Euroa is about 130 kilometres north of Melbourne and locals believe it has much to offer, but resident and former magistrate Kate Auty said the current bridge was an ugly structure that held back its tourism and economic potential.
Dr Auty argued many people were aghast at the proposed upgrade, which she said would raise the level of the overpass higher than nine metres, including a safety barrier.
“It’s going to be bigger and uglier.”
Local businesswoman Shirley Saywell belongs to a group that is fighting to lower the height of the existing bridge and replace it with a road underpass or even a level crossing to provide a more cohesive link between Euroa’s east and west.
Her group wants an arts precinct to be developed on the west side of the tracks to attract tourists and provide a space where local artists can display their work.
“This is our once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she said. “We think we need to grab it.”
But ARTC Victorian projects general manager Ed Walker insisted the majority of the town welcomed the proposal of a new bridge and station upgrade.
He said the current plans would deliver benefits, including direct access to Euroa railway station from both sides of the track, a second platform and an improved pedestrian walkway.
Mr Walker said the rail corporation had explored a road underpass and level crossing but found they would have a detrimental impact on both safety and connectivity. The design has not yet been finalised.
“ARTC have spent a significant amount of time with residents, especially those who reside near the project area, and they understandably have concerns with the proposal of an underpass or level crossing due to potential flooding and noise issues,” he said.
The corporation confirmed an underpass was feasible but would be prone to flooding and require construction of a levy that would cause “severe impacts” to nearby residents.
However, critics accuse the corporation of failing to provide any substantial evidence to back its explanation of why it must deliver the higher option.
The Inland Rail project will run from Brisbane to Melbourne, with upgrades to existing tracks from Tottenham in Melbourne’s west to Albury to increase height clearances.
This week Strathbogie Shire mayor Chris Raeburn wrote to the rail corporation urging it to ensure the community was involved in the final design in a “meaningful way”.
“To put it really simply – our community does not feel it has been part of the decision making,” he said.
Euroa resident Bernie Walker does not accept the argument that the railway line divides the town.
Mr Walker has lived in the region for 82 years and now sits on a working group established by the ARTC.
“I’ve thought a lot about this project. The safest option is an overpass,” he said.
Mr Walker said building a level crossing would result in boom gates staying down for long periods so that large freight trains could pass through.
The independent local federal MP Helen Haines insisted the bridge in Euroa had divided the town along social and economic lines.
She said communities in Benalla, Glenrowan and Wangaratta had similar concerns about the Inland Rail project.
Local real estate agent Brendan Allen recently moved back to Euroa after living in Melbourne with his wife and baby.
He said the road overpass and rail line defined the boundary in the town.
“There’s a stigma attached to the west side, which I would say is unjustified,” he said.
Mr Allen said there was no inviting link between east and west in Euroa and a “soaring overpass” would be an unwelcome addition.
“It would further cap the potential of that side of town for the next few decades.”
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Benjamin is The Age’s regional editor. He was previously state rounds reporter and has also covered education for The Age.