Budget should target new projects and upgrades: ARA

New projects and upgrades to existing technology should be considered for funding as part of the federal budget, CEO of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) Caroline Wilkie has said.

With the budget to be handed down on October 6 and early announcements already coming out, Wilkie said that rail was ready to contribute to Australia’s economic recovery.

“There is a significant pipeline of rail investment that could be fast tracked to generate more jobs and opportunity to support our economic recovery,” said Wilkie.

“This is work that will make a difference right now while leaving a lasting legacy for the cities and towns that benefit from new rail projects.”

A number of rail projects are awaiting federal funding to take the next step. The Melbourne Airport Rail Link will proceed once final funding from the federal government confirmed, as can the resumption of the Murray Basin Rail Project, with a business case sitting with Canberra.

In addition to new construction, funding for technology upgrades such as the Australian Rail Track Corporation’s Advanced Train Management System, would provide long term benefits. Infrastructure upgrades such as level crossing removals are another way the federal government’s funding to rail would conitrbute to wider economic outcomes.

“At a time where we desperately need more people in jobs and more certainty for those rebounding from the economic hardships of the pandemic, we need to see more projects started sooner to build the country back up again,” said Wilkie.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack has indicated that major infrastructure projects will be part of the 2020 budget, however no particular projects have been tipped yet. The federal government has indicated that money allocated to the states for infrastructure will be needed to be spent quickly and may be a condition of further funding.

repairs

WA to progress business cases for reopening three Tier 3 grain lines

The Western Australian government has committed to developing three business cases for the reopening of three Tier 3 grain lines in the state.

The three lines to be looked at for reopening at, Quairading to York, Kulin via Yilliminning to Narrogin, and Kondining via Narembeen to West Merredin.

The combined cost of upgrading the three lines to narrow gauge standard is $486 million. As part of the investigation the WA government will consider upgrading the Kondinin to West Merredin line to standard gauge at an extra cost of $27.41m.

The three lines were chosen based on an engineering assessment released on September 24 which estimated the cost of reopening Tier 3 lines throughout the wheatbelt.

WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said that the report found that certain lines could be reopened.

“While the engineering report confirms restoring the entire network would involve significant costs, there are arguably specific lines where the cost of investment could be offset by ongoing commercial and community benefits such as reduced truck volumes on local roads and cost savings to farmers.”

Arc Infrastructure, which manages the WA freight rail network, said it would support the government and grain growers cooperate CBH Group in the submission of business cases to Infrastructure Australia.

“Arc acknowledges that the government has identified an opportunity for the development of business cases to be submitted to Infrastructure Australia, for rail freight investment proposals on the Tier 1, 2 and 3 rail networks. Arc will support government and CBH in this process,” said an Arc Infrastructure spokesperson.

CBH Group, which represents grain growers throughout the state, said it would also support the efforts to make grain transport economically viable.

“We will work with the state government to progress those business cases, including providing information on any impacts of re-instating those lines on the grain supply chain or grower freight rates,” said a CBH Group spokesperson.

“CBH supports grain transport by rail where it is economically viable and the least cost pathway to port.”

The government announcement was also welcomed by the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU), with WA secretary Craig McKinley calling on the federal government to support the reopening of these lines.

“The Western Australian government is supportive of the need to rebuild key sections of track, and the commitment to undertaking business cases is very heartening,” he said.

“We hope that the business case stage can be completed quickly, so we can move on to securing funding and getting construction underway.

“The reconstruction of Tier 3 lines is exactly the sort of project that the Australian government should be investing in.”

Saffioti said the business cases will be developed in consultation with CBH Group and Arc Infrastructure before being submitted to Infrastructure Australia for potential federal funding.

“Significant funding contributions from the federal government – as per other major regional infrastructure projects – would be required for any potential Tier 3 restoration work in the future.”

The Tier 3 grain lines were closed by Arc Infrastructure in 2014, then known as Brookfield Rail. The Tier 3 lines were seen at the time as not commercially viable. With the resultant shift of grain volumes to road, road maintenance costs have increased, and safety concerns have been raised by the local community. These factors led to the WA government investigating the viability of reopening the lines earlier in 2020.

New procurement process for Inland Rail contracts

The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) will speed up and de-risk the procurement process for Inland Rail in a new procurement and packaging plan.

