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
Local MP Steph Ryan has written to the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack regarding the Better Benalla Rail proposal for a “straight through” solution for Benalla. She has forwarded us a copy of the letter he sent her in reply.
We have prepared a response to the points raised in his letter and sent it directly to him, as Minister responsible for the Inland Rail project. A copy of the letter has also been sent to Steph.
BBR last week briefed Federal MP for Indi Helen Haines. Helen and her staff were provided a comprehensive brief outlining our proposals. We have also provided her a copy of our response to Minister McCormack. We understand Helen will be contacting the Minister’s office to follow up.
The following extract from our reply to the Minister details our response:
“In response to the Better Benalla Rail (BBR) alternate plan, your letter states “this proposal would require significant works that exceed the scope of the project”. It is noted there is no suggestion the BBR proposal is inferior and recognition of the benefits of this “straight through” solution appears to be understood.
The problem seems to be budgetary but there are several propositions in the letter that are clearly disputable.
1. Complex track work required.
2. Major signalling upgrade needed.
3. Additional platform and pedestrian access required.
4. Cost four to six times more than replacing or removing the existing overpass.
1. Laying 1.3klmn of new straight track on a flat area where a line once existed can hardly be described as complex. The ballast and machinery are readily available. A “straight through” solution is always a preferred rail option.
2. 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. Frustration leads to drivers ignoring the barriers and lights and driving through, even in semi-trailers. The signals are controlled from Junee, who have to contact a contractor to attend any failure in Benalla. This can result in considerable delays as contractors travel from elsewhere. The extended ringing of bells is a source of concern for many local residents. It is widely recognised the signals in Benalla are not functioning as they should. Whatever the eventual design solution this must be fixed.
3. No additional platform is required. Currently all trains can and do use the original platform. The XPT train prefers this platform as it only requires one stop, unlike the Mackellar Street platform which requires the train to make two stops due to the short length of the platform. Stations currently operating with one platform include Albury, Wodonga, Wangaratta, Seymour and Broadmeadows. Pedestrian access already exists, there is no additional requirement.
4. The only budget information that has been provided was from an ARTC employee at an early public meeting in Benalla. He stated a budget of ten million dollars for Benalla had been set. Any further information about costings of either the ‘overpass’ proposal or the ‘straight through’ proposal has not been forthcoming despite requests. “
Calling all Council candidates.
Council elections this year will be held by postal ballot in October. The usual “candidates meeting” providing candidates with the opportunity to introduce themselves and their policies to the public is unlikely to be held. This means sitting councillors will have a distinct advantage.
This election on the 24th October is one of the most important Benalla has faced.
Councillors elected will play a vital role in determining the future of Benalla Railway Station. Will our station be revitalised and made a welcoming, attractive and serviceable facility meeting the needs of commuters, welcoming for tourists, and accommodating the requirements of the disabled, handicapped and families with small children? Or will our Council be dominated by the wishes of the federal freight organisation the Australian Rail Track Corporation?
Better Benalla Rail has been working hard to inform the community of the implications of the ARTC plans. Their proposal is for the creation of “Mt Benalla” a huge overpass, with subsequent reduction in car parking, further restrictions on access for disabled and others, and the flooding implications of a huge ten-meter wall in Mackellar Street.
We have sought the community’s views; overwhelmingly local responses favour the simple proposal to relocate the XPT loop to the western side of the station and remove the overpass. This opens up the station front and solves issues of access, parking and safety, and simplifies and improves operations for both freight and passenger trains.
We are looking forward to learning the views of candidates on these issues.
Rail infrastructure is an essential part of any modern community. Benalla is well placed to benefit from a modern efficient and reliable rail system, which includes a station that facilitates safe access. We have a once in a 100-year chance to get this right, and now is the time. An outline of the importance of rail for Benalla can be read on our website in an article titled The Economic Impact of Rail and can be found at this link.
Federal Member for Indi Helen Haines MP was last week briefed by Better Benalla Rail on issues surrounding ARTC plans for Benalla Station. She was accompanied by two staff members and provided with extensive background material outlining the case developed by BBR. It was a thorough and detailed briefing.
Helen has been aware of community concerns about rail issues for a long time.
She now understands that there is a need to rebuild trust between community group Better Benalla Rail and the ARTC and hopes the (Benalla) Working Group will help achieve this.
