David Loneragan

Public transport key to city prosperity: Fletcher

Federal urban infrastructure minister Paul Fletcher has spoken at the Australian Transport Summit, laying out the Turnbull government’s vision for public transport development in the country’s major cities.

With 90% of the Australian population now living in cities, and with cities providing a substantial portion of GDP ($854 billion to the economy in 2011), the Turnbull government, Fletcher asserted, was committed to planning public transport development that would encourage and harness the economic opportunities available.

“The data suggests that the economic value generated in a geographic area is correlated to the density of people working there,” Fletcher said.

“According to the Grattan Institute, the Sydney CBD produced $100 in value for every hour worked there in 2011-12; Parramatta, effectively the second CBD in the Sydney conurbation, produced $68 for each hour worked.”

Referring to a report by Infrastructure Australia, Fletcher noted that further projected population increases in the major cities means that Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth will need to “transform the structure of their built environments to accommodate their projected population increases”.

With increased density, Fletcher said, “heavy rail starts to have clear advantages over other transport modes because of its capacity to move large numbers of people quickly and reliably. A train line can move 50,000 people an hour. Compare this with a freeway lane which can move 2500 people an hour”.

Moreover, statistics indicate that employment growth is higher in areas on the rail network, and that rail construction will unlock more jobs.

“By 2036, approximately 912,000 more people than in 2016 will be able to get to strategic employment centres on public transport in less than 45 minutes,” Fletcher said.

Effective public transport planning, Fletcher emphasised, enables the better functioning of cities, bringing economic, productivity and lifestyle benefits. This means, he said, that public transport development is key to alleviating travel congestion and its negative impacts.

“The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics estimates that the avoidable costs of congestion for the major Australian cities total $16.5 billion for 2015–16,” Fletcher said.

“This comprises $6 billion in personal time costs, $8 billion in business time costs, $1.5 billion in extra vehicle operating costs and $1 billion in air pollution costs.”

Fletcher compared Sydney’s light rail project and planned Sydney Metro City and Southwest station at Barangaroo with recent developments in Portland and New York in the United States, and argued that the extension of transport services was an excellent way of both preserving the effective functioning of individual areas within cities, and spurring on further urban and economic developments around public transport networks.

In this context, Fletcher mentioned that Fishermen’s Bend in Melbourne could best realise its potential with “a better transport connection—either tram or heavy rail—to the Melbourne CBD”.

Fletcher said that the federal government’s contributions to the ongoing development of city transport infrastructure could be seen in its “strong pipeline of investment”, such as $95 million for Gold Coast Light Rail Stage 2 in Queensland, $490 million for the Forrestfield Airport Link in Perth, $42.8 million for Flinders Link in Adelaide, $1.7 billion for Sydney Metro City and Southwest, $78.3 million for Parramatta Light Rail and $67.1 million for Capital Metro in Canberra.

“At the same time, we are working with state governments to develop urban rail plans for Australia’s five largest cities (including their surrounding regional areas.) We announced this in November 2016, in response to Infrastructure Australia’s 15-year Plan.”

During his speech, Fletcher also spruiked the government’s funding for business case planning, such as $30 million for work to plan a rail link between the Melbourne CBD and Tullamarine Airport, the commitment of $792 million to progress urban rail projects in Western Australia, including extensions to the Thornlie and Yanchep lines, and the controversial $10 billion National Rail Program.

Referring to the latter, Fletcher said that federal funding would be provided “as part of an overall package of support, alongside funding provided by the relevant state government and the direct beneficiaries of the project”, and that guidelines for the provision of federal funds would be released in the coming months.

Fletcher also referred to the new Western Sydney Airport as being an important example of transport infrastructure contributing to city development. He did not, however, announce any new details regarding a rail link to the airport, instead emphasising the new M12 motorway connection and upgrades to the Northern Road.

EIS released for Parkes-Narromine section of Inland Rail

The first Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Inland Rail project has been released, giving members of the public a more detailed look at the project details for the construction and operation of the Parkes to Narromine section of the track.

The 106-kilometre Parkes to Narromine section is to utilise existing ARTC operated track. It will undergo extensive upgrades, including the replacement of bridges and culverts, enhanced level-crossings and three new crossing loops at Goonumbla, Peak Hill, and Timjelly. A new 6-kilometre long connection to the Broken Hill line west of Parkes is to be added.

