Better Benalla Rail

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Response to ARTC Benalla Railway Station concept plans of July 31st, 2023
Since 2019 Better Benalla Rail Inc. (BBR) has encouraged and enabled the Benalla community to provide feedback to the ARTC each time design proposals for the railway station precinct have been released.
BBR acknowledges that the latest concept plans of July 31st 2023 have responded favourably to some of the previous community feedback.
Concerningly there remains some critical issues previously identified through community feedback and reported back to ARTC in the BBR report of June 2022 that are still not addressed.
The Benalla community response to the ARTC has consistently been the same – people want the station designs to provide safe and suitable access for users of all abilities, together with the enhancement of the historic architectural nature of the station building and precinct.  
(see BBR report to ARTC of June 2022 )
The latest ARTC concept plans do not yet deliver on either of these community aspirations.
BBR recognises that the project scope changed after ARTC agreed to relocate a section of track, remove some existing infrastructure and redesign the area and the Victorian Department of Transport required a new platform to ‘future proof’ the station.
Yet the Benalla community considers this a once in a century opportunity to redress the longstanding problems that have beset the railway station for over 60 years and are determined to ‘get it right’.
The latest concept plans and accompanying animation look appealing at first glance and many peoples’ initial response is overall positivity. But the plans and moving images do not give clear information to those inexperienced at looking at concept drawings.
It is only on closer and more informed inspection that glaring safety and access problems become apparent. The station building is misrepresented, parking is shown as 32 not 50 spaces, it is not clear the direction that cars will move through the precinct and the one-dimensional images do not reveal the slope to be navigated between Mackellar Street and the station building.
During August 2023, BBR has been active in community outreach, informing local residents and commuters and inviting them to communicate their views to the ARTC. 
Community Engagement:
Since the briefing meeting with the ARTC of August 1st 2023, Better Benalla Rail has activated and collected community feedback via:
·      Posting the latest concept plans on the BBR Facebook page and advising community members to give feedback directly to the ARTC or to BBR.
·      Issuing media releases that resulted in coverage by Benalla Ensign, Win TV, The Border Mail and Shepparton News.
·      Displaying information posters in local shop windows.
·      Providing a feedback handout to people who attended the ARTC shop and information sites to view the plans and give feedback.
·      Organizing a Save Our Station rally at the Benalla Railway Station 150th year anniversary heritage event on August 18th.
·      Discussions with representatives of bus lines that service the station, Taxi drivers and passengers, Emergency Services personnel, Railway Station staff, and representatives of the disabled community.
Letters outlining the unaddressed access, safety and function problems as well as the failure to demonstrate any regard for the heritage value of the station have been sent to Hon. Catherine King, Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development; Dr Helen Haines, Member for Indi; Annabelle Cleeland, Member for Euroa; Jaclyn Symes MLC and Benalla Rural City Councillors.
BBR has also conducted briefing meetings with Annabelle Cleeland, Member for Euroa and Dr Helen Haines, Member for Indi.
Since the release by the ARTC of the latest concept plans of July 31st, Better Rail for Benalla Facebook posts have attracted over 10,000 views and hundreds of comments.
BBR has received comments via public conversations, print media, social media, email networks, Facebook, community networks and comments from hundreds of residents.  
‘STILL NOT RIGHT’ – Issues Identified by the Community
Safety and Access  
·      Passenger Access
The current proposal makes access more difficult than at present by preventing drop off and pick up at the station entrance.
A minimum 56-metre walk from the disabled car park up a four-degree incline, without shelter, becomes the only option for disabled travellers and only if you can get one of two disabled parking spots.
There is no taxi or car drop off zone close to the station entrance requiring older people with walking frames, parents with prams and people with luggage to make their way to the station entrance some 75 metres up a four-degree incline from the car park, possibly in the rain.
If wishing to get to the new platform 2, commuters will be required to walk 260 metres from the bus stop, 277 metres from the carpark (or 215 metres via the lift route).
The walk from the Mackellar Street town bus shelter would require an 85metre walk.
There is no weather covering from the station to the lift for passengers or ambulance services.
Having the only car/taxi pickup and drop off zone located in Mackellar Street rather than within the station precinct will clog up the traffic flow in Mackellar Street.
·      Emergency Services Access
There is no specified location for emergency services vehicles to have close access to the station.
Access to the new second platform is unspecified. Access from the north side is not provided.
Victoria Police have emphasised the need to have close access to attend/remove people from trains.
·      Coach Access
The proposed coach stopping zone is for only two coaches at one time.
Commuters will need to alight the coach and walk with luggage 85 meters to the station entrance, with no shelter. 
