Passengers returning to public transport in WA

Commuters are getting back on trains, buses, and ferries in Western Australia, with patronage back up to almost 80 per cent of pre COVID-19 levels.

With the state COVID-19 free apart from overseas arrivals, life in Western Australia is beginning to return to pre-COVID norms.

WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said that the state had one of the best returns to public transport of any jurisdiction around the world.

“Western Australians’ return to public transport is back to almost 80 per cent of pre-COVID levels – one of the most successful returns to public transport across the world.”

In the latest publicly available figures, there were 3.755 million train boardings on the Transperth system in August. This is five times the number of boardings in April, which saw the lowest number of boardings with 718,519, and almost 70 per cent of 2019 figures. Patronage levels in September and October have been higher.

Driving the strong growth in patronage is the return of school students, with almost 100 per cent of pre-COVID-19 patronage, and pensioners, who had 90 per cent of pre-COVID levels. Tertiary students, however, remained low, at 60 per cent, due to the possibility and uptake of studying online.

The Western Australian government hopes that these numbers can lead to a return to growth in overall patronage numbers. In 2018-2019 the system saw the first growth in total boardings since 2012-2013. With further connections coming online with the completion of Metronet projects, these numbers are likely to increase.

Perth in particular compares well to other state and international capitals. According to the International Association of Public Transport Sydney is only at 50 per cent of pre-COVID levels, while Brisbane is at 60 per cent and Auckland is at 70 per cent. The ongoing lockdown in Melbourne is leading to patronage figures at 5 to 10 per cent of 2019 levels.

Morley Station

Contract signed for Morley-Ellenbrook Line construction

The contract for the construction of the Morley-Ellenbrook line has been signed, with the project coming in at $700 million, with contingency, escalation and ancillary costs taking the total project budget to $1.1bn.

The winning MELconnx Consortium, led by Laing O’Rouke, will deliver the project which involves 21km of new track and is the largest expansion of the Perth rail network since the Mandurah Line.

In addition to the new rail line, the project includes five new stations at Morley, Noranda, Malaga, Whiteman Park, and Ellenbrook, a future station will be developed at Bennett Springs East.

WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said the project was already making progress.

“Now the contract has been signed, the funding secured and early works are underway.”

These early works include the New Bayswater Station, where the line will begin from the Midland Line, and the Tonkin Gap Project which allows the line to access in and out of the Tonkin Highway and preparing the corridor for tracklaying.

WA Premier Mark McGowan said the project would boost the local economy.

“Now more than ever, big infrastructure projects like METRONET’s Morley-Ellenbrook Line are imperative to WA’s COVID-19 economic recovery as they create a pipeline of work and support thousands of jobs.”

The project is expected to be completed in 2023-24 and Federal Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure Alan Tudge said the benefits would be immediate and longlasting.

“Metronet will re-shape Perth and that transformation is underway all across the metropolitan area,” Tudge said.

“It means jobs right now and critical, targeted infrastructure for generations to come.”

The jointly state-federal funded project would cut public transport times in half for residents in the north-eastern suburbs of Perth, with direct trains from Ellenbrook Station arriving in the Perth CBD in 30 minutes.

MELconnx beat a CPB Contractors and Downer EDI joint venture to win the contract.

repairs

WA to progress business cases for reopening three Tier 3 grain lines

The Western Australian government has committed to developing three business cases for the reopening of three Tier 3 grain lines in the state.

The three lines to be looked at for reopening at, Quairading to York, Kulin via Yilliminning to Narrogin, and Kondining via Narembeen to West Merredin.

The combined cost of upgrading the three lines to narrow gauge standard is $486 million. As part of the investigation the WA government will consider upgrading the Kondinin to West Merredin line to standard gauge at an extra cost of $27.41m.

The three lines were chosen based on an engineering assessment released on September 24 which estimated the cost of reopening Tier 3 lines throughout the wheatbelt.

WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said that the report found that certain lines could be reopened.

