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Athletes, advocates call for overhaul of regional train services before 2026 Commonwealth Games

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Disability advocates say work to improve accessibility on Victoria's public transport must start immediately if the system is to be ready for the 2026 Commonwealth Games. 

Announced in early April, four cities across the state will host events with the MCG to feature the opening ceremony.

Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo and Gippsland will all play a role in the games with "satellite events" in other regional areas expected to be announced.

Questions have been raised over the effectiveness of the public transport system and its ability to cope with a high number of visitors, particularly for those living with disabilities.

The state government said one third of people in Victoria had a profound or serious disability, and 20 per cent of public transport users were living with a disability.

Three-time Paralympian and Commonwealth Games athlete Don Elgin said upgrading accessibility needed to involve a "consistent, conscious approach" no matter what events were happening.

A man throws a discuss at an athletics competition.
Paralympian Don Elgin says Victoria will need to adopt a consistent approach to upgrading accessibility on public transport.(Supplied)

"I don't think the disability sector, because of the Commonwealth Games, is all of a sudden going to have a trump card," Mr Elgin said.

Mr Elgin said the importance of the sporting event was the legacy it left for all members of society.

"The Games are going to come and go; the key is how do we get accessibility right for the bigger picture," he said.

Upgrade needed regardless of Games

The state government in February revealed a series of upgrades for the Ballarat train station precinct, including a $28 million transformation of the Goods Shed convention centre.

The upgrades received criticism for taking priority over disability access upgrades.

Advocates say the train station's primary issue with accessibility is a lack of ramp access from platform one to platform two, where a heritage bridge with steep stairs is the nearest and quickest way to cross sides.

Set of ornate stairs rises to footbridge over railway lines.
Ballarat's train station has been criticised for is lack of accessibility for people with disabilities.(ABC Ballarat: Laura Mayers)

It means those who cannot use stairs are forced to use the pedestrian crossing on Lydiard Street, about 100m away from the station.

Grampians Disability Advocacy chief executive Deborah Verdon said it should not take a major event such as the Games to get urgent upgrades made.

"Improving access at the Ballarat railway station has always been important," Ms Verdon said.

"It would frankly be embarrassing if the station was still in its current situation when the Games are on."

A drone photo of a three-carriage Vline train travelling past homes on a section of single track.
A V/Line train travels along a section of single track in Geelong.(ABC News: Steven Schubert)

A review into Australia's public transport system set a December 2022 deadline to have certain minimum requirements for the nation's transportation systems.

The Disability Discrimination Act called for train and tram providers to comply with a minimum of 90 per cent of standards for access paths, manoeuvring and passing areas, ramps, doorways and doors, lifts and toilets.

The review found that the December 2022 deadline for 100 per cent compliance across Australia was "unlikely to be met".

Ms Verdon said the "silence was deafening" from the state government when it came to upgrades.

"We have tried everything to put our case to the authorities about the poor state of affairs at the Ballarat railway station," Ms Verdon said.

A man in a suit in front of a blue backdrop
Transport Minister Ben Carroll says he understands how "vitally important" the upgrades are to those with disabilities.(ABC News)

Transport Minister Ben Carroll said the government had been "looking into" the upgrades but would not make any substantive announcements on the topic.

He said it did not take the announcement of the Games to get the spotlight on the infrastructure upgrades.

"I do fully appreciate and understand in terms of lift access, other amenities that are required … that these are vitally important for the community," Mr Carroll said.

"The clock is ticking … we are making investments, but we do have so much more work to do."


Source: ABC

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