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Bridges part of ancient infrastructure problem

<p>The Menangle bridge debacle represents a far wider crisis involving NSW rail infrastructure, according to Railway Technical Society of Australasia spokesman Philip Laird.</p> <p>Significant portions of the NSW network are well past their used-by date and must be brought out of the steam age and into the 21st Century.</p> <p>The society is particularly concerned about antiquated signalling and the condition of other key bridges around the state. </p> <p>Of particular concern is the bridge across the Murrumbidgee at Wagga Wagga. "It should have been replaced long ago", Dr Laird said. </p> <p>However, it remains open to freight and passenger trains between Sydney and Melbourne, which use it at restricted speeds. </p> <p>The bridges at Menangle and Wagga Wagga are among eight river crossings identified in a 1976 report by former state rail chief Ron Christie as needing to be replaced by 1999. </p> <p>All are still standing and it remains unclear whether RIC has completed any designs for replacement bridges. </p> <p>The critical question is whether RIC has plans waiting in the drawer, ready to roll out as required, Dr Laird said.</p> <p>If it doesn’t, more bridges like the Menangle could be forced to close with rail operators and passengers waiting months for engineers to hastily design and build new crossings.</p> <p>A letter sent by the then transport parliamentary secretary, Kevin Moss, to Dr Laird in October 2000 indicates that for the Menangle bridge, at least, no such design work has been completed.</p> <p>Dr Laird had written to recently deposed transport minister Carl Scully asking about the future of the bridge and what plans were in place for upgrades or replacement.</p> <p>Mr Moss replied on the minister’s behalf, advising that RIC’s predecessor, the Rail Access Corporation, regularly inspected the bridge and considered it satisfactory for present needs.</p> <p>"It is therefore not identified as requiring upgrade or replacement," he said.</p> <p>NSW still has 20 19 th-Century bridges in service &#8211 both wrought iron like the heritage Menangle bridge and timber structures &#8211 and the dodgy ones are subject to severe speed limits, according to the <em>Sydney Morning Herald</em> .</p> <p>The appalling condition of the state’s track and bridges has been an open secret in rail corridors, the paper said.</p> <p>It cited a consultants Booz Allen Hamilton report on the country rail network from December 2001 that said 16.15 km of timber bridges and 1.66 km of wrought iron bridges need restoration or replacement. </p> <p>Of grave concern in all this is the allegation aired on Channel Nine’s <em>Sunday</em> program on April 6 that the RIC instructed a bridge examiner to inspect only the top side of the Menangle bridge because of time constraints, thus raising real doubts about the veracity of RIC’s inspection regime.</p> <p>Former transport minister Carl Scully last week pointed out that the RIC did not inform him immediately of the damning West report on the Menangle bridge and he was brought into the picture after <em>Sunday</em> began inquiries for its TV investigation.</p> <p>The <em>Herald</em> quoted a leaked Scully cabinet minute from July 2000 in which he recommended a shake-up of the rail bureaucracy and the firmation of a single structure to increase safety and reliability.</p> <p>Scully was outvoted then, the paper said, but Costa is now acting on Scully’s blueprint for reform.</p> <br />