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Cranbourne-Pakenham sky rail: a high or low for Melbourne planning?

Cranbourne-Pakenham sky rail: a high or low for Melbourne planning?


Renders courtesy Victorian Government.

Nine kilometres of the Cranbourne-Pakenham train line will be raised above ground to form a sky rail in a new plan by the Andrews’ Government, set to begin this year.

Rail lines will be elevated nine-metres above ground and all level crossings between Caulfield and Dandenong will be removed as part of the plan. Many, however, are upset by the proposal. So will a sky rail be a positive or a negative for Melbourne’s south east?

The Cranbourne-Pakenham train line is one of Melbourne’s busiest, and level crossings on the line cause extreme traffic congestion. Boom gates on the Cranbourne-Pakenham line are generally down for over an hour between 7:00am and 9:00am. A sky rail would completely erase this congestion factor and allow both traffic and trains to run freely, while also improving safety. Further, Public Transport Victoria projects that the elevated line would “boost capacity by up to 42 percent on the Cranbourne-Pakenham line every day,” resulting in better travel times for commuters.

sky rail 2

Clayton Road after construction of the sky rail.

Those in opposition to the multi-billion dollar project argue that the sky rail will be an eyesore. Elevated rail near Melbourne’s CBD proves that this argument can be true – painful concrete slabs make up the construction, decorated by posters and graffiti tags. The space below the rail lines is dank and hardly tempting to spend time around. However in other areas of Melbourne, sky rails are integrated well into the surrounding space. In Hawthorn, elevated lines lead into the station, crossing over Glenferrie road. Traffic flows below without halt caused by trains, and the space around the station is filled with nuanced personality and integrates well with the trains overhead. The parallel running Railway Arc alley way is bordered by niche record, book, and coffee shops, filled with students from Swinburne University who occupy the area, unbothered by the trains passing overhead.

With the right people behind it however, the area could have been, and could be, better – both visually and in a practical sense. Minor graffiti burdens the area and aesthetically, the overhead pass is less than appealing, fashioned with yellow paint and caution signs.

Elevation of the Cranbourne-Pakenham line will create much more of an impact than the Hawthorn overpass – it will free up 225 square kilometres, or 11 MCGs worth, of open space. Taking into account the protests concerning space below the lines, the government plans to occupy this new public property with parks, playgrounds, sporting facilities, and car parks. Sun limitation caused by the overhead pass limits landscaping options, so both urban planning and landscape design are imperative factors when considering the outcome of the project.

Successful and positive sky rail projects have been executed overseas, including the S-Bahn in Berlin and the New York High Line. While the government’s plans and renders of the Pakenham-Cranbourne project are appealing from an aesthetic point of view, many factors come into play as to how similar the reality will be. Careful and considered urban design has the potential to be the factor that can largely affect how the sky rail is welcomed by the community, and how beneficial it is for those living alongside it.

The government is asking for comment on the proposed sky rail designs through the Your Suburb, Your Say portal, which is open until March 18.

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