Brittany Coles

Union supports speed restrictions in Wallan following fatal derailment

The Rail, Train and Bus Union (RTBU) stated that it is pleased that the rail industry is taking the union’s concerns seriously.

The union wrote to the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), Pacific National, V/Line and NSW Trains to request detailed information regarding plans for resuming services services through Wallan following the fatal XPT derailment last week.

ARTC advised the union on Thursday, February 27 that it would be imposing a 20km/h speed limit through Wallan. It also advised that the signalling infrastructure through Wallan was now operational.

Pacific National has advised the RTBU that it has imposed an 90km/h speed restriction between Seymour and Albury, and drivers are being instructed to adhere to an ARTC’s temporary speed restriction of 20km/h.

An RTBU spokesperson said the union’s Victorian branch has commenced discussions with V/Line, and the union’s NSW branch has also begun discussions with NSW Trains.

“At this point, we’re pleased that ARTC, PN, V/Line and NSW Trains are taking our concerns seriously. In particular, the companies have taken action on our concerns regarding track speed and signalling,” an RTBU spokesperson said.

The Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) has inspected the corridor and consented to the recommissioning of the track.

An ARTC spokesperson said services on the North East Rail Line resumed on Friday, February 28, with the first Melbourne-Brisbane freight service passing through at 2.50am on Friday morning. 

An RTBU spokesperson said there are still more questions that need to be answered.

“It is important that all workers involved in services along the corridor are fully informed, and are able to raise any safety-related concerns,” an RTBU spokesperson said. 

On Monday, March 2, John Fullerton, ARTC CEO appeared before the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport, Canberra to address ARTC’s response over the past eleven days following the XPT derailment.

Fullerton said despite working hard to prevent accidents and prepare extensively in case they happen, the worst possible outcome happened earlier this month.

He said over the past 11 days, ARTC have supported staff and contractors, been working with emergency services and Transport for NSW to safely remove the train, repairing the track so it is available again for use and cooperating with investigations underway.

In terms of supporting staff and contractors, many of our staff personally knew the people who were killed in the accident, and many others were involved in the first response,” Fullerton said to the committee.

We are very aware of the potential impact that this could have on staff, and have been widely advising those who need to, to access the services they need through our Employee Assistance Program. We have also been asking them to take care of one another.”

Fullerton said the industry collectively owes it to John Kennedy, the driver from Canberra, and Sam Meintanis, the pilot from Castlemaine, to work with the investigators to understand what happened and what actions need to be taken to prevent it ever happening again, as they were “two employees in our industry who went to work and never came home”.

He said ARTC has been providing full support to investigators from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), ONRSR and the Victorian coroner.

Metronet Airport Central Station now 70 per cent completed

The construction of Metronet’s Airport Central Station in Perth is 70 per cent complete with the first roof modules installed last week.

The first girders of Airport Central Station’s 137-tonne steel roof structure have been craned into place, with the steel fabricated locally by Naval Base company Pacific Industrial Co.

The $1.86 billion Forrestfield-Airport Link is jointly funded by the Australian and Western Australian governments and will deliver a new rail service to the eastern suburbs of Perth – with three new stations at Redcliffe, Airport Central and Forrestfield.

Rita Saffioti, WA Transport Minister said that, until now, the construction of Airport Central Station has been largely underground with significant excavation undertaken to build the three-level railway hub.

The roof modules will be craned into place over a three-month period, before specially designed sheeting is installed.

“While most works to date have been largely hidden, construction of this massive roof structure marks a new phase in above-ground construction for this project – an architectural milestone,” Saffioti said.

The roof installation comes as TBM Grace, the first tunnel-boring machine, finishes its work, having broken through into the Bayswater Station dive structure on February 18.

TBM Sandy is expected to break through towards the middle of the year to complete the project, and by end of their three-year journey, the machines will have travelled eight kilometres each.

At Skybridge level, the steel frame for the link between the station entry and the 280-metre-long elevated walkway has been constructed with travelators and information screens installed.

WA Premier, Mark McGowan, said about 2,000 jobs have been created on this project alone, with more than 700 people currently employed, and 70 jobs created as part of the Skybridge project.

