Staff Writer

Project Update: City Rail Link

From transferring 14,000-tonne historic buildings to new foundations to avoiding volcanic lava flows, the Auckland City Rail Link (CRL) project has been one of the more challenging transport infrastructure projects in the Australian/New Zealand pipeline.

Similar to other jurisdictions however, Auckland has had a significant population increase. Since 2010, Auckland’s population has risen by 50 per cent.

“We were at a stage where the road network was unable to cope,” City Rail Link’s CEO, Dr. Sean Sweeney, said at AusRAIL PLUS 2019.

When a new station was built in 2003, it took until 2014 for the line to be electrified and new rollingstock provided. This resulted in the doubling of patronage numbers.

“That passenger growth has continued ever since and City Rail Link has an ever-increasing need for public transport.”

Construction towards the $4.4 billion project officially commenced in 2018 with preliminary works ongoing since 2016. Its scope consists of the construction of twin 3.5 km long double-track rail tunnels underneath Auckland’s city centre, between Britomart Transport Centre and Mount Eden Railway Station.

Two new underground stations will be constructed at Aotea and Karangahape. Britomart will be converted from a terminus station into a through station and Mount Eden Station will be completely rebuilt with four platforms to serve as an interchange between the new CRL line and the existing Western Line.Wider network improvements are also part of the project.

It is slated for completion by 2024.

“Similar to Sydney and Melbourne, we’ve got some form of a loop. The Western line and the Southern line converge at one railway station with the Eastern line, so all of Auckland’s rail traffic goes into the Britomart station and then basically stops there so that the trains get backed up, full or not,” Sweeney said.

“Essentially, what City Rail Link is seeking to do is make Britomart a through station and extend the line back up to the rail network so you can run trains in both directions. Then, by enabling longer, nine car trains, with longer platforms, we can triple the capacity of the rail network.”

This means increasing capacity from 14,000 pph to 54,000 pph into the CBD, allowing for a train every ten minutes in peak.

“By our calculations that’s the equivalent of sixteen lanes of traffic into the city centre in peak,” Sweeney said.

This will double the number of people within 30 minutes of NZ’s biggest employment hub, bringing with it significant commercial and residential opportunities around stations.

Though early works commenced in 2016, Sweeney explains that about ten years ago a forward-thinking Auckland mayor decided to start the project without funding from central government.

“This project had quite an unusual start. The mayor realised that to make Britomart a through station someone had to start building tunnels underneath the city, so Auckland council went out and started construction without central government support which was a very brave thing to do.

“They managed it with a whole range of contracts and multiple contracting types, which made it a little bit confusing but it was what they had to do to get going, and it’s gotten off with different forms of construction, bored tunnels, cut and cover tunnels, etc. There’s a really complex grade separation into existing railway lines.”

One of the challenges for the project is that Auckland is built on volcanoes, “some of which erupted as recently as 800 years ago, which is very recent geologically”.

“So, to try and avoid some of the recent lava flows we built an incredibly complex geological model. We used the information that was available to us to plot the safest route. We used this model to locate the top striations, so to avoid some of the most recent lava flows. That was a very complex investigation and we have made that model available to the bidders.”

Another challenge is the current size of the infrastructure pipeline across a number of sectors in Australia and New Zealand.

Over an eighteen-month period, Sweeney tracked the pipeline from $80 billion in September 2017 to more than double that in August 2018, and then $220 billion in February 2019.

“I’ve never encountered this extent of growth and the way that this complicates what we have to do and the effect it has on our market is a real stretch. Certainly, historically New Zealand has built very little in 20 years and so, even getting major international contractors to take us seriously and come and bid for us was a big piece of work.”

However, early works are now “pretty much completed” according to Sweeney.

Moving forward, the agency has wrapped up the outstanding works (highlighted in yellow) – including the remaining tunnels, stations and rail systems infrastructure, as well as the related wider network and tracks – into one contract, Contract 3, to be delivered by a ‘Grand Alliance’.

