Light rail

Making light rail work

At the ARA’s Light Rail 2020 conference, chief projects officer of Major Projects Canberra Duncan Edghill outlined how the Canberra Light Rail has become part of the fabric of the city.

For successful rail transport projects, looking back on a project once it is complete can reveal insights into a project that were not apparent in the busy construction phase.

For the Canberra Light Rail project this was no different, as chief projects officer of Major Projects Canberra, Duncan Edghill, highlighted in a recent speech to delegates at the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) Light Rail 2020 conference.

With stage one being the largest infrastructure project ever undertaken by the ACT government, the light rail generated an intense community discussion throughout planning and construction phases, however now in operation, the city has taken to the service with gusto. With a year now under its belt, the initial case for the project has not only been met, but exceeded.

“As an example, in the first three weeks of 2020 versus the same period in 2019 there was an increase of over 10 per cent of public transport journeys taken across the ACT,” said Edghill.

“It’s quite a step change.”

Prior to the project, Canberra was only served by a bus network, even though trams were included in Walter Burley and Marion Mahoney Griffin’s plan for Canberra. Such a change in transport infrastructure meant that the project was focused upon by the local community and businesses, meaning that every decision of the project team was on full display. In addition, the project ran along a major road artery, leading it to intersect with many residents’ lives before operations began.

“When you’re building light rail and it’s spread out over many kilometres, everyone can see what you’re doing,” said Edghill. “As we move into future stages, we will need to give consideration to issues like, ‘How will this shade cloth that we’re putting up now look in two years?’ and how do we pay attention to things like controlling weeds?”

On a commercial side, with further stages planned for the future, being delivered as a public-private partnership meant that the eyes of the infrastructure business community were also on the strip of Northborne Avenue which the light rail would run down.

“The overall commercial focus was really a genuine desire to treat the project as a partnership and to be seen as a commercial and pragmatic partner,” said Edghill. “We want Canberra to be the sort of place where you can come and do business with confidence and with a reasonable partner.

“Of course, in pretty much all big projects claims arise, but a real positive for both sides here was when we get to operations we cleared the deck of any outstanding commercial matters. Given the complexities of starting a light rail system for the first time it was really important that we focus on the important thing, which is getting the operations right rather than dealing with commercial issues [after the project opened].”

Another decision made at the beginning of the project came from the political side, but was instrumental in ensuring the project’s future success, said Edghill.

“The ACT government had resolved signal priorities for the light rail vehicles (LRVs) on an intersection basis. That was a decision that was taken in cabinet because it was a policy decision at the outset to provide LRVs with high levels of priority at intersections.”

Combined, these decisions led to a system that, now into its second year of operating, has surpassed initial hopes.

“Business case expectations have been exceeded across the public transport network system as a whole,” said Edghill. “It’s proof that, when it’s well thought through and well- integrated into the broader public transport network, light rail works.”

PROJECT INTEGRATION KEY TO LIGHT RAIL SUCCESS
When designing and building the light rail Stage 1, the delivery partners were also able to consider the wider impact that the project would have, and how to integrate these for the best outcome for the city as a whole.

“In Canberra’s case, the introduction of light rail actually led us to revisit the fundamental principles underpinning the entirety of the rest of the transport network,” said Edghill. “Before light rail we had a bus network where mode share is less than what we’ve targeted – long circuitous bus routes, sub optimal network frequency, a few very high capacities frequent routes and then a school bus system.”

In line with the opening of the light rail line from Gungahlin in the city’s north to the city centre, Transport Canberra redesigned the bus network to have higher frequency services on key corridors. Edghill noted however that the process will never be without its critics.

“There are some key lessons to draw from this process; you can’t begin consultation early enough, you’re not going to please everyone, and you will have to make some tough decisions. There will be those who in time benefit from the system, but they’re not the ones who are going to be writing letters to the editor now.”

With an entirely redesigned bus network, comparing a before and after is not like for like, but Edghill is confident that the changes have had a positive impact.

“What we have seen, on an aggregate level, is public transport has risen across the network. We introduced six new high frequency bus routes at the same time light rail was introduced and the high-speed bus network has proven to be really popular.”

Outside of the transport network, the impact of a light rail project on the businesses along the route has been a key concern for other projects. In Canberra this was no different, and the light rail work coincided with a number
of developments along Northbourne Avenue, causing disruption to nearby business owners.

“When you’re living in project world, it’s really easy to focus on your own project, but from the perspective of a business owner or a shop owner they don’t’ distinguish between your project and another project,” said Edghill. “At Gungahlin the light rail project coincided with a number of other construction projects.”

DESIGN DRIVING OUTCOMES
Having weathered the impact of construction, businesses are now embracing the light rail, said Edghill. Although not a scientific study of impacts, Edghill recounted examples of tea towels, paintings, and coasters now with the light rail imprinted upon them. For those that worked on the project, these are examples of where the project has gone beyond what could be quantified in the business case.

