By Aleksandra Bliszczyk
A Wandong resident who will have part of his land compulsorily acquired by the Inland Rail Project is frustrated about the potential disruptions the works could have on the town.
David Moran, president of Wandong Heathcote Junction Community Group, said Australian Rail Track Corporation, ARTC, responsible for the major project linking Melbourne to Brisbane via upgrades to freight train lines, had not been transparent about its plans, and disruptions could be worse than first stated.
At the start of 2020 Mr Moran said he was told no private land in Wandong would be acquired, but this year he said the ARTC’s plans had escalated and changed several times to acquire an increasing amount of private land and close off roads for works.
“My next-door neighbour is losing a quarter of an acre and I’m losing at least 650 square metres off the front. But that’s not the worst of it, the worst of it is what it’s going to do over the next two or three years to the township of Wandong,” Mr Moran said.
“The information they were feeding us was the nice glossy, warm and fuzzy diagrams showing the new intersections not affecting any properties and everything was going to be sweet and happy. The only kind they were going to acquire was crown land.
“The next thing after that, they knocked on my door and said ‘this is what we’re going to do, we’re going to rip off 400 square metres off the front of their block’.”
Mr Moran said three weeks ago ARTC informed him they needed an extra 250 square metres, plus the temporary 12-month use of 400 square metres of his acreage for construction, and the removal of 50 mature gum trees that Mr Moran planted 20 years ago as a sound and dust barrier from the railway.
There are seven sites in Mitchell Shire that require modifications to provide the clearances needed to enable safe passage of double-stacked freight trains. The sites are in Wandong, Broadford, Tallarook and Seymour. Taller freight trains need 7.1m in vertical clearance and about 4.5m of horizontal clearance to safely run on the track.
In Wandong, ARTC has proposed a new bridge adjacent to the existing structure to the north, which it says will minimise traffic impacts during construction until a new bridge structure can be integrated into the existing road alignment.
ARTC says a new bridge will improve pedestrian access and town connection with a shared-user path on the south side of the bridge. The intersection at Broadford-Wandong Road and Epping-Kilmore Road will need to be raised to accommodate a new higher bridge.
But the rail corporation said there was still work to be done to determine a suitable solution at the intersection that would improve safety for road users and pedestrians.
“Eighteen months ago, at that time they started saying, ‘it won’t be much, it’ll just be a matter of lifting the bridge a little bit and enhancing the intersection.’ And then the next thing was, ‘we’re going to pull that bridge down and put a new one in beside it, and it’s going up two metres’,” Mr Moran said.
“The last bombshell they dropped was they’ll have to close Rail Street off for several months.”
ARTC’s Victoria projects general manager Ed Walker told the Review it was typical for designs to change for large-scale developments.
“There are always challenges in a large project like inland rail and we are thankful to the community and council for their ongoing co-operation and understanding as we consider their feedback,” Mr Walker said.
“Timeframes on road closures will be determined when the scope of the works has been finalised.
“Through ongoing consultation with residents and Mitchell Shire Council, we are working to ensure vehicle access will be maintained to resident’s houses and impacts and road closures have minimal impact to the community.
“Once we reach final design stage, ARTC will determine what land is required and confidential discussions regarding property acquisition may follow.”
ARTC says its consultation with Wandong residents began in 2018, with stalls at Kilmore Show 2018, Seymour Show 2019, and Seymour Alternative Farming Expo for the past three years, as well as community drop-in sessions at Wandong Hall and at Wandong Plaza starting in 2020.
But Mr Moran said many of the Wandong sessions were during work hours, so residents who work in Melbourne could not attend.
“They should not have come anywhere near us before they had a plan for us,” he said.
Mr Walker said ARTC’s consultation process with impacted landholders had met the government requirements.
“Consulting with landowners at an early stage helps us understand property use and how any impacts can be mitigated as much as possible,” he said.
Mr Moran said both during and after construction there was little benefit to Wandong from the project, which he argued would interfere with traffic and day-to-day life for months.
“We are a small town, there’s 1500 people in town and it’s going to affect most of us,” he said.
“There’s absolutely nothing in it for us. We are just a transit point that the trains are going to roar through.”