Staff Writer

Victorian sky rail construction requires demolition of historic signal boxes

Two early 20th-century signal boxes are set to be demolished as part of construction for a 2.5-kilometre elevated rail line from Tinning Street in Brunswick to O’Hea Street in Coburg.

Moreland Council and an organisation called the Coburg Historical Society want the signal boxes heritage protected, according to The Age.

The signal boxes and more than 100 trees will be bulldozed when the government replaces four level crossings with the $542.4 million sky rail project. In a submission to Heritage Victoria, Coburg residents asked for heritage protection of the signal boxes as well as the trees.

Executive director of Heritage Victoria, Steven Avery, recommended that trees and rail infrastructure dating back to the late 1800s should be protected. He did not recommend heritage protection be extended to the century old signal boxes, or the Gandolfo Gardens 100 trees. The Moreland and Coburg train stations, which were built in the 1880s, are heritage-protected.

According to The Age, however, planning minister Richard Wynne will now make the final decision. “As the minister responsible for both planning and heritage, it’s appropriate I make the final decision,” Wynne said.

The Level Crossing Removal Project, however, says that the removal of the trees is necessary for work towards replacing the level crossings to be able to commence because the rail corridor is so narrow.

“The alternative would be continual disruptions over a much longer time for the community, commuters and local residents,” chief executive Kevin Devlin said.

Some of the Upfield line will be closed for three months while the sky rail is constructed – the longest shutdown since the government started removing level crossings in 2016.

The government will also build a new 2.5 kilometre cycling lane, while the removal of boom gates will benefit around 68,000 vehicles driving through the level crossings each day.

Calls increase for Sydney to Canberra high-speed train

Pressure is increasing on the federal government to commit to a Sydney to Canberra high-speed train, with Stockland’s Mark Steinert pitching in via the Financial Review this week.

“A high-speed rail service between Canberra and Sydney would have a significant, positive impact on productivity, given the frequent travel between, and national importance, of these two cities,” Steinert, CEO and managing director for Australia’s largest property developer, told the paper.

“Investing in high-speed rail boosts economic activity through jobs growth, productivity gains, reduction in congestion and sustainable, improved mobility.”

The most important factor about fast rail, said Steinert, is its ability to create equal opportunity.

“High-speed rail can be a connector and equaliser – giving people improved access to major capital cities or activity hubs, opening up possibilities for greater participation in education, jobs and cultural experiences, helping people create better lives with more opportunities,” Steinert said.

In 2017, Infrastructure Australia reported that the early acquisition of corridors for seven rail projects on its priority list, including high-speed rail, would save the public $11 billion in land acquisition and construction costs,

There is support for the project across governments. NSW’s premier Gladys Berejiklian committed $5 million in funding to investigate high-speed routes between Sydney and Canberra via the future Badgerys Creek Airport, while ACT chief minister Andrew Barr has said he would call on the federal government to fund the high-speed rail link before the next election.

Minister for population, cities and urban infrastructure Alan Tudge said the government’s 20 year Faster Rail plan, released early this year, identified the Sydney to Canberra route as a potential corridor in future years.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has said there is long-standing interest from China, Japan and Europe to build the rail line.

“The Japan Railway Company – they’ve had an office here [in Sydney] since the 1980s waiting for something to happen,” Albanese said earlier this year.

Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Catherine King is also pushing the project.

“High-speed rail is a game changer for real decentralisation, with benefits flowing to both the city and the country,” King said.

Bridge to replace level crossing in Werribee

A new road bridge will replace a level crossing in Werribee, as part of Victoria’s Level Crossing Removal Project.

Major work towards the bridge is set to start in 2020, according to a government statement made this week, so that the Cherry Street level crossing can be removed.

To improve connectivity, a pedestrian footpath will be added on the new road bridge. A new shared-use path along the rail line will connect the Princes Highway and the Tarneit Road intersection back to the pedestrian underpass at Cherry Street.

A pedestrian underpass will be built, connected by ramps and stairs, to maintain pedestrian and cyclist access. The project will ultimately create a safer area, improve traffic flow and enable a more reliable commute.

