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Fix the train stations & people will come

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One of the most powerful barriers to a progressive, seamless and popular rail system for Adelaide is the city’s unattractive, unsafe-looking train stations.

Ask any of our transport planners for their vision for the Adelaide network and I doubt any of them would mention customers first – the focus remains on the infrastructure.

Take Emerson Station at the junction of Cross Road and South Roads. The station is anchored onto the intersection, with a 140 metre platform and a single, lonely bus shelter three quarters of the way along the platform. It is bleak, uninviting, and looks like a security nightmare. There is no signage and no obvious passive surveillance.

It’s a depressing place with a depressing outlook.

The tracks, overhead wires and signals are gleaming and new, but no investment has been made into the look, feel and overall amenity of the ‘place’.

Development opportunities over and around the immediate station precinct have been missed, and will probably never be realised.

Whether passengers walk from home or park and ride, they need a pleasant, pedestrian-friendly, and accessible train station. Each of these areas must be places for people, not just places for cars.

At the planning level, there seems to be no real emphasis on what people need, the changing demographics, the desires of customers, changes in travel patterns, better interchanging opportunities (including for bikes), and place-making opportunities.

The new Wayville/Showgrounds train station is a case in point: the original brief called for an events-only station. The location of the station – a very important decision – missed a crucial opportunity to create a future civic place, connecting Unley to Wayville with development over the tracks.

Development opportunities over and around the immediate station precinct have been missed, and will probably never be realised.

Disability standards which apply to all new and upgraded stations may be discouraging government investment in Adelaide’s train stations.

This is because disability upgrades can be highly costly, especially on a network of stations that are very old and lack basic amenities and do not meet these standards.

These standards must however be seen as an opportunity, not a barrier.

Above all else, policy makers must integrate development opportunities along our rail corridors.

The ground-up investment in tracks, sleepers, wires, substations and some new vehicles will arguably assist to reshape Adelaide. The one critical investment missing is a much better understanding of customer needs, and putting people at the centre of the decision-making process.

A lack of consultation at pre-planning stages with local councils, local developers and local people means we will continue to hop into our cars and drive, missing opportunities to curb urban sprawl and congesting our city and urban centres.

The aim with any rail system is that it is easier, faster, cheaper and more convenient than other modes of transport.

The much vaunted and well overdue investment in electrifying our train network is mostly a thankless task for Government. No-one really cares about the new poles and wires: we’re just catching up on a century of almost non-existent investment in our public transport.

Adelaide is the place of single car trains, a diesel network, low patronage, no growth, timetable frequencies measured in hours not minutes, ineffective interchanges and aged and poorly maintained stations.

Adelaide’s estimated metropolitan public transport patronage in 2011-12 was 6.9% of total weekday passenger vehicle kilometres (source: ABS), with a target of 10%. This is amongst the lowest use of public transport in Australia. Of that 6.9%, a majority of 80% use buses, 15% use trains and only 5% use the tram.

In contrast, cities around the world are embracing train systems as they look to re-energise and reshape their cities, reduce congestion and improve the overall health and wellbeing of their citizens.

That is the beauty of train corridors – they can act as a city shaper, and can transform and re-energise public domains, particularly around stops. Imagine crowds of passengers getting on and off each train station at regular intervals, like clockwork, every day. The high turnover of people – ready patronage – will lure additional facilities and services. Underused buildings and land may be transformed for new residential or commercial use.

For that to work, as many people as possible need to be able to walk or cycle to their train and it should be a pleasant, seamless part of their day.

Some investment is happening – the new Seaford line is now fully electrified, servicing a growing area with new trains and two new stations.

The Seaford and Tonsley lines into the city are now electrified and a new underpass at Goodwood has been constructed (separating the freight trains and therefore a bottleneck). A few of the 81 stations that comprise Adelaide’s 125km-long train network have been re-dressed.

But is it enough?

The much vaunted and well overdue investment in electrifying our train network is mostly a thankless task for Government. No-one really cares about the new poles and wires: we’re just catching up on a century of almost non-existent investment in our public transport.

A well-planned rail system is not just about laying tracks from A to B. It also considers every aspect of the corridor through which it travels: housing needs, amenities, ease of use and access, streetscapes, how it influences pedestrian movement and its impact on surrounding businesses.

Our train network presents an opportunity to create new and well-integrated places for people to live, work and play. Let’s not miss it.

*Source: State of Australian Cities, 2013, Australian Government

Daniel Bennett is the National Vice President of the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects and Director of DJB_LA Design.

 

 

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