Standalone energy recovery system installed in Hamburg

Alstom’s energy recovery system, Hesop, has begun commercial service in Hamburg, Germany.

Alstom worked with Hamburger Hochbahn AG, the operator of Hamburg’s underground system, to install the Hesop energy converters at a station on the U2 line.

The system captures 99 per cent of trains’ braking energy and then redirects that energy back into the electrical systems of the station and any excess energy goes into the wider grid. The system is designed to increase energy efficiency, and limit energy lost into heat.

“Hesop is one of our responses to operators’ need for increased energy efficiency. We are proud to have introduced the system to Germany. It is an important element of the clean, efficient public transportation of the future, offering unique economic and environmental benefits,” said Jörg Nikutta, managing director of Alstom in Germany and Austria.

Although adopted elsewhere, including on Sydney’s light rail line, the installation in Hamburg is the first time the Hesop system has been provided as a standalone product operating in full conversion mode. It is also the first time that such a system has been installed in Germany.

Manufactured at Alstom’s facilities in Belgium and designed in France, the Hesop system is a reversible power substation which can supply traction voltage to a network and recover braking energy from vehicles. 125 units have been installed around the world, reducing transit systems’ energy use, cutting costs in the number of substations needing to be installed along a route, and finding space efficiencies by reducing the amount of ventilation needed to remove excess heat from underground lines. In Milan, the system has enabled the recovery of more than 20 per cent of energy consumed, 2MWh per day. reducing carbon emissions by 171 tonnes.

Inland Rail awards $80,000 in scholarships

Four regional students have been awarded scholarships valued at up to $20,000 each as part of the Australian Rail Track Corporation’s (ARTC) Inland Rail scholarship program.

The four students from regional Queensland are the first to be awarded scholarships under ARTC’s Inland Rail Skills Academy.

The scholarships for the University of Southern Queensland will provide the four students with support from Inland Rail as they continue their studies at the university.

In announcing the scholarships, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said the Inland Rail Skills Academy was investing in Australia’s youth.

“Along with 16,000 jobs created during Inland Rail’s construction, this is a long term investment in young people and a commitment to support jobs and skill development through the delivery of Inland Rail,” McCormack said.

“Every person trained through Inland Rail will have skills and expertise to take back to their communities, wherever they are in Australia, which will help boost local economies.”

The ARTC’s scholarship program is open to undergraduate students living in areas close to the Inland Rail route, giving financial assistance of $5,000 per year to study with a total value of up to $20,000 each.

Mathias Cormann, minister for finance said that beyond the $16 billion boost from its construction, Inland Rail can add another $13 billion in value to gross regional product over its first 50 years, depending on the conditions to invest along the rail line.

“It’s good to see the Inland Rail Skills Academy doing their part to build the workforce capability that will attract and retain investment to regional Australia and boost economic output for the long-term,” he said.

“It’s fantastic that Inland Rail is providing financial support to regional students who might struggle to afford tertiary education – giving them the opportunity to graduate into fulfilling careers and give back to their communities,” Geraldine Mackenzie, University of Southern Queensland’s vice chancellor said.

Awardees of these Queensland scholarships include Sophie Boon, Samuel Butler, Rebecca Hallahan, and Braidyn Newitt.

Rebecca Pickering, ARTC’s Inland Rail director for community and environment said the academy was keen to support students by providing opportunities for them to graduate into careers, which add value to their local regions.

“These scholarships and the employment opportunities they unlock will act as a catalyst for positive change in many regional communities along the Inland Rail alignment. And we are delighted to partner with the University of Southern Queensland in support of our locals,” Pickering said.

Council defers decision on rail trail between Armidale and Glen Innes

Armidale Regional and Glen Innes Severn councils in New England, NSW, have split on the decision to support turning a rail corridor into a bike trail.

On March 26, the Glen Innes Severn Council resolved to support an Act in the NSW parliament to turn the Main North rail line from Armidale to Wallangarra on the Queensland border into a trail for bicycles.

On April 22, Armidale Regional Council deferred a decision to rescind the council’s previous support of the rail trail. 

In the resolution supported unanimously by Glen Innes Severn councillors, Armidale Regional Council, Glen Innes Severn Council and the New England Rail Trail committee will make up the governing body, and the regional councils are seeking funding streams from state and federal governments for the development.

The Glen Innes Severn council endorses further work to be done to establish the governance structure of commencing the design and project planning of the rail trail.

