By Jonathan Craig

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In June 2019, the Victorian government will begin the roll-out of 65 new high capacity trains on the Cranbourne and Pakenham lines, with plans to introduce more if they prove successful. BCA and other organisations were consulted during the procurement process, and as a result, we recognised four critical design flaws in a prototype train.

We’re very pleased to report that those flaws won’t appear in the new trains when they’re introduced next year. BCA was represented by Martin Stewart, who energetically and eloquently lobbied for the correction of the errors he discovered. This consultation process has resulted in a historic advocacy victory, and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Martin.

When he visited the prototype, Martin found electrical maintenance cabinets under many of the priority seats, filling the space which would be safest for dog guides. Because high capacity trains have fewer seats and encourage passengers to stand, floor-to-ceiling poles were installed in the middle of every carriage, directly in line with each door, where people who are blind or vision impaired could easily collide with them.

On Melbourne trains, doors don’t open automatically. Another problem Martin found was that the button which opens the doors gave no tactile feedback. At a busy station, it would be difficult to hear the door sliding open, and the audio feedback couldn’t be heard in a loud carriage.

Working with Guide Dogs Victoria and Vision Australia, Martin was able to explain all of these issues, and as a result, all of them have been resolved. The audible feedback when doors are opened will now be loud enough for any station. There will no longer be maintenance cabinets under the priority seats. And in collaboration with another advocacy group, All Aboard, Martin negotiated a compromise, where four of the seven carriages on each train will no longer include hazardous poles.

But the fourth issue Martin found was especially personal to him. In the prototype, Martin discovered a large gap between each of the train’s carriages. This was an error that could cause serious injury or death. Communicating the problem would prove challenging, but Martin had a secret weapon. A story.

He was the ideal advocate to demonstrate the terrible impact such a design flaw could have. In 2002, he lost an arm and a leg, when he stepped into a gap between two carriages, assuming it was a doorway. “My disadvantage was my advantage in this particular lobby effort,” Martin said. “I was able to represent the stark truth and reality of not getting it right.”

To fill that gap, Martin had to get personal. At one meeting, frustrated by slow progress and determined to defend his community from the trauma he’d suffered, he deliberately removed his artificial leg. “I said this will be the result. And then I touched my arm. Here’s another one.”

Martin’s dramatic approach certainly did have an impact. At a recent stakeholder meeting, Michael Dunn, Assistant Director of governance and reporting for the project, announced that all the new high capacity trains would have “gangway gap barriers” built in, to prevent passengers from falling between carriages.

Dunn also told Martin that this protective feature would be included in all future Melbourne trains. That moment was the absolution he’d waited 16 years to find. “Yesterday was the most satisfying advocacy day that I have ever had,” he told us after that meeting.

Martin believes the memorable story of a dangerous design flaw, discovered just in time, has inspired a cultural change that will last forever. “If the current staff are replaced,” he explained, “what’s not replaced is the culture, because the culture of inclusion is already there. So cultural change is really important. But that can only happen if good history is created.”

During the negotiation process, Martin painted a picture of a collaborative victory. It wouldn’t just be a win for the people who might have endured discomfort and serious danger. Public Transport Victoria and the High Capacity Trains Consortium could proudly say they took steps to protect and include all their passengers. “Let’s agree now to work on a solution,” he said, “so I am happy, and what we’ve spoken about is put into action, so you’ll be happy that you’ve done it as well. In other words, let’s create good history, together.”

The history they’ve made sets an example other governments can learn from. Queensland Rail recently procured 75 New Generation Rollingstock trains which are currently in operation, despite dangerous access issues. These trains must now be retrofitted, at significant extra cost to tax-payers.

An inquiry is investigating how these flaws weren’t recognised earlier. In BCA’s submission, we recommended that procurement processes should prioritise disability access, and include broad consultation with disability groups at the design stage. “Queensland didn’t consult,” Martin said. “Victoria has. And therefore we had the opportunity to create these changes, which have now been agreed to, and are going to happen.”

Meanwhile, BCA is very happy to celebrate this success, and congratulate everyone involved in this consultation process. For Martin and his family, it means more than most of us can imagine. “Ever since February the 4th, 2002,” he said, “I have desperately wanted my lived traumatic experience to have meaning, to achieve something for myself and our community. From yesterday, and forever, it has.”

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