Aurizon

Aurizon posts increase in profit, earnings with limited COVID impact

Aurizon has increased its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) by 10 per cent on the previous year’s results and a 12 per cent increase in profit.

This improvement was largely driven by increased earnings from Aurizon’s managing of the Central Queensland Coal Network (CQCN) and strong performance of the company’s bulk business.

These results include the impact of COVID-19 on the business, which managing director and CEO Andrew Harding said had limited impact.

“Despite the emergence of COVID-19 in the second half of FY2020, the Company has delivered a solid operational and financial performance with no material impact as a result of the pandemic,” said Harding.

With much of Aurizon’s business involving the haulage of metallurgical coal, consistent steel production in China and a rebound of steel production in India in May and June helped the freight operator through the COVID-19 period. In addition, a drop in US metallurgical coal exports contributed.

In Aurizon’s coal business, it added new customers including Peabody and Bluescope and added volume in the contract with Coronado.

On the bulk side of the business, Aurizon added contracts with BGC for cement products from Kalgoorlie. Aurizon extended its contracts with South32 Cannington and Incitec Pivot, both on the Mt Isa corridor. Aurizon began the operation and maintenance of a ballast cleaning machine for Rio Tinto in the Pilbara and there was an increase in demand from Mineral Resources. These led to a 21 per cent increase in revenue from bulk operations.

In Aurizon’s management of the CQCN there was a shortfall of volume. Volumes are expected to be lower in the next year due to COVID-19.

Aurizon also reported on its safety record over the 2019-2020 financial year. While there was a 10 per cent improvement in the total recordable injury frequency rate, there was an 8 per cent deterioration in rail process safety performance.

Inaugural ambassador leads Rail Safety Week activities

Rail Safety Week will this year involve the work of a National Rail Safety Ambassador.

In a first for the yearly awareness-raising week which in 2020 runs from August 10 to 16, Paralympian Vanessa Low will be the face of rail safety around Australia.

In her role as the National Rail Safety Ambassador Low, who was injured in a rail incident, will lead rail safety programs and is highlighting the rail safety pledge that TrackSAFE is encouraging rail staff and organisations as well as members of the general public to take. In 2019, Low was the ACT Rail Safety Week ambassador.

Heather Neil, executive director of TrackSAFE said that being rail safe is not only individually significant.

“Being rail SAFE means Staying off the tracks, Avoiding distractions, Following safety instructions and Encouraging others to be SAFE,” Neil said.

“If each one of us is RailSAFE we will also ensure train drivers and rail staff don’t have to face traumatic events involving fatalities, injuries and near misses.”

Now in its 15th year, Rail Safety Week is being marked by events around Australia and in New Zealand. Caroline Wilkie, CEO of the ARA, said that there was an added dimension this year.

“Rail safety is no longer just about staying off the tracks and keeping free of distractions – it is also about wearing masks in states where it is recommended and supporting the rail workers that support us by keeping COVIDsafe,” she said.

Sue McCarrey, ONRSR chief executive and national rail safety regulator, said that as routines may have changed, which necessitated a greater focus on being railSAFE.

“Rail Safety Week falls at a really important time, we have some people returning to work or starting to travel a bit more, and others who will be getting out of routine as their time in lockdown continues. What we are hoping to do is to just remind people of their safety responsibilities,” she said.

“If you work in the rail industry, are interacting with a rail network when traveling or just using a crossing when you are out and about exercising remember the processes, procedures or those daily habits that have kept you safe.”

NZ Transport Minister Phil Twyford said that his government has been installing additional safety infrastructure.

“Since the start of 2018, in Auckland 23 high-risk pedestrian crossings have had barrier gates installed, with 15 more planned. Wellington is seeing upgrades to 12 pedestrian crossings, with improvements planned for at least 27 road crossings in the Wairarapa,” said Twyford.

“On top of that, KiwiRail and Waka Kotahi have also completed upgrades to 17 level crossings around the country, with another 20 to be completed before the middle of next year. They are also looking ahead to what could be in the next phase of upgrades.”