The alliance consists of: Downer, AECOM, Tonkin + Taylor, WSP Opus, Soletanche Bachy, and Vinci Construction.

In October 2019, the demolition of thirty empty buildings demolished near the Mt Eden railway station began. This will ensure 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 in March 2020 , and is being managed by the alliance.

Bushfires damage signalling systems in Blue Mountains

Extensive damage to the Blue Mountains rail line in NSW, during the unprecedented bushfire season which has seen an estimated 6.3 million hectares destroyed, will see the line remain closed to electric trains for another two months.

The Gospers Mountain megafirehas apparently destroyed large sections of communications and signalling systems, power supply, and other railway infrastructure along 25-kilometres of the rail line.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the megafire, which started in late October, had by December destroyed an area seven times the size of Singapore, more than 444,000 hectares.

Transport for NSW says that the focus for the next two weeks will be to assess damage, though work will start immediately to open roads where only minor work, such as the removal of dangerous trees and emergency road surface repairs, is needed.

While it will take longer to fully rebuild infrastructure, due to extent of the damage, a small number of diesel-powered trains will begin operating by late January, with the date yet to be determined.Crews are, however, working towards enabling limited freight services between Mount Victoria and Lithgow from late January.

The closure of the line has meant passengers who usually travel by Xplorer trains from Broken Hill, or diesel-powered XPTs from Dubbo, have had to catch buses for their entire journeys to and from Sydney.

In the meantime, buses will replace trains between Mount Victoria and Lithgow.

Rail bridge replaced within five days in Sydney

An old rail bridge was demolished and a new one installed within five days at Castlereagh St. in the suburb of Penrith in Sydney’s west.

The work was carried out within five days, according to NSW’s state minister for transport and roads Andrew Constance, who said crews worked around the clock to reopen Castlereagh Road by New Year’s Eve.

“Crews worked hard to carefully take out the old bridge, which included removing rail tracks and signals, sections of the existing embankments and the old bridge supports.

Around 200 workers were part of the crew to replace the old rail bridge with the new one.

Concrete and steel, weighing up to 5000 tonnes, was removed to allow crews to rebuild embankments and install rail tracks and signals.

The new reinforced concrete rail bridge is almost 40 metres long and weighs around 2800 tonnes and will enable crews to widen the road.

Once complete in late 2020, the Mulgoa Road/Castlereagh Road upgrade will provide increased road capacity for expected future growth in the Penrith region.

According to Constance, specialist equipment from Belgium made the rail bridge installation process easier, essentially allowing the new bridge to slide into place.

Melbourne Metro Tunnel nears completion

With the start of the New Year a transport construction blitz has begun on the Melbourne Metro Tunnel at South Yarra in Melbourne’s west, as well as other ancillary work, according to minister for transport infrastructure Jacinta Allan.

Crews will excavate the final section of the metro tunnel entrance and shift existing train tracks to make room for the new track to connect existing lines to the tunnel as part of the blitz, dubbed “Victoria’s Big Build”.

“During this quieter period we’re getting on with a massive amount of work on some of our biggest transport projects, to keep our city and state moving,” Allan said.

The final sections of tunnel roof slab will be poured and tunnel support structures installed.

The level crossings at Reservoir, Toorak Road, Carrum, Cheltenham, Mentone, Lyndhurst and Pakenham are to be removed, bringing the total up to 38 level crossing removals completed out of the 75 intended for removal.

Six new accessible tram stops will be built on Route 96, necessitating the closure of Nicholson Street between Barkly Street in East Brunswick and Johnston Street in Fitzroy until 19 January.

“We thank Victorians for their patience and encourage them to plan ahead and allow extra time – we know it’s disruptive, but it will mean better trains, trams and traffic in the future,” Allan said.

