David Loneragan

Federal government confirms support for Melbourne airport ‘Sunshine’ route

The Victorian government’s preferred route for Melbourne Airport’s rail link through the city’s western suburbs has been approved by the federal government.

The so-called Sunshine alignment (previously called the Albion East alignment) will connect the airport and Melbourne CBD via new “Sunshine Super Hub” linking with Geelong and Ballarat regional lines and metro train lines, including the new Metro Tunnel project.

It has long been the Andrews government’s preferred route for the project, which it estimates would cost between $8 billion and $13 billion.

The project will also feature twin tunnels between Southern Cross and Sunshine and a new underground rail station at the airport.

“There will need to be a significant redevelopment of the Sunshine area,” state transport minister Jacinta Allan said.

“It will, if you like, become another Southern Cross station where regional and metropolitan trains come together and can connect in to Melbourne’s airport.”

Federal cities and urban infrastructure minister Alan Tudge reportedly wrote to the state government several weeks ago to confirm his support of the route.

In the past, the federal government had favoured a direct tunnel route between the CBD and the airport via Highpoint – which would, according to the state government, cost approximately double the Sunshine alignment, at $20-22 billion – as it would incorporate 127-hectares of Commonwealth land at Maribyrnong which is planned for development.

Allan said she welcomed the federal government’s backing of the Sunshine route.

“The Andrews Labor Government has always backed the Sunshine route as the preferred route and we now welcome the Morrison Government coming onboard and confirming its support for this project and for this route,” she said.

Victorian premier Daniel Andrews announced in July that a re-elected Labor government would match a $5 billion commitment by the Commonwealth government for the rail link to with construction to begin by 2022.

The federal Coalition government, in its 2018-19 Budget, said it would provide $5 billion to the project, potentially via an off-budget equity financing model.

AirRail, a consortium of fund manager IFM Investors, Melbourne Airport, Metro Trains Australia, and Southern Cross Station, has pitched a $15 billion PPP to the state and federal governments, aiming to start work on a rail line to the airport by 2020. AirRail said it would provide $5 billion to match the $5 billion already committed by the federal Government and the $5 billion committed by the Victorian Government.

Congestion debate: Expert blames Morrison for mess of his own making

A former senior immigration official has criticised the federal government’s mooted plan to curb permanent migration numbers, saying such a move would have a minimal impact on city congestion.

During a recent address to a Sydney audience of the future of Australia’s cities, prime minister Scott Morrison said that his government would respond to community concerns about population growth in Australia’s major cities and place more power in the hands of the states in regard to permanent migration intake numbers.

“The roads are clogged, the buses and trains are full,” Morrison said.

“That’s why we need to improve how we manage population growth in this country.”

However, Abul Rizvi, a former deputy secretary in the Immigration department, told SBS News that the real pressure on cities comes from temporary migrants, particularly international students.

“Overseas students are the big factor that has grown as a portion of the net migration intake, and the vast majority of them do indeed settle in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane,” Rizvi said.

According to the SBS, there were 32,000 student arrivals in 2011-12, which has grown to more than 100,000 in the year 2016-17.

Rizvi said that those students become “long-term temporary residents”, which number one million strong. This group of migrants, he said, will possibly seek to become permanent residents.

According to Rizvi, while the government’s plans to move permanent migrants on to regional visas could ultimately move more of this population away from Sydney and Melbourne, the impact would be minimal with regards to congestion in those cities.

Rizvi also went further, saying that the prime minister himself was to blame for the rise in migration numbers.

“He locked in [the] migration program at 190,000 per annum by linking it to the budget,” Rizvi told ABC’s 7.30.

“He significantly boosted the level of overseas students, who drove the increase in net overseas migration, particularly to Sydney and Melbourne.

“Thirdly, he reduced the usage of regional visas very significantly, the very visas that he now says we need to increase the usage of.”

Speaking on ABC Radio federal cities and infrastructure minister Alan Tudge said that temporary migration was something that had to be looked at, but that any population plans would have to make sure that the university and international education sector, in which Australia is very successful, was not affected.

“We want to be very careful that we don’t interrupt that too much. And so that’s why we’re just taking it steadily,” Tudge said. “That’s why we’re asking the states and territories to be quite thoughtful about this, really consider the consequences of what they’re putting forward, and then we’ll come together and aggregate that into the migration plan.”

