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CONCERNS over the environmental impact of a new rail bridge to be built just one metre from Festival Hall could force the Baillieu government back to the drawing board on the regional rail link, Victoria's biggest infrastructure project.
Planning Minister Matthew Guy has ordered the authority that is overseeing the development of the $5.3 billion rail link to submit a noise assessment for the section that runs between Southern Cross Station and Moonee Ponds Creek in North Melbourne, due to concerns about harmful noise levels.
That section of the 90-kilometre rail link was approved by former planning minister Justin Madden more than two years ago without an environmental effects statement, under the justification that it was to be built within the existing rail reserve.
An artist's impression of the 'tunnel' created by the Dudley Street rail bridge widening and moving closer to Festival Hall.
But recently altered plans will put the railway virtually within touching distance of Festival Hall - and well outside the existing rail reserve.
There are fears that the railway line's proximity to the venue and to a nearby row of West Melbourne homes could generate unhealthy noise levels when the link opens and the bridge is used by 150 to 200 diesel trains a day.
Concerns have also been raised by Victoria Police and the City of Melbourne that the new rail bridge over Dudley Street - which will wipe out a side street used to move performers in and out of Festival Hall - will create an unsafe undercover walkway.
Railway Place residents Meredith and Richard Goss with their son Dylan. Photo: Angela Wylie
Mr Guy has given the Regional Rail Link Authority until December 31 to submit a new supplement to the original environment management plan that addresses noise concerns.
The authority is preparing its revised plan and would not comment to Fairfax Media other than to say it had ''sought and obtained all planning and environmental approvals to undertake the works''.
The former Brumby government introduced new planning laws in 2010 so it could avoid the obligation for environmental effects statements on major projects. Premier Ted Baillieu said as opposition leader that the regional rail link should have an environmental effects statement.
Festival Hall director Chris Wren, SC, said the venue operators had discussed their concerns with the Regional Rail Link Authority. ''We've got some really significant logistical problems that we're trying to work out with them and the police,'' Mr Wren said.
In August the government released a draft rail noise policy, which set a noise level before mitigating action would be required at 85 decibels. Studies indicate noise begins to disturb sleep at 60 to 65 decibels.
West Melbourne residents living 13 metres from the line that will be part of the regional rail link have recorded idling V/Line trains at 95 decibels.
Meredith Goss, whose home faces the railway line, said: ''These houses were built in 1880, so if you want to increase your train numbers by 200 per cent you've got to think on how this might affect people's houses,'' Ms Goss said.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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