TasRail Wagons. Photo: TasRail

Tender kicks off Tasmania’s rail revitalisation

Tasmania minister for infrastructure Rene Hidding says the opening of a Request for Tender for the replacement of more than 10,000 sleepers marks the beginning of the state’s $120 million Freight Rail Revitalisation Program.

TasRail on Wednesday launched the Request for Tender for the Re-sleepering and Re-railing of track sections on the Melba and Main (South and Western) lines.

The railway operator opened the tender to experienced, qualified and competent contractor(s), and will conduct a pair of compulsory site visits at the Western line (July 21) and South line (July 22).

The tender includes the replacement of around 10,600 sleepers, and six kilometres of rail. Works are planned to be completed by October 4 on the South Line, November 8 on the Western Line and December 6 on the Melba Line.

TasRail will supply all railway specific materials for the project, including ballast, and timetabled rail traffic will be maintained during the conduct of the work.

The Freight Rail Revitalisation Program is a four-year, $119.6 million project, jointly funded by the state and federal governments. Hidding said he was pleased to see the re-sleepering and re-railing RfT, which signalled the start of work under the Program.

“These priority works will improve the safety and reliability of the TasRail network,” Hidding said. “This is the first tranche of a joint Commonwealth-State project to continue the upgrading of Tasmania’s rail freight networks.

“With the funding confirmed in May, it is pleasing to see the first tenders issued so promptly. The projects will provide a major boost for Tasmania’s civil construction industry, creating new jobs, and begin the task of building a more competitive rail freight network, which will strengthen our economy.”

SA train derailmend April 2014. Photo: ATSB

Report questions ATSB’s intent

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau too often hides behind a ‘no-blame’ policy and hesitates to label the true cause of rail incidents, a new paper suggests.

Rail engineer Ross Mitchell and solicitor Adam Bisits teamed up to put together the paper Lessons from Australian Derailment Investigations, which they presented recently at the International Heavy Haul Association Conference in Perth.

The paper finds some reports of derailments from the ATSB’s national railway accident investigation unit do not identify cause, or proper cause, when a cause seems fair – or even obvious – to identify.

Mitchell and Bisits believe investigators are too hesitant to label the cause of an incident, because they are instructed by legislation and the Bureau to not attribute blame, but they are also not explicitly instructed to label cause.

“The issue is that the ATSB looks at factors rather than causes,” Bisits told Rail Express.

“The ATSB hides behind the provision in their legislation that their job is not to distribute blame … well that’s fine, but you should still have to find a cause.”

The ATSB says on its website, “An ATSB investigation is purely aimed at determining the factors which led to an accident or safety incident so that lessons can be learned and transport safety improved in the future.”

“This is not practical and too general,” Mitchell and Bisits respond in their paper. “Rail operators and others want to know causes.”

Establishing cause is the dominant purpose of incident investigations in the United States, the United Kingdom, and in many other jurisdictions, the pair said in their presentation. But in Australian legislation – with one exception being Queensland’s – does not ask for cause.

Speaking with Rail Express, Bisits recalled one incident in 2006 where a bridge repairer at Geelong was seriously injured when a freight train collided with the elevated platform he was working on. The train had gone through a signalbox which should have instructed the driver to stop, but was instead cleared well before the train got there – a fact which Bisits tells Rail Express should have been clearly labelled as the ‘cause’ of the incident.

But because investigators could not identify whether the missing stop signal was caused by a single-person error, or a misunderstanding between multiple people, the report did not identify a “single decisive factor leading to the collision,” instead choosing to label a number of potential safety factors which contributed to the incident.

“That’s just not good enough,” Bisits said, adding in his presentation: “This does not show a proper regard for railway workers.”

Ross Mitchell is a Sydney-based rail operations and design engineer, who has consulted to engineering and mining companies. Adam Bisits is a Melbourne-based solicitor, who has for a long time had a ports and railway specialty.

The pair’s report also suggests investigations take too long to put together, and finds there is a possible lack of independence and conflict of interest, due to the Bureau working with a high level of anonymity.

“In Australia the actual investigators (assuming the commissioners are not personally investigating) are a mystery,” the report says, “including those who come from outside the public service, the special investigators, or consultants.

