Staff Writer

Surviving a Digital Tsunami: the Rail Manufacturing CRC’s legacy

A digital revolution is underway in the rail manufacturing industry, says Stuart Thomson, CEO of the Rail Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (CRC).


With the growth of emerging technologies which will disrupt the way industry conducts its business, “the changes are going to be rapid and the rail industry needs to be ready,” Rail Manufacturing CRC CEO, Stuart Thomson, tells Rail Express.

In response, the Rail Manufacturing CRC has spent the last five years working with the rail industry to start tackling these challenges. Launched in 2014, the Rail Manufacturing CRC’s focus has been to increase the capability of Australia’s rail manufacturing industry. Industry participants include Downer, CRRC, Knorr-Bremse, Bombardier Transportation Australia, HEC Group, Airlinx and Sydney Trains, who collaborate on research and development programs with institutes such as University of Technology Sydney, CSIRO, Deakin University, University of Queensland, Monash University, CQUniversity, Swinburne, RMIT and CSIRO.

“By sharing the risk involved in the development of technology while building networks across the supply chains, this increases the Australian rail sector’s competitive global position and creates a depth of industry capability.”

Since commencing, though, there have been some changes in the centre’s focus. Initially focused on heavy-haul rail, the subsequent plateauing of the mining boom, coupled with massive growth in passenger rail thanks to state and federal investment in rail infrastructure, resulted in a shift in the centre’s focus.

While its projects have contributed to a more innovative rail manufacturing industry, the most important contribution of the Rail Manufacturing CRC is the newfound strong engagement between universities and participating rail organisations. Australia’s universities have highly skilled and worldclass levels of research capabilities, and the challenge lies in the capacity for the rail sector to use that knowledge.

“With less than half of one per cent of scientists and researchers working in rail, it is key to attract and train the next generation of employees, while recognising the new skills that research graduates can bring to Australia’s future rail industry,” Thomson shared.

Planning for the future has, so far, consisted of 32 industry projects, 48 PhD scholarships and the involvement of 35 organisations over the entire six-year life of the Rail Manufacturing CRC, with the centre now working towards a closing date of June 2020.

“Over our full six-year lifetime, we will have achieved a wide range of leading research and commercialisation activities across the centre’s program areas of Power and Propulsion; Materials and Manufacturing; and Design, Modelling and Simulation,” says Thomson.

In its Power and Propulsion stream of projects, the centre has focused on energy solutions for better rail efficiencies, looking at battery and supercapacitor development and manufacture, new composite braking materials and rail-wheel-interface projects. Some of these projects involve the testing of lithium storage technologies.

With Australia’s great lithium reserves, this has wide reaching benefit across the resources sector as well as for rail, and according to Thomson, there is a boom in the use of lithium in energy storage devices. In regard to battery technology, Thomson says the centre is looking at fundamental studies to create better and more efficient lithium batteries, supercapacitors and energy storage systems.

“The ultimate goal of our energy storage projects is to develop technologies that will make overhead rail catenary systems obsolete, resulting in reduced infrastructure and maintenance costs. We’re working with companies such as Downer, Knorr-Bremse, CRRC, and the HEC Group, all of whom have different applications in a very active field of endeavour.

“We’re also using energy storage devices for emergency applications in rail as backup batteries. We’re looking at using lithium and new battery technologies to decrease the cost and also increase the life cycle of those devices. Obviously, the less servicing needed means significant cost savings in terms of maintenance.”

Meanwhile, the Materials and Manufacturing stream of work focusses on component durability, maintenance optimisation, composite material design and assembly automation. The projects in this stream intend to create replacement materials that are much more light weight, yet still with similar or better structural properties and the safety properties required.

“The challenge in rail at the moment is that we’re creating more energy consuming rail rolling stock, so it’s ideal to reduce energy consumption by light-weighting light rail and heavy rail.”

Within this, the centre is investigating with Swinburne University, metallic cellular materials, such as recycled aluminium honeycombs and foams for rail sandwich panels. One project is researching the manufacturing methods to best make these materials, while another is looking at experimental works and simulations to investigate the mechanical properties of the sandwich panels.