ACT Minister for Transport Chris Steel said that individuals needed to be alert when around the rail corridor.

“Remember, stay behind the yellow line at our light rail stops, wait for the green light and look both ways before you cross tracks or the road, and limit your distractions from devices such as mobile phones when near the light rail tracks.”

NSW Minister for Transport Andrew Constance said that trespassing was a particular issue.

“It’s really concerning to see people getting hurt and risking their lives to chase social media likes. We’ve seen 2,689 incidents of trespassing in the last 12 months, many of them reckless acts for selfie stunts.”

As part of Rail Safety Week activities, Wilkie will be leading a discussion with safety leaders from organisations including Sydney Trains and the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) on Wednesday, August 12.

Low said that she hoped working as an ambassador throughout this week would lead into ongoing programs.

“While Rail Safety Week is celebrated in August each year, rail safety is a year-round, unquestioned commitment.”

Rail Safety Week

A national face for rail safety

Introducing a new mode of transport to the city takes time, planning, and requires a skilled delivery team. But even with all these in place, how the general public will react and learn to live with the transport mode remains an unknown until the day of opening.

This was the case in Canberra, as the city prepared for the introduction of the new light rail line. While the city is served by a train service to Sydney, for many Canberrans, having a rail corridor through the northern spine of the city was a new experience, and one that would take some time to adjust to.

Paralympian Vanessa Low, who moved to Canberra after growing up in Germany, could see what this would mean for the city.

“When I saw that the light rail is getting introduced I realised pretty quickly that this is something new to Canberrans and that there’s probably going to be some problems around people understanding that this is a change that they have to be aware of.”

Low’s concern was safety. With light rail interfacing with drivers along Northbourne Avenue and pedestrians at crossings and stations, Canberrans needed to be alert to the risks and hazards associated with such a transport system. Low got in contact with staff from the Canberra Metro operations team and began working on a plan to keep Canberrans safe.

“We talked about, instead of waiting for something to happen, how we can put in some measures for raising awareness around the safety issues and raising awareness about what the consequences may be if you don’t pay attention.”

Like any rail transport mode, the Canberra light rail came with warning signs about crossing the tracks, and lines on the platform which passengers should not cross while waiting for their service. However, beyond the physical infrastructure, Low saw the need to connect with future passengers.

“It’s not just about the rules on a piece of paper or officials saying, ‘You shouldn’t do this.’ or ‘You should do that.’ It is connecting the everyday situation to feeling because, in a way, people easily forget what you said but they never forget how you make them feel,” said Low.

More than most, Low knows what it rail safety feels like. When she was 15 years old, Low fell from a train station platform in her hometown of Ratzeburg and was struck by an oncoming train. Following the accident, doctors had to amputate both of Low’s legs.

“I really realised that it’s not just about the loss of the legs, it was the impact on my family and friends and their families and how a lot of people suffered through the situation and a lot of people never really realised that this was ever going to happen to themselves or to someone they knew,” said Low. “That’s when I realised that a lot of people aren’t quite aware of the issues that arise in all sorts of traffic and that it’s really up to us to make the conscious decision to change that and not let it become a problem. I really wanted to get involved in helping people understand these things before something happens to them or someone they knew.”

In 2019, Low was the ACT Rail Safety Week ambassador and conducted workshops and seminars with school students and the commuting public about staying safe around the new light rail. Low’s experience enabled her to share with Canberrans the importance of staying safe around rail.

“It’s about raising awareness and then naturally people understand what they need to do. Crucial to that is to encourage others to be rail safe, pay attention and have an awareness of not just yourself but understanding what impact this action or non-action may have on everyone around you.”

This year, Low will take on the role of the inaugural national rail safety ambassador, with a particular focus during Rail Safety Week. Just as rail might be novel to Canberra, Low also notes that around Australia, more people are coming into contact with rail environment.

“I grew up in Europe where being around trains is very normal, everyone takes the public transport to go to work and it’s ingrained from being young, but in Australia because cars are the main transport and everything is quite far away it’s quite unusual to be crossing train tracks, a lot of people don’t do that on a daily basis.”