Qld, NSW experience freight rail incidents during holiday season

In late December, four Pacific National freight train wagons, transporting copper anodes, derailed at Mingela on the Mount Isa line.

In response, Queensland Rail immediately closed the rail corridor between Sellheim and Mingela for all rail traffic while response crews worked to secure and inspect the site.

Recovery crews soon commenced necessary repairs and the network was opened less than a week later.

Crews broke down the damaged track, completed reballasting and replaced the damaged sleepers and rail. Recovery works were fast-tracked by the ability to source locally and services were able to resume before the start of the new year.

Meanwhile, the unprecedented bushfire season forced the closure of the Main Southern railway line in NSW, for two days from 4thJanuary to 6th.

The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) said it suspended operations due to extreme fire conditions and high wind activity in the rail corridor between Macarthur and Goulburn.

As of the 6th of January, ARTC reopened the Main South railway line, following completion of tree removal and restoration of power lines by power supply companies.

“We would like to thank our customers for their patience and cooperation during these unforeseen circumstances. We would also like to thank all emergency services for their support and acknowledge their continuing efforts at this time,” an ARTC spokesperson said.

Construction sector salivates over rail boom

As jurisdictions across Australia commit to expanding rail and transport infrastructure, the construction industry expects this expansion to contribute to its strongest performance since the mining boom.


Railway construction is set to grow 47.2 per cent by 2023/24, according to the chief economist at Master Builders Australia Shane Garret, who spoke to Rail Express.

The amount of rail construction work done in the 2018/19 fiscal year amounted to $8.75 billion (AUD), and is expected to amount to $14.2 billion at its peak in 2021/22, according to Garret.

Government led infrastructure projects are driving the expected boost. Transport projects in the major cities dominate, with both Sydney and Melbourne in the process of overhauling their rail networks with projects such as the Sydney Metro City and Southwest Project, set to cost $12 billion, and Melbourne Metro Rail Project costing $10.9 billion.

A range of fast rail corridors are also intended to tackle congestion and population growth. According to Garrett, these projects will “unlock new parts of the country to economic development and ease some of the strain on the large population centres”. A major advantage to this program of infrastructure projects is the low rate of interest which is making it easier for large entities, whether governments or corporations, to be able to source money at low cost for lengthy periods of time.

In fact, at the moment the Commonwealth government is able to borrow for ten years at an interest rate of 0.9 per cent per year.

“All of these major infrastructure projects are helped by the fact that money is just so cheap to borrow at the moment,” Garrett said, allowing them to be rolled out quite cheaply when it comes
to financing the work.

However, it’s not just about the money: “You need people with the right skills to unroll the work,” Garrett explained. Skills provision within the industry needs to be improved with some urgency if delivery on the projects is to be met.

“We need to have enough people to do the work at a low cost.”

Outside of labour, the construction market has been made robust and experienced enough to deliver on these proposed projects thanks to Australia’s mining boon. Rail infrastructure suppliers have spent the last decade enabling the transport of coal to Australian ports from where it could then be shipped to China. The construction industry reached its peak during this time, with $142.8 billion at 2012-13. However, an industry source pointed out that there are challenges ahead due to the sheer amount of work that is being proposed.

According to Infrastructure Pipeline, a total of 93 projects across the sectors are proposed just in NSW, with 60 concentrated in Sydney. With $200 billion slated towards infrastructure development across the jurisdictions, governments across Australia need to ensure sequencing across the pipeline is carefully considered so as not to overload the already stretched market.

If you have too many projects on at the same time it can slow down the overall pipeline which can then lead to cost escalation, according to the industry source. Some of these proposed projects are in fact high risk and extremely complex, said the industry source, such as the metro projects that are proposed in Sydney and Melbourne, where the required tunnelling work commands a pooling of resources and expertise.

Set to be the new normal for the next decade at least, governments are expected to work together to balance out the pipeline and the market is sure to adapt to this new normal. However, while we are seeing these huge investments across the jurisdictions and lots of announcements about commitment to transforming rail infrastructure, according to Garrett not a lot of action has been taken on the ground.

