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

Where are rail’s “shovel-ready” projects?

Rail experts are calling for more plans to be developed to a “shovel-ready” stage, so that rail can take advantage of current infrastructure funding announcements.

With the federal government looking to states to nominate infrastructure projects that are ready to be rapidly implemented, a lack of ready to go projects is hampering rail’s ability to capitalise on current funding offers.

Rail Futures Institute President John Hearsch said that the industry needed to have projects prepared.

“While there’s lots of plans, having projects at a stage where they can be fairly rapidly implemented by and large doesn’t happen very much in the rail industry,” he said.

According to an industry survey carried out by the Australasian Railway Association (ARA), the most important action governments can make is to continue current projects. Caroline Wilkie, CEO of the ARA, welcomed the Morrison’s announcement that Inland Rail will be one of 15 fast-tracked projects.

In addition to the selected fast-track projects, Morrison has also dedicated $1.5bn to infrastructure funding. While road projects have been funded around the country, rail projects have largely missed out. Hearsch attributed the situation to the multiple bodies which have a responsibility for rail track infrastructure.

“It’s a reflection of the fact that the industry has become very disaggregated. Roads, broadly speaking, are either usually funded by the state or local government, whereas in the case of rail, you’ve got multiple track managers with differing agendas. Here in Victoria we’ve got three, MTM, V/Line, and ARTC.”

Wilkie noted the need to streamline approval processes to ensure rail projects are “shovel-ready”.

“Nationally consistent planning and procurement approaches are needed to get projects up and running faster. It is good to see governments looking at how we can make federal, state, and local approvals processes work more efficiently to support the COVID-19 recovery and we would like to see that focus continue beyond the current circumstances.”

While some projects are awaiting imminent final approval from the federal government, such as the updated Murray Basin Rail Project and Melbourne’s Airport Rail Link, ongoing discussions between the state and federal government have delayed the process. Wilkie said that work needs to begin for the next wave of rail projects.

“A strong project pipeline will help keep people working when the initial stimulus is over. Rail will play an important role, both in the short term and in the continuing recovery effort.”

With grain volumes increasing in Victoria, Hearsch nominated the need to reopening the Inglewood-Eaglehawk link as one “shovel-ready” project that would also improve road safety.

“By committing to a shovel-ready project that should take no more than 10 weeks to complete, there will be additional local jobs and business for regional Victorian suppliers hard-hit by the coronavirus recession,” said Hearsch.

“A big rise in the number of heavy trucks will have negative consequences for the wider community including accelerated damage to regional roads, dangerous driving conditions for motorists in rural and urban areas, increased air pollution and emissions and unnecessarily higher fuel consumption.”

At a cost of $25 million, the now dormant 41km line would remove bottlenecks south of Dunolly. Completion of the project in the short term would also not interfere with the long-term plan for the Murray Basin Rail Project.

“The Murray Basin Rail Project and the Inglewood-Eaglehawk line restoration are both means to a single end – moving as much freight as possible by rail – and through sound planning can be integrated compatibly,” said Hearsch.

As Wilkie noted, the benefits of rail go well beyond the project itself.

“Rail projects can reduce congestion and support sustainable outcomes to make our cities and communities function better and be more enjoyable to live in. Those benefits are sometimes hard to assess in a project approvals process, but they are the outcomes people want to see from infrastructure investment.

“Current stimulus projects should leave the legacy of better, smarter and more sustainable infrastructure long after they are completed and the rail industry can deliver that.”

infrastructure

Roads swallow federal infrastructure funding as ACT bags new light rail stop

In a flurry of infrastructure funding announcements, the federal government has only allocated funding for one new rail project, a new stop on the Canberra light rail line in Mitchell.

The stop, at the intersection of Flemington Road and Sandford Street, will be the 14th for the network. The federal government and ACT governments will each contribute $6 million.

The funding comes from the $1.5 billion of infrastructure funding announced by the Prime Minister Scott Morrison on June 15. As of June 22, roughly a third of the funding had been announced, with the light rail stop in Canberra the only rail project receiving funding.

In his address on June 15, Morrison noted that $500m of the funding would go towards road safety upgrades, and $1bn would be for non-mode specific “shovel-ready” projects that were identified by the states and territories.

So far, funding allocated under the ‘shovel-ready” project stream has been distributed to Queensland with $204.3m, Western Australia has received $96m, $13.6m to the NT, and $16m in the ACT.

Out of the hundreds of millions allocated to “shovel-ready” projects, $11m will go towards non-road projects, with $6m for the Canberra light rail stop and $5m for pavement rehabilitation along Northbourne Avenue, also in Canberra.

A federal government spokesperson said that further road and rail commitments to be funded under the $1.5bn infrastructure package will be announced in due course.

ACT Minister for Transport Chris Steel said that work would soon get underway on the new tram stop.

