Rainbow to Dimboola line sleeper replacement work underway

Work has begun on replacing 39,000 sleepers on the Rainbow to Dimboola line in Victoria’s North West.

V/Line crews with the support of contractors are conducting the works that are funded through the Victorian government’s Building Works program which sets aside $83 million for regional rail maintenance.

Victorian minister for Ports and Freight Melissa Horne said the works would support freight movements and economic growth in the region.

“This investment will help improve our freight network and ensure we are continuing to support farmers and freight operators at a time when they need it the most,” said Horne.

“We’re continuing to maintain and improve the network, taking extra steps to allow projects like this to continue safely and help keep track workers, suppliers and contractors working.”

In addition to sleeper replacement works, ballast will also be renewed and resurfacing will improve the condition of the track. Scheduling has aimed to minimise the impact on freight services using the line.

Member for Western Victoria Jaala Pulford said the works were essential with a large grain harvest expected this year.

“This upgrade will provide easier and more efficient ways for farmers to transport their goods ahead of what is expected to be a bumper grain harvest,” said Pulford.

“The line has already been put to good use since re-opening in April, and this investment will make it even better.”

The 66km line from Rainbow to Dimboola was reopened in April after a $1m investment to replace 5,000 sleepers. So far, 38 freight services have used the re-opened line, carrying 100,000 tonnes of grain and replacing 5,700 truck movements.

Heavy use of the line has led farmers to previously call for further reopening of freight lines servicing grain growers and other primary producers throughout regional Victoria.

freight

Get the freight basics right and benefits will follow

To make the most of infrastructure investments, the playing field for rail freight needs to be evened out, writes Caroline Wilkie, CEO of the ARA.

The confirmation of funding for the Port of Melbourne direct rail line to South Dandenong in August was welcome news for business, industry, and residents in the region.

The direct rail connection to the port forms part of the wider Port Rail Shuttle Network and will make it easier and more cost effective for businesses to access port facilities.

The Federal and Victorian government funding will deliver tangible benefits to businesses in Dandenong’s manufacturing sector and improve the efficiency of port operations.

Ultimately, the project will also take 100,000 trucks off the road, helping give local residents their city back in the process.

In the same month, the NSW government fast tracked approvals for the Botany Rail Duplication and the Cabramatta Rail Loop, putting its support behind greater use of rail within its freight network.

The projects will not only deliver this critical new infrastructure to meet the state’s freight needs but will take 54 trucks off busy city roads with every additional freight train travelling on the Botany line.

That will make a crucial difference as the Port of Botany’s freight task increases by 77 per cent in the 20 years to 2036.

As Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole observed when announcing the approvals, these new connections are so important because the more freight is moved on rail, the less congestion there is with fewer trucks on the roads.

These projects are great examples of the difference rail freight can make, and why continued investment is essential to the continued liveability of our cities and towns.

But while the benefits of projects like these are obvious, more needs to be done to ensure the rail sector can meet our increasing freight needs.

While Australia’s freight task is growing – and will continue to grow – the role rail freight plays in meeting this demand has actually declined.

Recent years have seen the rail industry’s share of the freight task eroded by policy settings that favour other modes of transport and frustrate investment in the sector.

As a result, less than one per cent of freight travelling between Sydney and Melbourne is moved by rail – a far cry from the 40 per cent share the rail network maintained in the 1970s.

While the vast expanses of the country have seen east- west connections hold up better, rail freight’s modal share has started to slip there too, with rail now carrying just 54 per cent of the freight task across the Nullarbor.

It is hard to reconcile the declining role of rail freight at a time where the sector needs more capacity than ever before.

Part of the problem is how we price rail freight when compared to road.

While getting trucks off the roads remains a focus in these busy and often congested urban areas, heavy vehicle road reform has simply not progressed.

So, while rail freight access charges are based on maintaining and operating the infrastructure it requires, the road freight industry is not expected to fully cover the cost of maintaining and operating the roads it uses.

As we hear more about the importance of easing congestion, the sustainability benefits of using more rail services and the value of creating city precincts that make it easier for residents to get around, favourable pricing models for road freight is increasingly difficult to reconcile.

