Brittany Coles

KiwiRail chief executive calls on NZ government to boost the “rundown” network

Greg Miller, KiwiRail Group chief executive said there is far greater demand for rail services than the group is able to supply.

In his address to the Transport and Infrastructure Select Committee on the Land Transport (Rail) Legislation Bill on February 20, Miller explained why 92 per cent of freight in New Zealand does not travel by rail.

“The reason is simple. Our rail lines and our freight systems are so run down that it has taken a huge level of commitment from both the Government and from our team to start moving the company into a position where it can return to profit,” he said to the committee.

The NZ Ministry of Transport stated that the objective of the Land Transport (Rail) Legislation Bill is to implement a new planning and funding framework for the heavy rail track network owned by KiwiRail. 

Miller said the draft New Zealand Rail Plan plays an important role in KiwiRail’s turnaround plan.

“The draft NZ Rail Plan lays out a pathway for sustainable planning and funding that will allow rail to play the important role it should in the country’s transport system,” Miller said.

Miller said the group has failed to meet demand into growth due to historic short term decisions that have seen cost cutting resulting in lack of drivers, locomotives, wagons and fully usable track.

“We have had no capacity for market reclamation,” he said.

Miller said to the committee that KiwiRail’s strategy to return to profitability and deliver a good return to our shareholders is threefold. We aim to run more services, get the equipment we need to be able to grow capacity, and put in place the technology that will enable us to track freight, profit, and loss centres.

Miller also addressed road sector concerns, telling the committee the draft New Zealand Rail Plan is a way to return rail to complement road. 

“Freight moved by rail results in 66 per cent lower carbon emissions than freight moved by road. Rail freight is not just efficient long distance. Every one of our customers has a lens on the environmental impact and incorporates these benefits into every rail decision made,” he said.

“With increasing freight volumes, growing road congestion and maintenance costs and the need to meet emission reduction targets, rail is a critical part of our transport system.”

This follows Greater Wellington Regional Council’s Transport Committee agreement to reduce transport-generated regional carbon emissions and invest more funding for regional rail on February 20.

Roger Blakeley, transport committee chair said the committee agreed to strategic priorities for the 2019-22 triennium.

One of the key performance measures for these targets is the contribution to a 30 per cent reduction in regional transport-generated carbon emissions by 2030.

“Contributing to the regional target of a 40 per cent increase in regional mode share from public transport and active modes, [rail] will be the major contributor to a reduction in carbon emissions,” Blakeley said.

On Tuesday KiwiRail welcomed the NZ government decision to use the Provincial Growth Fund to invest $9.6 million in the Kawerau Container Terminal (KCT).

Miller said KiwiRail’s role will be to build the new rail siding and to run week-day train services beginning in 2021 between Kawerau and Port of Tauranga.

“The siding opens the way for containerised exports to travel directly to Port Tauranga from Kawerau,” he said.

 “Export containers from Norske Skog, Sequal Lumber, and Waiu Dairy will underpin the new train service as well as creating capacity for other exporters in the region.

“This is part of road and rail working together in a much more integrated way, improving efficiency and saving costs.”

The project is expected to take about 18 months to complete.

Melbourne tram terminus upgrade complete

A newly upgraded tram terminus has reopened in the north of Melbourne.

The tram terminus at Melville Road, Pascoe Vale South will improve accessibility and services on Route 58.

It has delivered new amenities for drivers and has created an improved transport hub at the end of the line in Pascoe Vale South.

The upgraded stop includes a 33m platform that aligns with low floor trams for level access boarding, dual tracks to allow trams to turn around more efficiently and new signalised crossing.

New customer information displays, shelter, seating, improved lighting, and safety barriers were also included in the upgrade.

Melissa Horne, Minister for Public Transport and Lizzie Blandthorn, member for Pascoe Vale inspected the newly re-opened upgraded tram terminus on Monday.

“Adding a stabling area has made it easier for trams to turn around, which gives passengers on Route 58 more reliable services to and from the city,” Blandthorn said.

Horne said the Andrew’s Labour Government will continue to add services across the network.

“We’re also upgrading tram stops to make them more accessible for all Victorians,” she said.

The state government-funded upgrade also contributes to future running of the new E-Class trams, that are the largest, safest, and most accessible trams on the network.

