The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) plans to run double stacked freight trains from Brisbane to Melbourne. This involves major changes to several stations on the line, including Benalla.
The first ARTC plans include doubling the height and length of the existing overpass, or alternatively tunnel only access to our station. No vehicle access, parking in McKeller Street and no Taxi drop off.
Benalla needs a station where access for the disabled and elderly is improved, not made worse.
Moving the XPT line to the other side of the station is the best solution.
This will open the front of the station to allow better vehicle access and improved parking. It will solve the issue of bus parking and turning. It will allow taxi drop offs. It will enable the reclaimed XPT area to be replanted and landscaped. This will assist in providing a sound barrier and create a much more attractive precinct.
Moving the XPT line will also provide for a “straight through” line, which is the most efficient rail option. This reduces noise from the existing loop line and reduces wear on lines and train wheels.
ARTC say this will cost too much. Double decker freight trains will save huge amounts of money, and it is reasonable that Benalla citizens should not be expected to accept an inferior station as part of the price of progress.
ARTC is proposing a meeting early in 2020 to present new plans. They claim budgetary considerations will not permit our proposed solutions. As a community we need to present a strong voice to politicians demanding an acceptable solution for Benalla.
Community apathy was in part responsible for the disaster that saw part of our historic station demolished in 1974. This is an opportunity to reclaim our station precinct.
The Better Benalla Rail Group is working with Benalla Council to advance our aims.
Easy access, user friendly, adequate parking, reliable services, attractive landscaping, coach and essential services access, a community asset.
Reposition inland rail track to the north west side of the existing main station
Remove the existing overpass to mitigate future flooding
Remove the need for underpasses for station access
Allow for the creation of additional secure car parking spaces
All outcomes in keeping with current and future safety and disabled access practices
XPT trains to use the existing historic platform
Build community support to enhance the historic Benalla Railway Station precinct
“Benalla to be proud of the outcome” - ARCT
The very future of Benalla Station could be at stake.
A recent report by Infrastructure Australia details the falling patronage on the line, due in no small part to the unreliability of the service.
Their findings will come as no surprise to regular rail users. They found:
There is relatively poor punctuality, reliability and passenger comfort on the North East Rail Line, compared with other regional Victorian passenger lines. Only 74% of services are on time.
Due to the poor condition of the track, passengers on the North East Rail Line experience issues with the ride quality, comfort and reliability of V/Line services, which has contributed to an 11.8% per annum decline in demand from 2013 to 2018.
The rail line plays an important role in connecting regional communities and providing people with genuine travel choices. However, patronage on the rail line is relatively low and has been falling in recent years.
V/Line has self-imposed speed restrictions of up to 35 km/h on some sections of the North East Rail Line, and 15 km/h restrictions along the entire 82 km section between Broadmeadows and Seymour due to poor track quality. These restrictions are due to mud holes and tight rail alignments, and apply to over 60% of the rail line. Together, these impact on travel times and ride quality. However, these issues do not impact on the performance of freight rail services.
Should the ARTC plans for Benalla Station go ahead, the reduction of accessibility and would increase the decline in patronage. This could result in rail planners deciding to cease using Benalla as a Station. Our Station could become a relic beside the rail line. The importance of saving our station from the inadequate ARTC plan is urgent. Our aim is to achieve a station we can all be proud of.
The Economic Impact of Prioritising Rail Services for Benalla
Benalla is a major station on the Sydney/Melbourne route, and has a history as a regional service centre. The railway station has an impressive history of its own, and with current revival of interest in rail across the world, evidenced in increased passenger services and success of websites such as The Man in Seat 61, could provide an increased economic impact for Benalla in the future.
Regional towns and cities across Victoria have relied on distinct branding and promotion to attract tourism. The success of Bendigo’s Art Gallery and sense of history, and of Echuca’s promotion of high speed water sports are examples of tourism strategies which have led to increased population and economic growth as former tourists decide to relocate permanently. This population increase in turn increases demand for services and leads to growth in funding for hospitals and other facilities.
Benalla has a strong claim to a role as gateway to the north east. While many tourists will still come by road, promotion of rail services fits a current worldwide emphasis on climate change and lowering emissions. Benalla’s proximity to Melbourne allows for promotion of day trips and themed events such as steam rail. It is possible to then build on Benalla’s history and environment with the following as suggestions:
1. The Kelly family. While Beechworth lays claim to Kelly history, much of the court and policing activity relating to them occurred in Benalla, with extant historic locations such as the Commercial Hotel and the bootmakers shop included in recent histories. A Kelly trail in Benalla linked to Greta and Glenrowan would be a focus for day trips and tours.
2. Benalla has a wealth of art and creativity similar to that which has made Castlemaine a prized destination. Day tours could encompass the Gallery, Wall to Wall, silo trail as well as cafes and restaurants.
3. Ecotourism: the potential for cycling, canoeing, wetland exploration and other outdoor activity would appeal to people looking for a more relaxed environment than that at Echuca and Yarrawonga/Mulwala.
4. Winery and food touring- again, rail could be included in a destination tourism theme encompassing wineries and producers generally across the region.
As Melbourne becomes increasingly crowded and expensive, regional towns and cities are being seen as options both for retirement and for commuter work. People first explore these options as tourists, becoming familiar with a town or region and then making the decision to move. The health industry, as an example, provides an ongoing stream of work at Benalla Health, Goulburn Valley Health and North East Health. Both larger hospitals are within commuting distance of Benalla.
The maintenance and enhancement of an accessible, attractive station precinct in Benalla should be part of an overall tourism strategy that emphasises proximity to both Melbourne and the North east. With increased workplace flexibility, tourists who can be attracted to Benalla will then see rail travel and commuter work options as a reason to make a tree change. The benefits to Benalla would be significant.
Better Benalla Rail 2020