Powering on underneath the city

By Marco Holden Jeffery

With foot traffic in the CBD at an all-time low, crews from CitiPower are taking the opportunity to accelerate their inspections of the city’s underground electricity infrastructure.

The electricity distributor’s pit inspection program planned to examine 500 pits across their network over the next seven years, with 60 already inspected this year.

CitiPower project manager Gerson D’Costa said the limited foot and vehicle traffic in the CBD would allow their crews to operate safely and across longer hours.

“The purpose of the inspections is to examine the structural integrity and condition of the pit, allowing us to conduct any necessary upgrades or repairs,” Mr D’Costa said.

“Normally we try to do most of this work earlier in the morning or on weekends to minimise the impacts as much as possible, and the City of Melbourne has indicated there is flexibility for us to work a little later into the morning now with lockdowns on.”

To inspect each pit, specialist crews would use Lidar scans – a method utilising illuminating lasers to measure distances – and thermographic imaging of cables to identify any issues or required maintenance.

If a cable fault, a structural issue or a future problem was identified, crews would then venture down into the pits to undertake works and repairs.

Melbourne is famously home to one of the oldest and most significant systems of underground infrastructure in the country, with a network of stormwater pipes and electricity maintenance tunnels thought to stretch more than 1500 kilometres.

It has long been rumoured that beneath the CBD there is still a system of walkable bluestone tunnels – one former State Electricity Commission worker claimed employees at the commission would regularly use an underground tunnel to walk from the old commission building on William St to 750 Collins St in Docklands.

CBD News reported in June a sinkhole that had opened up on Collins St in the early hours of the morning was caused by a pinprick leak in a stormwater drain – part of the city’s underground sprawl of tunnels and pipes.

CitiPower’s important works could be ensuring another section of road doesn’t suddenly fall away beneath our feet in the future •

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