Battle won, but Inland Rail war continues
While Better Benalla Rail was ecstatic with the outcome of the Federal Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Reference Committee hearing, Australian Rail Track Corporation has since confirmed two design options are still on the table.
At that hearing ARTC chief executive officer Mark Campbell told senators he agreed a track realignment was a better solution, however, community consultations would continue and costings would be a factor in the final decision.
What this means for Better Benalla Rail is, despite winning an important battle at the Senate hearing, its war continues.
After the hearing ARTC released its updated Project Reference Guide, which highlights the BBR plan for track realignment as one option and ARTC’s original plan to raise the overpass as a second.
That document includes two design proposals:
Option 1: Bridge replacement over the rail line further north of the station building; and
Option 2: New platform, track realignment and upgrade pedestrian access at Benalla station.
The document also outlies two rejected options.
The first being a new level crossing, which was rejected for not meeting government requirements. The second rejected option was lowering the track, which was not going to be suitable because of the risk of flooding.
ARTC Victorian projects general manager Ed Walker said ARTC was aware of the significance of the Inland Rail project in Benalla and appreciated the high level of interest in the upgrade project for the railway precinct.
“After hearing the feedback from the community, ARTC has committed to carrying out broader community engagement on two options to allow for the safe passage of double-stacked freight trains through Benalla,” Mr Walker said.
“The first option is a bridge replacement over the rail line further north of the station building, which would see the old vehicle overpass removed once the new bridge is completed. “The second option we will be engaging further on is a new platform, track realignment and upgrade pedestrian access at Benalla Station.
“These two design options are included for consideration in our application to the Victorian Minister for Planning for a Planning Scheme Amendment.
“As part of our broader consultation, we will work with (the) Rural City of Benalla Council, the Benalla Working Group and wider community to review these options, and we strongly encourage the community to share views with us.
“The communityrepresented Benalla Working Group remains at the forefront of discussions, and we will be looking to achieve an outcome by working through each of the design options in a structured process, while capturing community sentiment that can be used to inform the ongoing design process.”
Benalla Mayor Danny Claridge said council continued to advocate for the community in monthly meetings with the ARTC. “The council is striving for a solution that supports an activation of the precinct,” Cr Claridge said.
“Future development should accommodate the Inland Rail while linking the rail precinct to Benalla’s CBD.
“The council does not support the construction of an overpass and is pleased with the comments in relation to the track relocation as the best option.” A spokesperson for the Benalla Working Group who attended its meeting this week said they felt there was still a lack of transparency from ARTC. “They are going to be putting a letter out to residents within 250 metres of the station,” the spokesperson said.
“We asked to see that letter, but were told we could not. “The working group and
BBR wants to get more involved in discussions with the Department of Transport, and other stakeholders as well.
“ARTC have told us they will bring them in when they need to.
“So at the moment organisations like the Department of Transport are only hearing one side of the argument.
“I would guess the overpass is still their preferred option perhaps, whereas there's 95 per cent of the working group who believe realignment of the track is the best option.
“I was taken aback after Mr Campbell said, in a Federal hearing, that the track realignment is a better solution.
“You’d think that has to help us, surely?
“It is great council are behind us but now we need as many community members as possible to get onto www.betterbenallarail.com to show their support.”