“The Forrestfield-Airport Link is an important part of Metronet and when it opens next year it will provide an accessible public transport link for thousands of Western Australians and tourists,” McGowan said.

Additional $44m investment to fast track Lockyer Valley Inland Rail

The Australian federal government has invested an extra $44 million to the Inland Rail II Program (II Program) to fast track improvements.

The Lockyer Valley Inland Rail connection is one of four projects selected to be fast tracked part of the II Program.

The additional investment will assess the costs and benefits of various additional connections to the national freight rail network.

This will include investigating ways to build industry and supply chain resilience and improve market access for farmers and manufacturers through enhanced connection to Inland Rail.

Michael McCormack, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development said the impacts of fire and drought in the Lockyer region mandated an investigation of possible expansion of the network

“Farmers and producers need to know they have access to a reliable, interconnected, national freight network that will deliver their produce to markets when and where it is needed.

McCormack said the Lockyer Valley, located between Ipswich and Toowoomba in South East Queensland, is traditionally one of Australia’s strongest horticulture producing regions and under the II Program, strategic business cases will identify opportunities to support more productive rail-based supply chains at regional centres and help build capacity on key country rail lines.

Mathias Cormann, Minister for Finance said he is very happy the Lockyer Valley component under the Infrastructure Investment Program would be fast tracked.

“Better freight connectivity and efficiency helps drive stronger economic growth and will maximise the returns for our national productivity which we know Inland Rail will deliver,” Cormann said.

“Transport costs are a significant overhead for Australian businesses which inevitably are then passed on to consumers. By maximising the community and business connections to Inland Rail, our investments to improve the interface with existing infrastructure ensures more people can enjoy high quality competitively priced and locally grown produce.”

Mark Coulton, Minister for Regional Health, Regional Communities and Local Government said enhancing supply chain efficiencies means more money stays in the pockets of local producers, building more resilient communities and industries. 

“Inland Rail provides the opportunities for cost savings, with the fast and reliable freight transport option placing our products on supermarket shelves across Australia and beyond our shores,” Coulton said.

Theft of copper wire during North East Rail Line repairs around Wallan

Repairs to the North East Rail Line around Wallan were completed on Friday 28 February, with the first Melbourne-Brisbane freight service passing through at 2.50am Friday morning.

The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) will be implementing an interim 80 km/h speed limit on the line between Melbourne and Albury for all passenger and freight services. 

The Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) has written to the corporation to request an additional independent review focused on track condition, which the ARTC said in a statement “we understand and support”.

ARTC senior managers will ride in the cabs of freight and passenger trains between Albury and Melbourne through this week in order to assess the ride condition from the locomotive cab and to engage with train drivers. 

“While this is something our management does regularly, it is even more important at this time,” Fullerton said.

Fullerton is calling on any members of the community who have knowledge of, or saw suspicious behaviour between Wallan and Donnybrook before 1am on Saturday 29th February to contact Crime Stoppers.

More than 2.4km of copper signalling wire was stolen by thieves between Wallan and Donnybrook in the early hours of Saturday morning, which resulted in 60-90-minute delays to all rail services.

Fullerton said it is disheartening that thieves would seek to take advantage of such a situation.

Between July 2017 to July 2019 there were 231 incidents of copper line wire theft along the ARTC rail corridor between Craigieburn in Victoria and Sydney.

This has resulted in hard costs of around $600,000 in rectification, but further cost and impacts via significant delays to train services, call out time for staff responding, additional driver and staffing hours, late freight deliveries, and costs to passenger customer time.

From these incidents, ARTC reported that 77 per cent resulted in train delays to the network.

ARTC stated that the focused area of theft in Victoria is between Craigieburn in Melbourne’s north to Chiltern, south of the VIC/NSW border.

52 per cent of the incidents occurred within a roughly 40km stretch of track north of Melbourne according to the ARTC.

Major work continues part of the $235m North East Rail Line upgrade, including track quality improvements such as resurfacing and new ballast, and putting overhead wires underground to decrease the risk of line wire theft.

An ARTC spokesperson said site set up and establishment of the major contractor’s office commenced in December and works have started, commencing from Wodonga, moving south. 

Ballast trains have been delivering ballast to various work sites for a number of weeks.

