The Caulfield to Dandenong Level Crossing Removal Project is a Victorian State Government project to remove nine at-grade level crossings along 16km of a major railway corridor and across seven suburbs in Melbourne’s south-east. ASPECT Studios and Cox Architects collaborated with multidisciplinary partners to deliver an elevated rail solution far more sophisticated and visionary than simply a grade-separated railway line safer and more efficient for road and rail transport than the existing at-grade condition. The immense scale of the project offered a generational opportunity for much-needed revitalisation of a series of declining suburban villages. Raised rail could allow communities to be reconnected, with new parkland arising from a previously unavailable public realm, with trails, play spaces and community areas integrating with the new stations along the project’s length. The final outcome highlights the true city-shaping power of integrated transport and land use planning and demonstrates how rail corridors can be transformed to be vital public spaces in the city.
A first of its kind in Australia, the project demanded a reimagining of what rail infrastructure looked like and how it functioned, to depart from old standards and approaches and to develop new, more sympathetic responses that enabled public space opportunities. The elevated railway line with open space underneath brought challenges of shade, visual intrusion, overlooking, water management and access.
Station precincts delivered legible and contextually grounded public realms, focused around optimised multi-modal transport hubs including interchanges for buses, trains and vehicles. As well as being the landscape integrating a complex transport environment, the design encourages active transport (walking and cycling), incorporated heritage and broader urban integration and activation, negotiated intense community scrutiny and feedback, created significant potential uplift, and developed local opportunities for placemaking. Each precinct has a plaza addressing the existing village context, with the station’s forecourt entry a key component of a broader and orchestrated community experience. Maintaining a continuity of overall feel and brand, while delivering site-specific outcomes tailored to each village’s unique context, while accommodating the needs of a varying set of stakeholders along the project’s length, was a significant achievement in its own right.
The linear parks knit together communities previously severed by the at-grade rail line and they reinvigorate spaces that were previously underutilised and neglected. The parks feature neighbourhood, local and community ‘activation nodes’ that range from small areas for local gatherings, with fitness stations, seating and planting, to playgrounds, picnic areas, dog parks and larger community areas for activities such as sport, skating and climbing. These nodes with their new facilities provide attractive, safe and well-maintained places for the community to enjoy.
The facilities within the nodes were carefully developed to compliment the more traditional sport and recreation activities that were provided in the surrounding suburbs. For example, one node contains fitness stations, sport courts, picnic areas, ping pong and bike repair facilities. The design promotes social interaction between diverse demographic groups – grandparents can play ping pong with their grandchildren; teenagers can play basketball with peers and others can sit and enjoy the communal tables. The highly coloured activation nodes take immediate advantage of the space beneath the rail as a place for active recreation that receives less rain and sun than other areas. The bold use of colour was a deliberate move to provide vibrant, engaging public spaces at day one prior to the establishment of surrounding vegetation.
Over 4,200 trees were planted, and in addition to those trees saved through the elevation of the rail line, will create a strengthened urban forest. Species selection had to conform to stringent requirements and respond to difficult planting conditions. Importantly, areas where tree growth was possible were identified early in the project’s development and protected thereafter. Captured stormwater from the elevated viaducts is discharged at the base of the piers and conveyed through swales to provide passive irrigation to tree plantings, recharge groundwater and mitigate the impacts of the overhead structure on access to natural rainfall.
Encouraging use and occupation of the space brings the added benefit of bringing many sets of eyes to the corridor, elevating feelings of safety, discouraging anti-social activity and in turn encouraging further use.
Whilst less tangible, the flow-on effects that increased physical activity and social interaction have upon the physical and mental health upon the community are well documented, and it is here that the project may well leave its greatest legacy. Whether it be walking or cycling along a green and leafy corridor, cycling to the station before catching the train to work, playing sport with friends, or simply having a chance encounter with old or new friends, elevating the tracks enabled the project to establish the social and physical infrastructure that will improve the holistic health of all whom engage with it.
The final design outcome delivered:
• 5 new station forecourts and associated open spaces
• 22.5ha of open space, parklands and new community areas
• 12 kilometres of new path to create a new 17 kilometre long shared walking and cycling path.
• 3 linear parks and shared user path
• 1 new civic square
• 5 large scale activation/sport/multi-generational places
• Multiple small community nodes (dog parks, fitness stations, picnic areas, heritage interpretation, a redesigned memorial area)
• Integrated water management throughout linear parks.
Skyrail, as it is now known, has achieved remarkable urban design outcomes, reinvigorating and uniting communities, and unlocking the true potential of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Name of the project: Caulfield to Dandenong Level Crossing Removal Project
Other designers involved in the design of landscape (if any): Cox Architects Double-A Communications
Project location: Suburbs of Carnegie, Noble Park, Hughesdale, Murrumbeena and Clayton in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
Design year: 2016-2019
Year Built: 2019