Melbourne Airport

Melbourne airport rail link no longer up in the air

A future train line to the Melbourne airport will utilise the under-construction Melbourne Metro tunnel, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews confirmed on Saturday.

The route was confirmed along with a start date for construction and a forecast completion date of 2029. Read more

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.

New public transport minister in Vic cabinet reshuffle

A reshuffle of minister in Victoria has seen changes within the transport portfolios.

Ben Carroll has been appointed Minister for Public Transport and Minister for Roads and Road Safety, taking the Public Transport portfolio from Melissa Horne.

Premier Daniel Andrews said in a statement that the former Minister for Crime Prevention, Corrections, Youth Justice, and Victim, support would be stepping forward.

“Ben Carroll will step into the frontline roles of Minister for Public Transport and Minister for Roads and Road Safety, continuing to ensure we have the reliable and integrated transport network we need to get Victorians home safer and sooner.”

Melissa Horne will continue as Minister for Ports and Freight and has added Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation to her portfolios.

Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan has retained her transport portfolio and added the title of Minister for the Suburban Rail Loop.

“Jacinta Allan will lead the delivery of our biggest public transport project and reshape our suburbs as the Minister for the Suburban Rail Loop. She will also continue to oversee Development Victoria and the key transport precincts of Arden, Sunshine and the Richmond to Flinders Street corridor,” said Andrews.

The ministerial reshuffle follows the removal of Adem Somyurek, Marlene Kairouz, and Robin Scott after the branch stacking scandal.

In a tweet, Allan said that she was proud to be Minister for Suburban Rail Loop.

“Victoria’s biggest ever project which will change the way we move around forever – creating 10,000s jobs during construction and more jobs and services in Melbourne’s suburbs.”

TBMs

TBMs all boring under Melbourne for Metro Tunnel

All four tunnel boring machines (TBMs) on the Melbourne Metro Tunnel project are in the ground, ensuring that the project is on track to be finished in 2025, a year ahead of schedule.

Premier Daniel Andrews said that having all TBMs working at the same time was a milestone for the project.

“We’re making significant progress on this landmark project – with all four tunnel boring machines in the ground.”

The news comes as other significant works are completed. At Parkville station, excavation of the station box at Grattan Street is complete and 50 steel columns are being installed at the under-construction State Library Station.

Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan thanked those who were working on the project.

“The team have worked around-the-clock to get the four tunnel boring machines underway, while observing social distancing and keeping workers safe.”

Andrews echoed that these works would have an economy-boosting impact.

“Big construction projects like the Metro Tunnel are more important than ever as we rebuild from the pandemic – kickstarting our economy and supporting thousands of jobs.”

Of the four TBMs, two are tunnelling from the Ardern site in North Melbourne towards Parkville. TBMs Meg and Joan, named after Australian cricketer Meg Lanning and Victoria’s first female Premier Joan Kirner, are completing the two parallel tunnels.

At the eastern portal TBM Millie and TBM Alice, named after Millie Peacock – Victoria’s first female member of Parliament – and Alice Appleford, wartime nurse, are excavating the twin tunnels from Anzac Station to South Yarra.

$328m for transport upgrades around Victoria

300km of regional rail track and 15 train stations will be upgraded as part of a $2.7 billion spending plan to help Victoria recover after the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The spending will be spread across the economy, including education, social housing, and tourism upgrades, however $328 million is targeted at the transport sector.

Part of the funding will go towards upgrades of trains and trams and is in addition to the $107bn Big Build program.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said that the funding will go to projects that will begin immediately.

“We’re getting to work on hundreds of new projects across the state, meaning shovels in the ground – and boots in the mud – within a matter of weeks and months,” he said.

“From upgrading our roads and rail, to critical maintenance for social housing and new projects for our tourist destinations, this package will create jobs for our local tradies and so many others – and support local businesses all over Victoria.”

$90m will be invested in upgrading and replacing sleepers, structures, and signalling across the regional rail network. This funding will cover the renewal of 300km of sleepers and ballast across the regional network.

$62.6m will go towards the maintenance and restoration of trams and regional trains. Over half of this funding will go towards improving the reliability of V/Line trains.

$23m will be spent on improving stations and stops, including better seating, passenger information, toilets, and accessibility upgrades.

$5.6m will be spent on removing rubbish and graffiti as well as managing vegetation along transport corridors.

Chief executive of Infrastructure Partnerships Australia Adrian Dwyer said that the funding was well structured.

“The phase one package provides the right blend of projects and programs that will support job creation and stimulate economic activity,” he said.

“The focus on new and existing projects across schools, social housing, and road and rail maintenance means that the benefits of this stimulus will be broad-based.”

Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas said that the funding will help the wider economy.

“We’ve always said Victoria is the engine room of the nation – with this package, we’re cranking the engine and kickstarting our economy.”

The entire funding package is expected to create 3,700 direct jobs with many thousands more in the supply chain. For companies which need to hire extra employees, the Victorian government has mandated that new hires are to be found through the Working for Victoria scheme.

In a press conference on May 18, Andrews said that this announcement would be followed by other announcements which will target particular sectors. Andrews would not confirm whether the Melbourne Airport Rail Link would be announced, however he suggested that a decision would be made soon.

Three more level crossings scheduled for removal by July

Three more level crossings are set to go by July on Melbourne’s Frankston line.

In an update to the project, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan highlighted that level crossings at Park and Charman roads in Cheltenham, and Balcombe Road in Mentone will be gone by mid-year.

Additionally, the new Kananook Train Storage Facility is scheduled to open in early May while construction on the new Carrum station and open spaces continues.

“We’ve worked really hard with our construction partners to ensure we can get this vital work done that will deliver more trains, more often – whilst protecting the safety of our workforce and supporting local jobs,” said Allan.

