Optimism in infrastructure sector on post-COVID future

There is broad optimism in the infrastructure sector that the pipeline of work will continue and the shocks felt during COVID will not be long lasting.

Speakers at the National Infrastructure Summit highlighted that while there were some short term impacts during the height of COVID-19, the sector has largely been able to continue and is looking towards future projects.

CEO of Infrastructure Australia, Romilly Madew, summarised that the sector’s response to COVID-19 by setting up COVIDsafe worksites, cutting off access to overseas and interstate staff, and some supply chain issues meant a drop of 50 per cent in productivity during the peak COVID-19.

However, unprecedented collaboration between senior officials in the public and private sector meant that sites remained open in Australia, unlike in other jurisdictions, which ensured optimism and that there was flexibility around meeting contractual obligations that prevented projects from grinding to a halt.

This focus on ensuring business continuity and optimism was echoed by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who said that during the pandemic the state government’s focus was ensuring works could continue.

“Not only are we a COVID safe environment to operate but one of the few places where business continuity is assured,” Berejiklian said. “I think we can feel optimistic about the future of the infrastructure pipeline in NSW.”

What shape the infrastructure pipeline will be was a point of discussion, particularly following the federal budget. Federal Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure Alan Tudge said the government’s focus was on projects that could begin in the next 12-18 months, and that was why there were no new mega projects in this year’s budget.

Despite this, Marion Terrill, transport and cities program director at the Grattan Institute, noted that the size of the infrastructure pipeline is still growing, with the amount of work underway in the public sector having doubled over the past five years, and the average size of projects is twice the value of projects over the previous five years.

The shift to smaller projects and upgrading existing assets such as roads and rail lines also reflected an uncertainty about what travel patterns will look like once Australia emerges from COVID-19, said CEO of Infrastructure Victoria, Michel Masson. Masson said the large transport projects which were popular up to COVID-19 may not be the right projects if demand changes.

Amid these larger trends, infrastructure builders and operators were dealing with their own challenges. CEO of Pacific National Dean Dalla Valle noted that state government regulatory changes to allow high performance vehicles through city centres to access ports was undermining the goals of these governments to shift more freight onto rail. Resetting the imbalance in fees and charges between road and rail freight would ensure that infrastructure assets are more efficiently used, with benefits for the wider community.

Exceeding the standard in hi-rail vehicles

Aries Rail have made a name for themselves by providing the Australian market with unique solutions, backed up by engineering expertise.

The professionalisation of railway engineering has come a long way in the past two decades. What was once a disparate and unregulated area with apocryphal stories of bush- mechanics has become a national field with clear standards and precise guidelines. Ewan McAllister, managing director of Aries Rail, has seen the sector move forward in leaps and bounds.

“When we first started out in this industry, there was basically no rules or regulations for hi-rail vehicles. You could just come up with a concept in your head and go and make it and put it on track,” he said.

This first began to change when contractors and customers began requiring sign off from certified engineering.

“There began to be requests for engineering,” said Ewan. “That would just involve a consulting engineer giving you a one-page report saying that he looked at something and liked it and that it was ok to go to work.”

Seeing where the industry was headed, and looking to lead when it came to higher standards for hi-rail vehicles, Aries Rail were one of the first companies to employ a mechanical engineer.

“Not long after that, we employed our second mechanical engineer and we haven’t looked back since, in terms of what we do. Once we started engineering things properly, it significantly improved the quality of work.”

The formalisation of these trends occurred in 2016, with the release of AS 7502, the Australian Standard for Road Rail Vehicles. Ewan was part of the team that developed the standard over three years, which has since been adopted by rail infrastructure managers (RIMs) around the country.

Today, on top of the requirements of AS 7502, RIMs are adding their own, stringent requirements, something that Aries Rail are only too happy to meet, due to their in-house engineering expertise, said Nathan Bender, director at Aries Rail.

