Staff Writer

V/Line appoints new board members

The Victorian government has appointed three new directors to the V/Line Corporation Board, as well as granting a second term for existing director Rachel Thomson.

New directors Liz Roadley, Tom Sargant and Kevin McLaine possess organisation financial, asset management, accounting, public transport operations, strategic planning experience.

Returning Director Rachel Thomson has more than 20 years’ experience working both nationally and internationally in senior roles across risk management and insurance.

The appointments terms run through until 30 October 2022, and key priorities include continuing the ongoing modernisation and cultural change within the organisation.

“All Directors bring to the V/Line Board a wealth of relevant experience and knowledge, across a broad range of industries,” said minister for public transport Melissa Horne.

“Our three new Directors, Liz Roadley, Tom Sargant and Kevin McLaine are all well placed to help V/Line continue delivering the rail services regional Victorians need.”

Recently appointed Chair, Gabrielle Bell, and currently serving Deputy Chair Craig Cook, alongside the new directors, will oversee the organisation’s corporate governance. They will also work with chief executive officer James Pinder.

“The V/Line network is growing faster than ever before – central to making sure we can continue to deliver a more punctual, reliable and accessible regional rail system is a strong board of directors,” said Horne.

The announcement comes as John Donovan and Kay Macaulay finish their tenure on the V/Line Board after four years.

“I also want to thank John Donovan and Kay Macaulay for their dedication to V/Line during their time as Board Directors over the past four years,” said Horne.

New facility announced for digital innovation on Sydney trains network

Transport for NSW is establishing a new Digital Systems Facility in Chullora to support the integration of future technologies across the Sydney train network.

The facility will be built at the Rail Technology Campus at Chullora, and will enable the testing and integration of digital technologies into a simulated environment without disruptions to the rail network.

The Digital Systems Facility is is due for completion by the end of 2021, and forms part of the $831 million first stage investment to transform the Sydney Trains network.

The focus of the facility will be on replacing legacy signalling and train control technologies with modern, internationally proven, intelligent systems.

“This technology is a key enabler towards achieving the goals of Future Transport 2056, delivering increased capacity and significant performance, cost and safety benefits for both passenger and freight services,” said a Transport for NSW spokesperson.

The Digital Systems program will also include replacing trackside signalling equipment with the latest European Train Control System Level 2 technology, to provide faster and more consistent journey times.

A new Traffic Management System will also be introduced for more effective service regulation and incident management across the network.

Grain growers win access to grain freight rail network

A dispute over access to Western Australia’s Grain Freight Rail Network has ended, but grain trucks will still be used while the freight line remains closed.

Arc Infrastructure, which manages the freight rail network on behalf of the state government, and grain handling co-operative CBH Group have been in arbitration since since 2016 after failing to agree over the cost of access to the state’s grain rail network.

The outcome, CBH Group announced on November 1, provides CBH and grain growers access to the rail network at least until the end of 2026.

“The arbitrated outcome has resulted in our growers being in a better position than if we hadn’t sought access under the Code, resulting in a sustainable, long-term access agreement with minimum performance standards for the grain rail freight network,” said CBH Chairman Wally Newman.

“Our objective had always been to achieve a fair price for the level of performance provided so that WA grain growers can remain internationally competitive.

CBH claimed Arc had demanded “unreasonable” price rises, while the Canadian-owned rail operator said the costs of maintaining and upgrading ageing lines were significant and needed to be passed on.

Due to the deterioration of the Tier 3 lines, however, said Newman, they would not be re-opened as part of the arbitrated outcome. The Tier 3 network was closed by the state government in 2014 due to concerns over its viability and maintenance costs.

“Unfortunately, after years under ‘care and maintenance’ the capital costs associated with re-opening Tier 3 lines, as part of the arbitrated outcome, were substantial and the investment required was simply uneconomical for CBH to accept on behalf of growers as it would have required freight rates to increase significantly,” said Newman.

“While the costs are confidential, due to arbitration obligations, accepting these costs would have significantly impacted the international competitiveness of growers and the entire Western Australian grain industry as a whole.”

“In order to avoid a repeat of our experience, CBH will continue to engage in the State Government’s review of the Railways Access Code and push for substantial and immediate changes, with the objective of gaining reasonable access prices, greater transparency and more appropriate timelines for decisions,” said CBH Chief Executive Officer Jimmy Wilson.

“CBH will also continue to drive for fundamental changes to the Western Australian transport landscape in an effort to maximise tonnes we move on rail and to ensure we have the least cost pathway to export markets, keeping our growers internationally competitive and in support of our regional communities.”

Vital maintenance complete on Victorian regional tracks

Vital maintenance is now complete on regional tracks in Victoria, Minister for Public Transport Melissa Horne announced yesterday.

More than 60 staff worked on the $3.4 million project, replacing old track and point machines with more reliable infrastructure.

“The track that was replaced at Southern Cross Station is one of the most used and most complex pieces of track on the regional network – which is why this maintenance work is so important,” said Horne.

