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Brunswick - even better with a linear park

The yellow delineated area in the image above shows part of the Upfield rail corridor running parallel to Sydney Road from Park Street to Moreland Road.

It is mostly badly maintained, shabby and untidy but retrievable. The heavily used bike track is unsafe in some parts and needs widening. Your council has plans to improve the track, but do they aim high enough?

If you are not familiar with the area take a look at some of the highlights.

Suburban rail corridors need no longer be the scars across the city that seem to be accepted as normal. They are strips of public land controlled by rail authorities with a primary and perhaps sole aim to operate train services. A large part of the reserved land is virtually derelict and consumes rail resources for weed and rubbish removal.

In 1998 a study "Upfield railway line habitat landscape concept" was prepared by Collie Landscape and Design with Iain Shears Horticulture, for Bayside Trains, Hume City Council, Melbourne City Council and Moreland City Council. It was well presented, won an award for "Environmental and Ecological Masterplanning" and was accepted by the Councils and Rail authorities of the time.

It aimed to convert the rail corridor from Royal Park to Upfield into a more community friendly area with an upgraded bike path and extensive re-vegetation. This could have been the Upfield Linear Park.

"Friends of the Upfield Linear Park" (FULP) is a small group aiming to convince today's authorities, VicTrack, Metro Trains and the Moreland City Council that now is the time to reawaken that 1998 idea.

In a nutshell we want VicTrack to release all non-essential parts of the rail corridor from Park Street, Brunswick through to the Ring Road, and for Moreland City Council to create a linear park with a first class bike track, better pedestrian access to stations and new and regenerated vegetation.

That's all very nice, you may say, but there is the impact of future level crossing elimination plans on our park and we now know that the High Speed Rail link from Melbourne to Sydney is to pass down the Upfield rail corridor. It sounds like goodbye to any idea of a park.

Not so!

The construction of the Canberra to Melbourne link is planned to start in 2032 even if there are no delays, and at worst that gives us time to create and enjoy a park for the best part of a couple of decades.

Most importantly the rail proposal goes underground just on the city-side of the Ring Road and stays in a tunnel until it emerges in North Melbourne. There are only a small number of construction and access sites during this stretch and they are outside the existing rail corridor. One has to wonder why this underground part of the rail alignment needs to follow the Upfield corridor. Blue sky speculation would suggest the tunnel would be shorter if it followed a more direct route to North Melbourne.

And turn concern for a level crossing threat into a grand plan an imaginative government would adopt, and an important proposal for today.

The very best plan - but one to put aside for a while.

In the 2008 study "Re-imaging Brunswick", a part of the former "Melbourne 2030" plan; there was a very ambitious proposal for Jewel Station to become the underground end of a rail line connecting to the city loop through Carlton. It also required the resumption of private land between the station and Sydney Road to achieve the objective of opening up east-west business activity from the station and reducing the Sydney Road centric nature of that part of Brunswick.

Although the high target that study set was not realised, a similarly high target is achievable.

The largest piece of exploitable real estate in Brunswick is the rail corridor from Park Street to Moreland Station currently occupied by the rail track and stations, a few leased areas and many weeds. There are nine level crossings, three controlled pedestrian crossings and a footbridge in this two kilometre stretch.

Sink and cover the rail line from Park Street to Moreland Station independently of any underground connection issues, and immediately these traffic barriers are gone and hectares of land are available for development. Low cost cut and cover methods and the topography of this section of the rail corridor make such an idea sensible.

Vic Track say they need to operate as a business and generate their funds from appropriate use of their facilities. The funding for a project like sinking the rail line and stations is a different matter and is similar to the funding for the current level crossing elimination activities. A quote from the present government says that a "key commitment to Victorian families was a $379 million blitz on metropolitan rail crossings". Eliminating nine crossings in one hit must be a winner.

VicTrack and our community will benefit from the residential and commercial accommodation and carparking that can be built above the sunken stations, (note Box Hill). And there will be room for an enlarged RMIT campus between Union and Dawson streets and for a large medical campus incorporating the John Fawkner Hospital and ancilliaries in front of the tram depot near Moreland Road. The rest of the strip can be parkland, cycle and pedestrian tracks.

It will follow that adjoining property owners in Brunswick will become part of this positive change of character developing frontages to the new zone and reducing the Sydney Road centrism.

VicTrack's current Jewell Station proposal allowing the uncoordinated development of key parts of Vic Track land should be suspended while the idea of sinking the train line is assimilated and our proposition below, for the immediate future adopted.

A 2013 proposition: Reawaken the 1998 plan

No implementation followed although the 1998 plan although it is referenced in Moreland Council planning documents of 2006. There is a strong community movement for re-vegetation that has lead to the formation of the Friends of the Upfield Linear Park (FULP), and a stronger movement already supported b y Moreland Council for improved bike facilities.

The Linear park approach has benefits for all stakeholders, rail, council, commuters, cyclists, pedestrians and the neighbouring residences and businesses.

This is consistent with Moreland City strategies but aims higher.

An approach

It seems that the usual arrangement between VicTrack and users of rail land is that an area is described and the conditions of occupancy or use by the other party agreed.

The proposal to convert the Upfield rail corridor into a linear park must move into new territory if it is to have the best result for the parties who will be involved in an eventual agreement. At this stage VicTrack, Moreland City Council, Metro Trains and FULP (Friends of the Upfield Linear Park) can be regarded as participants.

Our proposal is influenced by the 1998 Upfield Railway Line Habitat Landscape Concept with its target of the corridor from Royal Park to Upfield and by the Moreland City Bicycle Strategy 2011-2021.

