Stratford backs bridge

Liz Bell

STRATFORD Historical Society is backing the push to get heritage protection for the existing iconic Stratford Avon River Bridge, following confirmation of the $95 million realignment of the rail infrastructure.

A community meeting at Stratford Mechanics Institute on Tuesday night showed overwhelming support for a new bridge and realignment of the rail route to provide for faster travel time between Sale and Stratford and an improved service.

The new rail bridge will be built on the north side of the existing bridge and south of the Princes Highway road bridge.

Rail Projects Victoria has nominated the existing trestle bridge for inclusion on the Victorian Heritage Register, with an independent heritage significance assessment finding the bridge met five of the eight heritage criteria.

These include its importance to Victoria’s cultural history, and its importance in “demonstrating a high degree of creative and technical achievement at a particular period”.

Trudy McNally, from the historical society, said she was pleased that all parties were “moving in the same direction” in protecting the old bridge.

“It’s such an impressive structure and really sums up the history of the area,” she said.

“It is the most significant landmark in Stratford, and people comes from all over to stop and take photos.”

The new bridge on the outskirts of Stratford still requires planning, heritage and environmental approvals, but is expected to allow trains to travel at up to 90kmh, instead of slowing down as it does now to 10kmh as they take the bend into the township.

All trains, including the new VLocity services, will be able to travel faster on the new bridge.

The first train passed over the rail bridge, set on wooden pylons, in Stratford in May 1888.

The bridge spanned 200 metres, but by 1940 an additional seven brick pylons were added to protect the structure from flood damage, increasing the length of the bridge to 274 metres.

At Tuesday’s information session, long-time Stratford resident Harry Nowak said the new bridge and better train service would provide “a more sophisticated” service for people travelling through Gippsland.

“I think it’s great for the region, and I believe more people will use the rail service as a result,” he said.

The community update was part of the three-week consultation period to gather feedback on the project from local residents.

There will also be a pop-up stall at the Stratford IGA next Friday, August 31, from 11am to 2pm.

People will be able to meet the project team, view the concept design for the new bridge and have their say at these sessions.

The $95 million project is part of the $530 million Gippsland Rail Line Upgrade, which will deliver more stabling to allow extra services, and improved safety for motorists and train passengers.

The target completion date for the new Avon River Bridge is early 2021.

The Gippsland Rail Line Upgrade is part of the $1.75 billion Regional Rail Revival Package, which will upgrade every regional passenger train line in Victoria, creating more than 1000 jobs. The Regional Rail Revival Package is a joint initiative of the Australian and Victorian governments.

Information about the project and how people can have their say is available at regionalrailrevival.vic.gov.au/Gippsland.