A ministerial visit to the Hilltops region last week provided just the opportunity State Member for Cootamundra Steph Cooke needed to highlight now-stagnant construction at Wallendbeen’s permanent railway overpass bridge.
While NSW Regional Roads and Transport Minister Jenny Aitchison was within cooee, Ms Cooke arranged for her to visit the site to see first-hand the stoppage’s impact on the local community and Riverina transport operators.
Transport for NSW (TfNSW) is overseeing the construction of the new bridge on Burley Griffin Way following the emergency removal of its 100-year-old predecessor in March 2021 due to severe damage sustained during a wet-weather event.
With a temporary one-lane prefabricated bridge erected for short-term use in October 2021, work began on the promised permanent bridge in November last year with a project timeline of 12 months.
But just weeks ago, Ms Cooke raised concerns in Parliament that construction had come to a halt due to bureaucratic red tape.
“After calling for a resolution to access issues which have put this project at a standstill since March, I appreciate the Minister visiting the worksite in person to better understand the impacts of further delays,” Ms Cooke said.
She said the Wallendbeen community was rightly frustrated by the lack of progress since the Government went into caretaker mode.
“Equally, so are our local primary producers and freight operators, given the temporary structure is inadequate for sustained freight movements, particularly during the harvest season,” Ms Cooke said.
Grain harvest in the region starts around October and runs until January.
Ms Cooke said the Minister’s visit followed a TfNSW community information session in Wallendbeen at the end of June.
At the drop-in session, residents were informed three rail possession arrangements between TfNSW and the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) would be required to complete the project.
A possession aims to provide a safe, traffic-free worksite for activities to be carried out, such as remedial works, inspections, routine checks and planned renewals.
“Although access to the rail corridor is crucial for key components of the build to be completed, the timeframes indicated for this to take place are a huge concern,” Ms Cooke said.
With an initial project completion date of late 2023, the final rail possession was now not expected to take place until September 2024, she explained.
“I therefore welcome the opportunity to further discuss the project with the Minister, to ensure we leave no stone unturned in seeking to fast-track the completion of this crucial project for the region,” she said.
UGL Regional Linx, which manages all operations and maintenance on the Country Regional Network (CRN) in NSW, is working with subcontractor Abergeldie to build the new bridge.
TfNSW said it had been in complex negotiations with the rail infrastructure manager responsible for the relevant section of the rail corridor for several months but, in the meantime, planning, preparation and enabling work had been progressing.
A spokesperson said one more possession was expected in the rail corridor later this year, but would be several months later than originally anticipated.