E-Class trams are being built in Dandenong, Victoria and all 50 trams are expected to be delivered by mid-2020, bringing the total E-Class fleet to 100 trams.

Each E-Class tram can carry 210 passengers and includes audio and visual passenger information, air conditioning, improved safety features, and dedicated spaces for passengers with mobility aids or prams.

In 2017 route 58 replaced route 8 and 55 to meet high demand in the city’s inner west and north-west. 

Route 58 currently runs D, B and Z-Class trams. 

Construction of the new Melville Road terminus took place from 14 to 22 February 2020.

Wreckage removed and repairs underway at Wallan following fatal XPT derailment

Transport for NSW and the ARTC are managing the recovery effort following the XPT train derailment north of Melbourne on Thursday.

The Australian Transport Safety bureau (ATSB) and the Victorian Government’s Chief Inspector, Transport Safety (CITS) are leading the investigation.

At 6.30am Sunday morning, Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) prepared a site with three cranes to lift the trains and carriages.

By 9.15am the rear locomotive and carriage departed the site. Parts of the train were examined in a specialist Sydney workshop on Monday.

Materials and supplies began to arrive to the site on Monday for repairs to begin. Track infrastructure that will need to be repaired includes 300 sleepers, 20 lengths of rail, 800 tonnes of ballast across roughly 300-500 metres of track.

An ARTC spokesperson said this work will continue throughout the coming days, reflecting the complexities of the recovery.

“Early this week we expect to begin the repairs to the track and signal infrastructure which was damaged in the incident,” he said.

Equipment including sleepers, rail, and signalling equipment will be delivered to the site to repair the rail infrastructure once the XPT is removed.

“The site is being carefully controlled to ensure the safety of all those who are now involved in the site recovery and repair,” an ARTC spokesperson said.

John Kennedy, the 54-year-old train driver from Canberra, had emailed his friend with concerns about the safety of the North East line in the weeks leading up to the derailment.

The email sent on February 3rd revealed that Kennedy noted his last six Melbourne return trips have been “very late or cancelled mainly due to train fault issues”.

“3 of the six runs I was down to one engine, on another trip I had no speedo and the only trip without a train fault was disrupted by the big derailment last week,” Kennedy’s email said. 

A NSW TrainLink XPT travelling from Sydney to Melbourne derailed near the Hume Freeway at Wallan, roughly 50km outside of Melbourne, just before 8pm on Thursday evening.

The express passenger train was carrying 153 passengers and five crew at the time of the derailment. Two of those crew members – the driver and the pilot – were killed in the derailment.

Rail, Train and Bus Union (RTBU) Victoria secretary Luba Grigorovitch said the rail community is angry at the Federal government for its failure to invest in a safe and reliable 21st century interstate rail network.

ARTC’s rules allow for trains to continue at normal speeds while under the control of a pilot under such conditions. Operators including Metro Trains Melbourne (MTM) and V/line, however, impose an automatic speed restriction of 25kmh.

XPT services were running on the main line through Wallan for the past two week at track speed of around 100-130 k/hr.

Grigorovitch said ARTC changed the route for trains through Wallan, moving trains from the main line to a passing loop line.

“A Track Authority notice was issued calling for 15k/hr speed restriction on trains entering the passing loop, it appeared that there were a range of likely contributing factors to the derailment,” she said.

“The RTBU believes, however, that if ARTC imposed the same speed restrictions under pilot that are applied by MTM and V/Line, the incident may have been avoided.”

Grigorovitch said the Melbourne-Sydney rail line is known within the industry as the “goat track” because it is in such bad condition.

“For example, sections of the track are full of mud holes,” she said.

Grigorovitch is calling for Australia’s regional and interstate rail infrastructure to be safer.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said on Friday in Wallan that no authority in Australia would allow a train to travel on an unsafe track as “the ARTC monitors these things very closely and regularly”.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), in collaboration with the Victorian Government’s Chief Investigator, Transport Safety (CITS), is investigating the derailment of the XPT passenger train.

On site, investigators will examine the track infrastructure, the XPT power cars and carriages, and map the accident layout.

The ATSB will obtain and analyse available information and records, including the train data logger, signalling data, and maintenance records for the train and track infrastructure.  