A site office is also to be established along the rail corridor east of the Cherry Street level crossing once a contract has been awarded, says the government.

Meanwhile, the Level Crossing Removal Projects says that planning is progressing for designs at Old Geelong Road in Hoppers Crossing and Werribee Street in Werribee.

Container ships at East Swanson Dock, Patrick terminal. Photo: David Sexton

Infrastructure charges at ports to continue increasing

The container stevedoring industry has imposed higher infrastructure charges on trucks and rail operators at ports within the last year, according to the ACCC’s container stevedoring monitoring report, and charges are expected to continue to rise.

Revenues generated by the infrastructure charges rose by 63 per cent in 2018-19 on the previous year, the report shows. In addition to infrastructure charges, other landside access and ancillary terminal fees increased at ports.

“It is understandable that stevedores seek to recover some costs of upgrading port facilities from transport operators because they, like the shipping lines, benefit from the investment,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

The higher revenue has also helped the industry to offset an 8.1 per cent decline in average quayside revenue because of the increasing bargaining power of the shipping lines.

“But because port users have limited ability to move their business in response to a stevedore raising its infrastructure charge, the stevedores face less competitive pressure to keep the charges down. While the infrastructure charges only represent 12 per cent of the stevedores’ revenues today, the outcome of this may be that importers and exporters end up paying more to ship goods.”

Cargo owners contract with land transport operators to deliver their containers to and from ports and each stevedore is the sole provider of landside access, including to the rail network, to its respective terminal. Stevedores earn revenues from handling landside operations which are paid by truck and rail operators.

As such, the prices paid by land transport operators to use these terminals are largely set on a take-it or leave-it basis. Further, the distance between ports means competition between them is not very strong. Some are subject to oversight, however, such as rail handling fees, in certain states.

These services are essential, including the receiving and delivering of containers, yard services, storage, and other ancillary services to land transport operators.

Stevedores also generate more revenue for handling a full container from a landside perspective. This is because full containers incur infrastructure charges paid by truck and rail operators, while empty containers do not.

Road and rail land transport operators have raised significant concerns with the imposition of the charges given that they are not a product of commercial negotiation, according to the report.

Transport operators must use the stevedores to which they are directed and have no means to move their business in order to avoid price increases. Further, infrastructure charges will continue to increase, says the report.

The transport operators have also said that the increases impose a significant cash flow burden. Stevedores have increased the length of their payment terms, however, in order to assist with this.

“We understand from conversations with stakeholders that the transport industry is typically passing on the cost of the infrastructure charges to cargo owners. It also appears that many transport operators are adding an administrative fee on top of the infrastructure charge,” says the ACCC.

The scale of criticism from transport operators does suggest, however, that many are not able to fully recoup all the costs associated with the charges. This includes the burden on smaller operators needing to hold the debt until they receive payment from their customers.

“It therefore falls to cargo owners to ultimately impose a competitive restraint on infrastructure charge increases. Given that cargo owners have a degree of ability to switch to different shipping services, and by extension to a different stevedore, stevedores are not fully insulated from competitive forces in choosing to rebalance their prices towards the landside,” says the ACCC.

There are considerable limitations to cargo owners’ ability to competitively respond to the charge they concede.

Profitability across the stevedore industry, however, remains low with return on tangible assets falling from 27.8 per cent in 2011-12 to 3.8 per cent in 2018-19, though it varied between stevedores. This drop in returns is thought to be partly due to the growth in the industry’s asset base after investment in new container terminals in the east coast ports.

The increased charges helped lift the average revenue per container for the first time in seven years for the stevedoring industry, says the ACCC.

Arc Infrastructure committed to WA SuperNet

Arc Infrastructure have this week reaffirmed their commitment to the WA SuperNet project, a planned enterprise-grade, affordable broadband service along 4000km of WA’s grain railway line.

Arc Infrastructure, which manages the freight rail network on behalf of the state government, are on the WA SuperNet steering committee alongside CBH group, with whom their three years long arbitration was settled this week.

“Arc Infrastructure thank CBH for their support toward the (SuperNet) project to date,” Arc Infrastructure executive director Murray Cook said in a press release earlier this week.