“While the engineering report confirms restoring the entire network would involve significant costs, there are arguably specific lines where the cost of investment could be offset by ongoing commercial and community benefits such as reduced truck volumes on local roads and cost savings to farmers.”

Arc Infrastructure, which manages the WA freight rail network, said it would support the government and grain growers cooperate CBH Group in the submission of business cases to Infrastructure Australia.

“Arc acknowledges that the government has identified an opportunity for the development of business cases to be submitted to Infrastructure Australia, for rail freight investment proposals on the Tier 1, 2 and 3 rail networks. Arc will support government and CBH in this process,” said an Arc Infrastructure spokesperson.

CBH Group, which represents grain growers throughout the state, said it would also support the efforts to make grain transport economically viable.

“We will work with the state government to progress those business cases, including providing information on any impacts of re-instating those lines on the grain supply chain or grower freight rates,” said a CBH Group spokesperson.

“CBH supports grain transport by rail where it is economically viable and the least cost pathway to port.”

The government announcement was also welcomed by the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU), with WA secretary Craig McKinley calling on the federal government to support the reopening of these lines.

“The Western Australian government is supportive of the need to rebuild key sections of track, and the commitment to undertaking business cases is very heartening,” he said.

“We hope that the business case stage can be completed quickly, so we can move on to securing funding and getting construction underway.

“The reconstruction of Tier 3 lines is exactly the sort of project that the Australian government should be investing in.”

Saffioti said the business cases will be developed in consultation with CBH Group and Arc Infrastructure before being submitted to Infrastructure Australia for potential federal funding.

“Significant funding contributions from the federal government – as per other major regional infrastructure projects – would be required for any potential Tier 3 restoration work in the future.”

The Tier 3 grain lines were closed by Arc Infrastructure in 2014, then known as Brookfield Rail. The Tier 3 lines were seen at the time as not commercially viable. With the resultant shift of grain volumes to road, road maintenance costs have increased, and safety concerns have been raised by the local community. These factors led to the WA government investigating the viability of reopening the lines earlier in 2020.

Berejiklian criticised for NSW train manufacturing comments

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has been criticised for comments that local manufacturers of rollingstock are not up to scratch.

On Wednesday, August 26, Berejiklian said at a media conference, “Australia and New South Wales are not good at building trains, that’s why we have to purchase them.”

The comments drew immediate push back from the NSW Labor party, with deputy leader Yasmin Catley saying that NSW should be investing more in locally manufactured public transport vehicles.

“Instead of running down our local industries at press conferences, Gladys Berejiklian should be giving them the opportunity to build our new ferries and trains,” Catley said.

Minister for Transport Andrew Constance backed his leader’s comments, reportedly estimating the cost difference at 25 per cent more for locally manufactured trains, due to higher energy, labour, and raw material costs.

“I think most people know the car industry, the train industry, in terms of manufacturing here in Australia; we don’t have it, and there’s a reason for it,” said Constance.

Following these remarks, the NSW Labor leader, Jodi McKay announced that Labor would introduce a NSW Jobs First Bill, which would require tenderers on government contracts to support NSW jobs and industries.

The dispute has come as NSW puts the first of its second order of Chinese-manufactured Waratah Series 2 trains into service. The Korean-made New Intercity Fleet, which are replacing the Western Sydney-made V-Set and allowing the Newcastle-made H-Set to enter suburban service, are also in the early testing stage.

CEO of the Australasian Railway Association Caroline Wilkie said a national procurement process would enable locally-built trains to become more competitive with their overseas counterparts.

“The NSW Government’s procurement choices have eroded the manufacturing sector and make it harder for local operators to compete,” said Wilkie.

“Better coordination with their counterparts in other states and territories would see more trains manufactured locally and improve efficiencies and cost profiles across the life of the asset.”

Wilkie noted that only looking at the upfront cost of purchasing rollingstock ignored the cost of lifecycle support, and a whole of life cost approach should be taken.