“People ask what makes me most proud to be involved in Light Rail stage one project? Is it the patronage, which is going gangbusters, the corridor development we’re seeing, is it delivering it on time and under budget? What is it that gives me the greatest satisfaction? All of these things are important of course but I think what actually struck me most is the fact that light rail has already become a shorthand for Canberra.”

Edghill puts this down to the nature of the project and its commitment to good design.

“The canopies are distinct to Canberra, the artwork is bespoke at each stop, the colour palette subtly speaks to Canberra institutions, the LRV seat livery was designed by a local Indigenous artist, the dynamic lighting allows us to change the lighting to different colours in response to local events, and there’s a high quality of workmanship.”

While these features could be seen as optional extras, Edghill counselled that the design elements are what defines a light rail project well after construction has ended.

“We all avoided the temptation to engineer out the project’s design qualities and I think that’s a very important lesson,” he said. “These projects obviously represent a very significant investment, and long after people stop thinking about the cost we’ll be thinking about the system and ultimately smart architectural design is a small part of the overall investment.”

In the end, Edghill says, the light rail project is not just about mobility.

“One of the most important things that we tried to keep in mind when embarking on the light rail project was recognising that it’s not only a transport project. Yes, light rail moves people from A to B and that’s undoubtedly of great importance, but just as importantly it shapes how our city looks and shapes the development of the light rail corridor.

“No matter how successful patronage will be, there will always be more people looking at the system than using it. For that reason, the final design of the system is something that is particularly relevant.”

These design elements will be continued as the ACT government looks to the next stages of the light rail project. As Stage 2A progresses to the waterfront, stage 2B then continues to Woden, and with plans for further extensions on the East-West spine of the city, ensuring that the light rail project remains integrated, and well-designed will be key.

“Light rail is really about servicing the future development of the Acton waterfront and convention centre and other things that will come to the centre of Canberra in time,” said Edghill.

“The project is as much about urban regeneration as it is around transport.”

team

Commuters warned to stay off public transport during peak hour

Commuters are being warned to avoid taking public transport in peak hours to reduce the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

In a press conference on Friday, May 15, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said that people should not get on buses and trains in the state unless necessary.

“We don’t want any more people at this stage catching public transport in the peak. If you’re not already on the bus or train in the morning do not catch public transport,” she said.

Throughout the lockdown period NSW has run trains to a normal schedule to maintain capacity so that passengers can social distance, however with more workplaces opening up and people returning to work, there are concerns about the number of people on the services. Berejiklian said limiting passenger numbers would help to limit the spread.

“And I stress that strongly because we know overseas public transport was the main reason why the disease spread. At this stage we are maintaining good social distancing but we’re going to be very strict about that.”

Transport Minister Andrew Constance said that current patronage levels were reaching the capacity limits set to ensure physical distancing on public transport.

“Everyone will need to maintain physical distancing during this pandemic,” said Constance.

“That means if you are not already using public transport during the peak times, please do not use public transport during peak periods.”

Transport for NSW and Sydney Trains have put in extra measures to reduce crowding on services, including communication campaigns and managing numbers at stations using Opal gates.

“We will be monitoring patronage and have staff at key locations across the metropolitan area to assist customers,” said Constance.

A ‘no dot, no spot’ campaign will be used on trans to indicate where the safest places to sit and stand are. If a service is full, passengers will be asked to wait. Data will also be used to communicate what services have space via apps, social media and Transport Info.

Commuters in Adelaide were also asked to avoid using public transport. Travellers on the Gawler Line have been experiencing crowding partly due to 50 of the city’s 70 diesel trains being taken out of service due to a mechanical fault. South Australia chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier told local radio that crowded public transport should be avoided.

“I think it would be much safer to avoid getting on any public transport where you can’t do the social distancing,” she said.

Some jurisdictions around Australia have been encouraging commuters to use more active modes of transport such as walking or cycling to counter overcrowding on public transport and roads once work patterns begin to return to pre-COVID-19 norms.

Budget allocates $1.2bn for rail in NZ

NZ$1.2 billion ($1.11bn) has been earmarked for rail in New Zealand’s 2020 budget.

The NZ Coalition government has targeted investment in track and locomotives, as well as a replacement for the Interislander ferries as key initiatives in the first post-coronavirus (COVID-19) budget.

State owned enterprises minister Winston Peters said that rail was critical for the country to emerge after the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns.

“Rail is a critical part of our integrated transport network. Not only is investment essential to address decades of under-investment, but further investment in rail will play an essential role in our economic recovery post-lockdown,” he said.