In addition to these three level crossings, work will also begin on site offices and work areas at Edithvale, Chelsea, and Bonbeach to remove five level crossings and build three new stations, making it one of the largest combined works blitzes in the Level Crossing Removal Project.

“This will be the biggest level crossing construction blitz we’ve ever done, but the disruption will be worth it,” said Andrews.

The nine-week blitz will begin in late May, with one extra week added to allow for physical distancing and other health and safety measures to be implemented. More than 1,700 workers will be employed across the sites in south-east Melbourne to build the new rail trenches and roads over the rail line.

After trains return to the line in July, finishing works at the new Cheltenham and Mentone stations will continue, with both stations expected to open in August.

The works are part of a $3 billion investment in the Frankston Line, which involves the removal of 18 level crossings and 12 new stations. The line will also benefit from the Metro Tunnel construction, as trains on the Cranbourne/Pakenham line will not share the track with Frankston line trains from South Yarra, enabling a 15 per cent increase in capacity on the Frankston line in peak periods.

Melbourne trains now using new rail bridge

Trains are travelling over the new rail bridge at Toorak Road for the first time as part of the Toorak Road level crossing removal.

On Monday morning, April 13, Victoria’s 35th level crossing was officially removed, six months ahead of schedule.

For the past nine days, crews have worked around the clock to remove the boom gates, lay new tracks, install wiring and signalling, and connect the new rail bridge to the Glen Waverley Line.

The new rail bridge was largely constructed with 40 locally manufactured L-beams forming the bridge, each up to 31 metres long and weighing up to 128 tonnes. 

Prior to its removal, Toorak Road was one of Victoria’s most congested level crossings. 

 The major removal is part of Victoria’s Big Build program, and works continue to deliver the Labor Government’s $70 billion infrastructure program.

The Metro Tunnel Project’s first two Tunnel Boring Machines (TBMs), Joan and Meg, have both broken through at South Kensington.

The remaining two TBMs, Alice and Millie, are being assembled at Anzac Station, with preparations underway for both machines to be launched in the coming weeks.

The Regional Rail Revival program is also on track. Workers have upgraded four level crossings on the Warrnambool line as part of the $114 million Warrnambool Line Upgrade. 

Premier Daniel Andrews said 35 dangerous and congested level crossings have been removed and the government is now almost halfway to delivering its promise of removing 75 level crossings by 2025.

“Work looks a little different on our big build – with extra physical distancing precautions in place due to coronavirus, so we can protect our workers and protect their jobs,” Andrews said.

Strict protocols are in place on all Major Transport Infrastructure Authority worksites to protect the health and safety of construction workers and the community, and are consistent with the advice from the Chief Health Officer.

Construction activities have been modified to allow social distancing and extra protection for workers who need to work in proximity for short periods of time, as well as enhanced industrial cleaning and additional hygiene measures in place.

Jacinta Allan, minister for transport infrastructure said more vital works will continue across the city and state, with additional measures to keep workers safe and to get these projects done.

Murray Basin Rail Project has run out of steam

The $440 million Murray Basin Rail Project needs urgent assistance to help complete the half-finished upgrades, according to the Rail Freight Alliance (RFA).

It’s been more than six months since the Victorian Government acknowledged the project had run out of funding. An Auditor General’s report is due next month to conduct a thorough review and investigation of the upgrade.

The RFA is calling on the state government to quickly fund the rest of the Murray Basin Rail Project.

Reid Mather, RFA chief executive officer said he is exceptionally disappointed at the current status of the project that is still yet to meet the scope of stage 2 that was due for completion in 2018.

Mather says the entire project will have to start from scratch and revisit stage 1 and 2.

“There is now a big slab of rail lines in Victoria that are exceptionally wrong due to underwhelming upgrades,” he said.

The completion of stage one, which began five years ago, included carrying out essential maintenance works across 3,400m of rail and roughly 130,000 sleepers in the Mildura freight line between Yelta and Maryborough.

The entire project is intended to convert parts of the Victorian freight rail network’s historical broad gauge to the standard gauge used in most other parts of Australia to enable tracks to have a higher axle loads for more efficient intrastate freight transfer.

However Mather claims that operators are saying that the network is slower than ever before.

Mather said Mildura to Melbourne was previously a 12 hour direct route before the upgrade project. In stage one, 30km of stabling was removed which now requires trains to route around Ararat and Geelong – now 17 hours a journey from Mildura to Melbourne.

“It is unacceptable. There is now a reduced capacity and uncertainty,” Mather said. 

Rail Projects Victoria is reported to be the organisation to carry out the review.

A Department of Transport spokesman told the Ararat Advertiser that the review would determine the most cost-effective outcomes of any future spending and make recommendations on the way forward.

“The Murray Basin Rail Project is delivering better, more efficient freight services for Victoria and continues to be a key project for the Victorian and Australian governments,” the DoT spokesman told the Ararat Advertiser.

“The project has already seen freight trains return to the Mildura and Murrayville to Ouyen lines with standard gauge access, and to the Maryborough to Ararat line, which has been reopened after 15 years,

“We know how vital this project is for our regional communities and the Victorian Government is working with the Federal Government to review the Murray Basin Rail Project business case, to jointly determine the best way forward.”

The state government last year announced the remaining $23m of the $440m federal and state money set aside for the project would go on urgent repairs to the Manangatang line and a new business case.

A spokeswoman for Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan said a business case would be handed to the federal authorities by early to mid-2020.

Mather said the window for getting federal budget funding, to complete the project, was rapidly closing and requires urgent attention from state and federal officials.

“Works were meant to be completed by 2018 and certainly won’t be starting this year. The current network is in grid lock and it’s time to get the bones right,” Mather said.

“It’s all in the [government’s] hands.”