And that’s why you don’t privatise railway stations

Why does one visit a railway station? For most people it is to catch a train, but unfortunately for some commuters in Melbourne that is easier said than done, since the powers that be decided to flog many stations off to commercial interests who treat them as cash cows.

Ticket barriers at the Elizabeth Street end of Melbourne Central

Melbourne first railway station to be turned against commuters was Melbourne Central in 2003, when large chunks of the station concourse was sold off by railway infrastructure manager VicTrack as part of the rebuilding of the neighbouring shopping centre. The most noticeable change was the removal of the direct escalators from Swanston Street down to the station concourse, with commuters instead being sent through a maze of passageways and two flights of escalators to reach the same place. 10 years on and the situation at Melbourne Central Station isn’t any better – a few months ago access to the station was down to a single lane walkway due to the premiere of American Pie Reunion at the attached Hoyts cinemas.

Narrow pathway to access Melbourne Central station, due to a film premiere

Can you see the way into Melbourne Central station from Swanston Street?

Next to be privatised was Southern Cross Station in 2002, when the State Government’s Spencer Street Station Authority signed a contract with private consortium Civic Nexus Pty Ltd to design, construct and manage the redeveloped station for 30 years. I’ve previously posted how commuter access has been bastardised, but the 2012 Grand Prix gave me an even more outstanding example, when they set up a merchandise stall in the *middle* of the Bourke Street entrance.

Yes, that is a shop erected in the *middle* of a staircase [headdesk]

The transition of railway stations into commercial locations hit a new low last week at Southern Cross, when commuters were unable to access the station without the possibility of their face appearing in an advertising promotion.

The second 'filming in progress' sign at the entrance to Southern Cross Station

The reason for the film crew clogging up the main entrance of Southern Cross Station: the launch event for a new line of snackfoods.

Fantastic 'Delites' promotional event clogging up the main entrance of Southern Cross Station

In total there was a roving cameraman and another perched atop a scaffold, a professional-grade video camera strapped to the top of a fence, and a GoPro hidden away atop a column.

Another camera for the promotional event clogging up Southern Cross Station

GoPro camera stuck atop a post

One camera guy sanding atop some scaffolding

You can see the results of the Adelaide version of the promotion on YouTube: How far will you go for Fantastic Delites – Delite-o-matic.

Is there any limit to how far the private managers of Melbourne’s railway stations can pimp out commuters?

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7 Responses to “And that’s why you don’t privatise railway stations”

  1. Paul Westcott says:

    Looking at your photo of the film crew clogging up the main entrance of Southern Cross Station at a launch event for a new line of snackfoods provokes a hollow laugh.

    A few moths ago I was being interviewed by a two-man Channel 9 crew on the Spencer Street pavement near that very spot when a security guard told them to cease and desist. The crew declined to do so and the guard said he’d go and tell his boss. By the time we wrapped up ten minutes later, nothing had happened.

    • Marcus says:

      That just goes to show – money buys you anything, including permission to block what were once public thoroughfares.

  2. Charlotte says:

    Isn’t the idea of this that the money that comes from these promotions will give Metro more money to improve services?

    • Paul Westcott says:

      Not at all Charlotte. Southern Cross station is run by a shadowy organisation called Southern Cross Station Pty Ltd, a private company, as part of a public-private partnership with the state government. It is not owned or run by Metro, or V/Line for that matter.

      Anyway, the point is that Southern Cross Station Pty Ltd is prepared to subordinate the interests of passengers and the general public (who the station is there to serve) to the interests of private organisations.

  3. Darren says:

    Marcus can you tell me, now the system is sold off and privatized, does this include the land or does the Government retain the land?

    • Marcus Wong says:

      In general after privatisation the State Government still owns the railway land and infrastructure, with the legal owner being VicTrack, a State Owned Enterprise:

      http://www.victrack.com.au/en/we-are-victrack/about-victrack

      The assets are then leased to the rail and tram operators, who control and maintain the infrastructure and land they lease.

      Southern Cross and Melbourne Central stations are still government owned, the former with the Public Private Partnership encumbering it, the latter with multiple connections into private land.

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