Low sees a role for awareness in encouraging those who may come into contact with rail less frequently to still understand the risks involved.

“All of a sudden they’re exposed to a situation that they aren’t familiar with and they aren’t aware of the dangers. That’s why these safety programs are needed because people aren’t quite that used to being around trains as much.”

While being safe around trains is an individual responsibility, it is also important for people to be aware of others. Being alert to one’s surroundings is therefore key.

“My biggest slogan is just pay attention if you participate in traffic, whether you’re a pedestrian or on a bike, or in a car, there are other participants in traffic and unfortunately trains do not have the option to merge out of the way. They take a very long time to stop because they are so heavy.”

Giving a face to the rail safety message will be a new and important initiative for Rail Safety Week 2020, said Low.

“I really hope that we can make this a very personal message so that people can feel like it’s up to each one of us to take action and be aware.”

Canberra COVID

“People need to travel”

In one of the most disruptive events to occur since World War Two, transport leaders around Australia highlight the role that rail has played in getting Australia through COVID-19.

On Friday, March 13, thousands of spectators were queueing outside the gates to the Formula One Grand Prix in Albert Park, Melbourne. The late summer sun was beat down on the spectators as they waited for two hours to find out whether they would be let in. Finally, organisers confirmed that the event could not go ahead because of the fear of an outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19). Extra trams were rapidly mobilised, and the crowds were herded onto public transport to take them back home, via the Melbourne CBD.

At the Major Transport Infrastructure Authority (MTIA) offices on Exhibition Street, director-general Corey Hannett was assessing the options for the state’s $70 billion of under- construction transport infrastructure spread across 119 major road and rail projects.

“I must admit, when the pandemic turned up in March, I think there were doubts that industry could work,” Hannett told Rail Express.

“At that time, we were looking right around the world at what was going on, and it was very clear that lots of countries were actually closing down.”

Indeed, other countries had entirely ceased all construction activity, except for projects specifically related to the COVID-19 response. In Ireland, almost €20bn ($32.57bn) worth of construction activity creased by March 28.

Unlike countries in Europe and Asia, at the time, the impact in Australia was relatively limited, with only 156 cases when Albert Park closed its gates. In Italy, deaths were already in the thousands.

“At the time, we really hadn’t had that massive impact from the COVID-19 infections that the rest of the world was experiencing, but it was fair to say we were very concerned that we had to make sure that we did things in a way that protected the workforce and the community,” said Hannett.

Across all of its sites, the MTIA and its delivery contractors put in place procedures to reduce the change of an outbreak at a construction site. Workers had to be spaced more the 1.5m apart, personal protective equipment was required, and extra hygiene measures were put in place. MTIA’s own staff moved to working from home and staggered shifts were enforced on work sites.

“Staggering when people start and finish toolbox meetings in the crib shed, getting extra crib sheds, getting extra cleaning in those crib sheds, getting an extra cleaning program of work across the whole sites,” lists Hannett.

All in all, roughly 18,000 people are employed to build road and rail projects under the MTIA umbrella across Melbourne and in regional Victoria. As of the end of June, there have been no significant disruptions to any of the construction programmes.

“I’m quite pleased to say so far so good, but we can only be as good as we are today and we need to keep that vigilance up and keep a heightened focus on making sure that we comply with the relevant rules to keep the community the workforce and ourselves safe.”

Hannett notes that while there has been a small loss in efficiency, the building program is continuing apace.

“In general, the program is in pretty good shape considering the pandemic which was forced upon us in March this year,” he said.

“I can’t imagine what the situation would be today if we had not had our 18,000 plus people not working.”

KEEPING THE COUNTRY MOVING
Canberrans had barely gotten the smell of bushfires out of their hair, clothing, and homes by the time the COVID-19 pandemic hit. After a torrid summer, Canberrans were using the newly commissioned light rail more than ever, which, according to ACT Transport Minister Chris Steel, led to an unexpected windfall.