Inland Rail CEO Richard Wankmuller said the plan was developed in response to feedback from industry.

“Industry has clearly sent a message that Inland Rail needs to work more closely with project proponents to accelerate project tenders, maximise opportunities to participate and de-risk procurement processes. Doing so will deliver the greatest benefit for government, industry and small and medium regional businesses,” he said.

The plan will provide to industry opportunities on a number of projects, and the ARTC is currently seeking registrations of interest in civil works packages on three sections, Narromine to Narrabri, North Star to Border, and Border to Gowrie.

The procurement plan will cover other sections of Inland Rail, including:

  • Albury to Illabo
  • Illabo to Stockinbingal
  • Stockinbingal to Parkes
  • Narromine to Narrabri
  • North Star to NSW/QLD Border
  • NSW/QLD Border to Gowrie
  • Kagaru to Acacia Ridge and Bromelton

Wankmuller said that the project has opportunities for large and small businesses.

“By investing now and getting tenders out faster, this mega-project is offering tender packages ideally suited to a range of suppliers and contractors, big and small,” he said.

“Inland Rail is also being predominantly delivered – 90 per cent – in regional Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland away from the overheated metropolitan infrastructure markets meaning there is greater opportunity for regional Australia to reap the rewards.”

Chief Executive of the Australian Contractors Association Jon Davies said the procurement approach improve social and economic benefits that come from investment.

“It has never been more important for industry and Clients to work together collaboratively in order to efficiently deliver projects and leverage their social and economic benefits”, he said.

“We welcome ARTC’s new approach to procurement and our members look forward to working with ARTC and the Inland Rail team as these new opportunities arise in coming months.”

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said the works packages would spread the benefit of the project.

“Inland Rail’s construction is providing a boost for local businesses and communities at a time it’s most needed,” said McCormack.

“By dividing this nation-building project into smaller parts, more local businesses can bid for this valuable work, contributing to Australia’s future.”

Construction of the Parkes to Narromine section was recently completed, and a contract for the construction of Narrabri to North Star is expected in the coming weeks.

infrastructure

National Infrastructure Summit speakers and agenda announced

As Australia looks to invest in infrastructure as a way to build the country’s economy out of the COVID-19 crisis, the National Infrastructure Summit has arrayed some of the most significant leaders in this space to discuss the opportunities ahead.

Opening the virtual conference on day one, October 14, will be NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who is looking at an expanding rail infrastructure pipeline in the state, with new Sydney Metro lines recently funded and moving ahead in the contract process.

For a federal view, day two will be opened by Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack. With the conference taking place days after the delivery of what the federal budget, which is widely expecte to include more infrastructure spending, McCormack will highlight these commitments as well as other projects such as Inland Rail that are always underway.

The program also includes discussions between Romilly Madew, CEO of Infrastructure Australia, Marion Terrill, Transport and Cities Program Director, Grattan Institute, and Cathal O’Rouke, who will pick over what impact COVID-19 has had on the infrastructure sector.

With logistics impacted by new trends during COVID and the acceleration of others, Dean Dalla Valle, CEO of Pacific National, and Maurice James, managing director of Qube will be joined by Marika Calfas, CEO of NSW Ports and Brendan Bourke, CEO of the Port of Melbourne to analyses these changes.

Alan Tudge Minister for Cities, Urban Infrastructure and Population and NSW Minister for Water, Property and Housing Melinda Pavey will give ministerial addresses, followed by a Q&A.

Other panels include a focus on infrastructure funding and post-pandemic transport.

This year, the conference will be delivered virtually via online events platform Brella. The platform will provide an opportunity for networking and viewing speaker and sponsor information.

For more information, click here: https://www.nationalpolicyseries.com.au/afr-national-infrastructure-summit/.

Mildura Line

Ouyen intermodal future awaits MBRP outcome

A community group in in Ouyen, north-west Victoria, is closing in on the construction of a new intermodal terminal, however is awaiting one missing link; the replacement of a rail siding removed in the aborted Murray Basin Rail Project (MBRP).

The Ouyen Intermodal Project, backed by local development organisation Ouyen Inc, hopes to remove roughly 9,000 trucks off rural roads in the region with five weekly train services between Ouyen and the Port of Melbourne.

