Canberra COVID

Election results keep rail on track in ACT and NZ

Election results over the weekend have reconfirmed the pipeline of rail projects on both sides of the Tasman.

In the ACT, where the Labor-Greens coalition government was returned with a likely increased number of representatives in the legislative assembly, future progress on the Canberra light rail is confirmed.

Prior to the election the opposition Liberals had cast doubt over the second stage of the project, suggesting that a connection to Belconnen should be built instead of the currently planned extension to Woden. ACT Labor has said that once the extension to Woden is complete, work will begin on a line from Belconnen to the Airport.

Public Transport Association of Canberra chair Ryan Hemsley said that light rail was a key election issue in the capital.

“Saturday’s election results have re-confirmed the trends we saw four years ago, with strong swings towards the government in Murrumbidgee and Brindabella cementing light rail as a vote-winner,” said Hemsley.

“In contrast to the pro-light rail policies offered by Labor and the Greens, the Canberra Liberals offered half-hearted and at times inconsistent support for the extension of light rail to Woden.”

Light rail also made an appearance in the New Zealand election which saw the Labour Party returned with a parliamentary majority. The party, which had previously governed in a coalition with the Green Party and NZ First, has committed to progressing the Auckland light rail project from the city centre to Māngere and the Auckland Airport.

The party has committed to continue investing in KiwiRail, which has received large cash injections in recent budgets to improve New Zealand’s rail infrastructure and freight services. Upgrades to Wellington’s commuter rail network are also part of the party’s platform.

Under investment in Auckland’s rail network was revealed earlier this year and led to a city-wide restriction on services. The most recent works have seen a 10-minute frequency returned to the Eastern Line and improvements between Otahuhu and Newmarket on the Southern line. Further work on the Southern Line between Homai and Pukekohe will continue for the next three weeks.

KiwiRail chief operating officer Todd Moyle said works have been completed efficiently and on schedule.

“During the first closure on the Eastern Line the teams met their target of replacing 20 km of rail and more than 3500 sleepers on the 10km between Panmure and the city centre,” he said.

“We are continuing to work with Auckland Transport to review our progress and plan the way ahead. We have agreed a programme of rolling line closures across the network is the best and most efficient way to progress this work over the coming months. For the next month our focus will remain on the Southern Line.”

Further network closures are planned for the Christmas period when patronage decreases.

Contractor announced for Gold Coast Light Rail Stage 3 construction

John Holland has been nominated as the preferred contractor to deliver stage three of the Gold Coast Light Rail.

The $709 million joint local, state, and federally funded project, will extend the light rail line to Burleigh Heads from its current terminus in Broadbeach.

John Holland prevailed as the successful contractor over two competing joint ventures, one of CPB Contractors and Seymour Whyte Constructions and another between Fulton Hogan and UGL.

Stage three is expected to be completed in 2023 and adds eight stations and 6.7km of dual track to the network.

The Gold Coast light rail line has successfully increased public transport usage along the corridor, and was heavily patronised during the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Bailey said extending the line further south would improve on these figures.

“We’ve seen more than 50 million trips taken on light rail since it first opened, which shows just how hungry Gold Coasters and visitors to the city are for better public transport.”

Construction will come at a time when Queensland is looking to get people into job, particularly in areas such as the Gold Coast where tourism-reliant businesses have seen less demand due to COVID-19.

“Because Queenslanders have managed the health response of COVID-19, it means the Palaszczuk Government has been able to get on with the job of creating jobs and continuing the state’s plan for economic recovery,” said Bailey.

“For businesses and people on the Gold Coast that means building that all-important light rail connection between the city’s north and centre towards the south.”

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the project would support more local jobs.

“Light rail on the Gold Coast is already a key local employer, supporting about 800 operational jobs, and the extension to Burleigh is expected to support more than 760 construction jobs.”

Keolis Downer will continue to operate the extended line.

Torrens Connect

Torrens Connect takes on Adelaide tram operations

Torrens Connect has now assumed control over operations of Adelaide’s tram network and selected bus lines.