The ATSB stated that a preliminary report will be released in about a month after the on-site phase, while the investigation’s final report can be expected to be released in about 18 months’ time. 

First section of the Metro Tunnel now complete

The first tunnel boring machine (TBM) named Joan has worked around the clock for months, dug underneath the city, and installed the tunnel’s massive concrete rings.

Joan is named after former Victorian Premier Joan Kirner and she has now broken through a 13m-deep shaft at Childers Street, Kensington, completing the journey from Arden Station.

Since her launch in August 2019, Joan has travelled 1.2km tunnelling under rail lines, CityLink, Moonee Ponds Creek, North Yarra Main Sewer, and the West Melbourne Terminal Station and installed 4,200 curved concrete segments to create 700 rings lining the walls of the tunnel.

The segments, each weighing 4.5 tonnes, are among 56,000 being manufactured by 70 workers at a purpose-built concrete manufacturing plant in Deer Park.

The second TBM, Meg, who is named after Australian women’s cricket captain Meg Lanning, is travelling on a parallel route to carve out the second tunnel from Arden to Kensington and will break through in the coming weeks.

Work began in January at the site of the new Anzac Station on St Kilda Road site to assemble the third and fourth TBMs for the Metro Tunnel Project. These are expected to be launched in mid-2020.

The Andrews Labour Government said Victoria’s massive transport infrastructure program will continue over autumn with the next phase of work concentrating on level crossing removals.

Following level crossing removal at Toorak Road and major works at Cheltenham and Mentone station, a three-month construction blitz will begin on the Upfield line in July.

Works will include the elevation of tracks, construction of two new stations, and removal of four level crossings.

Ongoing excavation to build an underground pedestrian connection between Flinders Street Station and the new Town Hall Station in the Metro Tunnel is currently underway.

Jacinta Allan, Minister for Transport Infrastructure, said there are nearly 120 major road and rail projects on the go across the state and this autumn.

Melissa Horne, Minister for Public Transport said that it’s vital the Victorian government continues to invest in infrastructure for the benefit of Melbourne’s residents and visitors.

ATSB on scene of fatal XPT derailment

Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) investigators are on the scene of an XPT train derailment north of Melbourne. The derailment claimed the lives of two rail employees and injured several passengers on Thursday evening.

A NSW TrainLink XPT travelling from Sydney to Melbourne derailed near the Hume Freeway at Wallan, roughly 50kms outside of Melbourne, just before 8pm on Thursday evening.

The express passenger train was carrying 153 passengers and five crew at the time of the derailment. Two of those crew members – the driver and the pilot – were killed in the derailment.

Senior ATSB investigators arrived at the scene shortly after 9am Friday morning to commence the formal investigation that will involve Victoria’s Chief Inspector.

Federal and state government officials have confirmed that the ATSB, Work Safe, and the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) will conduct a full and thorough investigation to establish the cause of the incident.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said no authority in Australia would allow a train to travel on an unsafe track as “the ARTC monitors these things very closely and regularly”.

Michael McCormack said investigations will look at every factor, including examining the speed limit, signalling, track maintenance, and interviewing witnesses.

“The track will not be reopened until everything has been looked at properly by authorities,” he said.

Greg Hood, Chief Commissioner and CEO of ATSB said they will start their investigation straight away once Victoria Police hand over custodian to investigators.

“All evidence will be gathered and examined in the next week or so,” Hood said.

Hood said ATSB will endeavour to release a preliminary report in the next 30 days and a full investigation report will follow.

Victoria Police have confirmed the two fatalities in the crash were the driver, a 54-year-old ACT man, and the train pilot, a 49-year-old Castlemaine woman. Dozens of passengers were taken to Northern and Kilmore hospital for minor injuries following the incident.

Acting inspector Peter Fusinato said the initial investigation will take days and must be completed before the wreckage can be cleared.

The derailment caused the train’s engine and first carriage to be left on their side opposite the track. Both the driver and the worker were in the same area of the train when it came off the tracks.

The standard gauge track is operated by the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) and has been damaged due to the derailment.

An ARTC spokesperson said services are suspended until further notice, to allow emergency services to respond to a train derailment.

“We are working hard to support emergency services, NSW TrainLink, and investigators to respond to this tragic accident,” the ARTC spokesperson said.

