Public meeting - Rail Noise
The Draft Passenger Rail Infrastructure Noise Policy, developed by the Department of Transport, aims to establish a process and guidelines which balance the benefits of new rail infrastructure with the possible impacts on those living nearby.
Maribyrnong Council is holding a public meeting to inform Council’s final response to the Department of Transport. You will have the opportunity to talk to experts about the policy and submit feedback.
Where: Maribyrnong City Council offices, Hyde & Napier Sts
When: Thursday 20 September, 7.30-9pm
If you are unable to attend the meeting, Council will be accepting comments in writing up to 5pm Wednesday 19 September.
You can email your comments to email@example.com or post to PO Box 58, Footscray 3011.
Draft Passenger Rail Noise Infrastructure Policy (PDF). We welcome the new noise policy and we urge the government to commit to implementing noise-abatement measures as part of the RRL project. At this time, there has been no formal commitment to undertake any noise abatement work.
For people new to this discussion, the Footscray community is supportive of the RRL project - we support rail expansion. However, we don't want to see our community damaged as a result. We are asking for nothing more than is already provided for major roads and freeways. Noise control measure are implemented as a matter of course for road projects - so why not for rail corridors too? Surely a 5 billion dollar project can cover the cost of noise mitigation? We would be pleased to see the RRL project hailed as an exemplar project in respect of noise management, forging a path for future rail expansion in Victoria without compromising the health and amenity of rail corridor communities.
Our preliminary response to the draft policy:
An article in today's Age reveals that noise levels for the Deer Park to Werribee section of the RRL will exceed acceptable levels, prompting the Planning minister to instruct the RRL project team to find a way to reduce the noise. This is a sensible outcome, but we in the Footscray section are left wondering why the Minister has shown no such interest in solving the same problem in Footscray; even though this section will carry far more trains and is far more densely populated.
As mentioned in the Age article, an advisory committee report into Stage Two of the $5.3 billion regional rail link was uploaded, without an announcement, onto the website of the Department of Planning and Community Development late on Thursday, on the eve of the Easter break. The report, prepared for presentation to the Minister for Planning, recommends maximum noise limits of 60db on average for the Deer Park to Werribee section, which is well below the noise levels predicted for Footscray.
The Minister for Planning, Mr Guy, responded last week by directing the Regional Rail Link Authority directing to come up with a new noise mitigation plan by March next year. For the residents of Footscray, it looks like we'll be lucky if Mr Guy issues us with ear plugs.
The current government is no better than the last in the way they treat Footscray residents as second-class citizens. Is this because Footscray is a safe Labor seat, whereas the suburbs in RRL Section Two are swinging seats?
The houses and businesses compulsorily acquired for the RRL project were demolished by December 2011. Only two buildings remain at this time - the old Pedders buiding on Buckley St and the Sidelink Transport depot at Joseph Road.
For the residents affected, people are getting on with their lives, as people do. Some have coped with the upheaval well and some less well. As predicted, a number of people were forced to move further afield from Footscray because the compensation was insufficient to buy back into the area.
See the comprehensive photo gallery at the 'Rail Geelong' rail enthusiasts web site.
Just when people had started to put the experience behind them, wounds were reopened by one of the legal firms (Slater and Gordon) issuing a media release boasting of their efforts in obtaining 'six-figure sums' for the residents they represented.
This release was picked up by a couple of radio stations, which led to some of the affected residents receiving calls of congratulations from friends and aquaintences who heard the reports.
The fact is that most people were not pleased with the settlement. The compensation in some cases was insufficient to allow people to buy back into Footscray. To say that people have received 'six-figure' sums makes it sound like everyone hit the jackpot. One would certainly hope nobody received a five-figure sum for their homes!
Nor is it altogether true to say that people received significantly more than the initial offer. This too makes it sound like people did really well in the negotiation, whereas people generally received a pretty average market rate.
This press release seems like a clumsy effort by Slater to promote the firm, without thought as to how this information will be inferred by the public at large. It's bad enough that people experienced the trauma of losing their homes without now having to deal with the perception that they've struck it rich in the process. Nice bit of work, Slater and Gordon.
According to the latest figures provided in the RRL Noise Impact Assessment report, only four extra peak hour trains will be added across the overcrowded Sydenham, Werribee and Williamstown lines by 2024 despite the multi-billion dollar Regional Rail Link project planned to improve rail travel for western Melbourne’s booming population.
Regional Victorians will be no better off: Geelong commuters will gain just three additional peak hour trains in the decade after Regional Rail Link opens, and only an extra half a train is planned for each of Ballarat, Bacchus Marsh and Bendigo. The figures come from the Regional Rail Link Noise Impact Assessment report released last month by the Department of Transport and have surprised Footscray residents living on the rail corridor because they are at odds with the Government’s previous statements.
The surprising drop in expectations for Regional Rail Link has caused residents to question whether the government is downplaying projections in order to side step its responsibility to protect trackside communities from noise. Alternately, the government is backtracking on previous commitments to increase rail services to the west - underutilising the 5 billion dollar RRL investment.