We must have a level playing field for all to ensure rail freight can grow to support the increasing demand for freight across the country.

This, together with harmonisation of standards across the country, could enliven the rail freight sector again and ensure it is ready to support the growth of our economy over time.

After all, the industry has shown how much can be achieved under the right settings.

Australia was the first country to move to fully autonomous freight trains when the mining sector adopted the technology to service iron ore mines in the Pilbara.

This capability has become a hallmark of mining in the region and the significant benefits the industry delivers to the broader economy.

Use of rail for bulk commodities has increased, bucking the trend of the broader sector.

With a level playing field and certainty of standards across the country, there is no telling what additional benefits further innovation in the sector could deliver.

But first, we need to get the basics right so that rail freight can compete equally and fairly.

After all, we cannot allow new investment in rail infrastructure that busts road congestion in our cities to be eroded by a policy environment that only encourages business and industry back to the roads in the end.

Lilydale

Works beginning on level crossing removal and parking upgrades on Lilydale line

Work to remove two level crossings on the Lilydale Line in Melbourne’s outer east will begin in December, the first of eight level crossings to go on the Belgrave and Lilydale lines.

The two level crossings are at Manchester Road in Mooroolbark and the Maroondah Highway in Lilydale. Thirteen crashes have occurred at the crossings with one fatality in the last decade.

As part of the level crossing removal, new stations will be built at Mooroolbark and Lilydale and a construction blitz will be held from December 11 to 20.

Foundations for new rail bridges will be installed, along with new underground cables. Another week long closure is indicatively scheduled for the end of summer in 2021.

“We’re not wasting a minute getting on with our critical works on the Lilydale line – delivering better transport connections for passengers and important local jobs for workers as we begin to recover from the pandemic,” said Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan.

Early works on a new multi-deck carpark at Mooroolbark station are already underway. The new carpark will add 450 new and upgraded spots at the station. A temporary carpark is now open to replace the existing carpark which is being redeveloped until 2022.

“Across the state we’re building more than 11,000 new and upgraded commuter parking spaces to make catching the train easier for everyone – and our new carpark at Mooroolbark will double the station’s current capacity,” said Minister for Public Transport Ben Carroll.

The new carpark includes lifts, CCTV, and better lighting, with community feedback providing input to the final design.

Once works are complete, the 53,000 vehicles that use the crossings each day will no longer have to wait while boom gates are down for up to a quarter of the two-hour morning peak.

The existing Mooroolbark station will be moved to the Yarra Valley Railway to continue the rail history of the heritage building.

Sped up Avon River bridge crossing ready in December

The bridge over the Avon River used by trains on the Gippsland Line will be completed in early December, ahead of schedule.

After a works blitz to connect the new bridge to the existing rail line from Saturday, November 28 to Sunday, December 6, trains will be able to travel at up to 90km/h on the new bridge, well above the 10km/h speed limit on the current bridge.

The early completion date was significant, said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack, as working conditions had to account for COVID-19 restrictions.

“It’s fantastic that works on the new bridge are finishing early, especially given crews have worked under modified conditions for most of the year,” he said.

The Avon Bridge is one part of the wider Gippsland Line Upgrade, that will increase the frequency and reliability of services to this part of regional Victoria. Other works include track duplication, extending the Morwell crossing loop, upgrading signalling, and adding second platforms at four stations along the line.

In addition, local level crossings would be improved with added safety features, including at McAlister Street.

Victorian Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan said that the works have prioritised local contractor involvement.

“The past few months have seen a massive effort to bring this new bridge to life, with plenty of involvement from local workers and suppliers,” Ms Allan said.

“Local contractors have worked hard on the project, and we’re focused on continuing to support the local economies of Stratford and Gippsland through the Gippsland Line Upgrade.”

Final works to prepare the Avon River bridge for train services include track and signalling works, removing old sections of railway track and sleepers, and final landscaping works. Additionally, the final pairs of 60-tonne beams are being lifted into place and walls attached.

Local artist Ray Thomas has been commissioned to paint a mural on the side of the bridge.

Part of the Regional Rail Revival program, other works on the joint state-federal funded Gippsland Line Upgrade will continue until late 2022.

