Melbourne to trial real-time crowding data

As part of an overhaul of the PTV app, Melbourne commuters will be able to see how full their train is before boarding.

The technology will first undergo a trial with a small group of public transport users on trains and buses in Melbourne.

Data will come from passenger counting sensors and predictive modelling technology and be fed into real-time updates displayed on the PTV app.

Victorian minister for Public Transport and Roads Ben Carroll said the trial will enable passengers to return to public transport safely.

“The coronavirus pandemic has presented an opportunity for us to rethink how we travel around the state – we want these passenger modelling trials to help people travel more reliably and safely,” he said.

“While everyone has been doing the right thing and staying home over the past few months, we’ve been hard at work to make Victorians’ journeys easier and safer as we move towards a COVID Normal world.”

In addition to crowding data, real-time location information on buses and trains will be communicated through the app.

The updated app will also allow travellers to top up their myki cards and view their balance.

New personalisation features include saving home and work locations, searching favourite journeys, stops, and stations, and improved journey planning capabilities for more predictable journeys.

The needs of blind and low-vision passengers have been incorporated in the app’s redesign, and VoiceOver and TalkBack capabilities enable the app to be fully accessible. Neil King, national manager digital access at Vision Australia said the functions would be welcomed by those with a disability.

“Public transport is vital for people with disability. The Department of Transport’s decision to consider accessibility at the outset of the design process means important public transport information is now fully available to all Victorians.”

Based on current trials and feedback further functionality may be added to the app in the future.

Mildura Line

Ouyen intermodal future awaits MBRP outcome

A community group in in Ouyen, north-west Victoria, is closing in on the construction of a new intermodal terminal, however is awaiting one missing link; the replacement of a rail siding removed in the aborted Murray Basin Rail Project (MBRP).

The Ouyen Intermodal Project, backed by local development organisation Ouyen Inc, hopes to remove roughly 9,000 trucks off rural roads in the region with five weekly train services between Ouyen and the Port of Melbourne.

The facility would serve local agricultural businesses seeking to get products to port, including hay growers Wingara AG who announced this week its subsidiary JC Tanloden is planning to construct a hay processing plant in Ouyen. The hay, grown in the Mallee region, would be processed at Ouyen and then transported by rail to the Port of Melbourne for export.

Other industries keen for an intermodal facility at Ouyen include grape growers and mineral sands enterprises.

According to Ouyen Inc president Scott Anderson, the facility would be welcomed by growers, transport businesses and the local community.

“With the right governance structure and operators in place we are confident of getting these big freight volumes off the road and onto the rail network. We don’t want to compete against the road transport industry in North West Victoria, but instead work with them. These companies already have existing export warehouses and cool rooms established, so working in conjunction with them means not having to duplicate this system at Ouyen.”

Project consultant Michael O’Callaghan said the choice of situating the intermodal facility at Ouyen was also strategic for freight rail operations.

“Our selected site will allow a short road haul from warehouse or farm to a rail terminal that is the furthest distance from the Port of Melbourne, where trains can get up and back in a day, unloading and reloading at both ends and refuelling on a consistent basis. This is considered the ‘holy grail’ of running freight trains into North West Victoria.”

With an agreement now negotiated between Ouyen Inc and the landowner, a Heads of Agreement with a national intermodal operator, and support from local exporters, the only thing holding back the terminal is its connection to the rail network.

The former rail siding was removed during the first stage of the MBRP, which involved converting the Mildura and Murrayville lines, which Ouyen sits at the junction of, from broad to standard gauge. With the revised business case for the MBRP awaiting federal government approval, Ouyen Inc. is calling upon the Victorian government to ensure that the siding is replaced.

While a Victorian Department of Transport spokesperson would not commit to the works, they encouraged further development of the proposal.

“The Department of Transport is aware of ongoing work towards establishing an intermodal terminal in Ouyen and encourages the proponents to continue working on the necessary elements to demonstrate the terminal is commercially sustainable,” the spokesperson said.

“We look forward to further discussions regarding this proposal as the proponents continue to advance it.”

With a business case being prepared on behalf of Ouyen Inc, the construction of the facility, scheduled for December 2021, hinges upon government support.

