Australia is home to some of the world’s fastest-growing urban environments. According to the Australasian Railway Association, approximately 35% of the country’s population lives in Sydney and Melbourne, with these figures growing three times as fast as in regional areas. Increasing demand has led to the introduction of new metro and light rail systems.

However, a study released earlier this year highlighted that major railway stations in these cities aren’t hitting the same levels of quality as other transit hubs worldwide. Design and consultancy firm Arcadis revealed the results of its mobility oriented development (MODe) report in March. Comparing 27 large railway stations worldwide, the report scrutinised stations based on four key criteria, including transit-hub connectivity, economic development, urban environment and social place-making.

While stations in Hong Kong, London and Paris all scored highly, Australian stations had a disappointing performance, with the majority in the lower ranks of the table. Sydney Central, the nation’s largest and busiest rail hub, had the second-worst overall MODe score ahead of a station in Chile.

The MODe report highlighted the importance of major transit hubs being more than just effective hubs for transport, but also becoming a greater part of the fabric of the cities they inhabit. Why is this not the case with major stations in Australia?

A lack of connectivity with urban environments

A common factor among the Australian stations, says Arcadis, was a lack of connectivity. By comparison, New York’s Grand Central Terminal, Paris Gare du Nord, and London King’s Cross St Pancras all scored highly due to their multimodal transport links and the way they integrate into the urban area that surrounds them.

“The majority of major Australian transit hubs are old and lack strong integration into the broader community.”

Sydney Central station is the endpoint for NSW TrainLink services, serves almost every line on the city’s train network and handles more than 44 million journeys a year. Low scores in public amenities, safety and security, hub facilities and business employment therefore present a cause for concern.

“The majority of major Australian transit hubs are old and lack strong integration into the broader community,” says Greg Harrison, national business leader for advisory and sustainability at Arcadis. “State Governments are addressing this and 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.”

Melbourne’s Southern Cross is a major transit hub situated in Melbourne’s Docklands region and to the west of the city’s central business district. It’s also near the Etihad Stadium, a thriving battleground for the Australian Football League.

The station is Australia’s best for public amenities and safety, according to the MODe report, but has a low score overall. Harrison says that despite the station being relatively new, “it was developed in an old paradigm with minimal services incorporated into the station’s development”.

“There is some potential for improved amenity and services within Southern Cross Station but its existing condition is affecting the score,” he says.

Martin Place was the highest-ranked station in Australia, thanks to high transit-hub connectivity and urban environment scores. After the report was published, Vernon Daal, an urban regeneration strategist at Arcadis, highlighted to news.com.au that although Martin Place was effectively a ‘non-station’, its location and proximity to other modes of transport worked in its favour.

Improvements for the future

The Australian rail industry is continuing to expand. Last year, Australia’s Federal Government announced it would be investing A$20bn in rail as part of its 2017-2018 budget. Harrison says that increased investments in transport infrastructure could herald improvements at its stations.

“Governments across Australia are investing heavily in transport infrastructure, which should provide strong improvements.”

Sydney Central’s station is likely to become a major interchange with the city’s new metro system and expanded light rail network. Earlier this year, work commenced on a A$955 million contract to include new underground platforms, as well as a 19m-wide underground concourse to connect metro lines, buses and heavy and light rail services.

Meanwhile, Melbourne’s Metro Rail project will result in the creation of new 9km-long twin-rail tunnels across the city, in addition to five new underground stations over the coming years.

“Governments across Australia are investing heavily in transport infrastructure, which should provide strong improvements,” says Harrison. “For example, the NSW State Government’s announcement of almost A$1bn to revamp Central Station will help revitalise the precinct and create greater connections with the in-development.

“One of the ways Central, [Brisbane] Roma Street and Southern Cross could perform better is greater connectivity with the city. This is being addressed with station upgrades and new transit options, such as development at Central Station in Sydney, the new Melbourne Metro and Sydney’s light rail network.”

Once upon a time, the Docklands area had been a thriving port in Melbourne, but by the late 1980s it had become an industrial wasteland. Since 1997, the region has been undergoing a revamp to extend the edges of Melbourne’s central business district and reconnect the city to its waterfront. This, in turn, could help revitalise Southern Cross station.

“Similarly, the old western end of the city – over Spencer St – is experiencing major urban renewal and a change of use into a largely residential precinct,” says Harrison. “Again, as these projects are completed they will reflect favourably on the station’s score.”

With these improvements underway, Harrison seems confident that Australian stations could rank higher in the Arcadis report in the future.

“Despite the poor performance on some indicators there is strong improvement and positive momentum overall, which should see our transit hubs continue to improve with the current and planned government investment,” he concludes.