Federal infrastructure and transport minister Darren Chester said that the release of the EIS would enable the public to have their say on the development of the project.

“The EIS will ensure the community’s voices are heard, and issues relevant to the successful delivery of Inland Rail are taken into account,” Chester said.

Melinda Pavey, NSW minister for roads, maritime and freight, said that Inland Rail would open up a “corridor of opportunity” for regional areas such as Parkes, which would be “uniquely positioned” to experience economic benefits from the development.

“Inland Rail is expected to increase the volumes of grain, cotton, chilled beef and other commodities being moved by rail,” Pavey said.

“It will make it easier to move freight from farms, mines, and ports to NSW, national, and overseas markets.”

The EIS provides an assessment of the environmental and socio-economic impacts the Parkes to Narromine track upgrades are expected to have during construction and when the line is in operation.

For instance, the report states that the main potential impact on biodiversity will be the clearing of native vegetation upon the construction site.

“At this stage of the design, it is estimated that the proposal would require the permanent removal of 75.8 hectares of native vegetation,” the EIS report states.

However, according to the EIS assessment, there will not be any significant impact to ecological communities listed under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (TSC Act) or the EPBC Act, as there will only be small decreases to these communities in areas of scattered clearance across a long construction site.

“ARTC is committed to minimising the environmental impacts of the proposal,” the report states. “The area of direct impact would be further refined during detail design, with the aim of reducing the amount of vegetation clearing required as far as practicable.”

Some impacts to land use are to be expected during the construction phase, such as temporary disruption along the construction corridor for construction areas, compounds and haulage routes.

Moreover, acquisitions of privately-owned land will be required for the construction and continuing operation of the Parkes north-west connection.

The socio-economist benefits mentioned in the report include increased employment and training opportunities, and various flow on impacts on the local economy.

The report states that the Inland Rail, once in operation through the area, will provide better access to and from regional markets, enable regional economic development along the corridor, and provide “safety and amenity benefits” as freight moves onto rail and off the roads.

ARTC is inviting residents from Parkes, Peak Hill and Narromine to attend information sessions in early August about the development.

Programme delivery director for Inland Rail, Simon Thomas, said that project team members would be present at the sessions to answer questions about the EIS.

“ARTC has been working closely with the community for the past 18 months. We are very grateful for the support, feedback and land access they have provided which has helped us draft the EIS,” Mr Thomas said.

“The information sessions are open to everyone and I encourage people to come and learn more about this exciting project for Australia.”

Consultation for the Parkes to Narromine project EIS will close on 18 August.

Rail track. Photo: Shutterstock

Freight derailment could have been prevented, report says  

The derailment of a KiwiRail freight train in 2013 could have been avoided if the required brake test had been performed, an accident report has found.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) said its investigation revealed that KiwiRail freight train 345 departed Glenbrook in early January 2013 with brakes functioning on only its 3 locomotives and not on the 36 wagons that they were hauling.

This was, the report says, due to a poor configuration of the train braking system in the non-driving end of the lead locomotive. At the same time, the train departed without the coupling between the sixth and seventh wagons being properly secured.

As it descended a grade from Glenbrook, the train parted between the improperly secured sixth and seventh wagons, subsequently causing derailment when the rear portion of the train ran into the forward portion.

Twenty-eight of the freight train’s wagons along with track infrastructure were extensively damaged in the accident, while the line had to be closed for over three days for repair work.

The TAIC investigation discovered that the train was able to depart Glenbrook with a wrongly configured brake control as there was no mechanical interlock to prevent it from moving.

Moreover, the report states, the lack of brake function “should have been detected, but was not, because the required brake test had not been performed after a third locomotive was added to the train”.

As KiwiRail has taken safety actions in the aftermath of the incident, and because there has been a downward trend of mainline derailments during the period of the investigation, the TAIC report makes no recommendations.

Rob McAlpine, KiwiRail’s group general manager of operations, was quoted on Fairfax’s stuff.co.nz website welcoming TAIC’s recognition of its efforts, including the introduction of a new, automated system in the locomotives that prevented the incorrect setting of the brake controls, and extra staff training.

