News / Transport / Politics

Skyrail debate heats up as election day approaches

Councillor warns community must be consulted on every step of level crossing removal project 

Mark Phillips
Monday, November 7, 2022

THE plans haven’t even been drawn up yet, but already a community campaign is underway to ensure Brunswick’s multi-billion skyrail is the best possible. 

The campaign will kick off with a public meeting this Sunday which has been organised by Merri-bek South Ward Councillor James Conlan. 

The meeting at the Brunswick Town Hall comes just ahead of pre-poll voting opening for the Victorian state election on Monday, and Cr Conlan, who is a member of the Australian Greens, said it was “absolutely” aimed at putting pressure on candidates for the seat of Brunswick. 

Meanwhile, the Labor candidate for Brunswick, Mike Willliams – who was by Premier Daniel Andrews’ side when he announced the project on September 19 – has already begun meeting with concerned residents, including people living in apartments that will be just metres from the skyrail when it is completed. He has invited anyone with concerns to a forum at his campaign office on Wednesday night.

Cr Conlan, who was involved in a community campaign during the construction of the Moreland Road to Bell Street level crossing removal project, said he wanted to ensure there was full consultation during the Brunswick project. 

James Conlan standing in front of the skyrail

Merri-bek Councillor James Conlan at the site of the Gandolfo Gardens near Moreland Station, where heated protests were held against the skyrail project in 2019 and 2020.

“I’m just trying to get locals together to see what the concerns are for Brunswick and make sure we get active and organised because what we’ve seen is skyrails where communities are not loud and organised, they end up with the cheapest and worst options,” Cr Conlan said.

“The community has the best solutions because they know the area best.” 

The massive skyrail will be built to accommodate Upfield line trains when eight level crossings are removed on major east-west roads in Parkville and Brunswick, including Brunswick Road, Dawson Street and Albion Street, resulting in a new elevated railway line about 2km long. 

New overhead railway stations will be built to replace the ones at Jewell, Brunswick and Anstey, with a continuous overhead railway line all the way from Royal Park to Coburg Station on Bell Street, a distance of about 4.2km. It will also see a new dedicated pedestrian and bike path extend the same distance, and result in the equivalent of four MCGs of new open space. 

Site investigations to inform future concept designs began on the Upfield rail corridor on Monday. 

The investigations between Flemington Bridge and Moreland stations will include drilling and excavation works and are scheduled to continue six days a week until early next year. 

Cr Conlan said the Moreland to Coburg project had been plagued by a lack of genuine community consultation and he wanted to avoid that in the Brunswick project. 

In 2019, campaigners fought to prevent the removal of more than 100 trees from Gandolfo Gardens next to Moreland Station. Protesters blockaded the site for four days in early 2020 before the trees were eventually cut down. 

Cr Conlan said the Level Crossing Removal Project conducted token consultation during that project, and ignored low-cost alternatives suggested by the community including relocating the station to the south of Moreland Road, which would have preserved most of the gardens. 

He said he wanted to ensure the Brunswick skyrail did not become a “concrete jungle”. 

Labor candidate Mike Williams, pictured at the Dawson Street crossing, has already met with people concerned about the impact the project will have on their lives.

Sunday’s meeting will be an open forum for people to discuss any concerns they had including retention of vegetation, preservation of heritage, minimising disruption for residents living near the railway line during construction, and ensuring the cycling and pedestrian paths which will be under the skyrail actually improved active transport options. 

“My view of skyrail is it’s a car project unless other stuff is actually done,” he said. “We need to make sure this is not just a car project and they’re just lifting the rail line to make car movement quicker and easier. If we get separated bike and pedestrian paths, that’s good but unless there’s some way to make sure the crossings are improved then what’s the point?” 

Mr Williams agrees that there is much work to be done to ensure that Brunswick gets the best outcomes from the removal of level crossings and elevated rail. 

“I have had hundreds of conversations with locals about what they want to see out of this massive project,” he said.   

“The community consultation process will be so important. If I am elected on 26 November, I will lead the community consultation process as the local Labor MP. I will use my skills to bring people together, for empathy and integrity to get the best outcomes for my community. And I will ask people to hold me accountable for the commitments I make.  

“This model of the local Labor MP running the community consultation and using their influence inside government has worked well in other areas, including on the Caulfield to Dandenong level crossing removal project.” 

Incumbent MP Tim Read said the government had a responsibility to consult with the entire community regardless of which party the area’s member of Parliament came from.

He said the final outcome of the Moreland-Coburg skyrail had fallen short in some regards, partly because the community had been too ambitious in the changes it had sought such as a trench rather than a skyrail.

Dr Read said that in his discussions with voters, three main issues had been raised: ensuring bike movements flowed unimpeded under the skyrail, retaining as much existing vegetation as possible, and minimising the size of the overhead stations so they were not overly-visually intrusive.

He said as MP, he would ask the Level Crossing Removal Authority to consider reducing the number of railway stations in Brunswick from three to two — potentially eliminating Brunswick Station — which could result in a significant cost saving as well.

“I think our best chance is if we identify a small number of changes and make sure we’re very consistent about what we’re asking for, and we get it in early,” he said.

“We may have a slightly better chance then because we’re not calling for things that are unrealistic such as putting it in a trench, [instead] we’re calling for things that will not have too much bearing on the final project: bikes, vegetation and less bulky stations.”

Duplication needed to improve services

Cr Conlan said the Brunswick level crossing removal project should also include full duplication of the Upfield north of Gowrie Station which would increase the number of trains that can run on the line. 

“They’re going to have to shut the whole line for months on end [during construction], so it’s madness that they’re not considering that [duplication] as part of the works. When else will they do it if not now?” 

But Mr Williams said train capacity will be boosted on the Upfield line by 70% once the level crossings are removed in addition to the opening of the Metro tunnel in 2025. 

“Construction of the Metro Tunnel means that the three busiest train lines which currently use the City Loop (Cranbourne, Packenham, and Sunbury Lines) will run through the Metro Tunnel, freeing up the Loop for other lines such as Upfield,” he said.   

“Unlocking capacity at the city end of the Upfield Line will have the biggest impact on the line.  

 “This project also allows us to improve transport options which run east to west, including extra bus services, as more government investment flows into our rapidly growing area.” 

Read more:

New skyrail in Brunswick by 2027