NZ Greens propose electrification, fast regional rail

The New Zealand Greens have put forward the construction of fast inter-city rail links as a way to stimulate New Zealand’s economy.

Currently under stage 4 restrictions, economic activity in New Zealand has almost been shut down, but the country is looking to come out of its self-imposed hibernation by the end of April.

To get the economy back up and running the NZ Greens are looking at electrification and improvements to regional rail.

Although the fourth largest party in the New Zealand parliament, the Greens have supported the leading Labour Party with confidence and supply. Green Party Transport Spokesperson Julie Anne Genter is Associate minister of Health and Transport in the current government.

The proposal of works includes connecting Auckland with Hamilton, Tauranga, and Whangearei, Wellington with Masterton, Palmerston North and Whanganui, and Christchurch with Rangiora, Ashburton and Timaru.

Currently, train services between Auckland and Wellington are partially electrified, while rail services out of Christchurch are hauled by diesel locomotives. Green Party Co-leader and Climate Change spokesperson James Shaw said the project would tackle the twin issues of economic growth and cutting emissions.

“The large intercity rail project proposed will provide meaningful work whilst driving us towards a sustainable, green, zero carbon future.

“Building rail creates more jobs than building motorways and helps us tackle climate change at the same time.”

The party has broken up the proposal into two stages. The first stage would involve electrification and improvements to existing track to allow for speeds of up to 110km/h. The second stage would include building new higher-speed track for tilt trains capable of travelling up to 160km/h and bypasses to create more direct routes. The party estimates that the cost of the program would be NZ$9 billion ($8.6bn) over 10 years.

Genter said that the investment would tie together metropolitan centres and the regions.

“We’re proposing a nation-wide intercity rapid rail programme that would bring our provincial centres and biggest cities closer together through fast, electric passenger rail. This will create real alternatives to driving or flying for people who want to travel around the country for work, to see their family and friends, or for domestic tourism.”

New stabling yard opens on Geelong line

The Wyndham Vale stabling yard has now opened.

The yard, located north of Wyndham Vale station, will provide more flexibility for trains on the Geelong line serving the Victorian regional network.

A day 10 works program of testing and commissioning was carried out in the leadup to the opening, which involved driver training for familiarisation with the new infrastructure.

The stabling yard can hold six V/Locity trains at a time and also includes staff amenities, security, and utilities.

With further works being carried out to expand the capacity of regional rail in Victoria, particularly along the Melbourne-Geelong corridor, there is room for the yard to expand when needed.

The construction of the site involved the use of sustainable materials. Recycled plastic sleepers, recycled plastic asphalt and recycled glass sand were all used to build the facility.

International bodies urge continuity in public transport

An international group of transport organisations have issued a statement urging that public transport services must run despite coronavirus (COVID-19) mitigation measures.

The group includes the International Association of Public Transport (UITP), the International Union of Railways (UIC), United Cities and Local Governments, and the International Transport Workers Federation.

In the statement, the group calls for continuity in public transport, particularly so that key workers can keep getting to and from work.

“Ensuring continuity of public transport and local mobility services is essential for society and the economy. This will ensure that the health crisis does not turn into a social one.”

The statement identifies measures that need to be taken to ensure that services continue, including the provision and supply of protective equipment for transport staff and operators. This will ensure the health and safety of staff and passengers.

The statement notes that in some cities, patronage has dropped by 90 per cent, and this can have a devastating impact on operators which rely on passenger revenues.

The authors call upon governments to rapidly adopt measures including financial support which supports the preservation of jobs and the industries which supply the transport networks.

Some best practice measures outlined in the statement include providing accurate and up to date information, conduct regular deep cleaning and disinfection, adapting service levels to passenger demand while ensuring continuity, and providing dedicated services for healthcare personnel. The implementation of these measures is of benefit not only to the networks themselves, write the authors.

“Bearing in mind that passenger transport systems are vital to the regular functioning of the economy, these measures would not just support the sector in question but the whole of society.”

Increased appetite for air to rail switch

If concerns around climate change were not enough, modelling by Swiss bank UBS is showing that more people will be looking to switch from air to train travel in Europe following the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The report, released by UBS Evidence Lab, highlights that a number of air routes within the EU are at risk of losing passengers to rail. Those most at risk include routes from Berlin to Frankfurt and Munich, London to Paris and Edinburgh, and Madrid to Barcelona.

While most of the routes most affected are relatively short, the report notes that travellers are having an increasingly higher tolerance to longer rail journeys, which could be taken faster by plane in the same corridor.

“Data from a UBS Evidence Lab survey of 1,000 people in four European countries and China suggests leisure travellers would tolerate 5-6 hours on a train, and EU business travellers up to four hours vs the general consensus of 2-3 hours.”