This incident follows a freight train wagon derailment earlier this month in Barnawartha located south of Wodonga, Victoria that caused 1800 damaged sleepers and 180 metres of damaged rail. 

Public Transport Minister Melissa Horne said she had written to the Australian Rail Track Corporation to continue with works on lines in the region after the Barnawartha incident three weeks ago.

“If it’s at all relevant, it will be looked at in the context of this investigation,” Hood said.

James Pinder, V/Line chief executive said the section of track was a “particularly complicated part of the infrastructure” because V/Line trains run alongside XPT trains.

“There are separate signalling systems for the different tracks,” he said.

Pinder confirmed V/Line was operating on the track on Thursday, before the Sydney to Melbourne service derailed.

Paul Toole, NSW minister for regional transport said the government can not speculate what investigations will find.

He said agencies across both Federal and State levels will be working closely together during this situation.

The Victorian Department of Transport said services on the Seymour, Shepparton and Albury lines would be affected by the incident today. The line is expected to remain closed for several days.

Ongoing track fault and delays between Albury and Southern Cross stations had been reported by V/Line’s social media updates in recent days leading up to the incident.

The train left Sydney’s Central Station at 7.40am Thursday morning and was running more than an hour late at the time the accident happened. It was due to arrive at Southern Cross Station in Melbourne at 6.30pm.

Several passengers said the train was gaining speed at the time of the accident after being stopped due to a signalling issue.

One passenger told The Age that signals should have alerted the driver to slow down to be able to move into the side track, but he did not notice the train slowing prior to the derailment.

Four hours before the incident yesterday, the Seymour V/Line Twitter account said the 12:45 Albury to Southern Cross service would be delayed by approximately 70 minutes due to an “ongoing rail equipment fault near Wallan”.

Infrastructure Australia said in December last year that the ARTC’s business case for an upgrade of the Melbourne-Albury North East Rail Line should not be ­included on its national priority list.

The business stated that Victoria’s regional trains had a self-imposed speed limit of 15km/h on the entire line from Melbourne to Seymour, due to “poor track quality” including mud holes and tight rail alignments.

Last year the Victorian and Federal Government committed $235mil to upgrade the North East line, due to be completed by 2021.

The Border Mail reported on Thursday that north-east train travellers were being asked to allow an extra 60 minutes for trips after a signal hut at Wallan was destroyed by fire earlier this month.

Luba Grigorovitch, Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) state secretary said the section of track was awaiting maintenance.

“Conditions were altered and V/Line drivers rightly refused to traverse this section over the past week,” she said.

“The RTBU is deeply saddened by the tragic accident that has taken the life of two rail workers and unnecessarily injured many more.

“Today marks a difficult day for drivers and rail workers across the state and the RTBU will be here not only to offer support but to ensure a thorough investigation is undertaken.”

The union had refused to operate in that area because it believed the tracks were degraded.

Danuek Bowen from the Public Transport Users Association said serious accidents on the Australian rail network are very rare, “but that makes it even more important to investigate the cause”.

Emergency crews, including from CFA and SES, scoured the tracks and surrounding scrub until 10am Friday morning.

Ambulance Victoria stated that an air ambulance was not required at the scene and a number of people did not require treatment. One passenger was taken by road to the Royal Melbourne Hospital in a stable condition.

The front locomotive carriage remains on its side as the train has not been moved from the position where it derailed.

Results from an engineering report will determine when it’s safe to travel trains on the line again.

Toole confirmed that the NSW regional rail fleet of XPT are 38 years old and have served their purpose. The aged fleet will be replaced in 2023 as part of the $2.8b upgrade with  Momentum Trains.

The Express Passenger Train (XPT) travels between Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Dubbo, Grafton and Casino.

Concern over toxic soil to be dumped at a V/Line rail yard

$172.9 million V/Line stabling yard development could potentially be used as a temporary holding site for contaminated soil with possible carcinogens PFAS and asbestos.

The Wyndham Vale rail yard is set to be occupied by V/Line as a maintenance and storage space to replace the Footscray train stabling site which is being removed as part of the West Gate Tunnel works.

The $6.7 billion project requires 2.3 million tonnes of soil to be relocated offsite. The 82-hectare government-owned site in Melbourne’s west is being considered by officials following a meeting with Wyndham Council this week.

The Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) are raising concerns for the health and safety of rail workers if the soil was dumped next to the V/Line rail yard.

Luba Grigorovitch, Victorian Secretary of RTBU wrote in a letter to state Government officials on Monday that she is “deeply concerned” the toxic soil would pose a huge risk to workers and residents.

Grigorovitch told Rail Express that she is demanding confirmation from the government whether soil would contaminate the air conditioning systems of the Geelong-Melbourne trains, which run directly alongside the site.

The state secretary for the union said they’ve been inundated with calls from concerned V/line workers. 

“Our members don’t want to be operating alongside contaminated soil,” she said.

“This government seems to be infamous for passing the buck. We’ll be  undergoing full safety audits and testing before giving the ok for our members to be working at the site.”

The new facility is designed to meet interpeak stabling needs for V/Line trains operating on the regional rail network, while also ensuring there is capacity to house additional trains in the future.

The project will involve construction of a stabling yard, driver facilities and a bypass track connected to the Geelong line, which will allow trains to access the facility without delaying passenger services.

38 new VLocity carriages are arriving to the V/Line network early this year and there are concerns that there isn’t enough facilities for the growing network.

V/Line stated in 2018 that stabling capacity would be exceeded by March 2019.

The Age obtained an internal V/Line document under freedom of information laws, reporting that “the rail yard was needed to run a greater number of services on the network and to operate new trains reliably”.

According to the internal document, the lack of maintenance infrastructure will continue to impact on performance and shortages will impact V/Line’s reliability.

A government spokeswoman told the Hearld Sun that if Wyndham Vale was a temporary site it would not disrupt rail operations.

“Transurban and its builder are working with project parties to find a long-term solution to manage the rock and soil from tunnelling – no decision has been made,” she said.

Department of Transport spokeswoman said operations of the stabling facility will not be compromised.

“While a decision on where to temporarily hold soil from tunnelling for the West Gate Tunnel is yet to be made, the land in question is outside the Wyndham Vale stabling facility so if the site was ever used it would not impact the timing or operations of the new stabling facility,” she said to The Age.

The Wyndham Vale rail yard is metres away from proposed housing estates and four planned schools.

Treasurer Tim Pallas and member for Werribee said on air during a 3AW interview that it won’t be a long-term containment.

“Any suggestion that there is going to be long-term containment or toxic facility is just nonsense,” Mr Pallas told 3AW.

“What is proposed at Wyndham Vale is essentially a short-term place where it is isolated from the environment and if it is ever used – it may well not ever be used – it’s only if you can’t get access to the long-term facility.”

The stabling project is funded by the state government and is still under construction and set to open in the coming months.

Murray Basin Rail Project has run out of steam

The $440 million Murray Basin Rail Project needs urgent assistance to help complete the half-finished upgrades, according to the Rail Freight Alliance (RFA).

It’s been more than six months since the Victorian Government acknowledged the project had run out of funding. An Auditor General’s report is due next month to conduct a thorough review and investigation of the upgrade.

The RFA is calling on the state government to quickly fund the rest of the Murray Basin Rail Project.

Reid Mather, RFA chief executive officer said he is exceptionally disappointed at the current status of the project that is still yet to meet the scope of stage 2 that was due for completion in 2018.

Mather says the entire project will have to start from scratch and revisit stage 1 and 2.

“There is now a big slab of rail lines in Victoria that are exceptionally wrong due to underwhelming upgrades,” he said.

The completion of stage one, which began five years ago, included carrying out essential maintenance works across 3,400m of rail and roughly 130,000 sleepers in the Mildura freight line between Yelta and Maryborough.

The entire project is intended to convert parts of the Victorian freight rail network’s historical broad gauge to the standard gauge used in most other parts of Australia to enable tracks to have a higher axle loads for more efficient intrastate freight transfer.

However Mather claims that operators are saying that the network is slower than ever before.

Mather said Mildura to Melbourne was previously a 12 hour direct route before the upgrade project. In stage one, 30km of stabling was removed which now requires trains to route around Ararat and Geelong – now 17 hours a journey from Mildura to Melbourne.

“It is unacceptable. There is now a reduced capacity and uncertainty,” Mather said. 

Rail Projects Victoria is reported to be the organisation to carry out the review.

