By Rowan Forster
The Level Crossing Removal Authority (LXRA) has unveiled preliminary plans for Pakenham’s polarising Skyrail project, as disparagers have vanished amid a deafening silence.
It comes as the danger posed by the loathed crossings has been revealed, with two serious smashes between trains and cars recorded since 2005.
According to new statistics, there have also been 10 near misses since 2012 – whereby train drivers were forced to take emergency action.
According to the LXRA, elevated rail – or Skyrail – would be the most fitting solution for Main Street, McGregor Road and Racecourse Road.
However, Cardinia Road is earmarked to be treated with a road above rail strategy.
Given that Jordan Crugnale emerged victorious over Brian Paynter at every Pakenham polling booth and Labor claimed the Bass electorate for the first time, the State Government will likely prioritise the project.
When the plan was first announced by Premier Daniel Andrews in November, it was met with fierce opposition by a group of ratepayers dubbed the No Pakenham Skyrail group.
Since the Coalition’s crushing defeat on 24 November, detractors have been tight-lipped.
Proponents have been spruiking the potential for open space areas beneath the rail bridge.
“At least we can utilise the space under Skyrail for parks, bike tracks, skate parks and parking,” Hayley Backus said.
“It is all worth it in the big picture”.
During a recent council meeting, Councillor Michael Schilling even entertained the prospect of having farmers markets held in the newly created open space.
It was also one of Transport Minister Jacinta Allan’s selling points.
“Putting the station and the crossing into a trench rules out the 450 car parks that an elevated solution provides for – and you cannot put new open space or bike paths in a trench,” she said at the time.
The Liberal Party mounted an anti-Skyrail campaign in the weeks before voters hit the polls, but it failed to get Mr Paynter over the line in Bass.
Federal counterpart Jason Wood has since revealed he will not try to “one-up” or intervene in the State Government’s proposed Skyrail plan, acknowledging that “the people voted for it”.
Instead, he will focus on other infrastructure projects across the region.
The LXRA says that about 63,000 vehicles currently travel through Pakenham’s crossings each day.
That figure is forecast to grow by 12 per cent to almost 71,000 by 2026.
Labor is adamant the crossings will be removed by 2025.