Belt and braces – why Melbourne stations have lifts and ramps

Last week I detailed the accident of history that saw ramps being favoured over stairs on Melbourne’s railway network, despite the absence of any requirement to provide easy access for people with disabilities. So how has the network developed since then, and why have a combination of lifts and ramps become the current standard?

New 'Way out' signs at Geelong platform 2 and 3, following the opening of the accessible bridge at the down end

Entering the age of the accessible stations

In 1992 the Commonwealth Government passed the Disability Discrimination Act, with the aim to eliminate discrimination ‘as far as possible’ against people with disabilities.

Section 23 set out ‘access to premises used by the public‘, with the technical details codified under the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport (DSAPT) of 2002 and Australian Standard AS1428.1.

The first major railway stations upgrade in Melbourne following this legislative change was Dandenong station in 1995. The existing pedestrian subway was replaced by an overhead concourse spanning the tracks, with stairs and lifts to platform level, and ramps to both street entrances.

Comeng 409M arrives into Dandenong platform 3 with a down Cranbourne service

This was followed in 1998 by the Boronia Road grade separation project, which saw Boronia station rebuilt. The tracks were lowered below ground, with an concourse at ground level linked by steps and a pair of lifts to the island platform below.

X'Trapolis train arrives at Boronia station on the up

The extension of suburban trains to Sydenham in 2002 saw the construction of a new station called Watergardens. Featuring stairs and lifts between street, platform and overhead concourse, this now appeared to be the de facto access standard for new railway stations in Melbourne.

Centre island platform at Watergardens station

But an important thing to keep in mind was that the above three stations were all staffed full time.

The provision of lifts at unstaffed stations appears to have been considered a vandalism and security risk, as the reconstruction of Laburnum station in 2007 shows, where long ramps and stairs were provided between elevated platform and street below.

Dirt car park on the northern side of Laburnum station

The construction of a new station at Roxburgh Park in 2007 reinforces this – this unstaffed station was provided with an island platform accessed by overhead footbridge, with stairs for the able bodied, paralleled by Melbourne’s first example of a zig-zagging DDA compliant ramp.

Footbridge at Roxburgh Park station in place

Up until this point all DDA compliant stations built in Melbourne had featured stairs, not escalators, but this changed with the 2009 upgrade of North Melbourne. A new overhead concourse and station entrance was built at the city end, with escalators and lifts transporting passengers to the platforms below, replacing the steep ramps that once formed the only access route.

VLocity 3VL32 runs through North Melbourne under the new concourse

A second change in design philosophy came a year later in 2010, when the newly built Coolaroo station became the first unstaffed station to receive lifts, in conjunction with stairs.

Looking down the line at Coolaroo station

Lifts continued to trump ramps during this period. The expansion of Westall station in 2010 seeing four lifts provided at the new three platform station.

Siemens arrives into Westall platform 1 with an up service

Nunawading station was also rebuilt in 2010 as part of the grade separation of Springvale Road, receiving stairs and two lifts – one either side of Springvale Road.

Stairs linking the west side of Springvale Road to the platforms at Nunawading station

Thomastown and Epping stations also received lifts and stairs when rebuilt as part of the South Morang Rail Extension Project in 2012, as did the new terminus station at South Morang.

Looking upstairs to the concourse at Epping

One thing to notable about each of the previous projects is the lack of redundancy – with the exception of Boronia and Nunawading stations, each platform was served by a single lift – leaving less agile passengers stranded if the lift broke down. However this flaw went unnoticed by both railway management and the general public, at least until the next project…

All aboard the fail train

2009 saw the rebuilding of Laverton station on the Werribee line. Here the existing footbridge and steep ramps were demolished, replaced by a much higher enclosed structure, linked to the platforms by stairs and lifts.

Down the stairs to platform 2/3

Nothing revolutionary on the design front, but within a few months the lifts at Laverton station soon became a lighting rod for discontent – they were too small to fit and ambulance stretchers, forcing the shutdown of trains to evacuate an ill passenger, and so chronically unreliable they were raised in State Parliament.

Broken down lift at Sunshine station

A year later the new footbridge at Footscray station also attracted similar criticism – passengers were only given lifts, stairs and a single lift per platform, despite being a major interchange station.

Grass knoll outside the Irving Street forecourt

In early 2010 Colleen Hartland from the Greens expressed concern about both projects:

Many people have contacted me, including senior citizens coming in to my office, to express their concern and distress that the Footscray railway station upgrade will have steep stairs and lifts, but no ramps. But many people cannot walk up steep stairs, including senior citizens, people with prams and some people with disabilities.

There will only be three lifts for the four platforms, including one lift shared between platforms 2 and 3. If the lift breaks down, people getting off the train will be stranded on the platform.

Each platform at Footscray has some street access, which is better than nothing in an emergency, but we cannot say the same for Laverton station. Two weeks ago I was at Laverton station when an elderly woman got off the train. The lift was broken and the only alternative was the steep stairs. She had to call on the help of some fellow passengers to carry her up the stairs. This was a demeaning and dangerous situation.