The Glen Innes Severn council mayoral minute stated that the governing body would commission a detailed business case, including the whole of life costs of maintaining the track and give advice to the Councils on it, as well as the potential economic value-added from the development of the rail trail.

Some community groups hope to see the rail lines maintained, and rail services return to the line north of Armidale to Wallangarra via Guyra and Glen Innes. Save the Great Northern Rail Group president Rob Lenehan said that the Armidale Regional Council should reconsider its support of the rail trail proposal.

“The previous motion of rail trail support was arguably improperly passed at Council’s meeting on 26 February 2020, without due consideration of prudent information. The Regional Development Australia Northern Inland rail trail report prepared for New England Rail Trail was not available to councillors and is still not available.”

A petition with 1,000 signatures was published in 2014.

“The rail trail proposal is controversial and largely unwanted within New England. Armidale Regional Council should completely withdraw from this unnecessary distraction. The future for the railway lies in reopening it for trains, not ripping it up for a bike track,” said Lenehan.

In February 2020 the Armidale Council had agreed to allocate funds for design and look at a management structure and now the Glenn Innes council has allocated funding to proceed the project. 

All seven Glen Innes Severn councillors agreed to allocate an amount of $25,000 in the 2020/2021 Operational Plan for the determination of the construction cost of the Ben Lomond to Glen Innes section of the proposed rail trail.

A rail trail feasibility study was endorsed by Armidale Regional Council at its October 2018 meeting and the New England Rail Trail Plan was finalised in October 2019 for the Armidale to Glenn Innes section.

While the Save the Great Northern Rail Group is not opposed to a re-opened rail corridor also incorporating a bike trail, it has argued against permanently ending the Main North line at Armidale.

“To date, Armidale Regional Council’s prosecution of the unwanted rail trail proposal has been completely out of step with the will of the community,” said Lenehan.

The rail corridor between Armidale and Glen Innes has been closed to trains for over 30 years. The Rail Trail Plan outlined the technical feasibility and costs of converting the 103km Armidale to Glen Innes section into a rail trail to boost economic activity in the region.

On April 3 the first rail trail in NSW, a 22-kilometre stretch from Tumbarumba to Rosewood, had its official virtual opening.

The entire New England Rail Trail between Armidale and Wallangarra is approximately 210km long. The Main North line starts from Sydney and extends north passing through Armidale to the Queensland border, at the town of Wallangarra.

Old railway stations on the line have been preserved and refurbished by local community groups.

NZ City Rail Link ready to re-start construction

The New Zealand government has approved Auckland’s $4.45 billion City Rail Link (CRL) to resume construction after the COVID-19 lockdown.

Sean Sweeney, CEO of New Zealand’s biggest infrastructure project said his team is champing at the bit for a rapid re-start.

“We’re already inspecting all CRL sites and making them ready for a safe return to work next week,” he said.

Work will resume on Tuesday, April 28 at all CRL sites including the C1 contract at Britomart and LowerQueen Street, C2 in Albert Street, C3 at Aotea in central Auckland, Karangahape Road and at MtEden, and C8 on the southern rail line at Ōtāhuhu.

“Because of our size we’re aware of the big role we have in quickly getting the economy moving again, supporting the contracting and infrastructure industries and seeing our workers safely back on the job,” Sweeney said.

He said the paramount priority will be keeping workers and the wider community safe.

“We had some pretty strict safety measures in place before the lockdown, but next Tuesday’s return to work will be different,” he said.

Sweeny said there will be additional constraints including restricted access to sites, physical distancing, protective clothing and sanitising and cleaning regimes.

“They will all contribute to a successful re-start in the new COVID-19 work environment, and, just as importantly, they will help ensure our workers get home to family and friends virus-free when they finish their shifts,” he said.

Sweeney said it is too early to measure if COVID-19 has impacted on project costs or construction timetables.

“It may be months before we know that once the economy has settled down a bit and we have a clearer picture on the availability of workers, and what sort of shape some of our suppliers both here and overseas are in,” he said.

“I know we have a small team of workers waiting in France because there are no flights here at the moment – that’s not a lockdown issue that‘s a wider international COVID-19 issue.

“A big plus for the project was ability of City Rail Link Ltd (CRL Ltd) and our Link Alliance contractors to be able to keep working on construction and design programmes during the lockdown – time wasn’t wasted and that’s been a big boost for our re-start.”

