Brittany Coles

Electrical fire on Auckland metro network

An electrical fire in a signal cabinet has damaged signalling to the south of Newmarket on the Auckland metro network at just after 5am on Monday morning.

The fire was sparked in a passenger train signalling cabinet.

Todd Moyle, KiwiRail Group chief operating officer, said the fire has been extinguished as of 8am Monday morning.

“KiwiRail staff are on site and will restore the system as quickly as possible,” Moyle said.

“We are working with TransDev to reroute Southern Line trains along the Eastern Line from Otahuhu. At this point, the heaviest impact is limited to trains running between Penrose and Newmarket. Western Line trains continue to operate.

“We apologise for the inconvenience to Auckland commuters but safety must be paramount. The cause will be investigated.”

The heaviest impact during the peak hour commute was stations between Newmarket and Penrose (Penrose, Ellerslie, Greenlane, Remuera) as trains couldn’t run on that section on the track.

TransDev re-routed Southern Line trains via Otahuhu along the Eastern Line to access Britomart and all Western Line trains continue to run following the incident.

Auckland Transport stated in an updated social media post that southern line services will continue via the eastern line and western line services are stopping at Newmarket as of 11.10am Monday morning.

155 light rail services will be added in Canberra due to unexpected demand

ACT Minister for Transport Chris Steel said Canberra’s light rail is exceeding the government’s expectations and is ahead of boarding targets by one year.

The ACT government will add extra services, meaning the light rail will move to a 5-minute timetable during morning peaks, and a further 155 light rail services will be added every week, taking the total number of light rail services to more than 1,600 every week.

Steel said further improvements are planned as part of the new public transport network the Government is introducing in April 2020.

“Light rail has been a huge success, with 3.5 million boardings since it started last year,” Steel said.

“More than 15,000 boardings are being made every day on light rail.”

These expansion of services will be delivered using the existing fleet of 14 light rail vehicles.

A half hour extension of the southbound morning and northbound afternoon services have started this week. 

From April, the current services during peak times will increase from every six minutes to every five minutes and services will commence one hour earlier on Sundays and public holidays from 7am. 

Complete shutdown for major maintenance on Hunter rail network

The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) will commence a three-day shutdown to conduct over 120 maintenance works from Tuesday 11 February.

Maintenance shutdown will affect the Hunter Valley Network on the rail network from the port of Newcastle through to Narrabri and out to Ulan.

Majority of the works will be on the coal lines between Kooragang and Maitland as well as the main lines from Muswellbrook to Ulan, Narrabri and Maitland.

The maintenance will include removing and replacing almost 14 kilometres of rail, upgrading approximately 1.5 kilometres of track subgrade across six sites, continue ongoing signal upgrade work between Islington and Sandgate, routine maintenance and defect removal, and various other major upgrades.

A new 120 stone Loram grinder will be introduced to the Hunter Valley to improve rail grinding performance.

Wayne Johnson ARTC group executive Hunter Valley said the work requires a total shutdown of the rail network.

“As days of extreme heat can have an impact on the track, such as causing signal faults, circuit breaks or track buckling due to intense heat conditions, we need to carry out this work to ensure the track remains safe, particularly in recent extreme weather conditions,” Johnson said.

“We continue to also carry out spot maintenance as required, to ensure the safety and reliability of the track and limit ‘hot works’ on these days, such as welding or rail grinding to reduce risk.

“We remind residents to remain vigilant as there may be more vehicle movements in and out of work sites in residential areas around the work sites.” 

1,200 workers will assist the three-day maintenance shutdown.

The work is set to start at 6.30am on Tuesday, February 11 and is expected to be completed early in the morning on Friday, February 14.

Overnight outages will impact the passenger network from Islington to Maitland and alternative bus services by Transport for NSW will be in place.

The next major maintenance shutdown is scheduled from 1 to 3 April. 

Construction progresses at Melbourne Metro Tunnel Project’s new State Library station

Melbourne’s State Library station will be 240m long and 30m wide, and its 19m platforms will be some of the widest underground metro platforms in the world.