For conceptual convenience consider the 2 kilometre strip from Park St to Moreland Road. It has four stations, nine level crossings each with two pedestrian crossings, 3 separate controlled pedestrian crossings and a footbridge, and may well be the section of rail corridor that has had the most adverse impact on its adjoining community. It is where bike and pedestrian tracks have most impediments and where solutions found will carry through to the rest of the park.

A. The corridor between stations

For most community activities VicTrack requires a 3 metre distance from the actual rails. With this particular strip, where the rail easement is bounded by buildings and private fences, that rule leaves insufficient space for sensible development of paths and vegetation along the lines of the 1998 Study and certainly prevents the improvement of the bike track to a 3 metre width.

In our view a key requirement for a successful project is to install a quality fence 1.5 metres from the track, but allowing for deviations for construction reasons. This maximizes the space available for the park and provides a clear division and safety barrier between the rail operational areas and the public linear park. It clearly goes against the traditional "3 metres minimum".

The arguments used in the past for 3 metres have been:

  • Space needed for sleeper replacement and weed eradication.

    Response: The plantation part of the proposition will cover weed eradication. The answer to the sleeper replacement issue is that it is a very infrequent event and can be accommodated by a fence with easily removed panels. This was specifically accepted in the 1998 study and is a feature of weldmesh style fencing.

  • Maintenance of sightlines for signals.

    Response: Easily accommodated in a park development agreement.

  • Risk of tree branches falling on the lines.

    Response: Again accommodated in the development agreement.

There are many pieces of rail equipment located in the area proposed for the park, but these are already publically accessible, a situation illustrated by the local graffiti, A cared for park will improve security.

Most of the equipment is durable and static and simply requires protection from planting efforts.

The case for the 1.5M fence is strong.

  • It minimises weed eradication and untidiness on the track side of the fence.

  • It prevents public access to the dangerous part of the rail route particularly for children.

  • Provides a much neater route by framing the actual railroad in a clean, neatly fenced band.

  • The larger area outside the fence allows more options and will be developed and maintained to a defined standard.

B. Stations and immediate precincts.

Moreland City Council Structure plans that cover station precincts are mostly aimed at ensuring that the future development of surrounding buildings takes into account the need to access the stations with coherent access corridors, car parks and walkways. The linear park provides an appropriate move into this future.

Planning for the station precincts is a technically difficult design issue because we have the unavoidable mixing of cyclist through-traffic with commuter and other pedestrian traffic and car parks in constrained areas.

Proper design of these precincts is important for the linear park and requires special consideration.

C. Car and Pedestrian Crossings

The following points should be considered:

  • The installation of the 1.5M fence - if properly integrated - can simplify all of the pedestrian crossings, make them safer, minimize rubbish accumulation and make removal easier.

  • Should the old wooden gates remain for historical value, (perhaps 1 or 2) or be removed to make room for planting?

  • Should residual elements of the old gates such as the large iron posts at the Union Street crossing be removed?

A suggested agreement

Although Metro Trains is an involved party this document looks at the permanent situation with VicTrack as the continuing authority. For the purposes of this document we suggest the formation of an Upfield Linear Park Association.

    A. This association will have Vic Track, Moreland City, Metro Trains and FULP as members.

    B. The consequent agreement allowing the development of the park will be between "The Upfield Linear Park Association", Vic Track, Moreland City and other affected landowners.

    C. Its raison d'etre will be to manage the creation and ongoing maintenance of a linear park initially along the corridor from Park Street to Moreland Road.

    D. It will define the work to be done and some general principles such as preservation and exploitation of historical elements:

    1. a. Between stations and crossings:
      1. The fence type and location.
      2. The treatment to be given to the strip between the fence and the rail ballast.
      3. Plantation planning and implementation guidelines including consideration of sightline and falling branch issues.
      4. Cycle and pedestrian track type and location.
    2. Station precincts:
      1. A coherent linear park will necessarily include accesses to the stations, car parks and existing planted areas. The agreement must give priority to the operational needs of the rail service operator.
      2. (Requires more study)
    3. Car and pedestrian crossings:
      1. The fence of a(i) can be implemented in a way that enhances the safety and tidiness of these crossings
      2. (Requires more study)
    4. Historical:
      1. There are the remains of spur lines, buffers and sidings, gatekeeper's huts etc. that have some historical value and could become part of the park's attractions.

    E. Finance

    1. It is believed that VicTrack has no regular funding from the State government and relies on earnings from the lands it manages for the people of Victoria. A significant contribution in kind will come from VicTrack granting the use of land not currently or prospectively under lease. As a participant it will also contribute by expediting the solution of technical issues and agreements.
    2. Metro Trains (if not VicTrack) has an obligation for weed clearing, tree lopping, rubbish removal and other maintenance matters that will become part of the park maintenance. It is reasonable to expect a significant allocation of funding from this source.
    3. Moreland Council already has budgetary estimates in its Upfield bike track strategy documents and presumably the intention to allocate funds. The strategy and the rationale for funds allocation would be wholly satisfied by the linear park proposal. See: MCC Bike Strategy Appendix 7
    4. The surprisingly high cost estimates for parts of the Moreland Bike Strategy are due to high costs associated with work carried out close to the rail tracks. Further contributions in kind can be provided by VicTrack and Metro Trains by training Council staff and key FULP people appropriately.
    5. A state government grant such as allocated for the Darebin bridge is reasonable.
    6. Sources like Greening Australia.

    F. Continuing maintenance

    1. Metro Trains or other authority to contribute the recurring cost of weed and rubbish removal
    2. (Comes later)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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