The project team is investigating opportunities to accelerate some work, including more shifts of work and the use of extra plant and machinery.

“Those ‘shovel ready’ ideas are still in the planning stages but our contractors will be working hard – and safely – to get CRL delivered as quickly as possible for Auckland,” Sweeney said.

Phil Goff, Auckland Mayor, has welcomed the government’s announcement to resume construction and CRL’s re-start news.

“As one of Auckland – and New Zealand’s – biggest and most important infrastructure projects, the City Rail Link will play an important role in the post-COVID-19 economic stimulus,”Goff said.

“It’s critical that CRL construction resumes quickly to help kick start the economy, get construction and infrastructure industry employees back into work and limit as much as is possible the lockdown’s impact on construction timeframes.”

In the meantime, City Rail Link is in the search for an inspiring woman’s name for the project’s Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM).

The TBM is due to arrive from China later this year in sections and reassembled at the Link Alliance construction site in Mt Eden.

The Link Alliance will start tunnelling with the newly named TBM early next year, excavating 1.6 kilometres from Mt Eden to the Aotea Station in central Auckland to connect with the tunnels already constructed from the Britomart Station.

“Tunnelling tradition dictates a TBM cannot start work until it has been given a female name, a sign of good luck and safety for the project ahead. Our search seeks to recognise the many amazing women New Zealand has produced,” Sweeney said.

Shortlisted names include Antarctic scientist Dr Margaret Hayward, transgender politician Georgina Beyer, and Maori welfare and lands champion Dame Whina Cooper.

Moving freight by rail is easing Australia’s strained supply chains

Australia’s rail network is ensuring the nation’s supply chain stays intact.

People are working around-the-clock to ensure safe passage for 1,800-metre freight trains carrying essential products for all Australians.

John Fullerton, ARTC CEO said in a recent interview that was broadcast on Sky News that transport companies are moving as much as they can to boost the flow of essential goods and services.

“Rail is no different, we move around five million tonnes across the continent from the eastern seaboard to WA and a lot of our product involves groceries and the hardware that sits on those supermarket shelves,” he said on Sky News.

Fullerton said the sector is crucial and rail freight movements on the ARTC network are up approximately 14 per cent due to the unprecedented demand for goods.

“The COVID-19 outbreak has sparked an unprecedented challenge for Australia’s freight and transport industry, with the country’s demand for critical supplies prompting a surge in rail freight,” he said.

“The rail freight sector has stepped up to ease Australia’s strained supply lines.”

The ARTC CEO leads a team of more than 1600 employees to manage and maintain 8500km of the national rail network.

ARTC employs more than 300 people at its Keswick headquarters in South Australia including network controllers who ensure coordinated passage for the country’s freight trains.

“Freight trains are playing a crucial role in Australia’s response to the coronavirus pandemic – and our frontline teams are really part of a group of workers making sure the economy and society is able to keep functioning during these difficult times,” Fullerton said.

Moving freight has been highlighted by the government as an essential service. Fullerton says the sector has never been more important “which is putting a lot of responsibility on our shoulders”.

However, in collaboration with rail freight customers, government, and industry partners, Fullerton said it’s been wonderful to see teams rise to the challenge to keep Australia’s supply chain intact and the nation’s economy moving.

“We’re really proud to be able to keep freight trains moving and do our bit for Australia, but like other essential service providers, these are testing times for everyone and there’s still a long road ahead,” Fullerton said.

The company also has teams maintaining rail assets across the nation, including in the middle of the Nullarbor, to help move vital freight to its destination.

“There’s definitely a lot of uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, but we’ll continue to work hard with our customers and partners to ensure supplies continue to ride the rails and get to where they need to be,” he said.

ARTC is continuing to implement strict hygiene protocols and preventative measures to protect the health and safety of staff and local communities in which it operates. 

Intermodal hubs and freight infrastructure among new $44m Inland Rail developments

16 local project proposals will be developed as part of the Australian Government’s $44 million Inland Rail Interface Improvement Program.

Michael McCormack, Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development has announced an EY Australia-led consortium has been commissioned to further develop Inland Rail interface improvements.

“Sixteen projects were found eligible in this first round of applications, and those groups are now working with the EY-led consortium to develop pre-feasibility studies, feasibility studies, and strategic business cases,” he said.