The station has 24 passenger services per day of which 10 are passenger trains. Coaches arrive daily from and to Adelaide, Albury, Shepparton, Seymour, Bendigo, Yarrawonga, and Euroa and the provision of two bus stop bays is grossly inadequate.
The concept plans have the Benalla town bus continuing to stop at the bus shelter in Mackellar Street requiring commuters to walk 85 metres to the station entrance with no cover.
·      Car Access
With no allocated drop off zone on the station precinct, cars are required to stop in Mackellar Street or in the station car park from which commuters will walk some distance up the four-degree incline to the station entrance.
With no differentiation of long term and short-term parking, commuters may need to walk, push wheelchairs or prams or carry luggage possibly 95 meters to the station entrance.
There is no car park provision on the north side of the station, which would reduce future carpark congestion on the station side.
·      Station goods and freight delivery
On the concept plans the current delivery access for station goods and freight unloading and storage is blocked and given over to a garden bed.  
·      Road Access
The proposed entrance to the station from Mackellar Street will interfere with street traffic as large coaches wait in the narrow street to turn right into the station precinct.
·      Platform Safety
Passenger safety concerns generated by the speed of freight trains passing unstaffed platforms needs to be addressed. Currently the station is staffed from 07.15-20.45 yet the interstate XPT morning and evening arrives and departs Benalla station after hours, plus two Vline coach services.
·      The position and design of the lift towers is not complementary with the 19thC architectural style of the heritage station building.
·      The stainless-steel outdoor seats are not complementary to the heritage style and totally unsuitable on a 40-degree day.
·      The square grey concrete garden beds with native grasses are not befitting of the heritage precinct and are problematic given the numbers of snakes in the vicinity.
·      The concrete garden bed with native grasses across the front of the station building is a heritage desecration.  
·      The heritage Signal box and Engine turntable are unique remaining heritage elements of the station precinct and must be preserved.
·      The new passenger shelters on platform 2 need to be of complementary Victorian design.
·      The six heritage palm trees on site and the 1973 celebratory Silky Oak (grevillea robusta) need to be incorporated into the precinct plan together with the new flowering eucalypt (leucoxylon rosea) that celebrates the 150th anniversary.
·      Fire hydrant, PA, drinking water, rubbish bins are required.
·      Relocation and update of the existing air conditioning system is required.
·      An internal update of the Station building is required.
·      Solar panels should be installed.
·      Responsibility for mowing of grass and grounds upkeep needs to be resolved. 
·      Maintenance and fire risk of the detention basis needs to be resolved.
·      A designated smokers area and an evacuation area for both platforms is required.
·      A plan for power outages to the lifts is required.
·      Responsibility for cleaning the lifts needs to be allocated.
·      A plan is required for staffing of Platform 2 and for passenger assistance to Platform 2. 
·      An area for the ‘standby’ coaches needs to be incorporated into the station precinct.
·      Adequate precinct lighting is required for passenger safety.
Community Suggestions:
Access and Safety
To enable adequate passenger drop off/pick up, road access into the station precinct could be a one-way (like Melbourne Airport and Wangaratta Station) with a 3-minute drop off zone for commuters in taxis and cars to alight and unload close to the entrance.
For example, travelling east along Mackellar Street from Nunn Street (Midland Highway), vehicles would turn left into the station near Carrier Street, travel to the drop off zone and then exit via the station carpark at the Smythe Street end. Vehicles needing to be parked will drive past the drop off zone and directly into the car parking area.
All coaches would enter from the east, driving down Nunn or Carrier Street into Mackellar Street thus enabling a left-hand (only) turn into the station.
Pedestrians entering from Carrier or Mackellar Streets could be catered for by a zebra crossing at the passenger drop off zone. (like Melbourne airport.)
One-way access to the front of the station building would enable emergency access to the station entrance for ambulance, police, and fire services.
A drop off area for at least 5 coaches needs to be located closer to the station entrance.
A car park on the north side would reduce traffic using the level crossing at Nunn and Mackellar Streets and give commuters closer access to Platform 2.
Signal Box
The historical importance of the sole Signal Box remaining from 1888 is a unique element of the station precinct and cannot be underestimated.
This must be recognised by saving, relocating, restoring and repurposing the Signal Box under the direction of heritage qualified architects.
BBR is currently awaiting the Engineers report commissioned by the ARTC.
Community support for retention of the Signal Box has been overwhelming and commitment to be involved in the restoration is strong.
Platform Safety
The Oaklands Line and shunting track on Nunn Street crossing will impact on the future safety of passengers on the new platform.
Victoria Police are quoted in ARTC Consultation Addendum Report (3-0000110-EAP-00-RP-0014 p36) saying these lines cause ‘immense delays and unsafe actions by frustrated community and emergency service’s vehicles’. These tracks activate all level crossings in Benalla preventing north/south access ‘creating significant risk in response times at critical incidents’. 
