Congestion on the Upfield Line: why we need dual track upgrade as a priority

Packed like Sardines on Upfield line due to Craigieburn line closure. Photo by Corey Cresswell @coreycresswell /Twitter

There have been quite a few complaints about congestion on the Upfield rail line this last week from Friday 22 June to Wednesday 27 June. Metro Trains and Level Crossing Removal Authority have badly stuffed up their communications to passengers about closing the Craigieburn train line, provision of replacement bus services, and the implications for users of the Upfield Train line.

“The Upfield line needs track duplication from Gowrie to Upfield as a priority so that increased service frequency can be offered when the Craigieburn line is closed.” said sustainable transport campaigner and Fawkner resident John Englart.

Parking at stations along the Upfield line has filled up much earlier, displacing people that arrive at later times, having to search much farther afield for commuter parking.

Trains have become packed full by the time they reach Coburg and Brunswick stations on the line, causing some people to not be able to get on. And those on the trains have had to endure sardine conditions on their journey into the city.

The reason for this congestion is that the Craigieburn line has been closed from 8.30pm Thursday 21 June to Wednesday 27 June due to the Buckley street, Essendon, level crossing removal. While buses were put on to replace trains between north Melbourne and Broadmeadows, many people chose to drive over to the Upfield line stations.

Succeeding state Governments have refused to fund the investment in upgrading the Upfield line which is single track from Gowrie Station to Upfield Station. This limits train frequency to about 20 minutes. Without putting in dual track increase of frequency of trains to Upfield is just impossible.

The Camp Road level crossing removal in November 2017 to January 2018 would have been an ideal time to also duplicate the track while the line was closed for the level crossing removal. But such work was not done. When the Upfield track duplication is eventually done, passengers will be further inconvenienced on the Upfield line.

“Doing track duplication at the same time as the Camp Road level crossing removal would have cost more, but saved money in the long term.” said John Englart.

An upgraded Upfield line with dual track to Upfield would have enabled increasing services on this line to cope when the Craigieburn line was closed for level crossing removal.

The Level Crossing Removal at Camp Road was done at minimal cost to advantage improving vehicle traffic movement while improving other transport modes was essentially ignored.

According to John Englart who is co-ordinator of the Extend the Upfield Bike Path to Upfield Campaign, The Level Crossing Removal Authority had a mandate to build new cycling infrastructure as part of the Camp Road level crossing removal, but instead made things worse with public access actually going backwards, and putting large impediments into building a future path.

“The work done in ‘future-proofing’ for second track and shared use path is nothing more than blatant cost shifting into the never-never.” said John Englart.

“Level Crossing Removal was also an opportunity to re-install Campbellfield station that once existed on the line, but instead we just got some foundations built north of the road bridge.” explained Englart.

“Our local MP Frank McGuire waxed lyrical about the Camp Road level crossing removal but he has been distinctly silent on the need for track duplication to increase service and frequency on the Upfield Line, and to extend the Upfield bike path to Upfield to provide an important arterial cycling route and viable alternative transport option for some people.” concluded John Englart.

Here are some social media comments from twitter on the congestion on the Upfield rail line this week:

Stopping a train at Coburg is what is known as short-shunting and usually happens when timetables are thrown out, but can also provide extra city bound service to the city. The problem with this is that short-shunting almost certainly reduces the service frequency for passengers further up the line.

Unless substantially improved replacement bus services are put in place, and improved communications are addressed for both the Criagieburn and Upfield lines, this is just going to occurr again in the next closure of the Craigieburn line for the Buckley Street level crossing removal, and the next level crossing removal at Glenroy.

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