“Every project we work on goes through a controlled engineering design process before releasing into manufacture and then again through various ITP, certification, compliance, and accreditation processes.”

One area that Aries Rail have specialised is in the conversion of heavy trucks for working on rail.

“Large trucks have been a specialty of ours,” said Nathan. “8x4s are large trucks with heavy payloads. As with everything in the design of railways, everything has become bigger and heavier, so the trucks have moved to reflect that.”

To ensure that these larger vehicles were fit for purpose when working in a rail environment, Aries Rail have designed and manufactured their own coil springs to match the spring rate of the parent vehicle, which enable the vehicles to reach a higher load share percentage without overloading.

Another specialty has been the development of air-bagged hi-rail suspensions which is the only safe way to convert an air-bagged truck, something not widely understood in the industry.

Ewan explained that the benefit of designing and manufacturing these kinds of specialist equipment in house means that Aries Rail vehicles can provide a superior and more efficient service.

“Without doing that,” added Nathan, “large trucks on rail payload was severely restricted.”

Meeting this requirement has enabled Aries Rail to supply vehicles that can carry greater loads, maximising their productivity and making large trucks a viable plant and equipment tool.

In addition to the larger vehicles, Aries Rail is also a supplier of light hi-rail vehicles, such as its system for Toyota LandCruisers, has been independently certified for use with driver and passenger airbags.

In-house engineering expertise is utilised on every Aries Rail system.

CERTIFICATION AND SERVICING EXPERTS
In addition to their base in Perth, Aries Rail recently expanded its footprint to Melbourne, to be able to provide 24-hour response to the east coast market.

“We made a strategic decision to base ourselves in Melbourne and move up from there,” said Nathan.

“It gives us that direct after sales support and the comfort that brings for customers making the choice to choose Aries as their fleet provider. Even if it’s Sydney, we can be there with the service truck and a set of tools within 24 hours if need be.”

Having first-hand knowledge of their own equipment allows Aries Rail to know exactly the issues facing any piece of kit.

“Particularly for our own equipment, we’re the designer, the engineer, and the certifier, so we do understand it better than somebody else who may not know the intricacies,” said Nathan.

In addition, with their experience in the design and certification process, Aries Rail can provide ongoing certification services for equipment to be used on every network.

“With our strong engineering background, we’re able to offer that certification process for every network. Then with our eastern states presence and a mobile service truck and a workshop we’re able to offer a recertification and a structured planned service program,” said Nathan.

In addition to engineering, Aries have invested in technical and trade knowledge. “We have our own team of mechanical engineers, we recently employed our own compliance engineer, we have a full time PLC programmer, and we have a full-time welding supervisor so that we comply with AS1554 Structural steel welding, which is required under AS7502,” said Ewan.

“All of our weld designs are tested and our staff are coded against them, to certify we fully conform to industry standards.”

Looking to where the industry is moving in the future, Aries Rail have partnered with Holland Co, the largest mobile flash-butt welding service provider in the world to bring the same dedicated, specialist flash-butt welding service model to Australia. Providing these unique solutions is how Aries will continue to service the Australasian rail industry, said Ewan.

“We’ll continue to evolve and deliver the solutions that the market looks for. It’s hard to see what 15 years ahead will be, but we’ve looked to add complimentary products from around the world to what we can offer the Australian market.”

The company has specialised in the conversion of large vehicles.
infrastructure

Two level crossing removals fast tracked for Melbourne’s south-east

Construction will begin next year on two level crossing removals in Glen Huntly.

The level crossings at Neerim and Glen Huntly roads will be gone by 2023 and the project completed by 2024, a year ahead of schedule.

The crossings will be replaced by lowering the Frankston Line into a trench, and constructing new road bridges for both crossings.

Removing these level crossings will only benefit the 20,000 vehicles that travel through the two level crossings a day, but also improve journeys for tram passengers on route 67, which crosses the rail line at Glen Huntly Road. The crossing at Glen Huntly Road is one of Melbourne’s last tram squares, a manually operated crossing used by trains and trams, which slows trains down significantly.