A Department of Transport spokesman told the Ararat Advertiser that the review would determine the most cost-effective outcomes of any future spending and make recommendations on the way forward.

“The Murray Basin Rail Project is delivering better, more efficient freight services for Victoria and continues to be a key project for the Victorian and Australian governments,” the DoT spokesman told the Ararat Advertiser.

“The project has already seen freight trains return to the Mildura and Murrayville to Ouyen lines with standard gauge access, and to the Maryborough to Ararat line, which has been reopened after 15 years,

“We know how vital this project is for our regional communities and the Victorian Government is working with the Federal Government to review the Murray Basin Rail Project business case, to jointly determine the best way forward.”

The state government last year announced the remaining $23m of the $440m federal and state money set aside for the project would go on urgent repairs to the Manangatang line and a new business case.

A spokeswoman for Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan said a business case would be handed to the federal authorities by early to mid-2020.

Mather said the window for getting federal budget funding, to complete the project, was rapidly closing and requires urgent attention from state and federal officials.

“Works were meant to be completed by 2018 and certainly won’t be starting this year. The current network is in grid lock and it’s time to get the bones right,” Mather said.

“It’s all in the [government’s] hands.”

New parliament bill to authorise rail construction

A Railway Amendment Bill put forward last year has been passed by the Western Australian government on Tuesday evening.

The Legislative Council passed The Railway (METRONET) Amendment Bill 2019 to have the Metronet Morley-Ellenbrook Line enshrined into the state law and authorises construction of the rail infrastructure.

The Bill will now be sent for royal assent by Governor Kim Beazley.

Early works are already underway as part of the major redevelopment of Bayswater Station, following Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) called Grace building the first twin tunnel from Forrestfield to Bayswater this week.

A Request for Proposal for the Morley-Ellenbrook Line’s main works contract went out to market last month and is the biggest of four works packages that will deliver the project.

Along with the main works contract, the Morley-Ellenbrook Line is also being delivered through the Bayswater Station upgrade, Tonkin Gap project and forward works contracts.

WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said the Morley-Ellenbrook Line is happening.

“The enabling legislation passing shows that the Parliament acknowledges the importance of rail and serving the north-east corridor with first-class public transport,” she said.

“We have also been working with local companies so they are prepared to leverage opportunities and maximise local jobs that come with building Metronet.

“This enshrines in legislation our election commitment to connect Perth’s fast-growing north-eastern suburbs by rail – we look forward to continuing the work.”

Stations will be built at Ellenbrook, Whiteman Park, Malaga, Noranda and Morley, with allowance for a future station at Bennett Springs East also in the design.

The most expensive railway in the world gets the green light

Eight of the UK’s largest cities will now be connected by rail, following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s approval of the High Speed 2 (HS2). 

During a parliamentary hearing on Tuesday, 11 February, Johnson declared the decision has been taken to proceed with HS2 following consideration of the independent Oakervee review.

Johnson told parliament he plans to appoint a dedicated minister to oversee and manage the project to ensure no “further blowouts on either cost or schedule”.

In a statement released by the Prime Minister’s office, a spokesperson said HS2 will become “the spine” of the country’s transport network.

Grant Shapps, UK Transport Secretary, said the government is clear the project must reform and improve, with clearer accountability and transparency.

“I’ve been clear that we needed all the facts to decide the way forward with HS2,” Shapps said.

“Fully informed by a comprehensive and detailed scrutiny of all the facts, now is the time to drive HS2 forward, alongside a ‘High Speed North’ plan to give the North and Midlands the capacity and connectivity it vitally needs.”

The total HS2 network will be 330 miles. Phase 1 from London to Birmingham and 2a from Birmingham to Crewe is confirmed by Johnson to be constructed, while Phase 2b to Manchester and Leeds will be reviewed.

The project was originally expected to cost around £33 billion and the plan is now estimated at £106bn ($205bn), making HS2 the most expensive railway in the world.

The first stage of the line was approved in 2017 but was put on hold by the Government last year.

Under the current plans, the line is due to be completed in 2040 and Johnson has stated he wants to bring the finish date forward by 5 years to 2035.

The Financial Times has reported that the China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC) had written to HS2 Ltd’s chief executive last month, stating they could complete a build of the line in just five years and at a reduced cost.

