Meet Southern Cross Station: a now familiar landmark for all Melburnians. Her early years were difficult, as she had a bad reputation to shake off, and everyone still called her “Spencer Street Station”. (It probably didn’t help that Steve Bracks declared her open for the 2006 Commonwealth Games, when in reality she was still in the middle of getting dressed.)
Despite the naming controversy, the wide open spaces of the new station were a relief from the rabbit warren that was the old station, making it easy for the everyday commuter to get from home to work each morning, and back again of an evening.
Over the next few years people got to know and appreciate the reborn station, as well as her ever changing layers of advertising. Unlike the other railway stations in Melbourne, Southern Cross was managed by a public-private partnership: Civic Nexus on the money grubbing side, and the Southern Cross Station Authority trying to keep them under control.
Fortunately for the passengers, the advertising on the concourses usually stayed out of the way of those people just wanting to get to somewhere else.
Some very imaginative advertisers managed to find a way to get under the feet of commuters, but never in their way.
However there were also a number of less intelligent advertising concepts, which just turned into an OH&S hazard.
They say nothing lasts forever, and regrettably for Southern Cross this adage again proved true.
With the rollout of the new Myki smartcard ticketing system across Victoria progressing, the government authority responsible for it (the Transport Ticketing Authority) decided it was too convenient for V/Line passengers to just stroll on and off their trains, and that they would need to be funnelled through ticket barriers like cattle. (We can’t trust those country bumpkin commuters to pay their fares, can we?)
The construction of a fence around the country platforms commenced in November 2009 with no fanfare: it just appeared one day bolted to the floor. At least in the beginning there were a number of openings for passengers…
It took a month for signs explaining the fence to finally appear: they read as “some changes to how you enter and exit”, because phrases like “easier” or “more convenient” would be outright lies.
As time went on the fence became more permanent and the number of openings diminished: the passengers were now lobsters in a pot of boiling water.
By December 2010 the plan appeared complete: V/Line announced that ticket checking would soon commence at the main entry to the country platforms, with all other openings closed for good. There was the slight problem that the new Myki system had yet to be rolled out to the V/Line network, but that is just splitting hairs in their eyes.
With only one way into the country platforms, you might have though that Southern Cross Station had no innocence left to lose. However, private enterprise was not to be outdone, when they allowed a skateboarding display to block the main entrance one Saturday morning.
For me that was a low blow, but things got even worse in June 2011 when the food court operator pulled out.
Since the signing of the public-private partnership contract to operate the station in 2002, a company called Delaware North had been responsible for operating the food court and cafes there. For most people that name is unfamiliar, but their money grubbing ways are not: Delaware North are the rip-off merchants responsible for the exorbitant food prices at Australia’s airports, football grounds, and tourist attractions. (You can find the full list of places to take a bagged lunch to here.)
Delaware North operated 4500 square metres of retail space at the station, with the following food operations:
- Biglietto (Italian)
- Diesel Foods (deep fried crap)
- Billie Chu (Asian)
- Café Arome (coffee and cake)
- Red Relish (sandwiches)
- Batman Hill Café
- Fresh Connections (bakery)
Nando’s and Hungry Jack’s franchises also operated in the centre, but the final useless piece of the puzzle was Loco Bar: it never seemed to open past 7:30pm of an evening, even if a football game was being played across the bridge at the Docklands Stadium.
The withdrawal of Delaware North left a hole in the station tenancies, so what did station manager Civic Nexus do a month later? Board up half the concourse and advertise some “Exciting New Retailers”.
Once upon a time you could queue for a ticket outside the V/Line office before you boarded your train.
Now you can’t even see the booking windows!
How many V/Line commuters can you squeeze between these ‘Exciting New Retailers’? I hope it is a few, as this is now the main access to the south end of the country platforms.
Want to enter Southern Cross Station? Try again!
On the other side of town it took 22 years for Melbourne Central Station to be bastardised by a shopping centre operator: it has only taken 5 years for Southern Cross Station to receive the same treatment – with increasing patronage on Melbourne’s rail network, I hate to see what the future holds.