Skyrail is coming to Brunswick

27 Sep 2022

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Community, News

It’s official: Brunswick will get a skyrail like Coburg some time in the next five years. So what can we expect?

The state government’s recent announcement confirmed our suspicions that a Skyrail for the southern end of the Upfiled line would have to happen sooner or later. It is scheduled to be completed by 2027.

Recent experience with the raising of the Coburg skyrail tells us what to expect. Construction will be disruptive, noisy, and anything that gets in the way will not be spared. But the end result will be a strip of open space with separated pedestrian and bike paths, playgrounds, basketball hoops, dog parks and newly planted trees, in an area that sorely needs open space and greenery.

It’ll be great when it’s finished, but construction will be a noisy nightmare for many. In Coburg, months of nocturnal pile driving made houses shudder, even hundreds of metres from the line. Many people struggled to sleep and people nearby were unable to work from home.

And as a community we must maintain pressure on the state government to deliver a project that works for everyone that lives in our area, not just for cars that are driving through.

The Coburg project took just over a year, but the line was closed for three months, and the existing Upfield bike and pedestrian path was closed for over a year. Mature trees and smaller historic structures along the line were removed, but the old Coburg and Moreland Stations were preserved, with giant cubic structures above them housing the new stations.

The result in Coburg is a quieter line (no bells or train horns, smooth tracks) and less traffic disruption.

We don’t know when the newly announced work will start, but with a completion date of 2027 – and the existing queue of projects – it may not begin for a few years.

When the project is complete, bike commuters on the track will likely wait longer at pedestrian lights, and may face more dangers at road crossings without thoughtful upgrades, but should also have more space and be separated from pedestrians, so the current chaos around some of the stations will be reduced.

The ‘end to end’ protected commuter bike lane to the CBD is also contingent on Royal Parade upgrades that have been delayed after the government requested more information from the Melbourne City Council. An elevated veloway over some or all of this section of the Upfield line is one way of helping bike commuters get to their destination without being held up at the many intersections.

I will am pushing the government to ensure that the project benefits all types of transport, not just cars. The bike path will need to handle more bikes than other locations, and there should be a separated walking path.

I’m also urging them to increase the train frequency on the line as soon as they can, after the Metro Tunnel is complete. (Ideally this would involve duplicating the northern segment of the Upfield line from Gowrie to Upfield, otherwise people using Upfield will not benefit from any increase in frequency as the single track cannot take more than three trains per hour.)

During construction while the Upfield path is closed, the state government should trial a protected bike lane along Sydney Road, to serve as a detour. I have costed and promoted this idea, and it’s supported by Merri-bek Council and many Sydney Road users.

People living close to the line will also lose some of their view of the sky. This will be worse if the same big box style is used for the new stations, so I will also raise this with the government.

FAQ– based on what is publicly known and the recent experience in Coburg.

Will it be a ‘Skyrail’ or rail-under-road?

According to the Premier’s announcement the level crossing removal will be a skyrail, not an in-ground rail-under-road separation.

The benefits of the Skyrail are likely to be faster construction time, less project risk/cost, and the opening up of usable community space under the track.

(South of Park St, the train line descends into a trench, so it’s not clear whether the rail line will be elevated above Park St or whether other changes will be made.)

How long will it take?

The Premier announced that the project will be completed by 2027.

It is important to note this is a relatively unusual announcement in that the completion date is not for the next term of government, and construction may not even begin in the next term of government. So potentially a change of government or circumstance may change the schedule.

The Opposition has supported the project although potentially not the timeframe announced. The Greens support the project, but are advocating for construction to begin within the next three years, and for all other upgrades required for 10 minute train frequencies, like line duplication, to be undertaken as part of the project.

Based on the Coburg project, we expect the actual construction time may be around 12 to 18 months, but perhaps a little longer as the section of track is longer, potentially more difficult to access, and involves an extra station.

How disruptive will it be?

The actual closure of the line (buses replacing trains) for Coburg was around 3 months, so we expect closure to be at least this long.

The southern section of the Upfield shared path will be closed for much longer, perhaps around a year or more (see section on bike commuters below).

Expect the actual construction process itself to be extremely disturbing in terms of the construction noise it will cause. Those who work from home should be aware that they will likely need to find another work location during peak construction times, possibly for several months. Expect sleep disturbance if you live near the line.

Based on the Coburg level crossing removal project the Government’s attitude to noise and disruption to locals is “the sooner it is done, the sooner the disruption ends”. For some reason the loudest pile driving was reserved for the period after midnight.

I ride along the Upfield to get to work in the CBD, how will this affect me?

During the construction period, I expect that the entire southern part of the Upfield Path will be closed for at least a year, with an alternate detour route in place. Previous experience suggests the alternate routes are often poorly considered, sign-posted and potentially dangerous.

The congested nature of roads in the southern part of Brunswick likely means longer more circuitous detours unless Sydney Road is adopted. I wouldn’t be surprised if the proposed detour becomes something like Moreland Rd – Cassels Rd – Albion St – Frederick St – Percy St – Victoria St – Gardiner St – Fallon St – Union Rd – Trinity St – Wilson St – Mckay St – Brunswick Rd!

So regardless of the official detour we can expect many more bike riders will now be using Sydney Road/Royal Parade route, meaning the ongoing safety concerns and poor quality of Sydney Road must be addressed. I will be pushing for a trial for a protected bike lane at the southern end of Sydney Rd during this time.

As all those who ride along the Upfield Path to the CBD know, along the southern section it’s not a bike path but a shared path with pedestrians that is barely wide enough for a single commuter in places, with frequent bottlenecks at road crossings and conflict with pedestrians around the stations.

After the construction we would at least expect dedicated cycle lanes separated from pedestrians and train commuters.

However, more bottlenecks may occur than currently, if pedestrian crossing signals are installed at all east-west road intersections. If signals are not used I will be advocating for much improved traffic calming treatments, signage and safety measures at all road crossing points. And I will also be asking the question whether a raised veloway along the skyrail section is now viable.

What does ‘community consultation’ involve? Will it be genuine and how can I get involved?

Fair to say that regardless of what you think of the current government, genuine community consultation has never been a particularly strong suit. In fairness many of the key decisions will be based on engineering and cost considerations with limited space for consultation.

During the Coburg project most residents were concerned and campaigned about the nearby destruction of a significant park and established trees to create a staging ground for construction. The end result was that the government refused to consider alternatives and actually ended up removing more trees than was planned or approved.

Generally consultation involves the establishment of a community working group, and a number of walk in and/or online community feedback sessions. Creating a clear, realistic and specific set of local priorities gives us the best chance of having some local initiatives incorporated into the end result.

I have my own ideas, but most of all I look forward to hearing from you about how we can work together to achieve the best outcome for Brunswick. Send an email to [email protected] to arrange a meeting, site visit or Zoom to discuss.

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