Any future user of these tracks as presently located would create the same problem.
BBR has repeatedly requested that the location of these tracks be altered for safety and best option site planning, rather than design new works around a known problem.
If these tracks stay as they are, freight trains will pass both sides of the new unmanned platform, both during the day and at night.
By having these tracks join the main line further north, both problems would be resolved. It would reduce the number of tracks crossing Nunn Street from three to two. 
Also, the new pedestrian underpass could be shortened and future parking/pickup beside the new platform planned for.
The lift towers must be sympathetic in design and colour to the current heritage station building.
Seating and garden bed design needs to be befitting of 19thC architecture.
The forecourt needs a heritage style design (akin to the Albury Railway Station).
The heritage Signal box and Engine turntable could be incorporated into the precinct.
The passenger shelters on the new second platform need to reflect the Victorian style of the station building. 
The proposed garden bed across the front of the station building could be replaced by a suitably designed bullnose veranda providing cover to the station entrance.
Future proofing
·               Electric charging for scooters, coaches and cars.
·               Nunn Street crossing – upgrade both sides for pedestrians.
·               Light towers pivoted so a cherry picker is not required for globe replacement.
·               Lighting activated by security sensors.
examples of Community Comments:
Only 38 car parking spaces are provided for on the plan.  This is inadequate for a pop of 14,000+ users from surrounding municipalities.  It is less than what currently exists (48).   Many rail users come from Mansfield and Shepparton and park for a few days at Benalla, especially when using the Sydney bound XPT service.
Why is there no parking provided for on the northern side of the precinct?  There is ample space.
There are only 2 disabled parks which is inadequate.
Is the forecourt needed?  Why not make it disabled parking?
Are the disabled parks & bus bays on level ground?  Have you ever tried loading someone in or out of wheelchair on sloping ground?  Worse still have you ever been loaded onto a bus that has a wheelchair lift on the side, when the bus is on sloping ground as currently exists?  It is very off putting for the person being loaded to be on such an angle and is quite scary for some people.
There is a 2metre rise from Mackellar Street to the station entrance.  How is this catered for?   A cross section drawing is required showing where the elevation rise is and how it impacts on the functionality of the proposed new precinct.
Will the track at platform 1 be relevelled so that passenger trains can better align with the platform so that there is minimal step gap?
The taxi rank is inappropriately placed out on the edge of Mackellar Street.  Many aged and disabled people use the taxi service and will struggle to walk up the 2 metre rise, especially with luggage.  In reality, what will happen is that taxi drivers will not leave their customers stranded and will double park, closer to the station entrance which will cause traffic congestion.  The taxi rank needs to be located closer to the main station entrance.
The Benalla community is not objecting to the Inland Rail Project but does feel strongly about how it will impact on our heritage station and our passenger services.
The agreed removal of the XPT line and platform will provide an opportunity to recreate the open access to the station as it existed prior to the XPT line creation.
The ARTC has now released their third set of concept plans for the Benalla Station precinct and have briefed our community group, Better Benalla Rail.
Whilst it is appreciated that the ARTC has listened to the community in the past, BBR and the local community assert these latest plans are ‘still not right’.
The contemporary design does not honour or enhance the Benalla railway station one-hundred-and-fifty-year heritage of which the community is rightly proud and cherishes.  
As evidenced over the past four years, the Benalla community continues to demonstrate a strong commitment to achieving a station precinct design that creates a welcoming, safe, and worthy community asset.
The Victorian state government’s insistence on a second platform has enlarged and complicated the scope of the redevelopment works required at the station precinct.
The community will not accept a second-rate makeover of the historic Benalla railway station which merely suits the freight needs of the ARTC but leaves us with a poorly designed station for another 50 years.
It is understood that these latest Stage 2 concept plans for the Benalla railway precinct will now be finessed by the ARTC for tender and ultimate approval for construction by the Victorian Minister for Planning, Hon. Sonya Kilkenny MP in accordance with the Planning Scheme Amendment 2022.
The Victorian state Government must now step up and meet their duty of care to all rail users.  Professional designers and architects, skilled in heritage conservation as well in designing for commuters need to be engaged to provide Benalla with the same level of design excellence that has been achieved at many metropolitan stations.
On behalf of the community, Better Benalla Rail will continue to engage with both federal and state governments to achieve an outcome for the Benalla Railway Station precinct that will provide
1)    entrance to and departure from the station precinct from Mackellar Street that incorporates a drop off/pick up area in front of the station building .
2)    new works that complement and enhance the historic Victorian nature of the station precinct.
3)    safe use and access to both station platforms day and night.