The first permanent building works for the station are now underway, and a concrete floor has been installed that will form part of the future platform.

Three roadheaders have dug 36m under Swanston Street while also excavating the station length of 240m between Franklin and La Trobe Streets.

Later this year, they will go back underground to dig out the rail tunnels on each side of the central station cavern.

State Library and Town Hall stations will feature ‘trinocular caverns’ – three overlapping tunnels dug by road headers which will allow the concourse and platforms to be integrated on one level.

500 tonnes of rock are being excavated every day as the roadheaders are equipped with cutterheads that smash through rock three times harder than concrete.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan inspected progress on the construction happening at State Library station on Thursday morning. 

“A huge amount of work continues to be done at State Library Station, with the platform already taking shape,” said Andrews.

Allan said the Metro Tunnel is the biggest public transport project in Victoria’s history.

Major construction is continuing in the northern end of Swanston Street at the site of the future State Library Station throughout February this year.

The $11 billion project is set to be completed by 2025.

NZ City Rail Link commences next stage of construction

Building works have started on the Aotea underground station in central Auckland part of New Zealand’s City Rail Link (CRL).

Dale Burtenshaw, deputy project director for the Link Alliance consortium which is building the stations and tunnels for the CRL project, said construction of the Aotea station under the intersection is “massive in scale”.

Construction of the station, platform and tunnels continues will continue below ground until 2021.

Wellesley Street West intersection with Albert Street and Mayoral Drive will close to road traffic from Sunday, 1 March 2020 and is set to reopen in a year.

This follows the removal of the information hub building in the middle of Beresford Square last month to construct the station under nearby Karangahape Road.

The CRL is set to be a 3.45km twin-tunnel underground rail link up to 42 metres below the Auckland city centre.

The depth of the two new underground stations will be 11m at Aotea and 33m at Karangahape Road.

The CRL will extend the existing rail line underground through Britomart, to Albert, Vincent, and Pitt Streets, and then cross beneath Karangahape Road and the Central Motorway Junction to Symonds Street before rising to join the western line at Eden Terrace where the Mount Eden Station is located.

The project was launched in 2017 and is estimated to cost $4.419 billion by the 2024 completion date.

Free Tram Zone distracting from network improvements: PTUA

Members of Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) are calling for the Free Tram Zone in Melbourne to be abolished.

The PTUA said in a statement that they do not support the Free Tram Zone due to overcrowding on services across the Melbourne CBD.

This follows the state parliament inquiry into Expanding Melbourne’s Free Tram Zones. 

Parliament of Victoria received over 300 written submissions to the Economy and Infrastructure Committee. 

The PTUA said in their submission inquiry that the current Free Tram Zone already covers the busiest part of the tram network and urging greater investment in service improvements, instead of extending free transport.

The association said they believe the money spent on providing the Free Tram Zone would be better spent extending and upgrading services across Melbourne.

PTUA wrote in their submission that increasing free public transport will also reduce “the funding available to make much needed improvements to public transport services such as improving accessibility for people with disabilities, increasing frequencies and lengthening operating hours in poorly-serviced areas.”

PTUA said the state government should consider adopting a traffic light priority system that is commonly seen in many European cities.

“An ambitious approach to public transport priority could boost tram frequencies and capacity in the inner core of the network and thereby ease crowding,” they said.

“Reduced delays to public transport vehicles at traffic lights and the improved service levels enabled would make public transport more competitive.”

The association’s submission also suggested a full roll-out of high capacity signalling across the rail network would allow higher train frequencies and help to relieve crowding and enable efficient use of existing infrastructure.

“In comparison to highly-performing lines in other cities, Melbourne only achieves comparatively low frequencies on its busiest railway lines due to signalling limitations,” the inquiry stated.

Rod Barton, party leader of Transport Matters Victoria said public transport groups against expanding Melbourne’s free tram network are confusing operational issues with a bigger picture solution.