Announced as the successful tenderer for the outsourced operation of Adelaide’s tram services and some bus services in March, Torrens Connect took over operations from July 5 under an eight year contract.

The consortium of Torrens Transit, UGL Rail Services, and John Holland partnered with technology provider Trapeze Group to smoothen the transition process, occurring during the height of COVID-19.

Trapeze worked with Torrens Connect through the bid process and roll out of services, said Ben Dvoracek, Trapeze general manager for rail in Australia and New Zealand.

“We are proud to be part of this changeover, with Torrens Connect selecting Trapeze Group for both the bidding process and long-term roll-out of the planning and scheduling software solution. It was a pleasure to work with the team and facilitate implementation in less than four weeks.”

Trapeze, which provides planning and scheduling platforms as well as enterprise asset management and intelligent transport systems solutions for rail operators, was used to test plans ahead of operations. This testing and modelling process ensured that the transition occurred without any disruption or delay to services, schedules, or rosters. Torrens Connect staff received training from Trapeze locally to enable the smooth handover.

“Using the Trapeze software to run simulation models, Torrens Connect provided accurate optimised timetables that were quickly implemented without impacting operations,” said John Holland service delivery manager Rachel Parkin.

The contract covers 24 tram sets, 200 buses, and employment of over 250 staff.

As part of the privatisation of Adelaide’s public transport, operators are expected to undertake service improvements, with public consultation held earlier in 2020.

ACT

ACT Transport Strategy outlines continued investment in rail

The ACT government has released its strategy to move Canberra as the city grows to 580,000 people by 2040.

The ACT Transport Strategy 2020 updated the city’s transport vision and further outlines a shift towards public transport, walking, and cycling as the future of mobility in Canberra.

ACT Transport Minister Chris Steel said that investment would follow this vision.

“To ensure Canberra remains one of the world’s most liveable cities we will continue to heavily invest in transport with light rail, high frequency rapid bus services, and improvements to key active travel links as well as maintaining our quality road network,” he said.

The Strategy also responds to changing transport patterns that have been seen since the arrival of COVID-19. With an uptake of walking and cycling, the strategy proposes using these changes as a way to drive more permanent behaviour changes.

“We want to harness the opportunity of the pandemic to permanently grow the number of people walking and riding in the community beyond COVID-19,” said Steel.

“An ACT Transport Recovery Plan will help facilitate a return to public transport, when the time is right, so that we can efficiently and sustainably move people around our growing city.”

In setting out the vision for Canberra’s transport network in 2045, the strategy proposes a number of key central links, along the city’s north-south and east-west spines. These would be complimented by orbital links. While the strategy does not explicitly state that these will be light rail lines, the central links largely follow the proposed light rail corridors, including future stages.

The Strategy also indicates a potential high-speed rail alignment, coming from the north of the ACT to the city centre or the Canberra airport. The Strategy states that the ACT government has begun corridor preservation for a future high-speed rail service.

“The ACT government continues to work closely with the NSW government to explore these opportunities with initial investigations into possible improvements to the Canberra Sydney service already underway,” the Strategy notes.

Demolition makes way for Gold Coast light rail

The demolition of a service station in Burleigh Heads has been completed, allowing construction to commence on the new Burleigh Heads station for the extension of Gold Coast Light Rail.

Stage three of the project will lengthen the line to terminate at Burleigh Heads and the project is getting closer to awarding the tender for major construction of the line.

Queensland Transport Minister Mark Bailey said that to assist businesses along the line a targeted program will manage the impacts of construction.

“There will be plenty of construction happening, which is why we want get in now before they start laying down the tracks to engage meaningfully with businesses to see how we can support as the next stage of light rail is built,” said Bailey.

Chairman of operator GoldlinQ John Witheriff said that the project was close to awarding the tender for the main construction works on the $709 million stage three.

