Brittany Coles

Council defers decision on rail trail between Armidale and Glen Innes

Armidale Regional and Glen Innes Severn councils in New England, NSW, have split on the decision to support turning a rail corridor into a bike trail.

On March 26, the Glen Innes Severn Council resolved to support an Act in the NSW parliament to turn the Main North rail line from Armidale to Wallangarra on the Queensland border into a trail for bicycles.

On April 22, Armidale Regional Council deferred a decision to rescind the council’s previous support of the rail trail. 

In the resolution supported unanimously by Glen Innes Severn councillors, Armidale Regional Council, Glen Innes Severn Council and the New England Rail Trail committee will make up the governing body, and the regional councils are seeking funding streams from state and federal governments for the development.

The Glen Innes Severn council endorses further work to be done to establish the governance structure of commencing the design and project planning of the rail trail.

The Glen Innes Severn council mayoral minute stated that the governing body would commission a detailed business case, including the whole of life costs of maintaining the track and give advice to the Councils on it, as well as the potential economic value-added from the development of the rail trail.

Some community groups hope to see the rail lines maintained, and rail services return to the line north of Armidale to Wallangarra via Guyra and Glen Innes. Save the Great Northern Rail Group president Rob Lenehan said that the Armidale Regional Council should reconsider its support of the rail trail proposal.

“The previous motion of rail trail support was arguably improperly passed at Council’s meeting on 26 February 2020, without due consideration of prudent information. The Regional Development Australia Northern Inland rail trail report prepared for New England Rail Trail was not available to councillors and is still not available.”

A petition with 1,000 signatures was published in 2014.

“The rail trail proposal is controversial and largely unwanted within New England. Armidale Regional Council should completely withdraw from this unnecessary distraction. The future for the railway lies in reopening it for trains, not ripping it up for a bike track,” said Lenehan.

In February 2020 the Armidale Council had agreed to allocate funds for design and look at a management structure and now the Glenn Innes council has allocated funding to proceed the project. 

All seven Glen Innes Severn councillors agreed to allocate an amount of $25,000 in the 2020/2021 Operational Plan for the determination of the construction cost of the Ben Lomond to Glen Innes section of the proposed rail trail.

A rail trail feasibility study was endorsed by Armidale Regional Council at its October 2018 meeting and the New England Rail Trail Plan was finalised in October 2019 for the Armidale to Glenn Innes section.

While the Save the Great Northern Rail Group is not opposed to a re-opened rail corridor also incorporating a bike trail, it has argued against permanently ending the Main North line at Armidale.

“To date, Armidale Regional Council’s prosecution of the unwanted rail trail proposal has been completely out of step with the will of the community,” said Lenehan.

The rail corridor between Armidale and Glen Innes has been closed to trains for over 30 years. The Rail Trail Plan outlined the technical feasibility and costs of converting the 103km Armidale to Glen Innes section into a rail trail to boost economic activity in the region.

On April 3 the first rail trail in NSW, a 22-kilometre stretch from Tumbarumba to Rosewood, had its official virtual opening.

The entire New England Rail Trail between Armidale and Wallangarra is approximately 210km long. The Main North line starts from Sydney and extends north passing through Armidale to the Queensland border, at the town of Wallangarra.

Old railway stations on the line have been preserved and refurbished by local community groups.

NZ City Rail Link ready to re-start construction

The New Zealand government has approved Auckland’s $4.45 billion City Rail Link (CRL) to resume construction after the COVID-19 lockdown.

Sean Sweeney, CEO of New Zealand’s biggest infrastructure project said his team is champing at the bit for a rapid re-start.

“We’re already inspecting all CRL sites and making them ready for a safe return to work next week,” he said.

Work will resume on Tuesday, April 28 at all CRL sites including the C1 contract at Britomart and LowerQueen Street, C2 in Albert Street, C3 at Aotea in central Auckland, Karangahape Road and at MtEden, and C8 on the southern rail line at Ōtāhuhu.

