Staff Writer

South Australia commences multi-million dollar rail electrification

Construction towards the electrification and modernisation of the Gawler Rail Line has commenced, with over $440 million allocated towards the project by the federal and South Australian governments.

With completion anticipated in 2021, both governments are contributing $220 million each towards the electrification of the rail line, according to a joint statement early this week.

The SA government is also contributing a further $175 million to purchase additional electric trains and, according to Premier Steven Marshall, the project is part of the state’s $11.9 billion pipeline of infrastructure works over the next four years.

The Gawler Rail Line is Adelaide’s most heavily used rail line, carrying around 21,000 commuters on an average weekday.

The project will include the electrification of the Gawler rail line from Adelaide station to the Gawler Central Railway Station, including the Dry Creek Rail Car Depot and Salisbury Siding, delivering an electrified network across Adelaide from Gawler to Seaford.

Once operational, there will be 15 electric trains servicing the Gawler Rail Line, delivering a 15 per cent increase in capacity during peak periods, according to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack.

“An electrified Gawler line with clean and green high-performance trains will deliver an improved commuter experience, with better reliability and safety,” Mr McCormack said.

Work will commence with the installation of a Common Services Trench to accommodate the new signalling system, followed by construction of the concrete footings to support the overhead wiring masts.

The project will include pedestrian level crossing enhancements and the replacement of the signalling system.

“Once complete, the electrified line will provide a more modern, environmentally friendly and efficient train service that will encourage more people to leave the car at home and take public transport,” said Minister for Transport, infrastructure and Local Government Stephan Knoll.

“This additional capacity will also support a host of housing, commercial and business developments underway or touted to begin in and around our northern suburbs.”

The project is expected to support about 250 full-time equivalent jobs a year over it’s life.

Victoria awards $542 million for level crossing removal and station build

A $542.4 million contract has been awarded for the removal of four level crossings and the build of two new stations in Melbourne’s inner north, the Victorian government announced on Sunday.

Level crossings at Bell Street, Munro Street, Reynard Street and Moreland Road will be removed and two new modern stations built at Coburg and Moreland.

The contract for the project has been awarded to an alliance of John Holland Group, Kellogg Brown & Root and Metro Trains Melbourne, which has removed 6 crossings and built Frankston Station.

“The contracts are now signed and our hardworking team will get on with the job of removing these four dangerous and congested level crossings in Melbourne’s north,” said Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan

According to a government statement, Bell Street is the busiest east-west arterial road in Melbourne’s north, frustrating more than 40,000 drivers held up at the level crossing each weekday.

Removing the four crossings will enable trains to run more frequently on the Upfield line once the Metro Tunnel is complete. As part of the North East Link Project, the government is working to free up traffic and take vehicles off local roads in Melbourne’s north by 2027.

“It is not just locals who want this level crossing gone. People from right across Melbourne get frustrated every time they travel through the northern suburbs and get stuck here,” said Allan.

The team is currently removing the level crossing at High Street, Reservoir, and building the new Reservoir Station.

The two new stations will be connected to other transport offerings, will be more readily accessible, with a landscaped civic plaza and 132 new bike parking spaces.

“Investigative works and service relocations will now ramp up in preparation for major construction next year. The level crossings will be gone in late 2020 and the open space ready for locals to enjoy in 2021,” the government said in a statement.

Melbourne Airport Rail Link under contention

The Victorian treasurer has indicated the government may not accept a proposal for the Melbourne Airport Rail Link which would see the line privately owned and operated, despite pressure from the federal government.

Treasurer Tim Pallas, at a business event late last week, discussed a cheaper, above-ground route in complete contrast to the high-speed multibillion-dollar airport rail tunnel federal government would like built.

Despite an initial $5 billion commitment from the Victorian government, Pallas said the government might delay building the twin rail tunnels between the CBD and Sunshine, due to potentially rising project costs.

The Victorian government says it has not ruled out the airport tunnel option, according to The Age.

Private consortium AirRail recently offered $5 billion towards the airport tunnel project in return for owning and operating it.

The federal government, in turn, says that the 7-kilometre tunnels are crucial for the Geelong fast rail project, towards which it has committed $2 billion.

Federal Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure, Alan Tudge, said the federal government wanted a high-speed airport rail service, and was working  with the state government towards this, according to The Age.

“We want to see the Melbourne Airport Rail Link built as soon as possible.”

KiwiRail seeks construction contractors for North Auckland Line rejuvenation

Kiwirail has begun surveying the rail corridor for Northland line upgrades, and says it is seeking local contractors to conduct the work.

Survey teams have commenced gathering detailed ground and asset information towards designing bridge replacements and planning essential tunnel maintenance. This stage is expected to take five weeks and likely be completed at the end of November, according to a statement from the operator.