“The review panel is now undertaking an extensive in-depth process to ensure value for money and the best engineering and construction solutions are delivered.”

Once complete, the extended light rail line will enable further transport improvements along the north-south spine of the Gold Coast.

“The Gold Coast has benefitted tremendously from light rail, with more than 50 million trips already taken, cutting traffic on Scarborough Street at Southport by 47 per cent and increasing pedestrian movement to Pacific Fair Shopping Centre by 180 per cent,” said Bailey.

“Once complete, we’ll see trams travel all the way from Helensvale to the sands of Burleigh beach for commuters, families and tourists, providing a long-term benefit for the city’s businesses, hotel and tourism operators, and of course the hundreds of ongoing light rail jobs.”

The demolition is part of preparatory works that are progressing as the state and local governments look to finalise details of stage four, which would connect the line to the Gold Coast Airport.

Light rail stop built as part of CIT Woden

A new light rail stop will be built as part of the construction of the Canberra Institute of Technology’s (CIT) Woden campus.

The light rail stop will be part of the replacement of the current Woden Interchange. More bus stops and bus layovers will be built as part of the new interchange on Callam Street to provide a safe and connected environment.

Construction on the public transport interchange will begin before the construction of the new campus, with works beginning in mid 2021. The new campus will be completed by 2025.

ACT Minister for Tertiary Education and Minister for Transport Chris Steel said that public transport is an essential part of the project.

“Better public transport is a key part of the project, with the construction of a new, safer interchange on Callam Street for buses and we’ll build Woden Station now ready for light rail to arrive,” Steel said.

“This project will create a new front door to Woden, with a well-lit pedestrian boulevard connecting the interchange, CIT campus, the square and Westfield for a more vibrant and welcoming Town Centre.”

The project now has to receive planning approvals before construction can begin.

The extension the current light rail line in Canberra from the city to Woden is in the approval stage. Both stage 2A from the city to Commonwealth Park and Stage 2B from Commonwealth Park to Woden are awaiting federal environmental approvals.

The announcement of the stop on Callam Street as part of CIT firms up the location of one of the stops on the Stage 2B route, with the rest at the indicative stage.

Services from the City to Woden are expected to commence in 2025.

The construction of the CIT campus and associated infrastructure is expected to cost between $250 million to $300m and support 520 jobs during construction.

Construction work on NSW rail facilities pass major milestones

The new maintenance facility to serve NSW’s New Intercity Fleet (NIF) regional trains and utility relocation for the Parramatta Light Rail have been completed.

The maintenance facility, located at Kangy Angy on the NSW central coast, includes six kilometres of electric rail lines, spread across seven tracks at its widest point, as well as a rail bridge, access roads, offices and amenities.

Constructed by John Holland for Transport for NSW, the maintenance facility will be operated by UGL Rail as part of the RailConnect consortium which has built, designed, and will maintain the new fleet.

UGL is now hiring staff for the facility, said Minister for Transport Andrew Constance.

“The maintenance facility has created employment, skills development and business opportunities on the Central Coast during construction and that will all continue into operation,” he said.

Testing of the NIF fleet has begun in Australia on the Blue Mountains with three trains having arrived so far. A total fleet of 55 trains with 554 carriages will be delivered to NSW and maintained from the facility at Kangy Angy.

In Parramatta, work is continuing on the construction of the Parramatta Light Rail. A micro tunnelling machine is boring 10 metres a day under Church Street, in the Parramatta CBD, also known as Eat Street.

Program director Anand Thomas said that since February 2020, 300 utilities have been identified and relocated to allow for the streets to be prepared for the light rail line.

“The relocation of utilities in Eat Street, including high-voltage power cables that power the CBD, Sydney water mains, Jemena gas crossings, 500 metres of stormwater pipes and thousands of metres of conduit, is complete,” said Thomas.

“This is a major achievement that enables us to get on with the all-important job of building the network.”

Work to install street lights, tree pits, and drainage on Church Street is continuing ahead of the reopening of the street on November 1 for a three month period.