Martin Place Station caverns completed ahead of schedule

The station caverns for the future Martin Place Metro Station have been completed, six months ahead of schedule.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Minister for Transport Andrew Constance visited the site of the future station, 28 metres below ground and said that the completion of the caverns was a milestone in the delivery of the new Metro line.

“In a few short years, Sydney’s new driverless trains will be running through the heart of the city every few minutes – a fast, new, reliable and safe railway extending from the Metro North West Line,” said Berejiklian.

Constance said that with the shape of the future station coming together, critical infrastructure will be delivered soon.

“This is an extraordinary milestone: excavation, tunnelling and caverns completed – next stop is laying tracks and building the new station which will service the heart of the Sydney CBD,” said Constance.

Nine tunnels to allow commuters to access the station have been built as part of the station’s design. These connect from the station entrances as well as to the existing Martin Place station where passengers can connect to Sydney Trains services.

Under construction for the last two years, the station is located underneath Castlereagh and Elizabeth streets and are 220 metres long and 14 metres wide. Tunnel boring machines Nancy and Shirl arrived at the stations in October 2019 before continuing on the future line.

A total of 126,000 tonnes of rock were excavated to create the two caverns and 5,500 tonnes of steel and 21,5000 tonnes of concrete have been used to create the stations.

Tracklaying is expected to commence in early 2021.

Sydney Metro part of mental health awareness campaign

Sydney Metro workers have been part of the launch of a new initiative to reduce suicide in the construction sector.

MATES Stronger Together aims to drive cultural change in the construction industry, highlighting the shared responsibility that colleagues have for each other’s mental health.

“We know that construction workers are at significantly greater risk of suicide than workers in other industries, sadly a worker takes their life every two days,” said Constance.

“2020 has been one hell of a year, so it’s particularly important at the moment to do everything we can to safeguard the health, safety and wellbeing of our workers.”

The launch of MATES Stronger Together. Image credit: Sydney Metro

Six times the number of construction workers killed in workplace accidents take their own life, with 190 workers dying from suicide each year. Young workers are particularly at risk, with young workers in construction twice as likely to die from suicide as other young men.

MATES Stronger Together is run by MATES in Construction, a partnership between building companies, unions, employer grounds and mental health organisations.

Sydney Metro chief executive Jon Lamonte said that this year was a reminder of the importance of connection.

“If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s just how much we can take ‘connectedness’ for granted and how important our social connections really are,” Mr Lamonte said.

“Our ‘mates’ really do play an important role in preventing suicide in this industry.”

The program will provide practical tools for workers in the construction industry to identify warning signs and act, said MATES in Construction CEO Brad Parker.

“The goal is to create strong networks of support on construction projects across the country, with workers looking out for those suffering from suicidal thoughts and having the confidence to talk to them and connect them with the help they need.”

If you, or someone you know, is thinking about suicide or experiencing a personal crisis or distress, please seek help immediately in a life-threatening situation by calling 000 or seek support though one of these services:

Lifeline 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
NSW Mental Health Line 1800 011 511

Works beginning on Hallam Road level crossing removal

Early works have begun on the Hallam Road level crossing in Melbourne’s south-east.

Once complete, a rail bridge will replace the level crossing and a new station will be built to serve passengers in Hallam and the surrounding suburbs.

Victorian Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan said that the level crossing removal would complement other transport works occurring in the area.

“We’re freeing up Melbourne’s booming south-eastern suburbs – with the Hallam Road Upgrade, level crossing removals and the Metro Tunnel, we’re busting congestion on busy roads and slashing travel times on trains.”

Early works include the erection of fences and the installation of site offices. Major works are expected to begin at the end of the year. A temporary commuter car park will open to replace spaces lost to the site office which will be located in the station’s southern car park.

Community feedback has so far been included in the updated station design, with a second entrance added to allow access from either side of Hallam Road. Additional bike parking has also been added.

Further community feedback is being south through the Hallam Road Level Crossing Removal Construction Liaison Group, said local member Luke Donnellan.