“We will continue to work with WA Supernet, Innovation Central Midlands and both State and Federal Governments on this exciting project.”

The project is slated for completion within three years and involves 4000km of optic fibre, buried within the easements of the regional rail network. Forty-metre towers will be constructed at 100 CBH receival bins. Where there is no rail, radio deployment could be used on towers on CBH sites.

“Arc has invested over $500,000 into the project to date and expects to spend a similar amount during this next phase of technical studies over the coming months,” Murray said this week.

Tim Shanahan, who chairs WA SuperNet, in 2018 said that WA SuperNet is likely be structured as a not-for-profit, non-distributing co-operative, enabling the service to be delivered at competitive rates.

He said it was hoped the service could, where possible, dovetail with existing wholesale and retail providers, including the NBN.

Access to competitive, enterprise-grade broadband services continue to be one of the single biggest issues restricting operations in WA’s grain-growing businesses.

According to a 2016 KPMG report, Infrastructure for Smart Farming, high-speed digital connectivity will deliver a $1.2 billion return to the WA industry by helping agribusinesses to be globally competitive.

Freight infrastructure investment set to streamline supply chain

A number of government freight infrastructure projects are the subject of an Australian Logistics Council report on how to enhance them to be more “freight friendly”.

Australia’s overall freight volumes are expected to increase by 35 per cent by 2040 and, as such, more streamlined supply chains are needed.

The report, Help Us Deliver, released in late October, sets out how targeted infrastructure investments can enable the freight network to continue operating efficiently and safely.

“The dedicated professionals who make up our freight logistics industry work tirelessly to deliver about four billion tonnes of goods around Australia each year, which represents 163 tonnes of freight for every Australian,” ALS CEO Kirk Coningham said.

“However, our growing population, rising levels of congestion and decades of inadequate planning for freight movement are making the task harder.”

As such, the report sets out several opportunities to enhance existing infrastructure projects to make them more “freight-friendly”.

“We have also identified a number of new projects that we believe should be supported by the federal government in order to enhance the performance of key trade gateways, stimulating export and employment growth.”

The projects discussed in the report include ensuring that the Fishermans Bend redevelopment project enables efficient access to the Port of Melbourne by connecting Webb Dock to the freight rail network; supporting the construction of a dedicated freight rail link from Inland Rail to the Port of Brisbane; and, upgrading the rail track between Tarcoola in South Australia and Kalgoorlie in Western Australia.

Queensland rail bridges made stronger

Queensland Rail has announced that its $28 million project to replace 18 timber rail bridges with more durable structures is now complete.

“Over the last two years, Queensland Rail has been eliminating ageing timber rail bridges on the western line – some of which were more than 100 years old – and replacing them with stronger, more reliable, low maintenance steel structures,” said the minister for transport and main roads Mark Bailey.

The work included the replacement of a combined 830 metres of combined bridge length at 18 locations between Rosewood, near Brisband, and Chinchilla, and final works were completed at a bridge at Dalby in late October.

“The new steel structures are set to significantly reduce the time required for bridge maintenance moving forward,” said Bailey.

The structures now use untreated steel girders to serve as a more cost-effective alternative to concrete. Steel was sourced from One Steel and local companies were used for crane hire and labour, according to the government.

“It’s fantastic to see this investment not only bolster the strength of the rail line, but also support the local jobs and businesses along the way.”

The bridges are all along the western line rail network, which is a major freight artery for the Darling Downs and South West Queensland regions, transporting about 7,000 freight and passenger trains each and every year,

“It’s fantastic to see the West Moreton timber bridge replacement project reach the finish line. This major investment has modernised our infrastructure on the line and will ensure the ongoing safety and reliability of the West Moreton rail system.”


Slower trains to improve network performance, says Victorian government

A newly announced timetable change will mean 93 trains a day will run slower, on two overcrowded Melbourne lines, to make way for other faster services.

Cranbourne and Pakenham lines will see services delayed between one to up to five minutesfor the 160,000 people who rely on those line services on weekdays, when a new Metro timetable is released on Friday.