In 2019, the Western Australia government signed an agreement with Alstom to manufacture 246 railcars in Bellevue, in eastern Perth. The contract will see at least 50 per cent of the railcars built locally and 30 years of maintenance. Announced in December 2019, the contract was $347 million under the $1.6 billion budget.

Wilkie said that with overseas trade and travel limited due to COVID-19, the value of local manufacturing was greater than ever.

“A nationally consistent procurement process would benefit both state government purchasers and the rail manufacturing industry itself,” she said.

“The NSW government says it is open to working with other state governments and industry to strengthen and standardise procurement processes – it’s now time for them to act.”

designs

WA reveals new station designs and combined construction disruption website

Updated designs for new train stations on the Thornlie-Cockburn Link were unveiled by the Western Australia and federal governments on Sunday, August 23.

The designs were showcased as contractor NEWest Alliance, a joint venture of Downer Group and CPB Contractors has mobilised on site. The first works will involve the relocation of utilities and moving the current freight line to the northern side of the corridor to allow for the duplication of the line to serve passenger services.

Two new stations will be built on the east-west line, at Nicholson Road and Ranford Road. Thornlie and Cockburn Central stations will be upgraded. The Ranford Road station will include a new, higher road bridge to future-proof the rail corridor.

WA Premier Mark McGowan said he was pleased to see work underway on the project.

Maintaining activity in the construction sector is a pillar of our economic recovery, and Metronet projects like this are creating hundreds of jobs from designers to engineers to tradespeople to truck drivers,” he said.

WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said the project would support over 1,500 jobs during the next four years and will tie in with projects such as the Kwinana Freeway widening and the North Lake Road Bridge.

“These major works will create more vibrant communities with connections to good quality public transport.”

Constructed is expected to be complete by 2022 and trains will begin running in 2023.

The WA government also launched the Building for Tomorrow program, which brings together Metronet projects as well as road, cycling and marine upgrades around Perth and regional Western Australia. The new website highlights construction updates and disruptions to minimise impacts on surrounding communities.

“All efforts will be made to co-ordinate works with minimal impact to the public but with an investment of this scale, construction will undoubtedly cause disruption to commuters in the short-term,” said Saffioti.

“It is important the public are aware of the disruptions near them, understand why the works are going on and when they are expected to be completed.

“The Building for Tomorrow campaign and website will build awareness of the specific works and assist the public in making informed travel choices.”

repairs

Repairs return WA grain line to service

The Piawaning to Miling section of the Toodyay West to Miling line has reopened to freight traffic, after repairs were completed to return the line to working condition.

The section of line, north-east of Perth, is used by growers to transport grain to ports such as Fremantle and Kwinana. Arc Infrastructure manages the network and carried out the work to repair the line.

This particular section of track was damaged in September 2019 when a CBH grain train derailed. Six wagons on the Watco-operated train derailed and no injuries occurred. The derailment was the second in the same area that year.

After the derailment, the line was closed to traffic but suffered significant damage in subsequent storms during the summer.

To get the line back into service work teams have re-railed almost 7.5km of track and replaced 2,500 sleepers.

Arc Infrastructure general manager commercial and development Nathan Speed said the credit should go to the teams involved.

“This is a great result for the teams who worked to complete this key maintenance task safely, enabling us to re-open this section of the line on schedule for the benefit of CBH and local grain farmers.”

Arc’s Mobile Maintenance Team and Central Team 3 completed the repairs, while ensuring that environmentally sensitive areas were not disturbed, said head of maintenance delivery Dan Ellis.

“These works were completed incident free by the Mobile Maintenance Team and Central Team 3 in 35 days which is a fantastic effort, especially considering they had to deal with washaways and changes arising from COVID-19.”

Ellis said the work required experience from many areas.

“This is a great example of major works completed with input from across the business, including but not limited to; Engineering, Network Strategy, Plant Department, Flashbutt Team, Planning Team, NIS, Central Teams, Commercial, Operations and Stakeholder Engagement.”

The line was reopened to traffic in May.

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.