Another centre project collaboration with the University of Queensland and Bombardier worked to predict the wear rates of axle bearings used in suburban passenger trains. Through the development of a software model, bearing life is predicted using algorithms that aim to optimise the bearing selection, lubrication and overhaul maintenance schedule with significant economic benefits.

Within the Design, Modelling and Simulation stream, the centre is focussing on passenger information systems and dwell time management, cabin airflow monitoring, data transfer and analytics, and virtual and augmented reality rail training.

One of the more visible of the centre’s projects is the Dwell Track technology created in collaboration with Downer and the University of Technology Sydney. The technology enables operators to anonymously monitor passenger numbers and movement using 3D cameras to extract the relevant spatial and temporal information in real-time.

“We are able to monitor passenger flow and pathways. The information collected is used to better understand how platform infrastructure can be designed and operated in a more efficient way to limit congestion at certain points and times. By understanding where the congestion points are on platforms, operators are able to redesign or tailor solutions based on the information collected, so it’s really data driven.”

Thomson credits rail operators for providing the facilities to keep improving the Dwell Track technology.

“Queensland Rail, Sydney Trains and PTA Western Australia have all participated in testing and trialling the technology over a number of years. This has enabled the project team to tweak the technology to make it better as we’ve gone along. It is a real example of how operators have come to the fore to assist the development of new innovations,” he said.

While at the moment this technology enables decisions to be made or exceptions to be identified efficiently, Thomson believes this technology will eventually have an artificial intelligence component. “If we could automate some of those functions, such as if gates can be closed or opened based on computers rather than having staff on the platforms doing that work, we’d be able to free up staff time to concentrate on other critical issues.”

Ultimately, however, the goal is to take the data captured by the technology, analyse it and understand what responses can be taken to alleviate congestions at stations.

When asked about his predictions for the future of innovation in the rail manufacturing space, Thomson says data analytics is the key.

“I think we’re going to see a lot more use of data for modelling and prediction. We’re seeing a huge focus on condition-based monitoring applications and being able to monitor and understand all components to provide the operators and customers with information relating to the rollingstock’s use and performance in real-time.”

One of the critical uses for this is also to provide maintenance when its needed, rather than in the aftermath of issues. “Being able to predict when something’s going to happen before it does and fixing it prior to breaking down will have huge benefits for operators and manufacturers.”

One example of research being undertaken in this area is a Rail Manufacturing CRC, Deakin University and Downer collaboration to provide data specialists for Downer’s TrainDNA project. Aimed at improving data collection, analysis and interpretation, the team are developing algorithms and system platforms to provide real time information to customers, maintenance staff and engineering specialists.

The implementation of TrainDNA is likely to have significant benefits for those who operate and maintain rolling stock. The growth of new digital systems and data analytics in rail will require an ongoing adaption of the rail workforce.

“That’s where we see some of the challenges and the opportunities for rail companies in the future. Building new skill sets into the rail workforce is going to be key to unlocking these digital benefits that can flow into the sector.”

Where previously the skilled workforce in rail was confined to a few specific domains of engineering expertise, a new breed of skilled workforce is now needed.

“We no longer primarily need mechanical and electrical engineers, we also need people who can code, we need AI specialists, data scientists, virtual reality specialists, and more.” As such, the rail sector must be able to attract a whole new digital workforce.

“We’re not only competing with other transport providers for specialised blue and white collar workers, we’re also competing with other industry sectors such as finance, mining and tech giants like Google and Amazon,” Thomson said. “Too often, we focus on the technology, but a lot of the future solutions within the digital field will be expertise driven, they’ll be people-driven. The focus should be on a culture within the industry to build research and innovation capacity, but also to bring the right skill sets and expertise to utilise these new technologies most effectively.

“The biggest thing we have seen [during the CRC’s six-year term] has been a change in innovation culture. There are very talented young people who need to join the rail industry to propel it forwards, so the focus should be on the next generation of rail workers. I think that we’ve partly contributed to the industry realising that.