McCormack said an intermodal facility at Mangalore, expanded freight infrastructure in the Riverina, and rail upgrades between Kurumbul to Thallon are projects that are being supported through the Interface Improvement Program.

“Inland Rail has always been about far more than building a rail line – it’s about investing in our national freight network, enhancing supply chains, and bringing jobs and economic opportunity to regional Australia,” McCormack said.

“Large infrastructure projects deliver great stimulus to the national economy – Inland Rail, for example, will boost GDP by $16 billion and support 16,000 jobs during construction,” he said.

Mark Coulton, Minister for Regional Health, Regional Communications and Local Government said the Inland Rail Interface Improvement Program is investigating options for regions to maximise their connections to this national freight network.

Coulton said new supply chains enabled by Inland Rail stretch well beyond the tracks connecting Melbourne and Brisbane.

“We are backing local ideas because we know that the connections to Inland Rail will be critical to create economic uplift and ongoing jobs in our regions,” he said.

Proposals received through the Expression of Interest process were assessed by the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, and by its independent assurance and technical advisor.

Proposals will be developed through pre-feasibility or feasibility studies and strategic business cases, depending on the individual project proposal.

Eligibility to progress through to an appropriate assessment gateway for proposal development was assessed against the Interface Improvement Program principles and information requirements including supporting regional economic growth, capacity to increase Inland Rail throughput and supporting National Freight and Supply Chain Priorities.

Mathias Cormann, Finance Minister, said Inland Rail would change the way freight is moved around Australia, offering a fast and efficient alternative to complement long-haul road transport along Australia’s east coast.

“Now more than ever, our investment in Inland Rail is vital to build resilience in the national freight network that provides an essential service to Australians – delivering the inputs needed to drive small business and fuel our national economy,” he said.

“Our commitment through the Interface Improvement Program will further enhance community and industry connectivity to Inland Rail, and ensure our producers and manufacturers remain competitive.”

McCormack said the complementary businesses, manufacturers, and logistics hubs that establish along this freight rail line will provide sustained employment for people in regional Australia and boost gross regional product by up to $13.3bn over the long term.

The 1,700-kilometre Inland Rail line will connect Melbourne, Brisbane and regional areas through fast and reliable freight rail and will create around 16,000 jobs during the construction phase, while supporting approximately 700 jobs once it is operational.

Digital innovation with a customer focus

Rather than seeing digitialisation as an end in itself, rail projects are using signalling technology to answer pressing questions.

Driving the digital transformation of industry are four levers – digital data, connectivity, automation, and digital customer access – according to global consultancy Roland Berger.

In the rail industry, these levers are being pulled, however instead of being an end in itself, the move towards digital rail is an enabler of a host of other improvements to services.

These outcomes were on display at the Train Control and Management Systems summit, held in Sydney from February 19 to 21. While each individual project used its own combination of data, connectivity, automation, and digital customer access, the end outcome was driven by the industry need.

One of these projects is the Australian Rail Track Corporation’s (ARTC) Advanced Train Management System (ATMS). Although begun over a decade ago in 2008 with a proof of concept trial, as ARTC operation readiness manager – ATMS, Gary Evans described, the technology has been driven by its outcome and is nearing its first deployment in 2020.

“ATMS will bring improvements in our network rail capacity, operational flexibility, train service availability, transit times, and rail safety, and it will replace trackside signalling by providing precise locations of trains.”

While adopting virtual block authority management similar to other advanced train control systems, ATMS retains the trackside infrastructure.

“Trackside infrastructure is something ARTC does very well and the project monitors the environment, the occupancy of the points, so our system has track circuits over the switches,” said Evans.

Across the ARTC network of 8,500km of track, interlocking between sections of signalling and track will be centralised.

“It’s a high-fidelity track database, it’s rated to Safety Integrity Level (SIL) 3 and it enables virtual block authority management. The blocks within which the trains operate are usually a physical block and they are separated by signals, what we do with this system is that we can break it down into virtual, electronic blocks and currently, for the proof of concept we ran about 200m electronic blocks, the ones that we are using at the moment are 500m in length,” said Evans.

The new virtual block system will allow a granularity of control not previously possible.

“In terms of train operation, a train will go through a physical block today every 20 minutes. A train that will go through this same infrastructure will probably consume in the order of eight of these electronic blocks but as it is moving through it will report back at 15 second intervals,” said Evans.