The report notes that service and frequency are drivers for demand for longer train journeys, and that competition among operators can often encourage improvements in these areas.

The report links the growing appetite for rail to current concerns about COVID-19, as well as wider demands for net-zero carbon by 2050.

“The Covid-19 outbreak is showing industrialised countries not only what clean air means and how to cope without travelling, but also how a cleaner environment and healthier populations cope better with diseases.”

While the report authors note that some low-carbon investments may be diverted to support the transport and travel industries, countries will continue to push towards net zero by 2050, while consumers will continue to look for travel options that take the least time. Increased funding to meet these twin demands will grow the market for European high-speed rail and associated supplies of rollingstock, signalling, controls, and brakes.

Source : UBS Evidence Lab

CRL links Auckland to its volcanic past

Construction of the City Rail Link (CRL) in Auckland has uncovered a link to the region’s pre-historic past.

A tree fragment uncovered during tunnel boring has been dated to 28,000 years ago.

The fragment was found when CRL’s small tunnel boring machine, Jeffie, was excavating for a stormwater drain under Mt Eden. The machine was tunnelling through an ancient lava field 15 metres below ground.

After being extracted from the site, the tree fragments were sent to volcanologists for radiocarbon dating. This confirmed that Maungawhau/Mt Eden erupted roughly 28,000 years ago, said Elaine Smid volcanologist at DEVORA.

“We have used other techniques to date this eruption, with similar findings. This new radiocarbon result removes any lingering doubts about the age of Maungawhau/Mt Eden.”

The finding allows for scientists to confirm that Mt Eden erupted during the Ice Age, and connects the current rail tunnelling program to similarly significant geological events in Auckland’s past, said Gabriel Kirkwood Kaitiaki for Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki – Taiaomaurikura.

“Both events in their own way are creating dramatic changes to the landscape of Tāmaki Makaurau and the way we interact with it for generations to come,” said Kirkwood.

The tunnelling is part of excavations to connect CRL tunnels with Auckland’s existing rail network at Mt Eden. While the CRL will enable Aucklanders to travel around their city without the need to get into cars, the excavation has helped in other ways to keep Auckland safe, said Smid.

“DEVORA scientists use volcano ages to identify eruption patterns and to better understand how the Auckland Volcanic Field has behaved in the past – it’d like a big puzzle,” she said.

“This age is another piece in that puzzle, now slotted firmly into place. Every piece we add tells us a little more about how the volcanic field may behave in the future, making Auckland a safer place.”

Utility excavation work starts in Parramatta CBD

Parramatta Light Rail is progressing significant works in the Parramatta CBD. From 8pm, Thursday, April 9, until 5am, Monday April 27, the intersection of Phillip and Church streets will be closed to allow utility works.

The works involve replacing an existing water pipe with a concrete covered pipe. The work will allow for water service operation to continue during light rail construction and operation.

Works to be done at the intersection include excavation, isolating and draining the existing water main, covering the water main and reinstating the roadway.

Buses, cars, and pedestrians will be diverted around the construction site.

Other works on the Parramatta Light Rail project are also continuing, such as the change from heavy rail to light rail on the former Carlingford Line. The project is considered an essential service and is therefore progressing as scheduled.

Meanwhile, the project is encouraging locals and subcontractors to continue to support local eateries whose foot-traffic has been impacted by coronavirus (COVID-19) shutdowns.

Underground utility work plagued the construction of the Sydney CBD and South East Light Rail line, with Transport for NSW settling for $576 million with contractor Acciona due to extra costs involved in underground utility work. Although the Parramatta CBD is not as dense as the Sydney CBD, early work was done to identify utilities that are owned by 15 different providers and the program has used an underground 3D digital model to find where utilities are located.

Incorporating sustainability across the rail supply chain

An innovative solution to level crossings and sleepers is one step towards making the entire rail supply chain sustainable. Rail Express finds out.

Since mid-2019, the rail industry has seen a bump in passenger numbers as the flight shame movement has spread from Sweden to Europe, and then the globe.

Rail’s sustainability credentials are well known, in both the passenger and freight sectors. A freight train’s carbon dioxide emissions are one eighth of a truck, and one quarter of a freight barge, according to Ecotransit. Similarly, for a 1,000km journey from Berlin to Paris, a train emits a quarter of vehicle CO2 emissions and a fifth of plane CO2 emissions.

However, rail industry leaders are also recognising that the sector cannot rest on these laurels. The Railsponsible initiative, an alliance of procurement officers at major European rail organisations, aims to turn the entire rail supply chain green. Their vision to have a “global railway industry where all suppliers have in place good ethical, social, environmental and business practices” is enabled by product innovators who can supply sustainable solutions at each point in the rail lifecycle.