Based on the report’s scaled-down modelling, the Department of Transport report claims that train numbers going through Footscray will barely rise and therefore any increase in noise will be negligible. It says no action is needed to protect local residents from noise disturbance.
But residents have doubts about these claims, since the government has previously projected that Regional Rail Link will pave the way for a massive increase in rail capacity, more than doubling the number of services on regional lines and adding 50% more trains on western metropolitan lines.
The original RRL funding submission to Infrastructure Australia and the subsequent Environmental Effects Statement said there would be 30 extra trains on Footscray corridor in peak hours, but this has now been revised downward to just eight additional trains in the Noise Impact Assessment report.
Railway Place residents last week submitted a petition to the Minister for Transport Terry Mulder requesting that a noise barrier be constructed along their street and the neighbourhood park, Fordham Reserve. They support calls by Fair Go For Footscray Rail for the government to set legal noise limits for people living beside railway tracks, consistent with other Australian jurisdictions.
The long-awaited RRL 'Noise Impact Assessment Report' was released yesterday (19th Oct) following the decision by the Minister for Planning that the report satisfies the conditions set by the former Minister for Planning in his decision of 7 October 2010.
The report concludes that noise barriers would be an effective mitigation measure, reducing noise levels by up to 12dB. Noise barriers are a proven and robust means of noise control and are used for railway noise mitigation in Europe, Asia and other states in Australia. The report costs noise barriers at between $21m and $50m, depending upon the particular solution implemented. This represents a relatively small expenditure in relation to the total RRL project budget of $5.3 billion.
However, in the absence of Victorian policy on railway noise emissions, the report determines that RRLA will not include noise barriers or any additional noise mitigation measures because the RRL project is not responsible for existing noise emissions in the rail corridor. In effect, the Government and Department of Transport are 'slicing and dicing' the rail noise issue to allocate noise on a per-project basis. With this approach, no authority is responsible for corridor noise levels as a whole. For the people enduring the problem, the splitting of noise calculations is meaningless - noise is noise.
The report references the recently released Victorian government draft 'Framework for Noise from Future Passenger Rail Investments in Victoria', a 'principles-based' framework intended to inform the management of noise emissions from future passenger rail projects. This draft framework is welcome as a starting point for a Victorian policy, but it is certainly inadequate as it stands if it hasn't served to mandate a proper level of noise mitigation for the RRL project. The draft framework continues the pattern of treating noise as a per-project or per-service attribute by excluding consideration of non-passenger train noise emissions.
In 2012, 733 Footscray properties adjacent to the rail alignment are predicted to experience noise levels which exceed the NSW guideline limits, while 519 properties are predicted to exceed the Queensland limits. With peak noise levels already up to 105dB and increased levels expected in line with increased train traffic, the Environmental Protection Agency determined that, 'In Footscray, for the most exposed residents, a vast majority of the population will experience chronic noise-induced sleep disturbance, with very significant proportions 'highly disturbed. For the most exposed residents in other areas, almost half the community will experience chronic noise-induced sleep disturbance.'
The Victorian Government is once again treating Footscray residents as second-class citizens. Other states have adopted rail noise standards, freeways in Victoria are built with extensive noise barriers, even the RRL tracks in Wyndham Vale will be dug into a cutting to prevent noise. Why should Footscray residents be treated differently?
Importantly, the report does not close the door on the possibility of implementing proper noise mitigation measures, 'A noise barrier scenario may nevertheless be feasible for RRL1. However, in the absence of a settled Government policy which provides guidance on what noise barriers are appropriate in the context of RRL1, RRLA has not incorporated noise barriers into the Reference Design. However, this does not exclude the provision of noise barriers in the future by RRLA or a third party. Once the outcome of further policy development in this area is known, further consideration of the feasibility of installing noise barriers may be considered by Government.'
We can only hope that the Victorian government and the Department of Transport take heed of the more enlightened approaches on rail noise found overseas and within Australia. The NSW rail noise guidelines are a good place to start... "The growth of our rail transport network brings many benefits to the wider community but is accompanied by other factors such as increased train movements, extended rail operating periods and residential development along transport routes. These impacts need to be managed and balanced against protecting the amenity and wellbeing of the local community living beside rail lines." NSW Interim Guideline for the Assessment of Noise from Rail Infrastructure Projects.
We urge the government to provide the policy direction necessary to protect Victorian communities (the Footscray community in the immediate instance) in the process of expanding rail services. Solving this problem now will allow rail projects to move ahead in the future in greater cooperation with local communities.
The Noise Impact Assessment Report required for Section 1 (Footscray) of the RRL project has now been submitted to the office of the Minister for Planning.
Following the submission of the RRLA's woefully inadequate noise and vibration impact assessment report in September 2010, the Minister for Planning instructed the RRLA to produce a new assessment - this time with the participation of the Environmental Protection Authority and peer reviewers. .
Despite repeated requests from the community, the Minister for Planning has not committed to making this report public. The FFRR group again urges Mr Guy to release the report in full.
The present government government quite rightly accused the previous government of a ''scandalous cover-up'' in respect of noise impacts and vowed to investigate fully the project's environmental and health
Unfortunately, this government appears to have maintained the culture of secrecy it previously condemned. A 'scandalous cover-up' can only be resolved through full and open airing. The public release of this latest report would assist in restoring transparency.
