Going up: Is Sydney’s 100-year-wait for lifts at rail stations finally ending?

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It has taken 130 years but Redfern railway Station,  one of the city’s biggest, will soon finally have a lift, making two of its platforms accessible for people in wheelchairs, parents with prams and the elderly.

It’s a sign that things could finally be moving again to address one of the most glaring legacies of steam age public transport infrastructure in Australia’s largest city. For decades millions of people with limited mobility have effectively been shut out from taking heavy rail because many train stations, especially in densely populated inner suburbs, still don’t have platform elevators.

Redfern is one of Sydney’s ten busiest stations with 50,000 people passing through it every day and pressure has been mounting to make at least
some of the station’s twelve platforms accessible so that part of the station is compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act.

The new lift will be funded from the NSW government’s $770 million Transport Access Program and should be completed by December this 2015.
Work, which is already underway, also includes better access to the station at the Lawson Street entrance, including new access ramps to the station concourse; extending platforms 6 and 7, new lighting, fencing and CCTV.

Platforms 6 and 7 were chosen for lift access because they provide access to the busy T2 Inner West, South and Airport lines, which cater for passengers heading to the city and airport, as well as to suburbs such as Newtown, Burwood and Strathfield.

People With Disability Advocacy Projects Manager Samantha French praised efforts to make Redfern Station accessible but said the process of ensuring accessible public transport for people with disabilities needed to be hurried up.

“Many people with disability are unable to fully access the community because not all train stations are accessible,” Ms French said.
“Access to public transport is essential for people with disability if they are to participate fully in the community, both in a social and economic sense.”

While some parts of Sydney’s transport network were accessible for people with disability, particularly around central Sydney, she said that other areas of the network were “not up to scratch”, for example in the Inner West, where platforms at stations including St Peters, Stanmore, Marrickville, Erskineville, Dulwich Hill, Tempe and Macdonaldtown still have no wheelchair access.

“In terms of other specific areas where accessibility is a challenge, our members in regional NSW tells us they face huge barriers because the lack of accessible public transport options is even worse in regional and remote communities,” she said.

Ms French said that although lift access was a priority, accessibility was not just about physical access but also included accessible signs, better communication and accessible public toilets at all train stations.

A Transport for NSW spokeswoman said that work to make public transport accessible was being sped-up under the Transport Access Program (TAP) to prioritise upgrades at stations, interchanges, wharves and commuter car parks.

More than 300 projects had started since the TAP began in April 2012, with many already completed, and ten stations have been given lifts since 2012, including Newtown, Sydenham and Shellharbour Junction Stations.

“More planning and design work is underway to see which projects will come next, centred on evidence-based criteria including: current and future patronage, the needs and demographics of customers who use the location, whether important services such as hospitals or educational facilities are nearby, and the accessibility of other nearby transport interchanges and facilities,” the spokeswoman said.

It was not just lifts that contributed to making stations accessible to those with limited mobility, but also improving transport information systems, ongoing staff training, improved on-board infrastructure, a wayfinding strategy and better managing service disruptions.

Government News has calculated that there are currently 101 train stations on the Sydney Trains Network that are wheelchair accessible and 77 that are not (using the Sydney Trains Network suburban list of stations). Stations marked as accessible may not necessarily have a lift but they do have level, ramp or lift access to all platforms. Not every entrance at every accessible station may be wheelchair accessible.

Transport NSW said that as of February this year 150 out of 307 stations on the Sydney Trains and NSW Trains (Intercity) networks were wheelchair accessible, representing 49 per cent of stations and over 82.8 per cent of trips.

What’s less clear is to what degree the percentage of trips figure would be significantly different if non-accessible stations became accessible, especially given that wheelchair access — whether it’s lifts or ramps — often acts as a proxy for pram access for parents with infants unwilling to take the risk of carting strollers up and down long flights of stairs.

Although there is still a way to go, the Redfern Station lift and access improvements is an important win for disability advocates, older people and those struggling with prams.

Former NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian said last year that it was virtually impossible for people in wheelchairs to access trains at Redfern, and also extremely difficult for parents with prams and the elderly.

“This is a good start to ensure all customers can access the network at Redfern,” Ms Berejiklian said at the time.

“Redfern is a large station with many challenges — there is considerable planning work being undertaken at the moment which involves examining the future of this important precinct and the rail corridor – however lift access to Redfern is a pressing issue and that is why we are providing a solution.”

Onsite investigation and geotechnical investigations begun in October last year, including digging potholes and looking underground to identify where utilities are but Government News spies spotted what appeared to be a concrete slab being poured last week, signalling work had begun in earnest.

Meanwhile, there are mutterings in the community that the sale of the multi-million dollar Australian Technology Park (ATP) in Eveleigh could later finance a full upgrade of Redfern Station.

UrbanGrowth NSW, which owns the ATP, would not confirm the speculation but said proceeds from selling the 13.2 hectare inner-city site “could potentially be reinvested in the Central to Eveleigh urban transformation project”, part of which could include a Redfern Station revamp.

The Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport were established in 2002 to give public transport providers clarity on their obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act. The most recent review of these Standards was undertaken in 2013 to 2014 but the findings have not yet been released.

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