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Sunday, 30 June 2013

Underpasses: what do they really cost us?

In my recent discussions with friends, neighbours and family about the proposed underpass for Marion Station I've heard that the current overpass must be torn down in order to electrify and revitalise the rail line. 

I am told that an underpass is the preferred option because it is cheaper. I don't know how much it would cost to modify our existing 1960s-era overpass to make it safe for electrification, although the new overpass being built at Wayville will apparently cost over $16 million. 

I thought it was worth a visit to another underpass to judge for myself what kind of value they represent for my taxpayer dollars.

Here are some pictures of nearby Warradale Station, travelling south from Marion on the Noarlunga line. 

This underpass differs slightly in design to the one proposed for Marion, but it also shares some aspects seemingly common to underpasses right along the network.  It is essentially a tunnel with a series of blind corners, limiting visibility within the tunnel and also outside of it

The lack of public vigilance makes the tunnels a magnet for anti-social and destructive behaviour such as graffiti, toileting and vandalism. You can attempt to modify property damage by adding mirrors, or installing cameras within the tunnels, but these too are subject to frequent damage due to lack of visibility and isolation. 

So if repairing property damage to underpasses requires a constant flow of funds in order to attract sufficient fare paying passengers to keep existing stations open, is it really a good idea to build more of them? Do underpasses present value for money if they are cheap to build but expensive to maintain - or are we just deferring the costs of repairing damaged property until later?

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  1. For 15 years I lived almost directly opposite the underpass at Ascot Park Station. I was forced to use it regularly, as this is the only local station with an underpass that doesn't have alternative access (because the geography doesn't allow it). Believe me, I would have NEVER used it by choice.

    On a good day it was stinky. On a bad day, well, take your pick. Over time I have had to avoid areas of seepage/urine/vomit/other bodily fluids and not-so-fluids in work clothes. I have had to dodge cyclists and skateboarders. I have had to inhale others' cigarette smoke in a confined space. I once missed a train because an agitated drunk was blocking the only access to the station and the train driver didn't know he, I and several others were there, because we were out of sight underground and not game to try to slip by this guy. Another time I rounded the blind corner one day (not night) to be greeted by a fella relieving himself on the wall.

    Litter I encountered over time ranged from rotting food to broken glass and used needles. I have stopped on the way home to assist a lady who injured herself falling down the stairs because to use the ramp that would have been more appropriate for her mobility level, she would have had to travel a long distance to get to the entrance and then all the way back again.

    On a related matter, but not actually in the underpass: a gang of four hooded youths used to frequent the area to use the underpass tunnel for graffiti. A chance meeting with them in the street caused me to go home the long way around the block and left me shaky for hours. I would have never liked to meet them in the underpass.

    Finally, a lady told me today, that on the only occasion she tried to use the Ascot Park underpass tunnel as a shortcut home on her bike at about 5.30pm she encountered a teenage male doing something to himself that normally young lads save for private time. She says she screamed and bolted. Needless to say she always went around the long way after that. At least as a cyclist she had a choice.....

    I never felt entirely safe in the Ascot Park underpass tunnel unless I was in a group. Our family moved to near Marion Station in part because we do use the train and preferred the atmosphere at this station. I do not want an underpass for me, my children or any other vulnerable person in my community!

  2. Since I wrote this post I have learned that the project estimates for costs to build an underpass at Marion are around $3.4 million.