“Thankfully in February this year, just prior to the pandemic starting, we actually increased the frequency of light rail to help manage the crowding that we had seen because we had so many people wanting to use light rail in Canberra.”

Frequency in the peaks was increased, and the peak period was stretched to 9.30am in the morning and 6.30pm in the evening. This extra capacity meant that the light rail could keep running and ensure that those workers who did need to travel were able to get to their jobs and people were able to access essential services during the lockdown.

To ensure the service was safe, a rapid program of adaptation was rolled out.

“We stepped up hygiene measures across public transport, including light rail, and one of the measures on light rail was to have automatic opening of the doors which wasn’t always the case on light rail,” said Steel.

Across the network, an extra 1,300 hours of cleaning was being conducted per week, and regular cleaners were assisted by over 30 workers hired by Transport Canberra who were stood down from their roles in the wider transport industry.

In Canberra and across Australia, most transport authorities are still encouraging passengers to travel outside of peak periods to avoid crowding. At the same time, Steel and others are concerned that road congestion is rising faster than public transport levels with the ACT at 85 per cent of pre-COVID traffic levels but public transport at less than half.

“We don’t want to see congestion reach even higher levels than it was before the pandemic because people are not using public transport, so we do need to encourage people back at an appropriate time,” said Steel.

“We’ve had for now several months the national cabinet and state premiers and chief ministers very clearly indicate to the community that they should avoid public transport during peak times and that is still the message.

“We also need to have an equally strong message at the appropriate time to welcome people back onto public transport – come and use it, it’s good for our community, it’s good for your health, it reduces congestion and all of the benefits that it provides.”

In Sydney, Howard Collins, chief operations officer for Transport for NSW and former chief executive of Sydney Trains cannot see a future where a return to public transport does not occur in some form.

“I just look at the maths and say we’re currently carrying 600,000 journeys across the transport network, about 350,000 people every day at the moment, compared with 1.3 million on rail before COVID. Where are those people – even if half of them come back – where are they going to go? I can’t imagine them all cycling down George Street. I can’t imagine we’ll get the cars moving more than about 5km/h if they all jumped in their cars. So, rail will have to take on that capacity, but it may be in a different context in terms of how we operate our train service.”

Prior to COVID-19, capacity on Sydney Trains was almost reaching breaking point, particularly in the peaks. With a 73 per cent drop in patronage, Collins is looking at the recovery from COVID-19 as a potential for change in the way the network operates.

“I think patronage will change, permanently. COVID-19, at the end of the day is an issue that has come along that has been really tragic and has been challenging, but it may well be a warning for things happening in the future. So, things have to change but I do believe that public transport and particularly rail is going to still have a major role.”

Collins is sceptical that there will be a wholescale shift to alternative working arrangements, such as working from home.

“Many people have said ‘Oh I’ll never going to be going to office anymore. I’m going to be working from home and I’ll be doing it in a café or bar or whatever it is.’ I do think there’s this human nature of getting together and while we all say we’re coping with Teams and remote working there will be a resurgence of people wanting to cluster and get together, whether that’s socially or for work reasons no matter how good our Zoom or Teams structure is. People will be back, but it will be different.”

During the lockdown, Sydney Trains has increased services during the peak to cope with demand, as well as run extra light rail services. With an unclear future still ahead, to many, what this has demonstrated is the need for flexibility in time-tabling and capacity.

“We certainly need greater flexibility and if you look at Sydney Metro, boy they can switch on and off a flattening peak or an increased fleet just by the press of a button, and the trains pop out of their depot without any care or concern,” said Collins.

“But we know that people still need to travel within certain times. If tradies still sign on as they do every day in Sydney at 7 o’clock then we’re still going to get that massive tradie peak. If schools still operate in the time scale that tends to suit both their parents and teachers, you’re not going to see the flattening of the peak. We will certainly see others spreading the load – particularly office workers – but I think it’s going to be more resistant to change than perhaps some of the theorists believe when it comes to peak services.”

