Our representatives at the Senate Enquiry, Suzie Pearce (left) Better Benalla Rail, and Kate Auty Euroa Connect presented the case on behalf of the North East Rail Alliance.
Chair is Senator Glenn Sterle
Mark Campbell CEO of ARTC - Thursday 22nd April in Melbourne
CHAIR: While we're all on a high—things are starting to turn around and things are starting to look a bit more consultative, which is a good thing—let's come back to Benalla. Why can't they have their 1.3-kilometre alternative route? Can they?
Mr Campbell: The original reference design in Benalla was to raise the height of the bridge that currently goes over onto the platform. The community gave feedback, over a significant amount of time, that they didn't see that as the best solution. Again, long story short, when I visited in February I met members of the Benalla Working Group, the mayor and other representatives. I was shown, like you heard earlier the Deputy Prime Minister was shown, an alternative, which was more of a precinct development, that would help the whole precinct work better. It's a better solution.
CHAIR: So I don't get confused, is this the 1.3-kilometre alternative route?
Mr Campbell: Yes. This is, effectively, a solution to move one of the tracks to the other side of the platform, therefore allowing better connectivity. If you go with that solution, you don't need to replace the bridge. The bridge can just go, and the trains can go through. You therefore create a different and an improved precinct area, because you can basically get access to the platforms without having to go up and over a bridge. It's hard without a diagram. Long story short, from a judgement perspective, it's a better solution. The issue we're working through at the moment with the community is exactly what the solution looks like, because it is better. Once we've done that, then we can try and understand what the additional cost will be and have various conversations with various stakeholders, including the government, to try and work through, if it is an additional cost, how we might accommodate that in the project. Both replacing the original bridge and the Benalla precinct redevelopment by moving the tracks are under consideration at the moment.
CHAIR: So the Benalla crew here today—there you all are—is that music to your ears?
Members of the audience interjecting—
CHAIR: I love a happy ending.
HELEN HAINES MP REPORTS ON HER MEETING WITH ARTC CEO MARK CAMPBELL FOLLOWING THE SUCCESSFUL RALLY AT BENALLA STATION
“I also met with CEO of the Australian Rail Track Corporation, Mark Campbell, to hammer home these calls. Mark Campbell confirmed that:
*In Benalla, a station redevelopment option is being explored, and the ARTC will fund works required to ensure a safe outcome for the community.
*In Euroa, noting community concerns about safety, connectivity and functionality, the ARTC is pausing development of a bridge solution and will undertake further engagement on other options, including an underpass. Either an underpass or bridge replacement is budgeted.
*In Glenrowan, the location of the bridge is still open.
This is a change of tune from when the ARTC has said that sensible solutions are out of scope and out of budget.”
Helen Haines Wednesday 31st March
BETTER BENALLA RAIL'S station rally on Friday 19th March was a great success. An impressive turnout representing a wide cross section of the community was on hand to welcome the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack and to support our proposals for a better station outcome.
Welcomed by Mayor Danny Claridge and BBR Chair Suzie Pearce, the Deputy PM was thoroughly briefed on existing problems and concerns the community has with current ARTC proposals. The BBR alternative "straight through solution" was outlined.
The visit was facilitated by Member for Indi Helen Haines MP, and also attended by Steph Ryan MLA and Senator Bridget McKenzie.
Better Benalla Rail presentation to the Deputy Prime Minister
Thank you for visiting North East Victoria Mr Deputy Prime Minister, Senator Mackenzie and Steph Ryan, to see and hear for yourselves how the Inland Rail Project will impact our local towns. Thank you, Dr. Helen Haines, for inviting everyone to come on our behalf.
Deputy Prime Minister, I can speak for the community and for our Council when I say Benalla is looking to the future. We support your vision for the Inland Rail Project and we believe this can be achieved in a way which benefits both freight handling and the Benalla commuters and community.
The Inland Rail project provides an opportunity to fix the long-term problems at Benalla Station that have existed since the installation of the XPT line and the current overpass in 1967 … and in a way that benefits both freight and passenger needs.
As Phil Rees has pointed out to you, the obvious and most simple solution is to relocate 1.3km of the standard gauge XPT line from one side of the Benalla station to the other. This will allow both lines to be on west side of station. Details have been worked through and are available to you but suffice to say this “straight through solution” will be faster, quieter, more efficient and cost effective,
The relocation of the line will enable direct vehicle and pedestrian access to the station as was the original 1873 design. It will negate the need for a new overpass, allow for demolition of the existing overpass and solve the flood problems that it causes.