Peters’s responsibilities cover state-owned rail operator KiwiRail, which owns most of the rail track in New Zealand while also providing freight services and the Interislander ferry, which is rail-enabled. The budget approved $400 million for new Interislander ferries and port-side infrastructure. This will enable KiwiRail to tender for international builders to design and construct two new rail-enabled ferries for delivery in 2024-2025 said KiwiRail chief executive, Greg Miller.

“Our Cook Strait ferries are an extension of State Highway 1, moving 800,000 passengers and up to $14 billion worth of road and rail freight between the North and South Islands each year,” he said.

“They are a must have for NZ Inc. The two new rail-enabled ferries will be more advanced, have significantly lower emissions and last for the next 30 years.”

In addition, $246m was allocated for investment in rail track and $421m for new locomotives, which will help shift freight onto rail, said Miller.

“The Government’s investment allows us to continue with our locomotive replacement programme and raise the standard of our rail lines, bridges and tunnels across the country. This will enable KiwiRail to offer better and more reliable train services for our customers and move more of New Zealand’s growing freight task onto rail,” he said.

Funding will be targeted at areas with significant freight demand, such as the Auckland-Hamilton-Tauranga triangle, the North Island Main Trunk Line, the Midland Line from Rolleston to Stillwater, and the Main South Line from Lyttleton to Rolleston. The funding also includes upgrades to Wellington Railway Station, damaged in the Kaikoura earthquake, and resilience work on the National Train Control Centre.

“This funding recognises that rail has a greater role to play in New Zealand’s transport sector, and that it can make a valuable contribution towards lowering our transport emissions, reducing road congestion and saving in road maintenance costs – which benefits our nation as a whole.”

Rollingstock upgrades are expected to include 10 new main line locomotives in the North Island, the first tranche of replacement locomotives for the South Island, 10 electric/battery powered shunting vehicles, the first order of 20 short haul locomotives. The first locomotives are expected to arrive in NZ from late 2022. KiwiRail freight locomotives will also be upgraded for electronic train control to operate on the Auckland network.

An ongoing extension of previous funding
The $1.2bn comes in addition to the $1b allocated in the 2019 budget and will continue to modernise the NZ rail network.

“KiwiRail is a major contributor to New Zealand’s infrastructure projects, and currently employs almost 4,000 people,” said Peters.

“The investment in rail infrastructure, is not only helping to secure the thousands of existing jobs at KiwiRail but will be a huge boost to New Zealand’s civil engineering and construction sector, with hundreds of contractors, and their material suppliers, needed nationwide for track renewal, mechanical facility upgrades and ferry terminal projects.”

In addition to the direct funding, legislative changes will allow for network investment to occur through the National Land Transport Fund. An extra $148m has been earmarked for investment through this fund once the legislation is passed.

NZ has been part of the Australasian rail renaissance, with the Transport Minister Phil Twyford releasing the NZ Rail Plan in December 2019 that outlined the priorities for investment in the rail network.

“The Coalition Government has a bold vision for a 21st century rail network as outlined in the draft New Zealand Rail Plan. We need a resilient and reliable rail system to support freight and get our cities moving,” said Twyford.

“Budget 2020 builds on the substantial investments we’ve already made in rail through past Budgets, the Provincial Growth Fund, and the New Zealand Upgrade Programme which will help future proof the economy and reduce emissions.”

Light rail misses out
In the budget announcements there has been no mention of the Auckland Light Rail. The project was included in the coalition agreement signed between Labour and the Greens however with an election in September 2020, it seems unlikely that funding will be allocated in this term of government.

Twyford confirmed to NZ media that the light rail project is on pause while the government responds to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Two bids have been received for the project, one from private sector backed NZ Infra, and one from the government transport authority NZ Transport Agency.

Recycled

Recycled materials in use at multiple transport projects

Recycled materials are being used on transport projects in Victoria and NSW, making the most of the many infrastructure projects currently underway.

In Melbourne, the newly opened Kananook Train Storage Facility, located in Seaford, used over 11,000 tonnes of recycled rail ballast. The ballast was previously in use on the Melbourne train network and was extracted during the Carrum Level Crossing Removal Project. Instead of going to waste, the ballast was used to build the new storage facility.

The re-use of materials such as ballast reduces the use of raw materials and cuts associated energy used in the mining and transportation of these materials. The project’s environmental impact was also improved by the installation of solar panels on the building’s roof.

The Kananook Train Storage Facility will allow for more trains to run on the Frankston line. A signal control centre at the same site will also help to minimise disruptions by centrally managing train movements. The site includes room for further train storage or a train maintenance facility if required in the future.

In NSW, the Parramatta Light Rail project, which is partly following the former Carlingford Line corridor, has maximised the retention of rail infrastructure from the former line.

Over 15,000 metres of single rail, 13,650 rail sleepers, 13,000 metres of overhead wire and the existing track ballast will be reused on the new light rail line.