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Many have noted that COVID-19 is two crises. First, the health pandemic, and second, the economic crisis caused by the shutdown of businesses and the restrictions on movement and gathering. While testing, contact tracing, and medical care can limit the first crisis, there is more debate over how to grapple with the second.

Infrastructure spending has emerged as one way that governments are dealing with the economic crisis. Rail is one area of infrastructure that has been targeted with spending. Already, in Sydney, Metro Greater West, now known as Sydney Metro – Western Sydney Airport has had funding committed by both state and federal governments, to begin construction before the end of 2020. Approvals for Inland Rail have been fast- tracked. In Victoria, the Level Crossings Removal Project is ramping up and extra money is being spent on regional track and repairs to stations.

While some have argued that smaller infrastructure projects provide more benefits, according to Hannett, all projects should be seen as helping the wider economy.

“A project creates jobs, it boosts the economy, and it also has a significant economic benefit. The fact is. big or small. they do create jobs they do create economic benefit.”

Shadow Infrastructure Minister Catherine King highlighted that now is the time to invest in nation-building infrastructure.

“I think that one of the things that coronavirus crisis has shown us is that while we’ve had infrastructure projects and rail projects, we’ve sort of lacked any large scale, iconic infrastructure transport project,” she told Rail Express.

In May, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese reaffirmed the Labor Party’s commitment to high speed rail from Melbourne to Brisbane, via Sydney and Canberra. According to King, such a project goes well beyond reducing congestion on the air route between Melbourne and Sydney.

“One is the investment potential that it has, but also the nation building potential that it has, in terms of developing a much stronger sense of regional and decentralised regional towns from Melbourne from Sydney, all the way up to Brisbane, and the capacity and possibility of that as we grow as a nation.”

While COVID-19 has been a tragic event, the rail industry is beginning to emerge with a renewed focus on flexibility in operations and the nation-shaping role that rail infrastructure can have.

Face masks strongly encouraged on NSW public transport

Face masks are now encouraged for passengers on NSW public transport.

The change to strongly encouraging mask wearing came on Sunday, August 2, with NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant recommending masks be worn in indoor settings where physical distancing is hard to maintain, such as on public transport.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said that physical distancing is still the main goal.

“People should continue to maintain their physical distance – it is our most effective weapon. However, if you find yourself in a situation where you can’t maintain your physical distance you should wear a mask,” she said.

“It is critical the community understands masks should be used in conjunction with other measures, and not as a standalone measure.”

People are still advised not to travel on public transport if they are sick and to maintain good hygiene.

While masks will not be enforced on public transport, Transport for NSW is strongly recommending passengers wear masks.

A Transport for NSW spokesperson also said that updated mask guidelines have been issued for staff.

“Transport for NSW has made face masks available for customer facing frontline staff and is strongly recommending these masks are used at work.”

While masks were made mandatory in Melbourne on July 22, no other Australian jurisdiction has enforced a similar measure. Social distancing is also not mandatory on public transport in NSW, however heavily encouraged and promoted through the “no dot, no spot” campaign.

CEO of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) Caroline Wilkie said that the rail industry thanked those who were wearing masks.

“Wearing a mask helps save lives and keeps our rail workers safe as well,” she said.

“We welcome the public support for those on the front line as they keep working to support the rest of us.”

Passenger volumes on NSW public transport were beginning to increase in May and June. Sydney Trains recorded a low of six million trips in April, while June recording 13,754,000 trips. Since the start of July, however, trips on the entire NSW public transport network have begun to decline again, by around 9 per cent.

Prior to COVID-19, in June 2019 32 million trips were taken on the Sydney Trains network.

Stage 4 lockdown restricts public transport, rail construction in Melbourne

As Victoria enters stage 4 restrictions due to the spread of COVID-19, metropolitan rail services and construction on major rail projects in Melbourne are being cut back.

While public transport is able to continue running, with Melbourne under a curfew from 8pm to 5am, Metro Trains services have been significantly reduced with trains running infrequently. Yarra Trams have stated that some services will run at up to 40 minute frequency. Public Transport Victoria stated that changes to services will be different each night.