“Frustrations over the limitations of the existing services should not prevent the committee considering the wider picture,” Barton said.

“There are ongoing complaints that the current free tram zone contributes to overcrowding on inner city trams. Paying commuters are frustrated when they are unable to board overcrowded trams in the inner city,

“Indeed, overcrowding exists across the entire public transport network. This is an operational issue that could be solved by adding increased services or shorter shuttle routes that take passengers to the perimeter of the zone.”

The inquiry into expanding Melbourne’s Free Tram Zone closed submissions on 31 January 2020.

Transperth reduces speed of trains due to extreme heat

The temperature reached a top of 43 degrees in Perth on Tuesday, February 4 and train speeds were reduced to prevent distortion of steel tracks.

Transperth said in a social media post on Tuesday that “due to current temperatures heat restrictions are in place across the network”. 

The Transperth train network put temporary speed restrictions across the network when track-level temperatures reach 37 degrees. 

Trains are reduced by about 20kmh on the Fremantle, Midland, and Armadale line when the temperature hits 37 degrees and on the Mandurah, Joondalup, and Thornlie lines once the temperature reaches 39 degrees.

Train speeds are reduced by a further 10kmh if track temperatures reach 41 degrees, and when temperatures drop back below 37C and 39C respectively, the restrictions are lifted.

Western Australia Public Transport Authority (PTA) said in a statement that heat speed restrictions have been imposed every summer in Perth for more than 30 years.

“The impact was greatly reduced as the Public Transport Authority progressively replaced wooden sleepers with concrete,” WA PTA said.

“Track with concrete sleepers is much less affected by the heat. All the PTA’s mainline urban track has had concrete sleepers for several years.”

The restriction is in line with national and international operating and safety standards, that recognises that extreme weather can affect  steel track.

The WA PTA said heat-related speed restrictions are imposed around the world, while some countries also impose restrictions because of other climatic or environmental factors.

“Parts of Britain have speed restrictions in autumn if tracks are covered with leaves, which can affect traction,” they said.

Inland Rail grants $4000 to a men’s cultural group in QLD

Over $55,000 in community donations from Inland Rail will be granted to groups across the whole rail corridor in regional Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.

The Maibin Jaihilah Yahgilah men’s cultural group from Beaudesert, Queensland will receive $4000 in the third round of the Inland Rail Community Sponsorships and Donations program.

The funds will be used for the completion of an amenities block on a five-hectare site that has significant cultural ties to Mt Warning (Wollumbin) and the Mununjali people dating back thousands of years.

Rebecca Pickering, Inland Rail Director of Engagement, Environment and Property said more than $180,000 has already been allocated in the first three rounds of the program to help communities through a range of events, projects and activities.

“We congratulate successful recipients for this round which include sporting groups, schools, men’s groups, and Indigenous Cultural Groups. Funded projects represent a diverse range of initiatives such as upgrading community facilities, skills building in the areas of STEM education and inclusive events,” Pickering said.

Sharne Iselin, president of the Maibin Jahyilah Yahgilah men’s group said they meet every month to discuss challenges and barriers and how to overcome them.

“The work we do is really important and sadly it’s something that is badly needed in today’s society. We do all we can to support our community empower and strengthen local Mununjali cultural values and principles,” Iselin said.

The next round of funding applications for the program is now open and eligible groups can still apply for funding of between $1000 and $4000 for their project or service by Friday 31 January.

Inland Rail said in a statement that applications are encouraged from individuals and organisations in regional centres along the corridor, to ensure regional areas receive maximum benefit.

People are invited to visit the Inland Rail website to apply for a donation and for further information on the program.

Hundreds of millions of dollars being invested in New Zealand’s KiwiRail network

The New Zealand Government has announced a further $109.7 million rail investment in Northland rail freight on the KiwiRail network.

This follows the injection of  $211 million to upgrade Wellington networks and services for Auckland rail.

