Essendon Junction structure plan and Buckley Street grade separation

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 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 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
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:

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.


Andrew - West Essendon's picture

It could be an absolute monster! As a transport interchange, Essendon outweighs Moonee Ponds hands down. Moonee Ponds is of course bigger in retail and has the ACZ (MVPS Amendment C100) also promoting high-rise residential, not to mention the same at the Moonee Valley Racecourse (see MVPS Amendment C155).

The corner-cutters want Essendon grade-separation to be road-under-rail, which would stuff up all the bus movements completely and make for less effective at-grade pedestrian networks as well.

Rail-under-road is much better: buses would have better access to deliver passengers (a key purpose of an interchange!), Yarra Trams' superstop could actually be horizontal and not curved (current track alignment and road gradient would require one or other anti-accessibility defect) and the Puckle & Holmes level crossing could be grade separated at the same time (essential for higher frequency on the Craigieburn line without jamming traffic in Moonee Ponds for four hours each weekday). That is the solution now being contracted out for Ormond/McKinnon/Bentleigh, and rightly so.

What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

The other question is, with so much on the PTV/VicTrack side still up in the air, how can Moonee Valley Council progress the EJSP as a single plan in a meaningful way, without having to reinvent it all when the grade-separation framework is determined?

Alastair Taylor's picture

Buckley St is right to be a priority for grade sep - traffic (including decent frequency of buses stuck in it) in peaks in West Essendon is a total shemozzle despite the nearby existing Mount Road rail over road bridge.

I wonder however, what's the higher priority? Puckle St or Macaulay Road at Kensington? I'd probably wager Macaulay Road/Kensington.

Kensington Station + the signal box on the other side of Macaulay Road would be in the same boat as Essendon station in terms of a need/want to preserve heritage infrastructure. And I see a similar treatment as the MVCC proposal for Essendon being required at KEnsington: rail under road and the station moved elsewhere (in this case to the south side of Macaulay Road in order to not touch the heritage buildings).

Moonee Ponds station is extremely tight and dare I say it whenever Puckle Street (and Park street to the north: do you grade separate that or just close the street and force people to use Buckley/Puckle?) comes onto the grade separation radar, in all three scenarios: road under rail (very unlikely) and rail under road (highly likely) or rail above road (more likely than road under rail) the heritage buildings (the up platform / platform 1 is the only structure of any heritage value) would mostly likely be removed just in order to get the job done.

The more you look at the entire Craigieburn line from a grade separation context, the more a need for another "remove every level crossing from CAulfield to Dandenong" mega-project becomes apparent given that after the MMR is built, Craigieburn and Upfield will take sole use of the existing Northern City Loop and therefore we'd expect frequencies to increase markedly.

The line is 100% safe labor seats and likely to come under extreme political criticism if that were favoured however. Yet on the flipside between Pascoe Vale Road and the city, there's going to be a fairly large amount of population growth piling onto Craigieburn line or 59 tram (or both in Niddrie's case for a quicker journey to the city).

Buckley St and Glenroy Road are the only two on the 50 list. That leaves Devon Road in Oak Park (on a grade and you couldn't get away with just closing that crossing - long distance to Gaffney/Glenroy road), Gaffney St Pascoe Vale (tight like Moonee Ponds, luckily not much of heritage value in station buildings - probably a good contender for Rail over Road as it would lessen the grade from Devon Road if there was a longer section of elevated track above existing corridor), Park St Moonee Ponds (as above, probably a contender to just close the road), Puckle St Moonee Ponds and Macaulay Road in Kensington.

They should all be done at the same time - close the rail line and just run extremely frequent buses from Craigieburn/Broadmeadows/Glenroy/Oak Park/Pascoe Vale down Pascoe Vale Road and onto the Tullamarine FWY, Flemington Road to the City, and load up the frequencies on the 59 tram whilst all the grade seps are being done.

Tony Smith's picture

Having spent much of my first 26 years sleeping next to Glenbervie Bank where freight trains would sometimes run out of steam and keep us awake half the night recovering, I've long had a fantasy that we might solve a bunch of things in one grand plan and leave a great infrastructure legacy.

Step 1 would reroute the 59 along Mt. Alexander Rd median. Step 2 would divert some form of train-tram hybrid along Ascot Vale and Pascoe Vale Roads between their current rail bridges. Given the growth north this might be supplemented by a step 0 or 1a diverting from Roxburgh Park to duplicated Upfield line which has to be done some time anyway. Step 3 would lower the railway from Strathmore to Ascot Vale, straightening Napier Street bridge, reinstating Woodlands Street, Glass Street-Napier Crescent, Brewster Street and all those crossings discussed above further south. Step 4 or earlier would continue the 59 up Bulla Road, across what was supposed to be long closed Essendon Airport to Melrose Drive and Melbourne Airport. Step 5 would extend 82 reusing "temporary" tracks to Woodlands Street, then (with some minor acquisitions) to Keilor Road and Matthews Avenue (current 59). New developments along rail line could pay for all of it.

While I've become much more of a fan of rail over in recent times, it is still a no brainer to insist, as Moonee Valley Council is, that grade separation at Buckley Street must be concurrent with complementary adjustments at Mt. Rd.

Moonee Ponds Creek to Keilor Plains

johnproctor's picture

What a joke. The program is about removing 50 of the 170 remaining level crossings from the suburban network not replacing an existing grader separated crossing (mt Alexander road) because some entitled locals want their cake and to eat it too..

If you don't want Buckley separated I hope the government has the guts to tell moonee valley to piss off and separates another one instead of spending $180m where perhaps $100m would do to remove Buckley alone by a different design.

Aussie Steve's picture

Yes, this may be a bit of pie-in-the-sky, but if the City of Moonee Valley came to the party and provided cash for urban improvement and also allowed greater development around this area to help boost revenue for the development, then it can be a win-win situation for all. Improving the streetscape and public amenity is just as important as removing level crossings. I am not too sure how else you could remove the level crossing at Buckley Street without undertaking major works at Mt Alexander Road too.

Alastair Taylor's picture

Bumping this one up the list.

Post Port sale, the main media conference with regards to accelerating the level crossing removal programme was held at Essendon.

A lot's changed in over a year.

Andrew - West Essendon's picture

Well, well, well! Looks like we were wrong.

A year ago it looked like "road under rail (very unlikely) and rail under road (highly likely) or rail above road (more likely than road under rail)". Yet road under rail is now Option 1! A very poor choice. The rail-under options (Options 3 & 4) have been given elements that unnecessarily increase their cost (mainly in showing about double the land acquisition that a good rail-under option would require), which makes comparisons more unfavourable than the realistic versions would be. LXRA needs to be asked to rework Options 3 & 4 and put forward the objectively best rail-under layout/model to compare with the road-under Option 1. But I'm not holding my breath.

Alastair Taylor's picture

I note the rail under / trench diagrams still have the three platforms which correlates with the work in the Melb Metro project to build proper turback infrastructure Essendon to push more trains through in the City-Essendon segment once the Melb Metro Tunnel is done.

That 3 platform layout (and therefore space to cater for it) isn't really a negotiable given the operational plans for the network going forward.

The render they have of their preferred option looks to be re-using the current pedestrian subway - I'd hope they build a a new overhead structure to link both sides of the station with the platforms like at Footscray or Westall (smaller scale than Footscray obviously).

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