Kiwirail intends to hire consultant for the bridge replacement and tunnel works in early December.

“Northland’s railway lines are underused at the moment because of their condition. The NAL is around 100 years old, is currently mothballed north of Kauri (above Whangarei) and the whole line has been in a state of ‘managed decline’ until its future was determined. The survey work is a major step in turning that around,” said KiwiRail Chief Operating Officer Capital Projects David Gordon.

With the government having invested $94.8 million towards the North Auckland Line, from the Provincial Growth Fund, this year much needed maintenance can now commence.

“Where possible, we want to use local firms for the work. There will be a mix of larger and smaller jobs making up the overall programme of works, so we wanted to ensure the local industry was aware of the opportunities not just for large companies, but also for smaller scale contractors,” said Gordon.

“We have ensured that where possible the work is broken into bite-sized pieces suitable for smaller contractors.”

As such, KiwiRail provided an industry briefing for Northland contracting and construction companies about future work opportunities last week. The briefing session in Whangarei was attended by more than 40 people.

“Working in the rail corridor brings with it special safety requirements that are different from working on roads and other civil construction activity. At yesterday’s session we provided information about those requirements and the support we can provide to ensure contractors qualify,” said Gordon.

Victoria’s Reservoir Station to open in December

The new Reservoir Station is set to open in Victoria once removal of a dangerous and congested level crossing has finished, Victoria’s Level Crossing Removal Project announced last week.

The High Street level crossing removed within the year, and trains will start travelling on the Reservoir rail bridge and stopping at the new Reservoir Station from mid- December this year.

Before the new station can open, however, workers will demolish the old Reservoir Station platforms and install new track and overhead wires.

Once the old ground-level tracks are removed, work will begin to complete the new station with new lifts, staff facilities, awaiting room, kiosk and parking facilities. This will be completed in 2020.

Landscaping work will also commence towards new community spaces, including the planting of 330 extra trees. This is intended to improve pedestrian connectivity between Edwardes Street and Broadway.

The current temporary station facilities on High Street will still be in use until the new station facilities are complete in 2020, including the temporary access via stairs.

Passengers who require lift access will be provided with alternative transport between Regent and Reservoir stations, according to a government statement.

Federal underspend in vocational education leads to fewer apprenticeships

The federal government has been accused of underspending towards vocational education and training programs, potentially exacerbating the skills shortage already felt by the rail industry.

The education department, this week, released its 2018-19 annual report in which it revealed it had spent less than was budgeted for key programs including trade support loans (-$68m), Australian Apprenticeships Centres (-$51m) and apprenticeship incentives (-$35m).

The government underspent $214m in vocational education and training programs in the last financial year, contributing to a total $919m underspend since 2014.

In fact, there are 150,000 fewer Australians in apprenticeships now than in 2013. With a significant skills shortage already affecting the rail industry, an underspend on TAFE training is likely an unwelcome result when the pipeline for new work has never been bigger.

Shadow education minister Tanya Plibersek accused the government of “[shortchanging] TAFE and training by $1bn despite the fact Australia is suffering a national shortage of tradies”.

The skills and employment minister Michaelia Cash rejected this, arguing that the figures “represent underspends which come from demand-driven programs in vocational education and training”.

According to Labor’s analysis of annual reports, the underspend has been persistent: with the government spending $138m less than promised in 2014-15, $247m less in 2015-16, $118m in 2016-17 and $202m in 2017-18.

The Victorian and NSW governments this week both announced programs which were aimed at boosting TAFE figures.

The NSW government announced a new program to incentivise study at TAFE, by allowing students to receive recognition for what they have already learnt in high school.

“We are incentivising high-achieving HSC students into our vocational education sector by giving them a head-start at TAFE NSW,” said Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education Geoff Lee.

“We will do this by mapping HSC units to vocational competencies and allowing eligible students to proceed straight to assessments.”

HSC subjects that could qualify for these new TAFE pathways include mathematics, engineering studies, industrial technology and, software design and development.

Victoria, in turn, announced it would inject $500,000 for its Free TAFE courses to develop educational products and resources for Free TAFE students to have access to. The funding will also go towards additional modules for Free TAFE students to build their literacy, numeracy, digital and employability skills.

In the 2019 budget, the federal government announced a $525m skills package – including towards the creation of 80,000 new apprenticeships – but it contained just $55m of new money and $463m in reallocations from the Skilling Australians Fund.

Transport for NSW launches new platform Opal Connect

Transport for NSW this week launched what it calls Opal Connect, a new digital payments platform.

“Opal Connect is a new ticketing solution that aims to provide an integrated and convenient experience for customers through one trusted digital account,” said a Transport for NSW spokesperson.