“Because of our size we’re aware of the big role we have in quickly getting the economy moving again, supporting the contracting and infrastructure industries and seeing our workers safely back on the job,” Sweeney said.

He said the paramount priority will be keeping workers and the wider community safe.

“We had some pretty strict safety measures in place before the lockdown, but next Tuesday’s return to work will be different,” he said.

Sweeny said there will be additional constraints including restricted access to sites, physical distancing, protective clothing and sanitising and cleaning regimes.

“They will all contribute to a successful re-start in the new COVID-19 work environment, and, just as importantly, they will help ensure our workers get home to family and friends virus-free when they finish their shifts,” he said.

Sweeney said it is too early to measure if COVID-19 has impacted on project costs or construction timetables.

“It may be months before we know that once the economy has settled down a bit and we have a clearer picture on the availability of workers, and what sort of shape some of our suppliers both here and overseas are in,” he said.

“I know we have a small team of workers waiting in France because there are no flights here at the moment – that’s not a lockdown issue that‘s a wider international COVID-19 issue.

“A big plus for the project was ability of City Rail Link Ltd (CRL Ltd) and our Link Alliance contractors to be able to keep working on construction and design programmes during the lockdown – time wasn’t wasted and that’s been a big boost for our re-start.”

The project team is investigating opportunities to accelerate some work, including more shifts of work and the use of extra plant and machinery.

“Those ‘shovel ready’ ideas are still in the planning stages but our contractors will be working hard – and safely – to get CRL delivered as quickly as possible for Auckland,” Sweeney said.

Phil Goff, Auckland Mayor, has welcomed the government’s announcement to resume construction and CRL’s re-start news.

“As one of Auckland – and New Zealand’s – biggest and most important infrastructure projects, the City Rail Link will play an important role in the post-COVID-19 economic stimulus,”Goff said.

“It’s critical that CRL construction resumes quickly to help kick start the economy, get construction and infrastructure industry employees back into work and limit as much as is possible the lockdown’s impact on construction timeframes.”

In the meantime, City Rail Link is in the search for an inspiring woman’s name for the project’s Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM).

The TBM is due to arrive from China later this year in sections and reassembled at the Link Alliance construction site in Mt Eden.

The Link Alliance will start tunnelling with the newly named TBM early next year, excavating 1.6 kilometres from Mt Eden to the Aotea Station in central Auckland to connect with the tunnels already constructed from the Britomart Station.

“Tunnelling tradition dictates a TBM cannot start work until it has been given a female name, a sign of good luck and safety for the project ahead. Our search seeks to recognise the many amazing women New Zealand has produced,” Sweeney said.

Shortlisted names include Antarctic scientist Dr Margaret Hayward, transgender politician Georgina Beyer, and Maori welfare and lands champion Dame Whina Cooper.

Moving freight by rail is easing Australia’s strained supply chains

Australia’s rail network is ensuring the nation’s supply chain stays intact.

People are working around-the-clock to ensure safe passage for 1,800-metre freight trains carrying essential products for all Australians.

John Fullerton, ARTC CEO said in a recent interview that was broadcast on Sky News that transport companies are moving as much as they can to boost the flow of essential goods and services.

“Rail is no different, we move around five million tonnes across the continent from the eastern seaboard to WA and a lot of our product involves groceries and the hardware that sits on those supermarket shelves,” he said on Sky News.

Fullerton said the sector is crucial and rail freight movements on the ARTC network are up approximately 14 per cent due to the unprecedented demand for goods.

“The COVID-19 outbreak has sparked an unprecedented challenge for Australia’s freight and transport industry, with the country’s demand for critical supplies prompting a surge in rail freight,” he said.

“The rail freight sector has stepped up to ease Australia’s strained supply lines.”

The ARTC CEO leads a team of more than 1600 employees to manage and maintain 8500km of the national rail network.