“Yet in Australia the pool of actual investigators is small and their past may have been with current important train operators or track owners.

“Thus there is a potential for ATSB investigations not to be completely independent, and for this to be hidden because the actual investigators are not publicly identified.”

Coal Train Photo Hunter Valley Coal Chain Coordinator

Hunter Valley shut down for maintenance

Maintenance has shut down the Hunter Valley coal network, with the closure scheduled from Tuesday, July 14 at 6am, to late in the evening on Thursday, July 16.

The network-wide maintenance shutdown means limited train operations to allow multi-million-dollar packages of work to be delivered in a safe and efficient way at dozens of worksites across the region, the ARTC said in a release.

Nearly 1000 ARTC and contracted staff will work in the rail corridor during the shutdowns, which are part of the coal chain calendar and allow work to take place throughout the Hunter Valley, from the Port to Narrabri, and from Muswellbrook to Ulan.

ARTC executive general manager for the Hunter Jonathan Vandervoort said the maintenance would ensure the third-busiest railway network in the country stayed reliable.

“By ‘closing down’ the network and with fewer trains running we can ensure we get the maximum amount of rail maintenance done more efficiently; but, above all else, it helps provide the safest possible environment for workers,” Vandervoort said.

“These shutdowns are planned more than a year in advance to allow customers to manage their throughput and production schedules and to ensure integration across the intricately-managed Hunter coal chain.

“Unfortunately, with work of this scale there will be some disruption and we would like to ask motorists and members of the community to be aware of changed traffic conditions and heavy work vehicles entering and exiting sections of the rail corridor.

“We would like to thank the community for their patience and understanding while the works take place as we appreciate it will be causing some inconvenience.”

The next scheduled maintenance closure is for August 18 to 20.

Passenger services are influenced by the closure, and customers should check www.nswtrainlink.info and www.sydneytrains.info for more information.

Track Ballast - photo public domain

$10m overhaul for Victorian line

V/Line has begun $10 million in critical maintenance works on the Bendigo to Echuca rail line, according to public transport minister Jacinta Allan.

Allan said the work includes the replacement of 34,000 timber sleepers with concrete ones.

Maintenance crews are targeting 1000 sleepers to be replaced every day between Bendico and Ecucha.

Level crossings at Wakeman Road in Bagshot, Holmes Road in Goornong and Ellicert Road in Echuca will also be resurfaced as part of the works, with new asphalt and tracks laid through the crossings, Allan added.

“These $10 million maintenance works will keep the Bendigo to Echuca line safe and reliable,” Allan said.

“The V/Line crews will be working hard over the next few months, replacing a thousand sleepers a day and renewing three level crossings.

Around 3km of ballast renewal and drainage improvements will be completed at the same time.

The works which involve around 50 workers are part of V/Line’s regular maintenance program, Allan said.

They will be carried out in 10-day blocks over the coming months, with work expected to be complete by the end of August. The operator plans to carry out work between trains, so there is not expected to be any impact on services.

The works come as community consultation on the new Victorian government’s short, medium and long term plan for regional public transport kicks off. Sessions are underway in Gippsland, with consultation across the Loddon-Mallee regional in August. More details will be provided in the coming weeks.

Allan said the Regional Network Development Plan will move Victoria away from ad hoc service improvements, towards a more coordinated regional public transport network where train and bus services work together to get people where they need to go quicker and safer.

The plan will also consider infrastructure upgrades, network extensions and rolling stock requirements, she explained.

Port of Melbourne lease crucial to level crossing removal

COMMENT: The lease will help make a good port, a great port, and its proceeds will fund the removal of our 50 worst railway crossings, Victorian treasurer Tim Pallas writes.

Removing level crossings will create thousands of construction jobs and get Victorians home safer and sooner. It’s a boost for jobs, industry and our transport system.

The lease will make our port even better, increasing efficiencies and competitiveness, and maintaining Victoria’s position as the freight and logistics capital of Australia – good news for producers and manufacturers who export all over the world, and consumers who want affordable products.

A 50-year lease is proposed allowing the leaseholder to plan for capacity-expanding investment and providing future port land development flexibility.

The Essential Services Commission’s existing regulatory arrangements will be strengthened with the leaseholder to set prices in line with transparent principles.

