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Next stop Ellenbrook: Will the train line solve the growing town’s isolation woes?

ABC News 27/08/20

For Ellenbrook commuters like Aisha Sulemana-Cave, a long-awaited passenger train to Perth could not come soon enough.

It has been more than a decade since the Morley-Ellenbrook line was promised, connecting the sprawling region of almost 50,000 residents to the CBD, 30 kilometres away.

And now, construction is expected to get underway soon with the contract for works to be awarded later this year.

Ms Sulemana-Cave spends up to three hours a day making her trek to and from the city for TAFE — a trip that would take just over an hour return in a car — and the journey can get nerve-wracking for the 16-year-old.

“Usually when I get home I’m one of the last people on the bus, then it’s really dark,” she said.

“In the park there’s not many street lights — so having to use my flashlight to walk home in the dark is not fun.”

The journey from the new train station, which is expected to be completed in 2023-24, is set to take commuters from Ellenbrook’s town centre to the Perth CBD in half an hour with no need to transfer.

“It will be so much faster — I won’t have to worry about getting in late or traffic or anything,” Ms Sulemana-Cave said.

“I think it’ll be easier for everybody, especially families — I see a lot of people with children, the hassle of getting on the bus everyday with babies and prams and everything.”

The 21-kilometre line will see new stations built in Ellenbrook, Whiteman Park, Malaga, Noranda and Morley, with the State Government expecting over 11,700 passenger boardings on the line from its first day of operation.

Geographically isolated from services

But while the train line — touted as WA’s biggest public transport project since opening of the 70-kilometre Mandurah line in 2007 — will ease many commuters’ struggles dramatically, Ellenbrook’s isolation has impacts beyond public transport.

The City of Swan’s Local Area Plan from 2017 found the area’s disconnection caused “community-wide social issues”, with major gaps in local access to services, employment and training opportunities, and opportunities for young people.

Ms Sulemana-Cave said there was not a lot for young people to do.

“Most of the kids here, they all go out to Joondalup or Midland and the city,” she said.

The plan also found Ellenbrook’s medical services might not be adequate for its ageing population.

Ellenbrook resident Vaughn McGuire said the missing services had been particularly clear when he was injured in a house fire and had ongoing care appointments.

His injuries meant he could hardly walk let alone drive, and the bus timetable was not frequent enough to fit his appointments.

“The services I needed at the time were all based in Midland and Morley and the city,” he said.

“You name it, it needs to be out here — I mean we’ve got thousands of people living out here, I think it’s time we had all those facilities here.”

Mr McGuire said he would like to see increased medical services for the Ellenbrook community, more mental health assistance, a TAFE, and government service offices like Centrelink.

‘Build it and they will come’

Urban planner Paul Maginn from the University of Western Australia said the initial impact from the train line would increase property prices and accessibility to the city.

He said more services were likely on the way as Ellenbrook continued to evolve.

“It’s a case of build it and they will come,” he said.

“I think all the outer suburban areas go through an evolution process in terms of establishing populations and the services that come with them.

“[Ellenbrook] is an interesting place — it’s just getting to maturity, I think.

“It’s coming out of its teenage years and it’s moving into adulthood.”

With next year’s state election drawing closer, Dr Maginn said outer-metropolitan areas like Ellenbrook would be a focal point for parties.

“I think we’ll see both major parties offering all kinds of goodies … in terms of upgrades to schools, upgrades to health facilities, upgrades to public open spaces and things like this,” he said.

“When an outer suburban area gets to a critical mass in terms of population then it becomes politically vital.”

What’s being done about it?

City of Swan chief executive Mike Foley said there had been significant progress towards closing the service gaps identified in Ellenbrook’s Local Area Plan.

That included an interim youth space developed ahead of a dedicated youth centre, grants for community groups, and a $63-million expansion of the local shopping centre.

Mr Foley said the City was also advocating for more funding for an Ellenbrook recreation and aquatic facility and was calling for $5 million for social and family services including counselling, case management and drop-in activities.

Swan Hills MLA Jessica Shaw said the State Government had been focused on improving transport links, with the new NorthLink freeway now open to traffic as well as the New Lord Street road link to Brabham and Caversham.

Ms Shaw said the state had also delivered new services including urgent care clinics, a child and parent centre, and an education support centre. 

“There’s always more to do,” she said.

“The train line is going to be a game changer for Ellenbrook.

“It will deliver local jobs during construction, complete our town centre, create a new commercial and retail precinct with a range of forms of housing, and facilitate our community’s access to employment, higher education, Perth Airport, entertainment and community services right through the Perth region.”

Pearce MP Christian Porter said the train line would make a significant difference to the everyday lives of residents who had been waiting for it, and unlock more opportunities for the region.

Country town to metropolitan hotspot

For locals like Mr McGuire, there’s been a lot of change over the past couple of decades in Ellenbrook.

Ellenbrook’s population is predicted to swell to over 70,000 people by 2036, with significant growth in its young and aged population, many culturally and linguistically diverse families, and many FIFO families needing more support services and playgroups.

While he wants to see services catch up to the population, he also wants to see a strong sense of community grow.

“Initially I moved out here because I thought it would be like my home town that I came from, Kellerberrin,” he said.

“I didn’t realise it was going to be this big, it’s grown tremendously.

“The isolation part was a good thing at the time — having more people out here now, residential, it’s woken Ellenbrook up to the world.

“[I want to see] more people uniting and the community getting together.”