Greg Miller, KiwiRail Group chief executive, said the Northland investment will enable hi-cube container freight to be transported by rail in the region for the first time ever.

$69.7m will be spent on lowering tracks in the 13 tunnels between Swanson and Whangarei; reopening the currently mothballed rail line north of Whangarei, between Kauri and Otiria; and building a container terminal at the Otiria rail yard, in Moerewa.

“Currently 18m tonnes of cargo is moved in and out of the region every year. Of that, around 30,000 containers leave Northland by road. Most aren’t able to fit through the tunnels, but this investment will change that – opening up a whole new market to rail,” Miller said.

“The tunnel work will have a huge impact on how freight is moved in and out of Northland.

“I’m really impressed by the ingenuity of KiwiRail’s engineering staff to be able to lower the tracks in the tunnels – which is a lot less expensive than boring bigger tunnels.”

This is the second Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) investment in Northland rail, following the $94.8m provided to make significant improvements to the Northland Line between Swanson and Whangarei, announced last year.

An additional $40m will be used by KiwiRail to purchase land along the designated rail route between Oakleigh and Northport/Marsden Point.

Miller said works in Auckland have already commenced, and will be completed in about four years.

“The third main adds an extra rail line between Westfield and Wiri in South Auckland, a section of line that is congested with freight trains going to and from Ports of Auckland and Port of Tauranga, and increasingly frequent metro commuter services. For CRL to deliver the level of commuter service Auckland needs, the 3rd main is crucial,” he said.

David Gordon, KiwiRail chief operating officer – capital projects and asset development, said work on the Wairarapa Line will start later this year, following the government’s $96m investment announced in 2018.

“$70m will be spent on improving the signalling system and track approach to Wellington Station, particularly the area north of the stadium where the Johnsonville, Hutt Valley, and Kapiti Lines all come together,” Gordan said.

A $15m investment in carriages for the Capital Connection service will allow KiwiRail to fully refurbish ex-Auckland Transport carriages including new interiors, seats, and toilets.

Auckland metro rail seeking new operations contractor following network boom

As Transdev Auckland’s contract to provide metro rail services comes to an end, Auckland Transport (AT) is seeking industry participants to operate the city’s metro rail passenger network from 2021.

Mark Lambert, executive general manager of integrated networks, said AT is now undertaking a tendering process for a future rail franchise agreement, with Expressions of Interest (EOIs) now open.

 “We have the determination to reinvigorate the region’s rail services. With the City Rail Link to be completed in 2024 and the other recent rail upgrades just announced by central government, the future of Auckland rail is very bright,” he said.

AT are moving towards a more integrated operating environment for rail services, this will see the incoming rail operator having greater responsibility and control for service delivery for the next phase of rail public transport growth in Auckland.

Last year public transport patronage totalled 103.2 million passenger boardings.

“We have made great progress in reinvigorating passenger rail in Auckland with the system now carrying 22 million passengers per year, with growth of 5 per cent in the past year,” Lambert said.

An AT Metro train services spokesperson said that figure is the highest rate ever of train patronage.

The first three of Auckland’s new trains have arrived and are currently being tested and certified, allowing larger trains to run during the morning and afternoon peak times.

The remaining 12 new trains will arrive before the end of the year, bringing the fleet to a total of 72.

Peter Lensink, Transdev Auckland’s managing director, said the increasing passenger numbers are also a reflection of the work being put in by the company’s train crew, on behalf of AT.

“Aucklanders want to get to their destination safely, on time, and in the care of highly-trained and friendly staff,” Lensink said.

Mayor Phil Goff says investment in infrastructure and improvements to services are encouraging the strong growth.

“Our record investment in transport infrastructure and services has seen public transport patronage grow at more than five times the rate of population,” he said.

The current rail operating contract for Auckland metro train services has been in place since 2004.

Following the evaluation of EOI responses received, AT will shortlist participants, who will be invited to respond to the RFP process for the Auckland Rail Franchise.

The contract is expected to be awarded in February 2021.