However, Shane Wylie, executive officer of the Docklands Chamber of Commerce, which represents 400 businesses in the city district, said January was “one of the wisest times I’ve heard of anyone shutting down public transport”.
Felicia Mariani, chief executive of the Victoria Tourism Industry Council, said January was the best time for maintenance disruptions from a business perspective. “There’s never a convenient time,” Mariani said.
Confirmation of the closure follows Tuesday’s state budget, which was criticized for its failure to support the CBD recovery.
Last year, the government provided $107 million to rejuvenate the city center through programs such as the Melbourne Money Scheme, but no new money was set aside in the latest budget.
Shadow public transport spokeswoman Steph Ryan said the COVID-19 lockdowns were a missed opportunity to fix the City Loop while public transport patronage was low.
“This work should have been prioritized over COVID when the city was at a standstill,” she said. “Now the CBD faces massive disruption at a time when it still hasn’t recovered from lockdowns.”
The former contractor collapsed in 2018 and left scaffolding around parts of Parliament and Flagstaff stations, which added commercial and legal costs.
Shadow public transport spokeswoman Steph Ryan at Flagstaff railway station.Credit:Luis Ascui
Asked why the work was not done earlier in the pandemic, the Level Crossing Removal Project, which is handling the work on behalf of the Transport Department, last year said the collapse of the contract was a slow process involving creditors and debtors.
The new construction consortium – Acciona, Coleman Rail, WSP and Metro Trains Melbourne – will upgrade smoke detection and extraction systems and sprinklers at Flagstaff, Melbourne Central and Parliament stations, and finish the works by the end of 2023.
Fire detection, fire hydrants, CCTV, and intruder detection systems have already been upgraded.
About 105,000 people entered the three stations each weekday before the pandemic.
A government spokeswoman said the City Loop needed maintenance and improvements like all infrastructure.
“While the loop is currently safe, stage two of major upgrades will ensure it remains world-class and continues to meet the needs of the city’s growing rail network,” she said.
The Metro Tunnel will also service the CBD once it opens in late 2025.
The Liberal state government, which only admitted that safety issues existed after a 2012 Ombudsman investigation criticized the Department of Transport for failing to act, allocated $43 million towards the City Loop safety upgrade in 2014.
The Victorian Auditor-General’s Office last year cost the entire project at $382 million, which has since increased to $468.94 million.
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