Train stations off the rails

Passengers commuting through peak hour at Southern Cross station. Photo Dior Matijas.
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Faulty services at some Melbourne’s train stations raise questions over Australia’s innovation in the transport infrastructure sector. Dior Matijas reports.

Escalator chaos at Melbourne’s busiest train stations are a catalyst to the bottleneck commuters face and an even bigger concern for those with accessibility needs.

A broken-down escalator at Southern Cross station has been in the spotlight after causing peak-hour train diversions and havoc for a month prior to its resolution on May 15.

Despite the frustration amongst daily commuters, those with disability face greater accessibility barriers.

In the 2015 census, the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that 39.9 per cent of those with a disability reported station access issues due to steps and 23.3 per cent had fear and anxiety.

Metro Trains Communications and Engagement Manager Bree Kuffer said that when escalator services are down, disabled people are left with no alternative.

“Something as critical as a station escalator being out of operation can really impact our passengers, especially those with accessibility needs.

Elevator technician demonstrating the complexities of lift maintenance. Photo Dior Matijas.

“Passengers seeking to use those platforms—typically thousands each day—are forced to use elevators, which not only hold a small number of people, but are the primary way our accessibility passengers access the platforms on a day to day basis,” said Ms Kuffer.

Sara Burke, a teacher at the Monash Special Development School said that the sad reality for many disabled children is regularly missing travel opportunities as sometimes it is just “too hard”.

“The amount of congestion at peak hour is insane for commuters, let alone kids with heightened sensory.

“They get easily overwhelmed with the hustle and bustle and are prone to major breakdowns on escalators, which creates an unsafe environment for them and other passengers,” Ms Burke said .

Roads Australia told the Infrastructure Magazine in May that Australia requires “urgent and exponential” spending on transport infrastructure to keep up with the booming population.

These findings are based off a 2018 study which focused on some of Asia’s leading transport systems; compared to that of Australia’s.

Acting Minister for Transport Jacinta Allan told The Age in April that despite the congestion at Southern Cross station, the government believes there is no increased risk to passenger safety at this stage.

“Public Transport Victoria will continue to work with Southern Cross to help manage growth experienced at the station,” Ms Allan said.

Daily commuter Samantha Williams-Green said these faulty services raise fears of inadequate escape methods during the event of a security threat.

“Melbourne’s stations are very busy and given the insufficient exits, what would happen if there was a terror threat? How would the station’s infrastructure cope?

“It would be total bedlam and pandemonium if people couldn’t escape—those in wheelchairs would not evacuate quickly enough.

“We are in desperate need to re-open the underpass,” said Ms Williams-Green.

Shadow Minister, David Davis, told The Age in May 2019 that the services in the old Spencer Street underpass should be relocated and the tunnel reopened to reduce congestion.

“It would provide the opportunity for additional access and take the load off current facilities that are stretched to the limit,” Mr Davis said .

Reopening the underpass would avoid the need for constant technical maintenance which takes time, according to elevator technician David Mastro.

“It can take anywhere from 10 minutes to 10 hours and even 10 days to fix­—this is far too long for those who rely on this service,” Mr Mastro said.

This topic was raised by regional Public Transport Shadow Minister Steph Ryan during the Legislative Assembly’s question time in early May 2019.

The debate comes days after the Andrew’s Government knocked back a $300 million proposed upgrade to Southern Cross Station.