Overview

Transport

Client
Level Crossing Removal Project

Collaborators
Wood Marsh Architecture
KBR Engineers
John Holland
Darebin City Council
Metro Trains Melbourne

Disciplines
Landscape Architecture

Location
Preston, VIC

Date
2023

Imagery
Matt Moore Photography

Awards
2024 AIA Award – Urban Design (VIC)
2024 AILA Award of Excellence – Infrastructure (VIC)

Preston level crossing removal project
The Preston Level Crossing Removal Project demonstrates the benefits of removing unsafe level crossings and creating new public open spaces. It connects communities and businesses, celebrates diverse community history and acknowledges its place within Wurundjeri Country.

The Preston Level Crossing Removal Project highlights the positive outcomes that innovative design can bring to state infrastructure projects, rejecting a ‘business as usual’ approach to create unforgettable urban community spaces.

The project is bookended by two distinct stations and forecourts: Preston Station sits as backdrop to the treasured Preston Market and is adaptable for future development, while Bell Station offers a playful response to its arts precinct locality.

Preston level crossing removal project
Preston level crossing removal project
Preston level crossing removal project
Preston level crossing removal project

Historically, Preston has been a working-class suburb with the Preston Market its beating heart. Preston’s architectural character sees post-war homes blended with multi-storey infill apartments concentrated along the rail line.

The area’s local character reflects a blend of diverse cultural and social backgrounds. Rapid demographic change includes socially, environmentally and politically conscious residents, along with new and established families, students and shared housing. This diversity comes together with a shared yearning for green spaces, cultural and social connectedness and accessible transport.

Preston level crossing removal project
Preston level crossing removal project

Before the Preston Level Crossing Removal Project, the rail line was punctuated by heavily congested roads that divided the neighbourhood and made it difficult for pedestrians and commuters to move around. This congestion created a dangerous environment dominated by vehicles.

The project offered an exciting opportunity to transform the ageing rail line into a vibrant community asset, reforging important community ties and acknowledging its rich cultural heritage.

Preston level crossing removal project
Preston level crossing removal project

The rail corridor width and sensitive interfaces were carefully considered in balancing operational infrastructure such as drainage whilst maximising communal public space. A shared-use path between the two stations provides an important north-south link in Preston.

It’s interspersed with various amenities such as lighting, drinking fountains, rest spots and cyclist priority road crossings, making the corridor a safe and enjoyable route for active transport and recreation.

Preston level crossing removal project

Cultivating healthy, cohesive and inclusive communities is at the heart of the Bell to Preston Project. Collaborative engagement with Wurundjeri enabled a culturally rich co-design of the new open spaces.

This includes a dedicated gathering space celebrating Wurundjeri culture through ground plane and pier treatments, fostering cultural and educational exchange.

Signage and wayfinding elements are designed to be intuitive and thoughtful, reducing clutter and providing a safe and colourful celebration of place and community.

Preston level crossing removal project
Preston level crossing removal project
Preston level crossing removal project
Preston level crossing removal project
Preston level crossing removal project

Thoughtful planning of the split viaduct height has created ample space for planting trees. This, coupled with strategic onsite water management using drainage swales and basins, has enabled successful rewilding of native landscapes and restoration of ecological systems.

A terraced amphitheatre serves as both a drainage basin and public performance space, showcasing innovative water management techniques.

Preston level crossing removal project
A Saturday morning trip to the market is now a completely different experience. Instead of navigating congested narrow backstreets, Preston locals and visitors now enjoy a more inviting network of interconnected footpaths that gather, welcome, and guide them intuitively.

At Bell Street, bright pink piers offer a striking welcome, and clear and open forecourts lined with dense Indigenous plantings guide cyclists and pedestrians toward the open forecourt of Bell Station.

Heading northbound, cyclists can find a repair station pitstop and water fountains to rehydrate.

Preston level crossing removal project

Children can be found clambering over play equipment, while families cook sausages on the barbecue facilities. Along the lush lined shared path, lycra-clad cyclists mix with the bearded and caffeinated, artists and older residents taking in the sun.

Market-bound trolleys pass toddlers on scooters and families on cargo bikes. Rest stops beneath the elevated structure offer green spaces for respite from sun or rain, accompanied by the gentle whirring of passing trains overhead.

Preston level crossing removal project
Preston level crossing removal project

What was initially a significant disruption for the area has led to a positive transformation, reconnecting cultural roots with spaces that prioritise the community and commuters. Once a severed suburb, Preston has been stitched together and greened along the seams.