“The incident was serious but fortunately no one was injured,” Mr McAlpine said.

“KiwiRail regards safety as paramount, and we acted quickly to identify and remedy the issues that contributed to it.”

However, TAIC’s report nonetheless outlined several “key lessons” to make train derailments less likely in the future, such as the need for proper staff communication to “ensure that proper procedures are followed”, and, moreover, the requirement that train drivers and examiners “comply with basic operating rules to ensure that trains have fully functioning and continuous air brake systems at all times”.

Trad lashes out over Cross River Rail snub

Queensland’s deputy premier and transport minister Jackie Trad has accused Infrastructure Australia and the Turnbull government of playing “political games” after the Cross River Rail business case was sent back to the state last week for further work.

Speaking in parliament on Tuesday, Trad said that 46 per cent of the federal budget’s infrastructure funding was “pouring into” New South Wales while Queensland received “no new money” for projects to boost the state’s economy.

“Sadly, the so-called independent authority Infrastructure Australia has just become a political tool to be used by the Turnbull government to avoid investing a fair share into our state,” the transport minister asserted.

Trad stated that the Palaszczuk government had previously had extensive engagement with Infrastructure Australia since submitting the 2,000-page business case for Cross River Rail in June last year.

“To be sure they had everything they needed, my director-general wrote to IA on 7 April this year with the final response to the outstanding questions. If any other information was required this letter asked IA to contact my agency, and the response from IA was absolute silence,” she said.

“There was not one word for six weeks until last Thursday when the Prime  Minister claimed that there were still issues outstanding. Then what happened? With behaviour like that it is no wonder the states are losing confidence in Infrastructure Australia and its CEO, Phil Davies.”

Trad said the Turnbull government was playing politics with the state’s “No. 1 infrastructure priority”, and accused it of deliberately stalling the project to help turn its funding into future election issue between the Palaszczuk Labor government and the state Coalition opposition.

“There is one reason why Malcolm Turnbull is not funding Cross River Rail and that is because Tim Nicholls needs a hand up,” she said.

“What that means is that Queenslanders are losing out on jobs. Queenslanders are being held to ransom because Tim Nicholls, the member for Clayfield, the Leader of the Opposition, cannot do his job. He has no cut-through, he has no commitment.”

Shadow infrastructure minister Deb Frecklington shot back, saying that the Palaszczuk government had “bungled the project from the start” and was now merely trying to “rewrite [the] history” of a “half-baked” business case.

“What do we see the deputy premier do here in this house today? We see her not get her own way, so she stands in this house and starts to attack the independent Infrastructure Australia. It is this deputy premier who has been caught out misleading Queenslanders over her sloppy attempt at a business case,” Frecklington said.

The shadow minister then called on the government to make their business case open to public scrutiny.

“She should table the business case in this parliament and let Queenslanders decide whether the project stacks up.”

A recently released survey paid for by Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, the Infrastructure Association of Queensland, and the Property Council of Queensland showed that 62 per cent of those polled thought that the state’s infrastructure development and investment was being poorly planned and coordinated by all three levels of government.

Property Council Queensland executive director Chris Mountford was quoted in The Sydney Morning Herald as saying that a shortage of investment in infrastructure was evidently impacting Queenslanders.

“For too long the state government has delivered the infrastructure Queensland can afford, rather than the infrastructure Queensland needs,” Mr Mountford said.

Writing in an opinion piece for The Courier-Mail on Tuesday, Steve Abson, CEO of the Infrastructure Association of Queensland, laid out two reasons why the Palaszczuk government ought to push ahead with the Cross River Rail Project and commit substantial funds in the state budget.

“First is the impressive wider benefit flowing from the project to Queenslanders around the southeast; and secondly, even with the state’s fiscal constraints, the project is affordable,” Mr Abson wrote.

While the project business case is likely to indicate a cost-benefit ratio (BCR) to be “either slightly above or below 1.0,” he wrote, this would be “in line with what’s expected from this sort of project”.

Because BCRs are indicators of “economic merit”, Abson argued, “projects [can] have a broader social, environmental or economic impact that’s difficult to monetise”, and thus a BCR of less than 1.0 can be acceptable.

