All infrastructure eventually wears out, and in the case of Melbourne the thirty year old lifts in the City Loop have come up for replacement. However the planning of these works leaves a lot to be desired.
Worked started on January 3, with lifts at Flagstaff and Parliament taken out of service, rendering the stations inaccessible to anyone unable to use an escalator.
These passengers are being directed to Melbourne Central station, where a wheelchair accessible taxi will carry them on the final leg of their journey.
Of course, alternate transport is no good if you don’t know about it.
Disabled train passengers have been left stranded at Parliament and Flagstaff stations, as drivers keep forgetting to let them know lifts are out of action.
Disability advocates are fed up with the lack of warnings, as the lifts have been down for nearly a month.
Metro Trains has told its drivers to broadcast warnings on the approach into the City Loop but they are still regularly failing to do so.
Sarah Nankervis, who suffers from a serious fainting condition that prevents her from using escalators or stairs, said she was recently caught at the bottom of Parliament station not knowing what to do.
“There was no warning on the approach into the city to get off at Melbourne Central,” she said. “I had to go up the escalators and doing that makes me really dizzy and there is chance I can faint.
“My disability isn’t as bad as some people. I’ve got friends in wheelchairs who couldn’t get to where they needed to go.”
Ray Jordan, of the All Aboard group, said Metro Trains had promised him there would be alerts on every train since work began to replace the lifts on January 3.
“I believe it happened in the first couple of days but then we just forgot about it,” he said.
“If you’re going to do this, you need to get it right and do it consistently. We understand there was a need to upgrade the lifts. But you need to have a backup plan and right now it isn’t working as it should be.”
Metro spokesman Marcus Williams said information on the upgrades was being provided through a “wide range of channels” including train announcements.
“Passengers requiring lifts and wishing to disembark at Parliament or Flagstaff should travel to Melbourne Central station where staff are on hand to provide a maxi taxi to either station for their onward journey,” he said.
Metro Trains told disability support groups earlier this month it would take up to two weeks for consistent messaging by drivers due to a “wider driver management and support issue”.
A senior Metro source said there was no reason why it should take a fortnight for drivers to follow the directions.
At least since the works started, signage has improved – I found this sign at Flagstaff station.
Plus the extent of the works has been clarified – Flagstaff station still has a working lift linking the two platform levels.
But there is still one question – why close the lifts at two stations at the same time?
This isn’t like a level crossing removal project, where it makes sense to work on multiple work sites while the trains are not running. The lifts at each station in the City Loop all operate independently from each other, so why not stagger the works, and complete each station in turn?
To prove my point
Sunday January 29th illustrated why closing the lifts at two City Loop stations at the same time was a bad idea – at Melbourne Central the single shopping centre lift linking the eastern station concourse with Swanston Street failed.
The workaround – taking the long way around through the shopping centre.
One lift failure at Melbourne Central – with a cascading effect on every City Loop passenger. I wonder if the extra usage thanks to passengers diverted from other stations contributed to the failure?
Diversity in access
Having multiple ways of accessing the platform other than stairs isn’t new.
Boronia station was rebuilt in a cutting back in 1998, and has stairs and a pair of lifts linking platform and concourse.
But by the mid-2000s this practice went out of fashion – the designers of Laverton, Coolaroo, Westall, Footscray, Thomastown, Epping and South Morang stations took the cheap option, and provided just a single lift to each platform, with no alternate access for people unable to use the stairs.
Laverton station is infamous for failing lifts and standard passengers:
Greens MP Colleen Hartland tabled a question in Parliament asking how many times the lifts at Laverton broke down between July 2010 and April 2011.
Transport Minister Terry Mulder told Parliament in his reply that they were inoperative on 105 occasions. And he said that a $15 million footbridge at Footscray station, also built last year without ramps, had lifts that broke down 117 times over the same period.
”It is quite clear that they didn’t put any thought into these two stations,” Ms Hartland said.
The stations were unsafe without ramps, she said, because in an emergency wheelchair passengers and parents with prams needed an alternative to broken lifts. ”They need ramps at these stations before someone is seriously injured.”
In response to these failures, at the 2010 State Election the Liberal opposition made a commitment that they would ensure all new railway stations would feature ramps as well as lifts. Ted Baillieu won the election, and duplicated access to railway platforms has been part of all projects since, from both sides of politics.
During the first few days of the lift outage, audio announcements still included the January 3 start date in their spiel. Thankfully someone has realised that small bit of information is superfluous given that the work had already started, and the announcement has been trimmed down.