A Wagga resident is calling on the community to join in a protest against what he says is Inland Rail's "insulting" notice for a public drop-in session.
The ARTC released a major new document, the Preferred Infrastructure Report (PIR) for the Albury to Illabo section of the Inland Rail Project, for public exhibition on Wednesday.
The document's release comes on the back of a 42-day public exhibition period for the project's Environmental Impact Statement which ended on September 28 and provides further details on assessment of traffic, transport, noise and vibration and air quality impacts.
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The public has just days to consume and digest the 187-page report before the drop-in session next week.
The lack of time has Wagga resident Ray Mullins outraged.
"It's insulting," Mr Mullins said.
He also took issue with the timing of the session, which is scheduled to run from midday to 4pm on November 22 at the Wagga City Library.
"If you're a working person with half a brain, there's no way in the world you could attend that meeting," he said.
Mr Mullins has also attempted to lodge a submission on the website, but found the process too complicated.
He said the project's EIS made no mention of the possibility of a bypass around Wagga and is calling on the community to join him in a red ribbon protest ahead of Inland Rail personnel's arrival in the city.
Mr Mullins encouraged people to tie a red ribbon on their car aerial or in a prominent location, "so that when these experts come into Wagga next Wednesday, there's a mass of red and every car is flying a red ribbon from their aerial."
"That will make them ask what it's all about," he said.
Mr Mullins also took issue with the potential negative impact the project will have on traffic at the Bourke Street level crossing, with the boom gates set to be down longer and more frequently.
The PIR contains no major plans to upgrade the crossing despite previous calls for a bridge to separate the road from rail.
"It's only one of the main level crossings in Wagga," Mr Mullins said.
Noting how busy the crossing already is, he said there would be "chaos" if members of the public were forced to wait there even longer than they already do.
The PIR also includes details around a new footbridge at Edmonson Street announced earlier this week.
It will be built alongside a newly constructed road bridge to replace and raise the current crumbling bridge by 2.8 metres.
But Wagga Residents and Ratepayers association president Chris Roche believes the extra works on that bridge and the nearby Wagga station footbridge will only create further disruptions when the Edmonson Street crossing is demolished and rebuilt over a 14-month period.
"Have you ever seen a government project go to schedule?" Mr Roche asked.
With the train speed limit expected to rise from 40km/h to 80km/h across the city, Mr Roche raised safety concerns about how trains, especially double decker ones, would safely traverse the North Wagga viaduct and the rail bridge over the Sturt Highway at Lake Albert Road.
He said the new report doesn't raise the issue of the integrity of the North Wagga viaduct "at all."
Mr Roche said Wagga City Council and the association have both asked for the integrity report on that bridge but it "has not been forthcoming."
Weighing in on the viability of a rail bypass, Mr Roche posed the question of whether the total cost of Inland Rail works across the city would not make a bypass financially viable.
"The Inland Rail bypass could be financially viable when you look at the cost of all the other upgrades," he said.
Another concerned resident Maureen Donlon echoed Mr Roche.
She said the PIR gives "no consideration" on the city's two level crossings and the impact it will have on Wagga and other small towns.
"If the federal government is so intent on saving money on infrastructure projects, a lot could be save by just using single stacked trains between Melbourne and Illabo," Ms Donlon said.
She said the savings from this could then be used to build a Wagga bypass and noted that Parkes - a much smaller town than Wagga - has been granted a bypass.
An Inland Rail spokesperson said the sessions are "to assist locals with these documents and are not community consultation sessions or public discussion forums."
"The public exhibition period spans three weeks, from November 15 until December 6, for the submission of comments to DPE," the spokesperson said.
"The ARTC ran a series of advertisements and social media posts from November 9, bringing both the exhibition period and drop-in sessions to the community's attention."
The ARTC will hold further information sessions across the region in Junee, Henty and Albury, however, like Wagga they are all during work hours.
Responding to criticism over the difficulties many in the community will face in being able to able to attend these, the spokesperson said the drop-in session times have increased to four hours for each session, from two hours at the Environmental Impact Statement drop-in sessions last year.
"If you cannot make a drop-in session, please get in contact with the Inland Rail Stakeholder Engagement Team on 1800 732 761, or email@example.com with any questions," the spokesperson said.
Responding to concerns over increased train speeds along the Sturt Highway railway bridge and the North Wagga viaduct, an Inland Rail spokesperson said a "temporary speed restriction of 40km/h has been put in place on trains using the viaduct across the Murrumbidgee River - north to approximately Oura Road - while on-going rectification works are carried out that are not related to Inland Rail."
"ARTC runs regular inspections of all track areas, including the rail bridge over the Sturt Highway at Edward Street and Tarcutta Street," the spokesperson said.
"Train speeds will return to their normal 80km/h limit once works are completed in mid-2024."
Addressing concerns over increased stoppages at Wagga's level crossings, an Inland Rail spokesperson said the "Albury to Illabo project is an enhancement project to undertake work to ensure suitable clearances exist for the Inland Rail double-stacked trains."
"No works are required at the Bourke Street level crossing, other than to an adjacent signal gantry," the spokeperson said.
"The traffic assessments included in the PIR have examined the potential effect of the planned six additional Inland Rail trains per day could have on local traffic in Wagga. A conservative assessment of level crossing closure times has been applied, using current train speed and closure duration information along with future traffic projections.
"The level crossing travel times reported in the PIR include consideration of these future traffic projections. The traffic modelling assessed level crossing closures as if all trains were 1,800 metre long Inland Rail trains, whereas many trains will be of similar length to those currently on the network.
"Typical level crossing closure times are in the order of 1 minute 35 seconds to 1 minute 41 seconds. Travel times along Bourke and Docker Streets were assessed and are broadly similar into the future both without and with Inland Rail trains operating, with morning travel more congested."
Responding to impacts on the prolonged closure of Edmonson Street bridge, the spokeperson said "traffic models found that the temporary closure of the bridge and additional construction traffic volumes would have the highest level of impact during the morning and afternoon peak traffic periods."
The spokesperson said mitigation measures have been identified and modelled and that these including optimising signal timings at key intersections as well as changes in road line marking and demarcation.
"The implementation of mitigations would be confirmed with the relevant road authorities during detailed design and pre-construction planning," the spokesperson said.
"To minimise detour distances between pedestrian rail corridor crossings, Inland Rail is seeking to ensure Edmondson Street road bridge and pedestrian bridge would be constructed first and then Cassidy Parade pedestrian bridge and Wagga Station pedestrian bridge would be constructed concurrently."
Responding to a call for the tender cost of the Inland Rail tender across Wagga, a spokeperson said it awarded Martinus Rail with a $403.5 million contract in June 2023 to design and construct enhancement works on the Stockinbingal to Parkes (S2P) and Albury to Illabo (A2I) sections of Inland Rail.
"This work package includes activities at 24 sites," the spokesperson said.
The route through Wagga uses the existing ARTC-managed Main South Line and has been agreed upon by the Australian government and the Independent Review into Inland Rail as the "most appropriate route", the organisation said.
"Consideration of a greenfield alignment [bypass] - either in part or in entirety - for [the Albury to Illabo section] is not in accordance with the objectives and business case of Inland Rail, which aims to maximise the use of existing infrastructure where possible," the spokesperson said.
The Preferred Infrastructure Report can be found and submissions lodged on the NSW Planning Portal website.
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