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Leafy Alphington is the latest Melbourne suburb that could see a new rail bridge soar across a main road and above homes as part of the state government's $5-$6 billion level crossing removal program.
The prospect of living within view of a rail bridge has angered some residents, who fear it will be ugly and intrusive. But the bridge would avoid the need to acquire homes on Grange Road, which is residential and a busy truck route that links with the Chandler Highway.
Residents have been presented with four options for the Grange Road level crossing removal, two of which – a road bridge and a road trench – would require "extensive land acquisition of private properties".
Alphington is on the list of level crossing removals - but it's far from settled. Photo: Eddie JimBefore and after view of a potential rail bridge across Grange Road. Source: Level Crossing Removal Authority
Before and after view of a potential rail trench beneath Grange Road. Source: Level Crossing Removal Authority
About 120 people have signed a petition demanding the government digs a rail trench rather than elevate the Hurstbridge railway line through a low-rise part of Alphington.
Alphington residents have already locked horns with the Andrews government in recent months over the widening of Chandler Highway, after VicRoads chose a western alignment near people's homes instead of the unoccupied former Amcor site to the east.
Colin Higgins, whose house faces the Hurstbridge line, said people who attended a recent community information session left with a suspicion that the Level Crossing Removal Authority had a clear preference for the "rail over road" option.
The authority says a rail bridge at Grange Road would create opportunities to use the open space beneath the bridge to build new shared paths and recreation areas, would claim fewer trees and would be less disruptive than digging a trench.
A rail trench would have less visual presence and overshadowing, but would force the removal of more trees.
Overhead view of rail bridge. Source: Level Crossing Removal Authority
Overhead view of rail trench. Source: Level Crossing Removal Authority
Mr Higgins said the list of pros and cons was slanted towards a desired outcome.
"The benefits of rail over are very spurious in terms of, we'll be able to connect the two sides of the community and create a parkland that will be this milk-and-honey utopia of families sitting under a 10-metre high concrete bridge to have a picnic, for Christ's sake," he said.
Rail bridges have become politically difficult for the government, with the Dandenong line "sky rail" project meeting vocal opposition and Frankston line councils and communities insistent that all 11 crossings planned to be removed on that line must go under the road.
But local opposition to the possible Grange Road rail bridge is not unanimous.
Resident Marion Gray said she believed it would be more visually pleasant than a concrete trench.
"There will be more connectivity, it will influence the roots of trees less so we will be able to have more greenery and I just hope they make it look as natural as possible," Ms Gray said.
Ian Woodcock, a lecturer at RMIT's Centre for Urban Research who has studied the legacies of Melbourne's level crossing removals, said it was clear a rail bridge was the best of the four options for Grange Road.
"It's a pretty leafy neighbourhood now and you would want it to continue to feel like a leafy neighbourhood, given that there is pressure to intensify along that corridor anyway, which can't be resisted forever," he said.
The Level Crossing Removal Authority said all four options were still in play, with a decision likely to be made early next year.
"We are still undertaking detailed planning, design and consultation work, which will inform the best solution for this site," said Steve Brown, the authority's project director.
The project is expected to be complete in 2019, in tandem with the widening of Chandler Highway.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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