Helen Haines has declared “victory for Benalla” after today’s announcement from the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) that they will ditch their plans to build a massive new road bridge in the heart of Benalla and instead deliver the community-backed option to redevelop the station precinct.

The ARTC had originally planned to demolish the Mackellar Street Bridge at Benalla station and to replace it with an even larger bridge to allow larger double-stacked freight trains to run on the North East Line as part of the Better Rail project.

Many in the Benalla community had concerns with the ARTC’s proposal and developed an alternative plan – re-aligning the railway track, demolishing the Mackellar Street overpass and redeveloping the entire station precinct for greater safety, accessibility and amenity.

The Federal Independent Member for Indi said that today’s announcement that the community-backed option will now be delivered was the culmination of two years of dedicated campaigning from the Benalla community.

“When I first started meeting with the ARTC two years ago, they told me their road bridge proposal for Mackellar Street was a done deal, and the community proposals would be too expensive and could never happen. The fact we have turned that around is a testament to the power of the community campaign we pulled together,” Dr Haines said.

Dr Haines said the fact the announcement from the ARTC came so soon after the consultation opened showed the strength of community sentiment.

“Just three weeks ago, the ARTC told me they would not be making a decision on the final design for Benalla until next year. But the level of community support for the track re-alignment and the redevelopment of the station precinct has clearly been completely overwhelming.”

In March, Dr Haines hosted the former Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack at Benalla Station so he could hear directly from the community. And last month, she invited the new Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce to visit Benalla for the same purpose.

“I’ve been persistent in making the case to Government that they have to listen to the community in Benalla, they cannot simply come into our community and force things onto us. That advocacy to Government has worked.

“As an Independent MP, I have had the freedom to take the fight to Government rather than being muzzled by party politics. And I am so pleased to have helped secure this outcome hand in glove with Benalla locals”.

Dr Haines said that while today’s announcement is a significant step, the community campaign has to keep up pressure to make sure the outcome delivered is top quality.

“We now need to see the ARTC actually deliver on what they’ve committed to, and we need to see additional investment to make sure the new station precinct really is safe, accessible and becomes the beautiful entrance to Benalla that the town deserves.”

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