Essendon Junction structure plan and Buckley Street grade separation

Essendon Junction structure plan and Buckley Street grade separation
Alastair TaylorJuly 9, 2015

Moonee Valley City Council has opened up its draft Essendon Junction structure plan for community feedback. You can view the draft structure plan and all other supporting documents on the City of Moonee Valley's website.

Essendon Junction structure plan and Buckley Street grade separation
Essendon Junction Activity Centre - Image from Moonee Valley City Council Essendon Junction structure plan

Moonee Valley City Council's vision for Essendon Junction is stated in the plan:

Essendon Junction will be a great place to live and work and a vibrant destination to visit, with attractive streetscapes and a seamless transport interchange. The Junction will be the cultural and entertainment heart of Essendon, offering an integrated network of streets with innovative developments complementing the existing heritage

Draft Essendon Junction Structure Plan

As expected from any structure plan document, there is a strong emphasis on maintaining existing characteristics, while providing a framework for new development of varying densities within the activity centre.

The activity area is separated into six precincts - all with varying height limits and preferred setback treatments - with precinct number 2 (Essendon Station) hosting the largest height limits of 12 levels on the VicTrack land fronting Mount Alexander Road and precinct number 3 (The Core) having height limits up to six levels, in keeping with current development along Napier Street.

For instance on Brewster Street - which forms the northern boundary of Essendon FC's Windy Hill precinct - there are mandatory landscape setbacks of five metres from a street front, and in the case where a development may abut a sensitive or rear of an adjoining property, a non-mandatory setback of 4.5 metres from the property line is sought with further building setbacks for new development over three levels. Refer to pages 12 through 15 in the draft structure plan.

Essendon Junction structure plan and Buckley Street grade separation
Essendon Junction precinct map

On Thursday 23rd of July, Moonee Valley City Council will be holdings its second information session at Ukranian House on Russell Street, Essendon between 6pm and 8pm.

Moonee Valley City Council are encouraging its citizens to engage with them and you can leave feedback, as well as view all other documentation on City of Moonee Valley's website.

Buckley Street and Mount Alexander Road grade separation

Central to the draft structure plan is a council-endorsed plan to make major changes to the existing rail infrastructure in the center of the activity centre. At present the Craigieburn line is grade separated over Mount Alexander Road, but still has a level crossing on Buckley Street at Essendon Station.

Buckley Street is on the State Government's list of 50 level crossings to be removed over the next eight years. The supplementary documentation linked from City of Moonee Valley's Essendon Junction page includes a report created by GHD Australia in 2013-2014 which sought to provide options for grade separation in the area.

The preferred option 3 would see the following occur:

In this option, the rail drops below Buckley Street and through the existing heritage station precinct. A new below grade station would be located in the middle of the activity centre with the potential for a station entrance on Mount Alexander Road or near the existing station. The final location of the platforms would depend upon their required length and alignment.

Mount Alexander Road would be reinstated to grade. The tracks would travel below Mount Alexander and start to rise back to grade, north of Raleigh Street. This is the preferred option out of the 3 scenarios. The cost involved with the larger area of excavation and the construction of the underground station is seen to be justified given the value of their associated benefits. The deeper excavation ensures that the heritage station and its integrity are left intact.

The restoration of the Mount Alexander Road surface to natural ground level eliminates the barrier of having the road below grade level; as it is currently or above grade level, as is the case in Option 1. Therefore this option provides the optimal opportunity for modal interchange and increased pedestrian connectivity, which is crucial for the development of the activity centre.

Locating the underground platforms between the existing heritage station and Mount Alexander Road, as per Option 3, maximises station accessibility with opportunities for entrances from Mount Alexander Road, Russell Street or Rose Street.

GHD Australia, Essendon Junction Grade Separation (Draft Feasibility Assessment Report), December 2013
Essendon Junction structure plan and Buckley Street grade separation
Future development parcels created by grade separation

The report also includes a high-level cost estimate which GHD stresses would require further investigation. No single grade separation project currently underway is the same as any other in the metropolitan area, however it does make for interesting reading into all the input costs of a grade separation project.

A screen grab from page 71 of the Essendon Junction grade separation feasibility study:

Essendon Junction structure plan and Buckley Street grade separation
High level cost estimate provided by GHD


Moonee Valley City Council's preferred option for grade separation to my mind is a sound one, as it ticks all the right boxes: removing a level crossing, retaining a heritage station building (bonus points would be awarded for repurposing it as a community facility), far stronger train to tram connectivity, restoring Mount Alexander Road to a proper boulevard and removing the current rail barrier at Raleigh Street.

Assuming GHD's cost estimates for under $200 million are correct and when the entire Essendon Junction structure plan is taken into consideration - more specifically the amount of dwelling supply and economic activity it will create over time - I don't believe it would be all that difficult for the benefits to outweigh the costs in this context.

Here's hoping the State Government adopt the council's preferred grade separation option.

Alastair Taylor

Alastair Taylor is a co-founder of Now a freelance writer, Alastair focuses on the intersection of public transport, public policy and related impacts on medium and high-density development.

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