Level crossing removals in 1920s Melbourne

Given all of the work currently underway in Melbourne to remove level crossings in Melbourne, you might think that it’s a new idea. But it is nothing of the sort – the problem was first identified a century ago, and a start made to address it.


SLV photo H2001.308/2928

Work kicks off

Large scale removal of level crossings in Melbourne kicked off in the early 20th century, when thirteen level crossings between South Yarra and Caulfield were grade separated in 1909-15, as part of the regrading and quadruplication of the railway.

Siemens trains on up and down Frankston services cross paths outside Malvern station

Nine level crossings between Hawthorn and Camberwell were removed in 1915-19 when that section of railway was regraded.

D1.3515 on Glenferrie Road below Glenferrie Station

The Queens Parade tramway crossing on route 86 at Clifton Hill was replaced by a bridge in 1925.

Passing beneath X'Trapolis 75M at Clifton Hill, B2.2010 heads into town with a route 86 service

As was the Epsom Road tramway crossing on route 57 in Ascot Vale.

Z3.118 heads south on route 57, passing beneath the railway bridge on Epsom Road

And finally, four level crossings between Footscray and West Footscray were removed in 1926-28 in conjunction with track amplification works, including the Geelong Road bridge.


VPRS 12800/ P3 unit 13, item ADV 0138

But more work was still needed

In 1929 the Metropolitan Town Planning Commission published their ‘Plan of General Development‘ for Melbourne, with their scheme for new roads intended to reduce the need for level crossings.

Associated with the main roads scheme is the important question of the relationship of railway level crossings to it. In planning the roads scheme, due consideration has been given to those thoroughfares which at present pass under or over the railway lines.

In the location of new thoroughfares care has to be taken, where contours are favourable, to plan the crossing of the railway where there is a cutting or an embankment, so that the crossing in the future by bridge or subway could be effected at a minimum of cost.

Where the traffic from areas on the side of a railway more remote from a defined main road has been compelled to cross the railway at many places, intercepting main routes have been planned in favourable instances so as to avoid extensive or unnecessary movement across the railway.

In other cases the arrangement of minor streets has been planned so that a greater use will be made of the defined crossings. They can then be fewer in number and still provide the same facility for vehicular traffic. The ends of safety and economy are thereby served.

But there would still be dozens of level crossings left behind.

Within that portion of the metropolitan area dealt with by the Commission there are 155 level crossings. The main roads, as planned by the Commission, and which would give reasonably direct access between all parts of the metropolitan area, necessitate the use of 55 level crossings, and in addition eleven occur on tramline streets not in the main roads schedule.

So they flagged a program of level crossing removal.

Therefore, in any systematic scheme of railway level crossings abolition, it appears to be desirable to concentrate on the 66 crossings which would be on main traffic or tramline streets.

Expanding works that the Railways Department had already started.

Wherever the Railway Department has undertaken the construction of new metropolitan lines during recent years, or has been engaged on extensive remodellings, it has endeavoured to avoid level crossings.

The Railway Department is to be highly commended for the expense it has incurred, and the installations it has made in a variety of ways, with a view to making these crossings safe for all but the most reckless people.

The Railway Department for the five years 1923-27 expended £177,000 on level crossings abolition. Approximately 75 per cent of this amount was spent in the metropolitan area, and is therefore equivalent to an annual expenditure of over £26,000.

But there was one problem – money!

The amounts contributed by other authorities have not been ascertained, but it is expected that they would at least equal the average annual expenditure by the Railway Department. The total amount that would be available might therefore be set down at £50,000 annually, the capitalised value of which at a rate of 5.5 per cent, would enable a loan of over £900,000 to be devoted to this work, the repayment of which should be spread over 20, 30, or more years.

The scope of work was massive.

Sums from £1,000,000 to £2,000,000 have been mentioned by the Railway Department as the probable cost of the abolition of the 290 level crossings in the metropolitan electrified area. The Commission’s scheme would obviously require much less expenditure, as only 66 crossings would be involved to free the defined main roads and tramway routes from the delays and dangers that are brought about where the roads and railways cross each other on the same level.

And there was the question of who would foot the bill.

The question of the allocation of the costs and contributions is no doubt the most vital aspect of this very difficult problem.

Authorities have claimed that as the Railway Department has had the preferential right over the level crossings for many years,the accumulated value of the savings in original construction warrants placing the responsibility of abolition almost wholly upon the Railway Department.

Conversely, the Department has claimed that if the local governing authorities were offered at the time of construction the choice between no railway or a line containing level crossings, they would gladly have chosen the latter.

Another point of view is that it is only since the extraordinary growth of motor transport that a condition of things which previously was more or less satisfactory to both parties has now become such a nuisance and a hazard. A study of official opinions and decisions abroad shows the same divergence of views.

The Metropolitan Town Planning Commission believed the cost should be shared, but raised other concerns.

Except where extensive regradings become essential from the point of view of railway working, it is unreasonable to throw the whole responsibility on to the Railways Commissioners for the abolition of nearly 300 crossings. Several of them will cost in the vicinity of £100,000 each.

