Staff Writer

Sydney CBD light rail. Artists Impression: Transport for NSW

Sydney Light Rail open date announced

Sydney’s CBD and South East Light Rail is set to open on the 14th December, NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian and transport minister Andrew Constance have announced.

“The CBD and South East Light Rail is a big step towards revitalising our city and will transform the way we live, work and go out in Sydney,” Berejiklian said.

“Trams will be fare-free for the opening weekend so the community can ride the new light rail to celebrate this historic event.

“The new network will move up to 13,500 commuters an hour during peak time in both directions, replacing the conga line of buses which used to sit in traffic on George Street. A coupled tram holds up to 450 customers, the equivalent of up to nine standard buses.”

The service was initially slated to open in March this year, but suffered delays as well as budget and legal issues. The total cost for the service ended up being $2.9 billion, double the original cost predicted by then transport minister Berejiklian in 2012.

Constance revealed the first passenger services will start at 11am on Saturday and run between Circular Quay and Randwick until 1am.

“We have launched multiple safety campaigns telling people to stay safe around light rail. We need pedestrians to keep their heads up and drivers to stay out of the tram corridor and not queue across intersections.”

Services on the CBD and South East Light Rail will run from 5am to 1am every day of the week, according to the timetable.

Four appointed to Infrastructure Australia Board

Four new members have been appointed to the Infrastructure Australia Board, the Government’s independent infrastructure adviser, the minister for infrastructure, transport and regional development Michael McCormack announced on Tuesday.

Mark Balnaves, John Fitzgerald, Marion Fulker and Graham Quirk have been appointed to the twelve member board led by Infrastructure Australia chair Julieanne Alroe, and will will begin their tenures at the  this month.

“All four individuals bring decades of infrastructure experience and each will add to the depth and breadth of sectoral knowledge and proficiency of the Board,” Alroe said.

Mark Balnaves, having previously advised on a number of major projects around Australia including the new Royal Adelaide Hospital, has more than 20 years of director, strategic advisory and infrastructure experience and is a current director of Evans + Ayers.

Marion Fulker has experience in infrastructure-related research as well as being the inaugural chief executive of the Committee for Perth Ltd and an adjunct senior research fellow at the University of Western Australia.

From a local government perspective, Graham Quirk, brings an in-depth understanding at a community level, having previously served as the 16th lord mayor of Brisbane with a total of 34 years of dedicated service at Brisbane Council.

John is currently a director of the Victorian Funds Management Corporation, non–executive chairman of Evolution Rail Pty Ltd, Suburban Land Agency (ACT), InfraNexus Management Pty Ltd and Canberra Light Rail. He has previously been interim CEO for Infrastructure Australia.

Alroe thanked outgoing members Dianne Leeson, Andrew Ethell, Dr Peter Wood and one of the longest serving members of the Infrastructure board, Nicole Lockwood.

“Our retiring board members have had a remarkable impact on the Australian infrastructure sector, and I sincerely thank them for their leadership and contribution to Infrastructure Australia,” said Alroe.

Infrastructure Australia is an independent statutory body which provides advice on Australia’s infrastructure priorities and policy reforms. It also assists in public infrastructure investment decision-making.

Stephen Cantwell named TasRail chair

Samantha Hogg will leave TasRail as chair and Stephen Cantwell will take over from 1 January 2020.

“I would like to take the opportunity to thank outgoing chair, Samantha Hogg, for her dedication and contribution to TasRail over the past four and a half years,” minister for infrastructure and transport Michael Ferguson said Wednesday.

“Ms Hogg has been instrumental in providing oversight of the financial governance and risk management practices at TasRail, helping to set it up for future success.”

Hogg oversaw the delivery of Tranche One of the Freight Rail Revitalisation Program (FRRP), during her term as the TasRail chair. She is non-executive director at Infrastructure Australia, Australian Renewable Energy Agency, Tasmanian Irrigation, MaxiTRANS and Hydro Tasmania.

Incoming chair Cantwell is Cantwell is non-executive director at Port of Brisbane, Queensland Rail and TasRail. He has operational experience in freight rail, heavy industry, mining and ports.

“With the delivery of tranches Two and Three of the FRRP, a new shiploader to build and new customer projects all occurring in the next four years, Stephen’s operational and commercial know-how will be a great asset to TasRail,” Ferguson said.