200 trains pass through the crossings each day, causing the boom gates to be down for half the morning peak.

In addition to the level crossing removals, the new Glen Huntly station will be part of a new precinct, increasing connectivity and improving community safety, said Victorian Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan.

“Our level crossing removal project isn’t just getting rid of those dangerous and congested boom gates – we’re delivering new train stations, more open space and new pedestrian and cycling infrastructure.”

The two crossings in Glen Huntly are the last to go on the Frankston Line, and when complete, the 18 crossings between Flinders Street and Moorabbin will be gone.

A number of new stations have had their designs revealed, with Bell and Preston stations being upgraded with colourful designs that reference the local communities.

For North Williamstown station, a priority was maintaining the village feel of the local area. Improvements to lighting, landscaping and crossings, will improve local connectivity and safety.

The new Glenroy Station, which is part of the level crossing removal at Glenroy Road, two sides of the rail line will be reconnected for the first time in 100 years.

“We’ve removed half of the 75 level crossings we promised, well ahead of schedule – and with works continuing in line with strict safety protocol during the pandemic, we’re not wasting a minute getting the rest gone for good,” said Allan.

Virtual site tour part of RISSB’s Rail Safety Conference

Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board (RISSB) has confirmed that delegates to October’s Rail Safety Conference will get a unique view into progress being made on the new metro platforms underneath Sydney’s Central Station.

Delegates will be able to see the work currently underway for Sydney Metro at the station and for the new underground pedestrian concourse, Central Walk.

With the station’s new landmark roof taking shape, the virtual site tour will also provide a vision of what the redesigned Central Station will look like when Central Walk opens in 2022 and when metro services commence in 2024.

Delegates will join principal contractor Laing O’Rourke as they dive into the construction site, showing progress for Central Walk, then the tour will go deeper into the new metro station box, currently at 18 metres underground and on the way to the depth of 30 metres.

While construction has benefited from lower commuter numbers passing through Central Station during the COVID-19 pandemic, innovative construction measures and techniques have been used to reduce the impact of major construction occurring at the busiest station in Australia.

During the tour, techniques to ensure safety on a complex project such as this will be shared with the audience. Laing O’Rourke will also be showcasing its use of artificial intelligence computer vision safety system during day one of the conference program.

The virtual site tour is one of a number of online interactive experiences that will be part of the two-day event. Nine streams covering issues most important to the rail industry, including track worker safety, level crossings, investigations, and data and information, will be a highlight of the two-day program. Six keynote presentations from local and international rail safety leaders will set the tone for the days’ discussions.

To find out more and book tickets, follow the link: https://www.informa.com.au/event/conference/rissb-rail-safety-conference/

National risk-based approach to fatigue management needed: Productivity Commission

The Productivity Commission has called for the final inconsistencies in the national approach to rail regulation to be removed to improve competitiveness in the sector and increase safety.

The recommendations come from the Commission’s National Transport Regulatory reform inquiry, which examined the efforts since the 2009 COAG reforms to bring together state-based regulation of the transport sector in a national approach.

These reforms led to the creation of the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) and the Rail Safety National Law, however the Productivity Commission found that state-based differences were still hampering the sector.

One area where there needed to be further national harmonisation is in the area of fatigue management in rail regulation, as state-based differences continue to exist. The Productivity Commission recommended that ONRSR should be empowered to lead a risk-based approach to fatigue management, rather than prescriptive requirements.

Australasian Railway Association (ARA) CEO Caroline Wilkie welcomed the Productivity Commission’s findings, noting it was up to the states to now ensure that productivity gains could be implemented.

“The Productivity Commission’s recommendation for a nationally-consistent risk-based approach to fatigue management is good news for the rail industry, but support from the New South Wales and Queensland governments will be critical if we are to actually achieve change.”