ARTC employs more than 300 people at its Keswick headquarters in South Australia including network controllers who ensure coordinated passage for the country’s freight trains.

“Freight trains are playing a crucial role in Australia’s response to the coronavirus pandemic – and our frontline teams are really part of a group of workers making sure the economy and society is able to keep functioning during these difficult times,” Fullerton said.

Moving freight has been highlighted by the government as an essential service. Fullerton says the sector has never been more important “which is putting a lot of responsibility on our shoulders”.

However, in collaboration with rail freight customers, government, and industry partners, Fullerton said it’s been wonderful to see teams rise to the challenge to keep Australia’s supply chain intact and the nation’s economy moving.

“We’re really proud to be able to keep freight trains moving and do our bit for Australia, but like other essential service providers, these are testing times for everyone and there’s still a long road ahead,” Fullerton said.

The company also has teams maintaining rail assets across the nation, including in the middle of the Nullarbor, to help move vital freight to its destination.

“There’s definitely a lot of uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, but we’ll continue to work hard with our customers and partners to ensure supplies continue to ride the rails and get to where they need to be,” he said.

ARTC is continuing to implement strict hygiene protocols and preventative measures to protect the health and safety of staff and local communities in which it operates. 

Intermodal hubs and freight infrastructure among new $44m Inland Rail developments

16 local project proposals will be developed as part of the Australian Government’s $44 million Inland Rail Interface Improvement Program.

Michael McCormack, Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development has announced an EY Australia-led consortium has been commissioned to further develop Inland Rail interface improvements.

“Sixteen projects were found eligible in this first round of applications, and those groups are now working with the EY-led consortium to develop pre-feasibility studies, feasibility studies, and strategic business cases,” he said.

McCormack said an intermodal facility at Mangalore, expanded freight infrastructure in the Riverina, and rail upgrades between Kurumbul to Thallon are projects that are being supported through the Interface Improvement Program.

“Inland Rail has always been about far more than building a rail line – it’s about investing in our national freight network, enhancing supply chains, and bringing jobs and economic opportunity to regional Australia,” McCormack said.

“Large infrastructure projects deliver great stimulus to the national economy – Inland Rail, for example, will boost GDP by $16 billion and support 16,000 jobs during construction,” he said.

Mark Coulton, Minister for Regional Health, Regional Communications and Local Government said the Inland Rail Interface Improvement Program is investigating options for regions to maximise their connections to this national freight network.

Coulton said new supply chains enabled by Inland Rail stretch well beyond the tracks connecting Melbourne and Brisbane.

“We are backing local ideas because we know that the connections to Inland Rail will be critical to create economic uplift and ongoing jobs in our regions,” he said.

Proposals received through the Expression of Interest process were assessed by the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, and by its independent assurance and technical advisor.

Proposals will be developed through pre-feasibility or feasibility studies and strategic business cases, depending on the individual project proposal.

Eligibility to progress through to an appropriate assessment gateway for proposal development was assessed against the Interface Improvement Program principles and information requirements including supporting regional economic growth, capacity to increase Inland Rail throughput and supporting National Freight and Supply Chain Priorities.

Mathias Cormann, Finance Minister, said Inland Rail would change the way freight is moved around Australia, offering a fast and efficient alternative to complement long-haul road transport along Australia’s east coast.

“Now more than ever, our investment in Inland Rail is vital to build resilience in the national freight network that provides an essential service to Australians – delivering the inputs needed to drive small business and fuel our national economy,” he said.

“Our commitment through the Interface Improvement Program will further enhance community and industry connectivity to Inland Rail, and ensure our producers and manufacturers remain competitive.”

McCormack said the complementary businesses, manufacturers, and logistics hubs that establish along this freight rail line will provide sustained employment for people in regional Australia and boost gross regional product by up to $13.3bn over the long term.

