Skyrail suspicions: Williamstown level crossing removal project

There are increasing concerns about the design and detail surrounding the level crossing removal project at Ferguson Street in Williamstown, with the State Government recently making moves on land near the project site.

Steamrail Victoria is one of several self-funded rail preservation organisations operating out of the old Newport rail workshops. Victoria’s state railway agency VicTrack, however, refuses to guarantee the renewal of the heritage groups’ lease which expires next year.

Willy and Hobby understands that three tourist and heritage groups may be affected by the changes, with all the heritage operations in west block reportedly required to vacate the premises in around 3 years’ time, and east block also to be vacated.

VicTrack is reportedly reviewing the site which includes possible relocation of trams and trains. A move would mean more space for future projects, space that might be handy if a skyrail solution was selected for a level crossing removal close to the site.

In a statement to Willy and Hobby, Williamstown MP and Transport Minister Melissa Horne avoided answering any questions on whether the land was required for a local level crossing removal project, citing ‘operational purposes’ in a response.

“Transport land near the city is increasingly required for operational purposes given the rapid expansion of rail operations in recent years. VicTrack will continue to work with the tourist operators based at Newport about their future use of the site,” Ms Horne said.

“No decisions have been made about the future of the Newport workshops at this time. VicTrack is leading the development of the Vintage Rail Strategy to help tourist and heritage groups continue to do their valuable work in preserving Victoria’s rail history.”

Industry insiders remain tight-lipped on whether a skyrail solution was already planned well before the commencement of community consultation, however recent revelations sparked an all too familiar story for Opposition Transport Spokesman David Davis.

“Again, Daniel Andrews and his Government have proceeded with an elevated sky rail solution for a level crossing, making a decision before community consultation commenced,” Mr Davis said.

“There are a series of heritage assets and access to heritage assets that are put at risk by the Transport Minister’s plan. Daniel Andrews and his Minister need to come clean about the impact of their sky rail at Ferguson Street.”

“What is the future of the Railway Museum and Fire Brigade Museum? Why were these issues not dealt with ahead of the Government’s apparent plans? There is a real risk that Victoria’s rail history will be left stranded as a direct consequence of Labor’s poor planning.”

The Liberal MP is not the only sitting sceptic. Last year, Hobsons Bay Councillor Peter Hemphill claimed the level crossing removal was ‘put on the backburner’ because Melissa Horne was running as Labor’s candidate for Williamstown in Victoria’s state election.

The Councillor also claimed the State Government wanted “to wait until after the election to come out with plans that are most likely to be unpalatable” and that residents could “expect a skyrail to emerge once the election is out of the way.”

Speaking to the claims made last year, Level Crossing Removal Authority project director Tony Hedley told Willy and Hobby the project was in the early planning stages, with initial community consultation expected to start in 2019.

“LXRA will undertake detailed planning and consultation before considering options to remove the level crossing at Ferguson Street – and we will work with locals and other key stakeholders as this project progresses,” Mr Hedley said.

Another spokesperson for the Level Crossing Removal Authority advised that there was no preferred design to remove the Ferguson Street level crossing, which did not rule out a skyrail, but did not have one set in stone either.

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