However, Shapps said on air during a Sunday morning talk show that he has not been in contact with CRCC.

“They have clearly had a letter sent to HS2 Ltd, there has been no conversation with me as a minister, as the secretary of state.”

Shapps said the government would be “fools” to not have a conversation about whether the project could be built faster than the proposed 15 year time frame. 

The UK Department of Transport executives have previously confirmed that preliminary discussions had taken place between CCRC and HS2 Ltd, but there are no “concrete commitments” at this stage.

CRCC has built most of China’s 15,500-mile high-speed network.

Darren Caplan, chief executive of the UK Railway Industry Association, said HS2 could unlock “a new golden age of rail”.

“HS2 will not just boost the UK’s economy and connectivity, but will also enable other major rail infrastructure projects to be delivered too,” Caplan said.

“So we now urge everyone – whatever their previous view on HS2 – to get behind this important project and to work together with the railway industry to deliver the full scheme.”

Supporters say the project is necessary to ease congestion on the core of Britain’s rail network, as current lines share long-distance express, local, and freight services.

The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) said the HS2 line is essential to tackling systemic congestion in the UK transport system. 

A spokesperson for CILT said the institute is urging the Prime Minister, in parallel with HS2 Phase 1 and in advance of HS2 Phase 2b and future HS3/Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) works, investment is also committed to improve the number and size of trains that can operate on existing routes.

The CILT spokesperson said the institute is pleased the project has been given the immediate go-ahead and believes HS2 has a greater benefit for freight.

“Britain’s manufacturers, retailers, and ports are keen to move more of their goods by rail. This will accelerate as the implications of achieving Net Zero carbon by 2050 become clearer,” they said.

“The Institute’s belief is that electric trains carrying goods on the trunk haul, linking with electric-lorries for final delivery to customers in towns and cities, offers an attractive option for near-full decarbonisation of the supply chain once goods reach the UK.”

The UK government appointed Douglas Oakervee to analyse the HS2. The review was published alongside the Prime Minister’s approval announcement last week.

The review that it strongly advises against cancelling the scheme.

“If HS2 were to be cancelled, many years of planning work would be required to identify, design and develop new proposals. The upgrading of existing lines would also come at a high passenger cost with significant disruption,” the review document stated.

Douglas Oakervee, Chair of the independently-led review into HS2 said he is proud of the work that the review panel has carried out.

“The Review’s Report is a comprehensive appraisal of a challenging project. I believe the recommendations help offer it a way forward,” Oakervee said.

Once it is built, journeys will be shorter. London to Birmingham travel times will be cut from one hour, 21 minutes to 52 minutes, according to the Department for Transport.

Breakthrough on longest rail tunnel in WA

After two and a half years, the Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) called Grace has reached the end of its eight-kilometre tunneling journey in Perth.

TBM Grace has broken through at Bayswater dive station, part of the Metronet’S Forrestfield-Airport Link project in Western Australia.

Two tunnels will house the $1.86 billion project’s rail lines and TBM Grace has now built the first tunnel from Forrestfield to Bayswater.

WA Premier Mark McGowan said this is a historic milestone for the state and a major engineering feat that hasn’t been seen before in WA. 

“Where once there was dirt, sand, rocks and tree roots, now sits the foundation for our new railway,” McGowan said.

Through her journey it has tunnelled underneath Perth Airport, Redcliffe Station and the Swan River, before reaching her final destination at Bayswater.

Walls of the twin tunnel were installed by TBM Grace using half of the 54,000 locally fabricated concrete segments.

Grace is the first TMB and will be dismantled and craned out of the dive structure in preparation for the arrival of TBM Sandy, who is a safe distance behind Grace.

WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said the arrival of TBM Sandy in coming months will mark the completion of tunnelling.

“With the end of tunnelling in sight, work is continuing on important infrastructure components such as station construction and fit out and readying the tunnels for track laying,” Saffioti said.

“The precision engineering it has taken for this machine to tunnel eight kilometres, through varying and sometimes challenging soil types, to break through in exactly the right spot is truly remarkable.”

Tunnelling work is due to be completed in May.

Metronet is the biggest public transport project Perth has seen and trains are set to run on the new rail line in the second half of next year.

The rail link between eastern foothills, Perth Airport, and the CBD is expected to be a 20 minute trip.