Better Benalla Rail welcomes the inclusion of a pedestrian underpass connection from the north to Benalla Station in the latest ARTC concept plans. This is a positive outcome in response to community feedback and consultation.
However, the concept plans and the limited available information do not fully allay all concerns expressed by the community.  While realising the current plans are concept only, a range of issues have either been omitted or not yet considered.  We include a summary of issues for consideration in the next design phase, informed by previous community feedback obtained by the ARTC, and augmented with our own in-depth considerations and consultation within the community.
In essence, the Benalla community has consistently sought an outcome providing safe and accessible access for all, within a design sympathetic to the historic nature of the building and a plan for the total precinct area.
Better Benalla Rail continues to offer collaborative assistance as plans develop and believes a seat at the design table will facilitate an outcome which will “Get it right”.

"We are working to confirm an option and share the feedback we receive about the pedestrian underpass and overpass with the community. We are continuing to progress designs and look forward to sharing the next stage of design in early 2023 as well as having more conversations with the community that will help us achieve the best possible outcome for Benalla.
We are always listening and you can continue to share your views by calling into our shopfront at 53 Carrier Street, Benalla, Wednesdays 10am-2pm or contacting us on 1800 732 761."

You can visit the ARTC site and see the drawings and animation by clicking this link:
1.    Benalla seeks a “whole of precinct” design that makes the station attractive and welcoming to visitors to our city and a source of pride for the community, and values and enhances the historic 1874 station building.
2.    Disabled access that fully complies with Aust Std 1428.  This includes no steps, no lengthy sloping walk and parking on level ground.
3.    Direct access to the station entrance and both platforms for all emergency service vehicles.
4.    A passenger drop off and pick up point at the station entrance and a taxi rank area. Adequate bus access to alight near the station entrance.
5.    If the underpass option is adopted, then it needs to be designed and located so as not to obstruct or dominate the station entrance.
6.    If the overbridge option is adopted the design needs to provide personal safety, protection from the weather and be sympathetic to the station building.
7.    A passenger shelter on the new platform should include protection from the weather and toilet facilities.
8.    Opportunity exists to create much needed parking.  At the present there are only 38 parks[DB1] [dm2] [dm3] , 60 would be a more realistic minimum.
9.    Landscaping that requires a high level of maintenance should be avoided.
10.If the proposed underpass option is adopted, then additional car parking area can be gained by building the pedestrian entrance ramps on the Melbourne side (i.e., a mirror image of what is proposed in the plans).   Alternatively, the underpass could be built at the Wangaratta end of the station.
11.A design providing safe access to the station precinct from Carrier St. must satisfy current road safety provisions.  The station precinct successfully operated this way from 1874 - 1962[DB4] .
12.The design must avoid creating conflicts and congestion at the front of the station entrance, especially for the safety of pedestrians.  To facilitate this the bus route would be best designed to avoid going past the front of the station entrance.  It would be desirable if other vehicles could directly access the car park without also having to travel past the front of the station entrance.  Direct vehicle access to the station entrance could be reserved for access to disabled parking, drop off & pick up only (no stay time), and taxis. 
13.Underpass entrances to be constructed above the 1993 flood level to avoid potential future flooding.
14.Lowering the track bed and the line height at platform one to enable passenger trains to properly align with the platform so passengers will not have to negotiate the excessive gap that currently exists.  This requirement should also apply to the new second platform.
15.Is it ideal having long and double stacked container trains traveling alongside passenger platforms?  Would it be better to construct dedicated lines in the centre of the railway yard for freight trains?
16.There is a 2m height difference between the station building entrance and McKellar St. road level[DB5] .  How will this be resolved in the new precinct design?
17.Will the line switching location for the Oaklands Line continue to remain where it, is or will it be moved so that it is past and clear of the proposed new 2nd platform? [DB6]  This would allow the 2nd platform to be more easily accessible, especially from the northern side.
18. The signal box should be included as part of the precinct design. Restoration, repurposing, and possible relocation to be considered.
19.Some operational issues should be resolved to enable a better overall precinct design, specifically the resolution of the Oaklands track which will inform the requirement for a second platform[DB7] .
20.In the long term the connection of the NE Rail line with the Melbourne Airport Rail at Sunshine station must be resolved[DB8] .
Better Benalla Rail June 2022
The web address for the ARTC page is below.