AusRAIL: McCormack highlights rail spending, King calls for skills focus

Minister for infrastructure, transport and regional development Michael McCormack and shadow minister Catherine King have highlighted their parties’ distinct transport commitments at AusRAIL Plus 2019.

“It’s been a strong and positive year for rail. Since I last spoke to you, much has happened in two key areas over the past year. With a focus on freight, we are on track to deliver the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail, which is a world class infrastructure project,” McCormack said.

“With a focus on commuters, in the past year the government has made a significant commitment to faster rail and we are investing heavily in metropolitan rail with our state government partners, through projects such as the Sydney Metro Greater Western in NSW and Metronet in Perth, Western Australia. Over the year, we also saw the 20-year National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy and National Action Plan agreed by all governments.”

McCormack highlighted Inland Rail’s latest milestone.

“The first section of greenfield track, the North West connection, opened in August with the first trains already running on this track. This new link is scheduled to join up with the newly upgraded Parkes to Narramine line by mid next year.

“Almost 900 people worked on this section and local businesses are benefitting, in concrete, transport, fencing, earth moving, drainage, electrical and other suppliers to the tune of $41.2 million in local contracts, so we’re well on track with Inland Rail.”

In terms of passenger rail, McCormack highlighted government’s Faster Rail Plan which will be overseen by a new National Faster Rail Agency. There are business cases already underway.

“We’ve committed $2 billion to help deliver faster rail between Geelong and Melbourne, and we’re getting on with our $5 billion commitment to deliver the Melbourne Airport Rail Link,” McCormack said.

In response, King called on the government to use its current infrastructure spend to leverage better investments in training and new technology.

“Strong investment gives government as seat at the table in planning our cities and regions,” King said.

As part of this King says the opposition intends to identify and respond to the impacts of these investments on the workforce.

“With rapid change in technology deployed in transport networks, what is often overlooked is the impact of this change on the workforce. The pace of change can often be confronting. Technology can be our ally in achieving greater productivity, and it does not always have to come at a cost to jobs.

“Transitioning jobs in industries like transport doesn’t just happen, it has to be planned.

What’s why last month, Labour leader Anthony Albanese announced Labour in government will establish Jobs and Skills Australia.King described the party’s vision of a workforce forecasting and research under a similar model to Infrastructure Australia.

The body would assess the skills requirements for services where “government is the major funder and where demand is expected to change”, such as transport. It would undertake workforce and skills analysis, and conduct capacity studies. It would be expected to review the adequacy of the training and vocational system.

“This will include the manufacture, operation and maintenance of our public transport network,” said King.

AusRAIL: What’s next for Inland Rail

Inland Rail CEO Richard Wankmuller has updated industry on the progress of  the project and what it will tackle next now that Queensland has given the greenlight to construction.

“We’re moving over the next few months to the next section. This is much larger, at least double the size of what we’ve completed so far. Now that we’ve been given the green light, we can begin the economic stimulus of this area. We’re trying to accelerate that as much as possible for these vital areas that have been impacted by the drought,” Wankmuller said, speaking at the AusRail Plus conference.

This section comprises 28km of new dual gauge track between Gowrie (north-west of Toowoomba) and Helidon (east of Toowoomba).

“This is an engineering feat. It will be very challenging, and we have to make sure that we get it right,” according to Wankmuller.

“The centrepiece is a 6.2 km long tunnel to be constructed through the Great Dividing Range of Toowomba, a mountainous terrain which leads down into the Lockyer valley, creating topographical and geological challenges requiring eleven rail and two road bridge and viaduct structures totalling 6.7km in length between Gowrie and Helidon.

“The tunnel through the Toowomba Range and I will call it The Tunnel, because The Tunnel is the second largest great tunnel in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s going to be an engineering marvel not just because of its size and its length but because of all the challenges that are involved in designing a world class and efficient system.

“But we do have to attack some of the big challenges which include ventilation. When you put a diesel freight train through a tunnel like that you have a lot of heat and you have to make sure you’re ventilating it appropriately and making it safe. We are future proofing it so passenger rail can go through if needed in the future.