My request for the minister is to ensure that every railway platform may be accessed by Disability Discrimination Act compliant ramps, and to make escalators available at Footscray station. I would also urge him to avoid dismissing the question with an answer like, ‘They’re DDA-compliant lifts and that makes the station okay, and beyond that I don’t care’

As did opposition transport spokesman Terry Mulder, who used the failing lifts as an opportunity to sink the boot into the Labour Government:

Premier John Brumby’s myki is three years late today, while his refusal to provide ramps or subways at new or renovated metropolitan railway stations is resulting in passengers being trapped on platforms such as Laverton when the lifts break down and causing gross inconvenience to local residents, Shadow Minister for Public Transport Terry Mulder said today.

Mr. Mulder said that John Brumby’s obsession with myki and his neglect of public transport basics was creating a problem for a future government to fix, with new stations at Coolaroo and Williams Landing lacking disabled access when the lifts were out of service.

“When its new footbridge is opened, Footscray station, one of the busiest in Melbourne, will also lack easy access when its lifts break down.” Mr. Mulder said.

“Historically, Melbourne railway stations have had excellent access, with subways or ramps being far preferable to the typical stairs-over-tracks design of many Sydney railway stations.

“These new stations are totally or partly ‘island platform’ designs, with a platform sandwiched between two rail lines. John Brumby will maroon passengers on these desert island-like platforms, often without access to water or toilet facilities when lifts are unserviceable.” Mr. Mulder said.

In the lead up to the 2010 State Election, the opposition raised the issue again for political mileage:

“You have to wonder what is being done with the design of these stations,” opposition transport spokesman Terry Mulder said.

The opposition has promised that, if it is elected on Saturday, all new railway stations that require footbridge access will be built or re-fitted with ramps instead of just lifts.

Ramps meant disabled and emergency access would be available at all times, Mr Mulder said.

Ted Baillieu and the Liberal Party won the election, and the rest was history.

A belt and braces approach

Today the trio of stairs, lifts and long zig-zagging ramps with a DDA compliant 1 in 14 gradient has became the standard at new and upgraded railway stations in Melbourne.

Williams Landing was the first example – completed in 2013.

Looking up the long ramp back to the concourse

Followed by the rebuilt station at Mitcham in 2014.

Ramps from the concourse to the down end of Mitcham platform 1

And the rebuilt Springvale station a few months later.

Siemens train pauses at Springvale station on the down

Since then all stations upgraded as part of the Regional Rail Link project have included lifts and ramps, as have all stations rebuilt as part of the Level Crossing Removal Project, and the new stations to be built as part of the Mernda Rail Extension Project.

But the debate continues

The debate about lengthy DDA compliant ramps just won’t die – in 2014 a leaked memo showed the Liberal Government was having second thoughts on their election promise:

A leaked memo has revealed the State Government has changed its stance on ­installing ramps at train ­stations, raising concerns for commuters with limited ­mobility.

In Opposition, the Coalit­ion criticised the Brumby government for refusing to provide ramps at new or renovated train stations and promised to provide both options.

But in a leaked Public Transport Victoria memo seen by the Herald Sun, an engineer claims Transport Minister Terry Mulder has “shifted his position” on building ramps at railway stations because of the cost blowout at the new Will­iams Landing station.

The document also reveals that Mr Mulder raised concerns about the “visual impacts of ramps” at upgraded stations in Mitcham and Springvale.

The memo also suggests three stations — Clayton, Carnegie and Murrumbeena which are to be redeveloped in the Cranbourne-­Pakenham Rail Corridor Project — have been designed without ramps.

In 2016 the Level Crossing Removal Authority also attempted to avoid building massive ramps as part of the Mernda rail extension:

Designs released so far show stations will have stairs and lifts to the platforms, but a lack of ramps have raised concerns similar to those voiced when the rail line was extended from Epping to South Morang in 2010.

Whittlesea Councillor Mary Lalios said she was advised by Level Crossing Removal Authority (LXRA) appointed to design and construct the Mernda extension that ramps were too long for the stations.

“If there were to be ramps, they would be roughly 150m in length,” she said.

“When I asked how long the platforms are, they (LXRA) advised they were 162m long.

“That means that a person in a wheelchair, to get to the front carriage behind the train driver, will have to travel the same distance or more.

“Doesn’t make sense.”

Playing catch up

Turns out the lifts at Watergardens aren’t all they’re cracked up to be either:

A malfunctioning lift at Watergardens train station that reportedly breaks down nearly every second week, on average, is likely to be replaced.

Western Metropolitan MLC Bernie Finn told state parliament recently the Watergardens lift had broken down 43 times over the two years to 2016, and sometimes took a week to fix.

They have since been replaced – the work taking month and a half during 2017.

'Lift upgrade works at Watergardens' poster

Similar lift upgrade works were also completed at Dandenong station during 2017.

Hopefully these upgrades will reduce the impact of these single points of failure.

And a footnote on Footscray

When asked in 2010 about the lack of ramps and escalators at Footscray station, the Minister for Public Transport stated:

Ramps and escalators were considered by the design team but would have resulted in very lengthy ramps, and a much longer path of travel than the lifts provide. Escalators were also considered but found to be unsuitable for a number of reasons, including exposure to the weather which can result in frequent failure.