The 1,700-kilometre Inland Rail line will connect Melbourne, Brisbane and regional areas through fast and reliable freight rail and will create around 16,000 jobs during the construction phase, while supporting approximately 700 jobs once it is operational.

Sydney Metro are seeking local artists to assist station upgrades

New South Wales artists are being encouraged to make their mark on Sydney’s newest train line.

Sydney Metro is inviting local artists to design new public artworks that will be showcased at the 10 upgraded stations on the T3 Bankstown Line from Marrickville to Bankstown.

The T3 Bankstown Line is being upgraded and converted to metro standards between Sydenham and Bankstown as part of Sydney Metro City & Southwest.

Sydney Metro will partner with Create NSW to select 10 artists (or artist groups) for 10 separate paid commissions of up to $25,000 each that will be realised as semi transparent artworks, embedded in glass panels across the upgraded stations.

Don Harwin, former minister for the Arts and Aboriginal Affairs said the initiative is an opportunity to reflect and celebrate the diverse communities along the Bankstown Line, including a focus on First Nations artists for Canterbury and Punchbowl stations.

“Given the current circumstances, this is an opportune time for artists to be involved with paid commissions that will breathe creative and cultural life into stations with works that will be experienced by so many on a daily basis,” he said.

“This is an opportunity for artists to leave a lasting legacy on Sydney with a welcoming and impressive presence that will enrich the lives of both local communities and visitors along the way.”

The metro network will be fully segregated from the existing Sydney Trains network between Sydenham and Bankstown, improving the reliability of services on the line.

Current upgrade works will allow an interchange between Sydney Metro and Sydney Trains at Sydenham and Bankstown, with improvements to station way-finding and signage.

Artworks will range in size from 10 to 50sqm and will be digitally printed on to transparent interlayer film and laminated between glass panels.

Expressions of interest will close on Tuesday May 5 at 5pm.

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.

TAIC investigates KiwiRail derailment

A distracted driver and excessive speed caused a KiwiRail freight train to derail in March last year.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) found that the freight train had exceeded the maximum permissible track speed when exiting the crossing loop.

The TAIC report said this was due to the driver becoming distracted and the downhill gradient of the track allowing the train to accelerate to above the maximum permissible line speed.

The incident occurred on March 29, 2019 when the three rear wagons of the KiwiRail freight train derailed as the train exited a crossing loop at Clinton on the way from Invercargill to Dunedin, New Zealand.

Two of the three derailed wagons overturned onto their sides, causing damage to the wagons, track, and a signal.

“A train driver can become distracted even when carrying out tasks specific to their role which, if poorly timed, can have unintended consequences,” the commission said in the investigation report.

The TAIC reported in its investigation findings that a phenomenon known as dynamic interaction was very likely the cause of the derailment.

Dynamic interaction occurred where the excessive speed combined with the track geometry at the point of derailment and the centre of gravity of the fully loaded coal wagons caused the wagon to oscillate from side to side. One or more wheels then lifted and climbed the rail, resulting in derailment.

The wagon condition and loading were found to be within KiwiRail’s maximum permissible limits, the TAIC found.

A similar derailment occurred at the Clinton crossing loop in 2016, which was not investigated by the TAIC.

“At that time KiwiRail took a number of safety actions after the incident, including speed monitoring and track repair,” the TAIC stated.

“However, a procedural control measure to ensure that loaded trains did not use the crossing loop was not adopted.”

The TAIC acknowledged in the investigation report that KiwiRail has taken a number of safety actions that addressed the issues raised in this report and that therefore no new recommendations needed to be made.

“To avoid repeat accidents and incidents it is important to learn from previous incidents,” the TAIC stated.

“This requires a focus on implementing corrective action in accordance with the hierarchy of controls.

“However, when procedural control measures have been identified they should be implemented, checked and monitored properly to ensure the desired results are achieved.”

