Maintenance works to begin on north west Victorian regional network

November will see a maintenance blitz on the Bendigo, Swan Hill, and Echuca lines to enable more reliable services to north west Victoria.

The $4m works will include track and signalling maintenance across all three lines, as well as safety upgrades at level crossings on the Swan Hill line.

Victorian Minister for Public Transport Ben Carroll said that works had been aligned with upgrades to the Sunbury Line and Metro Tunnel works to reduce disruption.

“We’ve done months of planning to make sure we get as much done as possible while minimising the disruption for passengers,” he said.

“The safety of the community is our number one priority, which is why we’re working to upgrade level crossings and road intersections across the state.”

Near Kerang, train detection technology will be upgraded and boom barriers added to crossings at Murray, Victoria, Vaughan, and Wellington streets.

On the Bendigo line, ballast and drainage will be improved, culvert maintenance will be carried out in Clarkefield and the track and road surface will be renewed at the Ravenswood Street level crossing.

More than 8,000 sleepers will be replaced on the Echuca line, while the signalling system at the Murray Valley Highway crossing will be adjusted to allow for new traffic signals nearby.

Maintenance on the tracks between Castlemaine and Maldon will be carried out by Victorian Goldfields Railway, to support heritage services on that section of line.

Rail milling works will be conducted between Kyneton and Gisbourne. These improvements are funded by $1m from the Victorian government’s Building Works stimulus package.

Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan said the works would improve rail travel in north west Victoria.

“These rail lines are a vital link for many Northern Victorians – we’re getting on with these upgrades to make sure passengers continue to have safe, comfortable and efficient journeys around our state well into the future.”

Works will begin on Friday, November 6 and continue until Saturday, November 21. Trains will be replaced by coach services.

Goldfields Railway infrastructure project creating regional rail skills pathway

A joint program is developing practical skills in rail for indigenous and vulnerable people in partnership with the Victorian Goldfields Railway.

The project brings together the heritage Victorian Goldfields Railway, with the Mount Alexander Shire Council, Bendigo and District Aboriginal Co-operative and the Centre for Excellence in Rail Training(CERT).

Participants will assist with upgrading rail infrastructure between Castlemaine and Maldon, managed by the Victorian Goldfields Railway, while progressing to a Certificate II in Rail Infrastructure.

The partnership is supported by $90,000 from the Victorian government’s Flexible Local Transport Solutions Program. The program provides funding for local transport initiatives, services and infrastructure in regional Victoria.

Victorian Minister for Public Transport Ben Carroll said the unique collaboration would deliver long-term benefits.

“We know how important that first step on the ladder to meaningful employment is – this training program will deliver strong job prospects to local jobseekers and boost Victoria’s strong field of transport infrastructure talent.”

Anthony Fritsche, executive general manager – Workforce Solutions at Engenco, the parent company of CERT, said that the training deliver will be tailored to the needs of the project while providing an ongoing pathway.

“CERT’s Certificate II in Rail Infrastructure will be contextualised to the needs of the Victorian Goldfields Infrastructure Project to ensure candidates are all job ready and motivated to further develop their careers on such an exciting regional Victorian project,” he said.

“CERT has extensive experience in delivering career development programs in regional rail infrastructure projects and continues to work with industry and all levels of government to facilitate employment pathways for new entrant and indigenous job seekers.”

In-kind support worth over $50,000 is being contributed by the Victorian Goldfields Railway, and president Steve Strangward said the project would speed up completion of the project.

“The program will accelerate completing a $2 million major infrastructure and track upgrade currently underway.”

IBAC announces corruption investigation into V/Line and Metro

Victoria’s Independent Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) has formally announced that it is conducting an investigation into serious corrupt conduct in Victoria’s public transport sector.

The announcement follows months of rumours which have swirled since V/Line CEO James Pinder was stood down by the Victorian Minister for Public Transport Ben Carroll in August.

The investigation will focus on procurement and tendering processes within the Victorian public transport sector, with suggestions that cleaning contracts may be a focus.

IBAC commissioner Robert Redlich said the investigation would cover the management of contracts between V/Line, Metro and suppliers.

“The hearings will examine the effectiveness of controls associated with the proper delivery of essential services in the state’s public transport system during a time of critical importance to the health and wellbeing of Victorians,” said Redlich.

Hearings will begin on Monday, October 26 and be streamed online.

“As part of IBAC’s focus on preventing corruption, the public hearings will also consider whether the current systems and controls are sufficient to protect the integrity of the tendering and procurement process, and examine potential systemic issues, including how organisational culture and practices may have contributed,” said Redlich.

Hearings will look into whether contract tender and procurement processes were swayed by monetary incentives or gifts.

Since being stood down, Pinder has been replaced by Gary Liddle, who had previously steered V/Line through a troubled period in 2016 when safety concerns led to regional services not being able to travel through Melbourne. Nick Foa, head of transport services at the Department of Transport briefly stood in before Liddle was appointed.

Metro Trains rollingstock manager Peter Bollas was also stood down in August due to the same investigation.

Sleeper replacement works on Ararat Line complete

Sleeper replacement works on the Ararat line were completed last week, taking the total number of replaced sleepers on the Victorian regional rail network to 100,000 in 2020.

34,000 sleepers were replaced between Ararat and Wendouree in just over two months, and followed sleeper replacements on the Bendigo and Warrnambool lines.

Victorian Minister for Public Transport Ben Carroll said the works showed the ability for works to continue safely during COVID-19.

“We’ve taken extra steps to allow projects like this to continue safely and help keep track workers, suppliers and contractors working during the coronavirus pandemic,” said Carroll.

“To install 100,000 sleepers on the regional rail network this year is a fantastic effort from crews and shows that we are continuing work on important infrastructure projects during these extraordinary times.”

With the sleeper replacement works complete, Ararat line services can return to normal speeds and the permanent timetable will come into effect from October 22. Trains have been running at slower speeds to allow the newly installed sleepers to bed down.

Old sleepers were replaced with new, long-lifespan concrete sleepers produced at Avalon, near Geelong.

Over 50 people worked during the night in 10-day blocks to ensure that trains could continue running. Works began after the last train each night and finished before the first service each morning.

Every sleeper on the 22-kilometre section between Buangor and Dobie was replaced, and the track beneath the road at the Warrayatkin Road level crossing in Dobie was renewed.

Member for Western Victoria Jaala Pulford said the works would improve the passenger experience on the Ararat line.

“These works are vitally important for the ongoing upkeep of the line, to ensure passengers can continue to have a safe, reliable, and comfortable experience on services to Ararat.”

Works have been carried out by V/Line and followed Health Department guidelines.