“We’ve got young researchers working on very exciting areas. At Monash University, we have multiple PhD students working on automating systems that can send drones onto tracks, into tunnels and even into the Pilbara region to automatically assess and monitor railway lines and the integrity of those systems.”

The main benefits to this are to get people out of danger, off the tracks and out of harsh environments, not only for safety reasons, but also to free them up to do other skilled jobs.

“It’s one thing to collect data, that’s the easy part, but it’s another thing to be able to automate, transmit and analyse it instantaneously, in real-time,” Thomson said.

The innovations that the Rail Manufacturing CRC has seen with the rise of the Internet of Things and other such emerging technologies has enabled a whole range of critical information to be captured, such as the integrity of rail infrastructure, the performance of equipment above and below rail, and the capacity to plan for future growth and safe operations of the networks.

Upon the completion of its term in June next year, Thomson tells Rail Express that a large part of the Rail Manufacturing CRC’s legacy lies in its initial commitment to collaboration.

“I think we’ve contributed to a realisation that collaboration between researchers and industry is a very good thing,” Thomson said. “The legacy that we’ve created is that collaboration between research organisations and the rail industry is assured.”

How can companies in the rail manufacturing space be more innovative?

“It’s simple,” Thomson concludes. “Hire, support and trust smart young people.”

Construction begins on regional rail fleet maintenance facility

Construction towards a maintenance facility for NSW’s new regional rail fleet has begun in Dubbo.

According to minister for regional transport and roads, Paul Toole, $2.8 billion will go towards building the maintenance facility as well as replacing the existing XPT, XPLORER and Endeavour trains as part of the Regional Rail Fleet Project.

Member for Dubbo Dugald Saunders said “the facility will include a main building for standard maintenance, a second for wheel maintenance and a train wash facility using non-potable water.

“The project will also include straightening the Main Western Line through the site and building three tracks within the facility for train maintenance and three outside of it.”

Construction will continue into 2021 and the new trains are expected to be running from 2023.

“The new facility will create around 200 jobs during the construction phase and approximately 50 long term jobs when it opens, including apprenticeships and traineeships,” Toole said.

Momentum Trains, a consortium which includes CIMIC Group companies Pacific Partnerships, UGL and CPB Contractors, were selected earlier this year to deliver the Regional Rail Project as a design, build, finance and maintain contract.

Rail bridge design plans complete

The initial designs have been completed for a steel truss bridge to support a second train track over Eumemmerring Creek in Dandenong South.

The proposed design would see no foundations or pillars dug into the waterway, and no modifications made to the existing single-track bridge at Eumemmerring Creek.

The bridge is designed to be assembled on site, with many parts to be prefabricated at an off-site location, reducing the time and space needed for construction. The new, duplicated bridge will be constructed to the west side of the current bridge and measure 65 metres in length.

Works at Eumemmerring Creek will start in 2020, as part of the Cranbourne Line Upgrade which involves eight kilometres of new track lain next to the existing line in order to enable more reliable and frequent trains.

Other line upgrade works in the Dandenong South area include removing the level crossing at Greens Road and duplicating a rail bridge at Abbotts Road.

Protecting the creek’s ecosystem has been a major focus for the team of engineers and designers working through design options for the Eumemmerring Creek site.

According to the Level Crossing Removal Project, expert ecologists and arborists were engaged to identify sensitive plants and animals. The construction team has devised a detailed plan to ensure fauna and fauna are protected during construction.

Alstom finalises $1.3 billion contract for WA’s biggest railcar order

Alstom will build 246 Metronet railcars as well as a manufacturing and assembly plant in Bellevue, Western Australia, after the project contract was finalised this week.

According to the state government, the railcar manufacturing order “has come in $347 million under the original budget of $1.6 billion”. Under the 10-year contract at least 50 per cent of the railcars will be built locally.

As part of the project, Alstom will establish a base in WA at the 12,000 square metre plant near the old Midland Railway Workshops where railcar maintenance will also be carried out for the next 30 years.

