I recently moved to a “regional city”. It’s the done thing – just look at the numbers of folk escaping outrageous house prices in Melbourne for slightly more affordable prices just a stone’s throw away.
The one problem with this idyllic, semi-rural lifestyle (breathe in that fresh air! They don’t make it like that in Thornbury!) is that when you head back into the CBD for work or pleasure, you come into contact with that unique part of Melbourne that greets many visitors arriving from regional towns, interstate and overseas – Southern Cross Station.
Or Spencer Street Station as I still find myself calling it – just because they gave it a fancy name when they tried to make Docklands a thing doesn’t mean it’s no longer a soul-sucking place of devastation.
The greyness. The grime. The dearth of good shops or restaurants. If you are very lucky, there will be a half-filled vending machine on your platform where you can get an overpriced bag of chips.
Forget about any quality food outlets, bakeries or cafes such as those you might find in a rail hub in Europe or Japan. Instead, brace for whistling wind, acres of grey concrete and one of the ugliest roofs in the southern hemisphere.
Then there’s the part where you try to find your train. If you know where to look, you will find the announcement board with the departure times. If not, you will keep sprinting around the station until the right platform.
“3B”, you read on the screens. “Oh great, Platform 3 is right there”. But there’s a catch. “B” means your train will actually be waiting 100 metres away, where only Usain Bolt or Cathy Freeman would be able to reach it before it gently chugs off.
You arrive too late, lungs wheezing in the cold air, to discover the next train is leaving from 13S. Wherever that is. Luckily, you have an hour before the next train.
In contrast, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the cleanliness of the V/Line trains and the friendliness of the ticket inspectors (instead of making you cry like Metro ticket inspectors, they actually help you with ticket issues), although it may be a cold day in hell before I feel inclined to use the V/Line toilets.
But if they felt like chucking some pot plants around Southern Cross, hey, maybe a bakery or two, and spruced up the toilets, maybe catching a train home would feel a little more like a modern commute and less like a journey through a soulless wasteland.
And once you’ve shaken off the grime from your Southern Cross experience, let’s have a chat about getting free Wi-Fi on V/Line trains.
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