The timetable will come into effect in December on nine routes along the two lines, and are designed to account for the extra time trains spend stopped at stations while people get on and off.

Public Transport Victoria boss Jeroen Weimar explained that trains were spending longer at each station because more people were now using the rail network.

Due to the 93 slower trains, nine services will get Cranbourne and Pakenham commuters there two minutes quicker, while 10 services will run a minute faster.

Further changes will include Southern Cross Station opening earlier on Sunday mornings allowing people to transfer more easily between Night Network, metro and regional services to get home sooner.

The Geelong line will also have an extra Saturday morning service added to the timetable. To make room for this, the existing Warrnambool service will run express from Geelong to Footscray. Craigieburn and Upfield lines will use the station, where previously they ran express through to Flinders St early on Sunday mornings.

“Many Victorians work shift work to keep our city and state running while most of us sleep – we’re making it easier for them to get home by opening Southern Cross Station earlier,” said Public Transport Minister Melissa Horne.

Significant strides made towards light rail completion

Works towards building an underground substation in High Cross Park in Randwick has been completed, trams are running along the CBD and South East Light Rail route and daytime testing is underway on the Kensington and Kingsford line.

With the light rail to open before Christmas, the government has now indicated it will also consider scrapping the 1:30am lockout laws in the CBD scrapped before the end of the year.

As such, the government is prepared to run more light rail services after dark, as part of its push to revive the night life once the lockout laws are relaxed.

Transport Minister Andrew Constance said he would increase services “to meet the needs of the night-time economy if required”.

To celebrate the re-opening of the High Cross Park and to commemorate Remembrance Day, an artwork featuring large red poppies has been installed in the park.

When finalising designs of the CBD and South East Light Rail, the location of the Randwick Terminus (the end of the Randwick Line) that was initially planned for High Cross Park was relocated to High Street, enabling improved flow of traffic around the local area and saving the park.

Transport for NSW and Randwick Council negotiated to build a light rail substation underground instead, through innovative ventilation designs, which meant the park could be retained for the benefit of the community.

“I’m very pleased Council has been able to work cooperatively with Transport for NSW to relocate the originally proposed terminus from the park and to also underground a large substation beneath the park. This has preserved the space for the continued use of the community for future generations,” Randwick mayor Danny Said said.

During light rail construction, a World War II air raid shelter was uncovered during excavations at the park. The shelter formed a part of the defence system of air raid shelters and zig-zagging anti-aircraft trenches which were dug into open places such as parks. At the end of the war, the shelters and trenches were often backfilled, including this discovery at High Cross Park.

The final stages of work in High Cross Park involved energising the substation, this was completed last month and the park then handed back to Randwick Council.

Australia commits $8.5 million for National Freight Data Hub

A $8.5 million National Freight Data Hub, intended to help businesses and governments make better operational and investment decisions, has been announced.

“A well-designed Hub will improve access to and sharing of valuable freight location and performance data,” said federal minister for infrastructure, transport and regional development Michael McCormack.

“Access to better data means a more productive and resilient freight sector.”

Of the total $8.5 million commitment, $5.2 million will go towards the design of, including arrangements for data collection, protection, dissemination and hosting. The remaining $3.3 million will go towards the establishment of a freight data exchange pilot to allow industry to access freight data in real time and a survey of road usage for freight purpose.

The first discussion paper on the design of the National Freight Data Hub was released last week. It noted that there are several possible datasets to be incorporated into the hub, but that there is also an opportunity to improve accessibility to existing data sets.

“Sharing of freight data is also hampered by inconsistent and disparate approaches, such as data that cannot be compared across supply chains or states,” the paper notes.

Assistant minister for road safety and freight transport Scott Buchholz said the government is committed to helping meet Australia’s growing freight challenges and improve international competitiveness.

“Enhanced access to freight data helps industry, governments and others streamline day-to-day freight operations, make better investment decisions and evaluate the performance of Australia’s freight system,” Mr Buchholz said.

The Hub commitment builds on the comprehensive “Freight Data Requirements Study” from the iMOVE Cooperative Research Centre.