“Design is being undertaken on a 14th stop on the light rail line and we will work with Canberra Metro to build the station at Sandford St over the next year,” he said.

“The new light rail stop on Flemington Road at Sandford Street will provide better access to the Mitchell business district in addition to the existing stop at Well Station Drive.”

infrastructure

Industry groups welcome infrastructure fast-track, but say there is more to do

Groups representing the logistics and infrastructure sectors have welcomed the federal government’s focus on cutting approval times and increasing investment in infrastructure.

On Monday, June 15, the federal government announced an extra $1.5 billion for infrastructure projects as well as 15 priority projects, including Inland Rail, that would have approvals fast-tracked.

In his speech to the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that the Commonwealth had a role to play in the environmental approval of projects. With delays under this legislation costing industry over $300 million in 2019, Morrison said the government aimed to reduce approval times from 40 days on average to 30, a 25 per cent cut over the 2020 year.

“Ultimately, our objective is the streamlining of Commonwealth and state processes to a point of ‘single touch approvals’,” said Morrison.

Australian Logistics Council CEO Kirk Coningham said these changes would be of great benefit to businesses that operate national supply chains.

“The Prime Minister’s commitment to addressing regulatory burdens that increase cost and compliance burdens on businesses that operate across multiple jurisdictions is especially welcome,” he said.

Coningham welcomed news that the Deregulation Taskforce will take a national leadership role in the removal of regulatory impediments from within the Prime Minister’s department.

“ALC agrees with the Prime Minister’s observation that many of our laws have not kept pace with the development of technology. There are numerous opportunities within the freight and logistics sector to more effectively deploy technology to advance the efficiency, safety and visibility of freight movement,” said Coningham.

Coningham said that ensuring continuing flexibility for freight operators will be key to the ongoing resilience of Australia’s supply chains.

Chief executive of Infrastructure Partnerships Australia Adrian Dwyer highlighted that enabling works to start immediately on priority infrastructure projects is a good step, but more should be done to revive the economy.

“Fast-tracking projects that respond to population growth and sectoral transformations in energy, transport, and resource recovery should be the priority moving forward,” he said.

“If the federal government wants to supercharge aggregate demand it should use its balance sheet capacity to deploy more money into new infrastructure projects.

“The federal government can and should redeploy the $60 billion saving from its recalculated JobKeeper program into a bold new infrastructure agenda.”

approvals

Inland Rail approvals get fast-tracked in $1.5bn federal infrastructure spend

The approvals for the construction of Inland Rail will be sped up, as part of a $1.5 billion investment in infrastructure.

The Melbourne to Brisbane freight rail link is one of 15 priority projects that Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday, June 15, announced would benefit from expedited approvals. The list of projects also includes rail works in Western Australia.

Morrison said that joint assessment teams will be established between the Commonwealth, state, and territory governments to fast-track approvals.

The new spending on infrastructure follows a meeting of Australia’s transport and infrastructure ministers on Friday June 5, where the role of government to publicly fund infrastructure to spur an economic recovery following coronavirus (COVID-19) was prioritised.

Transport infrastructure was singled out as not only contributing to economic activity in its construction, but ongoing resilience to disasters such as bushfires. Ministers said that they would work to reduce administrative bottlenecks to get existing infrastructure projects underway.

In a communique released after the meeting, ministers said they would aim to have infrastructure lead the nation’s recovery from COVID-19.

“Ministers further agreed to work together to harmonise and streamline processes to clear the way for an infrastructure-led recovery to Australia’s current economic condition including consideration of infrastructure bodies processes and environmental approvals.”

At the June 5 meeting, ministers also discussed measures to get commuters back onto public transport, while ensuring safety.

Western Sydney Airport Metro line to begin construction this year

An extra $3.5 billion will be invested by the NSW and federal governments for the Sydney Metro – Western Sydney Airport line, with construction to commence before the end of 2020, announced Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

“Construction is already well underway on the airport, and later this year works will start on this new Metro service which will link the suburbs of Western Sydney to the rest of Sydney,” said Morrison.

Morrison made the announcement of extra federal funding alongside NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

“This project is moving forward, through the hard work that has been carried out by the Federal, New South Wales and local governments over the past year,” said Berejiklian.

“The opportunities this mega project will provide are vital as our economy recovers from the financial impact of the COVID-19.”

The line will include six metro stations, including two at the airport, one at the terminal and another at the business park. Stations will also be built in the Western Sydney Aerotropolis, Orchard Hills, and Luddenham. An interchange station will be built at St Marys to connect the line with the rest of the Sydney network.

The 23km line is expected to cost $11bn and is scheduled to open in 2026 in time for the opening of Western Sydney International (Nancy-Bird Walton) Airport.

NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance said that the metro line will be at the centre of the under-development region.

“This new metro railway line will become the transport spine for the region, connecting travellers from the new airport to the rest of Sydney’s public transport system.”

