First train over the Avon River rail bridge

THE first trains will travel over the new $87 million rail bridge across the Avon River at Stratford on Monday following a 10-day construction blitz to fast-track its completion.

Gippsland MHR Darren Chester said the milestone was one for all Gippslanders to celebrate.

“Construction of the new rail bridge is one of the biggest infrastructure projects underway in Gippsland at the moment,” Mr Chester said.

“The work on the structure has finished ahead of schedule, so you could say it’s an early Christmas gift for train travellers.

“The last train passed over the old bridge around 10 days ago in what was a historic moment for Gippsland.

“Today [Monday] is equally important when the new bridge is used for the first time.

“It’s an elegant, sleek, modern bridge that will become a Gippsland landmark, much like the old rail bridge has been for many decades.”

In the past 10 days since November 28, crews worked about 3500 hours to complete the track and signalling works to connect the new bridge to the rail line, remove sections of old railway track and sleepers, and complete the safety upgrade at the McAlister St level crossing.

The new rail bridge, part of work to upgrade the Gippsland Line to allow more frequent and reliable train services, comprises 86 concrete and 16 steel piles to create the foundation, 18 pairs of 30-metre, 60-tonne beams, and 1100 tonnes of concrete to create the deck.

Mr Chester said the new rail bridge would make a significant difference to travel times.

“Trains will be able to travel up to 90kmh on the new bridge, which is a huge improvement on the 10kmh limit allowed on the heritage-listed bridge,” he said.

“The old bridge across the Avon River at Stratford has given Gippsland more than 130 years of service, and this is a real chance to celebrate the bridge and its place in the region’s history.”

Acclaimed Gippsland artist Ray Thomas has begun work on a 25-metre long, two-metre high mural on the new bridge that will feature the Avon River as its theme.

The mural will honour the Brayakaulung clan and its connection to the river.

Improvements to Apex Park, including a new nature-based playground and BMX-pump track, are due for completion in early 2021.

The rail bridge project is jointly funded, with the federal government providing $79.45 million and the state government $7.55 million.

Construction on other sections of the Gippsland Line upgrade will continue until late 2022.