Meetings with Politicians
This year will be important for all of us concerned with the pending changes to Benalla Station precinct that will be determined by the ARTC for the Inland Rail Project.
Last year Better Benalla Rail held Zoom meetings with relevant politicians including Nationals Senator Bridgette McKenzie and local MLA Steph Ryan, and Liberal Senator Jane Hume.
BBR also had two face to face meetings with Independent MP Helen Haines, one at Benalla Station where she and her staff became fully aware of the logic and benefit of implementing Better Benalla Rail’s track relocation proposal, rather than the ARTC proposal.
All politicians followed up by making representations to Deputy PM Michael McCormack. They outlined BBR concerns and the alternative works proposal.
Helen Haines secured a commitment from Deputy PM Michael McCormack that he will visit Benalla early in 2021 to see firsthand the problems facing Benalla and the multiple benefits of the BBR solution.
This link is to Helen Haines question in Parliament, and the reply from Deputy PM Michael McCormack.
Better Benalla Rail used social media and posters to focus on candidates standing for Benalla Council who openly gave commitment to support BBR. BBR welcomes Gail O’Brien, Punari Gunaratne and Justin King’s election to Council.
Gail O’Brien and Justin King have volunteered to replace Don Firth and Scott Upton as Council Representatives on the ARTC Benalla Working Group. This community group has responsibility for discussing Inland Rail work options, but the ultimate decision will be made by the ARTC. Suzie Pearce and Phil Rees represent BBR.
BBR has requested an opportunity to brief Council early in 2021 and seek Council’s broad support for their campaign.
The ARTC have opened a pop-up shop at 50 Nunn St., almost opposite our shop. Their hours are Mon. and Thurs. only, 10 -3pm from 11th January 2021.
BBR encourages you to visit the ARTC shop and make your railway concerns and vision known. This is your opportunity to speak up. The ultimate outcome will impact Benalla for the foreseeable future.
Issues constantly mentioned by people who have completed one of our “Community Consultation Cards” include the following:
· Do not want a new huge overpass
· Want existing overpass removed
· Want XPT section of track removed
· Do not want works that pose flood risk
· Want access for all improved
· Want disability and handicapped access to meet National Standards
· Want safer bus movement and parking
· Want taxi rank and drop off point
· Want increased car parking
· Want visual amenity of whole precinct greatly improved.
Euroa – Glenrowan – Wangaratta – Benalla
A number of Zoom meetings have been held with representatives of the four towns to develop strategies to focus attention on the problems facing our stations. The issues vary from town to town, but the common thread is the difficulty in dealing with the ARTC and its seeming unwillingness to engage in meaningful discussions. We are regularly told that our wishes are “exceeding the scope of the project”.
Social media continues
Our Facebook page keeps people informed of developments as they occur, and our webpage contains source material which can be downloaded. Please feel free to contribute to both. It is helpful if you share our Facebook posts to your friends. Links are below.
Plans for 2021
· Encourage visits to ARTC shop.
· Try to gain better communication with Council.
· More clearly bring our concerns to State Government.
· Joint activity with the Euroa/Glenrowan/Wangaratta groups.
· Media focus to become state-wide and national.
· Develop social media that appeals to youth.
Donations would be greatly appreciated to cover ongoing costs. Payment can be made direct to National Australia Bank or online.
Account Name: Better Benalla Rail
Account Number: 938195646
T-shirts, most sizes, are still available for $20 each. (collection can be arranged).
BETTER BENALLA RAIL JANUARY 2021
Dr HAINES (Indi)
"My question is to the Deputy Prime Minister.
The Inland Rail will run through Wangaratta, Glenrowan, Benalla and Euroa, with substantial impacts on these towns.
This could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve the amenity and accessibility of these railway precincts, while delivering the Inland Rail’s aims.
However, the ARTC, which is 100% owned by this Government, says it has insufficient budget for amenity upgrades.
Will the Deputy Prime Minister commit to providing additional funding to the ARTC for these works and deliver the legacy these communities are calling for?"
Clink the link to hear the reply.
Suzie calls for Working Group additions.
Better Benalla Rail’s Suzie Pearce has called for additional representatives to be appointed to the ARTC’s newly established Benalla Working Group.
At the first meeting of the Benalla Working Group held on Monday Suzie said it was essential that a high-level representative of the Victorian Government be included at the table during deliberations. She pointed out that the station and all land to be impacted by works for the Inland Rail Project are state owned. ARTC only leases the tracks.
“Decisions being proposed by the ARTC will have long lasting ramifications for Benalla residents, commuters and tourists, and the State Government has a duty of care to ensure these interests are not neglected”, she said.
The need for a professional design brief was also essential, she said. “Melbourne stations are designed with input from the Office of the Victorian Government Architect and country people deserve the same level of professional expertise advising ramifications of any outcome. We want an OVGA representative included in the Working Group, not visiting only once as suggested by ARTC”.
ARTC Victorian Manager Ed Walker said that ARTC met regularly with Government but BBR believes they should also meet regularly with the Working Group, to achieve “a station we can all be proud of”.
The first meeting of the ARTC recently established Benalla Working Group will be held via Zoom on Monday 21st September. For the information of participants we have emailed an outline of the BBR proposed "straight through solution". A copy of the document is below.
The Better Benalla Rail proposal for Benalla Station
Benalla station has been fraught with access and safety problems since the installation of the XPT rail line in 1962 resulted in an ill-conceived 4meter high traffic overpass and a small, dark, unsafe and flood prone pedestrian underpass.
For nearly 60 years Benalla station has endured inadequate public access with minimal carparking, no taxi drop-off area and an insufficient and unsafe single bus turning area utilized by up to 40 coaches per day.
