at stop (which is how an unlit signal was supposed to be treated), they were given written instructions to pass /every/ signal to Richmond, because there were simply too many signals out to be able to do this for every individual signal. But they kept the trains running. (Although this probably involved clipping the points, which would have stopped some services, including affecting eastern passenger trains such as to Bairnsdale and Yarram, which in those days departed from platform 1 at Flinders Street.)

  5. Ian says:

    Another significant rail line closure was for St Kilda and Port Melbourne’s conversion to light rail. They both went a bit longer than the Frankston shutdown, as far as I can tell. St Kilda was early August to late November, more than three months; Port Melbourne was early October through to mid-December, so a bit over two months for that one.

  6. […] the way, Marcus Wong has fact-checked the rhetoric: It’s unlikely the 37 days was the “biggest rail closure since the City Loop” […]

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