“At the moment, the actual volume of construction work underway is smaller than it was this time last year. While our forecasts do envisage growth returning, government can help by getting things moving on the ground with more urgency,” Garrett said.

The pace needs to quicken, claims Garrett, and there is a strong possibility of this occurring when it comes to small and medium-sized infrastructure projects. This can provide an opportunity for Australia’s smaller businesses to enter the market. Small businesses can be more adept at hitting the ground running when it comes to construction, than some of the big players. However, small businesses often run into hurdles when it comes to contracting with government.

According to Garrett small business can sometimes lack the resources to spend large amounts of time figuring out how to ‘check the boxes,’ whereas larger corporations can devote whole departments to figuring out how to contract with government. Government can help industry with a “speedier roll out of infrastructure projects” by cutting red tape and making the tendering process easier. This “would give the wider public real and visible evidence that our economy continues to move forward,” Garrett reasoned.

He emphasised the construction industry welcomes the work provided by the government’s increasing investment in rail infrastructure.

“The economy is growing at a slow rate and this work contributes a significant boost to the economy in the immediate and short term,” he said.

Investment in rail infrastructure will significantly increase the capacity of the Australian economy by increasing the speed and efficiency with which people and goods are moved around the country.

Garrett claims the economy will grow at a larger rate with the proposed investments than if these rail projects were not to go ahead.

A spokesperson from the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development told Rail Express that the federal government recognises the importance of progressing projects as quickly as possible.

“[However], in most case project proponents such as state and territory governments are responsible for delivery against agreed construction milestones,” the spokesperson said. “A number of Australian Government-funded rail projects are currently underway.

“The Government has also established the National Faster Rail Agency to deliver fast rail connections between major capital cities and their regional centres. This includes leading the development and implementation of the Australian Government’s 20-year plan for a Faster Rail Network.

“The Government is also funding a range of business cases investigating options for faster rail connections between capital cities and regional centres.

“In addition, the Government has developed the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy and Action Plan to position Australia to meet its emerging freight and supply chain challenges.”

Sydney Metro West line service facility under question

Sydney’s Inner West council is condemning a NSW government proposal to build a large ventilation stack for the Sydney Metro West line next to a community pool in Leichhardt.

The planned ventilation outlet is intended for a section of the rail line which runs through the tunnels between the Bays Precinct near Rozelle and Five Dock. It would be located adjacent to Leichhardt Park Aquatic Centre as well as meters away from the popular Bay Run walking and cycling path.

“Leichhardt Pool had nearly 800,000 visits last year and the Bay Run is enjoyed by thousands of people daily. To propose a smokestack slap bang in the middle of this area is complete madness,” Inner West Mayor Darcy Byrne said.

While every train station along the metro line will have fresh-air ventilation, three standalone facilities will be built for parts of the mostly underground rail line where there are long distances between stations.

Transport for NSW (TfNSW) and the council have held initial discussions around the potential site for a ventilation facility, but are yet to decide on its location. Detailed design work will be undertaken once the site is confirmed.

“Services facilities, which are required to service the rail tunnels, are intended to be as unobtrusive as possible within their surrounding environment,” TfNSW said.

“Sydney Metro will aim to minimise impacts on the community wherever possible.”

However, the Inner West council says that it has received early advice that the air quality, noise and vibration impact from construction will force the pool to close “which will have a devastating effect on our learn to swim classes, hydrotherapy programs and local sporting clubs”.

Of the council’s five pools, two are already closed for refurbishments. The council has also already supported plans for a new landscaped water park with BBQ facilities and shaded recreation space at the site of the proposed ventilation stack.

Aside from the possibility of Leichhardt, the two other proposed sites are at Silverwater – on the corner of Silverwater Road and Derby Street – and at Clyde, near Parramatta, on a site occupied by Sydney Speedway and other businesses where a stabling yard for trains is planned.