All Night Network services, which covers services that run after midnight on Friday and Saturday nights, will be suspended while stage 4 restrictions are in place. The current restrictions only allow people to leave their homes between 8pm and 5am for work, medical care, and caregiving.

According to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews some staff will be redeployed.

“The Night Network will be suspended, and public transport services will be reduced during curfew hours. This will also allow us to redeploy more of our PSOs into our enforcement efforts.”

Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) spokesperson Daniel Bowen said that better communication of changes was needed.

“On Monday night details of drastic evening service cuts for trams and trains were only published as they took effect, giving travellers no time to plan ahead,” he said.

The PTUA recommended running trains to a Saturday timetable would be a better outcome, with less demand during the peaks.

“While the capacity will probably be sufficient to maintain physical distancing given the curfew and the shutdown of most workplaces, the big problem is the wait times. Imagine finishing your shift at 11pm and having to wait 90 minutes for your train home,” said Bowen.

Rail construction projects are also limited under the stage 4 restrictions. Major construction sites are limited to the minimum amount of people required for safety, and no more than 25 per cent of the normal workforce. Small scale construction is limited to a maximum of five people on site. Andrews said the government was reviewing major public projects.

“To date, we’ve almost halved the number of people onsite on some of our biggest government projects. Now we’re going to go through project by project, line by line to make sure they are reduced to the practical minimum number of workers.”

A Major Transport Infrastructure Authority (MTIA) spokesperson said that work would continue under the new restrictions.

“The MTIA is continuing to look at ways to further reduce the number of staff while allowing essential works to continue safely.”

On-site, MTIA staff are required to wear a mask, practice physical distancing and follow hygiene procedures and staggered shifts. A 70-person strong COVID Safety Team have been ensuring that all worksites comply, with multiple checks each day on every project.

Other rail businesses and organisations will largely be able to continue in line with their COVIDsafe plans. This includes passenger and freight operations, including rail yards, and transport support services.

Australasian Railway Association (ARA) CEO Caroline Wilkie said she welcomed the government’s recognition of rail’s essential role and noted that the restrictions struck the right balance between keeping businesses operating and addressing the spread of COVID-19.

“The rail industry has been working hard to keep essential services safely operating throughout 2020,” she said.

“From the train drivers on passenger and freight services to those working in stations, workshops and in the office, rail workers have made sure essential services are there for people who need them no matter what.”

Rail manufacturing businesses will also be able to remain operating, due to their role in supporting an essential service. Manufacturing businesses that support critical infrastructure public works are able to operate as per their COVIDsafe plan.

“Now more than ever we need the rail network to be as reliable and efficient as possible and these businesses are crucial to that effort,” said Wilkie.

States must honour national border protocol say ALC, ARA

Inconsistency in the application of border controls for freight movements are creating delays and confusion for rail freight operators.

After the national cabinet endorsed a national protocol for freight movement over closed borders on July 24, which recommended that government agencies should consult with industry in relation to border controls, changes have occurred without consultation, said Australian Logistics Council (ALC) CEO Kirk Coningham.

“The lack of consultation directly contravenes the national protocol that all state and territories agreed to.”

Coningham said that a lack of consistency was creating confusion.

“It is especially concerning that some jurisdictions have now mandated negative COVID-19 test results for drivers coming from Victoria, yet Victorian authorities are explicitly discouraging anyone who is asymptomatic from obtaining a COVID-19 test,” he said.

“This leaves freight vehicle drivers travelling interstate from Victoria in an impossible position of being unable to comply with the requirements of one government because of the instructions given by another.”

Currently, South Australia is requiring those providing commercial transport and freight services who travel from Victoria to have a COVID-19 test within the last seven days of crossing the border.

Australasian Railway Association (ARA) CEO Caroline Wilkie said that consistency was vital to enable the efficient operation of supply chains.

“Delays at the border or differing approaches across the country frustrate those efforts at a time when we rely on our rail freight network more than ever.”

The national protocol sets out that COVID-19 tests should be made available to rail crew, and that routine testing should be required for those planning on entering or leaving hot spots. States and territories should also provide pop-up testing facilities that do not add undue time to the journey.