V/Line

V/Line CEO stood down

Victorian Minister for Public Transport Ben Carroll has suspended V/Line CEO James Pinder.

Carroll made the decision due to advice from the Department of Transport that the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) had launched an investigation.

“On the basis of that advice, I directed the V/Line Board to immediately suspend Mr Pinder, while IBAC carries out its investigation,” said Carroll in a statement.

Nick Foa, who is currently head of transport services at the Department of Transport will step into Pinder’s role.

According to reports, IBAC is investigating the Department of Transport but is not providing any further information.

V/Line previously came to the attention of IBAC in its investigation into TAFE qualifications for workers.

V/Line and the Department of Transport were also subject to criticism by the Victorian Auditor-General over their handling of the Murray Basin Rail Project, with the stalled project having “not met scope, time, cost or quality expectations”.

KTK Australia denies forced labour allegations

Allegations that slave labour was used in the production of components used in a number of Australian rollingstock fleets have been strongly denied by KTK Australia.

In a statement, KTK Australia said that such allegations “are based on no official documents, interviews or testimony”.

The allegations stem from a US Department of Commerce blacklist that included KTK Australia’s parent company, KTK Group. The US Department of Commerce said that KTK Group was implicated in human rights violations such as the forced labour of Muslim minority groups from Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

KTK Australia disputed the basis for these implications.

“KTK Group has never employed workers who are members of the Uyghur ethnic minority,” said the KTK Australia statement.

KTK Australia’s website lists its components as in use on a number of Australian rollingstock fleets. These include NSW’s New Intercity Fleet (NIF), and Sydney Metro, the X’Trapolis and High Capacity Metro Trains (HCMT) in Victoria, and Queensland’s Next Generation Rollingstock (NGR).

Bombardier, which manufactures the NGR fleet, said that it was closely looking into the allegations.

“Bombardier Transportation is aware of the recent action by the United States Commerce Department in relation to KTK Group Co. We are actively monitoring this new dynamic – impacting the transportation industry – and any effect this could have on our own supply chain, projects and products,” said a Bombardier Transportation spokesman.

In Bombardier’s Supplier Code of Conduct, which all suppliers must agree to, forced labour, modern slavery, and human trafficking are explicitly prohibited. The code outlines:

Bombardier will not engage in the use of forced or enslaved labour or human trafficking, nor will it tolerate their use at any level in its supply chains. Suppliers must not demand any work or service from any person under the menace of any penalty. For example, Suppliers’ employees must be free to leave work or terminate their employment with reasonable notice, and they are not required to surrender any government issued identification, passports or work permits as a condition of employment.

Alstom, which manufactures the Sydney Metro and X’Trapolis fleet, also prohibits forced labour in its supply chain. Its Ethics and Sustainable Development Charter requires that suppliers commit to the “elimination of all forms of illegal, forced or compulsory labour”.

A Victorian Department of Transport spokesperson said that it was assured that there is no evidence of forced labour in the supply chains of its rollingstock.

“We have asked our manufacturers to take additional steps to ensure the integrity of their supply chains, and we continue to monitor the situation and will consider further steps based on the outcomes of ongoing supply chain investigations.”

A Transport for NSW spokesperson highlighted that suppliers must comply with Australian laws covering subcontracting and reporting requirements.

“Transport for NSW also has rights to access and audit the supplier’s records and the materials, goods, workmanship or work methodology employed at any place where the supplier’s activities are being carried out.”

The NSW spokesperson said that the components in use on the NIF were from the French arm of KTK.

In a report published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), which is in part funded by the US State Department, KTK Group is named as one company that was involved in the transfer of Uyghurs out of Xinjiang. The report cites online news articles.

KTK Australia noted that the cited articles refer to non-Uyghur workers from Xinjiang constructing a playground in a city in Jiangsu province.

“KTK Group confirms that in 2018-19 it did employ a small number of workers from Xinjiang, who were not ethnically Uyghurs, all were properly employed and paid the same wage as all KTK other workers in the same positions,” the KTK Australia statement read.

The US Department of Commerce blacklist prohibits US companies from working with listed companies. KTK Group has no investments in the US and said the decision would not have a material impact on the business.

“KTK Group is a transparent company and we welcome any international customers to inspect our facilities and to audit our labour practices.”

