Future of Auckland light rail back to drawing board

The New Zealand government has ended the current Auckland Light Rail process, Transport Minister Phil Twyford announced on June 24.

The process had seen two separate proposals delivered to the government, one from state-owned builder Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency and one from NZ Infra, a joint venture between the New Zealand Super Fund and Canadian pension fund investment CDPQ Infra.

The project’s future will be decided by the government after New Zealand goes to the polls in September.

“The Ministry of Transport and the Treasury will report back after the general election on the best option for this project to be delivered by the public sector. The Ministry of Transport and the Treasury will also engage with NZ Infra and Waka Kotahi about how work done on this project can support the next phase,” said Twyford.

“Auckland Light Rail will be New Zealand’s most complex infrastructure project in decades and it’s vital we get it right for future generations.”

The proposed light rail, which would have connected Auckland’s CBD with the airport, had been a source of contention between the two minor parties in the New Zealand coalition government. While the Greens had supported Labour’s plan for the project, Deputy Prime Minister and NZ First leader Winston Peters was concerned the cost of the project would blow out and wanted to focus on heavy rail instead.

Twyford thanked the bidders for their work and proposals.

“Either would have created hundreds of jobs and resulted in an Auckland metro that offered Aucklanders a 30 minute trip from the CBD to the Airport.”

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said he was disappointed with the outcome.

“It is frustrating that after three years, disagreement within the coalition has held this process up. It’s now less than 90 days until the general election and we expect the incoming government to act quickly and decisively to outline its proposal to get light rail built.”

New public transport minister in Vic cabinet reshuffle

A reshuffle of minister in Victoria has seen changes within the transport portfolios.

Ben Carroll has been appointed Minister for Public Transport and Minister for Roads and Road Safety, taking the Public Transport portfolio from Melissa Horne.

Premier Daniel Andrews said in a statement that the former Minister for Crime Prevention, Corrections, Youth Justice, and Victim, support would be stepping forward.

“Ben Carroll will step into the frontline roles of Minister for Public Transport and Minister for Roads and Road Safety, continuing to ensure we have the reliable and integrated transport network we need to get Victorians home safer and sooner.”

Melissa Horne will continue as Minister for Ports and Freight and has added Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation to her portfolios.

Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan has retained her transport portfolio and added the title of Minister for the Suburban Rail Loop.

“Jacinta Allan will lead the delivery of our biggest public transport project and reshape our suburbs as the Minister for the Suburban Rail Loop. She will also continue to oversee Development Victoria and the key transport precincts of Arden, Sunshine and the Richmond to Flinders Street corridor,” said Andrews.

The ministerial reshuffle follows the removal of Adem Somyurek, Marlene Kairouz, and Robin Scott after the branch stacking scandal.

In a tweet, Allan said that she was proud to be Minister for Suburban Rail Loop.

“Victoria’s biggest ever project which will change the way we move around forever – creating 10,000s jobs during construction and more jobs and services in Melbourne’s suburbs.”

infrastructure

Roads swallow federal infrastructure funding as ACT bags new light rail stop

In a flurry of infrastructure funding announcements, the federal government has only allocated funding for one new rail project, a new stop on the Canberra light rail line in Mitchell.

The stop, at the intersection of Flemington Road and Sandford Street, will be the 14th for the network. The federal government and ACT governments will each contribute $6 million.

The funding comes from the $1.5 billion of infrastructure funding announced by the Prime Minister Scott Morrison on June 15. As of June 22, roughly a third of the funding had been announced, with the light rail stop in Canberra the only rail project receiving funding.

In his address on June 15, Morrison noted that $500m of the funding would go towards road safety upgrades, and $1bn would be for non-mode specific “shovel-ready” projects that were identified by the states and territories.

So far, funding allocated under the ‘shovel-ready” project stream has been distributed to Queensland with $204.3m, Western Australia has received $96m, $13.6m to the NT, and $16m in the ACT.

Out of the hundreds of millions allocated to “shovel-ready” projects, $11m will go towards non-road projects, with $6m for the Canberra light rail stop and $5m for pavement rehabilitation along Northbourne Avenue, also in Canberra.

A federal government spokesperson said that further road and rail commitments to be funded under the $1.5bn infrastructure package will be announced in due course.

