Fire safety contractor delay in Vic tunnel

·2-min read

A new company to complete "urgent" fire safety works in Melbourne's underground rail loop is yet to be found, three years after the original contractor went under.

ASX-listed RCR Tomlinson had been contracted to install large smoke extraction systems and sprinkler upgrades at three underground stations, but the company went under in 2018.

On Wednesday, transport department executives told a public accounts and estimates hearing they had yet to appoint a anyone to finish the job.

As far back as 2012, an Ombudsman investigation found fire safety in the loop needed urgent upgrades, potentially putting thousands of passengers at risk in the event of a fire.

But department secretary Paul Younis said $40 million to $50 million had already been spent on upgrading safety in the loop since that time and reassured the hearing that Melbourne's loop is safe.

"Safety is essential, we will not operate or maintain or manage a system that is unsafe," he said.

Brighton MP James Newbury questioned the time frame of the works, which are due for completion in 2023, five years after RCR Tomlinson folded.

"This is a long period of time for what I would have thought is serious, serious safety work ... urgent works I would have thought," he said.

Before it went into liquidation, RCR Tomlinson had installed CCTV, fire hydrants and intruder detection systems.

In the last 18 months the department has done its own surveys of the work RCR Tomlinson had actually carried out and has restarted the development process with a contractor already working on the level crossing project.

Chief executive of the level crossing removal project Kevin Devlin told the hearing the department hoped to recommend a new contractor by late 2021 or early 2022.

He said the department hoped to have the safety upgrades finished by 2023, but cautioned it had to fit the works into its schedule.

"It's essentially a very major event and when we do that work we'll have to close the loop for a period of time, so we're looking at significant disruption," he said.

The hearing was also told taxpayers may have to compensate the contractor that operates and maintains Southern Cross Station.

The claim relates to cleaning and maintenance costs, since the number of commuters using the station plummeted during COVID-19 lockdowns.

Mr Younis said the department is considering the claim, but hadn't yet determined how much it might cost.

Mr Newbury also questioned department officials about figures showing Victoria's road camera fines had seen a 27 per cent year-on-year increase, despite a big drop in traffic during lockdowns.

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