Big problem with our stations
AUSTRALIA'S major transport hubs are failing travellers and the cities they serve.
A new report which ranks some of the globe's busiest railway stations in terms of usability, encouraging public transport use and overall passenger experience placed New York's Grand Central at the top, and embarrassingly, Sydney Central almost at the bottom.
The report's authors also said Brisbane's Roma Street and Melbourne's Southern Cross, the latter of which was refurbished just over a decade ago, were lagging behind major global terminals and there was "a long way to go" to get them up to scratch.
There was one particular area where all three stations were failing.
The report by design and consultancy firm Arcadis looked at 27 major rail hubs across the globe and gave them a Mobility Oriented Development (MODe) score.
This benchmark takes into account how successful the station fits into its urban environment, its environmental sustainability and sense of being a destination in its own right, its connections to other modes of transport and if it gives the surrounding area an economic boost.
While no one station excelled in every area, Grand Central came closest, said Vernon Daal, an Urban Regeneration Strategist with Arcadis. It was followed by Washington Union, Hong Kong University, Paris Gare du Nord, Rotterdam Central and London's Kings Cross and St Pancras stations.
"Grand Central is well located and its serves like a living room for New York. If you've ever been there you'll know the experience of how the light comes in and yet it was on the verge of being demolished at one point.
"It's made a major comeback; it's very functional, very dramatic and also full of retail, commercial, residential and cultural attractions so it connects with the city," Mr Daal told news.com.au.
Amsterdam's main station got a tick for being a hub for 10 different modes of transport, from ferries to trains, trams, underground and bicycles - the most of anywhere in the survey. While one of Madrid's major terminals was singled out for turning a historic railway shed into a meeting point for city residents.
WHERE AUSTRALIAN STATIONS FALL DOWN
Things weren't so rosy in Australia. Sydney Central was second only to a metro station in Chile's capital of Santiago on the list. Melbourne Southern Cross was also in the bottom rung of the table.
Both those stations, and Brisbane's Roma Street said Mr Daal, shared the same flaw - being separate from the city centres they serve.
"The majority of our transit hubs are old and lack strong integration into the broader community.
"One of the ways Central, Roma Street and Southern Cross could perform better is connectivity with the city," he said.
"Central is isolated. If you look at it from above it's either rails or streets. Southern Cross is an interesting modern station and it works well on safety but it's also disconnected with its surroundings and doesn't provide many connections. Roma Street is between the river and the park and that's a huge challenge to connect them all."
The report seemed to favour those stations that included grand public spaces, like squares in front of the building to create a sense of place, which many Australian hubs lack.
However, the best scoring station in Australia is one that is completely buried by a grand public space.
"Sydney's Martin Place is almost a non station because it has no building but it is very well located and has lots of different types of transport around it and is close to other functions," Mr Daal said.
Being behind wasn't all bad, Mr Daal said. It meant we could learn from the world's best terminals.
"We have relatively outdated stations now so it's an interesting time to think about what buildings will look like in 30 to 50 years. We could make huge leap into top 10 if we do it right."
LEAP INTO TOP 10
Indeed, Sydney's largest station could soon go up the ranks with the NSW Government this month awarding a $1bn contrast to redevelop Central in time for it to service the Metro underground line in the early 2020s.
This will see a new concourse built connecting the two sections of the station to accommodate an increase in passengers from 270,000 to 450,000 annually in the coming decades.
"State Governments are making huge improvements to our transit network through projects such as the Metro developments and upgrades to Central Station in Sydney, but there is still a long way to go," said Mr Daal.
The answer wasn't to knock down our historic stations and start again, however. It was making older stations fit for modern purposes.
"Stations are very special buildings in the city and they have a much bigger impact than just transporting people. They're not just infrastructure, they're much more than that."