“ATMS is rated for four minute headways for 1,800m trains travelling at 115 km/h.”

While the technology in itself is a step forward for the control and management of train systems, the implementation of the ATMS and the use of the four levels of digital transformation is ultimately about delivering a service for the customer, in this case, freight operators across Australia. This has led to ATMS’s unique features. Having to serve a number of freight operators at various points throughout the freight network that stretches from Kalgoorlie to Newcastle, has led to interoperability being a key facet of ATMS. Retaining trackside infrastructure allows for unequipped train traffic to use the system, and the trainborne interface was developed in consultation with operators.

“We did a lot of work with the operators on the driver interface unit. The first one that was put in front of them was a European-style one, which was a dial type set up and we almost had a walkout of the operators because it didn’t give them a lot of information and it required them to be fixated with that dashboard whereas they wanted something that didn’t require that. We worked together collaborative to come up with the current system.”

The resulting interface gives drivers a 10km look ahead, and relays information on train speed and speed limits in real time. Using location determination systems onboard the train, the system can alert a driver, operator, and controller if the train is exceeding limits.

Evans summarised the benefits of the ATMS system.

“Improved safety authority and speed level enforcement, improved trackside safety for trackside workers, increased rail capacity, improved service reliability, improving the structure of maintenance costs, more flexibility in the network, and safer management of trains.”

While Australia’s rail industry has been plagued by different technologies and standards in each state, the ARTC regards ATMS as a technology to synchronise rail control and management, for the benefit of the end user.

“ARTC’s customers traverse three states so it’s very important for us to take the lead and ATMS provides us a once in a lifetime opportunity to actually have a harmonised rule set,” said Evans.

Having this in place will allow for further innovations driven by the digitalisation of rail control.

“Future enhancements that we will work through is a path to semi automation or automation of operational systems, and integration with fuel and energy management systems.”

Having data on how a train is travelling will allow operators to more efficiently plan routes while identifying driving behaviours that increase fuel costs.

For example, rather than running at full speed through a section of track before coming to a complete stop at a signal, freight drivers can be told the optimum speed to travel to reach that signal as it turns green. Looking further afield, ATMS could lead to driver-only operation. In these cases, digital rail is not so much about the technology itself, but the enhancements that can come from its implementation.

“ARTC wants to be an enabler for its customers and not a disabler,” said Evans.

DIGITALISATION AS A SOLUTION TO DEMOGRAPHIC, ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES
As Australian rail infrastructure managers and operators adopt their local digital systems, international examples provide guidance on the motivations and outcomes of digitalisation programs. Perhaps none are more comprehensive than the digital rail system being rolled out across all of Germany’s 33,000km of rail. Beginning with the trans-European corridor, the Stuttgart S-Bahn and specified high speed lines, Joern Schlichting, head of the ETCS program at Deutsche Bahn (DB), outlined the significance of the project.

“In terms of automatic train operation (ATO) and ETCS, this is the future. That means fundamentally, a new rail system.”

According to Schlichting, Germany’s existing rail control system was performing sufficiently, and not reaching obsolescence. This made the attractiveness of the business case for adopting ETCS, however penalties within the agreement with other EU member states overcame that.

“The projected penalties would have been at least €1 billion if we didn’t equip these corridors. So, the German government said if we have to spend €1bn on penalties or equipment, let’s spend it on equipment.”

This presented an opportunity for DB and its rail infrastructure arm, DB Netz to rethink how the adoption of ETCS could be a further enabler for other issues the rail network was facing.

“Why not stop to think about how could we make the best out of it?”

This approach enabled DB to utilise the digital rail technology to confront two critical issues facing the sector – a demographic exodus and a modal shift from road to rail to reduce carbon emissions.

“What we found that is as long as we talked about ETCS as a technology issue in terms of replacing one thing by another thing there was no business case. As soon as we started to think about what the real business drivers are – what are our threats – then we found out our demographic issue is one of the worst,” said Schlichting.

In 2011, DB estimated that in the next 10-15 years, 50 per cent of mission-critical staff will retire. Replacing this staff cohort with a younger generation would require a rethink of the type of work train operators would be doing, particularly in regards to legacy systems such as interlockings.

“With these old interlockings, we have one maintenance area where we have 18 generations of interlockings, so you can imagine it’s a nightmare for people working there to be able to maintain them.”