“In addition, a targeted track tamping program has been operating since October 2019 and 130km of tamping has been completed. Two track tamping machines are stationed in North East Victoria for ongoing use, achieving an average of around 5km of track tamping per day,” an ARTC spokesperson said.

In addition to conducting repairs, ARTC have been assisting investigations into the XPT Wallan derailment that were launched by the Victorian Coroner, ATSB and the ONRSR.

Inland Rail to meet with community in regional NSW

Members of the community have the chance to learn more about the progress of planning for Inland Rail between Narromine to Narrabri (N2N).

Local community members, landowners, and businesses will be able to engage with the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) throughout five community sessions being hosted by Inland Rail across the alignment between March 9 and 13.

Inland Rail will share more about the work conducted to date to refine the proposed N2N route.

Rebecca Pickering, ARTC Inland Rail director community and environment said work is happening to help inform the build for the 300KM of new track.

“Our work to date to progress the future alignment between Narromine to Narrabri has included more than 12 months of engagement with the community, environmental and hydrology studies, and early engineering design work,” she said.

“Through these methods we have been able to refine the alignment study area from between 2-5 kilometres wide to around 150 metres to 400 metres wide.”

Pickering said the aim of the community drop-in sessions are to understand more about the environmental planning and consultation work and learn about the future opportunities for the community.

“Community consultation and engagement is vital to the success of Inland Rail. We are committed to leaving a positive legacy by ensuring the community benefits from the project through initiatives like jobs and local spend during the construction phase, the Community Sponsorships and Donations program and training and support of local businesses,” she said.

“Large-scale infrastructure projects such as Inland Rail are a catalyst for growth — they boost economic development and investment, bring jobs and opportunities to local businesses and communities, a hopefully welcome boost in challenging times of drought.”

Afternoon and evening sessions will be held between March 9 and 13 in Narrabri, Barradine, Gilganda, Curban and Narromine.

“This will provide an opportunity for everyone to stay informed and updated on the progress of the alignment to date. No registration is required for these sessions,” Pickering said.

Services to resume following fatal XPT derailment

Normal operations are set to return on the North East line in Victoria following the fatal XPT derailment at the Wallan loop last week.

An Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) spokesperson said operators advise that freight and passenger services will resume soon as repair works to damaged sections of the Wallan loop are almost complete. 

“Teams of up to 70 people at a time have been working around the clock to make the rail line available for freight and passenger rail services,” the ARTC spokesperson said.

Operators advised that subject to regulatory checks, services may start back on track from Thursday evening. Freight services are expected to resume first with passenger trains to follow. 

Rail services will resume after the relevant approvals from the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR).

The carriages of the train involved are being moved progressively back to Sydney, and rail works have included replacing 300 sleepers, laying 20 lengths of rail and 800 tonnes of ballast, as well as undertaking signalling works which are in their concluding stages.

John Fullerton, CEO of Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) visited the site on Thursday 27 February to thank rail staff working to repair the extensive damage to the track.

“A week ago, we lost two much-loved members of the rail family. This accident devastated families, friends, and colleagues, as well as an industry that prides itself on safety, and everyone wants to understand what happened and what actions need to be taken to prevent it ever happening again,” Fullerton said.

“For ARTC, our focus has been four-fold for the past week: cooperating with investigations underway, supporting our staff and contractors, working alongside emergency services and NSW Transport to safely remove the train, and repairing the track so it is available again for use.

“I would like to take this opportunity to give my heartfelt thanks to the teams of staff who have worked hard in tragic circumstances to undertake these tasks.”

A fire destroyed the Wallan signal box three weeks ago and caused  signals to be out of commission in the area along the section of the derailment.

The investigation will examine whether live signal testing by ARTC had been occurring along the track at the time of the derailment.

V/Line utilises sections of track where the derailment occurs and bans live testing of signals while services are still running.

The Herald Sun reported that senior Victorian transport sources said that running trains through the track where signals were not bagged increased risk, and the way they had been marked with a cross tied together with plastic was a “disgrace”.

An ARTC spokesperson said they have been providing full support to investigators from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), ONRSR and the Victorian coroner.

The ATSB will release a preliminary report in about a month, while the final report coming in about 18 months.

