Image source: Tom Loudon @ Flickr
By Amruta Purohit and Kathryn Cuddihy
Transport projects shape the future urban form of cities. The Victorian Government recently allocated $2.4 billion in the 2015-16 Budget to remove 50 of the most dangerous level crossings from the Melbourne network. While the primary aim of any transport project should be the focus on creating benefits for all community members, does this current series of projects go far enough?
Trains are used as a main form of transportation in many areas of the world. This form of public transportation allows accessibility to a wider range of community members, however, often the railway corridor itself can be a barrier to the wider area. The level crossing removal projects across Melbourne are designed to reduce road congestion and increase pedestrian safety, or in other words ‘get Melbourne moving’ but there hasn’t been enough thought given to connecting the wider community.
According to the VicRoads ‘Strategic Framework for the Prioritisation of Metropolitan Level Crossings’ Report, level crossings were assessed according to a set of criteria based on the strategic importance of roads and with an aim to maximise the efficiency of the road network. The criteria that contributed to the prioritisation of level crossing removals are: Strategic fit (60%); Economic and Environmental (25%); and Safety (15%). Based on this, local roads with tram and bus priority have been given preference over other roads.
The main benefit of level crossing removal is a reduction in network congestion. But who benefits most? The VicRoads report states that the projects will be more beneficial for road users (including cars, buses and trams) due to the fact they will no longer have to stop for trains. Further, there is increased safety for pedestrians and reduced travel time for trains due to the increase in travel speed. However, on closer inspection while there are multiple benefits, overall these projects are not creating permeable neighbourhoods and as a result aren’t benefitting the overall community as well as they could be.
Level crossings can be removed one of four ways – rail under, rail over, road under or road over. Each of these options provides a solution to free up network congestion. What it doesn’t do (due to the limited clearance distances) is connect or integrate the area surrounding the rail line. Skyrail has the opportunity to provide a permeable neighbourhood on the condition that the entire line is elevated. However, the current Skyrail model proposed between Caulfield and Dandenong only provides three sections of elevated rail line. This design doesn’t provide a continuous corridor in which usable open space and shared paths can run safely under or along the length of the corridor.
Worldwide transportation networks
Melbourne’s network is spread over an area of 372 kilometres and is served by 207 stations. During the 2013-14 financial year, over 232 million (.23 billion) passengers used the Melbourne rail network. In comparison, the New York Subway carries almost seven times the number of passengers at 1.75 billion with the system spreads over a similar area (375 kilometres) and is serviced by 469 stations. The system was opened in 1904 when the city’s population was almost 3.5 million (half a million less people than Melbourne’s current population). Similarly, the London Tube System – the oldest underground transit system in the world – met the needs of just over 3 million people when it first opened in in 1863. In 2014-2015 the tube carried 1.35 billion passengers, almost six times the Melbourne passengers’ number than the Melbourne system. It is only 30 kilometres longer than Melbourne’s system at 402 kilometres and is served by 270 stations.
Although extreme in comparison, Melbourne’s existing train infrastructure is considerable in area and while there are other factors - overall population, population density, number of stations, catchment area, cost that contribute in the public transport usage and the overall success of the system - Melbourne has the beginnings of a world-class system, however, there needs to be more research and investment to allow it to reach its full potential.
Getting it right
While the government is taking a step in the right direction and there is a lot of investment in the public transport system in the next few decades, it doesn’t go far enough in terms of meeting the needs of existing and future users and delivering a world-class transport system. Delivery of a world-class transportation system requires much more than the removal of some of the level crossings across Melbourne.
To maxmise the environmental, economic and social benefits of the city and the whole community the system needs to be looked at as a whole and not purely focused on how it benefits car users. Perhaps entire lines could be elevated or sunk so that the area surrounding or below can be used to ensure the whole community benefits – look to Sydney as an example of the benefits of elevated rail lines or the benefits of an underground rail network.
While these recommendations sounds very bold and expensive, it should be something that the government explores, is the money currently being spent in the best way that will deliver a system that is to meet the needs of the next generations or is there potential to look outside the box and deliver a world-class system that benefits the wider community.
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