Opal Connect links customers between different modes of transport through one account, connected to a credit or debit card Customers can use this Opal Connect account to sign in to different transport operator’s apps to book and pay for their travel.

It has the potential to become a subscription service, with bundled transport options.

“Into the future, Opal Connect has the capability to become a one stop shop for all transport transactions and information, whether it is public transport, rideshare, taxis, parking and even tolling,” said the spokesperson.

“Our goal is to make this key part of the journey as simple and integrated as possible. This first stage of Opal Connect provides another incentive to leave the car at home and enjoy a ride on our new, state of the art Metro system.”

Transport for NSW has worked in partnership with Cooee Busways, MetroConnect, Via Technologies and Swat Mobile to integrate this new technology into On Demand apps.

Canberra light rail. Graphic: ACT Government

Canberrans looking forward to a light rail extension

Canberra’s light rail will soon be extended with a number of additional stops, after the first six months of the service were labelled a success.

“More than 15,000 people use light rail every day with patronage at levels not expected until 2021. In the past six months we have recorded over 2.2 million light rail passenger trips,” said ACT’s Minister for Transport Chris Steel.

Canberra Metro Operations conducted a customer satisfaction survey which showed that over 90% of respondents were either satisfied or very satisfied with the service. The survey also found that 94% of respondents were satisfied with the light rail’s punctuality. Of those who responded, 45% used the service daily and 72% used it weekly.

“We want to build on the success of stage one to bring light rail to Woden, making it easier for Canberrans to get around our city.”

Work towards the light rail stage 2A extension, from the City to Commonwealth Park, is expected to begin next year with three additional stops announced.

“[This] will mean better connectivity for more Canberrans,” said Steel.

“By starting the work on stage 2A now, we are capitalising on the jobs and expertise developed through the stage one construction phase as we continue to work with the Commonwealth Government on the necessary approvals for light rail to progress through the Parliamentary Triangle to Woden.”

Parramatta CBD construction plans released

Construction plans towards accommodating the Parramatta Light Rail in the Parramatta CBD have been released.

Major construction will begin in June 2020, but from February 2020, Church Street between Macquarie to Market Streets will become a pedestrian-only zone. Mobile work sites and temporary hoardings will be established along Church Street during this time.

A micro-tunnelling machine will construct drainage beneath the street from Centenary Square to the Parramatta River, to reduce noise and impact compared to street-level works.

According to a government statement “innovative technology and inventive engineering, has been developed to minimise impact on local businesses as much as possible.”

Augmented reality and digital 3D technology is being used to map underground utility services, which will provide real-time updates to inform construction planning.

Transport for NSW says it will commence a construction ‘grace period’ from November to February each year to ensure that local business owners, diners and shoppers do not experience constant construction works during the busy warmer months.

TfNSW also says it will work with local businesses to deliver activities and events to attract more people to the Parramatta CBD.

Demolitions begin to clear the way for Auckland’s City Rail Link

Thirty empty buildings are being demolished near the Mt Eden railway station, as part of Auckland’s City Rail Link project.

Demolition works started this week to provide space for the construction of the southern portal for the City Rail Link’s twin tunnels. The cleared site will be used as a staging area for a Tunnel Boring Machine and other machinery.

The first phase of this demolition is due to be completed next March, and is being managed by the Link Alliance which is delivering the stations and tunnels of the City Rail Link.

Construction of a new Mt Eden Station will allow the existing tracks to be moved around to connect the Western Line with the tunnels.

From Mt Eden Station, the City Rail Link will run under the Newton ridge and central motorway junction before it reaches new underground stations at Karangahape Road and Mayoral Drive/Albert Street and the redeveloped Britomart Station in lower Queen Street. The project will be completed in 2024.

“Demolition is a significant and visible development for the project, clearing a site that will essentially be ‘base camp’ for the substantial programme of construction to complete New Zealand’s biggest infrastructure project,” said City Rail Link’s Chief Executive Dr Sean Sweeney.

“In many ways Monday will mark the end of the project’s beginning. When these buildings have gone, the way will be clear for us to get below ground, complete the tunnels, build two underground stations, redevelop Mt Eden Station and then handover a world class rail system an international city like Auckland deserves,” said Sweeney.

City Rail Link began buying the first of the buildings to be demolished back in 2012 and bought the last was in 2015. They are located in Flower, Nikau, Ruru, Shaddock and Ngahura Streets. Demolition will start in Shaddock Street.

Measures are in place to reduce the impacts of demolition, according to Dale Burtenshaw, the Deputy Alliance Project Director.

The demolition area has been isolated by hoardings or fencing and an independent specialist will monitor noise and vibration limits to make sure they remain inside approved limits. However, most of the buildings are low-rise with concrete block walls and either timber or steel framing which will help avoid any extensive vibration. A specialist company is helping remove asbestos found in some of the buildings.