The facility would serve local agricultural businesses seeking to get products to port, including hay growers Wingara AG who announced this week its subsidiary JC Tanloden is planning to construct a hay processing plant in Ouyen. The hay, grown in the Mallee region, would be processed at Ouyen and then transported by rail to the Port of Melbourne for export.

Other industries keen for an intermodal facility at Ouyen include grape growers and mineral sands enterprises.

According to Ouyen Inc president Scott Anderson, the facility would be welcomed by growers, transport businesses and the local community.

“With the right governance structure and operators in place we are confident of getting these big freight volumes off the road and onto the rail network. We don’t want to compete against the road transport industry in North West Victoria, but instead work with them. These companies already have existing export warehouses and cool rooms established, so working in conjunction with them means not having to duplicate this system at Ouyen.”

Project consultant Michael O’Callaghan said the choice of situating the intermodal facility at Ouyen was also strategic for freight rail operations.

“Our selected site will allow a short road haul from warehouse or farm to a rail terminal that is the furthest distance from the Port of Melbourne, where trains can get up and back in a day, unloading and reloading at both ends and refuelling on a consistent basis. This is considered the ‘holy grail’ of running freight trains into North West Victoria.”

With an agreement now negotiated between Ouyen Inc and the landowner, a Heads of Agreement with a national intermodal operator, and support from local exporters, the only thing holding back the terminal is its connection to the rail network.

The former rail siding was removed during the first stage of the MBRP, which involved converting the Mildura and Murrayville lines, which Ouyen sits at the junction of, from broad to standard gauge. With the revised business case for the MBRP awaiting federal government approval, Ouyen Inc. is calling upon the Victorian government to ensure that the siding is replaced.

While a Victorian Department of Transport spokesperson would not commit to the works, they encouraged further development of the proposal.

“The Department of Transport is aware of ongoing work towards establishing an intermodal terminal in Ouyen and encourages the proponents to continue working on the necessary elements to demonstrate the terminal is commercially sustainable,” the spokesperson said.

“We look forward to further discussions regarding this proposal as the proponents continue to advance it.”

With a business case being prepared on behalf of Ouyen Inc, the construction of the facility, scheduled for December 2021, hinges upon government support.

protocol

Protocol offers way to protect industry and communities

ALC CEO Kirk Coningham highlights how a united freight industry has achieved a common-sense protocol for border safety.

The COVID-19 pandemic has required all of us to deal with scenarios and situations that were hard or even impossible to anticipate.

Of course, the freight and logistics industry has long-held concerns about some of the complexities that arise from having to comply with multiple regulatory regimes as freight crosses the border from one state or territory into another. Yet the closure of those same borders at the onset of the pandemic has forced the industry to confront and adapt to a whole new set of requirements.

The fast-moving nature of the COVID-19 challenge has also required governments and regulatory authorities to move speedily – and in some instances, this has led to the imposition of rules that are simply incompatible with the realities of freight transport.

Over the past several months, ALC has worked with its members, regulatory authorities and allied industry groups to build support among governments for a nationally consistent approach that will protect the health of the freight transport sector’s workforce and the wider community, while still ensuring that our industry can get the job done.

Those efforts bore fruit in late July when the National Cabinet gave its endorsement to a Domestic Border Control Freight Movement Protocol.

The protocol has been endorsed by chief health officers from all state and territories and clearly outlines measures that all states and territories agree will allow freight to move safely and efficiently across borders.

This includes a number of common- sense measures which ALC has pursued throughout the pandemic. These include the ‘waive through’ of freight vehicles at borders, standardising the duration of border crossing permits, mutual recognition of COVIDsafe work plans developed in other jurisdictions, and not requiring rail crews to quarantine or self- isolate when crossing borders if they have not developed COVID-19 symptoms.

Obtaining agreement to this protocol has only been possible because our industry has been able to clearly and convincingly demonstrate its commitment to COVIDsafe practices to governments nation-wide.

In particular, the members of our Safety Committee provided crucial support by offering compelling examples of the extensive efforts being undertaken by freight and logistics companies to make their operations COVIDsafe. This gave policymakers added confidence that our industry takes its obligations seriously

and understands the importance of COVIDsafe behaviour in protecting the wider community. The importance of having COVID testing available for freight workers frequently crossing borders is also recognised, and the protocol calls for states and territories to offer ‘pop-up’ testing facilities in appropriate locations.