Tudge told the ABC that the December 12 COAG meeting with the state premiers would see the plan worked out in greater detail.

“The prime minister has foreshadowed that he’ll be writing to the premiers and chief ministers shortly and he’s putting this on the agenda for COAG to discuss it at that particular stage; and we’ll work through the process that particular way,” he said.

‘The trains are full’: Morrison moots migration intake meddling

Prime minister Scott Morrison has realised the fears of leading economist Chris Richardson by signalling his government will consider cutting Australia’s migration intake, citing growing community frustration with congested cities.

Delivering an address to a Sydney audience of the future of Australia’s cities, prime minister Scott Morrison said that his government would respond to community concerns about population growth in Australia’s major cities.

“They are saying: enough, enough, enough,” Morrison told the audience.

“The roads are clogged, the buses and trains are full. The schools are taking no more enrolments. I hear what you are saying. I hear you loud and clear.

“That’s why we need to improve how we manage population growth in this country.”

The prime minister said the “old model” of a single, national intake figure determined by the Commonwealth was “no longer fit for purpose” and that he would ask the state governments to create their own population plans. This would be discussed, he said, at the next Council of Australian Governments meeting on December 12.

“It is the states who build hospitals, approve housing developments, plan roads and know how many kids will be going into their schools in the future,” Morrison said.

“The states and territories know better than any what the population carrying capacity is for their existing and planned infrastructure and services. So I plan to ask them, before we set our annual caps.”

Morrison said that moving to more state-directed population growth planning would likely see a reduction in Australia’s migration intake caps.

“I anticipate that this will lead to a reduction in our current migration settings,” he said.

Speaking at the AFR Infrastructure Summit earlier in the year, senior Deloitte economist Chris Richardson warned that responding to the pressures of Australia’s booming population growth would take the country in a negative economic direction.

Richardson said this population growth was necessary to maintain the labour force that would enable the nation to meet “historic” opportunities presented by the global demand for Australian commodities.

While he acknowledged that the massive population expansion experienced in Sydney and Melbourne was placing heavy pressures upon the infrastructure – including transport systems – in those cities, this growth itself should not be targeted, he said. Instead, infrastructure spending had been lacking, and had to be expanded considerably.

“Our population growth is exceptional in world standards. That means our infrastructure spending has to be at least exceptional. It’s not happening,” he said. “And the gap between those two things, which has been marching on for a long time now, is continuing to march on.

“We have let ourselves slide for so long. Our infrastructure approach and policies need planning and commitment and action.”

Speaking to ABC News Breakfast on Tuesday morning, federal cities and urban infrastructure minister Alan Tudge said that the positives of population growth, such as high rates of economic growth in Sydney Melbourne, had to be weighed up against the issues of congestion being faced in those cities.

“On the one hand, migration does help grow our economy, it does help lift living standards. And it will continue to do so and it will continue to be a mainstay of Australia. But that is balanced off against congestion pressures, particularly in Melbourne and Sydney, which are getting so much of the population growth at the moment,” Tudge said.

But he indicated that any revision of population planning would also have to take into account the fact that there are demands for higher population in South Australia, the Northern Territory and Tasmania.

“The governments there want to grow their populations faster – so it’s not a one-size-fits-all, and that’s where we want to get to as well with our migration settings,” he said.

The comments coming from the government may be a sign that Richardson’s fears will be realised. Speaking to the AFR Summit audience, the economist said that continual failure to address the infrastructure “gap” would lead to further scrutiny on “good” high immigration growth, thus leading to the central issue of infrastructure spending to be kicked down the road.

“That would be Australia failing to rise to an historic challenge and an historic opportunity,” Richardson said. “Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.”

Filling the gap: overcoming the rail industry skills shortage

The challenge of addressing the rail industry’s skills gap were a topic of discussion at a recent Australian Industry Standards (AIS) forum in September.

Federal and state governments across Australia have collectively committed $100 billion over the next 12 years to infrastructure projects to ensure the nation’s rail networks can bear the weight of a steadily expanding population and the concomitant increase in demand for rail services.

Large-scale projects already underway or in planning will require a sizeable skilled workforce to bring them into being.

But the size of the rail workforce in Australia is much the same as it was a decade ago, and is growing older.

