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.”

Three level crossings to be upgraded North East Rail Line

The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) has confirmed that works will continue over the Easter weekend to upgrade the North East Rail line in Victoria.

The three level crossings upgraded over the long weekend are at Racecourse Rd, Chiltern, Federation Way at Bowser (Wangaratta North), and Bourke Rd at Bowser (Wangaratta North).

These improvements are on top of the 19 level crossings already upgraded in regional Victoria, including at West Wodonga, Wangaratta, and Barnawartha. Additionally, 16 rail bridges have been improved as part of the $235 million project.

“Teams have worked systematically south after major work started in Wodonga with four more level crossing renewals scheduled for April,” said ARTC general manager major projects Ed Walker.

“Work will start at 6pm on Sunday 12 April to improve these level crossings and we thank the community for their patience with changed traffic conditions in place and increased vehicle movements in the area.”

The project has focused on having benefits during the construction phase flow through to regional communities, with a major site office located in Wangaratta employing locals and engaging 32 North East Victorian suppliers.

Over 100,000 tonnes of ballast have been added to the track for depth improvement, mudhole removal, bridge works, and level crossing renewals.

Freight networks ensuring safe operations continue

Freight operators and network owners around Australia continue to serve businesses and communities, and Tasmania is no exception.

CEO of government-owned TasRail, Steven Dietrich, reminded Tasmanians this morning that the state’s freight rail owner and operator is continuing to provide rail-based freight services across the 611 kilometres of operational network.

In the statement, Dietrich noted that like other operators, hygiene and cleaning practices have been stepped up in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19).

“To keep our teams healthy we have been working hard to implement best-practice hygiene and physical distancing measures at our sites around the state, protecting essential frontline staff, and coordinating working from home and split-shift operations where possible.”

As federal and state transport ministers have reaffirmed that rail freight is an essential service, Dietrich reminded the community that trains will be continuing to operate and that people should remain safe around the rail corridor, which includes over 500 level crossings around the state.

“Working together we will keep the critical freight services operating and continue to provide Tasmanians with the goods they require access to at this time.”

In a written statement, CEO and managing director of the Australian Rail Track Corporation John Fullerton also noted that rail freight would continue, and the network owner would be providing a safe network and progressing major projects in NSW, Victoria, and South Australia, as well as the Inland Rail project.

“While it is positive the freight and logistics industry and the works supporting these sectors have been recognised as essential services, we also recognise that in our continued operations we have a significant responsibility to the ongoing health and safety of our people as well as the communities in which we operate. This includes a range of preventative actions to minimise risk, adjustments to existing work practices and to actively plan for the health and people effects of COVID-19,” wrote Fullerton.

Many ARTC staff are working from home and those on-site are following guidance and social distancing and hygiene. Additionally, travel is being limited, and work is being carried out by locally based employees and contractors.

Fullerton highlighted that demand for predictable and reliable freight deliveries is critical.

“The ARTC team remains committed to ensuring that the rail network is managed and maintained safely, and the major projects the economy needs are delivered successfully. That remains our focus and commitment to our customers, stakeholders and the community,’ wrote Fullerton.

ATSB releases preliminary report into Wallan train derailment

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has released the preliminary report into the Wallan train derailment.

Although the report does not contain findings, the report does note that signals at Wallan were reversed, causing the XPT train to enter a passing loop at a speed of more than 100km/h when the speed limit for entering the loop was 15km/h, and exiting the loop was 35km/h.

“Earlier that afternoon, the points at either end of the Wallan loop had been changed from their ‘Normal’ position to their ‘Reverse’ position, which meant that rail traffic, in both directions, would be diverted from the Main Line into the loop track,” said ATSB chief commissioner, Greg Hood.

“A Train Notice reflected this change and also specified a 15 km/h speed limit for entry into the loop.”

Prior to the derailment, the XPT service had travelled through a section from Kilmore East that was being managed using an alternative safeworking system. During this section, an accompanying qualified worker (AQW) boarded the lead power car and joined the driver at the head of the train. Before proceeding, the driver and the network control officer communicated via radio about the train authority for the section to Donnybrook.

After passing Kilmore East, the train sped up to 130km/h, the line speed for this section. Then, the train travelled to Wallan and was diverted onto the Wallan Loop, the points for which had earlier been changed from Normal to Reverse.