ACT Minister for Transport Chris Steel said that work would soon get underway on the new tram stop.

“Design is being undertaken on a 14th stop on the light rail line and we will work with Canberra Metro to build the station at Sandford St over the next year,” he said.

“The new light rail stop on Flemington Road at Sandford Street will provide better access to the Mitchell business district in addition to the existing stop at Well Station Drive.”

Melbourne Metro Train. Photo: Creative Commons / Zed Fitzhume

Performance figures in May outstrip April records in Victoria

The performance and punctuality of Victoria’s rail transport network improved again in May.

With April seeing some of the highest figures for on-time running and availability, May’s results were a step further.

Across all metrics except for tram reliability figures were higher in May than in April.

According to Metro Trains Melbourne, these figures were the result of a quieter network in May due to work from home restrictions imposed due to coronavirus (COVID-19). Patronage across the network decreased in May.

“We’re always striving to do better and this focus will support us as trains return to more normal patronage levels,” said a Metro spokesperson.

Train services in May were on time 96.2 per cent of the time, while 94.3 per cent of trams were on time and 92.8 per cent of regional trains were on time.

For reliability, 99.1 per cent of scheduled train services were delivered in May, while 98.6 tram services were delivered and 97.4 per cent of regional trains were delivered.

For V/Line services, the most reliable short distance line was the Seymour line, while the most punctual were services on the Geelong line. On the long distance lines, all Swan Hill & Echuca and Bairnsdale services were delivered, while services on the Warrnambool line were the most punctual.

Delays caused by people getting on and off services dropped due to fewer people on the Melbourne network, while trespassing and vandalism also fell.

With some restrictions in Victoria beginning to ease, transport operators are asking passengers to keep each other safe.

“Our priority is improving performance and delivering a reliable service for those who depend on our trains, so they can get to where they need to go,” said a Metro spokesperson.

trams

Melbourne trams get extra cleaning through Victorian government scheme

Yarra Trams is utilising the Victorian government’s Working for Victoria scheme to clean trams, depots, and high-volume stops.

The $500 million initiative aims to get Victorian jobseekers into work as the state recovers from coronavirus (COVID-19) mandated lockdowns.

300 jobseekers have been deployed around the Melbourne tram network to boost cleaning and allow commuters and passengers to travel safely, said Minister for Public Transport Melissa Horne.

“Our trams are seeing more cleaning than ever before, and passengers should be assured that we are doing everything we can to keep the network clean.”

Workers are cleaning the network between 7am and 6pm and high patronage stops such as Federation Square and Melbourne University and getting an extra deep clean. On busy corridors such as St Kilda Road, teams will be jumping on and off trams to increase cleaning frequency.

Minister for Jobs, Innovation and Trade Martin Pakula said the scheme benefited both the workers and the community.

“This is creating opportunities for people who have lost their job through no fault of their own and providing a crucial community service into the bargain.”

The extra cleaning is in addition to standard cleaning that occurs at the beginning and end of each service. High touch areas such as handrails and grab straps are cleaned at the beginning of each run.

Minister Horne acknowledged the important role that the extra cleaning was doing.

“I want to thank our hard-working team who are working around the clock cleaning, providing advice to passengers and keeping our transport network moving.”

Auditor-General calculates cost of Sydney light rail at $3.1bn

The final cost of the Sydney CBD and South East Light Rail will exceed $3.1 billion according to an NSW Auditor-General Report.

The $3.1bn figure is $200 million above the latest revised cost released by Transport for NSW (TfNSW) of $2.9bn, which was announced in November 2019.

The cost increase is the latest in a series of cost increases for the troubled light rail project. Initially costed at $1.6bn in 2012, the figure rose to $2.1bn in 2014. The cost rose again due to legal action taken by the builder that was settled in 2019.

The Auditor-General found that TfNSW omitted costs of early enabling works, the small business assistance package and financing costs attributable to project delays. The Auditor-General noted that TfNSW “has not consistently and accurately updated CSLER project costs, limiting the transparency of reporting to the public”.

A TfNSW spokesperson said that the small business assistance package is a short term expense and that these costs are not part of capital costs.