Write to the Minister for Planning, Matthew Guy, to express your concerns, asking for...
Update: The RRL Authority eventually provided a partial answer to our questions, in the form of an 'FAQ' booklet distributed in July.
More than 40 days after putting our request, we are still waiting for the RRL Authority to get back to us with a complete list of RRL 'preparatory works'. Residents were surprised, several weeks ago, to learn of the existence of this category of works. Apart from the major Metro track realignment works, we've not been told what other works will roll out in advance of the main RRL works.
It is hard to fathom why this information should be so long in coming. In the absence of timely information, residents are understandably nervous about what awaits them.
In the midst of this uncertainty Middle Footscray residents were awakened last Saturday night (25th), and every night since, by the noise of major construction works. There was no advance notification of these extensive - and very noisy - night works.
Residents understand that that construction noise is an unavoidable aspect of the project and they have steeled themselves to cope with substantial construction impacts over the next 5 years. However, it would assist people greatly to be provided advance warning of works so they can prepare accordingly. This doesn't seem like too much to ask.
Upon enquiry, the RRLA responded to say that "RRLA was not responsible for the work that you describe over the weekend in Footscray".
A phone call to Metro Trains had a Metro official telling us that the works around Middle Footscray were "preparatory works for the regional rail project" and that the works were scheduled to occur over 5 nights. Metro staff were not sure why notification had not made it to residents, but said they'd investigate. For any further information we were given a direct number for someone at RRLA.
We advised the RRLA of this information from Metro. The subsequent response from RRLA: "..The work on the weekend...was not part of the preparatory works for the RRL but forms part of the Metro Trains Melbourne maintenance program." "[RRLA] apologise for the mis-information and will ask that Metro keep us informed about who, where and when information is provided to the community ahead of carrying out their regular maintenance works."
RRLA also forwarded a copy of the Metro works announcement leaflet (the one residents didn't receive). The leaflet advises that the works are for the purpose of replacing timber sleepers with new concrete sleepers. A media release from Mr Mulder, on 17th May, lists the Metro sleeper replacement work as part of a coordinated package of works announced under the banner of the 'kick-off' of RRL construction. Given its mention in the Minister's media release, It would be splitting hairs very finely indeed to claim that this work is not associated with the RRL. The only apparent variation being that the works have occurred earlier than the July 1st commencement date indicated.
RRLA was created as an entity within DoT so as to ensure close coordination with other relevant transport agencies. The 'not our bailiwick' responses from RRLA on this issue appear inconsistent with the intended role of the RRLA and with the Minister's statements regarding the overall coordination of works. It is also inconsistent with the frequently put statement from RRLA that: "RRL is committed to providing advance notice to residents of the timing and nature of construction works associated with the RRL project."
Footscray residents are heartened that Maribyrnong Council has spoken up on the serious health and welfare affects on Footscray of the Regional Rail Link project. Maribyrnong Council is a strong supporter of the project, but is keen to ensure that the Footscray community does not carry an unreasonable burden of negative impacts.
The following extract is from an article in The Leader newspaper, 'Call for Footscray Rail Noise Action', 21st June:
The FFRR group has obtained a full copy of the damning EPA report on the RRL noise and vibration assessments. The report was originally obtained by the Sunday Age under freedom of information (see: goo.gl/ZKEDD).
As part of the environmental effects referral for the RRL project, the RRL Authority undertook a noise assessment and an air quality assessment for the Footscray corridor. The RRL reports attempted to downplay noise and air quality impacts, claiming, amongst other dishonesties, that "the RRL project will result in only slight increases on current levels of noise".
Fortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency stepped in to review the work of the RRL Authority. The EPA produced a report scathing of the the methodology and results of the original RRL noise and vibration assessment. The Baillieu government declared the suppression of the report a ''scandalous cover-up'' and vowed to investigate fully the project's environmental and health impacts.
Affected residents were heartened that the government and the EPA were willing to call the RRL Authority to account on these issues.
In his EES decision, the previous Minister for Planning requested a second noise impact assessment report to be prepared in consultation with the EPA and to be independently peer reviewed (hardly a vote of confidence in the competence of the RRL Authority). This report was supposed to be submitted to the Minister for Planning in the first quarter of 2011, "or date to be agreed".
The report has not appeared and there is no word at all from the RRL Authority, the Minister for Planning or the Minister for Transport as to when the report is due and whether it will be made public. A deafening silence greets our questions on this subject. Meanwhile, the Transport Minister announced the commencement of project works.
Residents are concerned that the RRL Authority is attempting to bypass the conditions imposed by the Planning Minister, by seeking to have major RRL works classified as 'preparatory works'. Residents have asked the RRL Authority for a list of 'preparatory works' items, but the RRL has not provided this information to date.
FFRR looks to the Government to fulfill its commitment to fully investigate the RRL project's environmental and health impacts, but the intense secrecy surrounding this process does not inspire our confidence.
See also, our list of questions put to the Transport Minister and the RRL Authority on 29th April, for which we have still not received the courtesy of a response.