Abson also asserted that the project could ultimately be affordable if a public-private partnership was used for the project, enabling the state to inject upfront capital from the private financial sector, with repayments spread across a 25-year concession period.

Nonetheless, Premier Palaszczuk appeared last week to accept Infrastructure Australia’s demand that further work be done on the business case. Moreover, despite transport minister Jackie Trad’s fighting words, it remains to be seen if any other funding path will be laid out for the project in next month’s state budget.

‘Issues’ with Cross River Rail business case, says Turnbull

Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has called the federal government’s lack of funding commitment to the Cross River Rail project “extremely disappointing”, after a meeting with prime minister Malcolm Turnbull in Brisbane on Thursday.

The premier indicated that the prime minister had requested more work be done to iron-out several issues with the business case for the project before federal funds would be released.

“The prime minister has conveyed to me that Infrastructure Australia has a couple of issues [on which] they would like some more work done and I have said that I will progress that work as quickly as possible,” Palaszczuk said.

Indeed, while speaking at a later press conference, Turnbull said that Infrastructure Australia has raised issues of the integration of the Cross River Rail with other transport systems as well as land use opportunities.

“The submission or the proposal is inadequate in a number of respects; this is Infrastructure Australia’s view,” Turnbull said.

“It needs more work. I am not making a criticism of it, I am just stating a fact.”

While the premier stated that the meeting with the prime minister was “constructive”, she emphasised the state government’s disappointment with Canberra’s reticence in providing the required funds.

“The failure to make any specific funding for Cross River Rail in the federal budget was extremely disappointing. Despite receiving the business case and signing an MoU on the project last year, the federal government continues to refuse to contribute the funding needed,” she said.

“My government has committed $850 million for the project. Of all the projects nominated for the National Rail Program in the budget last week, only Cross River Rail has a completed business case.”

State transport minister Jackie Trad has also indicated that further issues were the concern of the federal government, telling The Courier-Mail that Canberra had requested financing plans to maximise value capture that would mean higher taxes for Queenslanders.

“[W]e don’t want unfair taxes imposed on Queensland that no other state has to pay,” she was quoted as saying.

It remains unclear how long the issues with the business case will take to resolve, and Trad was quoted in the Australian Financial Review saying that the project could be significantly delayed.

“The reality is that, under the Turnbull government’s overhyped $10 billion rail package, there will be no contribution for at least another two years,” she said.

The Transport and Infrastructure Council meeting will come together on Friday, during which Trad and other transport ministers will have the opportunity to put state government grievances over budget funding to their federal counterparts Darren Chester and Paul Fletcher.

Conflict continues over Vic rail funding

The dispute over the allocation of federal budget funds to Victoria’s rail infrastructure projects heated up this week with the bitter war of words continuing between Labor and Liberal figures at both federal and state levels.

On Monday, Victoria’s state transport minister Jacinta Allan joined with Labor’s federal shadow minister Anthony Albanese to attack the federal budget, and to claim that the Turnbull government had “dudded” the Victorian government’s request for the $1.45 billion in Asset Recycling Initiative funds meant for the state’s regional rail upgrades.

“The Turnbull government is ripping off Victoria — it’s as simple as that,” Allan said.

Since the budget’s release last Tuesday — which included a commitment of $1 billion in investment on Victorian infrastructure — the Andrews Labor government has claimed that the Turnbull government was not giving the state its fair share, with premier Daniel Andrews saying in a press conference last week that a massive gap had been left in their own commitments to upgrade the regional network.

“Even if all that money could be invested in regional rail, $1 billion can’t be made into $1.45 billion of work,” he said.

While $2.2 billion of Asset Recycling funds have been provided to the NSW Liberal government, the Andrews Labor government says that that Victoria “will get absolutely nothing” of the $1.45 billion that it claims is owed after leasing the Port of Melbourne through the Asset Recycling agreement with the federal government.

Labor called this “another kick in the guts for Victoria”, as the state receives 8 per cent of federal infrastructure funding overall, while NSW receives 45 per cent.

“Only Labor will give Victorians their fair share, so we can build the better transport, schools and hospitals they need and deserve,” Allan asserted on Monday, welcoming the support from the federal opposition.

