A history of ‘Mount Mistake’ in Footscray

Next to the Western Oval in Footscray is ‘Mount Mistake’ – a massive tangle of road overpasses that carries Geelong Road over the railway lines at West Footscray station. This is the tale of how the bridge came to be, and how it gained the nickname.

Taking a quick tour

Mount Mistake is a tangle of concrete bridges and slip lanes.


Google Earth 2020

Carrying six lanes of Geelong Road over the top of the railway.


Google Street View 2014

With a crazy 270 degree loop for westbound traffic from Gordon Street.


Google Street View 2019

Merging into 80 km/h traffic on the top of the bridge.


Google Street View 2019

A fork in the middle of the bridge for eastbound traffic to access Gordon Street.


Google Street View 2019

Leaving a tangle of ramps below.


Google Street View 2019

And a seedy under croft.


Google Street View 2018

So how did it come to be?

The early years

Like most of the western suburbs, ‘Mount Mistake’ was once open plains.


SLV BIB ID 685472

The first road towards Geelong started at Footscray, following today’s Buckley Street to the present line of Geelong Road. It was joined in 1859 by the initial section of the Melbourne-Bendigo railway, the two meeting at a set of level crossing gates.


PROV image VPRS 12800 P7 C/0297

The neighbouring railway station opened in 1888 as Footscray West, before being renamed West Footscray in 1912.


Victorian Railways diagram, West Footscray 1922

And the growth in suburban traffic saw the railway electrified as far as St Albans in 1921.


SLV photo H28682/25

But a bigger change was to come, with the construction of the South Kensington to West Footscray freight line. Two new tracks were built beneath Footscray, allowing goods trains to bypass busy passenger traffic on their way to the new railway yard at Tottenham.

But with four tracks running through a level crossing the gates would spend more time closed than open, so the decision was made to grade separate the corridor.

Enter ‘Mount Mistake’

Grade separating the Geelong Road level crossing was a classic “skyrail vs trench” debate.

GEELONG ROAD CROSSING
Subway Preferred to Bridge

Footscray City Council has decided to again wait on the Minister for Railways and urge the construction of a subway at tho Geelong Road crossing, instead of the proposed overhead bridge at an estimated cost of £27,000.

Estimating the cost of constructing a subway at £50,000, the Railways Department informed the council that this cost would be too great. In addition, stone would be encountered in the excavation work necessary for constructing a subway.

Melbourne’s western suburbs getting the same treatment they do today.

BRIDGE OR SUBWAY?
GEELONG ROAD PROBLEM.

Considerable diplomacy was displayed by the Assistant Minister’ of Railways (Mr. Mackrell) yesterday in dealing with a deputation from the Footscray council, which requested that a subway should be substituted for the proposed overhead bridge on the Geelong Road over the new goods railway line. Mr. Mackrell intimated plainly that he had no hope of the request being granted, but stated that he would inspect the area before reaching a decision.

Cr. A. Hansen said a subway was being built at Essendon, where there was not one-tenth of the traffic as at Footscray.

Cr. O’Toole: Why has Essendon got a subway?

Cr. Hansen: It is not the Cinderella of the districts.

In conclusion, the Minister promised to visit Essendon and Footscray and inspect the areas, and also consider the substitution of a brick wall for an embankment if the bridge were constructed.

But it came to naught.

FOOTSCRAY BRIDGE
Minister’s Decision — No Subway

Protests against the construction of an overhead road bridge at the crossing of the West Footscray railway and Geelong Road are still being made by residents of Footscray, but it is considered unlikely that any alteration will be made in in the plans now being carried out.

The Minister of Railways said yesterday that he was not inclined to agree to the request for an examination by independent engineers. The subway proposal south by Footscray council had been rejected by the Railways Standing Committee, Parliament, and two former Ministers of Railways before the present Government had assumed office.

Railway engineers were against the subway, and after a personal inspection he had also approved of the overhead bridge. On further representations being made he had appointed a committee of two engineers, who, although Government employees, had every freedom to report as they wished, and the committee had endorsed all the previous opinions. He considered in the ‘circumstances that the combined opinion of all the experts should be final.