Wilkie said that delays at the border can have a significant impact on freight operations.

“It is essential state and territory border restrictions account for the vitally important role of the rail freight sector and make sure operators have consistent protocols to follow as they travel across the country.”

Melbourne

Melbourne needs integrated transport plan: Committee for Melbourne

The Committee of Melbourne has called for the development of an integrated transport plan for Melbourne to coordinate the provision of transport infrastructure in the city.

While a number of government plans have been developed to guide infrastructure investment, the Committee for Melbourne has found that none are truly comprehensive, detailed, or strategic enough to outline how Melbourne will grow in the long-term.

Martine Letts, CEO Committee for Melbourne said that now was the right time to plan for the future of Melbourne.

“Mobility in Melbourne has reached a tipping point. With the growth pressures the city is facing that continue to build, more than ever a plan is required to accommodate the efficient movement of people and freight. A business-as-usual approach will see road congestion cost Melbourne’s economy up to $10.2 billion per annum by 2031 in operation and pollution costs.”

The report calls for a plan that integrates mobility patterns, land-use, and economic patterns, to enable seamless mobility throughout Greater Melbourne. This would mean that projects such as Suburban Rail Loop and the Melbourne Airport Rail Link would be included as certain aspects of the city’s future, along with further projects such as Melbourne Metro 2.

In addition to the infrastructure itself, the integrated plan would also combine elements such as demand management, technology, land-use planning, and economic development. These elements would guide measures such as public transport frequency, integrated mobility services, transport-oriented development, and using infrastructure investment as a level for investment.

The report recommends that with Melbourne’s population expected to continue to grow, and freight volumes also expected to increase, there is a need for integrated transport planning.

“It is not in anyone’s interest that Melbourne’s transport network returns to the state that it was in prior to the COVID-19 crisis. Peak hour commutes on public transport had become increasingly uncomfortable, while traffic congestion on the road network was worse than any other Australian capital city,” said Letts.

Melbourne was recently highlighted as a major Australian city with worsening congestion and reliability in travel in research by Infrastructure Partnerships Australia and Uber.

“As our economy recovers and we once again welcome increasing numbers of new residents and visitors, and as we produce and consume more goods and services, we must ask ourselves what it will take to remain a highly liveable, prosperous, and sustainable, twenty-first century city. Designing, publishing, and implementing a strategic plan which considers transport, land-use, and economic development planning is a good place to start,” said Letts.

Harrybilt

Straddling both gauges: A dual hi-rail attachment

A local manufacturing solution to Australia’s dual-gauge headache from Harrybilt Engineering.

A perennial issue for the Australian rail industry has been the various gauges across the national network. A legacy of the pre- federation era when each state developed their own railway networks to transport produce to their respective ports, in the century since federation there have been a series of efforts to standardise gauges across Australia.

Despite these efforts, and the many hours of work and negotiation that have gone into standardisation programs, rail networks businesses and maintainers still have to contend with multiple gauges in different parts of the country. In some instances, this has meant the duplication of equipment, particularly plant that is required to run on rails. Having multiple hi-rail trucks, excavators, and other equipment can limit productivity and increase cost, particularly when working in sections where two grades interact.

Ballarat-based specialist engineering and manufacturing business Harrybilt Engineering has developed a solution to this headache, that overcomes Australia’s unique multiple- gauge system. The Hi Brid Rail System can be attached to wheeled excavators to allow the machinery to operate on standard- or narrow- gauge railways.

Designed by the family-owned rail specialists, Harrybilt Engineering’s Hi Brid Rail System on standard gauge operates the same as the Rail Guidance System, which allows the excavator’s tyres to safely move on the rail. For narrow gauge, the excavator’s tyres contact a drum, which drives the rail wheels in a friction drive set-up.

The dual-gauge solution was developed after hearing from the rail infrastructure industry that the capacity for machinery to switch between narrow- and standard-gauge networks would greatly increase their productivity. Working from this need, Harrybilt Engineering designed and manufactured the Hi Brid system to best suit the needs of the sector.