Siva Sivapakkiam, KiwiRail executive general manager operations told Rail Express that the derailment of three wagons last year at Clinton was a serious incident, and KiwiRail has treated it as such.

“As the TAIC report notes, we have already made a change to our operating procedures to ensure that fully laden coal trains heading to Dunedin use only the main line when passing through Clinton,” she said.

Sivapakkiam said this avoids fully laden trains having to proceed through the crossing loop points, and it also means that the speed of empty Invercargill bound trains entering the loop is reduced by the uphill geometry of the track.

“Drivers have again been briefed on the need to ensure that the whole length of the train remains within the appropriate speed limit when entering or exiting crossing loops,” she said.

“We have instituted a non-technical skills training programme which provides staff with the knowledge to identify and manage distraction.

“In addition a redesign of the points configuration at Clinton is planned. We note that TAIC did not make any new recommendations for further action.”

Rail construction works continue to schedule

The building and renewal of rail lines around Victoria is following its planned construction schedule, despite a pause on noise restrictions.

The Victorian government announced on Monday, April 6 that new planning rules will exempt essential businesses from existing noise restrictions.

The exemption allows 24-hour dispatch and delivery during the current State of Emergency and for three months after too. New South Wales and Western Australia have also lifted noise restrictions for construction and logistics operations.

Corey Hannett, director-general of the Victorian Major Transport Infrastructure Authority (MTIA) said the Melbourne Metro Tunnel and Level Crossing Removal works have processes in place to manage construction noise and minimise the inconvenience and impacts of construction on local communities.

“MTIA projects are currently considered essential and we are working with our building partners to deliver our critical infrastructure projects while implementing strict safety measures to protect our workforce and the community,” he said.

For all Victorian project works, the majority of the construction happens during the day, however some 24-hour works will be required. 

“We understand construction can be disruptive and noisy, especially during major works or at night – that’s why we work with residents to find the best solutions and minimise any impacts,” Hannett said.

Richard Wynne, Victorian Minister for Planning approved the new planning rules and said the measures are to support essential business outside normal business hours.

An Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) spokesperson said the North East Rail Line upgrade currently complies with all existing EPA noise regulations and will continue to comply.

“Our projects will not have a need to utilise this new exemption,” the ARTC spokesperson said.

“If we are required to undertake night works, we provide notification to impacted properties, which is our regulatory requirement.”

John Fullerton, ARTC CEO said in a recent interview that was broadcasted on Sky News that transport companies are moving as much as they can to boost the flow of essential goods and services.

“Rail is no different, we move around five million tonnes across the continent from the eastern seaboard to WA and a lot of our product involves groceries and the hardware that sits on those supermarket shelves,” he said on Sky News.

Fullerton said rail volumes are up approximately 13 per cent due to the unprecedented demand for goods.

“There is never a better time to invest in infrastructure,” Fullerton said.

“One thing coming from this pandemic is looking at major projects to offer economic stimulus.

“It’s a huge opportunity to improve the transport lengths particularly on the Eastern seaboard.”

Qube remains in a strong financial position

Despite the continued uncertainty and impact of Covid-19, Qube is in a strong financial position.

Maurice James, Qube’s managing director said in a business update on Monday April 6 that Qube is well positioned to work with all its key stakeholders to address the current challenging environment.

“Qube is in a strong financial position with significant liquidity (cash and available undrawn facilities) of over $450 million after the payment of the interim dividend which will occur on the 7th April 2020. Qube has no near term debt maturities and material headroom to its covenants,” James said.

“Qube is pursuing several initiatives to further increase its liquidity.”

The board of directors of Qube Holdings Limited said in the business update that it is not presently able to forecast underlying earnings for FY20 and is withdrawing previous guidance.

“Qube continues to benefit from its diversified operations and variability in its cost base which has enabled it to continue to generate positive earnings and cash flow despite declining volumes in parts of its business,” the board of directors said.