Across the entire 12km light rail route, which travels from Westmead, via the Parramatta CBD to Camellia and finishes in Carlingford, recycled components will provide around 30 per cent of the track.

Victorian

Victorian transport operators exceed all performance and reliability targets

Victorian public transport operators have exceeded all punctuality and reliability targets in April.

The figures were some of the highest in the past year, and some operators recorded the highest results since data was being measured.

The results were largely due to fewer people on the network and fewer disruptions due to stay at home directives issues by the Victorian government to limit the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), according to a statement from Metro Trains Melbourne.

“A quieter network means more trains are able to get to their destinations sooner, which is important for the Melburnians who still depend on our services.”

A Department of Transport spokesperson also acknowledged the impact of fewer people in the transport system.

“The lower patronage on the public transport network combined with fewer cars on the road has resulted in an improvement in punctuality for our trains and trams in April,” said the spokesperson.

“The improved result was also due to a reduction in incidents, such as track and infrastructure faults and ill passengers on the network.”

Metropolitan train services were punctual 96.2 per cent of the time, and 99 per cent of services were delivered. This exceeded the respective 92 and 98.5 per cent targets.

Metro Trains Melbourne said that there were fewer incidents on the network during April, which also improved performance.

“In April we saw fewer faults impacting our trains and equipment meaning a more reliable journey for passengers,” the operator said in a statement.

“There were also fewer disruptions caused by weather events, trespassers and police operations.”

Regional train services were similarly above targets, with 92.1 per cent on time and 97.4 per cent of services delivered. The most reliable short distance line was the Seymour Line with 99.1 per cent of services delivered and the most punctual were services on the Geelong line.

Of the long-distance lines, Warrnambool, Albury/Wodonga, Swan Hill and Echuca, and Shepparton lines all saw 100 per cent of services delivered. The most on time services were on the Warrnambool line, with 99.3 per cent delivered within 10 minutes and 59 seconds of the scheduled time.

The punctuality of tram services was well above the 82 per cent target, with 93.8 per cent of services arriving on time. 99.2 per cent of services were delivered, exceeding to 98.5 per cent target. Both figures were the highest for the past 12 months.

Land values increasing along Canberra light rail corridor

Light rail has delivered a significant uplift in land values along the corridor, a new report for the ACT government shows.

The Benefits Realisation Report, produced by Major Projects Canberra, showed that blocks alongside the light rail line had an average increase of unimproved value of 35.2 per cent. The average figure for the ACT during that period was 21.7 per cent.

ACT Minister for Transport Chris Steel said that the light rail line was bringing growth to the capital.

“Canberrans can already see the broader economic and social benefits that light rail has brought to our city,” said Steel.

“This is a long-term infrastructure investment, and more benefits will continue to be realised and measured over the years and decades to come.”

Part of the review process also involved getting feedback from businesses that are located close to the line. According to a statement from the ACT government, these businesses saw an increase in revenue, footfall, or access for customers and staff as a result of the light rail.

Steel said that the learnings from the report will inform future delivery of the project as Stage 2A from the City to Commonwealth Part progresses, and Stage 2B connects the light rail to the southern suburb of Woden.

“There are lessons to be learnt from every project, and the lessons from stage one will help better support our local businesses for stage two,” said Steel.

“Construction on major projects can be disruptive but we will be enhancing our communication with those affected by future projects and will better advising them about construction schedules and plans.”

The data from the report highlights how increases in land value can be used to justify, and potentially fund, rail infrastructure projects. In the business case for the Canberra Light Rail, the ACT government found that other light rail lines resulted in an increase in property value of up to 20 per cent, a figure not found with new bus routes.

Research conducted at the University of Queensland found that along stage one of the Gold Coast light rail line, land values increased by 7.1 per cent higher than otherwise. Research and findings such as these have been used to justify value capture mechanisms for the funding of transport infrastructure, and in the case of the Gold Coast, the Gold Coast Council instituted a levy on property owners to partly fund the light rail line.

The Benefits Realisation Report also found that light rail construction drove employment figures.

“Stage 1 of light rail created 4750 jobs, with 75 per cent being local sustainable jobs. Stage 2 of light rail will also have an important role to play in supporting more construction jobs and supporting the ACT’s economic recovery,” said Steel.

So far, the Canberra light rail has increased public transport usage in the city, with 4.2 million trips by public transport in the 12 months since the project was finished.

“From the very beginning of operations light rail has proved itself as a huge success, with the project coming in under budget and seeing an immediate jump in public transport patronage,” said Steel.

Growing a nation-building industry

Fourteen days into her tenure as CEO of the ARA, Rail Express sat down with Caroline Wilkie for an exclusive interview – her first major interview since taking over from incoming chairman, Danny Broad.

In her opening address to the Australasian Railway Association’s (ARA) Light Rail 2020 conference, the new CEO of the ARA, Caroline Wilkie highlighted that the next 10 to 15 years would see the opening up of major opportunities across the rail sector.