The emergency brake was applied a short distance before the points, which slowed the train a small amount, however the train entered the turnout travelling at above 100km/h, leading the train to derail.

The alternative safeworking system was implemented on the section of track from Kilmore East to Donnybrook due to damage to the signalling infrastructure, caused by a fire on February 3, 2020.

Investigations into the incident are ongoing, and are being led by Victoria’s Chief Investigator, Transport Safety (CTIS), along with the New South Wales Office of Transport Safety Investigations (OTSI). The Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator is also continuing to investigate.

CEO of the ARTC, John Fullerton, said that the ARTC would learn from the incident.

“Accidents of this nature are complex and can hardly ever be attributed to just one cause, and this investigation is one important way of ensuring lessons are learned, and systems and processes are put in place to avoid something similar from happening again.”

The derailment killed the driver, John Kennedy, and the AQW, Sam Meintanis.

“ARTC joins with all in the rail industry in again extending our sincere condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of John and Sam,” said Fullerton.

“The main focus of all in the rail industry – whether it is rail network operators like ARTC, the passenger and freight rail customers who use it, or the many rail contractors – is to operate safely.”

A Transport for NSW spokesperson noted the report.

“We continue to engage with the investigators on what is a complex set of circumstances that led to the loss of a NSW TrainLink employee and a contracted ARTC staff member,” said the spokesperson.

“Our thoughts are with the families and friends of those who lost their lives in this accident and we await the final report by the ATSB due in 2021.”

Hood noted that the full investigation could take over 18 months to complete.

“However, should any safety critical information be discovered at any time during the investigation, we will immediately notify operators and regulators, and make that publicly known.”

Further investigation by the ATSB will inquire into the derailment sequence, track condition, rollingstock condition, crew and passenger survivability, train operation, and management of train operations. So far, the investigation has not found a fault with the rollingstock or the track itself that directly contributed to the derailment.

Reliability and safety upgrades underway on Hunter Valley Line

Just as work on upgrades to the North East Line have continued in Victoria, despite the COVID-19 crisis, so too will works on the Hunter Valley Line.

The works will focus on ensuring reliability on the Hunter network, which carries passenger and freight services, said the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC).

“The freight and transport industry has been identified as an essential service by the State and Federal Government – this  is a responsibility the Australian Rail Track Corporation takes very seriously, and we are working hard to ensure we balance the challenge of ensuring the safety and reliability of a critical transport network, alongside our obligations to meet and respond to the current public health challenge,” said the ARTC’s group executive Hunter Valley Wayne Johnson.

Half the services on the line are passenger services from Newcastle to the towns of Dungog and Scone, while the rest is comprised of freight services carrying coal, grain, and other export products. Regional and interstate goods services also use the Hunter rail network.

“It is critical that we continue to meet the need of delivering goods, products and people – but we are acutely aware of balancing the demands of running an extensive rail network, with the health and welfare of our people and the communities in which we operate,” said Johnson.

Although a planned maintenance shutdown was scheduled for the Hunter Valley network this week for major upgrades, the ARTC will instead only deliver essential works during the shutdown to maintain the rail network’s safety and reliability. The ARTC has implemented a number of measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), and ensure that workers are safe.

“As coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread and disrupt people’s daily lives, we  have implemented a range of preventative measures to ensure the safety of our team and the community, while endeavouring to ensure reliable network operations can be sustained for critical freight movements in coming weeks,” said Johnson.

North East Rail Line upgrade continuing

Work is continuing on the upgrade of the North East Rail Line, the ARTC confirmed on Friday, March 27.

While shutdowns of non-essential services to limit the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) have affected other industries, the construction of rail infrastructure has been deemed an essential service, said  Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) general manager projects Victoria, Ed Walker.

“The freight and transport industry is an essential service– and the North East rail line is a vital transport corridor for interstate freight trains, passenger trains, steel for construction and manufacturing and for regional goods like grain.”

The ARTC has implemented measures to ensure the safety of staff and contractors undertaking the vital upgrades. Workers are practicing social distancing, increasing hygiene and health measures, delivering work in smaller groups, and avoiding non-essential travel.