Transport investment creates opportunity for skills development, local manufacturing

There is a significant opportunity to grow skills and investment in the Australian public transport sector, a new report has found.

Conducted by the Rail Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), Victoria University, and the Victorian Department of Transport, the report identifies changes to skills delivery and investment could fuel the sector and its supply chain.

The report made three primary findings, that young people do not know the diversity of roles in the public transport sector, that investment in the public transport supply chain encourages growth in the wider economy through innovation, and that new methods of training will be required to meet the demand for workers in the next 5 to 10 years.

CEO of the Rail Manufacturing CRC, Stuart Thomson said that the report’s finding can be used by the sector to inform future projects.

“The collective knowledge shared by the project participants highlighted some of the groundbreaking initiatives the transport sector is already undertaking to support its current workforce, while also emphasising new opportunities required in rail to attract, train and retain its future workforce,” said Thomson.

“We look forward to the transport sector utilising the results of this project to implement the key findings identified in the final report.”

As the pipeline of investment in public transport continues to grow, the sector will need to recruit to meet the demand for a growing workforce, and overcome stereotypes about the industry. The report found that young people are not aware of pathways in the transport sector outside of roles such as tram or train drivers, and that changing the perception of the workforce would tap into young people’s desire to be involved in public transport.

The study also recommended that investment not only target public transport projects themselves, but the local supply chains which support public transport. Investment in innovation, skills development boost the wider local economy, and can create ongoing jobs in advanced manufacturing.

As projects delivering new rollingstock progress over the next decade, the report noted that a diversity of skills will be required, and not just those that are currently being taught. Skills gaps such as in people-based soft skills will need to be addressed, highlights the report.

Operators contend with drops in passenger numbers

As government advice has encouraged people to stay at home during the coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic, passenger transport numbers have plummeted.

This has led to train and tram network operators working closely with governments to ensure that public transport, deemed an essential service, can keep running.

In Melbourne the impact on transport operators is most severe, as Yarra Trams and Metro Trains Melbourne are one of only a handful of private rail transport operators in Australasia that do not operate on a gross cost model. Instead, their net cost agreement with the Victorian government allows them to keep a percentage of the farebox revenue, 40 per cent according to The Age.

Both Yarra Trams and Metro Trains Melbourne have been in discussion with the Department of Transport to enable trams and trains to keep running.

“We are working closely with the Department of Transport to ensure we can continue to offer a safe and reliable service, while protecting the health of our people and those who must travel,” said Julien Dehornoy, CEO of Yarra Trams.

While services continue to run to a standard timetable, the falls in patronage have never been seen before.

“We have seen passenger numbers drop significantly as people heed the call to stay home and avoid all non-essential travel,” said Dehornoy.

While neither operator has cut staff numbers, Metro CEO Raymond O’Flaherty acknowledged that mitigation measures are in place.

“The pandemic is unprecedented, rapidly evolving and is impacting every organisation and business,” he said.

“We’re putting in place sensible measures to support our people and ensure we can keep providing an essential service for Melbourne.”

In a statement to Rail Express, the Victorian Department of Transport reaffirmed that the networks would remain operating. If changes do need to occur, they will be made based on medical advice and communicated ahead of time.

“Public transport is an essential service and continues to run for people who need to travel – but the clear advice is: if you can stay home you must stay home,” said a Department of Transport spokesperson.

“There has been reduction in the number of people traveling on our public transport network in line with people following the advice to stay home.”

In Western Australia, metropolitan train services have been reduced in Perth. From Sunday April 5 until Sunday April 26 Transperth Trains will operate on a Saturday timetable from Monday to Saturday. The Sunday/Public Holiday timetable will remain the same. To ensure that social distancing is maintained, the Public Transport Administration (PTA) will monitor patronage, said WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti.

“COVID-19 has had a big impact on patronage and this temporary adjustment in services is in response to that drop in demand.”

Review of rail freight project targets governance, planning for improvement

The Victorian Auditor-General has delivered a withering critique of the governance and delivery of the stalled Murray Basin Rail Project (MBRP) and the Freight-Passenger Rail Separation Project (FPRSP).