The electrification of the lines has rendered any improvement in the grades of the lines less necessary, whilst the cost of regrading in conjunction with a maintenance of frequent services makes any such wholesale proposition financially impracticable.

Quoting a contemporary report on a proposed level crossing removal.

In its Special Report to the Minister of Railways, supplied at his request, in regard to the abolition of the Clifton Hill level crossing on Heidelberg Road, the following opinions were given in reference to the allocation of cost:

23. The Commission considers that the principal party concerned in all level crossings is the Railways Commissioners, and that theirs is the greater financial responsibility for the abolition of them. It is the Commission’s opinion that, although the Railway Department should not have to bear the whole cost, it certainly should be required to contribute substantially.

24. The Heidelberg Road and the other roads converging at this point are all arterial in character, and consequently the municipality in which the crossing is located should not be called upon to meet an undue proportion of the cost of providing an improved thoroughfare which obviously will be used by traffic foreign to Collingwood in a much greater degree than that which can be regarded as local.

26. As the roads will be used almost wholly by motor vehicles it is recommended that a substantial contribution towards the cost should be made from the motor registration fees, which are now devoted almost wholly to country roads.

And proposed what they saw as a just way of allocating costs.

It is recommended that a single Transport Authority would have this matter of level crossings referred to it for decision as to the allocation of costs. The Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board and any other public authority directly concerned in a particular crossing should be assessed for a just share. The wide distribution of the costs suggested should be the means of expediting the abolition of the most urgent of these crossings.

And things we are yet to do

Unlike today’s politically motivated Level Crossing Removal Project, the Metropolitan Town Planning Commission saw the need for a orderly plan for the removal of level crossings, looking at the road network as a whole.

The order of abolition of the 66 level crossings should necessarily be determined by their urgency, and it is suggested that a factor which combines the number and classification of vehicles with the duration of delays at crossings should be used in deciding the precedence.

It is believed that the adoption of a systematic scheme dealing with this important problem would enable the diversion of traffic into these crossings of the railways with separated grades, and probably permit of the closing of the least important level ones.

The Commission’s schemes for roads in the area to be served by the Darling to Glen Waverley and Doncaster lines illustrate how a greater use can be made of fewer crossings of the line, while at the same time preserving reasonable access between lands on each side of it.

Including a redesign of surrounding road networks to reduce the number of level crossings that needed to be grade separated.

One of the factors that has contributed to the large number of level crossings in existence is the fact that the Railway Department possesses inadequate powers for the acquisition of land. It is considered that if the Department had power, subject to any necessary safeguards to acquire more land than is immediately necessary for railway purposes, it would be enabled in many instances to provide one crossing which would serve two or more cross streets by the diversion of certain streets at suitable places, with consequent saving in cost. The Commission is convinced that, by judicious planning and adequate legislative powers, it should be, possible to reduce the number of level crossings, the abolition of which would require heavy expenditure in the construction of subways or bridges.

So what happened?

Following the publication of the Plan of General Development in 1929, grade separation of level crossings stalled for three decades, with a grand total of ZERO crossings abolished.

Pedestrian underpass at Koornang Road, Carnegie

It took until the 1954 passing of the ‘Country Roads and Level Crossings Funds Act’ for work to be restarted, which saw twenty level crossings in Melbourne grade separated between 1958 and 1977, as well as a larger number of crossings in country Victoria.


Museum Victoria item MM 92947

After the dedicated fund for level crossing removals was wound up, another twenty crossings were removed as standalone road projects in the period 1978-2014, until the launch of the Level Crossing Removal Project in 2015.

  

A history of segregated tram lanes in Melbourne

Melbourne’s trams are among the slowest in the world, spending much of their time stuck behind slow moving cars instead of flying past with full loads of passengers. Giving tram their own dedicated road space would fix this – and this is a history of

B2.2086 running a route 57a service, stuck in traffic on Maribyrnong Road

Early years

The first tram routes predominately followed the main roads of Melbourne.

But the tramway board was responsible for more than just the tracks.

When the tramways were first laid they followed . The Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board has the obligation to construct the road along the tracks, and for 18 inches outside each outer rail, as well as to illuminate certain of the tramway routes at night.

The smooth road surface proving tempting for motorists.

Road construction and lighting have been carried out by the Board in a manner which has encouraged other wheeled traffic to follow the same route as the tramway. The result has been that vehicular traffic has become accustomed to using the tramway streets in travelling between the suburbs and city where they are connected by tram tracks.

So as early as the 1920s, sharing the road wasn’t working.

In streets on which tramways are laid, the peak vehicular traffic is coincident with the heaviest tramway loading, and only a limited use can be made of the tramway tracks owing to the frequency of trams. In the City streets, where the need for additional road space is greater. vehicular traffic is almost wholly precluded from using the space occupied by tramways.

In 1929 the Metropolitan Town Planning Commission’s ‘Plan of General Development’ report recommended trams and motor vehicles should be segregated – either by new roads.

In the majority of cases the expense and difficulty involved in widening streets in which tramways are laid would impose too great a financial strain upon the community. Although in certain cases there is no satisfactory alternative, the Commission has planned its main road proposals so as to remove, as far as possible, the “through” vehicular traffic from the tramline streets. A system based on these lines will considerably relieve the congestion on these routes because it will leave the tramline streets principally for tramway services and local and business traffic.

