Boom gate “nightmare” sparks commuter fury on Macaulay Rd

Brendan Rees

Residents and traders in Kensington have told of their increasing frustration of the Macaulay Rd level crossings, with traffic hold-ups being described as an “absolute nightmare”.

With a federal and state election looming, many want to see the Bellair St crossing prioritised for removal as fears grow delays would only become worse as the Craigieburn line gets busier in the coming years.

“I’ve lived here all my life, the traffic has got out of hand in the past 15 to 20 years,” Paul, a Kensington resident and local trader, said. 

“There are just too many trains coming through here. You could be stuck there for 20 minutes because you get the local trains and country trains.”

Another local worker, Malene Knudsen, said she got stuck at the level crossing every day.

“It’s just crazy traffic. It feels like there’s a train coming every 30 seconds in the morning – it’s bad.”

Chris, a local business owner, who asked not to use his surname, said it was a “bloody nightmare” with the level crossing being “one of the worst I’ve come across in Melbourne”.

However, while there are no plans to remove the level crossing at this stage, any future solution has been met with concern that it would only add to current traffic woes.

The community has also expressed concerns that traffic chaos was also being exacerbated by the level crossing at Macaulay Station, about 550 metres further down Macaulay Rd, which services the Upfield line.

According to Simon Harvey, president of the Kensington Residents’ Association, if the boom gates at the Macaulay Rd/Bellair St intersection were to go it would “encourage more and more motorists to use it as the throughway.”

“The best option is for to keep Macaulay Rd slow, pedestrian friendly, bicycle friendly, and everything just slows that down, so it doesn't encourage motorists to use it as a main artery of access to the city,” he said.

“It's an issue and a very, very difficult one – that’s why I call it the ‘Macaulay dilemma’.”

This sentiment was also shared by Kensington resident and City of Melbourne councillor Rohan Leppert, who said “removing both level crossings on Macaulay Rd would induce through-traffic and create worse conditions for local residents” and see the heritage Kensington Station, which dates back to the 1860s, “demolished” and “replaced”.

“The Craigieburn line level crossing in particular cannot be removed without turning our beloved local shopping strip into a hostile environment for pedestrians, and demolishing and replacing Kensington Station,” he said.  

“I know it's counter-intuitive, but the capacity of the local traffic network is determined by the three major signalised intersections on Macaulay Rd more than the level crossings, and so removing one or both of the level crossings is no panacea.”

Restaurant owner Rick Sciberras, who runs Rick’s Place on Macaulay Rd, agreed, saying he would like to see both level crossings gone but “by the same token, closing down Macaulay Rd would cause a lot of disruption.”

“The issue for business is yes, we would like to see the back of them, but if they have to close the road in order to do so then that’s going to be a major issue,” he said.

Public Transport Users’ Association spokesperson Daniel Bowen said a 2008 assessment revealed the crossing at Kensington Station was “the highest ranked that has not been removed.”

“Apart from crossing removals improving safety and cutting delays, stations that are newly rebuilt as part of these projects help improve amenity and accessibility for train passengers,” he said.

Greens state MP for Melbourne Ellen Sandell said the state government “definitely needs to invest in more ways to reduce traffic in Kensington and help everyone get around easily, but we need to make sure that any solution does not demolish or destroy any of the beautiful heritage shops, station or homes around Kensington station.”

“We also need to make sure any solution doesn’t encourage more cars and especially trucks coming from the western suburbs onto Kensington streets,” she said.

“The heritage ‘village atmosphere’ makes Kensington such a special place to live and we don’t want to compromise that in any way.”

Kevin Devlin, chief executive officer of the Level Crossing Removal Project, said while “we’d love to remove every level crossing that remains”, it was focused on getting rid of the 85 level crossings the state government had committed to removing.

Cr Leppert said through the Macaulay Structure Plan, it was the council's policy to support the removal of the Upfield line level crossing in future “to improve connectivity for everyone”.

“I support this aim, while remaining cautious about the precedent that might be set for the Craigieburn line, which I reckon we should continue to treat as a 'necessary evil',” he said.

Kaye Oddie, a North Melbourne resident, and member of the Friends of Moonee Ponds Creek said any proposal to remove the Macaulay Rd level crossing on the Upfield line would present “huge engineering issues”.

This included consideration of the City Link overpass and the flood plain area of the Moonee Ponds Creek, as well as addressing climate change issues and rising sea levels, she said.

The Victorian Liberal Party was contacted for comment but did not respond before deadline.

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