This will increase available car parking, allow taxi facilities and resolve the parking and turning problems of up to 40 coaches per day as is shown on the video.
It will also allow for the demolition of the flood prone, unsafe pedestrian underpass that creates access problems for most people but especially young families, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
Reclaiming and landscaping the XPT line area will provide a sound barrier and enable creation of an attractive and functional station precinct to cater for increased tourist and commuter travel into the future.
Importantly, it will enable freight trains to travel on a dedicated freight line straight through Benalla rather than use the existing loop and be quicker, safer and quieter. Freight handling and shunting efficiencies and greatly reduced level crossing delays are additional benefits.
The plan will also allow the main platform at Benalla Station to be used by all passenger trains whether traveling north or south because there is no conflict caused by timetabling, no new platform would be required.
The Better Benalla Rail group has already presented this community solution plan to Senator Mackenzie, to our local state member Steph Ryan, to Dr. Helen Haines and to Senator Jane Hume. It has also been discussed with Benalla Council, the local Liberal Party and Labor Party, Union Reps, Rotary, Probus groups and the CWA plus many hundreds in the wider community through the webpage, Facebook, the shop front and the local media.
We are united as a community to work to achieve this better local solution. Now that you have visited the Benalla Station precinct, we hope you see the logic and merit of our proposal.
Thank you for your time and consideration. We have a package of details and diagrams of the local solution for you to take away with you.
Speech by Suzie Pearce, Chair Better Benalla Rail to the Deputy PM.
March 19th 2021
RAIL ALLIANCE HOLDS HISTORIC BENALLA MEETING
Action to secure better outcomes for the Station precincts of Euroa, Benalla, Glenrowan and Wangaratta will increase in the near future. This week in Parliament Member for Indi Helen Haines asked a question of Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack and made a statement on the issue the following day.
It is understood the Deputy PM will visit some of the locations in the near future, at the invitation of Helen Haines. Local opposition to ARTC plans for the stations continues to grow, and this week’s historic meeting of the NORTH EAST RAIL ALLIANCE considered strategies to highlight the concerns of residents and commuters.
The North East Rail Alliance was formed late last year via Zoom and met in Benalla Thursday evening for the first-time face to face. Comprising representatives of local rail action groups - Euroa Connects, Better Benalla Rail, Glenrowan Improvers and Wangaratta Rail Action Group, the meeting was hosted by Better Benalla Rail at the Pop-Up shop in Nunn St. and chaired by Alana Johnson.
By invitation local government Councillors attended from Wangaratta, Benalla and Strathbogie to further develop working relationships to achieve a “Better Local Solution”. Mayors of Strathbogie and Benalla attended as did the Dep. Mayor of Wangaratta plus Cr. O'Brien of Benalla and Cr. Hayes-Burke of Strathbogie.
The purpose and aims of the NE Rail Alliance.
* To have a stronger and unified voice about the impact of the Inland Rail project on our local communities and station precincts.
* To garner the support of each Council to achieve better local solutions for each town and station precinct.
* For Councils and State and Federal Governments to embrace the opportunity and synergy the inland rail project can provide for our towns.
* To provide our State and Federal MPs with a stronger case in representing community concern and involvement.
* To petition the State Government to take action about our station precinct design, amenity and functionality.
* For State Government to provide the services of the Office of the Victorian Government Architect in the design work.
* To provide support to each community in dealing with the ARTC.
* For each town to continue independently with their own local community engagement, planning and activities.
Benalla Council has been provided a detailed outline of current shortfalls at Benalla Station and some opportunities to resolve many of them.
A power Point Presentation was followed by an extensive question and answer session from Better Benalla Rail spokespersons.
Why are our rail systems so disjointed – was it by accident or design?
The Palace letters have ignited interest in a tumultuous period in Australian history. One previously unexplored aspect deals with the reasons behind the complete dysfunction that dictated our approach to rail track gauge.
As Mark Twain, the great American author remarked after changing trains at Albury/Wodonga due to differing gauges: “Think of the paralysis of intellect that gave that idea birth.”
Some light is shed on this in a recent article by Matthew Ehret in Strategic Culture which explores a number of key policies of the Whitlam Government. In one point he notes “Large scale urban renewal programs were launched extending modern sewerage systems to all urban centres, while new roads, rail, electrification and flood prevention programs were built. Highways linked Australia’s capitals for the first time and standard gauge rail was established to accelerate continental development strategies (whether Africa or Australia, the British Empire never permitted common rail gauges in order to prevent internal development while keeping its “possessions” reliant on maritime trade). (My emphasis)
What an astounding concept, deliberately keeping the ‘colonies’ underdeveloped to permit Britannia to continue to rule the waves and dictate our trade.