Physical separation.

Where tramways are located or are proposed in streets of 99 feet width or more, excepting in the City business area, the Commission considers that the tramway should be given the exclusive use of its track and separated from other traffic by lawns or plantations. In addition to segregating the traffic, the plantations provide continuous safety zones, thus permitting safer and faster movement of all traffic along the road and for pedestrians crossing it. Incidentally, tramway track construction and maintenance will be less costly.

In many cases in its recommendations which follow, the Commission has adopted a width of 100 feet for main roads in order that future development along these routes, other than in the city proper, shall be so guided as to permit of the parking of the existing or probable future tramway.

Or parking restrictions.

The fact that the great bulk of the “peak” hours traffic in the morning is inward to the central business area and outward during the afternoon, offers an excellent measure of lief in congested streets by temporary prohibition of parking on the particular side of the street on which this volume of traffic is passing. The extra lane thus made available, especially in the case of tramline streets. would increase the efficiency and capacity of those streets in which a prohibition operated.

But in the years that followed, little progress was made on this front.


Weston Langford photo

Finally – some action

It took until 1970s for the first moves to separate road vehicles from the tram tracks.

The Board’s early 1970s reports urged traffic segregation and complained that it’s vehicles were severely hampered by motor traffic.

The established “vicious circle” of longer journey time, slower trip, unhappy passengers, more crews doing less work, greater cost, fare increase, less passengers, etc., was officially highlighted again.

Painted lines being the first attempt.

The Board endeavoured to speed its tram services by painting clearance lines along most of its trackage. A withdrawn passenger tram was fitted with spray painting equipment and has marked most of the system, commencing in 1973. Although reasonably effective, some motorists do not heed these lines, and the only truly satisfactory solution is physical separation.

Followed by an attempt at physical separation of trams along Bridge Road in Richmond, only to be rejected.

During the reconstruction of tram tracks in the very wide thoroughfare of Bridge Road, Richmond, during April to June 1975, the Richmond City Council refused to allow the Tramways Board to place low profile kerbing adjacent to the new tracks to create a reserved right of way for the trams.

Despite the road being wide east of Church Street.

B2.2034 on an inbound route 75 service at Bridge Road and Church Street

The volume of citybound trams using it.

C.3004 heads west on route 48 at Bridge Road and Yarra Boulevard

And the number of motorists u-turning over the tracks.

Everyone crossing the tracks on Bridge Road, Richmond

But the tramways board had more success on route 96.

E.6020 pauses for route 96 passengers at Nicholson and Richardson Street

Permitted to install physical separation – but only on one side of the street!

Fitzroy Council agreed to allow the Board to place low profile kerbing along Nicholson Street, along the eastern tram track, from Victoria Parade to Alexandra Parade, on a trial basis. Nicholson Street is the municipal boundary and Melbourne City Council refused permission for like treatment along the western tram track.

The kerbing was installed during October and November 1975, with safety zones at all stops, and have proved successful. Road traffic has not been hindered and tram running times have improved considerably, especially at key intersections.

Early in 1978 the project was extended northwards to Park Street, North Fitzroy, while the MCC relented somewhat to allow the section from Victoria Parade to Alexandra Parade to be fitted with jiggle bars along the western track. Safety zones were also incorporated into both of these extensions.

These half done concrete kerbs were still visible decades later.

C2.5113 'Bumblebee 2' on an outbound route 96 service at Nicholson and Elgin Streets

Until the 2018 rebuild of Nicholson Street saw taller kerbs provided on both sides of the track.

E.6021 heads south on route 96 at Nicholson and Moor Street

Tram ‘Fairways’

In 1983 the ‘Fairway’ program was launched to speed up trams.

Which featured a package of upgrades.

  • separation of trams from other vehicles on a full or part time basis using lanemarkings and signs,
  • tram activated phases at traffic signals,
  • minor road widening to provide safety zones at tram stops,
  • changes to Road Traffic Regulations to give preference to trams over other vehicles .

Seen as a cheaper solution to speed up trams, given the lack of success implementing physical segregation.

The RTA Fairway project is a conscious departure from the more traditional traffic management techniques and seeks to develop and implement low cost, innovative measures that assist tram operations at high delay sites. The requirement that Fairway treatments are low cost is based on the fact that as the major proportion of the tram network is located in the older, established
inner and middle suburbs of Melbourne, opportunities for larger scale improvements are generally not economically justified nor socially and environmentally acceptable.

The most visible change being yellow lines along major roads, indicating that motor vehicles cannot enter or turn across the tram tracks.

Which were surprisingly successful, given it was just paint.

The Fairway on the North Balwyn Route has been a qualified success given that details of traffic volumes and any redistribution of traffic along the route have not yet been analysed.

Average journey times during the AM peak period have reduced from 36.6 minutes to 34.6 minutes (i.e. 5.5% reduction). More importantly for tram operations, variations in running times have reduced by 20%, and Average Maximum times have reduced from 44.9 minutes to 39.8 minutes.

Into the modern era

You’d think speeding up trams would be a high priority – but it isn’t.