In almost each major city in Australia, a new rail project will begin operating in this period. In Canberra, stage 2A of the light rail project is scheduled to open as early as 2023. In Melbourne, the Melbourne Metro tunnel is looking at completion in 2025. In Perth, the Metronet project’s components will start to come online from 2021. In Queensland, Cross River Rail is due to be completed in 2024, while on the Gold Coast, stage 3A of the Light Rail project could be up and running by 2023. Finally, in Sydney the next stage of the Sydney Metro is scheduled for opening in 2024.

While there will be many opportunities for ribbon cutting at each of these projects’ opening days, it will be ensuring that the continued benefit of each rail project extends from the construction into the operational phase that animates Wilkie as she makes her mark on the industry.

“Now is a good time to talk about what role rail will have into the future.”

Wilkie, who was for nine years the CEO of the Australian Airports Association (AAA), highlighted that she would be taking a collaborative approach to communicating these benefits and looking for future opportunities.

“If I’ve got to a media release or I’m banging on the door of a minister’s office, I certainly feel like I’ve not done the right thing,” said Wilkie.

To successfully advocate for an industry sector as the head of its representative association, Wilkie nominates three essential ingredients. Number one being research.

“Define the issue. A clear policy proposal backed by research should be the basis of your advocacy. If you can’t present the facts in a coherent narrative you’re not going to get very far.”

The next step, highlighted Wilkie, was having a cohesive voice as an industry.

“The second thing is then having all the partners and stakeholders on board. There’s no point us advocating for an outcome on behalf of a third party if that third party isn’t saying the same thing,” said Wilkie.

This also extends to ensuring that the government department that she is working with is onboard to convince the key decision-maker.

“If you can’t get the department on your side – both at a state and federal level – they’re not going to write a favourable brief up to the minister,” said Wilkie, who has been closely involved with federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack’s office during her time at the AAA.

“The minister is going to have a million and one things on his plate and if I’m coming in and saying one thing and the department is saying something opposite, we’re not going to get anywhere.”

The final element is understanding but not playing the politics, said Wilkie.

“Playing a straight bat is really important. I know that there’s government and there’s opposition, but at the AAA I always made sure that we briefed both, to make sure that everyone is aware of our views. That has been the ARA’s history as well, and I intend to maintain that bi-partisan approach.

“I will never attack the government in the media, it’s making sure that those in the departments that we talk to, state or federal level, and the ministers, state or federal, know that we’re positive partners and that we really want to engage with them in a constructive fashion.”

EXPERIENCE IN MAKING THINGS HAPPEN
In her nine years at the AAA, Wilkie oversaw a number of initiatives, but in 2019 her efforts paid off in the form of an unprecedented $100 million fund for regional airports. The products of two years of lobbying, the funding vindicated Wilkie’s collaborative approach to advocacy.

“When we started the campaign, we knew it would take two years and we were right it took two years. We knew we were not going to get this budget cycle, but we could catch the next one if we do the right meetings, get the right messages out there, and generate the right noise and buzz.”

The effort was in the context of infrastructure being devolved to local councils, who were unable to pay for the upkeep of expensive and underutilised assets. Wilkie recalled that essential to the campaign’s ultimate success was the range of voices engaged in the campaign.

“One of the greatest things we did was actually getting our members to be advocates for us, talking to their local member about why it was important and getting that local member to talk to the Deputy Prime Minister.”

The program’s ultimate success drew on these insights while also being realistic about what could be achieved within that timeframe.

“Too often you see some people saying, ‘We want this and that.’ But to be successful, you need to understand to the perspective of the Government of the day and the circumstances in which it is operating. You need to be collegiate in understanding the department’s mandate and its context, ” said Wilkie. “For example, there’s no point going to the Commonwealth this year and asking for additional expenditure, because we’re in a difficult period with the bushfires and coronavirus, so we’re planning conversations for next year.”

However, Wilkie’s experience at the AAA also highlighted that just as much as getting government to fund something or take an action, effective industry leadership can be just as much about ensuring a change does not happen.

In 2012, a proposal was put forward for airports to cover the cost of the presence of Australian Federal Police (AFP) at the facilities.

“It was a classic case of lobbying against a bad policy,” said Wilkie. “Sometimes the greatest achievement is making something not happen.”

Framing the issue as one of national security, and therefore the responsibility of the federal government, and getting other stakeholders on board, was to ensure this extra cost was not imposed on airports.

“I think the greatest traction we got in that campaign was arguing that if you want to charge us for that, we want KPIs, we want to have a say over the resourcing,” said Wilkie. “If we’re paying for it, then we want a say and you can well imagine the AFP saying ‘Absolutely not, this is a national security issue.’ This, of course, was our whole argument in the first place. We were able to get a lot of people in the community on board for this particular campaign.”