“We’re excited to see early works get underway on the level crossing project and the new station – and I’d encourage all locals who want to get involved in the project to consider joining the Construction Liaison group.”

The nearby community will be able to notice the effect of removed level crossings with the nearby Evans Road bridge opened in the next week, replacing the level crossing on that road.

The boom gates at Hallam Road are closed for a third of the two-hour morning peak, delaying 20,000 vehicles. In addition, the crossing has had 14 near misses in the past 10 years.

freight

Resumption of Murray Basin Rail project a “national priority”: Rail freight businesses

The Freight on Rail Group has called upon the federal government to fund the resumption of the Murray Basin Rail Project.

The coalition of rail freight businesses, chaired by Dean Dalla Valle said that with the Victorian government committing $48.8m in funding, the Commonwealth needed to come to the table as well.

“This commitment from the Victorian government is welcome – as a nation we need to get this rail freight network humming again. Given we could see another bumper crop next year, industry encourages the Commonwealth to also commit extra funding to help get the network back on track,” said Dalla Valle.

Getting the project back on track would improve the productivity of the Victorian rail network, and with forecast bumper grain harvests, the need for investment is critical.

“Due to well-documented problems with rail infrastructure in the basin, I’ve heard almost 70 percent of export grain this season will be transported by truck to Victorian ports – this is an extremely poor outcome for society; and certainly not good for regional councils already struggling to repair and maintain large road networks,” said Dalla Valle.

Since stalling in 2019, the partially completed project has led to a decline in freight carried by rail in the region. Groups including farmers, grain haulers, and now freight rail businesses are highlighting the importance of an efficient freight network.

“Inefficient transport supply chains corrode the core fundamentals of state and national economic productivity; destroying jobs and increasing cost of living pressures for millions of Australians,” said Dalla Valle.

The opportunity to reinvigorate the Murray Basin rail network had positives on a number of fronts, said Dalla Valle, beyond agricultural productivity. Moving more freight by rail would make roads safer for passenger vehicle by reducing accidents and wear and tear on roads. Additionally, as rail freight is less emissions intensive than road freight, Australia could reduce transport emissions. According to a 2017 Deloitte Access Economics report, for every kilometre of freight transport, rail produces 16 times less carbon pollution than road freight, and 14 times less accident costs.

Rebuilding the network would also provide a boost for regional economies and the Australian supply chain.

“Just imagine all the Australian-made steel that will be used in upgrading and standardising the network with new track – additional support for this project should be of the highest national priority,” said Dalla Valle.

Mildura Line

Murray Basin Rail Project revision falls short of freight needs

With the executive summary of the revised business case for the Murray Basin Rail Project now released, farmers, grain haulers, and rail experts are renewing their call for the project to be delivered in full, as per the original scope.

The revised business case recommends that the Sea Lake and Manangatang lines remain broad gauge, while work should focus on improving the existing, separate gauge network.

GrainCorp rail commercial and contracts manager Alex Donnelly said that the proposed scope of works would return the network to a viable state.

“The proposed improvements are all quite sensible and are all going to be beneficial to the rail network in the long term. They are not going to provide the capacity and costs we’d like to see, but they are certainly improvements from the current heavily degraded state of the MBRP affected network,” said Donnelly.

Since work stalled in 2017 and 2018 and then halted in 2019, increasing volumes of grain from North West Victoria have had to be hauled by road. In 2019, when NSW and Queensland were in drought, the relatively good conditions in Victoria meant that grain grown along the Sea Lake and Managatang lines missed out on markets and higher bid prices in northern NSW, as the grain could not be moved via rail on the interstate standard gauge network.

“Those farmers on the Mananagatang and Sea Lake sites really missed out, because their grain could only flow south by rail to Geelong or Melbourne, or by truck into southern NSW homes – where the bids weren’t as strong,” said Donnelly.

Victorian Farmers Federation grains group president Ashley Fraser said that the proposed works would create two separate networks.

“A commitment was made to build the Murray Basin Rail Project five years ago, including the standardisation of the Sea Lake and Manangatang lines,” he said.

“Under this revised plan these lines will not be converted to standard gauge resulting in farmers and businesses along the broad-gauge Sea Lake and Manangatang lines effectively being cut off from the standard gauge Inland Rail network.