So the original plans stood – the railway was sunk into a cutting beneath Nicholson Street and Albert Street, and Geelong Road was raised onto an embankment to cross the tracks.

Work started on the Geelong Road bridge in 1927.


SLV photo H2001.308/2924

Tall brick retaining walls taking shape on the approaches.


VPRS 12800/ P7 unit 23, item C 0436

Forming a massive mountain of dirt.


SLV photo H2001.308/2928

The residents of Footscray dubbing it ‘Mount Mistake’.

“MOUNT MISTAKE”
Three Ministers Join in Protest
COLLEAGUE TO INQUIRE

Fifty citizens, representative of the municipal councils of Footscray, Wiiliamstown, and adjoining districts, and of several associations, district and national, this morning urged the Minister for Railways (Mr Tunnelcliffe) to remove the preparations for the overhead crossing at Geelong Road, West Footscray, and to substitute a subway.

Three members of the Cabinet – Messrs Prendergast, Williams and Disney – joined the protest to the Minister.

The embankment was referred to by the various speakers as “Mount Mistake”, “an awful eyesore”, “a rabbit warren”, “a quagmire” and a “monument to the incapacity of the departmental engineers.”

Tho Minister, while defending the engineers, promised to go thoroughly into the question of alteration, and to place the matter shortly before Cabinet. He said that the question of additional cost should not be paramount.

“INJUSTICE TO DISTRICT”

Mr Prendergast, M.L.A., who introduced the deputation, said that the embankment was the most extraordinary thing he had ever seen. It amounted to an injustice to the district, and would, if persisted in, inevitably have to be removed in the near future. The overhead bridge would be dangerous to traffic and unsightly, and the embankment would depreciate the value of real property. The revenue of the football club would be affected by the embankment providing a free stand. He could not understand that a Government department would cause such a disfigurement to a thickly populated district.

Cr. O’Toole (Mayor of Footscray) handed in a petition signed by 4744 residents, in six days. The embankment was known in Footscray as “Mount Mistake.” (Laughter.) It was one of the greatest atrocities ever perpetrated. Not only was the embankment a tragedy from the aesthetic point of view, but it was also dangerous to traffic. A subway would be welcomed by Footscray council, which was prepared to pay the cost of removing the material. Footscray council was spending money in the beautification of the Geelong Road, one of the great arteries.

“A MATTER OF AESTHETICS”

The Minister said he believed that the engineers of the department had honestly tried to overcome a difficulty in the most economic manner. The grade of the proposed subway (1 in 20) would he equal to the grade of tho overhead bridge. The departmont had eliminated four level crossings in the Footscray district, and had saved the municipality about £50,000.

He agreed that the work on the Geelong road was of outstanding importance. The question at issue seemed to be one of spending £26,000 to provide a more aesthetic structure. He was not sure that a subway would be the more aesthetic. The whole matter would be reviewed by him at an early date.

But it was completed as intended by 1928.


VPRS 12800/ P3 unit 13, item ADV 0138

And there the bridge remained for the next few decades.


1945 Department of Lands and Survey photo map

The main beneficiaries – footy fans who could stand on the footpath and watch Doggies games for free.

The rise of the car

Trees once lined Geelong Road, forming Footscray’s Avenue of Honour. But in the 1960s they were chopped down to make way for a dual carriageway.

The dual carriageways were extended west throughout the 1960s from Ballarat Road towards Brooklyn, except for one gap – ‘Mount Mistake’. Enter the Country Road Board.


Country Roads Board annual report 1971

Who reported in their 1971 annual report.

The replacement of the old four-lane road over rail bridge at West Footscray commenced in June 1970. A new six-lane bridge and major improvements to several highway intersections either side of the railway line will improve the flow of through traffic and assist cross movements by local traffic when completed in 1973.

The $2,000,000 project includes a new bridge 90 metres (305 feet) long by 23 metres (77 feet) wide, providing six lanes for traffic. A pedestrian overpass and several other structures on the approaches to the rail overpass will cater for cross traffic.

By 1972 costs had blown out – possibly due to the extra underpass taking Cross Street under Geelong Road?

