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CONSTRUCTION of the new Avon River rail bridge in Stratford has been completed three months ahead of schedule.
The first passenger trains travelled over the new 504-metre-long Avon River rail bridge last Monday.
Deputy Prime Minister and federal Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Minister Michael McCormack said the new bridge would provide more reliable services for passengers along the Gippsland line, with trains now able to cross at 90 kilometres per hour.
"After years of having to cross the historic Avon River Bridge at just 10kph, trains will now be able to travel much faster, ensuring a boost in reliability and efficiency for passengers catching trains on the line," he said.
"Safety has also been improved for road users and pedestrians of the nearby McAlister St level crossing, which has been upgraded and now features boom gates and a pedestrian crossing."
Gippsland MHR Darren Chester said the new elegant and sleek rail bridge was one of the biggest infrastructure projects under way in the region.
"With work on the structure finished ahead of schedule, you could say it's an early Christmas gift for train travellers," he said.
"The last train passed over the old bridge around 10 days ago in what was an historic moment for Gippsland. Today is equally important as the new bridge is used for the first time."
Crews worked about 7000 hours during a nine-day construction blitz to connect the new bridge to the rail line, undertaking critical track and signalling works and upgrading the McAlister St level crossing.
State Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan welcomed the progress made on this important phase of the Gippsland Line Upgrade as Rail Projects Victoria selected a preferred contractor to deliver the major package of works between Pakenham and Traralgon.
"With the Avon River Bridge now rebuilt to provide people in east Gippsland with more reliable services, we're not wasting a second getting on with the Gippsland Line Upgrade's major works to give all Gippslanders more frequent access to train travel and create hundreds of jobs," she said.
"This major package of works will have significant benefits for passengers, including 40-minute off-peak frequency for trains between Traralgon and Melbourne and more reliable services right along the Gippsland Line."
VicConnect, a consortium comprising UGL Limited, Decmil and Arup, is the preferred contractor for these works - which include duplicating track, extending the Morwell crossing loop, upgrading level crossings and signalling, and adding second platforms at four stations along the line.
The consortium will undertake early works on the project over the coming months, including site investigations, procurement, engineering and design.
The project also includes upgrades to drainage structures at Morwell River, upgrades to signalling and a Victorian-first trial of wireless solar-powered level crossing detection technology at Farrells Lane in Stratford.
The new wireless technology has the potential to reduce the costs and environmental impacts of upgrading level crossings - and could deliver huge benefits for future rail projects in more rural locations right across the state.
Eastern Victoria MLC Jane Garrett said as Victorians returned to the train network, they can look forward to better services as a result of crews' around-the-clock work to finish the project.
"Not only can Gippsland passengers return to the network with a smoother, faster journey across the Avon River Bridge - we've delivered it ahead of schedule, so people can spend more of this COVID normal summer with loved ones, rather than stuck on the train," she said.
The new Avon River Bridge was jointly-funded with the federal government contributing $79,447,866 and the state government committing the remaining $7,552,134.
This article first appeared on www.gippslandtimes.com.au
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