In other areas, Wilkie has found the value of research in effecting change. In late 2019, the Productivity Commission finalised a report into the airport sector, which found that the current regulation of the sector was fit-for-purpose.

“We were engaging with the Productivity Commission on the facts because we took the view that as they are the greatest economic minds in the country, they will consider the case on its economic merits. That was probably the best example in my time at the AAA of fact-based research and making sure that you got all your members to really be focused on that fact-based research.”

Wilkie sees reports such as the Value of Rail report, prepared for the ARA by Deloitte Access Economics as forming this evidence base for government decision-making, and is something that Wilkie will be looking to update further.

CONTRIBUTING TO THE GREATER GOOD
With these experiences under her belt, Wilkie is aware of the differences between the airport and rail sector, one that she describes as “issues rich”.

“After my first 14 days it’s pretty clear to me that there are distinct groups in the membership, and they each have their distinct issues. I think we can clearly advocate for each of the sectors’ needs without conflicting with someone else.”

Rather than seeing these different sectors as competing Wilkie highlighted that in coming together, the sectors can improve outcomes for the industry as a whole.

“With any membership organisation you go on the principle of ‘do no harm’, as in with any policy I don’t want to advance one member at the expense of another member. More broadly you want to do what’s best for the industry as a whole.”

Apart from her experience heading the AAA, Wilkie has a deep knowledge of the role of industry associations and peak organisations from prior roles at the Tourism and Transport Forum and the Financial Planning Association.

“I love working in industry associations. I enjoy the variety of the role as CEO and I love the advocating for the greater good,” she said.

“For all the work that I did at the AAA the thing that brought me the greatest joy was doing anything that helped people in regional communities, hence why I always say that getting that funding for regional communities is our proudest professional moment. It was a gut-wrenching decision to decide to leave but I had always looked very warmly on the ARA, I knew Danny Broad previously. I am excited about rail and I like the fact that it’s a nation-building industry. It still has that connection with the regions, and it’s obviously got a really exciting trajectory.”

Less than a month into the job, Wilkie is already looking at where rail can have a greater presence in the national conversation.

“We’re looking at doing refresh on some of our statistics; what is the value of rail and why is it important, particularly after the summer bushfires the issues of climate change and emissions are very much front and centre in the policy debate.”

As Europe increases its spending on rail to reduce the carbon footprint of mobility, Wilkie sees the ARA as having a role to play in setting the agenda for a decarbonised economy.

“That’s an area where rail has an amazing story to tell about what it can do, not only in metro areas in terms of increasing use of passenger transport, but even in regional areas, and particularly in terms of freight.”

In other areas, Wilkie is hoping to continue the work already being done by the ARA.

“The other area that’s a big focus for the ARA and which I will take the mantle up on, is about workforce development and skills development. I think that promoting rail employment as something that’s not old fashioned, but modern and dynamic is important. The many environmental benefits of our industry lends itself to being promoted as a green alternative to enriching life. That modern perception will actually greatly impact making it an employer of choice and making younger people decide to work in rail.”

In these areas, Wilkie has been doing her own, firsthand research.

“I grew up in the Hills district in Sydney and now we have the North West Metro. Over Christmas I took my son on it, just to go and ride it, because it was extraordinary. Having grown up in Castle Hill, the best you could hope for was an occasional bus down to Parramatta. So for kids, the new Metro has opened up travel, and allowed people to engage with the city. With developments like that you’re seeing people have a legitimate choice and that’s the difference.”

NEXT STEPS
Wilkie, who describes herself as “conservative” in her approach to association budgeting, stresses that the current ARA team and structure is key to the ongoing success of the association.

“Listening is going to be key in this period and then we’ll go to the ARA Board with a rough plan of how we can service the needs of the distinct groups within the rail industry. Then can we ask for each of these issues what do we need to do? Do we start from basics, is it a research project, do we need to do a submission to government?”

More broadly, Wilkie notes that the role of the industry association is to find areas that can benefit the sector as a whole.

“I think for a body like the ARA, it’s not necessarily about advocating for build more, I see a role for us in trying to move the industry to do better and more with what we have. So, what are the vagaries of the national system that aren’t working for us as an industry, and where can we see productivity improvements? It’s not particularly sexy. I don’t know that anyone can cut a ribbon around it, but when you look at the productivity for the sector, that’s where we as the ARA can actually add the greatest value.

“That really comes back to what the role of the association is about, bringing together the voices of the sector, and putting their issues front and centre with the decision makers.

“As a collective voice, we can achieve things for industry.”

ACT

ACT acknowledges the essential work of public transport staff

As the ACT starts to ease restrictions put in place to limit the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), Minister for Chris Steel is calling on Canberrans to thank rail staff and other public transport workers.

