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“The Castle” rerun? - Local Homes Threatened by Rail Relief Line

Residents in Leamington Avenue near Macdonaldtown station were reeling after a recent leaflet came through their letterboxes headed “Your House may be Resumed, Help Stop It!” It was the first anyone knew that the houses they were buying, selling and renovating may soon be resumed writes Geoff Turnbull from REDWatch.

The unsigned leaflet was accompanied by a map showing their homes as part of a “construction site area required for CBD Relief Line dives and Main West Connection”. On the REDWatch website you can see the Leamington Avenue Resumption Warning Leaflet and Map. Within a few days the article Rail tunnel plan threatens historic homes in the Sydney Morning Herald confirmed that their homes were in an area that may be required for the new railway line. Since then they have been struggling to get information about the plans from the newly formed Transport NSW which has taken over handling the project from RailCorp.

In October 2005 REDWatch became aware of plans for the project then named “Metropolitan Rail Expansion Program: Metro Pitt and Metro West indicative protection corridors” and posted the corridor map on its website. This line, now known as “The Western Express” or “The City Relief Line” was announced in the February 2010 Metropolitan Transport Plan (10year funding guarantee part A). A Transport NSW spokesperson told REDWatch it is scheduled to be completed by 2018.

The new line is proposed to go underground in a “dive” behind CarriageWorks and lead to a new twelve car length underground platform under Little Eveleigh Street near Redfern Station. The RWA has purchased a site backing on to the railway line at the bend in Little Eveleigh Street Redfern, to both serve as the western side of a new concourse in the Redfern Station redevelopment but also as the entry point to the new underground platform at Redfern. It is not known if any private property around Little Eveleigh St will be required to construct the new platform.

To sell unwanted railway land at North Eveleigh RailCorp had to made provision for its next underground city rail line through the site and for servicing its rail network. This new rail corridor was hence covered in the Redfern Waterloo Authority’s (RWA) Built Environment Plan in 2006 and into its North Eveleigh Concept Plan in 2008. RailCorp’s submission to the Draft North Eveleigh Concept Plan covered off its requirements for the dive to ensure there would be no encroachment on the new line in the redevelopment of North Eveleigh. These were taken up in the final approval.

What is not clear however is the alignment for the new track to allow entry to and from the tunnel from the existing western line for up to twelve car trains. The 2002 map envisaged the new lines needing to go through private property in Burren Street, Pine Street, Leamington Avenue and Holdsworth Street.

A spokesperson for Transport NSW provided the following statements to REDWatch:

“The issues raised in the media recently regarding Leamington Avenue relate to previous studies which Railcorp routinely undertook as part of its ongoing investigation into network and capacity improvement. “

“The Western Express project team is now embarking on a project which was announced in the Metropolitan Transport Plan in February 2010. This project will deliver faster and more frequent rail services that will bring benefits across the entire CityRail network.”

“Transport NSW is commencing alignment and design studies for the project and will investigate a number of alignment and construction options. A key focus of the investigations will be to make as much use as possible of land in public ownership and minimise impacts on private property along the route. No decisions have yet been made about property requirements. “

“Investigations which are currently underway into alignment, construction options and property requirements will be concluded as a matter of priority.”

As mentioned in the SHM article, Transport NSW say it is undertaking detailed work with a focus on utilising the Government owned North Eveleigh site for the construction of the rail tunnel dive structures with a view to minimising or eliminating any impact on private property.

While the North Eveleigh Concept Plan made provision for RailCorp’s retention of an access road and an area on the south west of the site, it is not clear if this represents what RailCorp needs on an ongoing basis or if a greater area will be required during tunnel construction. The North Eveleigh site now has an approved Concept Plan and is ready for sale. There have been discussions between the NSW Government and Sydney University which is interested in buying the site.

REDWatch put the question regarding the impact of the new line on North Eveleigh to the RWA. They confirmed that “the current Government policy for North Eveleigh is the North Eveleigh Concept Plan as outlined on the RWA website” … “the North Eveleigh Concept Plan caters for the RailCorp 'dive' as part of the City Relief Line” … “this policy position has not changed.”… “the RWA is reviewing the impacts, if any, of the transport plan on North Eveleigh and the Redfern area more broadly. This process is ongoing.”… “we will keep you (Redwatch) informed of key developments as appropriate.”

Residents to the north of Macdonaldtown station hope that Transport NSW can manage the track alignment without the need to resume their homes and that North Eveleigh can be used to provide all the construction area needed for the tunnelling. They are not confident this will happen unless there is public pressure.

Lives are being put on hold waiting for Transport NSW to finish its studies and formulate its final proposal. But when your home is shaded on a map for repossession there is little comfort in Transport NSW assurances that “As with any major project, it will include wide public consultation with the community as the project progresses and will be developed in accordance with a well established statutory planning control and approval process.”

Affected residents are not waiting for the usual consultations; they want some answers and assurances now. Discussions are taking place between residents and the REDWatch site will post further information when available.

Leamington Avenue and surrounding streets are part of the Pines Estate Heritage Conservation Area which is listed on the State Heritage Register.