The board of directors gave an update on the potential major tenant for Moorebank Precinct West, stating that formal agreements have now been finalised and an agreement has been made.

“The agreement is currently expected to be considered by the counterparty’s Board for approval in late April/early May although the current environment may delay this,” they said.

“Qube is continuing to progress the partnering / monetisation process focussed on Moorebank and certain other property assets.

“Qube has received significant interest from a high quality group of prospective partners who are keen to participate in the next stage of the process.”

Qube is continuing to operate as an essential service for transporting goods, however the company expects a decrease in volumes in several of its markets due to the impact of tighter restrictions, demand, and operations.

The board of directors said the effect from the pandemic to March 31 this year has impacted Qube productivity, but noted that bulk activities continue to experience normal volumes with minimal disruptions or slowdowns.

Container volumes across Qube’s operations have been weaker reflecting the general slowdown in economic activity in domestic and international markets, as well as other products including vehicles, bulk and general cargo.

Plans to re-open the Murwillumbah rail line

Rail services to Murwillumbah in New South Wales were discontinued in 2004, but now there are plans to re-open the rail line.

Byron Shire Council is moving forward with planning for a rail link connecting Mullumbimby and Byron Bay as part of a multi-use activation of the rail corridor.

Five of the seven councillors who attended the council meeting on Thursday, March 26 voted to start the planning process to establish a project framework and to progress a business plan. 

Councillor Basil Cameron said it’s time to take a significant step forward in meeting the transport needs of the shire.

The motion follows a $330,000 study for multi-use activation of the corridor, the Arcadis Multi-Use Rail Corridor Study (MURC). 

Findings from the study identified two multi use options with positive benefit cost ratios, which were Hi-rail – vehicles that can run on tracks as well as roads – with active transport or very light rail with active transport.

Cameron said for the section between Mullumbimby and Byron Bay the estimated costs for Hi-rail with walking and cycling are $12.6 million.

He stated that Hi-rail is the lower cost option with the lightest axle weight therefore requiring minimal upgrades to the disused lines. It is also very flexible as the Hi-rail vehicles can switch from rail and road in 15 seconds. 

“Typically a Hi-rail vehicle is a small bus able to service a more flexible route or on demand type service. Travelling along the rail corridor provides a faster entry to town centres during peak time and assists in reducing vehicle numbers on the road network,” Cameron said.

Andrew Pearce, traffic engineer, infrastructure services Byron Shire said in the notice for motion that background research undertaken for the Integrated Transport Management Strategy acknowledges the Multi Use Rail Corridor Study identified a Hi-rail system within the rail corridor in combination with active transport is the best rail corridor option.

“Staff see the merits in beginning conversations with potential operators/community groups and organisations,” Pearce stated.

If the council proceeds with the Hi-rail option there is likely to be the need to construct a new, accessible rail station.

Pearce said council needs to consider the economic viability. 

“Given the full rail corridor length is 38.5km and the Mullumbimby to Byron section is 15.6km (54.7 per cent of the total length) would a partial activation of the corridor between Mullumbimby and Byron result in 54.7 per cent of the estimate economic benefit outlined in the MURC study?” Pearce stated.

“If it does, does the Hi-rail option remain the most viable given the MURC identifies an 35 ongoing maintenance cost of approximately $950,000 per annum for the Hi-rail option.”

Council will now provide notice of the intention to establish a rail link to Infrastructure Australia, Infrastructure NSW, Transport for NSW and other relevant agencies to seek advice on funding criteria and project development.

In a notice of motion prepared prior to the meeting of council, Cameron wrote that  activating a rail link within the Ewingsdale corridor provides an affordable alternative to start shifting demand from ever bigger, busier, and more expensive roads. 

As part of the planning process, council will investigate Federal, NSW and other funding bodies to identify funding sources including, but not limited to tourism, infrastructure, transport and climate change mitigation/adaption grants with a priority focus on funding vegetation removal within the rail corridor.