“The highest of the thirteen structures along this section is the Six Mile Creek Viaduct which is expected to be about 966 metres long and 49 metres high at its maximum. By comparison the total length of the Sydney Harbour Bridge is 1149 metres and the bridge’s height clearance for shipping is around 49 metres. The second viaduct is expected to extend to about 1.8km in length, and in addition to rail bridges there are three crossing loops posed between Gowrie and Helidon, each about 2.2 kms in length.”

The extensive geotechnical investigations have been carried out with extensive stakeholder consultation, according to Inland Rail.

“This is one of the more challenging sections and it is challenging on a world scale, so we had to put together a world class team and we’ve done that. We now have 400 or so of the world’s best working directly for Inland Rail, not to mention the 1000s of service providers helping us meet this challenge. But the challenge is real.

“But Inland Rail’s ingenuity isn’t just about these really difficult challenges it’s also about what we do every day. We’re very proud of what we do every day and safety is near and dear to our heart every day. We look at innovation in all industries and one of the interesting things we’ve adopted is one we stole from the mining industry where we’re electronically tagging our people so when they enter a danger zone with equipment, that equipment automatically shuts down before there can be any reaction to that person and their equipment.

“We’ve changed the steel rail profile itself, which for many years has been the same design. We’ve rounded it out so we don’t need to grind it to get our trains in operation, this is going to lead to less maintenance.

“In 1700km we’re going to have 2-3 million concrete sleepers. We’re going to have to get those fabricated, delivered and unloaded on site. We’ve found a way to do that efficiently, by designing hydraulic machinery we can use to unload it in the most efficient way possible and touch it the least amount of times. If we can save 10 minutes or even 2 minutes every time we unload it across all those millions of sleepers, it saves a lot of time and productivity gains.”

One of the reasons for the delay in Queensland getting on board with Inland Rail has been the controversy surrounding the Condamine floodplain, Wankmuller addressed this.

“It’s not just about having global technology capabilities, it is about having local knowledge. That’s how you make a truly world class flood model. You talk to the local people and see what they’ve seen in previous storm events. By working together with global expertise and the local knowledge of people that have been there for generations, you get a model that makes sense and replicates what actually happens. So now you know you can rely on it in the future, because if you can’t, everything you do from that point is wrong.

“It is all about safety and we’re committed to not making the situation any worse than it was going to be anyhow by us being there. Water has to flow, it has to flow around and through our structures, and there’s some engineering challenges in that that we’re geared up to meet, and we’re doing the work to get it right.”

Wankmuller wrapped up with a call to federal and state governments to accelerate their uptake of the project.

“We need the federal and state governments to work together and they’re doing that but there’s still a lot left to do. We don’t know where the intermodal tunnel rails are yet, in Melbourne or Brisbane. Hard to build a rail line when you’re storing your stock.”

Two reappointed to ARTC board

Deputy prime minister Michael McCormack has announced the reappointment of David Saxelby and Jennifer Seabrook to the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) board for a further three years.

“These reappointments ensure a strong and diverse leadership team will continue to oversee ARTC’s 8,500 kilometre rail network and guide the delivery of current and future projects,” McCormack said.

The two have served on the ARTC Board since 2016.

“Their experience and knowledge will help ARTC to deliver the 1,700-kilometre Inland Rail project, which will help meet Australia’s future freight challenges and connect inland communities with new opportunities to grow and prosper.

“Mr Saxelby has substantial experience in construction, infrastructure contracting and major projects, while Ms Seabrook has extensive experience in finance and capital markets. Together, their skills and experience strengthen the ARTC Board’s capability.”

Finance minister Mathias Cormann said the reappointments meant organisational stability at the ARTC, as it continued to deliver the government’s rail agenda.

“Rail is a key component of our Government’s infrastructure plan underpinning our plan for a stronger economy,” Cormann said.

“David and Jennifer’s experience and continued contribution to the ARTC Board helps ensure the timely and efficient delivery of the Government’s Inland Rail project which will cater for the growing demand for domestic inter-capital freight, create new jobs, and provide regional businesses and farmers with new opportunities to grow their exports.”

AusRAIL: New Special Activation Precint for Inland Rail route

NSW deputy premier John Barilaro has announced a newly-defined precinct in Moree will look to energise business growth around the Inland Rail project.

Speaking to AusRAIL Plus 2019 on Tuesday, Barilaro announced NSW’s third special activation precinct (SAP) will leverage the Inland Rail route.

“The benefits to NSW from Inland Rail will only come with the state embracing the federal government’s investment,” Barilaro told delegates.