Consider this irrationality. About 200,000 passengers a day catch a tram along St Kilda Road. That’s about as many people as drive over the West Gate Bridge each day.

If there’s an accident on the bridge and the freeway is blocked for a few hours, politicians and commentators line up to argue that we urgently need to spend a lazy $18 billion on another east-west freeway.

And yet the city’s busiest tram corridor doesn’t even have enough separation with general traffic to stop a delivery van driver shutting the whole thing down by doing an ill-timed U-turn in front of a moving tram.

It took until 2011 for something to happen, thanks to the renewal of aging tram tracks along Spencer Street.

Over the Easter and ANZAC Day long weekend Yarra Trams replaced 740 metres of double track along Spencer Street between La Trobe Street and Flinders Street and on the Spencer Street Bridge.

The project renewed tracks which had first been installed in 1951 and introduced measures providing segregation between trams and traffic to improve safety and tram service reliability along one of the busiest sections of Melbourne’s tram network.

The new tracks were raised above the roadway.

E2.6072 heads north on route 96 at Spencer and Bourke Street

Leading to a massive drop in the number of collisions.

There were 11 tram-on-car collisions on Spencer Street last financial year between Bourke and Collins streets, compared with 76 in the three previous years. ”It’s been very effective on Spencer Street,” said Clement Michel, Yarra Trams’ chief executive.

But unfortunately they’re not enough to stop determined dumbarses from driving over the top.

Four cars all attempt a u-turn across raised tram tracks on Spencer Street

Rebuilding tram tracks is expensive, so in 2014 Yarra Trams tried something cheaper – bolting down yellow plastic kerbing beside the Collins Street tram tracks.

Yellow plastic kerbing in place along the Collins Street tram tracks

In an attempt to fix the worst street in Melbourne for tram to vehicle collisions.

Collins Street has had raised safety kerbs installed in an effort to increase safety by improving separation between motorists and trams.

Yarra Trams and Public Transport Victoria has installed the bright yellow kerbs along Collins Street, with the work completed two weeks ahead of schedule to be finished before the Grand Prix.

At the launch of its ‘Drivers Beware’ rhino safety campaign last year, Yarra Trams data showed that spots on Collins Street near the intersections at Elizabeth, Russell and Spencer streets were among the top 10 locations for tram to vehicle collisions.

Data recorded in the first month after the campaign launch showed a 19 per cent reduction in the number of tram to vehicle collisions on the network compared to the same period in 2012.

The network wide trend shows a reduction in collisions since 2010, but an increase in the proportion of incidents occurring in Collins Street.

The most common causes of collisions, which the raised kerbs aim to eliminate, are motorists performing U-turns or right turns in front of trams.

The new safety kerb, which is 50mm high and 350mm wide, will improve the safety and reliability of trams by deterring motorists from illegally driving across the middle of the road into the path of trams.

The statistics being quite shocking.

Year Total tram to vehicle collisions In Collins Street Percentage in Collins Street
2008 944 44 4.66
2009 905 38 4.20
2010 836 54 6.46
2011 983 48 4.88
2012 892 49 5.49
2013 844 49 5.81
2014 162 6 3.70

To 8 March 2014

But at 50mm high and 350mm wide, the new kerbs didn’t have much success with deterring taxi drivers from making u-turns across the tracks.

Plastic kerbs along the Collins Street tram stops don't do much to deter taxi drivers from making u-turns

Using the tracks to overtake stopped vehicles.

Another taxi driver on Collins Street undeterred by the new plastic kerbs along the tracks

Or just generally blocking up the whole joint.

Taxis and delivery trucks block trams on Collins Street

And if the kerbs come loose – they can derail trams.

On Friday 11 May 2018, early in the morning, a tram was being transported out of service from Essendon Depot to Brunswick Depot. As it travelled outbound in Sydney Road at Moreland Road, the tram derailed as it was turning left into Moreland Road.

The morning of 11 May had been wet, with 18.6 millimetres of rainfall recorded. The investigation found that a yellow plastic dividing strip, presumably dislodged by a passing vehicle, had been washed onto the tram track and become submerged in water. The strip subsequently became wedged in the front bogie.

Yellow plastic strips are frequently dislodged on the network, with our Track Maintenance Crew collecting on average one or two strips a day to return to the road authority.

Under the Road Management Act Code of Practice for operational responsibility for public roads(dated May 2017), the maintenance of plastic dividing strips is in most cases a duty of the relevant responsible road authority, typically the Department of Transport or local government, because they are constructed separately from the tram tracks.

So in 2015 tougher bluestone kerbing was installed at the Docklands end of Collins Street between Spencer Street and the Victoria Harbour tram terminus, at a cost of $316,000.

A1.256 heads east on route 48 at Collins and Spencer Street

One street down, how many to go?

And a way forward

After decades of attempts at segregating trams from traffic, in 2016 Yarra Trams reported they had discovered a way to accelerate the process.

Improving tram priority and fully separating trams from other traffic are considered to be critical elements in moving the tram system to a modern light rail service so that it becomes the best way to move around the inner suburbs of Melbourne.