Passenger trains began using the replaced two critical sections of track near Southern Cross Station on the morning of Friday 25 October, after extensive testing of the new infrastructure had been completed.

The tracks funnel regional trains to and from Southern Cross Station, forming a crucial part of the network.

“Replacing the aging track with new modern infrastructure will improve performance and reduce the risk of delays or disruptions due to track faults in the area.”

The new tracks were laid with the help of installing machines and safety systems, which control the movement of the tracks to direct trains to and from different platforms.

During the work, trains were not running on the Albury line so that staff could perform major maintenance on standard gauge trains. The Australian Rail Track Corporation also used the opportunity to expedite the removal of several temporary speed restrictions between Seymour and Albury.

Trains from all regional lines will now benefit, according to the government, as disruptions at Southern Cross Station often have flow on impacts to the entire network.

Drones watch over Victorian train network on Cup Day

Victoria has deployed two drones to monitor the more than 1000 extra train services running racegoers to and from the Melbourne Cup Carnival in Flemington.

Metro Trains Control Centre and security staff alongside Victoria Police will monitor the train network, which is operating at a higher frequency, via the drones. The intention is to be able to respond quickly if there is an infrastructure issue or security incident on the track, and therefore improve the reliability of trains.

“Using drone technology, we’ll be able to get the best possible views of the train network, which will carry around half of the 300,000 racegoers expected to flock to the Melbourne Cup Carnival,” announced the Minister for Public Transport Melissa Horne yesterday.

This is the first time Metro Trains will use its own drone technology, complementing the 9,000 CCTV cameras already in place across Melbourne, with 10 specially trained pilots working across the four race days.

“We’re always working with our public transport operators to use new technologies that allow us to react quickly to anything that may occur anywhere on the train network,” said Horne.

Metro Trains and Victoria Police are spending $100,000 to tighten security for the race. A new mobile CCTV trailer, complete with thermal night-time, will also be used along the Flemington Racecourse line.

It is intended to target vandals and trespassers on the tracks, following major train delays over the past two weeks caused by the theft of copper cables which forced morning commuters off trains and onto buses.

The trailer includes a six-metre mast carrying a zoomable camera, as well as a thermal imaging camera, providing clear vision at night or in areas with little or no light.

Both technologies will help reduce the impact of train and track faults across the network, getting trains and racegoers moving as quickly as possible.

Sydney light rail. Artist's impression: Transport for NSW

Trams to test new Sydney light rail timetable

Testing of the new Sydney light rail line’s timetable will start in two weeks and transport officials are warning that the frequency of trams means pedestrians need to be extra vigilant.

Trams will run every four to six minutes through Sydney’s busy CBD from mid-November to simulate the line’s timetable ahead of passenger services starting in December. Driver training is also taking place along the line from Randwick to Circular Quay.

Transport for NSW’s coordinator general Marg Prendergast said testing has meant an increase in cases of poor pedestrian behaviour, as well as vehicles blocking intersections as more 67-metre long trams have been running along the line.

“Because we have had roads closed [for construction], we have had behaviours develop where people just don’t expect anything to be running. We need people to realise that it is real, and you have to look both ways,” Prendergast said..

The most common incidents are pedestrians stepping in front of trams – and in some cases people walking into the side of them – and cars blocking intersections, preventing trams from crossing.

Prendergast has said that the opening of the light rail line is a bigger challenge than the that of the Metro Northwest rail line in May, partly because crowd management plans had to be developed for every tram stop.

“It is the most complex operation I have ever seen – it’s harder than the Olympics. The Olympics were two weeks and you could close anything,” she said. “We have got this brand new bit of infrastructure and a major new operation about to start, running through the centre of a very live city.”

Lobby group wants new fast rail option for Gold Coast

Public transport lobby group Rail Back on Track has suggested an elevated fast rail alternative to building a secondary motorway to the Gold Coast.

Rail Back on Track wants a 160km/h elevated rail line built along a section of the M1 between Beenleigh and the Cross River Rail at Dutton Park rather than the eight-lane Coomera Connection. The Queensland government last week confirmed it was in favour of building the Coomera Connection as a second M1 route to the Gold Coast

“Rail Back on Track fundamentally believes that if a massive 8 lane motorway is clogged and we are building a new one just a few kilometres away, we are at the point where fast rail between Brisbane and the Gold Coast is absolutely viable and a higher priority,” said spokesperson Robert Dow.

“Will we be talking about a third M1 in another 20 years time when this new one inevitably fills up? Rail infrastructure can carry and move more people and caters to growth effortlessly. Take the Merivale Bridge, it has taken over 40 years to reach capacity!

The group proposes a new dedicated express route running directly along the M1 as a long term solution, believing it would slash travel times.

“Obviously, Cross River Rail remains the number one priority for the rail system, but we cannot lose momentum, sit on our hands, and ignore the next round of crucial rail system improvements,” said Dow.

“A project such as this would indeed cost billions and wouldn’t be complete until the late 2020s, but it offers a real, permanent solution for travel along the corridor than just continuing with the disruptive and unsustainable process of building more and more motorway lanes every few years,” said Dow.

