$328m for transport upgrades around Victoria

300km of regional rail track and 15 train stations will be upgraded as part of a $2.7 billion spending plan to help Victoria recover after the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The spending will be spread across the economy, including education, social housing, and tourism upgrades, however $328 million is targeted at the transport sector.

Part of the funding will go towards upgrades of trains and trams and is in addition to the $107bn Big Build program.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said that the funding will go to projects that will begin immediately.

“We’re getting to work on hundreds of new projects across the state, meaning shovels in the ground – and boots in the mud – within a matter of weeks and months,” he said.

“From upgrading our roads and rail, to critical maintenance for social housing and new projects for our tourist destinations, this package will create jobs for our local tradies and so many others – and support local businesses all over Victoria.”

$90m will be invested in upgrading and replacing sleepers, structures, and signalling across the regional rail network. This funding will cover the renewal of 300km of sleepers and ballast across the regional network.

$62.6m will go towards the maintenance and restoration of trams and regional trains. Over half of this funding will go towards improving the reliability of V/Line trains.

$23m will be spent on improving stations and stops, including better seating, passenger information, toilets, and accessibility upgrades.

$5.6m will be spent on removing rubbish and graffiti as well as managing vegetation along transport corridors.

Chief executive of Infrastructure Partnerships Australia Adrian Dwyer said that the funding was well structured.

“The phase one package provides the right blend of projects and programs that will support job creation and stimulate economic activity,” he said.

“The focus on new and existing projects across schools, social housing, and road and rail maintenance means that the benefits of this stimulus will be broad-based.”

Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas said that the funding will help the wider economy.

“We’ve always said Victoria is the engine room of the nation – with this package, we’re cranking the engine and kickstarting our economy.”

The entire funding package is expected to create 3,700 direct jobs with many thousands more in the supply chain. For companies which need to hire extra employees, the Victorian government has mandated that new hires are to be found through the Working for Victoria scheme.

In a press conference on May 18, Andrews said that this announcement would be followed by other announcements which will target particular sectors. Andrews would not confirm whether the Melbourne Airport Rail Link would be announced, however he suggested that a decision would be made soon.

Concern over toxic soil to be dumped at a V/Line rail yard

$172.9 million V/Line stabling yard development could potentially be used as a temporary holding site for contaminated soil with possible carcinogens PFAS and asbestos.

The Wyndham Vale rail yard is set to be occupied by V/Line as a maintenance and storage space to replace the Footscray train stabling site which is being removed as part of the West Gate Tunnel works.

The $6.7 billion project requires 2.3 million tonnes of soil to be relocated offsite. The 82-hectare government-owned site in Melbourne’s west is being considered by officials following a meeting with Wyndham Council this week.

The Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) are raising concerns for the health and safety of rail workers if the soil was dumped next to the V/Line rail yard.

Luba Grigorovitch, Victorian Secretary of RTBU wrote in a letter to state Government officials on Monday that she is “deeply concerned” the toxic soil would pose a huge risk to workers and residents.

Grigorovitch told Rail Express that she is demanding confirmation from the government whether soil would contaminate the air conditioning systems of the Geelong-Melbourne trains, which run directly alongside the site.

The state secretary for the union said they’ve been inundated with calls from concerned V/line workers. 

“Our members don’t want to be operating alongside contaminated soil,” she said.

“This government seems to be infamous for passing the buck. We’ll be  undergoing full safety audits and testing before giving the ok for our members to be working at the site.”

The new facility is designed to meet interpeak stabling needs for V/Line trains operating on the regional rail network, while also ensuring there is capacity to house additional trains in the future.

The project will involve construction of a stabling yard, driver facilities and a bypass track connected to the Geelong line, which will allow trains to access the facility without delaying passenger services.

38 new VLocity carriages are arriving to the V/Line network early this year and there are concerns that there isn’t enough facilities for the growing network.

V/Line stated in 2018 that stabling capacity would be exceeded by March 2019.

The Age obtained an internal V/Line document under freedom of information laws, reporting that “the rail yard was needed to run a greater number of services on the network and to operate new trains reliably”.

According to the internal document, the lack of maintenance infrastructure will continue to impact on performance and shortages will impact V/Line’s reliability.

A government spokeswoman told the Hearld Sun that if Wyndham Vale was a temporary site it would not disrupt rail operations.

“Transurban and its builder are working with project parties to find a long-term solution to manage the rock and soil from tunnelling – no decision has been made,” she said.

Department of Transport spokeswoman said operations of the stabling facility will not be compromised.

“While a decision on where to temporarily hold soil from tunnelling for the West Gate Tunnel is yet to be made, the land in question is outside the Wyndham Vale stabling facility so if the site was ever used it would not impact the timing or operations of the new stabling facility,” she said to The Age.

The Wyndham Vale rail yard is metres away from proposed housing estates and four planned schools.

Treasurer Tim Pallas and member for Werribee said on air during a 3AW interview that it won’t be a long-term containment.

“Any suggestion that there is going to be long-term containment or toxic facility is just nonsense,” Mr Pallas told 3AW.

“What is proposed at Wyndham Vale is essentially a short-term place where it is isolated from the environment and if it is ever used – it may well not ever be used – it’s only if you can’t get access to the long-term facility.”

The stabling project is funded by the state government and is still under construction and set to open in the coming months.

Level crossing work comes to Werribee

Construction has begun on replacing the Cherry Street crossing in Werribee, Melbourne.

Instead of the current level crossing, a bridge will be built of the Werribee line between Tarneit Road and the Princes Highway.

Delivering the project is an alliance of McConnell Dowell, Arup, Mott MacDonald, and Metro Trains Melbourne. The alliance has already completed three other level crossing removals around Melbourne, and is building a stabling yard at Wyndham Vale.

The Cherry Street project is the first level crossing removal for the Werribee region. It will be followed by level crossing removals at Old Geelong Rd and Werribee Street. All will be completed in 2022, according to the Level Crossing Removal Project.

Victorian Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan visited the site on January 13 as work began on the $113.8 million contract.

“The Cherry Street level crossing can cause delays of up to 38 minutes in the two-hour morning peak, so removing these boom gates will mean less frustration and better travel times for drivers,” said Allan.

Member for Werribee Tim Pallas highlighted the economic benefit the project would bring to the local community.

“These major rail and road projects are creating thousands of jobs in Melbourne’s west and providing vital experience to Victorian apprentices, trainees and cadets under the Major Project Skills Guarantee,” said Pallas.

In addition to the level crossing replacement works, 130 new car parking spaces will be created at Werribee station.

Where cars once crossed the rail line at Cherry Street a new pedestrian underpass will be built to connect shops and homes for pedestrians and cyclists, and a shared-use path will also open up new connections in the area around the rail corridor.