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MOTORISTS and rail commuters coming in through Melbourne's west should expect delays over the next two weeks as the first major works on the $5.3 billion Regional Rail Link project begin.
Crucial environmental approvals are still missing from the rail project, which began in earnest on Saturday.
The project is a new set of railway tracks through Melbourne's west which will separate Metro trains from V/Line services.
The Sydenham, Ballarat and Bendigo rail lines have been closed until July 18 for the project and so other track work can be done.
This weekend, work began on moving the existing railway tracks between Sunshine and Tottenham stations, to make room for the new country line tracks.
Each weekday over the next two weeks, an average of 6000 V/Line passengers and 18,000 Metro commuters will be affected by the shutdown. Those using replacement buses being provided will have their trip into the city extended by between 30 and 45 minutes each way.
The chief executive of the government's Regional Rail Link Authority, Corey Hannett, said the project would improve Melbourne's rail system dramatically. ''By separating the Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo trains from the Metro trains … by building dedicated tracks [we will have] more trains more reliably in the future,'' he said.
But Mr Hannett could not say how many extra trains per hour were expected to use this extra set of train tracks. Nor could he say how many more times the Sydenham, Ballarat and Bendigo lines would be closed over the next five years, with the project due for completion in 2016.
The Baillieu government authorised the rail shutdown instead of opting for the more usual practice of forcing contractors to work at night and on weekends. The government expects roads in the west - especially Ballarat Road - to experience heavy delays.
The works are being done during the school holiday period, when road and railway usage drops.
The government has also acquired 63 properties, mostly in Footscray, that will be knocked down or partially demolished from next month.
This is despite Planning Minister Matthew Guy not yet having signed off on a report detailing the environmental impact on residents living along the rail line.
There is mounting concern these residents are being kept in the dark about potential noise levels and diesel pollution from the expanded rail corridor, which is likely to have more than 53 trains an hour running on it. Neither Mr Guy or Mr Hannett would say if a report into the new rail line's impact would ever be made public
Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/commuters-face-snarls-as-53bn-rail-project-digs-in-20110703-1gxcb.html
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