Recognition and acknowledgement of the importance of taking opportunities for the reallocation of road space to prioritise public transport movement and access is particularly relevant to tram track renewal works.

Using the example of the Spencer Street track renewal.

A large and established tram network such as Melbourne’s has an ongoing series of infrastructure renewal works taking place in order to maintain our assets to the latest standards necessary. These infrastructure renewal programs as well as other internal and external upgrade projects present potential opportunities to enhance and upgrade the operating environment to assist with its envisaged transformation.

Identifying opportunities for either undertaking network improvements as part of track renewal works or implementing changes to assist with achieving desired outcomes at a later date is a key opportunity that has been progressed where possible.

The primary opportunities associated with track renewal include consideration of improving tram right of way by achieving effective physical separation from vehicle traffic where road conditions allow. This could either be by raising the vertical level of tram tracks higher than adjacent roadway carrying traffic or by installation of other effective separation measures such as barrier kerbing or bollards.

Recent completed examples of this approach and application include Spencer Street and Fitzroy Street track works where tram tracks were raised by 120-150mm and established a significantly enhance tram right of way; separated from conflicts and delays caused by traffic which was previous able to encroach onto the tram track.

The recent rebuild of the tram tracks along William Street is another example of this new philosophy.

Installing bluestone kerbing south of Lonsdale Street

And in 2018 Yarra Trams completed a business case for the rollout of concrete kerbs across the network.

Trams would be protected by raised kerbs on either side of tracks under a $42 million proposal to decrease the number of collisions between cars and trams.

Concrete and bluestone kerbing could be installed on tram tracks along busy CBD streets and inner-city arterials, blocking motorists from crossing the tracks.

About 38km of track have been identified as suitable for greater separation in a business case commissioned by Yarra Trams. The business case by GHD Advisory found the rollout would cost $42.7 million. Maintenance of the kerbs would cost $5000 per year compared with $17,000 for the plastic yellow strips that now separate tram tracks from cars.

The business case was included in a Yarra Trams submission to a Victorian parliamentary inquiry investigating ways to reduce the amount of fatalities on the state’s roads.

Trams and cars have collided about 1000 times for every one of the past five years, at an average of three incidents every day.

Yarra Trams said about 10 trams were out of action and under repair each day due to crashes with cars, meaning a reduction in incidents could improve reliability on the network by keeping more trams in service.

More than 95 per cent of tram accidents are caused by motorists. The most common manoeuvres that led to accidents are drivers performing U-turns across tracks, the sudden stopping of vehicles on tracks and cars driving over tracks to get around parked cars or stopped traffic.

Tram crashes decreased by 25 per cent when hard kerbing was installed on Docklands tram routes.

The business case proposing segregation of the following sections of tramway.

Route 96
• Nicholson St segment (Terminus to Gertrude St)
• Bourke St (Spencer St to Spring St)
• Nicholson St (Bourke St to Victoria St)
• St Kilda segment (Fitzroy St to Acland St)

Collins St
• St Vincents Plaza to Spring St
• Spring St to Spencer St

Elizabeth St
• Flinders St to Queen Victoria Market
• Queen Victoria Market to Haymarket
• Haymarket to Flemington Rd/Abbotsford St
• Haymarket to Flemington Rd/Racecourse Rd
• Haymarket to Royal Pde/Brunswick Rd

La Trobe St
• Docklands (Harbour Esp to Spencer St)
• CBD (Spencer St to Victoria St)

William St
• Flinders St to Dudley St

Racecourse Rd
• Flemington Rd to Ascot Vale Rd

Bridge Rd
• Church St to River St

Flinders St
• Spring St to Exhibition St
• Exhibition St to Spencer St

St Kilda Rd
• Federation Square to St Kilda Junction

Commercial Rd
• St Kilda Rd to Punt Rd

Clarendon St
• Whiteman St to Market St

Other short segments:
• Epsom Rd
• Sturt St
• Danks St
• Route 57 (through North Melbourne)
• Westgarth (Merri Creek Bridge)
• Wellington Pde
• Brighton Rd
• Fitzroy St
• Smith St, Caulfield
• Burwood Hwy
• Sydney Rd (north of Bell St)
• Clarendon St south and Canterbury Rd

Almost a hundred years since the issue was first identified, and yet we’re still waiting.

Sources

Photos from ten years ago: April 2011

Another instalment in my photos from ten years ago series – this time it is April 2011.

On the road to Ballarat

We start off on the Western Highway headed to Ballarat, where work was underway on the $200 million Anthony’s Cutting upgrade outside Melton.

Warning sign before Anthony's Cutting on the Western Freeway

The winding road over Djerriwarrh Creek was about to be bypassed.

Crossing Djerriwarrh Creek on the Western Highway at Anthony's Cutting

As well as the steep drop down into Bacchus Marsh.

Approaching Bacchus Marsh at Anthony's Cutting on the Western Freeway

The reason for my visit – another brand new X’Trapolis suburban train was about to leave the Alstom factory at Ballarat.

82M and 83M in the middle of the 6-car long set

So I followed it on the diesel locomotive-hauled delivery run to Melbourne.

Paralleling the main road at Yendon

Passing the abandoned bluestone station buildings of the Geelong-Ballarat railway.