Today we are still attempting to resolve the damage these policies caused. Indeed, it would appear that our Victorian rail infrastructure has been allowed to decay to a point where increasing numbers of commuters are abandoning rail due to its unreliability and the discomforts rough tracks impose on travellers. We could be forgiven for thinking VicTrack has abandoned commuters and allowed the needs of ARTC freight to dominate the system.
The full article in Strategic Culture can be found at this link:
Badly informed or designed to mislead?
This week the Prime Minister announced a $1.5 billion funding package for small priority projects, including rail. Better Benalla Rail called on Council to investigate the possibility of accessing funds to ensure a satisfactory outcome for the redesign of Benalla railway station. An ARTC “spokesperson” was quick to claim this funding package “would not cover this type of work”.
An ARTC spokesperson told the Ensign this week: “Relocating the railway line would require significant works that far exceeds the scope and budget of the Inland Rail project. While it may appear to be a relatively straightforward solution, our investigations show that it would require complex track work, a major signalling upgrade, additional platform and pedestrian connecting and cost significantly (up to four to six times) greater than replacing or removing the existing overpass”.
Deconstructing the myths.
· “the scope of the project” – Code for how the ARTC aim to get freight through Benalla as cheaply as possible.
· “the budget” – Announced as ten million for Benalla by ARTC representatives at an early public meeting, ARTC last year claimed the Better Benalla Rail plan would cost $40 million and this year claim it could cost $60 million. Our requests for details remain unanswered.
· “straightforward solution” – 1.3 kilometres of new track in a straight line is the Better Benalla Rail proposal. With over 600 kilometres of new track being laid for the whole project an extra 1.3 kilometres is a minor undertaking.
· “major signalling upgrade” – Benalla residents, and railways staff, are well aware of the existing signalling faults and consequent disruptions. These faults need to be fixed whatever the stations final solution.
· “additional platform” – Benalla can, and sometimes does, operate with one platform only, simple “crossovers” permit this.
· “pedestrian connecting” - The Better Benalla Rail “Straight Through Solution” restores the station to the original open fronted design, less “connecting” is required.
If the ARTC insist that funding limitations are the reason we must accept their inferior station redesign, a giant Mt Benalla, they should support our efforts to gain additional funding.
This image was created to illustrate how access would be so much better and safer with the XPT line relocated. This is how the Station originally was designed. This would be the view from around the Victoria Hotel.
Better Benalla Rail's proposal.
Better Benalla Rail asks people to complete a "Conversation Card" (See Your Opinion). Some comments from the cards are below, the same themes emerge continually.
"The tunnel walk under the rail line nearly always has a light not working. No one claims responsibility. A larger overpass would completely destroy the station area. It needs to be user friendly". Benalla resident.
"No overpass, rail line moved to open up the station for easy access for everyone". Benalla resident.
"Preservation of heritage building. Better pedestrian access for walking stick dependents. Bus turning is dangerous." Benalla resident.
"More car parking space, not less. Access to car park from McKeller Street, like it originally was". Benalla resident.
"A functional and aesthicically pleasing environment with easy parking off street". Benalla resident.
"Benalla Railway is a vital part of human access to public transport. I do not want the much needed passenger access removed, hindered or down graded in any way. Actually passenger access NEEDS TO BE INCREASED. I am disgusted that freight and further infrastructure to increase freight, takes priority over passengers. The VERY PEOPLE, THE TAXPAYERS, who once again are being denied" Benalla resident.
"Easier access not added difficulties for pedestrians as well as cars" Benalla resident.
It is reported that it was possible to see the snow on the mountains from the top of the tower. A splendid dining room below was also lost when this was all demolished to make way for a car park. Some have suggested there was a clock in the tower, but this is probably not the case. This photograph by John Collins taken in 1973 shows a circular area, which may have been mistaken as a clock. From the files of the State Library of Victoria.
There are real dangers that current ARTC plans for Benalla Station will make the station even less user friendly.
"The Office of the Victorian Government Architect (OVGA) is a leader in enhancing the quality of built environments in Victoria.
OVGA provides leadership and strategic advice to government about architecture and urban design and promotes an awareness about how good design can make great living places and urban environments."