One product putting this into action is STRAIL, distributed in Australia and New Zealand by Phoenix. The level crossing panels are made from a mixture of recycled and new rubber and are manufactured in Germany by rubber specialists KRAIBURG. Andrew Roseman director and civil engineer at Phoenix explains how the products limit their impact on the environment.

“The goal to being sustainable in rail should be with economy, in material choice, and how materials are made. KRAIBURG prides itself on re-use of material whether it be processing rubber for panels or plastics for the sleepers. Limiting the use of new materials in production ensures a smaller footprint that the product is making on the environment,” he said.

In addition, when they reach the end of their life, the panels can be recycled and then reused in the rubber production process. These qualities make for a sustainable whole-of-life solution, which does not shirk on innovative design features.

“Being re-processed at the end of life essentially closes the loop fully, which is often missed by some products as their recycling is processed by third parties into alternative products, which have less or no demand,” said Roseman.

Able to be manufactured for any range of gauges, STRAIL is a modular system that can withstand high-frequented crossings and extreme weather conditions. The system has been used globally since 1976 and in Australia for 30 years, with Australia having the largest number of crossings installed outside of Europe. It is designed to be easy to install, enabling track maintenance without significant effort. One facet of the product is its corundum-embedded surface and bevelled edges, which maintains high skid resistance through whole of life and reduces noise and increasing comfort and safety for traffic using the crossing.

“The surface provides high levels of skid resistance with STRAIL’s unique process of embedding mineral grit into the panel surface, not just relying on surface texture than can wear down over the life of the crossing,” said Roseman.

Within the STRAIL range, in addition to the eponymous product, are the innoSTRAIL, and veloSTRAIL versions. The larger inner and outer panels in innoSTRAIL, which are independent of sleeper spacing, provide an economical solution. veloSTRAIL removes the flange groove, for the benefit of cyclists, wheelchair users, and pedestrians. The veloSTRAIL system is suitable for train speeds of up to 120km/h and the flangeway element can be replaced without removing the inner panel, improving the sustainability of the system. The veloSTRAIL and innoSTRAIL products also include the patented lock-tight system that ensures position stability in the case of diagonal traffic and prevents gaps from forming between the panels.

In addition to the level crossing products, STRAIL also produces a sleeper made from secondary raw materials, STRAILway. The product continues the company’s commitment to the sustainable manufacturing of railway products and is 100 per cent recyclable.

Compared with traditional wooden sleepers, the STRAILway does not leak chemicals such as creosote into the environment, and can last for at least 50 years, compared with a 14-15-year life for hardwood timber sleepers. In addition, unlike other moulded sleepers, the STRAILway is extruded, allowing for any length required, ideal for applications such as bridge transoms and turnout bearers. Furthermore, the STRAILway sleepers can be handled and processed at site almost like timber sleepers, as they are able to be sawed, drilled, or plated without the risk of exposure to harmful fibres.

For each of their environmentally sound solutions, STRAIL and its partner in Australia – Phoenix Australia – supplies technical installation and maintenance training.

Rail R U OK?Day updated with COVID-19 resources

The importance of looking out for friends, colleagues, and mates in the rail industry has only been further highlighted this year with the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

As routines are upended and social distancing is adhered to, loneliness and isolation can be further compounded, while obligations to look out for family members, partners and, friends outside of work can increase.

With these factors in mind, the TrackSAFE Foundation has reaffirmed that Rail R U OK?Day will continue as scheduled on Thursday, April 30. In addition, TrackSAFE has released additional materials relevant to the current working environment.

Resources that TrackSAFE have collated include updates to the RailRes App, as well as support and counselling services provided by Lifeline, Beyond Blue, and the National Mental Health Commission.

Additionally, R U OK? CEO, Katherine Newton has released a special message to encourage people to stay connected and give practical tips to stay in contact despite physical distancing laws. This messages has been supplemented by Connection Cards, which can be distributed without contact.

Materials to encourage electronic communication and online events have also been uploaded to the TrackSAFE website.

Ahead of this year’s Rail R U OK?Day organisations and participants can draw on the five years of successful R U OK?Days since 2015, with 55,000 rail employees participating in 2019. Over 70 rail companies are registered for the initiative and 105 Champions will facilitate the day.

This year, the two interactive question marks, Quentin and Quinn, departed from Canberra, with Major Projects Canberra, Canberra Metre Operations and Transport Canberra and City Services hosting the beginning of the seven week journey. This year was the first time that organisations in Canberra had participated in the Rail R U OK?Day.

Plans to re-open the Murwillumbah rail line

Rail services to Murwillumbah in New South Wales were discontinued in 2004, but now there are plans to re-open the rail line.

