Tunnel works to create a Berlin Wall at city’s heart: Napthine

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The Australian: Tunnel works to create a Berlin Wall at city’s heart: Napthine. John Ferguson. 18 Febraury 2014

Victorian Premier Denis Napthine has warned that disruption caused by the nation’s biggest urban rail project may be so profound that a virtual “Berlin Wall” could be created in the heart of Melbourne.

Dr Napthine yesterday confirmed the government was investigating radical surgery to the $9 billion Metro Rail capacity project to make it workable.

The Australian understands that the project could be so intrusive that under one scenario retailers in the CBD’s Swanston Street would have to be compensated for two years or more.

Dr Napthine also confirmed yesterday that the central Flinders Street intersection could be out of use when work is undertaken on the 9km rail-tunnel project through the inner northwest to the inner southeast.

He said the government had “grave” concerns about the level of disruption likely to result from a shallow tunnel built through the centre of the city.

It is understood a second proposal for a deeper tunnel is also under consideration but will conservatively cost hundreds of millions of dollars to execute on top of the $9bn.

“Now, I’m only a humble citizen of Melbourne and Victoria but having a massive hole dividing Melbourne would be worse than the Berlin Wall,” Dr Napthine said.

He said the government was investigating ways of preventing the chaos and that more than 600 holes had already been drilled to test the dirt and rock to determine what could be built.

While the tunnel will be built later this decade, planning is in full swing, with The Australian revealing that the project also could include the inner-western suburb of Fishermans Bend, which is a new bid by the government to use reclaimed land to deal with soaring population growth.

Labor’s public transport spokeswoman, Jill Hennessy, said the opposition was prepared to accept the disruption in order to have the project finished.

“This is a tactic of delay and dithering,” she said.

The train capacity project has become a crucial element of the November 29 election campaign.

Under the main option for the project, Swanston Street would be ripped up to build the rail tunnel using a “cut-and-fill” technique. The government is also deciding whether one or more of the underground stations will be axed, given they will cost up to $500 million each.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has been reluctant to back urban rail projects, arguing they are for state governments to deliver, but the Melbourne capacity project is also about ensuring that more freight trains can run across the system.

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