“From 1 November 2020, as part of our commitment to the community, construction on Eat Street will cease, hoardings will come down, outdoor dining will be temporarily restored and we will deliver activities and events to attract people to the CBD,” said Thomas.

Sunshine Coast

Sunshine Coast Council pushing for mass transit solution

The Sunshine Coast Council has called on the Queensland state government to back its vision for a public transport system.

The council is currently in the process of evaluating options for a mass transit corridor that would form the spine of the region’s public transport network.

One option under consideration is the construction of a light rail line from Maroochydore to Caloundra, with stage one connecting Maroochydore to the Sunshine Coast University hospital.

Sunshine Coast Council mayor Mark Jamieson said that the rapidly growing region needed to shift from a transport system focused on private vehicles.

“All that this will do is increase congestion and pollution, create bitumen eye-sores on our landscape and inhibit our current and future residents in being able to reach the places they need to get to or love to visit, like the beach, shopping centres, health facilities or where they work,” he said.

“Is this really the future that our residents want to see on our Sunshine Coast? I don’t think so.”

Planning for a mass transit system has been underway since 2012, with consultants preparing a preliminary business case. A final business case is expected to be completed by 2021 jointly funded with the Queensland state government.

In an interim report, the option for a light rail network was ranked highest, above improvements to the bus network or the creation of a bus rapid transit corridor.

The report found that “only the LRT option [is] considered to have significant benefits”. Buses were not found to be able to achieve the urban renewal benefits that the project sought.

The population of the Sunshine Coast is expected to rise to over half a million by 2041. The Queensland government is currently upgrading the heavy rail line from Beerburrum to Nambour and investigations are currently underway for a spur line to Maroochydore.

Queensland Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey said in May 2019 that governments would look to an integrated transport solution.

“Now is the time for us to work together to map out what is needed and when, so that these major infrastructure projects have the best chance possible of securing the funding that will be needed to build them.”

Jamison said that it was essential the community came together to support the mass transit plan.

“Our council needs to keep working on the development of the business case for a mass transit solution – because if we don’t, our Sunshine Coast will get nothing from the other tiers of government and our residents’ lifestyles will be forever compromised.”

ACT

Canberra light rail extension takes next step in planning process

The ACT’s government’s plan for the extension of the current light rail line to Woden, in the city’s south, has taken the next step forward, with the ACT government releasing for public comment the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) preliminary documentation.

The documentation covers the stage from the city, where the current line ends, to Commonwealth Park, otherwise known as Stage 2A and supports federal approval of the line.

ACT Minister for Transport Chris Steel said this step meant that construction could soon begin.

“With the planning approvals set in motion for the extension of light rail to Commonwealth Park, work will continue to refine the project’s planning and design development with a view to construction starting as early as next year.”

The EPBC documentation covers measures the government will take to mitigate the light rail line’s impact on the critically endangered Golden Sun Moth. To address this, the preliminary documentation notes that there will be no need to install a traction power substation or connection power supply, while intersection and road layouts were refined.

The 1.7-kilometre Stage 2A will run without overhead wires to protect the cultural value of the centre of Canberra and improve visual amenity. Future light rail vehicles will travel on green tracks along Commonwealth Avenue, with landscaping besides and between the rail tracks.

Stage 2A will include three stops, one at Edinburgh Avenue on London Circuit, City South, and Commonwealth Park, where the line will terminate.

Chair of the Public Transport Association of Canberra Ryan Hemsley said the project would improve outcomes now and into the future.

“By extending Canberra’s light rail network, we can deliver a much-needed shot in the arm for Canberra’s construction industry, with the double benefit of providing improved public transport options in the longer term.”

Stage 2B, which will continue the light rail line to Woden via the Parliamentary Triangle, will require a more rigorous planning assessment process, and is expected to take up to 18 months.