“This is group of people who have been quietly and proudly delivering the important services that our community has relied on during the pandemic, and they deserve our thanks,” said Steel.

“While there’s been less people using public transport, each journey has been important to keep our society functioning and Canberrans moving.”

During the pandemic and associated lockdowns, Transport Canberra ran a full timetable across light rail services as well as bus services in the ACT. With work from home directives and restrictions on the use of public transport only for essential travel, patronage figures have decreased by 85 per cent. In the first week of term two 2020, April 28 to May 1, Transport Canberra recorded a daily average of 8,873 journeys. In the comparable period in 2019, 66,766 journeys were recorded. The busiest day since the end of March was Monday, April 28, with 9,793 journeys.

In April, Transport Canberra hired extra cleaners to sanitise buses, light rail vehicles, and public transport stops. Steel said the government has been working with unions to ensure workplaces are safe.

“The ACT Government has been working closely with union representatives from the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) and the Transport Workers Union (TWU) during this time to ensure the wellbeing of workers is at the forefront of Transport Canberra’s response to COVID-19,” said Steel.

“We’re looking at how social distancing and other measures can be promoted on public transport as more people start travelling, but we are still asking Canberrans to reconsider the need to travel at this time.”

Union delegates at the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union said the government had been listening to workers’ concerns.

“Transport Canberra has been receptive to the union’s concerns, establishing weekly meetings and making changes in accordance with workers’ feedback. This has been integral to ensuring both worker and commuter safety.”

While some authorities have been concerned that following the lifting of restrictions public transport patronage would drop as people commute via car, Steel said that maintaining a full timetable throughout the crisis will help ensure people return to public transport.

“Canberrans have been able to rely on public transport during the crisis, because we’ve been delivering the same services week in week out on buses and light rail,” said Steel.

“We are in a much better position than many other cities having delivered constant reliable services throughout the pandemic to support more people back on to public transport once restrictions are eased at an appropriate time.”

Innovation in the world’s largest tram network

Melbourne’s iconic tram network operates across 250km of double track. Xavier Leal from Keolis Downer shares Yarra Trams’ latest innovation strategy that is digitising the network’s 5,000 daily services.

The world’s largest operational tram network has been transporting passengers in Melbourne for over one hundred years. Xavier Leal, manager of innovation and knowledge at Keolis Downer, acknowledges that operations throughout the urban tram network have considerably advanced since the first tram line was pulled by horses in 1884. As the operator of Yarra Trams, Keolis Downer has been investing in its digital strategy to prioritise data collection and improve passenger experience.

Leal has almost fifteen years of experience in strategy and innovation management. Since he joined Yarra Trams in two years ago, he has been driving forward innovations in the business that support enhanced passenger experience, operational effectiveness, and safety in the network.

Before his current role at Keolis Downer, Leal worked in the mobility and transport sectors in Europe. He has led a wide range of international projects that explored digital innovations and defining technology diffusion processes. His previous projects include developing innovative information and technology services, including T-TRANS and Collective Intelligence for Public Transport in European Cities (CIPTEC). Leal said Keolis Downer leverages its worldwide operational experience to explore innovations in smart cities through a digital mobility observatory.

Leal highlighted that it is important to note the difference between tram networks in Europe and Melbourne to understand how investment in processes will allow Melbourne to set an international benchmark for light rail infrastructure.

“Melbourne has a unique tram network. Trams elsewhere don’t have the same challenges that we have here. Not only is it the world’s largest operational tram network with over 250km of track and more than 1,700 stops across the city, but 75 per cent of the network is shared with road vehicles,” Leal said.

This means trams do not have separated corridors on Melbourne roads and operate amid buses, cars, cyclists, and pedestrians. This brings particular challenges with safety and operational performance, particularly travel times. Melbourne’s tram network could run more efficiently. To enhance network capability, Yarra Trams have used technology to enable faster services.

However, due to the nature of having assets distributed widely across the network, including the vehicles themselves, stations, and other monitoring points, there is the potential for the accumulation of digital data to support the more efficient operation of the network. Yarra Trams has recognised this, and is looking to digital innovation, with a number of projects deployed to target priorities including faster travel times, reduced disruptions, and customer safety. These initiatives include digitising asset management through real time-based platforms, to exploring crowdsourcing of data for safety and unplanned disruption management.

One project that Yarra Trams has trialled is the on-board collection of image-based data on traffic. In developing the technology, Yarra Trams took a consultative and collaborative approach by incorporating feedback from multiple stakeholders which come into contact with the relatively open network.

The development team looked to how they could incorporate real time data on traffic volumes to maximise operational efficiency and passenger experience. However, solutions were not always going to come from within the organisation, and Yarra Trams looked for partners who could enable this digital data project.

“Effectively engaging with the innovation ecosystem is another critical success factor to maximise digital technologies,” Leal said.