The construction of a new six-lane bridge to replace the old four-lane road over rail bridge at West Footscray continued during the year.

The whole project will cost approximately $3,400,000. Half the new width was completed and opened to traffic, providing four lanes for highway traffic.

When Weston Langford visited in February 1973, the old bridge was gone, ready for the second half of the new bridge to be built.


Weston Langford photo

But the cost of the project had increased yet again – up to $3,800,000.

So the Country Roads Board must have been happy to report the completion of the bridge in 1974.


Country Roads Board annual report 1974

But the bridge did stand the test of time – thirty years later it was just as ugly as it was when built.


Google Earth 2005

Enter Regional Rail Link

In 2008 the Regional Rail Link project was unveiled, to build a pair of new tracks from Southern Cross to Sunshine, taking the total number of tracks through West Footscray to six.

Northern entrance to the old West Footscray station

But Footscray was a pinch point, with two more tracks needed to be squeezed beneath the Geelong Road bridge.

Tracks beneath the Geelong Road overpass

To make space, the ‘Rising Sun’ footbridge was demolished.

Poster at the Rising Sun footbridge directing passengers to the detour route

It once connected Buckley Street to the middle of ‘Mount Mistake’.


Google Street View 2009

But the closure sent pedestrians on a long detour.

EDI Comeng passes the remains of the Rising Sun footbridge at West Footscray

Buckley Street was moved behind a concrete crash barrier.

Buckley Street moved to make room for the down RRL track

And West Footscray station was moved to a new site to the west.

Looking over the old West Footscray station towards the new one

The old station being demolished.

Passing the remains of West Footscray, X41 leads X42 towards Melbourne

To make extra space beneath Geelong Road.

Former down platform at West Footscray all gone

With the new tracks opened in 2014.

VLocity VL14 heads through West Footscray on the down

But despite all the changes, one part of ‘Mount Mistake’ still exists – the brick wall that formed the north abutment.

Life extension EDI Comeng 369M leads an up service at West Footscray

Footnote: concrete traffic barriers

In the 1970s increasing vehicle speeds saw the need for stronger barriers on road bridges, and the new Geelong Road bridge at West Footscray was one of three sites they were trialled by the Country Roads Board.


Country Roads Board annual report 1972

The barriers were of the California Division of Highways ‘Type 20’ design:

Approximately 1500 metres (5,000 lin. ft.) of barrier is to be constructed on the West Footscray project. The barrier is to be continuous over approach embankments and structures. A steel-pipe railing supported by cast-steel posts is to be mounted on top of the concrete barrier

The standard precast unit is 1.5 metres (5 ft.) long and weighs 500 kg (1,100 lb.) allowing easy handling and installation on curved alignments (at West Footscray, units are used around a 27 metre (90 ft.) radius curve).

By June 15th 1972, all of the 263 units required for the first stage of the West Footscray bridge had been delivered to the site, and 750 units for later stages remained to be manufactured.

Footnote: signal boxes

The first signal frame at West Footscray was commissioned in 1886 to control access to the sidings, with a full signal box opening at Geelong Road in 1889. This was followed in 1992 by a new signal box at the Melbourne end of the down platform, featuring a 41 lever VR ‘A’ Pattern Cam and Tappet frame.


PROV image VPRS 12800 P7 C/0297

As part of the construction of the road overpass, in 1927 a temporary level crossing was provided at Geelong Road, controlled by a 23 lever signal box.

This timber signal box had been relocated from Footscray ‘C’ at Albert Street, following the removal of that level crossing in 1926.


SLV photo H2001.308/2928

In 1928 the overpass was in use and the temporary level crossing and signal box removed.

The 1922 West Footscray signal box controlling trains on both the passenger and goods lines.


VPRS 12903/P1, item Box 670/18

Following the construction of the wider Geelong Road bridge in the 1970s, the hipped roof of the signal box was removed, replaced by shallow pitched flat roof.

Geelong Road bridge and abandoned signal box at West Footscray

But by the 1990s the role of the signal box went into decline. The first change was the removal of the West Footscray goods yard by 1991, followed in 1996 by the removal of the connection between Tottenham Yard and the suburban tracks.