“Work will start on building the new production plant in Bellevue and completed in 2021 next year, on top of six other Metronet projects that will be under construction in 2020 alone,” WA premier Mark McGowan said.

Since the closure of the Midland Railway Workshops in 1994, WA’s trains have been predominately built in Queensland with only two per cent of the work completed in WA. The local work will create 200 jobs as well as a number of indirect jobs, according to the WA government.

“Not only were local jobs lost, it was also more expensive to outsource railcar supply. The cost per railcar under the last order of B-Series trains was $4.05 million, while the cost under the new C-Series contract is around $2.97 million,” a government spokesperson has said.

Local companies have already been awarded contracts for fitting out the Bellevue railcar plant, including a $3.8 million contract awarded to Vector Lifting for the delivery of lifting jacks, a bogie press and bogie turntables has. An $850,000 contract for the supply of four cranes was recently awarded to Bassendean manufacturer Eilbeck.

“We’ve secured a quality deal for the state, by bundling multiple railcar orders into one super-contract, we have encouraged the market to make very competitive bids for the work,” minister for transport Rita Saffioti said.

“Importantly, this project will also deliver two three-car sets to replace The Australind and provide South-West residents with the reliable rail service they deserve.”

The contract includes 246 railcars, arranged in 41 six-car EMU sets, for additional Metronet capacity and to replace the ageing A-Series. It also includes six railcars to replace the existing Australind service, which will be delivered as two three-car DMU sets.

The first C-series trains produced at the Bellevue plant will be ready to use on the network in 2022 and will have an operational life of 35 years.  The new Australind railcars are expected to be ready in 2022-23.

Alstom Australia & New Zealand managing director Mark Coxon said the contract structure would allow the state to manage Perth’s projected future growth while re-establishing its rail manufacturing industry.

“We are delighted to have been awarded this contract and look forward to partnering with the state of Western Australia to deliver this significant project,” Coxon said.

Better technology including LED lighting, USB charging points and regenerative braking will also be installed to make the new trains more efficient. Once operational, Alstom’s HealthHub predictive maintenance tools will be used to optimise performance and reliability.

“The project will see the transfer of the latest railway technologies and manufacturing processes to Western Australia, establishing the most technologically advanced train manufacturing and maintenance sites in Australia,” an Alstom spokesperson said.

The company is also set to partner with local TAFE and training organisations to create new fast-tracked training and skills development programmes.

Victoria’s retired rollingstock needs new home

More than 800 of Victoria’s retired or soon to be retired trains and trams are looking for a new home. Retired rollingstock is currently kept at the Newport rail yards where it is “taking up valuable space that could be put to better use”, according to the Victorian government.

The state government, last month, began the Expression of Interest process to repurpose retired rollingstock once it was no longer needed by transport operators.

As part of the EOI, VicTrack is looking for an innovative and experienced commercial provider to develop a business model to deal with the retired rollingstock. This will include managing the ongoing pipeline of older rollingstock coming off the network in the future as the government rolls out new trains and trams.

“We’re open to all ideas about how these carriages, locomotives and trams can be repurposed and I’m looking forward to seeing the results of the EOI process,” minister for public transport Melissa Horne said.

“We’re building new trains and trams to get people where they need to go. As we retire our older trains and trams, we need to make sure we have a plan to ensure they are put to the best possible use.”

Newport is considered an important strategic part of the rail network, and the state government is looking to put the space at the Newport rail yeards to better use as part of its growing investment in public transport infrastructure.

The provider has the option to partner with the government or to operate a standalone commercial venture and may use part of Newport for its operations.

How a metro system can change a city

With major metro rail projects underway in both Melbourne and Sydney, Rail Express spoke with operator Keolis Downer about how high frequency metro services can transform a city.