Keolis Downer collaborated with the Australian Integrated Multimodal Ecosystem (AIMES) to procure Toshiba’s traffic sensing technology. Leal said the data collection and analysis system was based on image processing and deep learning technology in a smart transport cloud system. A trial of traffic sensing by on-board unit (OBU) based image processing technology took place in March 2019 with two C2 trams travelling on route 96 from Brunswick East to St Kilda Beach.

Leal said the trial tested the capability of the technology to detect various states of traffic by deploying image processing techniques and transmitting the results to a cloud system. The OBU could detect traffic in terms of volume, vehicle queues, vulnerable road users, pedestrians and obstacles.

HD cameras captured real time traffic and processed and measured the information as it happened. The information collected from vehicle queue lengths waiting at red signal and pedestrian flow assessed traffic conditions to
a degree, while also detecting obstacles and service adjustment.

The OBU system consists of three units, a stereo camera, image processing hardware, and a signal divider. The OBU system sends detection results back to a central server. These results include images that have been tagged with GPS data. The trail enabled Yarra Trams to obtain geographically precise data to illustrate issues in the network in real time, enabling faster responses and comparisons with historical data.

The digital data collected throughout this trial may allow traffic management and operation control staff to instantly evaluate risks as well as predict needed safety measures.

Images taken by trams are used to map pedestrians and crowds.

“It was a successful project,” said Leal. “We assessed the system capabilities
to detect traffic volumes, vehicle queue lengths at intersections, pedestrian crowd volume detection and estimation around tram infrastructure. Now we are discussing with Toshiba, government stakeholders, and Melbourne University researchers the next steps to further evolve the system,” Leal said. Leal is proud to pioneer the use of digital data to evaluate complex transport networks. He said it’s not uncommon for large networks such as the Melbourne tram network to experience unplanned disruptions, so managing data from Yarra Tram allows a clearer understanding of behaviour of motorists, pedestrians, and other vehicles which the network comes into contact with.

Leal said trams and light rail services are the lifeblood of Melbourne, as they are the primary mode of public transport for inner suburban residents. Globally, more than 200 cities are now recreating, building, or planning tram networks. If the Melbourne network were to be rebuilt today, it would cost more than $20 billion and take several decades to complete.

“It’s important to us to have a holistic approach to our digital strategy, that leverages Keolis’s expertise in mobility and digital technology with a robust data management platform that aligns with the Department of Transport’s systems and tools,” Leal said.

“We are increasingly gaining more data flowing from digital channels. From a passenger experience perspective, it is important for us to integrate reporting capabilities with analysis of inputs coming from diverse channels,” Lead said. He said the company expects these channels to grow and further diversify as new streams of data and incorporated into the network.

“We are committed to keep pushing for further integration of information and data to ensure the right actions are taken to enhance Melbourne’s dynamic network,” he said.

Community calling for Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 to be shovel ready

The Western Sydney business community has called on the NSW government to prepare Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 as an economic stimulus project for the region following internal government polling that shows the project’s growing community support.

Internal government polling for the project by Newgate Research, released under Freedom of Information, found a 10 per cent increase in positive community support towards Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 in 12 months.

Knowledge of the proposed route for Stage 2 has increased from 60 per cent in 2018 to 71 per cent the following year, and the likelihood to use Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 route has increased from 54 per cent to 67 per cent.

David Borger, Western Sydney Business Chamber executive director said the jump in support for Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 is remarkable.

“The NSW government will need to use the state’s infrastructure pipeline to kickstart the economy after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and projects such as Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 can be made shovel ready over the coming months to be a key stimulus project next year,” he said.

“The communities along the Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 route and Western Sydney more broadly will be bitterly disappointed if the NSW Government fails to honour its public transport commitments to the region.”

Borger said the future of Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 has been unclear and the proven community support should get the project back on track.

“Building Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 will help unlock the full potential of the Greater Parramatta and Olympic Peninsula region,” he said.

Allison Taylor, CEO of the Sydney Olympic Park Business Association said the association and Western Sydney Business Chamber have been vocal advocates for the NSW government delivering on its commitment to build the entire Parramatta Light Rail network for both stage 1 and 2.

“What the government’s internal polling confirms is the more the local communities along the preferred route know about the project, the more they like it. They want the government to provide better transport through the region to key centres like Sydney Olympic Park and Parramatta,” Taylor said.

“Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 is a critical link to the growing communities in Wentworth Point and Melrose Park.”

The report also indicated sentiment towards local public transport is positive with most respondents rating services as either excellent, good or fair. 

“Unprompted transport priorities continue to focus on increased frequency of buses and trains and there is a growing desire for more frequent and reliable services – particularly in Stage 2,” the report stated in its findings.

Results revealed that positive sentiment increases with knowledge of the Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2, with better and more convenient connections remaining the most common reason for feeling positive about the project compared to results in 2018.