In 2000 the signal box was permanently ‘switched out’ after control of Tottenham Yard was transferred to West Tower, until finally decommissioned on 3 October 2013, after which it was immediately demolished to make way for Regional Rail Link.

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12 Responses to “A history of ‘Mount Mistake’ in Footscray”

  1. Andrew S says:

    The West Footscray overpass is indeed the first to use the precast sections for the ‘California Type 20’ barriers – these would be the standard form into the late 70s and through the 80s and 90s. The section of the Mulgrave Freeway inbound from Springvale Road used them soon after as seen here:
    https://www.google.com.au/maps/@-37.9046727,145.1561183,3a,75y,226.86h,83.01t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1soMZK5D8sdX52a3ZB6dl9ng!2e0!7i16384!8i8192?hl=en

    Prior to this a cast insitu version of the California Type 20 was used – see the first section of the Mulgrave Freeway that opened in 1972 and the different end treatment:
    https://www.google.com.au/maps/@-37.9935788,145.2536,3a,75y,10.87h,85.8t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sZU7O_wwpb9fehmQjzAjwiQ!2e0!7i16384!8i8192?hl=en

    A bulkier version was also used in the early 1970s as noted in the report called the ‘General Motors type’ used on the Lower Yarra Freeway at Millers Road and the goods rail line (both succumb to the West Gate Tunnel), also on the North Road Huntingdale overpass
    https://www.google.com.au/maps/@-37.9112975,145.1012967,3a,75y,84.86h,75.89t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m5!1seknVmb7W6w7SKIJ_-NNpAQ!2e0!6s%2F%2Fgeo0.ggpht.com%2Fcbk%3Fpanoid%3DeknVmb7W6w7SKIJ_-NNpAQ%26output%3Dthumbnail%26cb_client%3Dmaps_sv.tactile.gps%26thumb%3D2%26w%3D203%26h%3D100%26yaw%3D274.75345%26pitch%3D0%26thumbfov%3D100!7i13312!8i6656?hl=en

    A thinner type was used in a series of 1960s grade separations at Geelong Road Brooklyn, Ballarat Road Albion and the approaches to Warrigal Road Oakleigh – I assume this has another name:
    https://www.google.com.au/maps/@-37.8149472,144.8555325,3a,75y,55.78h,89.07t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sOAPei_bHsba0XvQMbpR4wg!2e0!7i16384!8i8192?hl=en

  2. Warren Penna says:

    This was an interesting read. We live close by in Buckingham Street. The traffic that merges with Cross Street and Buckingham and Errol Street creates serious traffic problems and speed. In 2018 my partner presented Council with a petition from the area asking Council to close the merge of Cross Street into Buckingham Street and keep Errol street and Buckingham as a loop road. Council did not take any action despite the issues raised.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      I use the connection beneath the bridge all the time as a shortcut between Victoria Street and the railway line along Cross Street – the cars really fly around the corners there.

      I wonder what drove the Country Roads Board to add it to the scope of the 1970s bridge rebuild.

  3. Graeme Oke says:

    Dear Marcus,

    I appreciate the time energy and effort you put into with your blog post. Your attention to detail is quite amazing. Well done.

  4. Steve says:

    The railway signal box might not have survived, but a different type of signal box did!
    The tiny building wedged between the railway and loop-de-loop (visible in the Google Earth pic) formerly housed the Footscray SCRAM (i.e. SCATS) regional computer for traffic signals.

  5. Matt says:

    You are an amazing person with excellent attention to detail thank you for highlighting my local community.

  6. nadja a sovich says:

    we lived in 409A Geelong Road in the 50’s. It was such a magnificent huge cream brick home with bow windows and brick fence. Of course I did not appreciate the home and artwork as a child. Live in Virginia now. Heard that this home was demolished ..progress …all palm tress gone and that area is some type of park. Would so love to see what that area of Geelong Rd looks ike now. What is there. It was close to Sommerville Rd. corner. thank You.

    I so enjoyed reading your articles on Geelong Road.

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