The new SAP will be located in Moree, a productive grain region which falls directly along the Inland Rail route.

“Moree is set to become a true intermodal hub with road, rail and air transport links available, including connection to the Port of Newcastle, that will enable businesses to access global markets,” according to a government spokesperson.

The SAPs are a NSW government initiative, funded by the proceeds from the Snowy Hydro sale, and intended to “unlock the opportunity for investment in regional NSW” by attracting businesses to those locations. According to a government statement, the Moree SAP will specialise in the agribusiness, logistics and food processing industries.

NSW’s other hubs are Parkes and Wagga Wagga.

Barilaro said some of the benefits of the SAP include fast tracked planning and approvals processes, the guarantee of a thirty day planning decision government-led studies, and a ‘concierge’ service to assist businesses in relocating and navigating government.

“Most importantly, under the special activation precinct, we do all the planning, build all the infrastructure that is shared, shared so as to unlock the potential of industrial precinct,” Barilaro said. “Our budget has us in the black: nil debt, surpluses as far as the eye can see, a future fund that has almost $10 billion in it, and a record infrastructure plan with $93 billion costed, part of the budget over the next four years. It is an exciting time in NSW, at the heart of that, unlocking the state’s prosperity will include rail.

“We have a vision for a vibrant and growing regional economy, providing NSW residents with more jobs, greater opportunities and better quality of life and one of the key elements of our blueprint, our 20-year vision for regional and rural NSW is transport connectivity.”

Key to this, according to Barilaro, is both a fast and faster rail network.

“We believe that it’s with small investments, realignments, and of course the investment of just over $2.3 billion in replacing the whole regional fleet, we have an opportunity to actually increase speeds, and of course timetables, in regional and rural NSW,” he said.

With regards to a fast rail, the government is investigating the Sydney to Canberra, Sydney to Newcastle, Sydney to the central west, and Sydney to the Illawarra corridors. Barilaro says a strategy is due “later this year or early next year”.

“Faster rail and fast rail has to be at the heart of economic development for this state, and as we continue the investment in infrastructure, it is clear that rail has to be at the heart of it,” he said.

AusRAIL: Bumper year for ARA

Outgoing Australasian Railway Association CEO Danny Broad opened AusRAIL Plus 2019 on Tuesday, his last year at the helm of the ARA before he hands over the reins to incoming CEO Caroline Wilkie.

Broad recapped what he called “an exciting and demanding year in all sector of rail” thanks to the “strong transport infrastructure policies” of federal and state NSW governments.

The ARA, says Broad, has spent the last twelve months advocating to governments about one of the biggest issues facing the industry.

“We have focussed on advocating to governments on how best to address the skills shortage, resulting in the development in the National Rail Action Plan, by the National Transport Commission.”

The ARA has also been calling on state, territory and federal governments to commit to a unified pipeline for major rail projects, to allow the private sector to better prepare itself with adequate skills and equipment to ensure contracts are executed as efficiently as possible.

The organisation recommended the federal government resource the Australia & New Zealand Infrastructure Pipeline in its 2019-20 Budget Submission as part of this.

They have also lodged seventeen submissions to parliamentary and government inquiries on behalf of the sector over the last year.

“As far as possible, domestic rail freight markets should operate on an even footing with other modal choices. This requires an environment with equitable regulatory settings to enable competitive neutrality between competing modes of transport,” says the ARA’s annual report 2019. This was the focuss of a number of its submissions to government in 2019.

The ARA called for an extension of the Inland Rail line, the largest freight rail project in Australia.

“The current project has the Inland Rail line ceasing at Acacia Ridge. The ARA calls for a commensurate project to ensure a freight rail line continues all the way to the Port of Brisbane. Research undertaken by Deloitte shows that building a dedicated freight rail connection to the Port of Brisbane could achieve a 30% rail modal share, which would remove 2.4 million truck movements from the local road network,” according to the annual report.

“We have been progressing the smart rail and technology agendas, working with industry and governments on improving accessibility, advocating for rail and supporting rail careers through programs such as the women in rail pilot mentoring program and the formation of the young leaders advisory board, a potential attraction and retention campaign and the future leaders program to name just a few,” Broad said.

“I’m very proud of where the ARA is now, and feel it is the right time to pass on the reigns to our new CEO,” Broad concluded.