“TfNSW has always been transparent about the cost of the project and the Small Business Assistance Program since it was established in 2017 to support small businesses on the light rail alignment who believe they were negatively financially impacted by major civil construction of the light rail project taking longer than initially advised. TfNSW does not expect the construction cost for the CBD and South East Light Rail to exceed $2.99 billion.”

The report, which follows the opening of both the L2 line to Randwick in 2019 and the L3 line to Kingsford in 2020 also highlighted that the project’s projected benefits are still yet to be realised. Although journey times have been reduced since the line opened, by April 2020 the actual journey time across 97 per cent of services was almost 48 minutes, well above the contracted journey time of 37.5 minutes and the timetabled journey time of 40 minutes.

The project also aimed to reduce bus services between the city and south east, and the Auditor-General found that savings resulting from changes to bus services are “significantly lower” than the original projected benefit.

TfNSW said that changes to be made to the bus network will occur later in 2020 and the detailed plan is not yet finalised.

“It would be premature for TfNSW to outline the expected project benefits at this stage,” said a TfNSW spokesperson.

In its formal response to the report, TfNSW said that it would report the final cost in December 2020 after the project reaches completion and outstanding commercial issues are finalised. TfNSW also said that performance in the first months of the service will not reflect the long-term benefits, particularly due to the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Increases in population in the south east have led to growths in customer demand since the initial business case in 2012 and TfNSW said the addition of the light rail increases capacity.

The Auditor-General’s report did not consider the ongoing class action against TfNSW regarding the light rail line’s impact on businesses along the corridor.

Sydney light rail

Sydney Light Rail gets service boost

Nearly 900 extra services are being added to the Sydney light rail network, with an extra 810 services added to the L2 Randwick and L3 Kingsford lines.

294 services on the lines were added in May, however as of 9 June an additional 518 services are now part of the weekly timetable.

On the L1 Dulwich Hill line, 55 services have been added from 1am to 3pm to provide a constant 10 minute service on weekdays.

Minister for Transport Andrew Constance said that improvements have been made to the network while patronage numbers were lower during April and May.

“Since the L3 Kingsford Line opened to customers on 3 April, we have used the quieter than normal period to make improvements to traffic signal phasing and the infrastructure and systems in place,” he said.

The Sydney light rail line running from the CBD to the south eastern suburbs was initially criticised for slow average speeds, however Constance said that journey times have been decreasing.

“Since April, we’ve seen end-to-end journey times of around 38-40 minutes for both the L2 and L3 Lines.

“As the new timetable is bedded in, we will see further improvements to the end-to-end journey time with services running around 38 minutes on the L2 Randwick and L3 Kingsford Lines.”

The increase in services comes at a critical time as patronage on the public transport network in Sydney is increasing. Commuters are still required to maintain physical distancing while on public transport, and having extra services will allow this, said Constance.

The added services increase capacity across the light rail network by 26,900 spaces a week. The increase in frequency will see vehicles operating at 4-minute intervals between Circular Quay and Moore Park and every 8 minutes in the south eastern suburbs between 7am and 7pm on weekdays.

Construction in Parramatta CBD underway ahead of revitalisation efforts

Major works in the centre of Parramatta have begun, bringing the new light rail line from Westmead to Carlingford one step closer.

Work on Church Street in the city centre, also known as ‘Eat Street’ due to its diversity of restaurants and cafes, has commenced.

Crews will remove the existing pavement and road surface to conduct deep excavation and moving or replacing underground utilities such as water, gas pipes, and telecommunication services.

Minister for Transport Andrew Constance said that the project was moving ahead to bring the new light rail line closer to completion.

“We know the community is eager to see this light rail built and we will be working hard over the next five months to make the most of this time,” he said.

The works will involve a micro-tunnelling machine that will reduce noise and impact compared to street-level work. The machine will move up to 10 metres a day.

“Our construction timetable together with innovative engineering techniques will see this precinct through to a fantastic new light rail network that will bring passengers into the heart of Parramatta,” said Constance.

The winter works program will be sped up to ensure that as much is done as possible before a construction grace period from 1 November until February 1 so that locals and visitors can return to the alfresco dining precinct during the summer.

Member for Parramatta Geoff Lee said that to stimulate business activity during this period, the government will be sponsoring precinct activation works.

