Rail crossing removals
Surrey Hills Progress Association
After years of frustration, people in Surrey Hills and Mont Albert, as well as people who drive through those areas, were pleased when the State Government announced that the Union Road and the Mont Albert Road railway crossings were to be removed as part of the State Government’s extensive program to improve rail and traffic flows, and safety.
There was some excitement with the speed that the signs went up after the announcement, but it is likely to be some years before the work is done, perhaps as late as 2025. In the meantime, many people in the community are thinking about how this project can be much more positive than just a deep ugly trench that is an even bigger barrier than the existing railway lines.
Preliminary assessments by the State Government’s Level Crossing Removal Project (LXRP) team have already determined that the rail will be lowered under the roads at both locations, and that two new stations will be built. Some of the early crossing removal projects were rather crude, but the LXRP team has now produced awardwinning urban design guidelines, so we can expect a very good integration of the engineering aspects of the project with the community environment, in contrast to the destructive 1970s proposals for an overpass that would have destroyed he centre of Surrey Hills.
Since then, many ideas have been discussed. Melbourne University students prepared concept plans that included sensitively design terrace housing in the northern car park at Surrey Hills Station. This was seen as a positive way of still having parking below, but also an attractive residential addition to the area, as long as it was not high-rise apartment buildings. Before the 2019 Federal election, local member Josh Frydenberg committed $1m Federal money for car park redevelopment at Surrey Hills, and community consultation has been promised by the State Government, but neither has yet eventuated.
Rather than using COVID-19 as an excuse, this could be a speedy and high-quality recovery project supported by the local community. The southside car park at Surrey Hills could provide much needed open space and become an extension of the Lorne Parade Park. The overall project offers an opportunity to overcome the historic divisive effect of the railway. As well as freeing up the Union Road and Mont Albert Road linkage for vehicles and pedestrians, it is important that the north/south linkage also be provided for. Extra costs are likely to be minimal. They could include improving the Robinson Road underpass for low vehicles and pedestrians, and well-designed pedestrian and cycle linkages across the new railway cutting. The plans to provide a linear cycling and pedestrian shared trail from Box Hill to Hawthorn also need to be accommodated. Landscaping along the whole length of the trench should be high quality, as expected from the LXRP’s own urban design guidelines. Retaining the heritage character of Mont Albert Station is more challenging, but careful urban design could integrate the existing building as a station entrance, linked with the Hamilton Street Village shopping precinct.
Surrey Hills Progress Association is discussing principles and guidelines they intend to take to the community at a public meeting, if possible, or through a Zoom webinar as well as have discussion with local councils and State MPs. Progress on this initiative will be reported in Eastsider News when it becomes available.
Surrey Hills Progress Association https://www.surreyhillsprogress.org.au/
First published in the September 2020 edition of Eastsider News