Two days down the track, South Morang is still a missing link

Adam Carey, The Age, April 27, 2012

IT TOOK more than two decades for capacity in the City Loop to begin to be tested. It took less than two days at South Morang.

In its first week, South Morang railway station is struggling to cope with demand, its sprawling 450-space car park filling by 7.30am, and overloaded connecting buses leaving would-be passengers stranded in the afternoon.

Commuters have been parking in the neighbouring Westfield shopping centre, which has reacted by leaving notices on windscreens telling drivers not to park there and noting vehicle number plates.

Kellie Macnaughtan, 17, was one of about a dozen schoolchildren who could not squeeze onto the bus from South Morang to Doreen on her way home on Monday, the first school day after the station opened.

The year 12 student at St Monica’s College in Epping was ”super excited” to be able to take a bus and train to school instead of two buses, but had to wait more than 20 minutes at the station on her way home because the connecting bus was overloaded and the next bus was late. ”It was not a good first impression,” she said.

The $498 million extension of the Epping line to South Morang is the biggest addition to the metropolitan rail network since the City Loop was opened in the early 1980s.

South Morang and Mernda Rail Alliance spokesman Darren Peters said the overcrowding in car parks and on buses showed the line needed to be extended further north to Mernda.

At Epping station, 3.5 kilometres down the line, parking has been slashed from 236 to 90 spaces to allow the lowering of the rail line in the removal of the Cooper Street level crossing.

”The Epping station design had to take into account the competing demands for bus, cyclist, pedestrian and car access to the precinct,” a Public Transport Victoria spokeswoman said. Bus timetables have been changed to better connect with the train timetable.

But RMIT public transport expert Paul Mees said people would continue to drive to stations until there was a genuine bus connection with better than 20-minute frequencies.

”Until you have a guaranteed situation where you step off the train and the bus is there waiting for you, and there’s a bus to meet every train right up until the last one, and the bus waits for the train if it’s late, then people will keep driving,” Dr Mees said.

Pedestrian access to the station is also imperfect. A four-lane road divides the South Morang station from the car park, and one commuter said he had seen people jaywalking to avoid missing trains.

”There doesn’t seem to be any pedestrian priority,” Matt Ferrantino said. ”If you miss the sequence you can wait two or three minutes at the lights, so people have just been running across the road.”

Cycling advocates said a bike path between the two stations had been let down by a 200-metre long missing link near Epping station, in which the lane disappears beneath rows of parked cars.