In the decade between 2006 and 2016, the number of workers under 40 fell 3 per cent, and the number over 40 rose by 1.4 per cent. Currently, only 11 per cent of the workforce is under 30.

Speaking at the AIS skills forum in Sydney, then managing director of TAFE NSW, Jon Black, said the perception TAFE had lesser “esteem” than university was something that had to be addressed.

“We need to talk about promote how TAFE and VET can address the skills issues that we have today. Vocational training underpins the economy,” Black said.

According to Black, there is a desperate need for more funding put into the VET system to provide the trained workforce that will deliver Australia’s infrastructure projects.

“We have an alarming and huge skills gap. Sydney Metro and other projects will not be delivered if there are no supervisors, no superintendents, no leadership,” he said. “We might not have these because we have failed miserably to invest in our vocational pathways into the future.”

Stephen Jones, principal manager of safety and business systems for Sydney Metro Northwest, said that bringing government, educational institutions and industry together was a necessary measure in combatting the skills gap across the rail sector. “One thing we at Sydney Metro realised was that we needed the VET sector, government, and our contractors to actually come together to get right outcomes. We actually brought them all around the table and said, ‘How do we work things smarter? How can the rail industry work smarter?’”

Jones said that arrangements were established that enabled the development of training facilities needed to deliver some of the 20,000 workers required on the first two stages of the Metro project. “We developed training and skill centres which government and contractors can actually use to train their staff up,” he said. This kind of collaboration, he said, was what was needed on other rail projects going forward. “What you’ve to do is get those three parties together – government, TAFE and industry – to actually come together and make sure everyone is clear on what needs to be delivered, set a path and then go hard as you can to actually deliver it.”

Technological innovation in the rail industry is seeing the development of methods to improve operations, increase energy efficiency, streamline asset management and provide advanced monitoring of safety critical communications. These new technologies, their adoption and management, will require the employment and acquisition of new skills within rail industry workforce.

The Sydney Metro project will see an expected total investment of around $40 to $45 billion, representing not only a massive engineering and construction task, but also an operations and maintenance task that will require a sizeable workforce trained in these new systems. The adoption of autonomous systems across the rail industry is expected to have major ramifications for the future make-up of the industry’s workforce, which will see new skills being needed in remote operations, diagnostics, maintenance and communications.

Jones indicated that the fact Sydney Metro was a completely new system employing new technology presented opportunities that set it apart from other existing arrangements in place in Sydney and across Australia. “It actually gives us the opportunity to do things differently that haven’t been done and we can shape influence and drive outcomes in terms of what skills we and employ,” he said.

“We’ll have people with new skills coming in and that’s exciting for the industry.”

 

Rail Express will have a full report into the skills gap as part of its special feature on Certification, Workforce & Training, in the November-December print edition, which will be released at AusRAIL 2018 in Canberra.

Labor commits to more car parking at Leppington Station

The federal Labor opposition has promised to extend its planned project of station car park expansions to Leppington Station in south-west Sydney, partnering up with the NSW Labor state opposition to deliver the funding.

Shadow infrastructure and transport minister, Anthony Albanese, announced last Friday that Labor would invest $16 million to build an additional 300 car parking spots at Leppington train station, should it win government in the next election.

The funding would form part of Labor’s $300 million National Park and Ride Fund for new or expanded car parks at public transport hubs.

Albanese said that the existing 850-space car park is too small to meet growing demand, forcing commuters to park on surrounding roads as far a kilometre away and then walk to catch their trains.

“We’ll invest in better public transport across the country, but also in expanding parking facilities so commuters can catch their trains and get to work with a minimum of fuss,” Albanese said.

“This is as practical measure that will make a real difference to the lives of commuters.”

Federal and State Labor have said that they would each contribute $8 million to deliver the 300 additional car parking spaces.

“Whether it’s free public transport for children, fare refunds for late trains or a new commuter car park at Leppington, Labor will make your commute just that little bit easier,” NSW Labor leader Michael Daley said.

“Instead of circling for a car park, you should be home with your family.”

Federal Member for Werriwa Anne Stanley said that the rapid development of Sydney’s South West made it critical that infrastructure investment kept pace with demand.

“We know because we have listened to our community that it is essential that commuters are able to access parking to make their journey to work as stress free as possible,’’ Stanley said.