“We continue to follow advice from Government and monitor and assess the situation daily. The current environment is an uncertain and challenging one for everyone and we certainly recognise the responsibilities we have to the community as we deliver this vital project work and to ensure the safe running of essential freight and passenger train services,” said Walker.

Two weeks ago, sections of the track were shutdown and handed over to contractor John Holland Rail, so that a series of projects could be completed. A similar shutdown will occur from Saturday, April 4.

“Further works will take place next weekend, from Saturday 4 April at 6pm, with bridge and track renewal work taking place at the Old Barnawartha Road, West Wodonga and High Street, Barnawartha level crossings,” said Walker.

The announcement from the ARTC follows assurances given to Rail Express last week that a number of rail infrastructure projects are continuing, including the Level Crossing Removal Project, Metronet works, and Cross River Rail construction.

Joint communiqué affirms indispensability of rail freight

Australia’s largest rail freight operators and infrastructure managers have welcomed statements by Australian governments ensuring that rail freight services continue despite state border closures and shutdowns of non-essential services.

Chair of the the Freight on Rail Group, Dean Dalla Valle highlighted that rail freight services are critical for the supply of domestic and imported goods such as food, medical supplies, cleaning products, and fuel.

“Paddock to port, pit to port, or manufacturing plant to port – essential rail freight services stretch across state borders, servicing finely-tuned supply chains across our continent,” he said.

In collaboration with truck drivers working the ‘last mile’ of supply chains, rail services have hauled significant amounts of items in urgent need during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“A single-stacked 1,800-metre interstate goods train can haul 260 shipping containers, thereby helping to free-up hundreds of truck drivers each week to focus on delivering goods and products the remaining ‘last mile’ from warehouses to stores where consumers need shelves restocked,” said Dalla Valle.

“To put this in perspective, a single shipping container can hold approximately 25,000 toilet paper rolls, 55,000 food cans or 1,500 cases of beer.”

The move follows a meeting of the Transport and Infrastructure Council, made up of state, territory and federal infrastructure and transport ministers, on Wednesday, March 25, which affirmed that freight movements are an essential service, and will continue to operate despite restrictions on activity around the country.

“We, Australia’s Transport and Infrastructure Ministers, wanted to reassure Australians that supporting freight movements and supply of goods to individuals, businesses and service providers is a high priority for all governments,” wrote the ministers in a joint communique.

While Queensland was the latest state to close its borders, following Western Australia, South Australia, the Northern Territory, and Tasmania, the ministers confirmed that these would not inhibit the efficient movement of freight across Australia.

“All jurisdictions where restrictions are in place have provided exemptions to these measures to ensure Australia’s supply chains are maintained,” wrote the ministers.

“We want to thank all those Australians involved in the freight industry who are serving Australia so diligently despite the challenges we face.”

To ensure that rail freight operators do not become susceptible to COVID-19, additional measures have been put in place, said Dalla Valle.

“In recent weeks, rail freight operators have implemented strict hygiene protocols at depots, terminals and maintenance facilities, including social distancing, to protect the health of essential staff,” he said.

“Rail freight has the added benefit of operating within secure railway corridors and facilities prohibited to members of the general public.”

The Freight on Rail Group is made up of nine rail freight businesses, Pacific National, the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), Aurizon, Qube, One Rail Australia, SCT Logistics, Arc Infrastructure, WatCo Australia, and Southern Shorthaul Railroad.

The divergent future of intermodal in Australia

While increasing freight volumes are putting pressure on infrastructure in some locations, elsewhere limited growth is leading to projects being deferred.

Intermodal terminals were described as the “essential building blocks” for overall rail- based supply chains, in a 2017 report by PwC, prepared for the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development.

In Australia, these foundational blocks are spread throughout the country. However, they are under varying amounts of stress. In the eastern states, capacity is becoming strained by increases in freight volume. In South Australia and Western Australia, there is considerable room to grow with the existing infrastructure.

These differences were highlighted in recent announcements by state governments, rail, and port operators.

In NSW, the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) is proceeding with works on the Botany Rail Duplication and Cabramatta Loop Projects to increase freight capacity at the congested Port Botany terminal.