A prophetic statement, given the issues encountered with the open air escalators at North Melbourne station since 2012!

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13 Responses to “Belt and braces – why Melbourne stations have lifts and ramps”

  1. DavID Payne says:

    I’m surprised you didn’t include Sunbury in this article with it’s zig-zag-zig-zag ramps somewhat like Mitcham except the platforms are ground level and only a bridge is at the top. Even more when unsuccessfully searching online for a good image of the ramps, my last hope being Wongm’s Rail Gallery until it occurred to me who created that. I believe I have suitable pix but haven’t found any yet. I think GODgle has hidden some remotely in order to make room on my nearly empty uSD card, rather than on the system drive where more room is often needed.

    When I went to Boronia one night after years of not traveling near there I got off the second last train and wondered where I was, because I hadn’t heard of that grade separation. I somehow didn’t see the stairs, feared the lift wasn’t working and was glad it wasn’t the last train!

    Maybe I’m not the general public, but I don’t approve of building things so they depend on complex add-on machinery like lifts to work properly. And sometimes a group of cyclists get off at the same station to commence a group ride. Neither lifts nor stairs handle that well!

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Thanks for pointing out the footbridge at Sunbury – I’d forgotten about it completely!

      I’ll have to add the footbridge there to my list if things to photograph.

  2. Tom the first and best says:

    The new skyrail stations (Carnegie, Murrumbeena, Hughesdale, Clayton and Noble Park) are not going to have ramps but will have escalators, stair and lifts.

    Most of the DDA compliance issues are at stations that are already grade separated and thus the level crossing removal project will not touch them.

    In the case of some of the grade separations, where they are not moving the railway or stations (such as Essendon, see, the stations are not being upgraded to DDA-compliance.

  3. Rohan Storey says:

    Aha, so its really about lifts breaking down, making the station inaccessible to those who cant handle stairs. So were the ones at laverton and watergardens perhaps cheapees ? Are they being replaced with more reliable ones, that can also fit a stretcher ? Are the ones at the skytrain stops going to be of the larger and more reliable type ?

    Personally I do think they are often visually intrusive and expensive, especially for what is really an emergency use – surely an emergency slidy lift thing attached to the stairs would be cheaper and easier ? (presuming that they can be made reliable too)

    And yes meanwhile, there are all the existing stations that arnt going to be made DDA compliant accessible any time soon. It is, as with so many things, a politically created mess. I do think that some kind of systematic whole-line approach would be better, eg. the whole Dandenong corridor, which is (maybe) going to be rebranded Melb Metro, with new trains too, should be disentangled from the system, re-signalled, and all stations made DDA.

    • Tom the first and best says:

      I am sure that the skyrail stations are going to get stretcher capable lifts. Decent reliability is also likely to be included.

      Two lifts can be useful is situations other than emergencies and maintenance. They are useful at busy times/stations to reduce lift waiting time and they are also useful at multi entrance stations to reduce detours to reach lifts (a repeat of Parliament and Melbourne Central where lifts are only available for one concourse, leading to people being stretchered out by paramedics from the southern concourse via the escalators to the platforms, to access the lifts to street level).

      The highest priority stations for improving to DDA compliance are probably junctions, so people who need full DDA compliance can use them rather than having to go to a station further down the line to change and double back. The next most important stations are busy stations, where the upgrades will have the most impact. Both of these criteria indicate that Caulfield and South Yarra, which need new concourses to cope with current and future patronage, are some of the highest priorities for upgrades. Richmond, Glenferrie, Box Hill, Newport, Camberwell, et are others.

  4. mich says:

    In many cases, this could be avoided by having side platforms instead of island platforms.

    Side platforms also have a straighter path for non-stopping trains.

    The assertion that each platform at Footscray has some street access, seems odd.

    • Tom the first and best says:

      Side platforms only avoid the need for ramps/stairs/lifts when they are at level crossings for pedestrians.

      Island platforms are necessary at all* stations where there are more than 2 platforms.

      * The 2 exceptions to this (in Victoria) were East Camberwell 1900-1927 (the then platform 3 was a lower level platform for the Deepdene Line) and Footscray 1900-2013 (the then only middle platform is a peninsular platform with access from McNab Avenue, there is now an additional island platform because of the RRL).

    • Tom the first and best says:

      Both sides of island platforms not have to be straight (line of sight for door closing and departing and/or DDA compliance) and that seems to have increased the line speeds that express trains are allow to run at line speed past both sides of island platforms.

      • Kevin says:

        “Both sides of island platforms not have to be straight (line of sight for door closing and departing and/or DDA compliance) ”
        There appears to be an error there creating the possibility of misunderstanding your meaning. Could you clarify please?

        • Tom the first and best says:

          Sorry. An overlooked letter and word typo.

          It should read “Both sides of new island platforms now have to be straight (line of sight for door closing and departing and/or DDA compliance)”.

          I hope it is much clearer now.

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