“Ultimately this means double handling of freight which results in added costs for farmers, especially in the important grain growing regions in Victoria’s north west.”

John Hearsch, Rail Futures Institute president, said the proposed scope of works would not be able to handle the projected increase in freight volumes.

“It’s probably sufficient for the short term but, as I see it, I don’t think it properly takes account of what needs to happen in a bumper grain harvest which is what we’re about to experience. The outcome of that will be pretty straightforward; we’ll have a lot more trucks on the road than we really should have.”

Hearsch also highlighted that if the works proposed in the revised business case go ahead, while there will be marginal improvements, the plans locks in inefficiencies, such as standard gauge trains on the Mildura line from Yelta and Murrayville having to travel further to get to the port of Geelong or Melbourne via the Maryborough to Ararat connection, rather than directly via Ballarat.

“I find that quite disappointing and it still means that notwithstanding some marginal improvement on the journey from Maryborough to Ararat, these trains are still having to run well over 100km extra distance, which takes extra time and involves extra cost. That looks like a semi-permanent feature of what this part of the rail network is going to look like.”

Other potential projects that depended upon the full completion of the original Murray Basin Rail Project are also looking to miss out in the revised plan. In Ouyen, a local community group that has been working to set up an intermodal terminal is furious that the revised scope will not include a standard gauge connection to Melbourne.

“The MBRP was to be a ‘once in a generation’ project for the ultimate benefit of all Victorians and we are hoping governments will sort through the current MBRP quagmire very soon, to ensure it gets completed as originally planned. The Victorian government’s announcement will result in the Ouyen train having to go on a five-hour detour via Ararat making it unsustainable,” said Ouyen Inc president Scott Anderson.

Having two separate gauges in Victoria would also place increased cost pressures on businesses, said Donnelly, and could lead to the broad-gauge network becoming a stranded asset.

“Rollingstock owners need to keep their aging broad-gauge gear alive and running, which gets more expensive every year as spares and parts become harder to source. The broad-gauge network misses out on the expensive new gear that cascades out of the big coal and interstate operations, while standard gauge sites will see the benefits of this equipment.”

One of the reasons cited in the business case summary for the change in scope to let the Ballarat corridor remain broad gauge was the potential disruption to passenger services. Hearsch said that with proper, integrated planning between Victorian government bodies, this could have been avoided.

“Of course, the freight upgrades should’ve been accounted for in the upgrades of the passenger network, that didn’t happen. The reason it didn’t happen, as I read it, is that the Ballarat line upgrade and the Murray Basin Rail Project, both of which affected Ballarat, those two projects didn’t talk to each other.”

With the Murray Basin Rail Project having been heavily criticised by the Victorian Auditor-General in a report early in 2020 for deficiencies in planning and project management, Donnelly said it was critical that the revised project is handled correctly.

“For this coming 20/21 harvest these improvements will probably not provide any benefit to rail capacity. It’s very unlikely that any of the significant components of the proposal could implemented in time to help the coming harvest export task,” said Donnelly.

“In fact, we hold strong concerns that the proposed works pose a risk to an already constrained rail network: construction closures and trackwork blocking lines will stop the trains from exporting grain and we are expecting rail to be running flat out all year long.

“Any major shutdown will reduce rail tonnes moved to port, which will transfer straight to road instead. We need very careful consultation, coordination, and planning by the department to mitigate the impacts on the industry.”

Fraser said that the original aim was the correct one and should be carried out.

“The original vision was for a modern, efficient regional rail freight network. While the execution to achieve this vision may have been flawed, the intention was right.”

Contracts awarded for track and systems works on CRL

Two contracts have been awarded for the delivery of works for Auckland’s City Rail Link.

Known as C5 and C7, the contracts have been awarded to delivery consortium Link Alliance and are within the existing project budget.

C5 primarily involves the connection between the new line from Britomart, via Aotea and Karangahape, to the existing line at Mt Eden. Where the CRL meets the North Auckland Line at Mt Eden, the twin track split into two branches, eastbound and westbound, said Francois Dudouit, project director for the Link Alliance.