Queensland signs onto Inland Rail

The Queensland and federal governments have reached an understanding regarding the $9.3 billion Inland Rail project, signing a bilateral agreement in Tooowoomba on Friday.

Labelled by government as “the most significant freight infrastructure project in the nation’s history”, the 1700km freight route will link Melbourne and Brisbane via regional Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.

“We are transforming the way freight is moved in Australia. For every dollar we are investing in Inland Rail, $2.62 will be returned to the national economy,” minister for infrastructure, transport and regional development Michael McCormack said on Friday.

“We’re already seeing the benefits in New South Wales with the first section of the new track between Parkes and Narromine now complete. For this 5.3 kilometre section, more than $46 million in contracts were committed to 84 local businesses employing almost 400 local people.”

With two thirds of the total investment towards Inland Rail to be delivered in Queensland, it is expected to create 7,000 jobs and a boost of over $7 billion for the state economy according to the government.

Finance minister Mathias Cormann said the signing of this Bilateral Agreement was a crucial step towards a more efficient freight network for the future.

“Long-haul rail is cheaper, safer and more reliable than moving freight by road over those distances. That is why the Australian Government has committed up to $9.3 billion to complete the national rail network through Inland Rail,” Minister Cormann said.

“The shift from road to rail is crucial to ensuring our freight network meets the needs of our growing population.

“It is great to have the Queensland Government on board now supporting our Inland Rail project. This project will improve the national freight rail network by connecting communities, creating jobs, reducing supply chain costs and making Australian business more competitive.”

In late 2016, farmers along some of the proposed route expressed concern that the Inglewood-Millmerran-Toowoomba route, which was selected by Australian Rail Track Corporation, was based on information gathered prior to 2010. This decision did not take into consideration that the route was along the 16km wide Condamine Floodplain.

“All parties have also agreed to establish an international panel to advise on the modelling of potential flood impacts and continuing community consultation along the project’s chosen route through Queensland,” Queensland’s transport and main roads minister Mark Bailey said on Friday.

“In addition to the expert hydrologists already engaged by the Australian Rail Track Corporation, an expert panel of international specialists will be established to advise on best practice flood structural integrity and report back to the Queensland and Australian Governments.

“Queenslanders can have confidence that a comprehensive and detailed approvals process for the project is being undertaken that includes rigorous environmental, planning and statutory approvals.”

Inland Rail CEO Richard Wankmuller said international experts had been engaged to work through structural solutions regarding putting the line across the Condamine Floodplain.

“We want to make sure everything that comes across those flood plains is safe,” he said.

McCormack pointed out that the Inland Rail project has been in the works since the 19th century, with plans first drawn up in the early 1900s. He said that, while final details needed to be worked through, he believed construction in Queensland should start in about 2022.


Ballarat Line Upgrade nears completion

Melbourne’s Cobblebank Station in the outer west is now open, with services stopping at the station since Monday.

Deputy prime minister and minister for infrastructure, transport and regional development Michael McCormack said passengers along the line will experience greater reliability thanks to the 18 kilometres of new track duplication.

The new track between Melton and Deer Park West will enable extra services by providing allowing trains to pass each other along the Ballarat Line. Passengers between Melton and the city will also get two extra peak hour services.

“This is a huge step forward for Ballarat Line passengers, who will see even more benefits from the Ballarat Line Upgrade rolled out next year,” said McCormack.

The station opened after 23-days of intensive construction work, including upgrades at Bacchus Marsh and Ballan station, track and signalling works, safety testing and driver training.

“I thank the workers who have been out there day and night delivering these works so this wonderful new station can start taking passenger,” Victoria’s minister for transport infrastructure Jacinta Allan said.

The station was delivered as part of the half-a-billion-dollar Ballarat Line Upgrade, which also includes four major station upgrades, two new passing loops and new train stabling.

Major construction on the Ballarat Line Upgrade is on track to be finished by the end of the year, according to the government. A final works blitz will take place from Saturday 7 to Friday 13 December.

Following the completion of the major construction work, there will be a further period of disruption for commissioning and safety testing to bring the remaining infrastructure online and enable even more services to be introduced in 2020.

The $551.7 million Ballarat Line Upgrade is jointly funded by the federal and state governments as part of the $1.75 billion Regional Rail Revival Program.