At a press conference announcing the release of the EPBC preliminary documentation, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said that environmental approvals should be streamlined, with too many federal agencies involved in the project.

community

Rail safety a community responsibility

The experience around Australia when a new rail line is opened is that the community it serves flock to the service. On the Gold Coast, by the service’s fifth year of operations, over 10 million passenger trips were being taken a year. In the first year of operations of Newcastle’s light rail line, over a million passenger trips were taken. In both cities, the introduction of a light rail service grew overall public transport usage.

These figures were similarly replicated in Canberra, where the new light rail line well-exceeded patronage expectations. Prior to COVID-19, the system handled over 15,000 boardings a day, levels that the system was not expected to reach until 2021.

While these numbers would make transport planners happy and indicate the system’s success in getting people to where they need to go, for operators, the ongoing success of a light rail system is also down to its safety. Tilo Franz, general manager of Canberra Metro Operations, describes how the operator has channelled the community’s excitement with the new light rail line into ensuring safe day to day operations, particularly during Rail Safety Week.

“We try to include all community members, in particular schools, universities, and educational institutions of all kinds into our activities around Rail Safety Week.”

Safety initiatives to come from these collaborations have included wrapping the light rail vehicles with artwork from year 11 and 12 students to promote safety, to informing the community of the safety risks associated with light rail vehicles at depot visits. A strong focus has been on connecting with some of the younger riders in Canberra.

“Kids will certainly be frequent users of light rail in future,” said Franz. “The sooner they understand how to stay safe when using the light rail, that it’s no playground but a useful way to provide urban mobility, the better it is, and they will behave properly soon.”

In all three cities, Canberra, Newcastle and the Gold Coast, the newly instituted light rail systems were the first in their cities, apart from Newcastle’s tram network that was closed in the 1950s. Getting the community used to the system in this case is an extra consideration and requires their involvement.

“It is always difficult to introduce a brand-new railway system into an environment where you don’t have a history nor experience,” said Franz. “The community saw a construction site for almost three years and then suddenly, light rail vehicles (LRVs) are moving up and down the corridor at quite a significant speed. What is most important for all of us is to include the public into the evolution of the project, the message and to make them aware, to look out for fast approaching LRVs, because no technology will prevent them from injuries or worse if they step out in front of it.”

Another focus has been and will always be train driver training. With fewer physical barriers separating the rail corridor than on a heavy rail line, Canberra has conducted extra driver training.

“We have a basic driver training that we put every driver through, however we have enhanced and increased this training effort by having a defensive driver training. A fully packed LRV can be up to 60 tonnes travelling on a steel rail with a steel wheel, so you can imagine the braking distance is rather long. As a train driver, you have to have foresight while driving, you learn to read others using the road and adjacent to it in order to drive safely along the alignment.”

In Canberra in particular, where light rail vehicles travel at speeds of up to 70km/h and go through the intersections at 50km/h , there is a considerable risk if people do not take care in the corridor and ignore traffic lights or travel on the alignment where they shouldn’t be.

To address these risks, Canberra Metro has partnered with the Australian Federal Police and the ACT government to keep motorists, passengers, and pedestrians safe.

“We have identified hotspots, of course, of people running red lights on a frequent basis and we try to address that with the road authorities and to improve signage, or to make it clear that there’s no U-turn here because this is a light rail corridor,” said Franz.

For Rail Safety Week this year, Canberra Metro will be running a simulation exercise to highlight what can happen, and how the operator is prepared. The scenario will involve ACT police, emergency services, and local students will act as injured passengers during the event.

“This year, we will simulate a passenger having had an accident with our light rail vehicle inside as well as outside, being rescued, and afterwards the LRV being towed away simulating a technical breakdown,” said Franz. “This is to demonstrate that we are prepared for the worst. We do everything to prevent those accidents from happening, but we also want to use this opportunity during Rail Safety Week to train our own team and to interact jointly with the emergency services during incidents of which we might not be in control of but to limit the extent of damage or injury.”

Involving the community in safety is helping to ensure that Canberrans can continue to enjoy their safe and efficient light rail service.