Albanese added to his ongoing criticism of the budget’s funding strategies, stating that the budget papers themselves reveal that federal infrastructure investment for Victoria in the coming years is to be “further reduced from its already pathetic levels”, shrinking to $280 million in 2020-21, and by $150 million this year.

“These vicious cuts highlight the chasm between the coalition government’s rhetoric on infrastructure and its total inability to engage in the planning required to take projects from the drawing board and into construction,” he said.

Allan was also reported by The Border Mail as saying on Monday that the $100 million the federal government has promised for upgrades to the North East rail line was not enough.

“The Turnbull government needs to justify how they think $100 million will properly fix the track, given their own experts say it will cost more than that,” she was quoted as saying.

“As they have failed to provide any evidence to support their claims, people have every right to be sceptical.”

The Andrews government claims that the cost of the upgrades is closer to $130 million, and wants assurance that federal investment will be adequate for the update the tracks require before committing itself investing in new rolling stock.

Talking on ABC radio on Monday, federal infrastructure and transport minister Darren Chester responded, saying that “Premiers complaining about not getting enough money from the federal government is a bit like the sun coming up every morning; it does happen every day”.

Chester said that the federal government was helping the state Labor government fulfill “its own responsibilities” towards public transport system by putting forward $500 million for Victoria’s regional rail system, including $100 million for the North East line.

“Right now premier Andrews has zero on the table, he doesn’t have a single dollar from the state government there to negotiate with, and we are encouraging him to come to the table with money. Let’s have a proper conversation about how we can invest together in the future of regional Victoria,” he said.

Joining Chester for a press conference at Wangaratta on Tuesday, state Nationals member for Ovens Valley Tim McCurdy echoed the federal minister’s comments.

“Jacinta Allan and Premier Daniel Andrews need to stop playing the games and get on and provide the rolling stock that we need so importantly here on the North East line,” he said.

Nonetheless, the state Labor government has so far remained firm, with Jacinta Allan telling The Border Mail that the ball was in Canberra’s court.

“As soon as the Turnbull Government can prove their investment will properly fix the track, we will order new trains for the North-East line.”

Questions remain over NGR roll-out date

The company building Queensland’s new train fleet has promised that the first vehicles will be servicing the state’s passengers in the near future, with the reported design issues having been resolved or on their way to being resolved.

Media criticism has plagued the $4.4 billion project in recent months, and comments by the state Labor government have only served to increase doubt and speculation regarding the roll-out date for the first trains.

For instance, The Courier-Mail recently reported that state transport minister Jackie Trad “cannot say when braking, sightline, disability access, air-conditioning and ventilation issues will be ­resolved”, and that she expects the trains to be running by the end of this year.

However, Qtectic, the Bombardier-led consortium that has been building the new fleet, was reported by Future Rail magazine as saying that the braking issues identified on the first trains have already been resolved.

The New Generation Rollingstock (NGR) was initially ordered by the Newman government in 2014, but delivery was halted in March this year by the Labor government, reportedly due to operational and design issues — in the braking system, air-conditioning, ventilation and driver visibility — which had been apparent since on-track testing last year.

The delay in the roll-out for the new fleet has since become the subject of a blame game between the government and the opposition. Transport minister Jackie Trad accused the previous Newman government of signing-off on faulty designs, while former Liberal ministers have pushed back, claiming that the current setbacks are due to Labor’s mishandling of the situation.

A spokesperson for Qtectic confirmed to Future Rail that design and performance requirements for the new trains had been established in 2013 after consultation Department of Transport and Main Roads, Queensland Rail, the disability sector and other user groups.

“The trains are then tested to ensure they meet all requirements and safety standards before entering passenger service. For all new train projects, especially of this size and complexity, it is not uncommon to identify issues during testing,” the spokesperson said.

Qtectic had already stated in March that resolving design issues were a normal part of the testing process for new trains.

“During any testing process it is normal for issues to arise, when that happens all parties work together to come to a successful solution,” Andrew Dudgeon, spokesman for the consortium said.

Of the 75 trains on order, 15 have been delivered by Qtectic to Queensland so far.  Minister Trad was reported by the ABC as saying that the government planned on having these 15 trains ready before the onset of the Commonwealth games next year.

“We need to operationalise some of the New Generational Rollingstock in time for the Commonwealth Games … in order to meet the additional demand that our network will experience at that time,” she said.