Importantly, the protocol also requires authorities to consult with industry to understand the effect and impacts of potential changes ahead of any new directions being been put place.

It will be vital for governments to follow this requirement if we are to avoid some of the confusion that has been witnessed throughout the pandemic, especially in instances where border requirements were changed with inadequate notice to industry.

First section of Inland Rail complete

The first section of Inland Rail, linking Parkes and Narromine in the NSW Central West, has been completed.

A ceremonial opening of the line was held today, September 15, at Peak Hill, where the first shipment of steel was delivered to begin the project in January 2018.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said that today marked a historic point in the project.

“Inland Rail is nation-building and today recognises a great milestone in this transformational infrastructure,” he said.

“Inland Rail is an investment in Australia – in our economy, in our regions and in the capacity of our future freight network.”

Industry welcomed the breakthrough on this stage of the project, which when complete will link Melbourne and Brisbane by rail in under 24 hours. Chair of the Freight on Rail Group Dean Dalla Valle said this would improve the competitiveness of rail.

“In the past, trucks would do the ‘first and last mile’ between rail terminals and ports, warehouses, distribution centres and manufacturing plants. Today on some key transport corridors – notably between Sydney and Melbourne – trucks are doing every mile,” he said.

“A typical 1,500-metre interstate freight train can haul up to 220 shipping containers – equivalent to approximately 180 B-double return truck trips.”

CEO of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) Caroline Wilkie said that with this section complete, the rest of the project should soon follow.

“The promise of Inland Rail has already generated significant activity in the Parkes region as the community readies itself for the opportunities better rail freight connections will bring,” she said.

“It is now critical that the project’s swift progress across the rest of the route is supported so even more communities and businesses can benefit in this way.”

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said the 1,700km freight rail link would improve Australia’s entire freight network.

Long-haul rail is cheaper, safer and more reliable than road, that’s why the Australian Government is enhancing the national freight rail network through our investment in Inland Rail,” Cormann said.

“The shift from road to rail builds resilience in our freight network – not only will Inland Rail deliver a long-term freight solution for Australia to meet the needs of our growing population – it is also a critical investment supporting an efficient Australian economy.”

A focus for the Parkes to Narromine section has been the involvement of locals, with 760 contributing to the project and $110 million spent with local businesses. Work on the project included a rebuild of almost 100km of existing rail track and a new 5.3km connection between Inland Rail and the Broken Hill line.

Steel for the project came from South Australia, concrete sleepers were sourced from Mittagong and culverts came from Tamworth. The final ‘golden clip’ which McCormack hammered into place to signify the completion of the project was one of 365,000 sourced from a supplier in Blacktown, Sydney.

Construction is expected to commence on the Narrabri to North Star leg before the end of 2020 with a contractor to be confirmed soon.

The commemorative plaque marking the opening of the P2N section of Inland Rail. Credit: Amanda Lee.
Cowra Lines

Minister leaves door open for reinstatement of Cowra lines

NSW Minister for Regional Transport Paul Toole has indicated that the reinstatement of the Cowra rail lines could still go ahead, despite a feasibility study finding now option achieved a positive cost-benefit ratio.

Toole is pushing for further work to be done to see whether reopening the lines, particularly the 179km Blayney to Demondrille line, can be economically viable.

“The Cowra Lines has the potential to be economically viable when freight capacity on the Main West is constrained in the future,” said Toole.

“That’s why I have asked for this study to be taken to the next stage – to complete a high level design and some investigation works to determine a closer project delivery cost.”

In a feasibility study published by Transport for NSW, the most competitive option for reopening the Cowra lines was to re-instate the Blayney to Demondrille line at 25 tonne axle load (TAL) with a speed of 80km/h. This option assumed a scenario of the Main West and Illawarra Lines becoming significantly constrained in future and not able to adequately support central west freight rail services.

The benefit-cost ratio calculated for this scenario was 0.9.

With the Cowra lines closed between 2007 and 2009, most freight from the region is carried by road with some bulk freight picked up by services travelling along the Main West or Main South lines. The feasibility study notes that the region’s diverse resources and agricultural industries support a freight task.

The feasibility study found that the rail infrastructure itself is mostly intact, however sleepers and ballast would need to be replaced and two new crossing loops would be required. A number of timber bridges would also need to be replaced.

Toole said that now was a good time to investigate improvements to the freight network.