Moving to digital systems would overcome this legacy issue and enable a younger, digital-native generation to easily fit into the systems and ways of working.

“Actually ETCS is more of an enabler. ETCS is a tool in order to bring about a completely new redesign of the rail system,” said Schlichting.

The other element that digitalisation could go towards is the relative carbon footprint of transport in Germany. Although Germany has committed to a 95 per cent carbon reduction by 2050, transport has been a sector that has been stubborn in reducing its emissions, falling by only 0.6 per cent between 1990 and 2018, compared to energy which dropped by 33 per cent. The magnitude of the task is not lost on Schlichting.

“We have to move transport from road to rail, so that means we need to create the capacity, but in the past our network has been shrinking.”

Driven by cost cutting directives, DB has reduced its workforce from 120,000 to 40,000 in the past 15 years and has also torn up tracks and points. However, now the system is required to double passenger traffic by 2030, and cargo traffic by 30 per cent. Digitalisation and the improvement of signalling thus becomes a way to increase the shrinking system’s capacity.

“How can we do this with an existing network that has been shrinking in the past and without having any money at the time for loads of new lines?” asked Schlichting.“Digitising it is the chance to create more traffic.”

At the core of this digitalisation push is the adoption of ETCS technology, common across Europe, which with a focus on outcomes, Schlichting describes as a “language”. Once the system and vehicles are talking to each other in this language, then further technology improvements can be introduced when the users demand it, just like new vocabulary.

An artist’s impression of Sydney Trains’ Rail Operations Centre.

DESIGNING A CUSTOMER FOCUS INTO RAIL OPERATIONS
In some ways, Sydney Trains is experiencing a similar issue to DB, albeit on a smaller scale, as population pressures and urban development cause more Sydneysiders to use the network. As the acting executive director, Digital Systems Business Integration (DSBI) at Sydney Trains, Andrew Constantinou sees these impacts in the operations of the network.

“Increased patronage effectively translates into our ability to create more services and our ability to create reliable services and that’s where the ROC plays into.”

The Rail Operations Centre (ROC) is a new, purpose-built building in Alexandria, Sydney which has brought together the rail management centre, the infrastructure control centre, security monitoring facility and two signal boxes, covering most of the geography of Sydney Rail. A customer and operator demand for precise, accurate information has led to the streamlining of operations into one centre and finding a way to simplify communications.

“Part of the scope is to develop a new concept of operations,” said Constantinou. “We have introduced a new incident management system that took away a lot of those phone calls, and developed a dashboard so that all areas in the ROC can understand what is the mission for that particular incident and who is dealing with what priorities.”

In this case, the digital systems that were built into the ROC had to be designed with the end user in mind, the rail operator, and to minimise disruptions on the network.

“It really starts with bringing all your people together. We started with seven design principles and I focus on the top two – collaboration and communication – because if you can build a high-performing control room floor that fosters good communication and good collaboration, you start ticking the other boxes which are underneath it,” said Constantinou.

While individual controllers’ roles were driven by the train systems they were operating, the human demands of communication were paramount.

“We looked at what communication happened. So what communication happened face to face, on the control room floor, over the telephone, and through various subsystems?

“We did that two-fold. We did that in normal mode and we did that in degraded mode. That gave us an idea around who spoke to whom and when did they speak to whom,” said Constantinou.

Ahead of designing the space, Constantinou’s team conducted a role matrix to see where the patterns in operations were, particularly in degraded mode.

With the Sydney Trains network compressing from 15 lines across the suburban network into six in the CBD, getting those critical staff together would be key for functional communication.

“We were able to say 50 roles in network operations were similar and should be sitting next to each other,” said Constantinou. “We quickly worked out which ones were the more critical to operations, which of those roles needed more supervision, which should be configured in a way that they have more supervision around them, and that led to a functional link analysis to understand if there were any functional commonality in the roles.”

With these findings, operations staff were then given a VR headset so that they could inspect the draft design and see how it fitted with their behaviour.

“We set up outside every control centre with a basic fit out where people would come in and put on the masks. They would walk around the desks and the control room floor and we would take every comment down to see how we could respond to it,” said Constantinou.

Following this was trial runs in defined scenarios, such as a tree falling over a rail corridor and a train colliding with the tree.

“You can see the phone calls that go in from the driver to the area controller and the different colours are typically people who would’ve been located in different control centres,” said Constantinou.

