A MULTI-million dollar program to upgrade level crossing safety and restore trains to the Gippsland line between Traralgon and Bairnsdale has been approved.
Public Transport Minister Terry Mulder yesterday announced Public Transport Victoria had approved V/Line's plan for a permanent solution to the safety issue which has caused the suspension of train services since late March.
"V/Line will invest up to $8 million to install axle counter technology at all 32 level crossings along the line," Mr Mulder said.
V/Line acting chief executive Ross Pedley said onsite works would begin as soon as the specifications were finalised.
"Installation of the axle counters will overcome the issue that has been affecting the reliability of level crossing safety equipment between Traralgon and Bairnsdale," he said.
"From the time that installation commences, V/Line expects the axle counters to be working within 12 months," Mr Pedley said.
"Axle counter technology is already installed at nine level crossings between Bendigo and Echuca and will be implemented at four more locations on that line.
"Axle counters are also used to activate the signalling systems on the Bendigo and Pakenham-Traralgon corridors," he said.
"The investment in axle counters and the ongoing maintenance work on the Gippsland line guarantees that trains will return between Traralgon, Sale and Bairnsdale as soon as it is safe to do so."
V/Line is still pursuing interim solutions to the rail corrosion issue that has affected the reliability of the track circuit system which currently activates the level crossings.
One short term approach is to grind and re-profile the rails for about one kilometre on either side of level crossings.
Mr Pedley said RailCorp in New South Wales had been unable to release the rail grinder V/Line had hoped to secure for work on the Gippsland corridor.
"Another grinder, now being used interstate, will not be available until August," he said.
"The rail grinding will take approximately four weeks.
"All going well, this work will enable trains to return to service in September," he said.
"While the rail grinder is now not expected to be available until August, we will continue to examine other short term solutions that could result in the earlier return of train services," he said.
Mr Pedley said a program of maintenance work was continuing on the line between Traralgon and Bairnsdale to ensure that it was in the best possible condition for the return of trains.
"We've allocated an extra $300,000 to step up our track maintenance in the region and our track workers have been taking advantage of the temporary absence of trains to replace sleepers, repair bridges and upgrade drainage," he said.
"With safety as V/Line's number one priority, we will continue to run our train replacement coaches until we can ensure the safety of train operations and road users."