Hon. Jacinta Allan MP                                                                                                               Tuesday 22nd February 2022
Minister for Transport Infrastructure

Dear Minister Allan,
                                                Benalla Station Precinct Design
The Australian Rail Track Corporation announced proposed changes to the Benalla Station precinct for the Inland Rail Project in 2019 prompting the establishment of community group Better Benalla Rail.
BBR successfully fought against these plans on behalf of Benalla rail commuters and the wider community resulting in the ARTC announcing in October 2021 that a small section of railway track would be relocated, and a second platform built. The abandonment of the universally unpopular “big Benalla bridge” proposed by the ARTC, and the adoption of the community conceived “straight through solution” was greeted with great relief locally.
The major community concern now is to obtain a Station Precinct design that meets the needs of all users. We believe the ARTC has the skills necessary to design the rail and signal components of the precinct, but not the commuter and community requirements. We ask you to establish a working group to facilitate the design development for Benalla Station precinct. This group should include the Office of the Victorian Government Architect, ARTC, VicTrack, DoT, and local Council and community representation.
We ask you to meet with us to enable a fuller outline of the issues we consider vital. We have attempted to arrange a meeting with our local Member of the Upper House, Jaclyn Symes MLC, but have had no response to or acknowledgement of our many communications with her. Our group is apolitical and enjoys a membership embracing a wide cross section of political allegiances. Our data base and social media presence enables communication with a significant proportion of the community, who follow events closely.
Having been devastated by previous changes to our station, the community is anxious for a design that provides an outcome that city stations would demand and expect. We believe country stations deserve no less.
Yours faithfully,

Suzie Pearce                                                                            Copies to:                                           
Chair, Better Benalla Rail
                                                                                                Premier, Daniel Andrews MP
                                                                                                Jaclyn Symes MLC, Attorney-General
                                                                                                Ben Carroll MP, Minister for Transport
                                                                                                Cr Bernie Hearn, Mayor Benalla Rural City


Appendix 1

Benalla Station Precinct Design Criteria
The complexities involved in meeting the needs of commuters of all ages, including those with disabilities, and the operational requirements of a functioning railway station precinct requires skilled design input from experienced architects. The merging of multiple vehicle requirements – bus, coach, taxi and car movement and parking - with the needs of safe pedestrian access must fit within an existing heritage building framework. This historic precinct must be preserved and enhanced by any design proposals.
Design Criteria to include
·      Safety requirements of all users to be paramount.
·      Easy access for all, particularly the disabled, all meeting Australian Design Standards.
·      Safe operational facilities for coach, bus, and taxi operators.
·      Adequate and safe parking for commuter vehicles and emergency vehicle access.
·      Maintenance and enhancement of the Historic character of buildings.
·      Development of an attractive precinct with appropriate landscaping.

