Council doesn’t want responsibility for rail bridge

Liz Bell

WELLINGTON Shire Council will write to the new public transport minister after this Saturday’s state election to seek assurances over the existing Avon River Rail Bridge.

Council wants to make sure that the future management and maintenance responsibilities associated with the existing rail bridge remain with the state government or one of its statutory bodies once it is decommissioned from the rail network.

The council has already ruled out any desire to take on the management responsibility itself because of the expected costs involved.

At the November 7 council meeting, Cr Carmel Ripper presented a report that stated: “Council does not wish to assume responsibility for maintaining the Avon River Bridge given the ongoing resource implications, and instead seeks state government assurance that the future integrity and maintenance will continue to be controlled by the state government, particularly if the bridge is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register”.

Moving the motion to write to the minister, Cr Ripper said many shire residents wanted to see the facility used for community projects, such as the Gippsland Plains Rail Trail, and it was important to ensure it remained a community asset.

She said many people she had spoken to appreciated the bridge’s historical and heritage significance, and many people said they would like to see local jobs created as part of the project.

Copies of the letter will be sent to local Gippsland members of parliament.

Cr Ripper noted the consultation process by the state government provided “an expectation” about potential uses for the old bridge, as borne out in the feedback.

However, she also noted the future management and maintenance of the current Avon River Bridge “is not clear”, although it is currently a state government controlled and maintained asset.

The $520 million Gippsland Line Upgrade is proposed to be delivered in two work packages: the Gippsland Line Upgrade corridor works, and the Avon River Bridge upgrade.

Rail Projects Victoria has nominated the existing Avon River Rail Bridge to be listed on the Victorian Heritage Register as an asset of state significance, to preserve the historic amenity enjoyed by the community, rail commuters and regional tourists.

The Heritage Council is expected to make its final decision on whether the bridge receives heritage listing on December 6.

At the last council meeting, council also agreed to provide written support for Planning Scheme Amendment C105, which will provide the relevant planning provisions within the Wellington Planning Scheme to facilitate a new rail crossing at the Avon River, as part of the state government’s Regional Rail Revival program.

Amendment C105 is required to introduce the provisions into the Wellington Planning Scheme to allow for the new railway bridge crossing by streamlining the planning approval process.

The amendment applies to land that will be developed for the Gippsland line bridge upgrade, including about one kilometre of land to the south of the Avon River crossing (through farmland), and about one kilometre of land to the north of the Avon River within Stratford’s township.

The project land is within the rail corridor, but some private land will be needed.

The $1.75 billion program is a joint initiative of the Australian and Victorian governments, and will upgrade stations, signalling and track across Victoria.

The $95 million replacement of the Avon River Bridge will lift the 10kmh speed limit currently imposed on trains in this section, improving reliability and overall journey times for passengers.

The upgrade of Avon River Bridge rail crossing will increase line speed and service reliability, improve passenger comfort, reduce maintenance costs, and increase the ability to operate heavy freight, boosting regional industries.