“With freight increasing across the State and the need to build a resilient network to cope with natural disasters and pandemics, this year has shown it’s an opportune time to further investigate our rail freight capabilities,” he said.

“This is about futureproofing the movement of rail freight through the Central West.”

Value of rail construction contracts fall in 2020

While governments have trumpeted major stimulus spending projects in rail to spur the economy out of COVID-19, the value of contracts awarded in 2020 has fallen significantly, according to analysis from Infrastructure Partnerships Australia (IPA).

In 2019, contracts to the value of $27.1 billion were awarded in the infrastructure sector. In the first eight months of 2020, only $6.7bn in contracts have been awarded, a quarter of the 2019 total.

Of the contracts awarded, rail has been overlooked, with roads, water, social infrastructure and other transport receiving more money.

According to IPA, as governments have turned to small-scale stimulus projects, approvals and signatures on contracts has fallen. In many cases, these projects were already funded and were brought forward to get money flowing into the economy and increase business activity to rebound after COVID-19.

“Over the last few months, governments have taken smart steps to accelerate small-scale quick to market projects to soften the COVID landing,” said IPA chief executive Adrian Dwyer, who noted that larger projects will sustain the economy for the long term.

“This data shows we now need to accelerate approvals of large-scale projects, add to the major infrastructure pipeline, and ensure we keep pace on delivery,” he said.

“As we governments prepare for the delayed budget season, this is the time to scale up for the long economic recovery ahead.”

With the third quarter of 2020 drawing to a close, contract values could pick up for 2020 in the final quarter, with the contract for the next stage of Sydney Metro expected to be announced. Other contracts, such as those for the Narrabri to North Star section of Inland Rail, could also contribute to the 2020 total.

While rail was the smallest infrastructure sector in 2020 by contract value, it was the largest in 2019, with $11.6bn committed to the sector. In 2018, $6.6bn of contracts were awarded to rail projects.

There is over $3bn of announced funding for rail as part of state and federal stimulus plans.

Bowen Rail Company to enter Queensland haulage market

A new rollingstock operator is in the process of establishing itself to haul coal to Abbot Point.

Bowen Rail Company has applied for accreditation as a rollingstock operator with the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR). If the application is successful, the Bowen Rail Company will legally be able to operate rollingstock.

The Bowen-based business, which according to reports is owned by mining company Adani, stated in an August press release that it will be focused on servicing the Abbot Point terminal, where Adani will export the coal mined at its Carmichael mine.

“Bowen Rail Company’s initial focus will be to provide haulage services to the existing Abbot Point export terminal using the industry’s most technologically advanced rail fleet.”

The press release states that the company has purchased locomotives and rollingstock, with the first four locomotives to arrive in 2021. Bowen Rail Company head of project delivery David Wassel said the type of locomotives purchased would enable the company to hire more broadly.

“The benefit of our fleet is that it can be operated by anyone once they have had the right training, regardless of their physical size, age or experience, which means we can open up operator-type roles to a much broader workforce and to people who haven’t necessarily worked in the rail sector,” he said.

“Our goal is to ensure approximately half of our workforce is comprised of new-to-rail industry employees.”

The establishment of the company follows Adani’s struggle to secure an above-rail haulage agreement with an established operator.

In 2019, Adani was snubbed by Genesee & Wyoming Australia, now known as One Rail Australia, and Aurizon had been under pressure from shareholders to not provide above-rail services to Adani. Aurizon said it was not aware of Adani seeking to negotiate above-rail services.

“We are not aware Adani has commenced any commercial process with regard to the tender of above-rail haulage contracts or indeed whether they intend to,” said an Aurizon spokesperson.

Adani will still have to negotiate an access agreement with Aurizon to use the Central Queensland Coal Network, which connects that Carmichael Rail Network to the Abbot Point terminal. Aurizon is legally obliged to consider and assess all access requests however a spokesperson said that all requests are confidential.

“We cannot comment on any discussions that may occur as part of any application made by Adani,” the Aurizon spokesperson said.

To meet the other requirements of operating a rail haulage company, a Bowen Rail Company spokesperson said the company would go it alone.

“Bowen Rail Company will be self-sufficient with respect to rollingstock maintenance and supporting infrastructure. All contract arrangements are commercial in confidence.”

Construction of the Carmichael Rail Network is currently underway, with piling for bridge structures about to begin.