Australia’s largest public transport project, Sydney Metro, is well underway and achieving significant milestones towards its 2024 completion. Once completed, Sydney Metro will extend from the north west, starting at Rouse Hill, through the underground city stations travelling under Sydney Harbour, and beyond to the south west, ending in Bankstown. The West Sydney Metro will also link up the Greater Western Sydney area and the new Western Sydney International (Nancy-Bird Walton) Airport, connecting it to the Sydney CBD. Ultimately, Sydney will have a 66km standalone metro railway system with fully-automated driverless and fast, just turn up and go, service.

Though some of it is complete, most of the work towards Sydney Metro project is still in early construction stages, with tunnels construction, station excavation and structural works currently taking place, and station construction to commence next year.

In Melbourne, work is underway towards building 9km twin rail tunnels and underground stations from the west of the city to the south-east as part of a new Sunbury to Cranbourne/Pakenham line, which will be upgraded with next-generation highcapacity signalling. The tunnel is expected to free up space in the city loop to enable more trains to run and maximise capacity.

To gain an understanding of the new metro landscape, Rail Express spoke to Keolis Downer’s chair, Australia, Leila Frances, about the company’s significant experience across the metro project lifecycle.

Internationally, Keolis Downer operates metros in France and the UK and is building others in India, the Middle East and China. It launched the first automated metro in the world in Lille, France in 1983, and has significant experience across the project lifecycle, from early operator involvement, including the design and build of the metro infrastructure, to operations and maintenance. The company has experience with both brownfield, 40-year-old legacy assets, as well as greenfield, absolutely new metro systems.

“The thing about metro is that it’s a high-volume mover. Metro has been shown in research to provide the highest capacity transport solution for greater population densities.” While this has a lot to do with the infrastructure, as Frances explained, a lot of it is due to the speed of the service.

“The journey time is very rapid. There is a shorter headway than traditional rail services, and as metros operate at a very high frequency the wait time is short and so is the journey time. It’s a turn up and go service. From the passenger’s point of view, their journey starts when they step out their door and this is when they measure how long it takes to get from point A to point B. With metro, especially in these congested cities in peak times, the journey time is much quicker than a car.”

With NSW’s population expected to grow to around 9 million over the next 20 years –bringing with it an increase in congestion with more passengers on trains and buses and more traffic on roads – the high capacity solution that metro bring is important. According to the NSW government, once the metro is functioning, capacity will rise from 120 an hour today to up to 200 services beyond 2024, a 60 per cent capacity increase across the network to meet demand. This, the government says, is “a level of service never before seen in Sydney”.

The target capacity of Sydney’s metro is about 40,000 customers per hour, similar to other metro systems worldwide, whereas Sydney’s current suburban system has a capacity of 24,000 people an hour per line. The infrastructure needed for metro also favours comparably to the infrastructure for more traditional modes of transport.

“Metros travel along a dedicated purposebuilt corridor, and the advantages of it being purpose built are significant. It’s modern and it can be designed and built with safety and security in mind as well as speed. The alignment for metro tunnels can be precisely refined to reflect both the current and future of the city.

“Another key thing is that metro stations accommodate large volumes of people passing through at any one time.”

The lifts, escalators, passenger information screens and ticketing systems with the automated gates are all designed with this in mind and, according to Frances, “they’re very much built for future proofing into the next 50, 70 years.”

Indeed, she explains, these elements are all key concerns for the design process prior to the construction of stations stage.

“In terms of the design, we really appreciate early operator involvement because decisions made at the design stage will be lived with for a very long time.”

During the design process it is essential to think from the passenger’s point of view, according to Frances — “What does the passenger need to make their journey simplest and safest as possible?”

“You want ease of movement through the actual station, and for that to be as seamless as possible. So, for example, the positions of escalators is important. During high flow onto an escalator you just need one or two people to not be able to get off easily for that to make it an unsafe situation quickly, so we want to make sure there is good flow off and onto escalators.

“Platform width, as another example, is extremely important. We also look at what we can have suspended to ensure as much space is clear as possible, because you will have equipment on platforms, its necessary. We suspend as much as we can off either a gantry or a canopy, so to have free access onto platforms.”

Another essential consideration during the design stage, says Frances, is both the location and the layout of the depot.