“We’re hoping that we can get these trains on the network as soon as it is safely possible to do so.”

A full technical assessment has been ordered by the government to ascertain what changes may need to be made to the trains to make them operational, while staff from the Department of Transport and Main Roads have reportedly met with the manufacturers to find solutions for the rest of the fleet.

“My view is there won’t be significant changes — there might be some minor changes and we don’t know whether or not they’re going to cost taxpayers money at this stage,” Trad said.

“[W]e hope that the issues will be resolved and they will be in service before too long.”

For their part, Qtectic has affirmed that it is working with the government to get the trains on to tracks servicing passengers.

“Testing is ongoing as part of commissioning these trains. Queensland Rail is fully involved in this testing and we are continuing to work with the government and Queensland Rail as part of this process,” Dudgeon said.

“These are state of the art trains which we want to see in service as soon as possible.”

 

Coal. Photo: Shutterstock

Adani rail money continues to divide opinion

Dispute over the federal government’s mooted plan to help fund the Adani mine project is heating up.

In an opinion piece for the Australian Financial Review, Jonathan van Rooyen, general manager of investment of The Infrastructure Fund, attacked the Turnbull government’s plan to provide a $900 million loan to the developers of the massive coal export project in North Queensland, saying that it would amount to risky taxpayer-subsidised distortion of the coal market.

“Capitalism is about competition. Investors understand that. But what we don’t understand is why governments would distort competition and create sovereign risk by subsidising the creation of new competitors to harm the returns of existing assets,” he wrote.

Van Rooyen stated that while the project would undoubtedly create “some jobs” in North Queensland, the government had been “silent” on the negative impact the project would have “on other coal-producing regions, other asset owners and, of course, to employment in other parts of the country”.

Opening a project this large in a time of decline in global demand, van Rooyen argued, would flood a “flat world market” with millions of tonnes of government-subsidised new coal and bring down the world price of the commodity. This would harm the current competitive edge of low-cost extractors in the Hunter Valley and Illawarra, reducing the volume of coal passing through Australia’s coal ports such as the Port of Newcastle, of which Rooyen’s Infrastructure Fund is a part-owner.

Van Rooyen also asserted that the Adani project’s need of government investment points to the very problems he is explicating.

“[If] anyone outside the Turnbull government believed that the world market for coal was going to grow then the Adani project would not need subsidies from Australian taxpayers.”

Matt Canavan, federal minister for resources and northern Australia, responding in the same paper, said van Rooyen’s argument amounted to saying “government investment in Hunter Valley good, government investment in Galilee Basin bad”.

Canavan stressed the importance of past government investment in rail and ports for the achievements of the Australian coal industry, noting in particular its role in developing the port of Newcastle and the Hunter Valley rail network.

“All of these investments have paid off handsomely for governments and the Australian people, with coal now our second-biggest export,” he wrote.

He concluded that the challenge of meeting increasing demand for coal by India meant that the government had to “consider following the same proven strategy”, only this time in North Queensland.

CEO of the NSW Minerals Council Stephen Galilee, also responding in the AFR, wrote that the Port of Melbourne’s monopoly provision of port services meant that van Rooyen only cared about competition “when it suits”.

“There’s no alternative port for the Hunter coal industry to use, so no competition. Is that capitalism? How does that not damage our coal industry?” he wrote.

In a further defence of the Adani project, Brendan Pearson, chief executive of the Minerals Council of Australia, called Westpac’s decision to rule out lending to new coal basin developments “a textbook case of cynical virtue signalling” designed to rule out the bank’s support for “projects in Queensland’s Galilee Basin, including the Adani Carmichael project”.

After emphasising the positive impact he thinks the project will have on the Indian and Australian economies, Pearson argued that Westpac has only “limited exposure” to the resources industry, and that the bank’s decision could not be taken as in any way indicative of the health of coal in Australia and the world.

“Globally the coal generation, and the demand for high quality coal continues to grow strongly. Support from the world’s leading banks has also been strong,” he wrote on the Council’s website.

The CEO’s statements come after Westpac became the 19th bank globally to commit to not funding new coal mines in the Galilee Basin region, including the Adani project. The other three of Australia’s “Big Four” banks are among those not investing in controversial mine.