Annual increases will be capped at CPI for at least 15 years to protect Victorian producers, manufacturers, other exporters and importers, and consumers.

To keep our supply chain costs competitive, capacity at the port of Melbourne needs to be optimised before a second port is built.

Industry has been calling for investment certainty, and we want to provide it.

The coalition’s KPMG report advises that developing the port of Hastings now would be “materially negative on a net present value basis over the life of the asset” and difficult to justify on a whole-of-state basis.

Victoria University puts the cost of developing the port of Hastings in excess of $12bn, casting doubt on it as a viable option.

Yet the opposition keeps prosecuting the case for Hastings even though their own ‘how to lease a port’ bible says it will lose money and warns of the costs and risks of the premature development of a second port.

Their report also puts the landside costs of the port of Hastings at more than double those of the port of Melbourne – a looming disaster for our exporters and hiking up costs for all Victorians.

The KPMG report calls for a lease of between 40 to 50 years. In line with this, Labor proposes a 50-year lease, allowing the leaseholder to plan for capacity-expanding investment and providing flexibility about future port development.

The lease arrangements clearly stipulate a 50-year lease and anyone who says otherwise is simply wrong.

There is no obligation on the government to extend the lease beyond 50 years. Any extension would need to be agreed between the government of the day and the leaseholder.

The opposition’s claims that blasting at the heads will be required are false. This is scaremongering – plain and simple; blasting at the heads hasn’t occurred for over 80 years.

Any future dredging of the shipping channels in Port Phillip Bay will continue to require the relevant environmental conditions and approvals.

The bill recently introduced into parliament, foreshadows a contractual regime should a second competing container port be required, to be negotiated with the preferred bidder – motivating the leaseholder to maximise the port’s capacity and minimise the need for a second, competing, container port.

This is a complex transaction. It isn’t easy, but it is right.

It’s a great example of asset recycling –unlocking billions of dollars from the port lease to plan and build vital transport infrastructure and making us eligible for significant funds through the Commonwealth’s asset recycling initiative.

Leasing the port of Melbourne to create jobs, fund the removal of Victoria’s 50 worst level crossings and make our port even better was an election promise – now the Andrews government is getting on with it.

This op-ed originally appeared in Rail Express sister publication, Lloyd’s List Australia.

Pyramid Hill derailment. Photo: ATSB

Report questions buried track at unsealed crossings

The 2013 derailment of a Pacific National train in northern Victoria raises several issues over the construction, monitoring and maintenance of buried track at unsealed level crossings, a report has found.

Pacific National train 9054 derailed at the O’Tooles Road level crossing, at Pyramid Hill, in the early hours of March 5, 2013. The train’s three locomotives remained on the track, but 19 of the first 20 wagons derailed, resulting in severe damage to wagons, a significant loss of grain load and damage to about 270 metres of track.

The train’s crew was unharmed.

A recent report from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) found the train derailed at a fracture in one of the rails, most likely created by a passenger service which had gone through the crossing earlier that night.

The ATSB found the fracture was a result of the rail’s heavily corroded and wasted condition, and said the poor condition of the rail had not been detected by the rail operator, V/Line, nor by V/Line’s ultrasonic testing contractor, Speno Rail Maintenance.

Examination of the track following the incident found it had been heavily corroded – over a number of years. The rail web was most severely wasted in a horizontal band approximately 20mm wide, commencing about 50mm below the top surface of the rail head, the ATSB found.

Based on established corrosion rates and local conditions, the wasting of the rail must have occurred over several years, the Bureau said.

But walking and ultrasonic inspections by V/Line and its contractor – which took place a maximum of 12 months apart and had most recently occurred 10 months prior to the derailment – had not shown the rail to be in need of replacement.

“Level crossings at unsealed roads can present difficulties for automated ultrasonic testing due to contamination of the rail head and the presence of corrosion on the underside of the rail that can disrupt return signals,” the ATSB explained.

Also contributing to the corrosion going unnoticed was the method with which the rail was installed at the unsealed crossing.

“Covering of rails, fixtures and track support with loose road material increases the potential for corrosion and more rapid track degradation,” the ATSB found. “It also limits the ability to conduct efficient and effective visual inspection.”