“They would’ve, through situational awareness, overheard the conversation because they’re sitting at the right proximity, or they would’ve been able to swing around and talk to these people.

“If you start doing the maths, it’s all the way from a two minute to a 10-minute saving threading through that scenario, so it’s good to know we can save time,” said Constantinou.

At the newly designed ROC, which opened in mid 2019, data, connectivity, and customer access came together, however with the outcome determined by the end user, not the technology itself.

Rail construction works continue to schedule

The building and renewal of rail lines around Victoria is following its planned construction schedule, despite a pause on noise restrictions.

The Victorian government announced on Monday, April 6 that new planning rules will exempt essential businesses from existing noise restrictions.

The exemption allows 24-hour dispatch and delivery during the current State of Emergency and for three months after too. New South Wales and Western Australia have also lifted noise restrictions for construction and logistics operations.

Corey Hannett, director-general of the Victorian Major Transport Infrastructure Authority (MTIA) said the Melbourne Metro Tunnel and Level Crossing Removal works have processes in place to manage construction noise and minimise the inconvenience and impacts of construction on local communities.

“MTIA projects are currently considered essential and we are working with our building partners to deliver our critical infrastructure projects while implementing strict safety measures to protect our workforce and the community,” he said.

For all Victorian project works, the majority of the construction happens during the day, however some 24-hour works will be required. 

“We understand construction can be disruptive and noisy, especially during major works or at night – that’s why we work with residents to find the best solutions and minimise any impacts,” Hannett said.

Richard Wynne, Victorian Minister for Planning approved the new planning rules and said the measures are to support essential business outside normal business hours.

An Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) spokesperson said the North East Rail Line upgrade currently complies with all existing EPA noise regulations and will continue to comply.

“Our projects will not have a need to utilise this new exemption,” the ARTC spokesperson said.

“If we are required to undertake night works, we provide notification to impacted properties, which is our regulatory requirement.”

John Fullerton, ARTC CEO said in a recent interview that was broadcasted on Sky News that transport companies are moving as much as they can to boost the flow of essential goods and services.

“Rail is no different, we move around five million tonnes across the continent from the eastern seaboard to WA and a lot of our product involves groceries and the hardware that sits on those supermarket shelves,” he said on Sky News.

Fullerton said rail volumes are up approximately 13 per cent due to the unprecedented demand for goods.

“There is never a better time to invest in infrastructure,” Fullerton said.

“One thing coming from this pandemic is looking at major projects to offer economic stimulus.

“It’s a huge opportunity to improve the transport lengths particularly on the Eastern seaboard.”

Qube remains in a strong financial position

Despite the continued uncertainty and impact of Covid-19, Qube is in a strong financial position.

Maurice James, Qube’s managing director said in a business update on Monday April 6 that Qube is well positioned to work with all its key stakeholders to address the current challenging environment.

“Qube is in a strong financial position with significant liquidity (cash and available undrawn facilities) of over $450 million after the payment of the interim dividend which will occur on the 7th April 2020. Qube has no near term debt maturities and material headroom to its covenants,” James said.

“Qube is pursuing several initiatives to further increase its liquidity.”

The board of directors of Qube Holdings Limited said in the business update that it is not presently able to forecast underlying earnings for FY20 and is withdrawing previous guidance.

“Qube continues to benefit from its diversified operations and variability in its cost base which has enabled it to continue to generate positive earnings and cash flow despite declining volumes in parts of its business,” the board of directors said.

The board of directors gave an update on the potential major tenant for Moorebank Precinct West, stating that formal agreements have now been finalised and an agreement has been made.

“The agreement is currently expected to be considered by the counterparty’s Board for approval in late April/early May although the current environment may delay this,” they said.

“Qube is continuing to progress the partnering / monetisation process focussed on Moorebank and certain other property assets.

“Qube has received significant interest from a high quality group of prospective partners who are keen to participate in the next stage of the process.”

Qube is continuing to operate as an essential service for transporting goods, however the company expects a decrease in volumes in several of its markets due to the impact of tighter restrictions, demand, and operations.

The board of directors said the effect from the pandemic to March 31 this year has impacted Qube productivity, but noted that bulk activities continue to experience normal volumes with minimal disruptions or slowdowns.

Container volumes across Qube’s operations have been weaker reflecting the general slowdown in economic activity in domestic and international markets, as well as other products including vehicles, bulk and general cargo.

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.