Byron Shire Council is moving forward with planning for a rail link connecting Mullumbimby and Byron Bay as part of a multi-use activation of the rail corridor.

Five of the seven councillors who attended the council meeting on Thursday, March 26 voted to start the planning process to establish a project framework and to progress a business plan. 

Councillor Basil Cameron said it’s time to take a significant step forward in meeting the transport needs of the shire.

The motion follows a $330,000 study for multi-use activation of the corridor, the Arcadis Multi-Use Rail Corridor Study (MURC). 

Findings from the study identified two multi use options with positive benefit cost ratios, which were Hi-rail – vehicles that can run on tracks as well as roads – with active transport or very light rail with active transport.

Cameron said for the section between Mullumbimby and Byron Bay the estimated costs for Hi-rail with walking and cycling are $12.6 million.

He stated that Hi-rail is the lower cost option with the lightest axle weight therefore requiring minimal upgrades to the disused lines. It is also very flexible as the Hi-rail vehicles can switch from rail and road in 15 seconds. 

“Typically a Hi-rail vehicle is a small bus able to service a more flexible route or on demand type service. Travelling along the rail corridor provides a faster entry to town centres during peak time and assists in reducing vehicle numbers on the road network,” Cameron said.

Andrew Pearce, traffic engineer, infrastructure services Byron Shire said in the notice for motion that background research undertaken for the Integrated Transport Management Strategy acknowledges the Multi Use Rail Corridor Study identified a Hi-rail system within the rail corridor in combination with active transport is the best rail corridor option.

“Staff see the merits in beginning conversations with potential operators/community groups and organisations,” Pearce stated.

If the council proceeds with the Hi-rail option there is likely to be the need to construct a new, accessible rail station.

Pearce said council needs to consider the economic viability. 

“Given the full rail corridor length is 38.5km and the Mullumbimby to Byron section is 15.6km (54.7 per cent of the total length) would a partial activation of the corridor between Mullumbimby and Byron result in 54.7 per cent of the estimate economic benefit outlined in the MURC study?” Pearce stated.

“If it does, does the Hi-rail option remain the most viable given the MURC identifies an 35 ongoing maintenance cost of approximately $950,000 per annum for the Hi-rail option.”

Council will now provide notice of the intention to establish a rail link to Infrastructure Australia, Infrastructure NSW, Transport for NSW and other relevant agencies to seek advice on funding criteria and project development.

In a notice of motion prepared prior to the meeting of council, Cameron wrote that  activating a rail link within the Ewingsdale corridor provides an affordable alternative to start shifting demand from ever bigger, busier, and more expensive roads. 

As part of the planning process, council will investigate Federal, NSW and other funding bodies to identify funding sources including, but not limited to tourism, infrastructure, transport and climate change mitigation/adaption grants with a priority focus on funding vegetation removal within the rail corridor.

Heritage-listed tree saved at a Melbourne train station

Metro Trains has confirmed that urgent works will commence at Newmarket Station in Inner Melbourne, including saving the river red gum and peppercorn trees.

Catherine Baxter, Metro Chief Operating Officer said works will commence next week to secure the station’s structure and protect the historic buildings into the future.

“We’ve listened to community feedback and are working closely with Council on plans to protect the heritage station and improve the precinct for years to come,” she said.

Moonee Valley City Council said it has worked with Metro to save the heritage-listed river red gum and a peppercorn tree at Newmarket Station.

“Metro has listened to our concerns and will save the significant tree, working around it to make the station and platform safe,” the Council said in a statement.

One pittosporum tree will be removed under the Rail Management Act. Council and Metro have agreed this needs to happen straight away for platform upgrades to take place.

Metro stated that the ageing Newmarket station platforms and retaining walls will be rebuilt. Works will take place over the next six weeks.

A bespoke engineering solution has been designed to save the two trees so they continue to provide shelter, amenity, and biodiversity for the local community.

Metro said in a statement that they have agreed with Council that following further detailed arborist and engineering assessments, one pittosporum tree, which is an invasive weed species, on the eastern side of the station must be removed to allow for the urgent works to proceed.

Moonee Valley City Council said Metro will apply for planning approval to remove any other trees at the station in order to maintain safety or do key works.

Metro stated that it advised Council that no other trees will be removed without planning permission unless it is determined that a tree poses an immediate safety risk to users of the station precinct.

Further analysis is being done by Metro in relation to trees and platform safety on the Pin Oak Crescent side of the station.

Metro and Council continue to work on landscaping and replanting plans for the Pin Oak Crescent side of the station and will work together to implement additional safety measures based on expert advice as required.

“The safety of the community and our passengers remains our absolute priority,” Baxter said.