Almost eight months after a train accident destroyed a set of century-old railway gates, Lydiard Street is still closed to traffic.
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Businesses in the area are crying out for the street to reopen, at least temporarily - several retailers described the closure as "frustrating", and with a renewed push for more tourism, CBD workers returning to the office, and school starting soon, the problem is becoming more conspicuous.
The Provincial's Simon Coghlan said the closure is "hindering business enormously".
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"We're not seeing the foot traffic down Lydiard Street we're used to seeing," he said.
"It creates a real physical border between the two sides of Ballarat."
He said continuing to argue about how to reopen the street is causing more problems.
"The next 18 months are supposed to be a golden opportunity for regional towns, and we're going to sit here and bicker about gates? We're going to miss those opportunities," he said.
"We're tipping a huge amount of investment and development into the precinct, yet there's this one piece they can't get right.
"This is just bad for Ballarat and bad for business."
On the other side of the tracks, Lydiard Furniture and Antiques' Peter Wills said he did not want to be in a "cul-de-sac where no one goes past".
"It's a loss of existence in the public consciousness," he said.
"Someone should be sacked - it's selfish and self-serving."
The gates were destroyed after an out-of-control train crashed through them on May 30, 2020 - an investigation was then launched by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.
In December, V/Line's acting chief executive Gary Liddle said it was unlikely a decision will be made on how to reopen the street before the ATSB's final report is released.
The problem is in balancing the need for safety on the crossing - while passenger trains are currently out of action as the Ballarat Line Upgrade is completed, freight trains still use the track - with the important heritage value of the gates, which were first installed in 1885.
V/Line, which will need to make the decision, is still consulting with several parties, including the ATSB and Heritage Victoria, as well as the City of Ballarat.
"We apologise to motorists for the inconvenience while traffic management remains in place at the Lydiard Street level crossing, however safety remains our number one priority," a spokesperson said in a statement.
"We are still working through options for the future of the crossing. This is an extremely complex process but we are working hard to determine the safest option, with consideration of the heritage nature of the gates and precinct, and we will share details as soon as we can."
"Our number one priority remains safety and we are working through the various investigations and their findings to ensure whatever decision is made provides a safe outcome for passengers, staff and the Ballarat community."
The preliminary report from September into the crash from the ATSB pointed to a failure of the train's sanding brake system - this is not yet the final conclusion.
An ATSB spokesperson said in a statement "(any) decision on replacing the gates is a matter for the infrastructure owner".
"There is nothing as part of the investigation process that would delay/affect this process/decision," they said.
"The preliminary report notes that particular areas for review and examination as the investigation progresses include: operation and maintenance of the VLocity sanders; evidence in relation to rail condition and wheel/rail interface; dynamic performance of the braking system; (and) train operation and performance."
The final report into the incident is "anticipated for the fourth quarter of (calendar) 2021", the spokesperson added.
Save Our Station president Gerald Jenzen said the response "confirms what we've been saying for months".
"The gates are not being further investigated by ATSB and are not a contributor to the train crash. The decision by V/Line to investigate the gates has nothing to do with the accident," he said in a statement.
"It is time V/Line stopped this act of bastardry, restored the gates and reopened the crossing.
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"If they have good reasons for not replacing the heritage gates, they should have explained them by now.
"They have zero credibility on this matter. They are treating the businesses in the area and the people of Ballarat with contempt."
The City of Ballarat is pushing for an interim solution to reopen the road to traffic.
"Council's position has been and remains strong on advocating to V/Line for the reconstruction of the historic Lydiard railway gates and reopening of Lydiard Street," a spokesperson said in a statement.
"Whilst safety is paramount, it is a matter that is impacting Ballarat and we would support any interim arrangement that would see the crossing reopened whilst the final outcome is deliberated."
Heritage Victoria was also emailed for comment.
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