Auckland metro trains on their way

Fifteen electric trains are on the way to New Zealand from Spain, where they were built by rail manufacturer Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF) for the Auckland Metro system.

The ocean transportation provider delivering the trains, Höegh Autoliners, says that it was essential for the trains to receive heat treatment before leaving the port “to ensure that stink bugs are not carried to Australia and New Zealand”.

The trains were also stored under deck, ensuring they are protected from seawater and humidity.

The company’s head of sales in Spain, Iñaki Echeverria, also said that no crane lifting in either the load or discharge port was necessary. Due to the length of the trains, this would have been a delicate procedure, but the company’s custom-built rolltrailers are specially designed to enable rail cargo simply be rolled on and off the vessel, making the operation safer and more efficient.

Auckland’s mayor Phil Goff said that the “NZ$133 million investment in new electric trains will help to meet strong growing demand for fast, efficient and reliable public transport across the region.”

The 14 remaining trains will be delivered over the course of the next six months. Auckland Transport expects the remaining trains to reach the city by July next year and will start service in September.

Parramatta Light Rail construction ramps up

The Parramatta community will soon see major construction work commence towards the Parramatta Light Rail. Fencing and hoardings are to be installed along the future route from January 2020, and construction sites established, according to NSW government member for Parramatta, Geoff Lee.

From February 2020, Church Street between Macquarie and Market Streets will become a pedestrian only zone, with mobile work sites established for utility relocation work. From June 2020, major work will commence.

Major work will include the building of light rail bridges, pouring of 60,000 tonnes of concrete, and moving more than 215,000 tonnes of earth in Greater Parramatta.

Work will begin once the single-track T6 Carlingford Line has been closed for conversion to the dual-track light rail. The Parramatta Light Rail will connect Westmead to Carlingford via the Parramatta CBD and Camellia and is set to open in 2023.

Early and enabling works, including site investigation work, took place in 2019, in preparation for major construction. More than 1000 underground site investigations have taken place so far, in order to identify known utility services, such as water, gas, telecommunications and electricity, under the light rail route.

“The community will start to see work ramping up with fencing and hoardings installed along the future light rail route, and construction sites established,” Lee said.

“We know these works will involve some disruption and it’s not going to be easy. It’s our priority to manage the project carefully and minimise the impacts of construction on businesses and the community.”

“Transport for NSW has spent more than three years carefully planning and undertaking detailed investigations to reduce the risk of encountering unknown underground utilities, heritage finds and contamination.”

Lee has said that if, during construction, unknown utilities or heritage items are encountered, there is a “robust process in place to allow effective preservation or localised removal on site”.

Three consortia shortlisted for Adelaide Metro contract

Three consortia have been shortlisted to tender for the operation, maintenance and service delivery of the Adelaide Metro Train Services, the South Australian state government announced on Thursday.

Adelaide Next, Keolis Downer, and TrainCo will be invited to submit a response to the state’s invitation to tender, to be released in the first quarter of 2020.

Adelaide Next comprises Deutsche Bahn, Bombardier Transportation Australia and John Holland, Keolis Downer comprises Keolis and Downer EDI, and TrainCo is a consortium between Transdev and CAF. The state government will select the successful tenderer in the second half of 2020.

“We agree with South Australians and know that our public transport system has room for improvement,” said minister for transport, infrastructure and local government Stephan Knoll.

“What we are seeking to do is bring trains and tram in line with the same model that our buses have operated under for the last 20 years – that accounts for around 70 per cent of our public transport network.

“Encouragingly we’ve seen some green shoots and in the last financial year we saw public transport patronage increase by over one million trips compared to the previous year.

“The short-listed consortia all have experience in the management and service delivery of rail services, some of which in other jurisdictions in Australia.

“These companies have proven records in improving service delivery and customer experience and supporting employees through the transition from a public to a private operation.”