News / Transport

Skyrail on ice, attention returns to Sydney Road

New rally for accessible tram stops will be held next month

Merri-bek Mayor Adam Pulford pointing into the distance while in discussion with disability advocate Christian Astourian in Sydney Road last week.
Merri-bek Mayor Adam Pulford with disability advocate Christian Astourian in Sydney Road last week. 

Mark Phillips

THE delay of the Upfield skyrail project to next decade has given new impetus to a campaign to fix Brunswick’s biggest transport headache: Sydney Road. 

Disability advocates want the state government to use the extra three year delay to finally move on installing accessible tram stops along the thoroughfare, while bike and pedestrian groups also want changes to make the road safer and more user friendly. 

Sydney Road is notorious for its lack of accessible tram stops, with just two in a 5.5km stretch between Brunswick Road and the end of the 19 tram route in North Coburg. 

Meanwhile, a campaign to reconfigure the road to introduce separated lanes and other bike-friendly infrastructure has stalled due to strong push back from traders along Sydney Road who are concerned it would reduce the amount of on-street car parking. 

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A delay of at least three years to the $1 billion-plus level crossing removal and skyrail project along the Upfield line was confirmed in last week’s state Budget. 

The Upfield project, which will remove eight level crossings between Park Street and Moreland Road, is now not scheduled for completion until 2030. 

It is one of dozens of infrastructure projects which have been postponed due to pressure on the state’s finances. 

Merri-bek Council has been told that work on the Brunswick level crossing removals will not start until 2028. 

Mayor Adam Pulford said the council has been concerned that when the works do begin, this will force the closure of Upfield train service and shared path.  

“Unless the Victorian Government acts now, before the removals, members of our community who use mobility aids or who have prams and depend on the Upfield line to get around risk being left stranded, because the existing Sydney Road tram stops are not accessible,” Pulford said. 

“People who ride along the Upfield shared path will also be pushed out onto Sydney Road, putting them in dangerously close contact with traffic. The Victorian Government needs to build protected bike lanes on Sydney Road to keep people riding safe.”  

The council has seized on advice from the Level Crossing Removal Project authority that the revised project timeline also allows further engagement with the Department of Transport and Planning about Sydney Road, “providing opportunities to align works required to support project delivery with long-term improvements to accessibility and safety on the transport network”. 

Pulford said the council interpreted this advice as meaning Sydney Road improvements could go ahead before the work began on the level crossing removals. 

“It’s encouraging because it’s an acknowledgement that the future of Sydney Road and the level crossing removal project are inherently tied together … but we have to keep the pressure on,” he said. 

“This is an opportunity to see changes to Sydney Road which have stalled since 2019 and we want to make sure it is on the government’s agenda and we will continue to make the case in meetings with Ministers and local MPs, and also by supporting community campaigns. 

“If the door is partly open, we want to push it fully open.” 

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Pressure grows for accessible tram stops in Sydney Road

The next step in the campaign for accessible tram stops will be a community rally on June 22, which is the first anniversary of a protest march down Sydney Road last year

One of the organisers is Brunswick resident and disability advocate Christian Astourian who lives with cerebral palsy and uses a motorised scooter to get around. 

Astourian relies on the Upfield line and despite living a block from Sydney Road cannot use trams because of the lack of accessible tram stops. 

“The Victorian Government needs to look at accessible tram stops in Sydney Road as a priority matter and invest as part of healthy communities having the same opportunities for travel and mobility as everyone else in society,” he said. 

“Whatever you do to improve accessibility will benefit everyone in the community.” 

Astourian said he wanted to see firm commitments and timelines about accessible tram stops. 

Faith Hunter from the Merri-bek Bicycle User Group said the postponement of the skyrail project had bought the state government extra time to address issues of accessibility and cyclist and pedestrian safety. 

“The Brunswick skyrail project really brought into sharp relief just how much of the heavy lifting Sydney Road will be required to do during the project and just how inadequately prepared it is to do so,” she said. 

“Thousands of locals ride on the Upfield [path] every day and many disabled residents are wholly reliant on trains for public transport.” 

Have your say: how can Sydney Road be improved?

Tell us what you think should be done to make Sydney Road better for all users

A report from a Victorian Parliament inquiry into the impact of road safety behaviours on vulnerable road users which was tabled earlier this month has also recommended  prioritising the delivery of accessible tram stops, installing protected bike lanes, and  adding cycling infrastructure when upgrading existing major roads. 

The committee of inquiry found that while they did not provide full protection to passengers when getting on and off trams, accessible tram stops with raised platforms for wheelchairs, can act as a traffic calming measure. 

A 2016 study of the impact of raised platforms at Melbourne tram stops on pedestrian safety found an 81% reduction in crashes involving pedestrians. 

Despite being required to make its tram network fully accessible by the end of 2022, the inquiry also found that last year just 28% of Melbourne’s tram stops were accessible and it would take until 2066 to make all tram stops accessible. 

While the Department of Transport and Planning told the inquiry it has delivered 83 accessible tram stops and had a further 24 in the pipeline, there was no timeline for when they will be in place. 

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