Gold Coast Light Rail to begin construction to Burleigh Heads

Infrastructure Australia has announced Gold Coast Light Rail Stage 3A as a priority project in 2020 and major construction works are set to begin by mid-year.

The Infrastructure priority list (IPL) has recognised the largest number of  infrastructure proposals of national significance on record.

In August last year, IA added Gold Coast Light Rail Stage 3A project to the Infrastructure Priority List as a Priority Project. This was confirmed on the in our latest edition of the Infrastructure Priority List on Wednesday, 26th February. 

Infrastructure Australia said this project, known as Stage 3A, would replace existing bus services between Broadbeach South and Burleigh Heads with light rail services and implement a complementary urban renewal and economic development strategy in the corridor.

The strategic case depends on the project’s ability to shift travel from cars to light rail. 

$709 million in funding was locked in by the federal government in late November last year.

This follows the Morrison Government’s increased investment by $157 million, and the state government’s $351 million and council’s $92 million spend on the project.

Stage 3A is now progressing toward construction this year, with three proponents shortlisted to build the light rail extension to Burleigh Heads.

GoldlinQ, who currently operates the light rail, announced on February 3 that they will now invite the three proponents to proceed to the ‘request for tender’ phase.

GoldlinQ Chairman John Witheriff said each of the shortlisted tenderers was highly experienced construction contractors. GoldlinQ board met on Friday 31 January to complete the EOI phase and confirm the shortlist for tender.

“EOI submissions include leading Australian and international contractors and the responses were of a very high standard,” Witheriff said.

“The request for tender period will start immediately and continue for several months to ensure the successful contractor can deliver value for money and minimise disruption during construction.”

 Witheriff said the request for tender phase would conclude in May 2020 with the intention of appointing a preferred contractor in the second half of 2020.

Stage 3A is due for completion in 2023.

ACT government calls for federal support for rail service between Canberra and Sydney

Infrastructure Australia has put investment in rail infrastructure between Canberra and Sydney on the national priority list this year.

On Thursday, February 26 Infrastructure Australia announced the 2020 Infrastructure Priority List.

Chris Steel, Minister for Transport said the ACT Government has been advocating for an improved rail service between Canberra and Sydney for a number of years.

The ACT and NSW governments will invest $5 million each in the joint priority to improve the Sydney to Canberra rail link.

“Investment in this link will not only make train travel a faster and more appealing option for Canberrans travelling to and from Sydney, but it will also provide better connections with regional towns,” Steel said.

“It’s time for the Federal Government to get on board with faster rail, and take this infrastructure investment proposal seriously.”

Improvements to Canberra’s public transport network is listed as a priority initiative this year, specifically the development of transit corridors connecting Belconnen and Queanbeyan to central Canberra.

Rob Busch, Infrastructure Australia’s senior economist told the Canberra Times that the IA’s assessment found the issue was “nationally significant” due to the congestion, lost productivity, and lost opportunity it caused.

Infrastructure Australia said the travel time could be made quicker by straightening and duplicating the track, electrifying and upgrading signals and investing in new rolling stock.

“The number of people living between Canberra and Sydney is forecast to grow by 1.5 per cent each year to 2036, increasing pressure on the road network and airports,” IA told the Canberra Times.

“Improving rail services in this corridor would provide more transport options for travellers, improve travel-time reliability for rail passengers and reduce pressure on the air corridor.”

Steel noted that such investment would align with other rail projects being carried out in the ACT.

“The continued inclusion of this initiative on the IPL reaffirms the national significance of the ACT Government’s investments in public transport infrastructure,” Steel said. 

“We welcome the 2020 IPL and as a Territory I am confident we are actively prioritising infrastructure initiatives to support Canberrans in the ACT and as they move around our region.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the NSW and Federal Governments to progress these projects.” 

$235m North East Rail Line upgrade continues following XPT derailment

The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) and Transport for NSW (TfNSW) are collaborating to repair damaged sections of the Wallan loop following the XPT train derailment north of Melbourne last week.

On Tuesday, February 25, the front power car of the train was loaded onto a truck and removed from the site.

An ARTC spokesperson said two carriages will be taken to Sydney in the coming days before the trucks return and pick up the remaining two carriages later this week.