“Location is obvious because of course you want to be able to minimise your running time when you’re starting up service. The actual depot design itself also facilitates the work flow. Getting the right buildings into the right place is important and within the main depot, the layout is key to both safety, which is at the forefront and then of course efficiency behind that. Location of the stores is really key because if the stores are not located in a quickly accessible place than naturally, it is going to be inefficient with maintainers going to and from to be able to collect the materials that they need to be able to maintain.”

With the trend towards metro taking off, these are considerations more and more cities across the world are taking.

“We’re seeing a lot of development in metro, with cities responding to the growth of population and demand for mobility. It’s still very much a trend within mega cities and large cities, where metros are becoming the solution that fits in with the rest of transport to make sure that you’ve got the mass transit to complement the other services.

“It’s always exciting when you see this longterm planning from government, and I think Australia is extremely good in its long-term planning. The driverless metro will really ease some of the congestion in Sydney, where there is clearly a point of natural congestion with the harbour. The success of North West, with a daily ridership of 66,000 shows that the demand is there.

“The advantage of course of driverless metro is that you can operate with very short headways, for example in Lille we operate 52 trains an hour, that’s one every 50 seconds, on a GOA 4 system so it’s absolutely achievable. Driverless metro is developing in Sydney, and as the network grows it increases the opportunity to increase the capacity, make people’s journeys easier, not just in the peak but in the off peak, and that’s really going to change the mobility experience of people in Sydney.

“It also gives an opportunity to really bring to life the Greater Sydney Commission’s plan for ‘A metropolis of three-cities’. When you’ve got that connectivity and the new airport that will come out in the West that’s really going to shape out how the whole area functions.”

Metro is central to the transport landscape, according to Frances, but it is all about creating a wide array of options for commuters.

“If you look at major cities with wellestablished metro systems, London or Paris, it is really key to those cities. Investment in metro demonstrates the long term thinking of governments, the investment and recognition of mobility being essential to create places where people want to live, work or study.

“In the context of growing cities, it is essential to create more public transport options for all and enable optimal accessibility to mass transit options. We need to encourage more people onto public transport by thinking about their door to door journey, and create enough convenience to encourage them out of their cars. Mass transit needs to be safe, efficient, reliable, sustainable and driverless metros tick all the boxes.

“At the same time, the general mobility as a service (MaaS) push that we’re seeing has an impact on mobility and behaviours, in terms of information and the route planning, in terms of expectations and integration with other modes to get a different journey.

“MaaS is giving people the ability to see all options that are offered to them, and the possibility to plan their journeys before leaving home. Depending on the day, where you need to go, the weather, having access to a single platform that offers more choice is a game-changer.”

When Keolis Downer talks about public transport, they’re talking about the passenger needs.

“This is because that’s what the centre of public transport is, it’s the passenger and it’s the community. It’s about providing that service and responding to the needs of the passenger. And so, it’s about choice and making sure that people have that choice in terms of the travel they need to do. This means giving access to the public of what they need and connecting the journeys that people can make with different forms of public transport,” Frances said.

The benefits of the metro system are not just confined to the passenger journey, however – there are supplementary benefits as well.

“An indirect benefit is the street scaping. Last mile connectivity is something the authorities we work with are astutely aware of, and we work with them to create the best solutions for that, and street scaping gives an opportunity to improve safety as well as the actual access around the station areas. It’s as simple as making sure there’s good pavements segregated from road traffic, and that’s been very important.

“A key benefit is the transit-oriented development that comes around metro. It’s typically now a very important part of projects, because in fact it helps the financial viability of the project. Consider Hyderabad where there’s been the development of already four shopping malls, which include cinemas, restaurants, and other facilities. These all connect into the new metro system, so, metro actually helps rejuvenate some areas in a city which will benefit from bringing other services to the community, and of course it helps the viability of a project as well.”

As well as being the chair of Keolis Downer, Australia, Frances is president of its operations in India and the Middle East. She spoke about the organisation’s international experience and what metro had done for the cities where Keolis introduced it.