Overall, the Productivity Commission found that the reforms implemented since 2009 have improved safety in the rail industry and that rail has progressed further than other transport sectors that were part of the reforms, namely the road transport and domestic maritime sectors.

Sue McCarrey, ONRSR chief executive and national rail safety regulator, highlighted that significant progress has been made.

“Measures taken over the past eight years have underpinned a reduction in the regulatory burden on operators that has in turn allowed for a greater safety focus within industry. In fact, while only one of many measures of safety on the rail network, it is worth noting that rail-related fatalities reached a five-year low during 2019-2020.”

Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said the government welcomed the report.

“We will carefully consider all of the recommendations within the report and undertake vital consultation with regulators, jurisdictions and industry stakeholders to prepare a response.”

Australian Logistics Council (ALC) CEO Kirk Coningham welcomed the report and pushed for a further national approach to the harmonisation of regulation.

“ALC has always believed in one rule book for one country allowing road and rail operators to develop consistent national safety systems. This will improve efficiency and consistently and so lead to enhanced safety outcomes.” he said.

In addition to regulatory reforms, the Productivity Commission highlighted processes and practices that could improve the transport sectors. For rail, the various technical standards, operating codes, and procedures set by network owners is identified as a barrier to the industry.

Improved data on compliance costs could balance the requirements for cost recovery in regulation with where regulation is most onerous. McCarrey said that ONRSR is working on a cost recovery model with industry.

“ONRSR is currently using the closing months of 2020 to consult with industry and governments on a model based on operators’ risk profile and the regulatory effort required by ONRSR. The focus here is not on generating more money from fees but rather on ensuring the cost of regulation is recovered from those areas of industry where the most effort is expended.”

Next generation height and slew limiters ensure safety in the rail corridor

The new Sentinel Safety product range from PRM Engineering Services includes the latest generation Height and Slew Limiters to allow safe operation around powerlines and within confined spaces. Already in use by rail operators around Australia, the Sentinel Height & Slew range of products can be configured for height only, slew only or height and slew operation to suit your machine or site requirements.

The Sentinel Height and Slew limiters are perfect for the safe operation of excavators, loaders, skid steers and backhoes when working under overhead powerlines, in and around bridges and inside tunnels and can be installed on new and old machines alike. The Sentinel Height and Slew limiters have also been designed with rail operators in mind, with rail specific systems that meet the machine safety requirements of multiple rail authorities.

The Sentinel Height and Slew limiters have been used by rail authorities Australia wide for a several years and can be retrofitted to any machine with articulated booms.  Based on these years of experience PRM Engineering Services has developed several features such as predictive height stopping to prevent overshoot, fail to safe motion stop valving, blade and offset boom stops to ensure the operator cannot inadvertently go over height or slew limits and optional password protected menus for supervisor restricted control of limiter related settings.

PRM has also recently released two new optional features; HV Powerline Detection and Automatic Attachment Recognition. By combining the functionality of our widely used Sentinel Height and Slew limiters with a patented Sentinel HV Aerial Module, the system can ensure safe operation around powerlines from the moment the machine is turned on. The system prevents the machine moving within the exclusion zone around powerlines and motion-cut valving prevents the machine from moving closer while allowing the operator to direct the machine away from the electricity source.

Automatic attachment recognition allows the system to recognise up to seven attachments and automatically adjust height settings for the system without operator input. Automatic attachment recognition reduces the risk of incorrect attachment selection and can be used with or without supervisor approval as required.

Brisbane-based PRM Engineering Services are passionate about safety and have a long-standing heritage of safety system design and installation since 2002. With experience in the rail and earthmoving industries, PRM Engineering Services have become integrators and developers of a number of unique safety and control systems that meet customer requirements. These projects have ranged in scope from customisations of height or slew systems through to full redesign of control systems for on-track rail vehicles. Ongoing local support has been provided by the PRM Engineering team during the testing, installation, and operational phases of the technology.