1.The first concept plans for the Benalla precinct drawn by the ARTC show no pedestrian access to either the main platform or proposed second platform from the north except by a lengthy circular detour using the Midland Highway rail crossing. They show only a new pedestrian underpass or pedestrian overpass from the south. This oversight needs to be addressed especially now that it is also known the Oaklands Line will be upgraded and a section of track on the northern side of Benalla precinct relocated.
2. Whilst ARTC leases all NE rail tracks including the Oaklands Line, the land and buildings at Benalla Station precinct are owned by the State Government and managed by DoT and VicTrack.  VLine's NE services between Melbourne and Albury/Wodonga use the ARTC leased tracks, as does the interstate Sydney/Melbourne XPT service. 
3. Long standing problems with the NE Line were clearly summarised by Infrastructure Australia (Project business case evaluation summary: North East Rail Line Upgrade 3 December 2019). It made clear that the NE Line has not been part of the Victorian Regional Fast Rail Program or Regional Rail Revival program that is a joint venture with the Federal Government, to the disadvantage of all north-east communities. It is still not.
4. Infrastructure Victoria's latest report presented to Parliament in November 2021 only refers to NE Line Upgrade works. Importantly, the NE Line is not planned to connect with the newly prioritised NE Link to the airport. This is unfortunate because current news items report the possibility that regional Victoria will host the 2026 Commonwealth games, with events to be held in the North East. This international event could showcase Inland Rail works that benefit both freight and passenger needs, however improved passenger services and an international airport link is vital.
5. A whole of precinct plan for Benalla should be created for incremental achievement that will enable additional passenger services and other development opportunities for the foreseeable future.
Better Benalla Rail                                                                                                     February 2022

Better Benalla Rail seeks meeting.

“Hon Jaclyn Symes MLC

Dear Jaclyn,

Alana Johnson, representing Better Benalla Rail (BBR), has written twice and telephoned your office asking for assistance from you and seeking a meeting regarding matters concerning proposed works at the Benalla railway precinct in conjunction with the Inland rail Project.

As Chair, Better Benalla Rail, I am now also asking for a firm meeting date and time to discuss the matters outlined in Alana's communications.

BBR is contacting you in particular because you are Representative for Northern Victoria Region, your previous portfolio, Benalla upbringing and family association with the Benalla Railway precinct.

Of all Victorian Labor politicians, you are best placed to understand the need to 'get it right' regarding any future works undertaken at the Benalla Railway precinct.

I look forward to hearing from you and meeting with you.

Suzie Pearce,
Chair, Better Benalla Rail. February 2022”


Time to take a break and celebrate! After much hard work and support from the community and politicians Benalla has achieved its goal, the “straight through track solution” has been adopted and the “BIG BENALLA BRIDGE” will not be built. Hooray!
The outcome is a double victory because our poorly operating and unsafe station precinct will be redesigned. This is a wonderful outcome, and BBR is now working to ensure that the needs of all users are addressed.
Looking forward to 2022 – the Station Precinct design.
The State Government has been approached to establish a design team capable of creating a concept meeting the needs of all users and achieving an outcome “we can all be proud of”.
BBR is requesting the State Government to provide the services of the Office of the Victorian Government Architect to work with the ARTC to prepare plans that will 'future proof' the whole Benalla Station precinct.
We contend that this combination of skills will ensure that the technical and operational requirements of the ARTC’s freight ambitions are achieved, and the precinct meets all expectations of safety, function, and aesthetics for passengers and the Benalla community.
The special historic nature of Benalla's few remaining station buildings requires careful consideration in any design outcome. Inclusion of existing historical remnants, including the Goods Shed and Signal Box must form part of the plan.
We propose the design incorporates an area bounded by the Nunn Street crossing and Barkly Street on one side, and Railway Parade and Hannah Street on the other. (See Appendix A)
A staged plan will allow work to progress as funding for various stages is obtained. Restoration of the goods shed and signal box would form part of the long-term objectives of a design proposal.
Design of the Benalla station precinct must be created by a team of experienced professionals from the Office of the Victorian Government Architect working with ARTC infrastructure professionals experienced in track and signalling requirements.

North East commuters face increased travel times…

North East commuters face increased travel times, Member for Indi Helen Haines contacts Victorian Transport Minister Jacinta Allen.


"The Hon. Jacinta Allan MP.      

Minister for Transport Infrastructure

Level 20, 1 Spring Street MELBOURNE VIC 3000

Dear Minister Allan,              

Re: Standard Gauge Platform at Sunshine Station

I am writing to request that the Victorian Government incorporates a standard gauge platform into the design of the new Sunshine Station. 

Trains from the North East Rail Line are currently unable to stop at Sunshine Station because it has no platforms suited to standard gauge trains.

This presents three problems for passengers from the North East.

First, when the Airport Rail link is established, passengers from the North East will have to go all the way into Southern Cross station or catch a bus from Broadmeadows, instead of simply being able to simply change at Sunshine.

Second, when the Melbourne Metro tunnel opens, if passengers want to connect to services along the Dandenong, Pakenham or Cranbourne lines, they will need to catch a connecting service in the city, rather than simply being able to change at Sunshine Station.

