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Trains will today travel over the new $87 million rail bridge across the Avon River at Stratford for the first time following a 10-day construction blitz to fast-track its completion.

Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester said the milestone was one for all Gippslanders to celebrate.

“Construction of the new rail bridge is one of the biggest infrastructure projects underway in Gippsland at the moment,” Mr Chester said. “The work on the structure has finished ahead of schedule, so you could say it’s an early Christmas gift for train travellers.

“The last train passed over the old bridge around 10 days ago in what was a historic moment for Gippsland. Today is equally important when the new bridge is used for the first time.

“It’s an elegant, sleek, modern bridge that will become a Gippsland landmark, much like the old rail bridge has been for many decades.”

Over the past 10 days since November 28, crews worked around 3,500 hours to complete the track and signalling works to connect the new bridge to the rail line, remove sections of old railway track and sleepers, and complete the safety upgrade at the McAlister Street level crossing.

The new rail bridge, part of work to upgrade the Gippsland Line to allow more frequent and reliable train services, comprises 86 concrete and 16 steel piles to create the foundation, 18 pairs of 30-metre, 60-tonne beams, and 1100 tonnes of concrete to create the deck.

Mr Chester said the new rail bridge would make a significant difference to travel times.

“Trains will be able to travel up to 90km/h on the new bridge, which is a huge improvement on the 10km/h limit allowed on the heritage-listed bridge,” Mr Chester said.

“The old bridge across the Avon River at Stratford has given Gippsland more than 130 years of service, and this is a real chance to celebrate the bridge and its place in the region’s history.”

Acclaimed Gippsland artist Ray Thomas has begun work on a 25-metre long, two-metre high mural on the new bridge that will feature the Avon River as its theme. The mural will honour the Brayakaulung clan and their connection to the river.

Improvements to Apex Park, including a new nature-based playground and BMX/pump track, are due for completion in early 2021.

The rail bridge project is jointly funded with the Australian Government providing $79.45 million and the Victorian Government $7.55 million. Construction on other sections of the Gippsland Line upgrade will continue until late 2022.

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