Running through the station at Lal Lal

And the V/Line coach that now links the two cities.

Crossing the V/Line Geelong - Ballarat bus at Yendon

Today there are 210 X’Trapolis trains on the Melbourne network, the bulk of them delivered since 2009 to cope with surging patronage.

Another train I captured leaving Ballarat was 122 year old steam locomotive Y112.

Time for an inspection at Meredith

It was headed from the home base of Ballarat for Geelong, where it hauled a weekend worth of special trips for happy passengers.

Climbing towards North Geelong with Y112 leading

Level crossings and bridges

At Anglesea Road in Waurn Ponds, I found a new level crossing about to be opened.

Temporary level crossing at Anglesea Road, still to be opened

But it was only a temporary one – constructed to permit the grade separation of the level crossing as part of Stage 4A of the Geelong Ring Road.

You can replace a level crossing with a bridge, but at Separation Street in North Geelong motorists still find a way to crash onto the tracks.

Bridge railings after some dimwit drove off the bridge

In 2010 $3.2 million was spent to replace the Melbourne-bound parapets with a concrete wall, with the Geelong-bound lanes similarly upgraded in 2020 at a cost of $4.2 million.

And finally, on nearby Thompson Road I found a level crossing with no trains.

Thompson Road looking up across the level crossing

Part of the mothballed Fyansford line, the line lay idle for twenty years following the closure of the cement works in 2001, until it was finally pulled up in December 2011.

Scenes that are gone

Ding ding on La Trobe Street, my usual hackspot for capturing trains headed out of Southern Cross Station, but this month the interesting bit is behind this W class tram – a clear view of the old The Age offices, and National Bank House at 500 Bourke Street.

W7.1022 westbound on La Trobe Street

And in the other direction, Docklands Stadium.

SW6.928 passes a construction site on La Trobe Street

Today all you’ll see is a wall of apartment towers along Spencer Street, and the fire damaged Lacrosse building in the other.

I also headed out to the abandoned RAAF Williams base to capture passing trains.

Locos LDP001, LZ3101, LQ3122, DC2206 and LZ3103 approach Melbourne with some haze in the air

In 2010 the location was named as the site of the $86 million ‘Point Cook’ station, which opened in 2013 as Williams Landing, along with the extension of Palmers Road into the namesake housing estate.

And you thought insurance is boring?

The clock on top of the Mercer Street silos in Geelong hasn’t worked for years, but the thing I noticed was the ‘We Are Geelong’ billboard.

NIB advertising atop the Mercer Street silos in Geelong

Back in 2010 Newcastle-based for-profit health insurer NIB started sponsoring the Geelong Football Club, in an attempt to butter up locals pending their hostile takeover of Geelong-based mutual health fund GMHBA. The takeover was rejected, and NIB pissed off with their tail between their legs.

On the same insurance note, I also paid a visit to National Mutual Plaza on Collins Street.

Northern facade of the National Mutual Plaza, on Collins Street Melbourne

Once the home of Melbourne’s first rooftop restaurant, National Mutual was demutualised in 1996 and sold to AXA, with Suncorp Insurance having taken over the building.

A year later part of the facade fell from the tower, narrowly missing people down below. In 2014 demolition of the building was approved despite a pending heritage listing, with the ‘pantscraper‘ now occupying the site.

Footnote

Here you can find the rest of my ‘photos from ten years ago‘ series.

Birth, death and rebirth at Bunnings Warehouse

You’ll find Bunnings Warehouse stores all over Australia, with new locations and expanded stores appearing on a regular basis.

Birth

A decade ago I was in the empty streets of an industrial estate south of Caroline Springs, where a new Bunnings Warehouse store was taking shape.

New Bunnings Warehouse taking shape in an empty industrial estate

The iconic grand entrance was there.

Entrance to a brand new Bunnings Warehouse store

But inside there wasn’t a floor.

Fitting out a new Bunnings Warehouse store

Just rebar waiting a concrete pour.

Pouring the concrete slab inside a new Bunnings Warehouse

By 2014 the streets of the industrial estate were starting to fill up.


Google Street View

And by 2020 Bunnings had disappeared behind a sea of tilt-slab concrete.


Google Street View

Death

While on Millers Road in Altona North was an unlucky Bunnings Warehouse store.

Demolishing the former Bunnings Warehouse store on Millers Road, Altona North

Locked up and ready to be demolished.

Demolishing the former Bunnings Warehouse store on Millers Road, Altona North

Replaced by a brand new $47 million, 17,000-square metre store next door.

And rebirth

Out on High Street in Epping I found a familiar green shed, but it was no longer a Bunnings Warehouse – but a furniture store.

Former Bunnings Warehouse store in Epping now a furniture and bedding clearance centre

Bunnings moved to a new site on Cooper Street in late 2015.

Melbourne tram routes you can’t ride

If you take a look the Melbourne tram network map, you’d reasonably expect that the lines drawn on it are the limits of where you can ride. But there are a number of places across Melbourne were trams can roam but passengers cannot.

