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By August 6, 2022August 7th, 2022No Comments

Level Crossing Removal Project update – tree removals in Churchill Street, Mont Albert

 

In the February 2022 edition of Eastsider News, the president of CROWAG (Combined Residents of Whitehorse Action Group) Ross Gillespie wrote about the removal of trees in Churchill St, Mont Albert by the Level Crossing Removal Project (LXRP). The Member for Box Hill, Paul Hamer MP was subsequently approached for his response to the issues raised in this article.

Mr Hamer’s response is given below. He began by pointing out that the scope of works for the project is not just the trench, but also the associated utilities infrastructure that need to be provided to operate the rail line post construction.

While the actual trench starts and ends in the vicinity of Churchill Street and Salisbury Avenue, it is these associated infrastructure requirements that necessitates construction works beyond the immediate trench environs. This is why a project boundary map was developed for the project, and comment sought over a two month period between December 2020 and end of February 2021. The draft project boundary included Canterbury Sports ground and most of Surrey Park – for construction staging – though much of this area was able to be removed from the project boundary when the final plan was signed off by the Minister Planning. The project boundary can be downloaded here: https://engage.vic.gov.au/download/document/15535

In Churchill Street, the main impact to trees is from trenching to install new high-voltage power, signalling and other cables underground. The trenching will cut through the root zones of some trees, and those that cannot survive the impact to their roots need to be removed. In some sections, LXRP are able to bore the path for the cables and this has saved around 20 trees. I did ask whether the cables could be laid on a different alignment to avoid the impact on vegetation; however, I understand that there are existing services running on both sides of the track meaning there is insufficient clearance for the new services to be laid. I also requested that the cables be bored along the entire length of Churchill Street; however, I understand th

at the boring of cables is only possible where no service pit infrastructure is required, and no connections to on-track signalling and power equipment are required.

A hi-rail pad is also being constructed on Churchill Street so that track maintenance vehicles can access the track. Currently, maintenance vehicles can access the track at the level crossing, but with the removal of these level crossings meaning that the line is level crossing free (except for a pedestrian crossing in Box Hill) from the City to Ringwood, a hi-rail pad is the only possible way that track maintenance vehicles will be able to access the track. On behalf of residents, I advocated for this pad to be located at a number of different locations along the rail line; however, none of the alternatives were considered to meet the infrastructure and operational requirements.

Mr Hamer said he has been consistently raising the concerns about the removal of trees with both the Minister and the LXRP. In some areas, this has in fact avoided further tree removal; e.g. in parts of Churchill Street – through the use of small boring machines to lay signalling cables (as mentioned above). Following further work and requests, in Lorne Parade Reserve, the LXRP has also identified that it will now be able to permanently retain most of the trees along the Windsor Crescent perimeter of Lorne Parade Reserve; the LXRP has also now indicated that it will return the palm tree that currently sits in the Surrey Hills Station Car Park (it needs to be removed for the construction works), and will also retain the large pine tree in Beatty Street Reserve.

Mr Hamer indicated that he knows that some in the community would have liked to see no tree removal outside of the trench walls, but this was never possible under any level crossing removal solution. The project has saved trees by modifying designs and using alternative construction methods wherever possible. The decision to build one station with two entrances has also reduced the number of trees that would need to have been removed.

Thank you to CROWAG for providing Mr Hamer’s responses to questions put to him by the group.  For further comment, please contact:

Paul Hamer MP, Member for Box Hill

24 Rutland Road, Box Hill 3128

(03 9898 6606

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