Moreover, the Bureau found the network standard for level crossing construction did not directly address the challenges of unsealed roads.

“The standard primarily addressed crossings at roads with paved (sealed) surfaces, other than a reference to the application of a bituminous coating to rail that would contact fill material,” the ATSB said.

“The particular challenges related to drainage, the rail and track environment and the mechanisms for inspection, were not addressed within the standard.”

After the derailment, 126 higher risk sites were inspected from a total population of about 1000 unsealed road crossings on Victoria’s regional network. A more careful, detailed assessment of the rail, sleepers and fastenings was undertaken at these locations.

Of the sites inspected, 111 had sufficient data for assessment and analysis.

Two were identified as having priority faults due to web reduced thickness, and 58% were found to have foot height loss meeting the criteria for priority attention.

Deterioration was also found in fixtures and about 25% of crossings had sleepers identified as ineffective. On the Bendigo-Swan Hill section of track, which includes Pyramid Hill, 30% of unsealed crossings were inspected, of which 21% were identified as requiring immediate remedial works – this compares to 12% across the full sample set, the ATSB said.

The Safety Bureau also found that V/Line, and Transport Safety Victoria (the regulator at the time) missed an opportunity to potentially fix these issues following an earlier derailment, at Warracknabeal two years prior.

“In response to the [Warracknabeal] incident, the frequency of ultrasonic inspection on freight lines was increased from every three years to every two years [annual inspections on passenger lines remained in place], and Speno re-emphasised with its operators the requirement to hand test if indications of corrosion were identified during automated ultrasonic testing.”

These ATSB found these changes were not sufficient, however.

“An opportunity was missed to undertake a wider review of track condition monitoring at unsealed crossings and to review the standard of construction at such crossings,” the Bureau found.

Overall, the Bureau found a trio of safety issues associated with the derailment.

One issue was classed as a contributing factor to the incident:

  • The track inspection regime did not identify the deteriorated rail condition at the O’Tooles Road level crossing. The regime placed an over-reliance on ultrasonic testing and did not include sufficient supplementary systems for monitoring the condition of buried track at unsealed level crossings.

The other two identified safety issues were defined as increasing risk in the lead-up to the incident:

  • The ultrasonic testing regime was not effective in consistently identifying corrosion and wasting of the rail web at unsealed level crossings.
  • The method of constructing crossings at unsealed roads heightened the potential for corrosion and track degradation and limited the opportunity for effective visual inspection. The network standard for crossing construction did not directly address the particular challenges of unsealed roads.

Read the full report at http://www.atsb.gov.au/

Inland Rail critical: ALC

The Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail Project was the focus of discussion at Australian Logistics Council’s (ALC) recent Logistics Industry Parliamentary Function.

“Inland rail is critical to Australia’s freight future and will be a transformative project for generations to come,” said Michael Kilgariff, ALC Managing Director.

Freight volumes on Australia’s east coast are predicted to soar, doubling by 2030 and tripling by 2050. Whilst around 80 per cent of freight currently moving between the east and west coasts of Australia travels on rail, the volume plummets to 30 per cent between Melbourne and Brisbane.

“The rail freight link between Port of Melbourne and Port of Brisbane will help support improved supply chain efficiency in the movement of freight around the country.

“As Australia’s freight task is expected to increase dramatically over the years to come, rail has to make a greater contribution to the efficient movement of freight on the north – south corridor.

“The effective completion of this project will see the connection of all of our major mainland cities with a world class rail network providing the backbone for moving goods across the country, with increased safety, reliability and efficiency”, he added.

Mr Kilgariff commended the Government for the allocation of $300 million to make a start on this project, and the work being undertaken by the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) to develop the delivery program and to undertake detailed planning.

When completed, the 1700km route will connect Melbourne and Brisbane via Wagga, Parkes, Moree and Toowoomba.

A typical train travelling on Inland Rail will have the capacity of 108 B-Doubles and will complete the journey from Melbourne to Brisbane in less than 24 hours.

First track installed on Epping to Thornleigh Third Track project

Sydney’s freight rail network has received another significant boost with the first track section of the Epping to Thornleigh Third Track project installed.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development Warren Truss said the laying of the first section – two 85-metre track turnouts at Thornleigh over the June long weekend – was another step towards a stronger national freight rail network.