'No Vehicle Access Trams Only' sign on the Miller Street hump

Secret cross-town connections

Melbourne’s tram system is primary a radial one, with every route except for 78 and 82 running via the CBD. However, there are a handful of cross-town connections allowing trams to avoid the city.

On the northern edge of the Melbourne CBD there is a connection that doesn’t appear on the network map – 300 metres of track along Victoria Street between Swanston and Elizabeth Streets.

B2 class trams turns from Victoria Street into Swanston

The link was opened in the 1920s to connect the isolated North Melbourne Electric Tramways & Lighting Company system to the rest of the system.

Today it permits the transfer of empty trams between depots for maintenance, the diversion of route 58 trams due to disruptions in the CBD, and for special trams on Anzac Day to access the Shine of Remembrance for the dawn service.

Another hidden connection is much further from the city – 580 metres of track along Miller Street in Preston. It links route 86 on High Street to route 11 along St Georges Road, via a bridge over the Mernda railway line.

D2.5007 stabled outside Preston Workshops on Miller Street

The link was part of the original Fitzroy, Northcote & Preston Tramways Trust network, it was once used by passenger services but was made redundant following the conversion of cable tramways to electricity, permitting through running along High Street.

Today the connection allows trams to access Preston Workshops and East Preston depot without travelling all the way back into the city.

The appendixes of the tram network

Also not shown on the network map are a number of dead end stub tracks.

The north end of William Street at Dudley Street is one, where route 58 trams diverge into Peel Street.

Z3.117 heads south on Peel Street with a route 55 service, as restaurant tram SW6.935 waits to leave the Dudley Street siding

Once upon a time passengers from the southern suburbs had two options to reach the city – trams via St Kilda Road and Swanston Street, or Kings Way and William Street. The latter services terminated at Dudley Street until they were withdrawn in 1986, with the sidings seeing little use since.

Spencer Street north of La Trobe Street has a single track stub.

E2.6061 in the Spencer Street siding with an empty Grand Prix special

Used as the route 75 terminus until it was relocated to Docklands, today the stub is used to turnback lunchtime extra for Bourke Street, and Grand Prix specials.

Route 12 also has a seldom used track stub – running along Mills Street towards Albert Park Beach.

Little used siding at Mills Street heads straight towards the beach at Middle Park

It’s claim to fame – it has never been used by timetabled trams.

Sidings for special events

Trams carry passengers to many big events across Melbourne, so a number of sidings exist across the network to park extra trams ready for special event crowds to head home.

Footy fans headed home from the MCG are served by the dead end Simpson Street sidings at the end of Wellington Parade.

Simpson Street tram siding at the end of Wellington Parade

While tennis fans have served by the Melbourne Park tram siding on route 70 to the south.

C.3023 stabled in the Melbourne Park tram siding

Docklands Stadium is served by trams from the Footscray Road siding, located north of Dudley Street.

E.6007 and C2.5113 stabled in the Footscray Road siding, between running route 96 services on the north side of the city

Trams to Flemington Racecourse and the Showgrounds use the Showgrounds Loop on Union Road in Ascot Vale.

D2.5016 leads a row of stabled trams in Showgrounds Loop for Stakes Day at Flemington

The South Melbourne Football Club might have left Lakeside Oval, but South Melbourne Loop on route 12 is still there.

Photostop at South Melbourne loop on route 12

And raceday crowds at Caulfield Racecourse are also down, but the tram siding in the middle of Dandenong Road remains.

B2.2085 on route 3a heads along the middle of Dandenong Road at Caulfield

Tram termini and layovers

Trams can’t instantly change direction – the tram driver needs to lock up before walking down to the other cab. For this reason tram termini often have sidings to free up the ‘though’ tracks for passing trams.

Melbourne University has three dead end sidings facing south for terminating trams.

D1.3513 passes Z1.9 and D1. 3529 at the Melbourne University terminus

Route 12 in Richmond has a turnback outside the Victoria Gardens shopping centre.

A1.243 in the route 12 turnback siding in Richmond

Route 30 has a dead end siding just past the St Vincent’s Plaza tram stop.

E2.6071 on route 30 enters the siding at St Vincent's Plaza

And route 82 has a turnback siding at Moonee Ponds Junction.

Z3.205 in the route 82 turnback siding at Moonee Ponds Junction

The route 96 terminus at East Brunswick is a dead end, but has two sidings beyond the tram stop for trams to lay over.

E.6023 ready to depart the layover track at the East Brunswick terminus

As does Waterfront City in Docklands.

A2.273 departs the Waterfront City terminus with a route 70 service

And finally, St Kilda Road at the Arts Centre has a short section of third track, allowing defective trams to be parked clear of other services.

Three track section of tramway on St Kilda Road at the Arts Centre

Tram depots

Melbourne’s fleet of trams is housed at eight depots around the city. Each depot has an array of tracks leading into the sheds and storage roads.

Z3.162 departs Malvern Depot

Brunswick Depot has a non-passenger carrying section of track connecting it to the rest of the network.

B2.2074 departs Brunswick Depot

As does Camberwell Depot.