As of the afternoon of February 25, around three quarters of sleepers have been laid, half of the rail has been laid, signalling repairs are underway and ballasting continues.

“The main line in the immediate vicinity of the accident has been inspected, with no significant damage reported,” the ARTC spokesperson said.

Early works like ballast and track improvement, improvements to timber bridges, level crossing renewals and installation of new rail crossovers, have been ongoing since last year part of the federal Government funded $235m North East Rail Line upgrade.

An ARTC spokesperson said site set up and establishment of the major contractor’s office commenced in December and works have started, commencing from Wodonga, moving south.

Ballast trains have been delivering ballast to various work sites for a number of weeks.

Targeted track tamping program has been operating since October 2019 and 130km of tamping has been completed.

Two track tamping machines are stationed in north east Victoria for ongoing use.

“Our primary focus, and key priority at all times, is to run a safe railway network for our customers and those that use it. ARTC will continue to provide all the support we can to both the investigation and response to this incident. The investigation will be complex and consider a range of factors,” an ARTC spokesperson said.

TfNSW said in a statement the NSW Government is working closely with colleagues in Victoria and the Federal Government to investigate how the accident occurred.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) and the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) will conduct a full and thorough investigation to establish the cause of the incident.

Qube revenue up as Moorebank tenant is finalised

Qube Holdings was able to deliver earnings growth despite challenges in some parts of the business.

According to half-year financial results, underlying revenue for Qube was up 12.9 per cent to $970.1 million – with underlying Net Profit After Tax and Amortisation (NPATA) up 5.1 per cent to $76.3m.

Qube is Australia’s largest integrated provider of import and export logistics services and admitted that the company had reasonable earnings growth despite economic headwinds.

Major contracts signed with Shell Australia and Bluescope Steel helped support medium term growth, as did the completion of the Target warehouse, Import/Export (IMEX) terminal, and commencement of rail operations at Moorebank Logistics Park (MLP) in November last year. 

Commercial and legal negotiations are progressing with a potential major tenant for a material part of Moorebank Precinct West (MPW) and binding agreements are being finalised. It is now expected that the counter party’s board will consider approval of the finalised agreements in the near future.

The unnamed counter party had previously signed the reservation agreement with Qube to secure an area at MLP on MPW. 

Qube board of directors stated that based on the current commercial terms, the area to be leased by this party will be considerably larger and in a different location to that originally contemplated by the reservation agreement and the warehouse construction is likely to commence in calendar 2021, which is earlier than previously expected. 

Based on the extensive negotiations that have taken place, Qube expects that negotiations of the binding agreements will be concluded successfully but are subject to the counter party’s Board approval. 

“The development and lease would represent a key milestone for the MLP project and confirms the significant logistics benefits that the site can offer tenants,” Qube board of directors said in a statement.

Statutory earnings (NPAT) for the period were $51.7m, which was lower than the prior corresponding period’s statutory earnings and Qube’s underlying earnings for the current period.

Qube stated the impact of the new lease accounting standard (AASB 16) that was applied to Qube from 1 July 2019 reduced Qube’s statutory after-tax earnings in the period by around $10.3m, but had no impact on Qube’s underlying earnings or cash flow.

Maurice James, Qube managing director said there has been a steady performance across the Qube group demonstrating again the resilience of our earnings base across our chosen markets. 

“Qube was able to deliver earnings growth despite challenges in some parts of the business including declining motor vehicle and container volumes and the continued effect of the drought,” James said.

Qube has been assessing the potential impact on its FY20 full year results from recent events including the bushfires, adverse weather events across the country in early calendar 2020, as well as the coronavirus. 

“Although these events have not had a material impact on Qube’s first half results, Qube currently expects some weakness in its second half underlying earnings as a result of the above factors that is likely to result in the level of underlying earnings growth in FY20 being lower than previously forecast,” the Qube board of directors said in a statement.

“The uncertainty of these events, in terms of the quantum of their impact on Qube’s earnings and their likely duration, makes forecasting near term earnings inherently uncertain.”

Qube’s board of directors said they believe the company is placed to continue to deliver sustainable, long-term earnings growth from its strategic assets and strong market positions.