“Doha is a key metro project for us. We operate a metro and a light rail, so it is a multi-modal rail system. Buses are a complement to the public transport offering as well. The metro in Doha is in a phased opening, so we’re already operating one stage of the metro, which has been very successful, the ridership has been above expectations, already around 30,000 a day. That is fantastic considering we’re only operating about a tenth of the metro’s final size.

“In Hyderabad in India, we operate the second largest automated metro in India, Delhi is the largest. In India, as of today there isn’t a GOA4 (completely autonomous) metro line, we operate automated metro as a GOA2. There’s a wish to move towards GOA4 in India, for examplein Mumbai there’s an underground line currently being constructed and the intention of the Government is that that will be a GOA4 metro, with operations and maintenance outsourced, so clearly automation is the absolute trend.

“In Hyderabad, the metro will be 67km in totality once its opened, and most of it is now up and operational, there’s just one last section, stage 6 to open. Ridership has grown substantially since its opening. Initial ridership was 39,000 a day, with only the first stage which was 30km. Now we’ve opened almost all of it, it’s grown to over 400,000 passengers a day.”

Keolis Downer sees part of its role as an operator is to help ridership grow.

“We want to bring the culture of multimodal public transport to people and to make it an easy choice to shift from car and from, in the case of Hyderabad, twowheelers and auto rick-shaws and onto public transport. Hyderabad’s metro is operating really well, and its very much a part of the culture of the city now. It is an above ground, elevated metro, which is very visible.”

When asked how best to finance metro projects Frances answers that there is not one way. “The best way is the best way locally, there’s not one best way. It’s a decision made by the Government, but from our point of view it does not impact the passenger experience, which we bring to the heart of what we’re doing.”

Sydney Metro’s first tunnel under Sydney Harbour now complete

The first of two railway tunnels to be built under Sydney Harbour, as part of the Sydney metro project, has been completed.

At its deepest point, the tunnel is 40 metres below the harbour floor and is considered “an engineering feat of historic proportions,” according to NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian who visited the site of the tunnel on Monday.

Specialised under-harbour tunnelling boring machine (TBM) Kathleen will dig the two tunnels. TBM Kathleen launched in June, from Barangaroo Station, and took four months to tunnel nearly one kilometre to the northern side of the harbour at Blues Point.

After completing the first of the two tunnels, the TBM was then pulled apart and had its giant 90-tonne cutter head and front sections barged back across Sydney Harbour, from where it is now being reassembled to start digging the second tunnel. The 975-tonne machine had removed 87,400 tonnes of sandstone, clay and marine sediments to dig the first tunnel.

Metro trains will start running through the two tunnels in 2024. In 2024, Sydney will have 31 metro stations and a 66km standalone metro railway, with the capacity for a train every two minutes in each direction. It will be able to move more people across the harbour in the busiest hour of the peak than the Harbour Bridge and Harbour Tunnel combined.

Another TBM, Wendy has reached the harbour’s edge at Blues Point, making her the first of the five mega borers to officially finish tunnelling on the Sydney Metro City & Southwest project. TBM Wendy completed a 6.2 kilometre tunnel via new stations at Crows Nest and Victoria Cross, excavating 563,000 tonnes of sandstone and shale.

Kathleen and Wendy are two of five mega borers which have worked simultaneously to deliver the twin 15.5 kilometre rail tunnels between Chatswood and Sydenham, extending Metro rail from the north west, under the CBD, and beyond to Bankstown.

Newcastle light rail celebrates one millionth customer

Newcastle’s light rail service last Friday celebrated its one millionth customer since launching in February this year. 

The customer, a regular light rail commuter, works in Newcastle CBD. He had tapped on at the Newcastle Interchange on his way to the Queens Wharf stop when he and fellow commuters aboard the next departing tram were presented with gift bags to mark the milestone.

Keolis Downer Hunter general manager, Mark Dunlop said that on average the light rail moves over 3620 people a day and over 46 per cent are connecting with bus, ferry and train, as part of an integrated journey.   