In January, ARTC shortlisted three contractors for the two projects. For the Botany Rail Duplication project, CPB Contractors, Laing O’Rouke, and John Holland are shortlisted. For the Cabramatta Loop Project, ARTC has shortlisted Downer EDI, Fulton Hogan, and John Holland. The formal tender process will be undertaken in 2020 for both projects.

ARTC CEO and managing director, John Fullerton, noted that these projects will grow the potential of freight in Sydney.

“These major projects aim to improve rail capacity, flexibility and reliability for freight rail customers, encouraging more freight to shift from road to rail, and we are getting on with delivering these massive improvements.”

Both projects aim to increase rail capacity and service reliability to and from Port Botany, while increasing capacity across the Sydney freight network. According to NSW Ports’ 30-year Master Plan, 80 per cent of containers that arrive in Port Botany are delivered to sites closer than 40km away. Increasing freight rail frequency will allow for these containers to be moved to industrial and logistics sites in Western and South-Western Sydney.

“Improving freight performance at Port Botany is critical for the economic growth and prosperity of Sydney, NSW and Australia with the amount of container freight handled by the Port set to significantly increase by 77 per cent to 25.5 million tonnes by 2036,” said Fullerton.

“These two landmark projects will strike the balance between rail and road by duplicating the remaining single freight rail track section of the Botany Line between Mascot and Botany and constructing a new passing loop on the Southern Sydney Freight Line (SSFL) between Cabramatta Station and Warwick Farm Station to allow for freight trains up to 1300m in length.

“Once completed, the Cabramatta Loop Project will allow freight trains travelling in either direction along the Southern Sydney Freight Line to pass each other and provide additional rail freight capacity for the network.”

Work on the Sydney freight network will also increase rail’s share of freight, and alleviate congestion on the Sydney road network, highlighted Fullerton.

“Each freight train can take up to 54 trucks worth of freight off the road, tackling congestion and improving the everyday commute in Sydney.”

The Port of Melbourne is also looking at the potential to increase the volume of freight moved by rail from the Port to intermodal terminals in Melbourne’s north and west.

In late January, the Victorian government improved the Port operator’s plans to invest $125 million for the construction of a new on-dock rail.

The Port of Melbourne will introduce a $9.75 per 20-foot equivalent unit charge on imported containers and the funds raised from the charge will directly deliver new sidings and connections for the rail project. Improving rail access to the Port of Melbourne is a legislated condition of its lease, aiming towards a wider push to expand rail freight across Victoria.

The Victorian government said in a statement it is “also supporting the Port Rail Shuttle Network connecting freight hubs in Melbourne’s north and west to the port, new intermodal terminals planned at Truganina and Beveridge, new automated signalling for faster rail freight to GeelongPort and improvements in the regional rail freight network”.

“On-dock rail will make rail transport more competitive, cut the high cost of the ‘last mile’ and reduce truck congestion at the port gate – a big win for Victorian exporters delivering goods to the Port of Melbourne.”

Minister for Ports and Freight Melissa Horne said the project will increase the competitiveness of Victorian industry.

“The Port of Melbourne is a vital part of our multi-billion dollar export sector and agriculture supply chain and on-dock rail will make its operations more efficient for Victorian exporters – removing congestion at the port gate.”

The project is set to be completed by 2023.

DIFFERENT ROUTES IN SA

In contrast to these announcements, the South Australian government has decided to pull back from a plan to move greater volumes of freight via a new network named GlobeLink. An election promise from the Marshall government, in late January, the government announced that the project would be terminated, as the business case did not stack up.

The proposed project would comprise a road and rail corridor behind the Adelaide Hills, which would connect the National Highway and the rail link from Victoria to Northern Adelaide. The project would have also included an intermodal export park and freight-only airport at Murray Bridge.

The SA government commissioned KPMG to produce a business case for the project, which found that rail freight in the corridor would decline.

Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Local Government Stephan Knoll highlighted that investment in rail freight would not be of economic value for the state.

“Particularly, with respect to the rail component, the report highlights that limited and declining volumes see limited relative economic benefit for the state,” he said.

“Therefore, with rail volumes unlikely to increase sufficiently in the future, the benefits of a new rail corridor are very marginal.”

The KPMG report found that the benefit cost ratios for the initial rail corridor is 0.08 – a value of 1 is where a project would break even.