A2.279 ready to run out of Camberwell Depot with a route 70 service to Wattle Park

Reconnecting dead ends

The tram network map suggests that when tram routes intersect, you need to get out and change trams to turn the corner. But if you take a look on the ground, you might see a set of connecting curves exist between the two intersecting tracks, allowing trams to weave their way across the network as they please.

Route 109 passes the northern end of route 78, 16 and 72 as it heads east to Box Hill, they aren’t necessarily a dead end for trams – curves link connects Church Street to Victoria Street.

A2.281 at the route 78 terminus on Church Street, Richmond

And Cotham Road to Glenferrie Road.

Double track into single track curve between Cotham and Glenferrie Roads

The route 12 terminus in St Kilda has a connection to route 96 along Fitzroy Street.

A2.286 awaiting departure time from the route 12 terminus at St Kilda

The route 58 terminus on Toorak Road has a connection to route 16 along Glenferrie Road.

New route 8 tram terminus on Toorak Road - a long walk from Glenferrie Road

And route 78 at Balaclava has a connection to route 67 along Nepean Highway.

Connecting curves

Where tram routes cross over is another places where trams can weave their way across the network as they please – thanks to curves that allow trams to change from one street to the other.

Looking east at the La Trobe and William Street intersection

The curves at Swanston Street and La Trobe Street, along with those at William Street and La Trobe Street, are a frequently used diversion route through the CBD for routes that normally use Swanston Street.

Route 59D tram on Swanston Street at La Trobe Street, bound for Docklands

Curves at Nicholson Street and Victoria Street provide Bourke Street routes an alternate path through the CBD.

B2.2109 on a diverted route 86 service turns from Nicholson into Victoria Street

And those at Kings Way and Sturt Street provide a detour around St Kilda Road.

Z3.147 on route 8 turns from Kings Way into Sturt Street

But other connections are seldom used, like those at Clarendon and Park Street in South Melbourne.

South to east curves at Clarendon and Park Street in South Melbourne

And Church and Swan Streets in Richmond.

South to west curves at the corner of Church and Swan Streets in Richmond

And the granddaddy of them all – the ‘grand union’ at Balaclava Junction that allows trams from any direction to take any other directions.

Grand union at Balaclava Junction

Route 3, 16, and 64 trams use the junction, but only the north / west leg of the junction is used by passenger services.

A stub that is gone

The Essendon Football Ground at ‘Windy Hill’ was once served by trams, thanks to a stub along Napier Street leading north from the route 59 tracks. Essendon’s relocation to the MCG saw the siding made redundant, but the siding was not removed until 2004.

A removed connection

Once upon a time there was a 1.5 kilometre long cross-town tramway along Holden Street in North Fitzroy, until it was dismantled in the 1970s.


Weston Langford photo

Constructed to link the isolated Fitzroy, Northcote & Preston Tramways Trust system to the rest of the electric network while avoiding the existing cable tramway network, this connection commenced on routes 1/6 at Lygon Street, crossing over route 96 at Nicholson Street, and headed west towards St George’s Road, where it snaked via Pilkington Street and Barkly Street to reach what is now route 11.

Conversion of the cable trams to electric rendered the connection redundant, but a shuttle service running along Holden Street continued until the 1950s.

A cross-town connection we almost got

In 2007 as part of the planning for the ‘New’ Preston Depot on St Georges Road, another cross-town tramway connection was proposed.

Track lead into the west end of Preston Workshops

The connection being described as.

Track Links is new track to give connection from the Preston Depot (workshops site) to routes 96 (Nicholson Street) and routes 1/8 (Lygon Street). There are four options.

  • Option A – Link down Arthurton and Blyth Streets from St. Georges Road to Lygon Street.
  • Option B is a combination of A and C, ie Arthurton/Blyth Streets from St.Georges Road to Nicholson Street, and Brunswick Road from Nicholson Street to Lygon Street.
  • Option C – Holden Street and Brunswick Road from St.Georges Road to Lygon Street.
  • Option D – Park Street (next to old Inner Circle train line) from St.Georges Road to Lygon Street.

However it was not to be – ‘New’ Preston Depot opened in April 2016, replacing East Preston, but only housing E class trams for route 11, 86 and 96.

And a connection that isn’t there

For some reason the route 72 terminus in Burke Road isn’t connected to the route 109 tracks along Whitehorse Road.

Z3.153 awaiting departure time from the route 72 terminus in Burke Road

The nearest connection to the rest of the network is 7.5 kilometres away – at Glenferrie Road and High Street in Malvern!

So what can you do with all these connections?

Back in the 1920s the ‘Shilling Tour’ tram took advantage of the little used curves, taking tourists around the eastern and south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne.

While in the 1990s another ‘mystery’ tour of Melbourne was launched – the route 99 “NightLink” tram running from Fitzroy to St Kilda, Chapel Street, and Richmond.

And finally, tram enthusiasts have organised their own private tours of the network, traversing the hidden cross-town connections, and stopping for photos at little used sidings.

Photoline at West Maribyrnong with Z3.145, Z2.101 and Z1.22

Back in 2012 I went on a tour of the western suburbs to commemorate the closure of the Footscray tramways, in 2016 a farewell tour for B1 class trams, and a 2017 tour that tried to visit as many places called ‘park’ as possible.

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