“We now have a truly integrated network for Newcastle with light rail, bus and ferry services in the city and it is encouraging more people to get on board public transport. 

“The light rail makes it easy to connect with other modes of transport whether the ferry at Queens Wharf, buses adjacent to the Honeysuckle and Newcastle Interchange stops and trains to the Hunter and Central Coast from the Interchange.” 


NSW Upper House member for the Hunter, Taylor Martin, said that it was clear light rail had changed how people moved around the city.


“Novocastrians are making light rail part of their daily lives,” Martin said.


“The light rail allows office workers to travel to nearby precincts quicker and easier to get to meetings or on their lunch breaks.”


“Patronage has been steadily increasing on weekends and families are definitely taking advantage of light rail to get out and about to explore the Newcastle CBD during school holidays.”

KiwiRail tackling major bottlenecks

Construction is underway on a number of passenger rail upgrades in Wellington, New Zealand’s transport minister Phil Twyford announced on Monday.

Upgrades include the conversion of the Trentham to Upper Hutt 2.7km single track section to a double track, a new signalling system, building second platforms and shelters at Trentham and Wallaceville stations, additional rail lines at Upper Hutt to stable freight services, making improvements to level crossings and building a pedestrian underpass.

The Trentham and Upper Hutt track is a major bottle neck at point where passenger and freight trains interact. The upgrades will help keep freight services running to schedule in light of increased passenger services.

“This is an important step in upgrading Wellington’s rail network and will help make the metro and Wairarapa commuter trains more reliable,” KiwiRail’s chief operating officer of capital projects and asset development David Gordon said.

“Double tracking effectively removes a congestion point in the network and will create more flexibility when the two commuter services interact with each other and with our freight trains coming to and from the Wairarapa.”

“Sorting out this pinch point in the network is also crucial to support Greater Wellington Regional Council’s plans for more commuter trains in the decades ahead.”

The Hutt Valley rail line will be closed over Christmas so that an underpass can be built at Trentham Station.

“Our $196 million Wellington rail package also includes important upgrades for the Wairarapa line, without them, the line would have deteriorated with more and more disruptions to services,” Twyford said.

The Transport Agency is providing $193 million towards the Wellington Metro Rail Network upgrades and the Wellington Regional Council the other $3 million. The investment was announced by the government in late 2018, and is expected to be undertaken progressively until 2026.

KiwiRail says it is also making good progress with an earlier Budget 2017 investment to replace Wellington’s overhead traction system and network power supply. So far nearly 700 of the 860 (80 per cent) mast foundations in the Hutt Valley have been replaced and more than 300 new poles installed.

Qube train. Photo: Qube

Victoria’s Ultima Terminal will generate millions in new exports

Victoria’s minister for ports and freight Melissa Horne officially opened a rail freight terminal in Ultima, northern Victorian, for exporting to the Asian market.

The QUBE Ultima Intermodal Terminal officially opened yesterday, however trains have been running on the line since at least June according to Fully Loaded.

Recently, the state government spent $23 million on an upgrade of the Manangatang freight line. It went towards the replacement of sleepers over a 90km section of the line in the Ultima region by V/Line. Track formation was also improved with new ballast which will improve the ride quality for trains.

Two trains a week currently service the Ultima facility, but it’s expected that will expand to three or four trains a week.

“This new facility is creating jobs for the local community and is helping to get more freight onto rail – removing around 4,000 truck trips every year from Victorian roads,” Horne said.

QUBE, Pentarch Agricultural and Pickering Transport, through a joint venture, invested $3.65 million in the facility

“Already two trains a week are using this terminal to provide integrated rail solutions to the intermodal and bulk markets, and we hope to expand this when more local products become available later this summer,” QUBE Managing Director Maurice James said.

Hay from local farms is compressed and loaded into containers at the facility. The containers are then put on a train and taken to the Port of Melbourne for export to Asia.

Pentarch markets Australian oaten hay, cottonseed and other grain internationally and the new facility will generate millions of dollars in new exports to Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China.