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The first new rail tunnel built in Melbourne since the City Loop in the 1980s is set to open six months early.
The 70 metre long tunnel being dug under Darebin Street in Heidelberg will allow for a second track on the Hurstbridge line between Heidelberg and Rosanna.
But the early opening comes with a catch for commuters.
The government is planning a 44 day construction blitz, that will see the Hurstbridge line shut down in March and April next year.
Transport Minister Jacinta Allan said the lengthy closure would allow for faster progress on the project.
The rail tunnel will be the first in Melbourne since the City Loop opened in the 1980s.“Previously it had been advised there would be two periods of disruption, bringing them together means there’s less disruption,” she said.
“But it gives us the chance to get on and get the work done so much more quickly."
Tunnelling work is being carried out in conjunction with the removal of level crossings at Lower Plenty Road and Grange Road, and construction of a new station at Rosanna.
The new tunnel is being dug alongside the line’s existing tunnel, which was opened in 1902.
Project Director for the Level Crossing Removal Authority, Steve Brown, said the tunnel would be dug from both ends.
“Obviously we’re digging next to quite a historic old tunnel there, so the engineering work’s being done very carefully,” he said.
Engineers are using an electric excavator, to minimise the danger posed by fumes, and expect to advance around 1 to 1.5 metres every day.
The duplication is designed to increase the line’s capacity, by removing the single-track bottleneck between Rosanna and Heidelberg.
Works are now expected to finish on April 30, but the Transport Minister is yet to commit to running more services.
“Right now we can’t put on more trains on the Hurstbridge line because of that choke point," Ms Allan said.
“Once that program of works is done that gives us the chance to look at future services, and a new timetable."
Meanwhile commuters in Melbourne’s east will face significant disruption later this week.
Buses will replace trains on sections of the Lilydale, Belgrave, Alamein and Glen Waverley lines from 8:30pm on Thursday, through until the first train next Wednesday morning.
The closure is to allow for the replacement of aging signals between Camberwell and Richmond.
This article first appeared on www.9news.com.au
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