Location of the XPT line well away from the main station platform has created safety issues as it necessitates a mix of pedestrians, cars and coaches in a very confined space.
The ARTC plans to run double stacked freight trains on the XPT line, through this narrow space housing the Benalla Station, the small car park and the current XPT platform.
The obvious and simple solution is to move 1.3kms of the current XPT line to the other side (western side) of the Benalla railway station.
This will allow demolition of the current overpass and enable direct vehicle and pedestrian access to the station as originally designed. It will improve parking, allow taxi facilities and resolve coach parking and turning problems. Reclaiming and landscaping the XPT line area will provide a sound barrier and create an attractive precinct.
Laying 1.3klmn of new straight track on a flat area where a line once existed, a “straight through” solution, is always a preferred rail option. Relocating the XPT loop will provide a dedicated freight line for trains transiting Benalla. It is the most efficient option enabling quicker, safer passage and reduced noise. Operational matters, especially shunting, would benefit by having all standard gauge tracks west of the station.
Benalla signals are an ongoing and longstanding source of concern. Local police are required to attend when signal failures result in extended delays at crossings. Whatever happens they must be fixed.
No additional platform is required. Currently all trains can and do use the original platform. The XPT train prefers the original platform as it only requires one stop, unlike the Mackellar Street platform requiring the train to make two stops due to the inadequate length of the platform.
Flood implications of a huge wall must not be ignored in any solution.
It is time this proposal was realistically costed. It must be part of any discussion on the future for our Station.
Some additional issues for consideration:
The Benalla Working Group
ARTC advertised for community minded citizens to 'help shape Benalla Station”. Appointed members may be of the belief that they have been given the opportunity to influence the appearance and use of Benalla Station and its railway precinct for the foreseeable future.
The group has not been appointed to produce a visionary outcome for Benalla Station and its precinct but simply to agree the means for large freight trains to transit our town. ARTC states it has no funds available beyond that task.
The Working Group need to find a way to ensure that the future of our Station and opportunities for Benalla are not compromised by the outcome of the ARTC proposed works.
In March 2018 the Victorian and Federal Governments signed a bi-lateral agreement which included commitments to negotiate a new long-term lease with ARTC and for the Victorian Government to accommodate any changes to the NE Rail Line required for the Inland Rail Project.
Note: ARTC leases both standard gauge NE Rail Lines from VicTrack, a State Government agency. These lines are used by VLine and XPT Sydney/Melbourne passenger trains and freight trains.
While ARTC is charged with achieving the Inland Rail (freight) Project, VicTrack has the responsibility for all State-owned railway land and assets including Benalla Station.
The State Government has responsibility to ensure that Benalla Station remains functional for rail passengers to an equitable standard achieved in Melbourne and throughout Victoria under the Federal/State funded $1.75billion Regional Revival Program.
As a major stakeholder, an appropriate VicTrack/State Government representative should be included in the Working Group discussions.
A representative from the Office of the Victorian Government Architect (OVGA) should also be involved to advise on Station precinct design.
Both Local Government and ARTC can make a request for OVGA involvement if a major infrastructure project is to impact a station.
The ARTC response to the BBR (track relocation) proposal
The ARTC claim the track relocation proposal is
outside their scope
would cost 4 to 6 times their budget for Benalla works
requires a new passenger platform
and a pedestrian crossing to the main Station platform.
These claims are inaccurate because
it is within the ARTC scope
track slews (relocations) are listed as possible works
see inlandrail.artc.com.au 'Inland Rail Tottenham, Vic to Albury, NSW'
no budget has been made known
no substantiation/comparison of actual costs has been undertaken
only two NE Vic. stations have two platforms, the rest use one main platform
no new pedestrian track crossing is required
the Vic. Government has said it would approve track alterations.
The ARTC recognises that modifications will/could affect roads and bridges managed by VicRoads and says they will work with key stakeholders and Victorian Government agencies to understand their operations and requirements.
Stage One of the Inland Rail project was referred to the State Minister for Planning Richard Wynne MP in April 2020 under the Environment Effects Act 1978. He has not released his finding.
Stage One of the Inland Rail project was referred to Federal Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley MP in July 2020 under Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 for Biodiversity Matters of National Environmental Significance (excluding Glenrowan and Barnawartha North). The Minister determined (5 August 2020) that the project would require formal assessment under the Act.
Better Benalla Rail has contacted the offices of the Minister for Planning and the Minister for Environment detailing concerns with the content of the referral document especially with regard to the lack of community consultation, problems with station access and precinct use, the residential impact of the proposed overpass and the ambiguous description of proposed Benalla works. There was also no mention of the Broken River nor the detrimental impact of the current overpass bridge during the 1993 flood.
Better Benalla Rail Chair Suzie Pearce recently spoke to members of the Benalla Branch of the Liberal Party.
She gave an overview of the Better Benalla Rail group and the SOS campaign relating to proposed ARTC works in Benalla for the Inland Rail Project.
After the meeting Tony Schneider, Branch President contacted Suzie and reported that the meeting agreed to publicly support the SOS campaign and that they will contact MP’s to help get some positive action.
The Benalla Branch of the Australian Labor Party discussed and passed the following resolution.
"Benalla branch of the Australian Labor Party is of the view that the ARTC proposal is not in the interest of the Benalla community.
We endorse the proposal of Better Benalla Rail which is supported by Benalla Council. We understand this to be a preferable design in terms of community amenity and access to the railway station, including disabled access.
We call on all agencies and ministers to give proper consideration to the Benalla community’s preferred design."
Hamish McPherson President ALP Benalla Branch
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."