Businesses and councillors have expressed their dismay after transport executives admitted there were no timelines to re-open Lydiard Street and replace its heritage-listed railway gates.
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The acting CEO of V/Line Gary Liddle and Nick Foa, Head of Transport Services at the Department of Transport, held a media conference on Thursday morning.
In an uncomfortable encounter, they said there were no timelines for a permanent restoration of the gates. They also had no details of any potential interim solution that would allow for the road to be reopened while complex heritage and safety planning took place.
We are pretty gobsmacked that there is no interim solution nearly 10 months later- Mayor Cr Daniel Moloney
Both Mr Liddle and Mr Foa had been in the city for the first face-to-face meeting with the City of Ballarat to discuss the issues on Wednesday night, and described talks as "productive". However, councillors have told The Courier no temporary solutions seemed to have been considered in advance of the meeting despite warnings the issue would be raised.
Simon Coghlan, who runs the Provincial Hotel opposite the gates, said he was "incredibly frustrated" at the lack of progress.
The southern half of the Victorian-era interlocking railway gates were destroyed by a runaway train on May 30, and the railway crossing has remained closed to traffic since. Shrapnel from the destroyed railway gates were found embedded in the walls of the hotel following the crash.
"They've achieved nothing in nine months," Mr Coghlan said. "I can't see how there's any sort of explanation why the road hasn't been re-opened in that time - it's ridiculous."
Regardless of where this incident had occurred, it would have taken the same amount of time anywhere in Melbourne or Victoria for us to make those assessments. This is an incredibly complex set of arrangements- Nick Foa, Department of Transport
Mr Coghlan has said passing trade had been reduced, in particular during the daytime, by the closure of the crossing.
When asked if he had any sympathy for the level of complexity involved, he said: "If you can put a man on the moon, you can surely fix some gates."
Chair of Commerce Ballarat Nick Thurlbeck said he believed the closure had not been given the same attention as it would have been given in Melbourne. "It's unacceptable. A rushed decision for the long-term would not be wise [but] I don't think there's any excuse in the delay for an interim solution.
"The state government and V/Line need to put some serious attention on it immediately."
At the media conference Mr Foa said: "Regardless of where this incident had occurred, it would have taken the same amount of time anywhere in Melbourne or Victoria for us to make those assessments.
"This is an incredibly complex set of arrangements."
The mayor Cr Daniel Moloney described the situation as "disappointing to say the least"
"On one hand it is really good that V/Line and the Department of Transport are now engaging with us and genuinely offering to work with us on the long-term solution. We want to be part of that conversation."
"However, we are pretty gobsmacked that there is no interim solution nearly 10 months later."
He said council had wanted to give the organisations space to investigate and respond to the accident.
However, he said that he and previous mayor Cr Ben Taylor had been pushing for an interim solution for the past six months. There had been a serious impact on nearby residents, who had diverted buses going through, as well as local businesses - and labelled the blocked street as "an eyesore".
"I am hoping the message has been heard loud and clear by V/Line and the department of Transport that this is a pretty serious transport issue for us in the city."
He stressed he was pleased dialogue was now taking place. "It was good of them to make the effort, and I am confident that we are going to get some progress now."
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau released a preliminary accident report in October, detailing a series of "wheel slip events" on the VLocity train prior to the crash. The train was due to stop at Ballarat Station but passed through at 93 km/hr. Three people on board were injured in the incident.
An investigation is ongoing with a final report due in the last quarter of this year.
Whether for interim or long-term solutions, V/Line will need to work closely with Heritage Victoria, which is the main planning authority due to the gates inclusion in a railway precinct of state-wide historical significance.
The state member for Wendouree Juliana Addison, in whose electorate the railway precinct falls, said she was pleased the Department of Transport, City of Ballarat and V/Line had met. She said the government had given V/Line all the resources it needed.
"I look forward to more regular updates from V/Line as we move towards restoring the crossing, and I know the Ballarat community will be grateful to be kept informed as discussions continue," Ms Addison said in a statement.
Local residents are planning a protest to highlight the lack of progress later this month.
May 30, 2020: A late night train, scheduled to stop at Ballarat Station, instead hurtles through at 100 kilometres per hour, smashing into the heritage-listed Lydiard Street gates at 11.25pm. Pedestrians had been crossing less than a minute previously. The train eventually stops 600 metres away from the station, with three people injured on board.
September 2020: Ballarat councillors agree to a motion advocating for the restoration of the gates as long as safety is not compromised.
October 6, 2020: The Australian Transport Safety Bureau releases a preliminary report outlining the circumstances of the accident. It outlines a series of "wheel slips" which make it hard for the train to slow down. A final report is due in late 2021.
December, 2020: Acting V/Line CEO Gary Liddle says solutions should be decided in the new year. "Within the first two or three months next year we'll have it absolutely locked away," he said.
March 10 2021: Executives from V/Line and the Transport meet with the City of Ballarat to discuss the gates and the road closure. In a media conference the following day, they admit there are no timelines for either a permanent restoration or an interim solution to allow the Lydiard Street crossing to reopen.
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