The MBRP, which promised to upgrade over 1,000km of rail track in regional Victoria to standard gauge, has been left unfinished as funds ran out and disputes between V/Line and the contractor, a McConnell Dowell and Martinus Rail joint venture, caused the project to spiral beyond its original budget.

The Victorian Auditor-General brought in V/Line and the Department of Transport for criticism, nothing that both projects “have not met scope, time, cost or quality expectations”.

Particularly concerning for the Auditor General was the way that the project had been handled.

“From a project and program management perspective we identified deficient project planning, cost estimation and scoping by the Department of Transport’s (DoT) predecessor agencies. V/Line Corporation’s (V/Line) inadequate contract and project management has also contributed to project delays and cost overruns for the MBRP Stage 2 works,” wrote the Auditor-General.

Rail industry figures have encouraged both the Victorian and federal governments to continue with the project, with the many benefits flowing to hard hit areas, said Pacific National CEO, Dean Dalla Valle.

“Governments of all political persuasions must be acutely aware how vital regional exports are to the overall health of the nation’s economy. With the current coronavirus outbreak, domestic and international trade are facing significant headwinds, now is not the time to neglect key transport supply chains in Australia,” he said.

Rail Futures Institute president, John Hearsch, echoed these statements.

“Until the project can be brought to a successful conclusion the rail industry and its operators are being disadvantaged in terms of service and cost and that impacts their competitiveness.”

The current works have left the network with extensive speed restrictions and roundabout routings, with the objective of improving axle loads not met. Rectifying this would see significant benefit for regional communities said Dalla Valle.

“Upgraded rail lines result in operators like Pacific National being able to run heavier freight trains at increased speeds. Upgraded lines also enhance safety across the network. This means safer, more cost-efficient and reliable rail haulage services to port; hence regional producers and exporters benefit. By extension a significant workforce in regional Australia benefits, including train crews, primary producers, farm workers – the list is long.”

The Rail Freight Alliance (RFA), a grouping of regional councils in Victoria, said that it is essential that the project is completed.

“With Victoria’s freight task estimated to treble by 2051 the Andrews government owes it to industry and Victorians to fix and complete the Murray Basin Rail Project to its original scope, as promised, and now is the time to do it.” RFA chair councillor Anita Rank said.

Currently, the Victorian government is finalising an updated business case for the remainder of the project, said Minister for Transport Infrastructure, Jacinta Allan. Once completed, the revised business case will be submitted to the federal government for consideration, which had contributed funding to the initial stages.

“We’ve been disappointed with the performance of the previous contractor and the management of the project previously by V/Line and that’s why some time ago the project has moved across to be delivered by Rail Projects Victoria,” said Allan.

According to the DoT, the MBRP remains a “priority project”.

“The Murray Basin Rail Project has already delivered benefits for the freight industry, but we know that there is more work to be done. That’s why the Victorian Government is working with the Commonwealth government to progress the business case,” said a DoT spokesperson.

In its report, the Auditor-General issued a number of recommendations, including recommending that V/Line expedite finalisation of all unfinished works in Stage 2 of the MBRP, improve its contract management of major infrastructure projects, and expedite assessment of the reason for temporary speed restrictions on the re-opened standard gauge line from Yelta to Ararat.

The Auditor-General also recommended that V/Line and the DoT both develop a sustainable funding approach for regional rail freight lines and improve network reliability and performance standards. The report also highlighted the need to identify regional rail freight needs, and ensure compliance with project risk management processes for all major capital projects.

Both the DoT and V/Line accepted all the recommendations, and in an action plan the Department of Transport noted that it would review the original MBRP business case by engaging with industry, and complete detailed modelling of the Murray Basin rail network. The Department pointed to the recently formed Rail Freight Working group as a method by which government and industry will work together on rail freight infrastructure projects.

Work completed on the rail network to date includes updating the Mildura and Murrayville to Ouyen lines to standard gauge, as well as the Maryborough to Ararat line. A junction near Ararat station will have its signalling upgraded in the coming months.

Dalla Valle highlighted that work to build a staging area for standard-gauge freight trains at Maryborough could act as a “pressure valve” for the network.

“The Murray Basin is the economic lifeblood of northwest Victoria, with regional rail veins pumping exports worth hundreds of millions into the state’s ports. Thousands of country and city jobs are supported by this freight and logistics ecosystem,” he said.