“We’re pleased to give businesses certainty that hoardings will come down at the beginning of November, giving everyone a break from construction,” said Lee.

“This is in addition to the many other ways we’re proudly supporting Eat Street.”

Initiatives include installing colourful shadecloth and hoarding, an app to attract patrons, a shop local competition, and business support programs.

Route 58

Tram route 58 gets track uplift

Tram route 58 is getting a major upgrade to improve services in Melbourne’s inner north, said Victorian Public Transport Minister Melissa Horne.

“We’re getting on with these works so we can give passengers better services and get them where they need to go.”

$3.7 million in funding is going towards the replacement of 1.2km of tram tracks, upgrades of overhead wires, and work on underground cables.

The work will begin on Friday, May 22, and continue until Monday, June 1.

While work is underway, buses will replace trams from Royal Park to the Bell Street and Melville Road terminus. Road closures in the area will also be implemented.

Route 58 runs from Pascoe Vale South via the Melbourne CBD and on to South Yarra and Toorak. Services from Royal Park to Toorak will continue while work is underway.

Horne said that the vital works will help the route cope with increased demand.

“Route 58 is one of our busiest tram routes and these upgrades will mean the system can cope with that demand.”

Measures are in place so that work crews and those in the surrounds do not come into contact and limit any chance of the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). Physical distancing requirements are in place at all worksites.

The work on route 58, although previously scheduled, comes after Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced that tram revitalisation works would be part of the state’s Building Works program, to get Victorians back into jobs and the economy moving again.

SPAD Working Group

The industry SPAD Group: Tackling a perennial issue through engagement and innovation

RISSB is coordinating the industry-driven SPAD Working Group.

Data from the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) shows that in the 12 months from March 2019 to February 2020, there were over 1,200 reported signals passed at danger (SPADs), more than 500 of which involved the limit of authority being missed by train crew. While there has been a reduction in the number of technical SPADs reported when compared to the previous 12-month period, the number of human factor SPADs reported has seen little improvement.

Given the substantial safety risks presented by SPAD incidents, the rail industry has created a SPAD Working Group. Originally established under the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) and led by Todd Bentley from Metro Trains Melbourne, the SPAD Group created a forum for rail managers, professionals to talk and share ideas. It initiated research projects to draw insights into this perennial issue and created an Australasian SPAD categorisation for reporting SPAD occurrences.

RISSB continues to co-ordinate this group, now led by Craig Dance from V/Line and industry representation is wider than ever, including members from New Zealand, covering heavy and light rail, freight and passenger operations.

The SPAD Group has instigated a number of research projects, led by associate professor Anjum Naweed from CQUniversity, many of which have been finalised with rich, practical industry outcomes.

Current projects include:

Training the train controller – It may seem counterintuitive, but controllers and signallers can inadvertently influence and even increase the likelihood of a SPAD. This project involves 10 rail organisations and focuses on non-technical skills training, an area that is seldom covered in adequate detail in current training approaches. A presentation on the outcomes of this project is planned for the RISSB Safety Conference in October this year.

SPAD pre-cursor behaviours – having initially collected over 200 SPAD reports from member rail organisations, more than 750 people subsequently completed a survey which examined a range of pre-cursor factors. These are being analysed by looking at system factors in a number of ways, including psychometrics, mindfulness and attention, driver behaviour, and sleep and work schedules.

Relieving drivers – this new project is aiming to gain a better understanding of current practices associate with relieving drivers and determining their return to work. It will identify what known risks are being mitigated when relieving drivers, including the perceived effectiveness of these mitigations, but also what unknown risks are being introduced, and how they may be controlled. Ten rail organisations are involved in this project.

The SPAD Group has also discussed a range of projects it proposes to examine in the next stream, including:

  1. Pro-forma development for SPAD investigations (through RISSB – a spin- off from SPAD Pre-cursor Behaviour project);
  2. SPAD risk and new technology and altered or new infrastructure;
  3. Risk Triggered Commentary;
  4. Mobile devices and distraction (update); and
  5. Establishing and sharing an education library of SPAD information.

The SPAD Group provides a forum for the industry to share successes, learn about new SPAD initiatives, and focus on key areas to mitigate SPADs.