Calls for action in the removal of level crossings in Brisbane, with no projects completed since 2015

In greater Brisbane, from Caboolture to the south, there are around 52 level crossings where road and rail meet.

A source of congestion, accidents and frustration for many motorists, its estimated drivers collectively spend more than 12 hours a day waiting at 10 of the busiest level crossings in the region.

Since 2017, four people have died at level crossings and 14 have been injured due to collisions between pedestrians, trains and vehicles.

Seven level crossings across greater Brisbane are earmarked for removal, but public transport lobbyists are concerned work will not happen quick enough and the transport network will come under increased stress.

Robert Dow, who runs the public transport lobby group Rail Back On Track, said the state government needs to establish a dedicated level crossing removal authority, taking lessons from the Victorian government’s successful approach.

He said plans to remove level crossings in the past have been inconsistent.

A man smiling in his home.
Robert Dow, from the Rail Back On Track lobby group, wants the government to commit to a target program and start removing level crossings year by year.(ABC News: Baz Ruddick )

The last two projects at Telegraph Road in Bracken Ridge and Robinson Road at Geebung were completed at the end of 2014.

“We need to establish a proper level crossing removal agency that can concentrate on developing the plans, doing community consultation with state-of-the-art level crossing removal techniques,” he said.

“Nowhere else in the world has done [removed] as many as what they’ve done in Victoria so why not tap into that expertise, that learning experience that they’ve got down there and set up our own authority and concentrate on removing levels crossing the entire network.

The Victorian’s Level Crossing Removal Project has removed 64 level crossings since 2015.

‘Planning is progressing’

A joint investment of $133 million between the state and federal governments has been committed for the removal of a level crossing at Boundary Road, Coopers Plains.

The state is now waiting on the Brisbane City Council (BCC) for a $40 million commitment to the project.

A business case is currently underway for the project, with the design expected to be completed between 2023 and 2024.

“There will be five further level crossing removals as part of the Kuraby-to-Beenleigh rail upgrade which will reduce traffic congestion in the Logan area,” Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey said.

A level crossing through the white gates that close when a train is approaching.
Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey accused the BCC of not working with the state government.(ABC News: Alice Pavlovic)

Mr Bailey said other states have funded level crossing removal projects through asset sales, but the Queensland government would not consider that.

A spokesperson from Transport and Main Roads said the SEQ City Deal includes an “Open Level Crossing Prioritisation” initiative for all levels of government to consider short, medium and long-term priorities to improve rail crossing infrastructure.

Level crossings at Kuraby, Woodridge, Bethani, Holmview and Beenleigh, have been floated for removal as part of the $2.6 billion Logan and Gold Coast Faster Rail project, funded jointly by the state and the commonwealth.

The spokesperson said an implementation plan, which defines how and when SEQ City Deal initiatives will be delivered, will be published by the end of 2022.

“Planning is progressing for the treatment of level crossings at Beams Road, Carseldine, Boundary Road, Coopers Plains and at the Kianawah Road, Wynnum West crossing at Lindum Station.”

In February last year a 32-year-old woman died after her car was struck by train at the Lindum Road level crossing, while in 2019 an elderly woman was also killed while walking across the crossing.

Safety works were completed at the site in December last year, which included median island upgrades, new pavement and line markings and the installation of a longer boom gate.

Up or under, it’s a ‘really complex’ thing to do

A van and other cars parked waiting behind a railway crossing.
A business case is underway for the Boundary Road level crossing at Coopers Plains. On a daily basis long lines of traffic are stuck at the crossing as trains move through.(ABC News: Baz Ruddick)

Matthew Burke, the deputy director at Griffith University’s Cities Research Institute, said that level crossings are often a source of headache for planning and development due to the fact that roads and rail are often owned by different levels of government.

“Level crossings are often this classic problem of a fight between different levels of government,” Professor Burke said.

“We have local government roads that hit a state government rail corridor.”

He said that local and state governments often point the fingers at each other when it comes to dealing with level crossings, but in Victoria, sheer ”political will” of the state government overcame that issue.

“That fight and being unable to resolve in a collaborative way to do this is why these crossings have been left so long,” he said.

A man with glasses stands on the street with a bus in the background.
Professor Matthew Burke from Griffith University said the Victorian government used “sheer political will” to establish its level crossing authority.(ABC News: Baz Ruddick)

Professor Burke said level crossing removal can be extremely costly for governments due to the extensive engineering that is needed.

“First we have to make a decision: is it the rail going over or is it the road going over or what? Whatever we do it is not cheap,” he said.

“We’ve built land uses close to these crossings, so often to then go and disturb that just creates a lot of nuisance for a lot of people. It can mean land resumptions, roadworks for a long time.”

Professor Burke said he is confident the governments will be able to complete the Logan and Gold Coast Faster Rail project by the time the Olympics, but it will be a case of “sequencing” and identifying the areas that really need to be addressed.

“There are squeeze points in the network where if we just resolve those, we can have a really significant congestion busting impact.”

‘Seem to be going around in circles’

Mr Dow said while funding commitments are in place, he is skeptical that projects will be completed in a timely manner and other level crossings are being ignored.

“We just seem to be going around in circles. The we leave it, the more congestion, the greater the safety risks become and the more expensive it becomes to remove these level crossings,” he said.

“We need to start doing a number each financial year and keep doing it. Don’t do one and think the game is over. It is not over.

“The sooner we do it, the sooner we will have a much better transport network.”

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