According to The Age, Transport Minister Mark Bailey responded saying that the M1 transport corridor was already used by buses and had a cycle route.

“Fast rail is expensive, so the Morrison federal government must be ready to significantly contribute to it if it is to happen,” he said.

Andrew Constance demands build of metro train yard within 2 years

NSW transport minister Andrew Constance yesterday publicly criticised the secretary of his department, after the secretary expressed doubts about a two-year time frame for the build of the new Sydney metro train yard.

Secretary Rodd Staples told a budget estimates hearing on Monday that the Sydney Speedway track in Western Sydney, which will be seized by the state government in 2021, could take more than two years to convert into a train yard for a new Sydney Metro line

“When I spoke to the bureaucrat (Mr Staples) overnight he said ‘I was just concerned about the planning approval process’. Well no, get on with it champ,” said Constance, according to a transcript of Ray Hadley’s 2GB radio show.

“I don’t want to publicly denigrate a good secretary but he’s just got to get on with this … This is not a complex build. I mean, it is a clay track.

“Even the pits, I mean It’s just asphalt being laid on the ground in an open space so they can do the work to the cars.”

“Two years to build a speedway? For goodness sake. They built Newcastle light rail, the construction, in a 12 month period. So I’m pretty confident we can put a clay track down, build some stands for the fans, put in a pit. I mean this is not complex work. And the best thing about this is there’s already dedicated motorsports at Eastern Creek so let’s go find the site and get on with it old mate. So that’s what I’ve said to him.”

When asked to comment by The Australian, the secretary stated: “I look forward to continuing to deliver the government’s $55.6 billion transport infrastructure agenda.”

Wollongong rejects possibility of a light rail

Wollongong city council has rejected a bid for it to investigate the possibility of a light rail network.

According to the local paper Illawarra Mercury, councillor John Dorahy pitched the idea of a light rail for the Wollongong CBD and for improved connectivity to the outer suburbs on Monday night.

The motion received no support and was criticised as too expensive. According to the Illawarra Mercury, deputy mayor Tania Brown called it a pipe dream.

“It is not council’s responsibly to fund a feasibility study. Studies cost money and we do not have rail expertise on staff, so we would have to outsource this at considerable expense,” said Brown.

Another councillor, David Brown, suggested that the light rail was not necessary.

“I think [light rail] is a solution is search of a problem, Wollongong does not have a congestion problem at present. It’s not hard to get from suburb to suburb, its not hard to get around the CBD… especially because of our beautiful green bus,” said Brown.

Brown also pointed out that a light rail system could cost $545 million just to link Wollongong hospital to the beach, going off Sydney’s light rail figures.

Brown did, however, suggest the idea be considered as part of the city’s next 10-year plan. This motion was supported by other councillors.


Inland Rail seeks improvement ideas

The federal government is seeking ideas on how to improve national connectivity and drive supply chain productivity from the 1,700km freight rail line, as part of a $44 million Inland Rail Interface Improvement Program.

Supply chain managers, local businesses, community representatives and freight and train operators are invited to submit projects for investigation under the program, according to a government statement on Tuesday.

Expressions of Interest (EOI) for the first round of business cases under the program are due by the end of October. Suitable projects will be matched with a service provider funded by the Australian Government under the program.

“The Australian Government has invested up to $9.3 billion in the construction of Inland Rail and we are committed to maximising the returns for our industries, cities and regional towns to benefit from the fast, reliable and joined-up freight network,” Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said.

Under the two-year Inland Rail II Program, there is funding for a $20 million Inland Rail Productivity Enhancement Program (PEP) to assess the costs and benefits of proposed improvements to the interface between supply chains and Inland Rail, with a view to improving supply chain and community resilience.

Another Inland Rail II program is the $24 million Inland Rail Country Lines Improvement Program (CLIP) to assess the costs and benefits of proposed improvements to country lines that intersect with Inland Rail, with a view to potentially accommodating longer, heavier and faster trains.

“A CSIRO pilot study from earlier this year demonstrated Inland Rail will bring average costs savings of $76 per tonne for key agricultural products,” Minister for Regional Services, Decentralisation and Local Government Mark Coulton said.

“We know every town and supply chain is different and a one-size-fits-all approach to connect communities to Inland Rail won’t work.

“Inland Rail will connect our regions to an enhanced national freight network, and no one knows better how to maximise these connections than regional producers and communities.

“We are encouraging local people to come forward with innovative ideas and are committed to testing value ideas through a rigorous business case process.

Under the programme, which was announced in the 2019 Budget, strategic business cases will investigate opportunities to upgrade the Gilgandra-Coonamble line, improve road/rail interface at Narrabri and enhance the connection at Baradine’s grain silo to facilitate better connections between local communities and Inland rail.

The local city council of Logan, in central Queensland, says it will provide submissions to the Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport – which is currently examining the project management of Inland Rail. The council says that the proposed route runs through what will become one of the city’s most populated areas, and that residents have raised concerns over it.