“Improving parking at Leppington Station will also ease the pressure on parking at other stations like Edmondson Park and Glenfield and will shorten travel times and allow people to have more time to enjoy their families, exercise, study and other interests.”

Roundtable on rail suicide prevention held in Queensland

The TrackSAFE Foundation and Lifeline Australia hosted a Rail Suicide Prevention Roundtable for Queensland this week, attended by state transport minister Mark Bailey and Ivan Frkovic, the Queensland Mental Health Commissioner.

The Roundtable, held at Queensland’s Parliament House, was the third in a state-based roundtable series for rail suicide prevention, part of TrackSAFE and Lifeline’s national partnership to pursue the joint objective of reducing rail suicides in Australia.

Bob Herbert, AM Chairman TrackSAFE Foundation, said it was pleasing to see government leaders come together with senior representatives from the rail industry, roads, police and mental health sectors to discuss rail suicide prevention in Queensland.

“The Roundtable was an opportunity to collaborate across the sectors and examine latest research, while identifying ways to reduce the rate of suicide on Queensland’s rail network. Discussions also focused on what is being done to support passengers and staff directly affected by these distressing incidents,” Herbert said.

“These incidents not only seriously affect members of the community, but also have a profound and lasting impact on train drivers and other frontline rail employees,” said Mr Herbert AM.

John Brogden, Chairman Lifeline Australia, said the Roundtable had proved productive towards finding ways to prevent suicides on Australia’s railways.

“Today’s rail suicide prevention roundtable in Queensland brought together key parties to share knowledge and best practice on rail suicide prevention and intervention at a state level,” Brodgen said.

“Through this partnership, Lifeline has committed to specifically addressing rail suicide as part of our vision of an Australia free of suicide. We look forward to working with TrackSAFE to progress the outcomes.”

Two Metronet projects granted priority status by Infrastructure Australia

Two of Western Australia’s Metronet project, the Thornlie-Cockburn Link and the Yanchep Rail Extension, have been granted priority status by Infrastructure Australia (IA).

IA has placed the two projects on its Infrastructure Priority List of nationally significant investments following assessment of their business cases.

The final documents to secure federal funding for the Thornlie-Cockburn Link and Yanchep Rail Extension were formally accepted by Infrastructure Australia in August.

Federal urban infrastructure and cities minister Alan Tudge said the IA priority listing of the Thornlie-Cockburn Link and the Yanchep Rail Extension was a significant milestone for the Metronet project.

“It demonstrates why the Australian Government committed $3.2 billion in the 2018–19 Budget for network shaping projects in Western Australia such as METRONET, which together are expected to generate over 20,000 jobs across the state.”

IA’s acting chief executive Anna Chau said that the two Metronet projects had been designed to address the problem of capacity constraints on Perth’s metropolitan rail network, which was previously highlighted on the Infrastructure Priority List as a Priority Initiative requiring action in the short term.

“Metronet aims to increase the capacity and reach of Perth’s metropolitan rail network. As part of the overall program, the Yanchep Rail Extension and Thornlie-Cockburn Link will enable more people to use public transport and reduce pressure on the road network – something which will become increasingly critical as the city’s population grows,” Chau said.

The Yanchep Rail Extension involves extending the Joondalup Line from Butler Station to Yanchep, with new stations planned for Alkimos, Eglinton and Yanchep to support population growth in the city’s north-west.

The proposed Thornlie-Cockburn Link involves the construction of two new train stations, Nicholson Road Station and Ranford Road Station, and construction of a new passenger rail corridor which follows the Midland to Kwinana freight line.

“With a stated benefit-cost ratio of 2.6 from the WA Government, IA is confident that extending the Joondalup Rail Line to this growth area will provide more transport choices for residents and reduce demand on the roads,” Chau said.

“The WA Government’s proposal to link Thornlie Station on the Armadale Line to Cockburn Central Station on the Mandurah Line will improve network connectivity and relieve pressure on existing interchanges, such as at Murdoch.

“The WA Government has stated a benefit-cost ratio of 1.2 for the project, with Infrastructure Australia’s assessment finding that the benefits of the Thornlie-Cockburn Link would marginally exceed its costs.”

WA transport minister Rita Saffioti said that IA’s approval and the passing of enabling legislation marked an exciting new stage for the Metronet projects.

