News / Skyrail

Will the skyrail be built on time?

Answers wanted on whether 2027 deadline is still on target

Mark Phillips

THE state government is facing calls to clarify the future of the Upfield skyrail project amid speculation the project could be postponed for years because of budget pressures.

Brunswick MP Tim Read says he is not satisfied with answers that have been provided to him in response to queries about the project and has called for the government to be up front about whether it will still be delivered by its 2027 deadline.

The Brunswick level crossing removal and elevated rail project was announced by then-Premier Daniel Andrews during the 2022 state election.

At a cost well in excess of $1 billion, it will be the largest infrastructure project in Brunswick for decades.

It will see the removal of eight level crossings on major east-west roads in Parkville and Brunswick, including Brunswick Road, Dawson Street and Albion Street. The railway line will be replaced with a 2km elevated line from south of Park Street to north of Albion Street, where it will link with the already completed Moreland to Coburg elevated rail.

At the time of the announcement, Andrews said it would be completed by 2027 but apart from some site investigation works in late-2022, there has been little progress. In the meantime, the state’s finances have deteriorated significantly and it has faced cost blowouts on several major infrastructure projects.

No plans have been released, there has been no community consultation, and the project’s website has not been updated for more than a year.

Meanwhile, Merri-bek Council underwent its own community consultation early last year to produce a policy document called Reshaping Brunswick, which will underpin its advocacy around the project.

The Moreland Road to Bell Street project, which involved the replacement of two stations and four level crossings over a distance of 2.5km, took about four years to complete from when it was announced in September 2016 to when it opened for passengers in November 2020.

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The Park Street to Albion Street project is considered among the most complex to have been commissioned as part of the state government’s removal of 110 level crossings around Melbourne.

When he asked in Parliament last year whether the 2027 completion date was still on target, Read was given an ambiguous answer by then Transport and Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan which suggested it could be delayed until 2030.

Read said he had no problem with a postponement for budgetary reasons, but if it was to be delayed it should be communicated publicly.

“It all looks like they’re bracing for a delay so we should not be surprised,” he said.

“I think the least the government can do is be absolutely up front with their intentions here … I think we would all be understanding that there are public spending priorities and it’s much more important to retain staff in the health system, for example.

“Relative to spending priorities I think it would be reasonable to delay this if that’s what they have to do, but they need to be up front.”

Read said the project would impact on nearby residents, businesses, the council and commuters who all needed more information about what was happening. Residents may need to make plans to relocate for months during the construction period.

Merri-bek Mayor Adam Pulford and council staff have continued to meet with government officials and ministers, including the office of the Minister for Public and Active Transport, Gabrielle Williams, and are understood to have been told the aim was still to complete the project by 2027.

Pulford said the project was an exciting opportunity but would pose challenges for businesses and residents, who will need alternative accessible transport options when the Upfield line and shared path are temporarily closed.

“We recently met with relevant ministers and government representatives to discuss this project and the future of Sydney Road, and we are ready to work with the state government to realise its potential for positive change, including installing permanent accessible tram stops for the number 19 tram and building safe cycling infrastructure for people riding,” Pulford said.

In a statement provided to Brunswick Voice, the Level Crossing Removal Project declined to confirm whether the project would be completed by 2027.

Read more:

Don’t delay on Sydney Road: transport expert

LXRP program director Andrew Pepplinkhouse did not provide any completion date.

“We’re currently working through our preliminary engineering plans and technical assessments and there will be opportunities for the community to provide feedback during the design, planning and construction phases,” he said.

“The Brunswick level crossing removal project is one of the most complex we will deliver – we are removing eight level crossings in a tight rail corridor in an inner urban area.”

In the meantime, Read said the government should install a temporary protected bicycle lane in Sydney Road regardless of when the Skyrail project goes ahead.

To do so would cost about $1 million, according to an estimate provided to the Victorian Greens by the Parliamentary Budget Office.

The costing was based on bike lanes between Park Street and Tinning Street.

Read said the danger of sharing the road with motor vehicles and trams was a major deterrent to more cyclists using Sydney Road.

“I think we should go ahead with this regardless of the level crossing removal project timing, at least as far as Albion Street because … it’s a manageable size for a trial to see what impact is to see how it works and it would meet the greatest need and I think it would be very popular and a boom for the precinct,” Read said.

Sydney Road traders have previously said they are concerned about the impact of the loss of on-street parking from a protected bike lane.

This story has been amended to clarify the council recently met with the office of the Minister for Active Transport, not the minister herself.

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