“The $477 million Epping to Thornleigh Third Track is a key part of the North Sydney Freight Corridor programme, with the addition of six kilometres of new track set to increase freight rail capacity across the national network,” Mr Truss said.

Federal Member for Berowra Philip Ruddock said the addition of a third track will safeguard the effectiveness of the Sydney to Brisbane freight rail route.

“The Main North Line between Sydney and Newcastle has been identified as a significant bottleneck, impacting on commuters and businesses alike, including those in the Berowra electorate, and I am pleased to see action being taken to meet this challenge.”

NSW Roads, Maritime and Freight Minister, Duncan Gay, said the project was a significant investment in the state economy, while also helping to separate freight and passenger trains.

“Thousands of people are employed by businesses which rely on this rail link, notably people in the Hunter and Gunnedah basins working in the mining and agriculture industries,” Mr Gay said.

“The Northern Sydney Freight Corridor programme has already created around 1000 jobs in construction and its related industries, and this project will continue to support NSW businesses and jobs more broadly.”

The Northern Sydney Freight Corridor project will remove about 200,000 heavy vehicle movements from local roads each year.

The Epping to Thornleigh Third Track project is expected to be completed in June 2016.

Leading contractors call for infrastructure projects

Australia’s leading construction contractors today called on all political parties to commit to honouring contracts entered into for the construction of Australia’s much needed infrastructure.

The Australian Constructors Association (ACA) said that the emerging trend of Opposition political parties announcing that they will terminate contracts entered into by elected governments is creating long term harm for the industry and increasing the cost of much needed infrastructure over the longer term.

ACA executive director, Lindsay Le Compte, said that there could be many unexpected consequences from statements made by political parties that they will cancel contracts, if elected.

“Whether or not a contract is ultimately terminated, the emerging trend of political parties threatening to terminate contracts is causing significant angst within the construction sector, both locally and internationally, and is raising the spectre of sovereign risk that could impact on all Australian infrastructure projects and the community in general,” he said.

“There are serious consequences to bear such as impacts on the timing and availability of funding and financing of projects, increases in the cost of projects and reduction in competition and innovation.

“If this trend continues, we will start seeing the limited funds available for infrastructure projects being diverted to projects in other countries.

“The construction sector employs around one million Australians and relies on a sustainable pipeline of infrastructure projects to support general construction across the country. It’s absolutely critical that all political parties act responsibly. Failure to do so will put at risk billions of dollars of much needed infrastructure, jeopardise jobs growth and significantly damage the country’s economic credibility.”

Collaboration underpins success of Regional Rail Link

The Australasian Railway Association (ARA) wants the Federal Government to inject more funding for state passenger rail following the completion of the $3.65 billion Regional Rail Link project in Victoria.

The project came in $187.5m under budget and ahead of schedule and will boost capacity for passengers in Melbourne’s west and Victoria’s major regional centres of Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo.

ARA Interim Chairman, Bob Herbert AM, said much of the project’s success was due to the collaboration and co-funding from both the Victorian and Federal Governments.

“The successful completion of this project is a shining example of a collaborative approach between governments with commitments that have endured their election cycles,” said Mr Herbert said.

“The Federal Government can take a leaf out of this book and consider where else they can assist state governments in building vital infrastructure needed in our capital cities and regional areas.

“The recent release of the Infrastructure Audit Report highlighted the dire reality of our nation’s current infrastructure challenge with congestion estimated to cost $53 billion in just over 15 years and road travel times in major city corridors expected to increase by at least 20 per cent in the same period.

“Population growth will swell the demand for public transport by 55 per cent in Sydney, 121 per cent in Melbourne and around 89 per cent in other capital cities.

“State governments cannot be expected to meet this challenge by footing the bill alone; it is time for the Federal Government, with the support of the private sector, to take decisive action to meet the nation’s burgeoning infrastructure needs,” Mr Herbert said.

The Regional Rail Link project has seen regional rail services separated from metropolitan rail services, providing additional capacity for passengers across the rail network, with trains running every 10 minutes for Geelong commuters throughout peak periods. The project was jointly funded with the Federal Government investing $2.7 billion and the Victorian Government contributing $931 million.