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Bridge bother in Broadford

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By Colin MacGillivray

THE Australian Rail Track Corporation, ARTC, has promised its Inland Rail project will not cause undue community disruption despite last month notifying Broadford residents that each of the town’s three rail bridges would need to be replaced.

Inland Rail is a project aiming to provide a rail link for double-stacked freight trains to travel between ports in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, taking trucks off major interstate roads including the Hume Freeway.

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Inland Rail will pass through multiple Mitchell Shire towns including Seymour, Tallarook, Broadford, Kilmore East and Wandong-Heathcote Junction.

ARTC stakeholder engagement lead Kirsten Lingard last month sent a letter to Broadford residents notifying them that despite initial optimism that the rail line could be lowered to accommodate the passage of double-stacked trains below each of the town’s three rail bridges, the bridges would need to be altered instead.

The letter said the Marchbanks Road rail bridge would be replaced with a new bridge to the north of the existing structure, but the Short and Hamilton Street bridges were more complicated.

“We were initially optimistic that a track lower could be achieved at [Short Street] … however, following further assessments undertaken by ARTC … we have discounted a track lower,” Ms Lingard said.

“We are progressing with a design to replace the existing bridge with a new bridge.”

Ms Lingard said the existing Hamilton Street bridge would also be replaced with a new bridge.

Some Broadford residents are concerned by the plans, with the rail line dividing the town’s homes and services.

With Broadford’s fire station located in the south of the town, across the rail line from many businesses and homes, some residents were concerned CFA volunteers would be unable to respond in a timely manner while works to replace the Hamilton Street bridge were ongoing.

For both Broadford and Wandong, the rail line cuts through the middle of the towns, with shops and services located mostly on one side of town, but hundreds of homes on the other side of the rail line.

An ARTC spokesperson said the body had committed to maintaining access for all residents throughout the project.

“ARTC Inland Rail has worked closely with local communities, realising very early that access was a critical issue, and we’ve committed to maintaining access during construction,” he said.

“Access will be maintained during construction at all sites in Broadford and Wandong. Exactly how we will maintain access will be determined once we have a final design and a construction contractor on board.

“Inland Rail construction at Broadford is still some time away. We are in regular contact with Broadford CFA and will provide project updates to Ambulance Victoria and Victoria Police.

The spokesperson said design plans for the new bridges would be available to residents in 2023.

Construction of the bridges is set for 2024.

At last month’s Mitchell Shire Council meeting, Cr David Lowe proposed council write to the ARTC to ask it to consider diverting Inland Rail around Broadford and Wandong-Heathcote Junction entirely.

“It came to my notice that ARTC had not even considered bypassing these two townships, and this is a request that we write to ARTC asking them to consider that proposal,” he said.

Cr Louise Bannister supported Cr Lowe’s motion, while Cr Rhonda Sanderson said there was ‘no harm’ in writing a letter but did not believe it would achieve anything.

“I don’t seriously think it will have any effect apart from making people feel good,” she said.

“We did complete a submission to the Federal Government’s review of Inland Rail and submitted it last week. I think we’ll get more luck with the submission we’ve already made to the … review.”

Cr Sanderson said a barrier to effective bridge design was the fact that ARTC was only willing to close the track for 60 hours at a time.

“If they worked outside the box a bit they could possibly come up with a great design, it would just be an inconvenience to them to shut the line for longer, and I don’t see why they can’t,” she said.

“That’s a simple solution. With a bypass, I think there could be lots of unintended consequences of going through people’s properties who have had nothing to do with trains before.

“We all know how difficult and how long it’s taken to get anywhere with the Kilmore bypass, so imagine what would happen with this.”

Crs Bill Chisholm and Annie Goble spoke against Cr Lowe’s proposal, with Cr Chisholm pointing out that diverting rail around Broadford would be ‘cost-prohibitive’.

“The main reason for this project in the first place was to take trucks off the road, but the only way to achieve that is to get the freight from Melbourne to Brisbane in 24 hours or under, and the optimum time would be 21 hours if they can achieve that,” he said.

“If you start doglegging up and around towns, you’ll defeat that purpose straight away.

“This is a $14.5 billion project, and I think if we started to bypass towns the timelines would blow out, but also the cost would blow out.

“We should be concentrating on trying to get better outcomes for Watson Street [in Wallan]. Currently that’s not even on the boards of ARTC. We need a bridge over there.”

Cr Lowe said he was ‘very surprised’ Cr Chisholm and Cr Goble spoke against his motion.

“The cost of this proposal is the cost of a stamp,” he said.

“All we’re asking them to do is review it. We are demonstrating that we support the communities that are going to be badly damaged by these two pieces of infrastructure.”

Cr Lowe’s motion passed, with crs Nathan Clark, Fiona Stevens, Bannister, Sanderson and Lowe in favour and Cr Chisholm against, while Cr Goble abstained from voting.

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