A train at Ballarat Railway Station

GETTING AROUND OUR CITY – Commonwealth Games and beyond

Published 22 April 2023, The Courier, Ballarat

The 2026 Commonwealth Games will be the biggest event Ballarat and regional Victoria are ever likely to see. It is an amazing opportunity to showcase our region to a huge international audience as we deliver the Games and their enduring legacy.

As crucial as the Games are, we cannot afford to miss the mark on legacy. As a region, we must prioritise the absolute key legacy projects, then consistently and vociferously advocate to Government and the Commonwealth Games authorities to ensure they do not get lost in tight budgets and short timelines.

How we move around our city and region during the Games and beyond, may be one of those key legacy projects and rail is the obvious ‘no-brainer’. A platform at MARS Stadium is a must-have.

As we grow, we must find ways to move that does not result in simply putting more cars on roads and building more car parks. The Commonwealth Games is an opportunity for us to enable improved transport infrastructure and importantly, shift our attitudes and behaviours in regard to how we get about.

The upgrade of Ballarat’s central station to enable access for all abilities is an example of improved transport infrastructure and is a fantastic investment. That said, it was needed well before the Commonwealth Games were announced and will provide benefits well after the Games have finished.

An ‘Events Platform’ at MARS Stadium for the Games, is a genuine legacy project that will service the northern growth areas of our city and the communities of Creswick, Clunes, Talbot and Maryborough, for generations to come.

A platform at MARS Stadium will enhance our transport infrastructure, shift our attitudes and behaviours in regard to how we get about and set us up for long-term growth.

Importantly, a platform at MARS Stadium will provide an alternative to cars and buses for the hundreds of thousands of visitors who will attend events at the stadium in the many years to come.

If ever you wanted evidence of this, consider Heritage Bank Stadium on the Gold Coast, formally known as Metricon. For the numerous events they host every year, including AFL games, their greatest challenge and cost is access. Their stadium has a capacity of 20,000 -the same as what we hope our stadium will. The point of real difference we have at MARS is a rail line across the road.

So why do I use the term Event Platform? In its first iteration, the platform does not need to be a fully developed station. Think of Wendouree before its upgrade. An events platform simply needs to provide safe, functional, DDA compliant and convenient access for arrivals and departures. This does not come at a huge expense.

The platform does need to design for future growth, so that beyond the Games and when the time is right, the platform can be upgraded to a Station, catering for the growing population to the north and beyond. It is hard to imagine Ballarat without a station at Wendouree in the west and with our eyes set on the future, it is hard not to imagine a station to the north.

Ballarat with a station at MARS Stadium will create our own ‘metro-style rail service that will encourage people to leave their cars at home. For someone working in the Ballarat CBD or looking to enjoy our amazing restaurants and entertainment offerings, catching the train should not be such a foreign concept, though it is a change in behaviour.

From the north, why not walk, cycle or drive to the station at Eureka, catch a train for the 5-minute commute into the city, do a day’s work, go shopping, catch a movie, enjoy dinner and drinks with friends and then head home, on the train?

In doing so, we eliminate the practice of driving around the block looking for the elusive car park and the increasing stress levels as we go (we’ve all done it!); we reduce the demand for parking in the CBD and increase the opportunity for activating our streetscapes; we reduce the number of cars on the roads and the emissions they produce; and we greatly enhance our cities overall liveability.

The regional story is also a positive one as we know when we activate rail, we activate communities. Increased frequency of services along the Maryborough line will provide greater access for Creswick, Clunes and Talbot and the surrounding towns, with greater convenience, service, amenity and prosperity.

All this starts with a platform at MARS Stadium. The Commonwealth Games provides this opportunity. For those who visit, they will expect their transport experience to be world-class, just like the Games themselves.

The real benefit though will live well beyond the Games and for generations to come we will look back and say, “of course you would build a station there”. It must be a key piece of our future transport infrastructure and can be enabled by hosting the Games.

Michael Poulton
CEO, Committee for Ballarat