Changing tracks: On Track Survey results 2017

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It’s a sunny weekday afternoon in Melbourne’s western suburbs, and I’m standing on the platform of the curiously named Aircraft Station. Less than a dozen people are sitting or standing, heads buried in smartphones as they wait for the train towards the city, and life is disconcertingly normal.

Road traffic edges its way around a busy roundabout and across the nearby level crossing, while the multi-lane freeway to Geelong whizzes by a few hundred metres to the south. Beyond the tracks are shops and cafes. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Which makes you wonder why this unassuming platform was rated the worst station in Victoria two years ago, and remains in the top three, according to the RACV’s latest On Track Survey of rail commuters.

On a point-score rating, Aircraft is liked even less by its users now than it was in the 2015 survey; it’s just that two other stations, Donnybrook, out beyond the northern fringe of the city, and Ruthven, one stop north of Reservoir on the South Morang line, are disliked even more, so they’ve taken the top two spots in the Worst Station rankings.

RACV’s manager of mobility advocacy, Dave Jones, says that the 2017 On Track Survey and other research shows commuters struggle badly at Aircraft. “There’s the absence of toilets, a lack of shelter, a lack of car parking,” he says. “The parking is totally inadequate for the Point Cook area. There are cars parked on footpaths and on any spare land within walking distance.” 

How does your station rate?

Find Victoria’s 10 best and worst train stations, and use our interactive map to see just what respondents think of your station.

The haves and have nots

It’s no comfort to Aircraft commuters that the shiny new Williams Landing station can be seen further up the tracks.

Indeed, the overall favourite station for Victorian train commuters in the past two On Track Surveys, a V/Line Regional Rail Link jewel, Wyndham Vale, is not far away. Our train system really is a random network of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.

As I leave Aircraft, head back into town and then ride north along the South Morang line, I reflect on how being Minister for Public Transport must be a tough job. The state’s metro and V/Line rail networks, including its 300-plus stations, are a headache for governments. 

Even with billions of dollars pouring into infrastructure, there will always be neglected pockets and old, inadequate stations, depending on where work has been focused in the past and how the city is rapidly evolving.

Survey snapshot

  • 15 stations rated poorly
  • 129 stations rated “okay”
  • 65 stations were rated “good”
  • 99 stations did not receive the required 20 submissions to be officially rated.

Donnybrook is a case in point: Traditionally a remote station with low use, it is now in high demand. There are nowhere near enough buses or car parks for the hordes unexpectedly descending on the ageing platforms from nearby subdivisions, a result of Donnybrook’s location in the middle of  an urban growth corridor.

“There’s inadequate shelter, as well,” Dave says, “so commuters are probably stuck in the northerly blowing across the paddocks.” 

Worst of all

The 2017 On Track Survey saw commuters rate Donnybrook worst of all, with a 3.41 rating (out of 10). A Public Transport Victoria spokesperson told RoyalAuto that $140 million has been earmarked for improvements to the north-east corridor network, including some extra work at that station.

In rural Victoria, some stations – such as Warragul, with its recent improvements to car parking and an all-new bus interchange – are appreciated by commuters because they’ve been deliberately enhanced. In the 2017 survey, locals were enthusiastic in their praise.

But others, like Castlemaine Station, rate highly because they offer a beautiful backdrop to the daily commute. 

Castlemaine’s station is heritage listed and commuter Anthony Johnson says he loves looking up at the adjacent hill with its atmospheric sandstone jail, now home to ghost tours, as he waits for the 6.29am train.

“I’m not much of a morning person so I tend to keep to myself, but other people are quite social,” he says. “There’s a coffee cart and a community board for people to buy, swap or sell. It’s got a nice vibe and people know each other.”

That’s definitely a different experience to Ruthven Station, near Reservoir, where cars are jammed at odd angles onto a strip of dirt on the western side of the rails and a dilapidated walkway leads under the track and then up a ramp to the platform and utilitarian station building that looks like it hasn’t changed much since its grand opening on August 5, 1963 – two days after The Beatles’ final appearance at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, to give you a sense of how long ago that was. You wouldn’t want to wait here in a downpour.

The worst

The little-known station of Donnybrook gains infamy as the commuters’ least favourite by a large margin (209th out of 209 stations).

RACV is concerned that several northern-fringe stations, led by the time-capsule-in-a-bad-way Ruthven Station (no. 208), but also including Lalor (202), Broadmeadows (204) and Craigieburn (200), made the worst list. Carnegie (201) also scored badly but was midway through a level-crossing upgrade at the time of the survey.

Other side of the tracks

On the other side of the city, the second-favourite station in the state is Bentleigh, reopened by Premier Daniel Andrews on November 21, 2016 (there’s a shiny plaque) and one of a string of stations now loved by users thanks to the removal of level crossings. It has lockable toilets, a manned customer service counter, and modern information screens. The lift also has cute train-based photography.

The best

Wyndham Vale station was named the state’s best for the second survey in a row, no surprise as it was newly built under the Regional Rail Link program in 2015.

Teresa Olszanka is a regular train traveller and says the removal of the level crossing has been fantastic for the station, the streetscape and the local businesses.

“You don’t have to wait for the boom gates any more and sometimes, if there was an express train coming as well as stopping trains, they [the gates] couldn’t go up. It was a nightmare. McKinnon, Ormond, Bentleigh, they’re all the same principle. It’s helped a lot.”

Level-crossing improvements aside, Dave Jones says RACV is calling on the government to address the issues  revealed by the latest and past On Track Surveys. Some of the city’s busiest hubs, home to significant commuter activity, scored very badly in the new ratings, including the Dandenong and Broadmeadows stations.

“For example, Broadmeadows came up with problems in lacking cleanliness, and graffiti, not feeling safe, finding car parks, and it’s a pretty dark and gloomy station, with lots of wire over walkways. It’s not a nice place at all,” Dave says.

Public Transport Victoria says improvements on the way across the network include 2100 sealed car-parking spots with improved security at 16 sites, chosen based on need and usage.

Most improved

Gardiner station, on the Glen Waverley line, jumped from 5.94 in 2015 to 8.05 in 2017. Another level-crossing removal success story.

Level-crossing removals are slated for the northern lines, with Reservoir Station among those to be upgraded. There are eight kilometres of new tracks and three new stations on the way in the Mernda growth corridor. No mention of Aircraft or Ruthven. Alas.

About the survey 

The On Track Survey is RACV’s biennial survey of rail users. The survey asks commuters to rate their local station via an online questionnaire. The 2017 survey attracted 17,398 responses.

To see the full results of the survey visit

Written by Nick Place. Photos by Shannon Morris.
August 13, 2018