All of Melbourne’s suburban railway stations have step-free access to the platforms.
Except one: Heyington. To get to either platform involves steps.
Heyington is set into the side of a hill. From the street you go down some steps to the citybound (“up”) platform. Or if you want the outbound (“down”) platform, that’s down some steps, across a walkway, and then down some more steps. (The outbound platform is accessible directly from the adjacent St Kevins College, but that appears to be a private entrance.)
Other rail networks
So, every Melbourne station except one has step-free access.
That’s a long way ahead of many of the bigger old rail systems around the world.
It’s not that hard to see how this happened. Much of Sydney is very hilly, so many stations hug the side of hills (like Heyington does), which would have made it quite difficult/expensive to provide ramps, back in the days when accessibility for wheelchairs or prams wasn’t seen as a concern.
(For similar reasons, Sydney never had very many level crossings. Sure, they’ve done a good job at getting rid of theirs, but they never had that many to start with. Melbourne in comparison is fairly flat, so we ended up with lots of level crossings.)
On old underground systems like London and Paris, some of the stations were built before lift/elevator technology had really matured, and it would have been expensive, and not seen as a priority. Providing ramps to station platforms deep underground would have cost a fortune, so to this day they’re very reliant on steps. Some cities are spending up big on retro-fitting lifts.
How did Melbourne end up with ramps almost everywhere? There must have been a policy in place, because stations going back well over a hundred years have them — the MATHS stations rebuilt in the 1910s are a good example, but you can also find photos of Flinders Street Station from the 1890s with ramps.
Whatever the reasons for the policy, it showed foresight.
DDA compliance doesn’t just mean ramps
So, all Melbourne stations except Heyington are step-free. But this doesn’t make them compliant with the latest legislated standards.
The Disability Discrimination Act, and the subsection, the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport are far more specific than just “no steps”. Melbourne’s station ramps, particularly the older ones, are too steep for some people in a hand-operated wheelchair to use, and can cause problems for people with other mobility difficulties.
Here’s a summary of the relevant DDA standard (AS 1428.1):
So basically you need ramps to be no steeper than 1:14, and at that gradient, you need a landing every 9 metres.
DDA probably isn’t perfect. But it mandates a pretty good standard, which if followed, makes more public spaces accessible to most people, not just the able-bodied.
Some upgrades coming
The current state of many of the stations means, even though there are no steps, it’s difficult for some people to use them.
In the past, some stations have been proposed for upgrades; some have happened, some have faced fierce resistance.
Fortunately, the level crossing removal program is resulting in many stations being rebuilt to modern standards. This is a ramp down to the platforms at Bentleigh station — note the gentle gradient, and landing midway along.
If you have specific mobility needs and you’re looking to travel — for instance, you might be capable of using modern DDA-compliant ramps, but not the older steeper ones — there’s not very much official information online.
The rail network map simply says that only Heyington lacks step-free access.
The detailed station information on the PTV web site doesn’t distinguish between a station with fully-DDA-compliant ramps and lifts, and one with steep ramps.
In fact it cheerfully notes stations that have steps, without telling you what this means:
- Heyington has steps which means you can’t access the platforms any other way.
- Box Hill and Ormond are also listed as having steps… but platforms are accessible via lifts and/or ramps.
It mentions if station parking, phones and toilets are accessible, but again, doesn’t clarify what this means. Accessible from where? Caulfield’s new accessible toilets are on platforms 2/3, reached from the street via two steep ramps.
Worse, it claims Heyington’s toilets and phone are accessible — I didn’t notice a telephone, and there are certainly no toilets available there.
The PTV Journey Planner can be told:
- You can’t walk very far
- You need services and/or stops with wheelchair access
(The Journey Planner seems to know which trams are accessible and which aren’t — eg 96 normally is, 57 normally isn’t. Just don’t bother trying to look at the tram timetables online, which don’t show it.)
But you can’t specify that you need:
- Unassisted/DDA-compliant wheelchair access
- Visual displays on the platform (eg hearing difficulties) to confirm you’re boarding the right service
- Tactile guidance paths (even though these are in the PTV database)
(I’m not trying to catalogue every specific need people might have, just show some examples.)
Ultimately if you need more information than is available online, the only thing I can suggest is contacting PTV and Metro for that information… if they have it.
Perhaps we should be thankful that most of the train system is accessible, at least with assistance.
Most buses are compliant. Trams… that’s another story altogether.
Clearly a lot more is needed to improve the transport system as a whole to achieve full DDA-compliance.
* * *
- ATRF paper: An analysis of station infrastructure design to improve accessibility between the platform and suburban train carriages.
- VCOSS: Access to train stations: more than ramps and lifts
- ABC: Melbourne’s most overcrowded train stations ranked by Public Transport Users Association – despite how it may appear, this was based on anecdotal evidence rather than hard numbers
- Apparently Marcus Wong is also working on a blog post on this topic, which may talk a bit more about the history. I’ll link it when I see it! Update — here it is: Why Melbourne built ramps not stairs at railway stations
Thanks to Karen for inspiring this blog post via discussion of her mother’s mobility needs.