The South Australian Freight Council (SAFC) welcomed the decision, with SAFC executive officer, Evan Knapp, highlighting that alternative projects would be a better fit for the state.

“The Freight Industry is both pleased and relieved GlobeLink will no longer go ahead, and that instead other options will be explored – we look forward to consultation on the new approach in due course.”

The report also suggested the potential of a new intermodal terminal south east of Adelaide, however Knapp pointed out that the terminal could go ahead without government investment.

“We understand that there is a proponent looking at it now and there’s no reason why that cannot go ahead,” he said. “Cancelling GlobeLink in no way impacts on that element at all.”

Of more benefit to the freight rail sector and the wider community in South Australia, would be the removal of level crossings in the Adelaide metro area, said Knapp.

“Currently we’re happy with the freight rail line, we do believe there is room for some work on level crossing removals towards Adelaide, particularly the level crossing on Cross Road, as you can imagine a freight train going through that crossing at a very slow speed and given their lengths of well over a kilometre does take some time and causes dislocation of a major road in South Australia.”

North East Line to be shut down for major works

The first 60-hour track closedown will occur this weekend on the North East Rail Line in Victoria.

From 6am, Saturday, March 14 to 6pm, Monday, March 16, 200 works will contribute to more than 12 projects along the line.

Known as a “possession” period, the work will be delivered by major contractor John Holland. A project office has been established by John Holland in Wangaratta, where 100 people are working full time.

An important focus of the $235 million North East Rail line, being carried out by the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) is engaging with local businesses in the regions the rail line passes through, said ARTC general manager projects Victoria, Ed Walker.

“A key focus of the North East Rail Line upgrade is to ensure regional centres in North East Victoria directly benefit and more than 18 local businesses are already contracted to work on the multi-million-dollar project,” he said.

This focus has led to local contractors being able to invest in their business. Seymour-based contractor, Tenex Rail have bought new railway maintenance machines, and invest in their workforce, having been part of the North East Rail Line project since 2019. The company has invested almost $1 million since beginning work on the project.

Due to the work on the line, coaches will replace Albury line trains for the entire journey from Saturday, March 14, to Monday, March 16.

Works around Seymour and Wallan will require the closure of level crossings in these areas and Walker cautioned residents to be careful while works are being undertaken.

“While every effort will be made to minimise disruptions – we would like to thank the community for its patience with us while these essential works are being delivered.”

Work on the North East Line has been progressing since the major contract was awarded in late 2019.

Work underway on level crossing near Parkes

Work is currently underway on improving a level crossing on the Newell Highway near Parkes.

The ARTC is working in collaboration with the NSW government on improvements, which are carried out as part of the NSW Level Crossing Improvement Program.

The works will continue until 6am, Thursday March 12.

4,000 vehicles, including 1,000 heavy vehicles, use the crossing each day at Tichborne, located between Parkes and Forbes.

Old equipment is now being decommissioned as new predictive track circuitry and safety systems are installed and tested. The existing lights will be upgraded to high intensity LED flashing lights and retro-reflective boom gates will be installed.

The improvement of the Tichborne level crossing is one of 1,400 public road level crossings around NSW, which are having their safety improved in the Level Crossing Improvement Program.

The $990,000 upgrade at Tichborne, funded by Transport for NSW, is being delivered by Wabtec on behalf of the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC).

“Level crossings between trains and vehicles are a major road safety risk, and while these safety upgrades are important, it is also essential that motorists take care around all level crossings,” said ARTC general manager asset management Brian Green.

“We are asking motorists to take care and be patient while the works are taking place this week as the new equipment is being installed and tested,” he said.

Although incidents of train colliding with road vehicles at level crossings in NSW have been trending down to date, in 2018-19 there were five collisions between a vehicle and a train. In addition, while incidents have decreased from the previous year, fatalities increased, with three fatalities in 2018-19 after no fatalities in 2017-18.

Green noted that in most cases, errors by motorists have caused incidents.

“The majority of level crossing accidents are due to errors by motorists, so we ask all drivers to take care and don’t take risks at level crossings,” he said.

“Common risky behaviour can include ignoring warning lights and signs, speeding or being distracted by using mobile phones while driving.”

The next level crossing to be worked on will be the Welcome level crossing, also between Parkes and Forbes, work will be carried out later in March.