The system meets Australian standard AS7502 for road-rail vehicles and is fitted with four failsafe braked rail wheels for increased safety.

The rail system is managed from inside the driver’s cab via a programmable logic controller (PLC) system. Having all controls fitted inside the drivers’ cab allows for the safe and efficient operation of the Hi Brid System.

Released in 2019, the system was designed locally by Harrybilt Engineering’s specialist team of railway maintenance equipment engineers. The company has over 19 years of experience designing and manufacturing Hi Rail and Rail Guidance Systems for road rail vehicles, in addition to the 35 years of experience manufacturing equipment for the rail industry.

Knowing the needs of rail infrastructure maintenance businesses in Australia and the growing demand for specialist engineering capability and expertise, the company has recently doubled is production floor space to cater to the expanding local market. With this capability within the business, Harrybilt is able to customise its systems, including the Hi Brid Rail System to meet a customer’s requirement. The company has already fitted the system to three separate excavator models, and could, if needed deploy, its engineering capabilities to fit the system to equipment other than an excavator.

Combining versatility with solid engineering, the Harrybilt Hi Bird Rail System is designed to meet the unique, multiple-gauge needs of the Australian rail infrastructure sector.

National protocol to reduce cross-border freight confusion

A joint national protocol to enable smooth freight movement over closed borders has been agreed upon by state and territory governments and the Commonwealth.

The national Protocol for Domestic Border Controls – Freight Movements establishes a common set of agreements for freight operators that are transporting goods across state borders that have been closed due to coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreaks.

The national protocol outlines that rail crew will not be required to quarantine or self-isolate for two weeks, unless they develop symptoms of COVID-19 or were in close contact with a case.

Rail crew who are crossing borders or travelling through hotspots should be required to keep a record of close contacts and should minimise non-essential contacts.

Freight operators are encouraged to have a COVIDsafe workplan which will be mutually recognised by state and territory governments.

If further changes are necessary, state and territory governments are encouraged to consult with industry to understand the impact of potential changes.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said that the protocol was the result of collaboration between government and industry.

“This is a great demonstration of how governments and industry are working together to ensure much-needed goods keep making their way to communities during the pandemic whilst keeping the health and safety of all Australians front and centre.”

Assistant Minister for Road Safety and Freight Transport Scott Buchholz said that with various and rapidly changing requirements, the protocol would enable the efficient operation of supply chains across Australia.

“We know this has been tough a time for the industry, with our freight operators often required to cross multiple internal borders in a single trip – facing the critical domestic border controls state and territory governments have had to operate to stem the spread of COVID-19,” he said.

“Aligning state and territory measures through this protocol will ensure smoother inter-state journeys for our freight operators and reduce delays in the supply chain.”

Australian Logistics Council (ALC) CEO Kirk Coningham said the organisation had been working to ensure that freight continues to move when border restrictions were put in place.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has underlined just how vital efficient, safe and resilient supply chain operations are to Australia. Yet the closure of state borders and imposition of restrictions during the pandemic has added complexity and duplication of processes associated with freight transport,” said Coningham.
Interstate border closures were a feature of the first wave of COVID-19 shutdowns in March, with freight operators required to fill out arrival forms.

In early July, when NSW closed its border for the first time with Victoria due to the outbreak in Melbourne, permits were required for rail freight staff crossing the border. This initially also required rail staff to self-isolate, however this was then overturned.

Coningham said the new protocol will reduce future confusion.

“The protocol’s explicit acknowledgement that authorities should consult with industry to understand the effect and impacts of potential changes ahead of any new directions being been put place is significant. Adherence to this commitment will be essential to avoid some of the confusion that has been witnessed throughout the pandemic, as border requirements were changed with inadequate notice to industry,” he said.

“ALC is pleased that these principles are all enshrined in the protocol that has been agreed to today. We also welcome the protocol’s commitment to mutual recognition of COVIDsafe workplans developed in other jurisdictions, and to standardising the duration and conditions of border permits.”