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THE authority in charge of building a major rail line through Melbourne's west has been ordered to come up with a new plan to cut noise levels after experts found that thousands living near the line would be condemned to excessive noise from high-speed trains.
The advisory report into stage two of the $5.3 billion regional rail link was uploaded, without an announcement, onto the website of the Department of Planning and Community Development late on Thursday, on the eve of the Easter break.
It found that noise mitigation plans for the 30-kilometre stretch of track through existing and planned suburbs between Deer Park and Werribee's west, were ''extremely limited and … an inadequate response to the anticipated levels of noise''.
Illustration: Ron Tandberg.
''While already there is some limited housing abutting the project area … it is proposed that, within a few decades, along perhaps half of its length, there will be thousands more nearby dwellings,'' it said.
''Without significant mitigation measures being adopted along the project area boundary, much of this housing will experience unacceptably high levels of train noise.''
The report by four government-appointed planning experts was given to Planning Minister Matthew Guy in January. Last week he wrote to the Regional Rail Link Authority directing it to come up with a new plan by March next year.
The report's authors said their findings had implications for the start of the railway's construction and that the state would have to pay the cost of cutting noise, such as building barriers and cuttings.
Mr Guy was unavailable for comment yesterday, but a government spokesman blamed the previous state government for the planning failure, which is set to add further cost to a project that has already blown out by about $1 billion.
Former planning minister Justin Madden spared the regional rail link from an environmental effects statement on the condition that a satisfactory noise mitigation plan was put in place. But the opposition said that as the Coalition went ahead with the project it had inherited it must make sure to lessen the impact of noise.
The report predicts that the promised rail link to Avalon airport will also use the regional rail link and so contribute to the high noise levels, as will an expected increase in V/Line trains that are expected to travel at up to 160km/h along the line. It found the Regional Rail Link Authority's noise mitigation plan did not take into account future increases in V/Line patronage.
When completed in 2016 the regional rail link will separate Geelong and Ballarat trains from metro lines, reducing rail congestion in the western suburbs.
Regional Rail Link spokesman Simon Breer said the panel's report would not delay the project's completion, because the authority would write a new noise mitigation plan during construction.
''The minister has determined that the authority can respond to the requirements in two parts. This will enable construction works to proceed while post-completion operational noise management is being finalised,'' Mr Breer said.
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