Melbourne is currently doing a lot of work on their rail network in preparation for the future Melbourne Metro, so when it opens they can maximise its potential. In fact, it goes further than future proofing with much of the works being done now so the transformative effect of the Melbourne Metro can be unlocked from day one. This includes:
- Longer Platforms for New High Capacity Metro Trains;
- Removing Level Crossings so more trains can run safer without any localised congestion effects;
- High Capacity Signalling allowing more of these High Capacity Metro trains to be run per hour;
So what lessons should the CRL learn from Melbourne?
Across the electrified network in Auckland there are currently 45 level crossings, 31 are road/pedestrian crossings while a further 14 a pedestrian only crossings. The majority of level crossings are on the Western line with the rest are primarily along the short Onehunga Line with another cluster around Takanini.
These level crossings result in
- Safety risk where many incidents happen across the network yearly affecting drivers and families forever.
- Service delays due to incidents affecting users of the network.
- Slower average speeds on the network for safety reasons due to them.
- Capacity constraints to the rail network post-CRL.
- Congestion to local traffic which have to wait for trains to clear before they can move.
As the number of trains on our rail network will increase post-CRL from 20 to 36 and eventually 48 trains an hour, the problems above will become ever more apparent. We will see some change, the Sarawia St level crossing is finally being removed at the end of this year, while the Normanby Rd and Porters Ave are being removed as part of the CRL. More should also be removed with ATAP including 585.3m in the indicative budget for the level crossings in Auckland between 2018 – 2038.
We were able to obtain information about what AT/KR potentially plan for level crossings which was written about by Matt here. But no concrete announcements have been made to date, except that the southern level crossings may be dealt with as part of Transport for Future Urban Growth.
In contrast over in Melbourne, they have recognised the key importance that removing level crossings has on both the rail/road network and in May 2015 set up the Level Crossing Removal Authority. The website is also really good so do recommend taking a look.
The Authority is charged with removing 50 level crossings throughout Melbourne with 20 crossings removed by 2018 and the remaining 30 expected to be completed by 2022. The upgrades go beyond simply upgrading/closing/grade separating level crossings and at the same time they are upgrading stations making them more accessible, including better interchanges with bus/tram services as well as active modes, adding new stations, extending lines & increasing capacity through preparing for better signalling/more tracks/longer platforms for higher capacity trains.
One of the interesting parts is the Authorities preference for Rail-Over solutions where possible which they can explain in this fact sheet here, but can be summarised as;
- Takes less time due to no disruption to utilities, reduces the number of trucks needed and works with the water tables in certain areas;
- With modern building techniques, the rail-over solutions they can say can be delivered with minimal effect to services and the road network as well as retail;
- Preserves trees and creates more open space;
- Provides more space for Tram/Bus interchanges;
- They say with modern design in this report here the elevated structures can be designed to have less of an amenity impact as well as significantly reduce noise compared to older elevated rail systems.
The full academic report from RMIT University/The University of Melbourne which goes into the history of Melbourne Level Crossing Removals and why they believe in general Rail-Over is the best option which I recommend as an informative read can be found here. This, of course, is of interest to Auckland because the Aurecon report for level crossings in Auckland didn’t consider Rail-Over options only Road-Over, Rail-Under or a Hybrid of the two.
High Capacity Signalling and Trains
These upgrades all link well with the major Melbourne Metro project. The removal of the level crossings on the Cranbourne and Pakenham lines, the new stations along with old stations upgraded to allow longer High Capacity Metro Trains while working in partnership in delivering High Capacity Signalling (Increasing capacity of these High Capacity Trains from 20 trains per hour per direction to 30) will help tap truly into the full potential of the transformational Melbourne Metro project.
This type of integrated network thinking is needed for our own transformational City Rail Link with Matt writing about making sure we take full advantage of the CRL while building it recently here, here and here (Please give these a read if you have not had a chance). We need to be thinking like Melbourne is if we want to maximise our City Rail Link not limiting ourselves to models we know constantly under predict PT usage.
It would also be interesting to see if any new reports have been done around Auckland level crossings.
So the clear lessons from Melbourne are:
- The importance of future proofing and building an integrated network to maximise the transformative investment that is the CRL;
- Future proof the CRL for longer trains so in the future we can have our own “High Capacity Trains” project;
- Ensuring we have enough trains ready when the CRL opens we don’t want to be “caught short” as AT put it in the recent IPEMU debate;
- Consider addressing level crossings sooner rather than later. It makes sense to do as many as possible pre-CRL while there are fewer services to impact and patronage is lower. Perhaps even doing it at the same time as the disruption at Mt Eden for the CRL.
- More work around implementing improved signalling in the CRL so it is easier to implement higher frequencies sooner.
- At least consider the option of Rail-Over for level crossing removal in Auckland even if it turns out not the right solution for us in the end, there is no harm in considering.