BBR remains sceptical because of long standing community feeling connected to the demolition of part of Benalla Station building and more recent lack of communication and transparency.
Ed Walker, Victorian Manager ARTC, wrote (Ensign letter to the Editor 29 July) that “we are not furthering existing designs until we have had the opportunity to work through the options in a structured process with the community”. There were no plans.
This is contradicted by actions of Veris who have been contracted by ARTC and were measuring and marking for an overpass over two weeks at the end of June.
Beside Ed Walkers letter was an advertisement advising the ARTC had made a submission under the Environment Act seeking approval for proposed works. This July 29 advice allowed ONE WEEK for public comment, a massive task requiring reading of a huge submission and a complex act. Even if the working group were in place by the end of July as intended, they would not have had time to digest the associated Federal Act and ARTC referral document so that they could make a comment by 5 August.
After digesting the complex issues involved, Helen has undertaken to contact the Department of the Deputy Prime Minister Mr McCormack, the Minister responsible for the ARTC. She advised she had had previous discussions with staff in his office.
She understood that there is a blurring of detail that does not clearly separate the Inland Rail Project and North East Rail Upgrade, because both are promoted by ARTC (Australian Rail Track Corporation) and often together.
BBR July 2020
Do the spin doctors from the ARTC think the population is so dim they won’t spot what might appear to be a bit of bribery? Two side by side articles appeared in the Benalla Ensign, one outlining the community concerns regarding the ARTC plan for Benalla station, the other article outlining a $4000 ARTC grant to the Benalla Tomorrow Today Foundation. Similar grants have recently been provided to the Winton, Baddaginnie and Goomalibee Fire Brigades.
Is this the ARTC version of the recent federal “Sports Rorts” scheme? Targeted grants to make the ARTC look like good corporate citizens and seeking to undermine any community opposition in NE Victoria to their Inland rail plans? The Benalla community are told by the ARTC that funding will not allow for the sensible local proposal to relocate 1.3kms of the XPT line. But funding to soften up local opposition seems abundant, judging from their invitation for groups in NE Vic. to apply for grants.
All fire brigades deserve to be fully funded and equipped to perform their valuable services, but this should not be dependent on a system of targeted grants from a government corporation with a real agenda.
Save our Station campaign intensifies
A summary report from Better Benalla Rail has been sent to Deputy Prime Minister Michael Mc Cormack regarding the Inland Rail plan and to the Chairman of the Australian Rail Track Corporation board, Mr Warren Truss. The document outlines the issues and options the Benalla community has regarding the ARTC plans to create a huge 10 meter “Mt Benalla” rail overpass off McKellar St.
Compiled after extensive discussion and feedback from the community and local experts, an alternative straight throughdesign is outlined in the report, and the multiple benefits for both freight and passenger services comprehensively detailed.
BBR Spokesperson Suzie Pearce announced these actions today, stating the report has previously been forwarded to State Minister for Planning, Richard Wynne. Mr Wynne’s department is currently considering an application from the ARTC seeking state approval for its plans. Jaclyn Symes MLA, Minister for Regional Development and Jacinta Allen MP, Minister for Transport Infrastructure have also been approached for their support at the state level.
Suzie said “This is just the beginning; our report has been prepared very carefully. We take pride in the detail and accuracy we have incorporated into it, and we are confident our proposal is not only functionally superior but may well be the cheapest solution”. She said, “What we are asking for is what the ARTC initially claimed they wanted – an outcome we can all be proud of.”
Better Benalla Rail have an upcoming meeting to brief the Member for Indi, Helen Haines, so she can represent the community’s concerns when federal parliament resumes.
A copy of the report can be found on the "Resources" page.
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.
“A rule of government is never look into anything you don’t have to, never start an enquiry unless you know what its findings will be.”
From the Yes Minister episode “The Whiskey Priest,” December 16, 1982.
Expect to see Australian Rail Track Corporation ads in local papers soon as their Public Relations team move to establish a Benalla Rail Working Group. Similar to the group established in Euroa last year, the ARTC will be calling for nominations from Benalla people with an interest in rail.
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 has been reported that a professional report on the "access tunnel" has been undertaken this week. We will see if the people of Benalla can be permitted to read it when completed. It is understood this was the result of Benalla residents meeting with the Human Rights Commission and respresentatives of V/Line and VicTrack to discuss serious concerns about station access for disabled people.
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."