Along with our team of talented engineers, the PRM Group of companies can also assist with the installation or modification of electrical, hydraulic, and control systems for heavy machinery, enabling PRM Engineering Services to offer end-to end innovative and customised solutions to our wide range of customers.

To find out more follow this link: https://prmengineering.com.au/.

Need for proper processes highlighted in latest ATSB investigations

The need for proper processes to be established and followed to ensure rail safety has been highlighted in two recently completed rail safety investigations by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB).

In an investigation into how a passenger train passed through a level crossing in North Geelong in January 2019 without activating flashing lights and boom gates at the level crossing, the ATSB found a lack of supporting instructions contributed to the error.

“The contractor undertaking the work did not provide signalling testers with specific instructions detailing the scope of work to be conducted at each stage of a project, but rather, only provided packaged isolation plans for the entire project,” said ATSB director transport safety Kerri Hughes.

Work to upgrade signalling required the level crossing for the broad and dual gauge tracks, managed by V/Line, at Thompson Road, North Geelong to be isolated. The adjacent standard gauge tracks, managed by the ARTC, were to be operating as normal.

The contractor, UGL Engineering, which was undertaking the work on behalf of VicTrack, had incorrectly isolated the level crossing for all of the lines. Fortunately, no vehicles were on the crossing at the time.

“Work instructions are step-by-step guides on how to perform a specific task or activity, in support of a process or procedure. They are important defences within a safety system for ensuring work is performed safely and as intended,” said Hughes.

VicTrack has updated their processes to include specific work instructions for each task associated with level crossing isolation plans.

In a separate incident in November 2019, thirty freight train wagons rolled unattended for 1,425 metres along a siding in Bordertown, South Australia. In its investigation, the ATSB found that a misunderstanding led to the wagons being uncoupled before a full application of the train’s air brakes.

ATSB director transport safety Stuart Godley said the incident highlighted the need to follow procedural steps and processes.

“The non-application of handbrakes increased the train’s reliance on the full application of wagon air brakes to prevent a runaway,” he said.

“However, a slight out of sequence implementation of the air brake process resulted in only partial application of the wagon air brakes and the subsequent runaway of unattended wagons.

“It is essential that all procedural steps are undertaken when uncoupling wagons for run-around movements.”

Rail operator, Bowmans Rail issued a safety alert in response, and the rail track manager, the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) has also since installed an arrestor bed at the Bordertown dead end.

ATSB Commissioner

New commissioner appointed to ATSB board

Catherine Scott has been appointed as a new commissioner on the governing board of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB).

Scott replaces Carolyn Walsh, who was the ATSB’s longest serving commissioner having begun her role in 2010.

Scott is also a board member of the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator and the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator and was previously on the board of V/Line.

In addition to her role on various boards, Scott has a background in investment banking and finance.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack, who appointed Scott, said that Scott would bring significant experience to the role.

“Scott has 14 years rail experience, serving eight years as member of the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator, six years as Non-executive Director at V/Line and is currently a board member of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator,” he said.

“I look forward to continuing to work closely with Ms Scott and the ATSB Commission to ensure Australia’s transport sector remains among the safest in the world.”

ATSB chief commissioner Greg Hood said Scott would be welcomed to the safety investigator.

“I have no doubt Ms Scott will make a significant contribution to the ATSB’s work of improving transport safety in Australia,” Hood said.

“I look forward to working with Scott as we position the ATSB to support and advance the national transport safety agenda.”

Both McCormack and Hood thanked Walsh for her work on the board and contribution to transport safety.

“During Walsh’s time as Commissioner, more than 160 rail safety investigation and reports have been finalised, each of which has contributed to enhancing Australia’s rail safety,” said McCormack.

“I wish Walsh all the best with her future endeavours and thank her for her exemplary contribution to Australia’s transport safety.”