“We have worked closely with Infrastructure Australia to thoroughly address their assessment criteria in demonstrating how these projects will help build a future Perth that is connected and offers people more choices for travel, housing and jobs,” Saffioti said.

Hamilton to Auckland passenger rail service to be considered by councils

A passenger service between Hamilton and Auckland may be up and running by 2020, after Waikato Regional Transport Committee last week voted unanimously to include the proposed service in its local land transport plan.

New Zealand transport minister said today that Waikato councils are considering the project the business case, which was approved by the New Zealand Transport Agency and is priced at $57.77 million over the next three years.

“Instead of transport investment trying to play catch up, we need to lead growth and shape our towns and cities,” said Twyford.

“More people are commuting between Hamilton and Auckland, and introducing this service will give them a choice in how they do that.”

The service would be operated by KiwiRail and start in March 2020. It would include a northbound morning peak service and a southbound evening peak service.

“It would stop at Frankton, The Base, Huntly and Papakura. The Huntly platform would need to be upgraded and a new island platform would be needed at The Base,” Twyford said.

“It would start with a four-carriage train which can carry 150 passengers each way. As demand grows, it would be expanded to a five-carriage train carrying up to 200 passengers.”

The NZTA Board will consider whether to fund the proposed start-up passenger rail service in December after the councils have made their decisions.

Freight rail track - stock - credit Shutterstock (8)

ACCC gives the go-ahead for Vossloh purchase of Austrak

Australia’s competition watchdog, the ACCC, has announced that it will not oppose rail track component manufacturer Vossloh Australia’s proposed acquisition of Austrak.

Vossloh signed a contract in August this year for the acquisition of Austrak, the largest manufacturer of concrete sleepers in Australia, with its owner, Laing O’Rourke. The ACCC commenced a review of the acquisition in September to determine whether it would enable the combined Vossloh-Austrak to lessen competition in rail fastenings and turnouts by foreclosing its rivals.

“There is no horizontal overlap between the products manufactured and supplied by Vossloh and Austrak in Australia. There are vertical links, however, and this is what the ACCC’s investigation focussed on,” ACCC Commissioner Roger Featherston said.

Featherston said that the ACCC’s inquiries indicate there are alternative manufacturers of sleepers and bearers in Australia and some imports.

“After speaking with a range of industry participants, we consider that existing manufacturers of sleepers and bearers could expand their offerings, including by increasing production or expanding their geographic presence,” he said.

In relation to fastening components, industry participants also indicated that there is a very strong competing supplier, whose products are approved for use in most rail tracks, and is likely to continue to constrain Vossloh post acquisition.

Vossloh is a subsidiary of Vossloh AG, a German rail technology company which manufactures and supplies rail infrastructure. In Australia, Vossloh supplies rail fastenings and switch systems, including turnouts which enable trains to move from one track to another.

Vossloh does not manufacture or supply sleepers in Australia. It supplies fastenings in Australia for use with slab track and does not currently supply fastenings for use in ballasted track.

Andrews promises more VLocity trains for regional lines

The Victorian Labor government has committed to ordering 54 new VLocity carriages to the value of $340 million for the Geelong and Ballarat lines if re-elected in next week’s state election.

The 18 new three-carriage trains are to be delivered by Bombardier Transportation. The government has said it would place the order within the first year of being re-elected, with all the trains to be completed by 2021.

Premier Daniel Andrews said the investment would see the creation of 500 jobs in Dandenong and the south east.

“We’re upgrading every regional rail line and with this order we’ll see more trains, more often on the busy Ballarat and Geelong lines. Even better, we’ll do it while backing local jobs,” Andrews said.

“When it comes to delivering real projects and a real plan for regional rail, only Labor has the track-record locals can rely on.”

As part of the investment, platform work at Southern Cross Station will also be completed and funding provided for new stabling and cleaning facilities to support the new trains.

State transport minister Jacinta Allan said the government’s $848.5 million investment in regional trains had already provided a 40 per cent increase in regional rail services, with V/Line now running more than 2,000 services every week.

“We’ve added hundreds of services across the network. But we know there’s more to do and these new trains will deliver a more reliable and comfortable journey for thousands of passengers,” Allan said.

“Labor is delivering real projects now and planning for our next big build to make sure regional Victorians have reliable public transport they deserve.”