Thirdly, a standard gauge platform at Sunshine Station would allow passengers from the North East to connect directly from Sunshine to other regional services to cities like Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo. With no Sunshine connection, passengers will continue to have to go all the way to Southern Cross to change.

Each of these scenarios adds substantially to journey times for passengers in the North East. 

It would be simply unacceptable for the Victorian Government to spend so many billions of dollars to upgrade the metropolitan rail network, only to exclude hundreds of thousands of Victorians in the North East from benefitting from those upgrades.

We know that there is space for a standard gauge platform at Sunshine Station because up until recent decades, there was one. Past Victorian Government let it fall into disrepair and eventually removed it. Re-instating the standard gauge platform, and properly reconnecting North East Victorians into the state rail network would be a proud legacy for your Government.

I will be advocating publicly on this issue and I look forward to working with you to make it a reality. 

Yours faithfully,

Dr Helen Haines

Independant Federal Member for Indi

1 November 2021"

Benalla Station - A better design approach

Better Benalla Rail Design Team Proposal for Benalla Station
BBR believes that the Benalla Station Precinct requires a design team with the relevant skills to achieve the best precinct outcome for Benalla. One that incorporates both 'inter and intra state' freight needs with those of passengers and the wider community.
Infrastructure works at Benalla Station should be based on the same level of design expertise as Melbourne stations especially now that ARTC has entered a new partnership with DOT and VicTrack. 
BBR is requesting that the State Government provide the services of the Office of the Victorian Government Architect to work with ARTC to prepare plans that will 'future proof' the whole Benalla Station precinct.
We contend that a combination of skills will ensure that the technical and operational requirements of the ARTC’s freight ambitions are achieved, and the precinct meets all expectations of safety, function and aesthetics for all rail passengers and the wider community.
The special historic nature of Benalla's few remaining station buildings requires careful consideration in any design outcome. Inclusion of existing historical rail remnants must form part of the plan.
·      The Goodshed, Signal Box and remains of the 'turntable’ are all that define Benalla's extensive rail history. There are many photographs.
We suggest the design incorporates an area bounded by Nunn Street crossing and Barkly Street on one side, Railway Parade and Hannah Street on the other (see Appendix A) and identified in the AECOM design criteria.
A staged plan will allow work to progress as funding for various stages is obtained. Restoration of the goods shed and signal box would form part of the long-term objectives of a design proposal.
This project offers the chance to 'future proof' freight and achieve passenger rail and City of Benalla aspirations. It is exciting for everyone.
Design of the Benalla station precinct must be created by a team of experienced professionals from the Office of the Victorian Government Architect working with ARTC infrastructure professionals experienced in track and signalling requirements.




















 The ARTC have released sketch plans of three alternatives for Benalla Station. 


When replying to the ARTC survey keep these points in mind. 


Access to the station from the north side of town will require pedestrians to walk across the Nunn Street railway crossing which will carry many more trains. NO underpass access is proposed. 

Reject the “Big Benalla Bridge” proposal. This option includes retaining the current XPT track and platform and solves none of the long-standing vehicle and passenger access problems. It should no longer be included for discussion having been rejected overwhelmingly by the community. 

Benalla’s historic station requires a sympathetic design by experienced architects. The modern planning style of ARTC proposals do not fit with the heritage look of our station precinct. The Office of the Victorian Government Architect has extensive station design experience and needs to be involved in the precinct planning. 

If the State Government deems a second platform a requirement it can be included in the design as part of a staged development for future need.Station staff advise that there is currently no requirement for a second platform for the station to function effectively. The new Wodonga station has only one platform.

To avoid steps, people with prams, walking frames, wheelchairs or a physical impediment will need to enter the station at the same entrance as vehicles and walk an extra 200meters to reach the second platform.  







The Inland Rail project must not impose a new big bridge or an unnecessary second platform at the cost of SAFETY, ACCESS and AMENITY for all passengers, CONNECTIVITY for people living north of the rail track and the HERITAGE value of our station. 




Senate Enquiry Melbourne April 22nd

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.

Hansard proof record of Senate Enquiry

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.


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




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.  

"Think of the paralysis of intellect that gave that idea birth."

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?

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.



How the Station once looked

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.

The alternative proposal that meets Benalla's needs.






Better Benalla Rail's proposal.

"Scary on a dull winter morning".

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.

Another view of the historic tower.

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.

Good design - why it matters.

"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."