Federal Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure Alan Tudge said that the project would support the wider economy.

“This project will support 14,000 jobs, bringing new opportunities for the people of Western Sydney, closer to home,” he said.

“It represents an economic stimulus in the middle of Western Sydney, supporting jobs for electricians, carpenters, plumbers, tunnellers, surveyors, crane and forklift operators and truck drivers.”

Stimulus a welcome boost for rail industry

Yesterday, federal Treasurer Josh Frydenburg and Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the $130 billion wage subsidy package.

The announcement goes well beyond previous stimulus packages by giving 6 million workers a flat payment of $1,500 per fortnight, through their employer.

The assistance is available to businesses with a turnover of less than $1 billion and have had a reduction in revenue of 30 per cent or more in a month since March 1, 2020. The expansion of eligibility means that many more companies will have access to these funds than previous measures.

For companies in the rail industry, such funding could be a lifeline to hold onto staff who may have otherwise been let go said Dennis Mah – strategy and commercial development – at Sonaray, which supplies lighting to rail projects.

“We will be taking advantage of all the government packages to retain all staff as long as possible. Luckily our over heads are not that high but when there is no or limited cash flow it hurts the bottom line,” said Mah.

Announcing the measures, Morrison noted that the funds will help businesses survive through the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“This is about keeping the connection between the employer and the employee and keeping people in their jobs even though the business they work for may go into hibernation and close down for six months,” he said.

“When the economy comes back, these businesses will be able to start again and their workforce will be ready to go because they will remain attached to the business through our JobKeeper payment.”

According to Mah, however, there is further room for companies in the rail sector in particular to complete works now that would otherwise not be done.

“This could be the ideal time to access a lot of areas where normally it is restricted due to high pedestrian traffic.”

Suburban Rail Loop starts next phase at Box Hill

The Victorian Government is carrying out geotechnical work on the Suburban Rail Loop project, signalling the start of extensive ground works. 

The geotechnical work encompasses borehole drilling to depths of between 30-60 metres at the Box Hill site, with samples to be analysed over the next fortnight for soil and rock composition and stability. The work is intended to identify suitable locations for the underground stations.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan were in attendance at Box Hill to announce the next phase of the project as it moves towards its anticipated 2022 construction start date.

“We said we’d get the Suburban Rail Loop started and that’s what we’re doing – with geotechnical work now underway in Box Hill,” Andrews said.

The $50 billion Suburban Rail Loop, part of Victoria’s Big Build program, is intended to connect Melbourne’s middle suburbs through an underground 90-kilometre rail link running from the Frankston line to the Werribee line via Melbourne Airport. 

The project, which is planned to incorporate several new stations looping from the southeast to the northwest of the city, may not be fully completed until the 2050s. Andrews stated that the project would change the way people move around Melbourne, “slashing travel times and better connecting people with jobs, education and other vital services, wherever they live”.

The expensive project received a funding blow following Labor’s defeat at the federal election in May. Former Labor leader Bill Shorten promised $10 billion for the project in the event of winning the election, including $300 million in matched funding with the Victorian Government, but this failed to transpire due to his loss to Liberal leader Scott Morrison.

Infrastructure sector calls on Coalition to convert rhetoric into action

Industry think tank Infrastructure Partnerships Australia has called on the Federal Coalition Government to ensure it keeps to the promises laid out in its 2019 Budget following its surprise election win last week.

The group’s chief executive Adrian Dwyer lauded both Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition leader Bill Shorten for their respective efforts in the election before commenting that the government’s approach to infrastructure would “define the success” of its term.

The Coalition’s funding package includes national initiatives such as a $2.2 billion road safety package; $4 billion urban congestion fund; $2 billion fast rail plan that includes a high-speed link between Geelong and Melbourne, and several further fast rail business cases in eastern Australia; the Melbourne-to-Brisbane Inland Rail project; and the $5 billion Melbourne Airport Rail Link.

“The 2019 Budget showed that the Coalition Government takes infrastructure seriously, and now that rhetoric needs to convert into action,” Dwyer said.

“In this new term of parliament there are a number of major issues that will need to be front and centre on the Prime Minister’s infrastructure agenda.”

The Coalition Government has lifted total infrastructure funding to $29.5 billion above forward estimates, and has a long-term plan to raise transport infrastructure investment to $100 billion over the next 10 years.

While Dwyer praised these plans, he added that the Coalition would have to tackle reform challenges such as settling energy policy to end the investment strike, boosting productivity with “big ticket infrastructure reforms” and address road funding concerns.

“The Coalition has already taken the sensible step of reversing the recent decline in funding for critical projects, lifting total infrastructure funding to $29.5 billion over the forward estimates,” Dwyer added.

“Much more however will need to be done to ensure that Australia retains its hard-won reputation as a leader and global standard bearer for sound infrastructure policy.”