“This requires changing the vertical alignment of the NAL tracks and partially the horizontal alignment, meaning replacement of tracks and overhead line equipment (OHLE) on more than 1km of the North Auckland line,” he said.

“It also requires retaining walls to transition from the existing NAL track level to the CRL line – a 3.5 per cent slope. More than 1,000 piles, diaphragm and sheet pile walls will be needed to build these retaining structures and the two cross-over structures to connect to the NAL upmain.”

Road and pedestrian bridges at a number of level crossings will also be built, including at Normanby Road, Fenton Street, and Porters Avenue, to improve cyclist and pedestrian safety.

The C7 contract covers the Systems Integration, Testing and Commissioning components of the CRL project. These include trackslab, track, overhead line, signalling, control systems, communications systems, control room fit-out and building work, and trackside auxiliaries. Work also includes integrating the new line and systems with the legacy systems on the Auckland rail network.

Dudouit said that work to connect the various components of the project is already occurring.

“Integration of the C5 and C7 teams into the Link Alliance is well underway across multiple workstreams including civils, programme and cost control. Early works such as utility relocations and establishing single-line running are already taking place as part of an integrated programme to deliver the City Rail Link to Aucklanders in 2024.”

As these elements of the project require involvement from various stakeholder from the current network, such as the transport authority, Auckland Transport, close working relationships have been established.

“KiwiRail and Auckland Transport, and their supply partners, are formally engaged for the City Rail Link project through stakeholder partnership agreements. On a day-to-day basis, staff from both Auckland Transport and KiwiRail work in the Link Alliance offices to maximise collaboration opportunities, as part of an established interface and relationship management programme,” said Dudoit.

Revised MBRP business case drops standardisation of Sea Lake and Manangatang lines

The Victorian government has released the revised business case for the Murray Basin Rail Project and dropped the project’s initial goal of standardising the region’s freight network.

The long-awaited business case outlines the way forward for the troubled project, which halted in mid-2019 due to a lack of funds.

With stage one delivered and stage 2 partially delivered, the Murrayville and Yelta lines were standardised and the Maryborough to Ararat line reopened as standard gauge. The Sea Lake and Manangatang lines remained broad gauge, and the revised business case proposes to continue this split.

Victorian Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan said that the Victorian government was disappointed that funding for the project was not included in the 2020 federal budget, and was the only project on the state government’s wishlist of projects to not receive funding.

“This project is too important to play politics with – we want the Commonwealth to come forward with their support so we can get more freight on trains and more trucks off regional roads.”

To complete the revised scope of works, the Victorian government has announced they will commit $48.8 million and are asking the federal government to contribute $195.2m.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said that the federal government had already contributed $240m to the project and that project errors were the responsibility of the Victorian government.

“It is important to remember that the Victorian Labor government was responsible for delivering this project and actively chose to lay 100-year-old steel as part of its ‘upgrade,” he said.

“I look forward to hearing the views of industry and communities on the proposal and document released yesterday by the Victorian government.

The report notes that the time and cost of delivering the project to its original scope has now increased and there is greater potential for conflict with passenger services in the standardisation of the Gheringhap to Ballarat section and the Ballarat corridor.

The Rail Freight Alliance (RFA), a grouping of councils pushing for more freight to be handled by rail, said in a statement that the revised business case amounted to fixing problems caused by the initial works.

“What it appears Minister Allan has announced today is repairs to the shoddy and substandard work that has hampered this project from the inception. Rerailing the section of line between Maryborough and Ararat that was done as part of the project in 2017 with some sections of century old rail and putting back some staging areas that were removed as part of the MBRP only a few years ago.”

Works to be immediately completed under the revised business case include re-railing 88km on the Ararat to Maryborough line, where old rail was re-used, signalling works at Ararat Junction and Maryborough Yard. Further works include passing loops, instituting electronic train ordering, resleepering, and improvements to sidings.

Minister for Ports and Freight Melissa Horne said that if funded, the project would increase export volumes.

“These works will boost our freight network’s capacity and efficiency to get more Victorian products exported. We just need the Commonwealth to come to the table with their support.”