Rail maintenance, upgrades getting ahead of schedule

Major rail projects are completing extra works while Australia and New Zealand are under lockdown measures.

In Sydney, a number of projects are taking advantage of lower commuter numbers and relaxed regulations around work hours to progress ahead of schedule.

In Parramatta, work on the light rail project is running seven days a week after the NSW government introduced changes to legislation to expand standard construction hours on weekends and public holidays. Works are being conducted from 7am to 7pm Monday to Friday, 7am to 6pm on Church St, and from 7am to 6pm on Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays.

According to a Transport for NSW (TfNSW) spokesperson, all works are being done to minimise the impact on the local community.

“All reasonable measures to reduce noise impacts will continue to be implemented, including using the quietest equipment possible, placing machinery and vehicles as far away from properties as possible, conducting high noise generating activities during weekdays where possible, and implementing respite periods as required.”

In Parramatta, disruption is being minimised by scheduling utility works in non-peak periods, using sound blankets, directing lighting towers, and turning off equipment when not in use.

With the Sydney CBD experiencing extremely low traffic volumes during the lockdown period, work on the Sydney Metro City & Southwest has been able to increase. Lane closures previously only possible on weekends have been implemented on weekdays and extended work hours are in place at Central Station.

In Chullora, the construction of the new Digital Systems facility has extended hours over one weekend and will use extra hours where necessary.

Elsewhere in NSW work hours on the New Intercity Fleet maintenance facility have been extended to 7am to 6pm, seven days a week. Extended working hours are also being looked at for station accessibility upgrades at Fairy Meadow, Mittagong, Hawkesbury River, Wyee, and Waratah.

“All community members and stakeholders are thanked for their patience as work continues on important transport infrastructure across NSW,” said the TfNSW spokesperson.

Across the Tasman, KiwiRail has been conducting a significant maintenance program on the Auckland network. Lower commuter numbers during lockdown have allowed KiwiRail to lay over four kilometres of new rail on the Eastern line, said KiwiRail chief operating officer, Todd Moyle.

“We are able to use this time to carry out a great deal of work in a short timeframe. Normally this work would need to be completed during weekends across several months.”

Works will continue until Monday, April 27 and include replacement of worn rail between Glen Innes and Sylvia Park. The Eastern line not only serves commuters but freight rail services from the Port of Auckland.

“We’ve worked closely with Auckland Transport to arrange for this work to be done now so there will be a more reliable network for commuters once COVID-19 levels fall and businesses reopen,” said Moyle.

The slowdown in traffic on the commuter network allows a rare opportunity for continuous track work that would normally be done at weekends or overnight to minimise disruption.

“We’re doing this work now, while we have the opportunity, to avoid future disruptions to commuters and to ensure they get a great service once they return to work,” said Moyle.

Physical distancing measures are in place at all work sites.

Daytime freight services are being rerouted via Newmarket while commuter services are replaced by buses.

Light rail

Canberra Light Rail passes one year milestone

Over four million journeys have been made in the first year of operations of Canberra Light Rail.

Celebrating the first 12 month of service, ACT Minister for Transport Chris Steel said that the network has changed the way people move around Canberra.

“Light rail has changed the way people view and use public transport with very high satisfaction levels and more people than ever using public transport in Canberra.”

Recent customer satisfaction surveys reported that 94 per cent of customers were satisfied with the ease of use of light rail and 20 per cent of all public transport journeys are made on the light rail.

Peak months so far were May, when 460,000 passengers travelled and the free travel period continued for the network’s first month of operations, and October which had over 411,000 boardings. The most popular stop was Alinga Street in the Canberra CBD. 40 per cent of trips began at this station.

Prior to the coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions, extra services were in place during February to cater for increased demand. Lockdown measures in the ACT however, have led to a drop in trips.

“Obviously COVID-19 has had a temporary impact on passenger numbers in the last few weeks, however, before the pandemic we were seeing, on average, 15,047 passenger boardings each day, numbers that we didn’t expect until 2021,” said Steel.

A further increase in services has been delayed due to COVID-19 measures, as has an update to the wider public transport network’s schedule in Canberra.

Work to extend the light rail line to Woden via the Parliamentary circle is still scheduled to continue. General manager of Canberra Metro Operations Tilo Franz said that he expects the light rail to continue to be popular.

“From day one we exceeded passenger and ridership expectations. We’re excited to celebrate one year of operation and look forward to many more years of success.”

Tram leaving Broadwater Parklands on the Gold Coast Light Rail

Preparation works continue for Gold Coast Light Rail Stage 3A construction

Queensland’s Department for Transport and Main Roads (TMR) is preparing the ground for the construction of Gold Coast Light Rail Stage 3A.

Ahead of a wining tenderer being appointed, TMR workers have been fencing off areas at Broadbeach to build a construction compound.

Signalling the importance of rail infrastructure projects such as Gold Coast Light Rail to the state’s post—coronavirus (COVID-19) recovery, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the project would create hundreds of jobs.

“Light rail on the Gold Coast is an important local employer, supporting about 800 operational jobs with this next stage to Burleigh expected to support more than 760 jobs.”

Earlier in April, the Gold Coast light rail system passed the 50 million trips milestone, and by extending the line further south, more people are hoped to use the service.

“This next stage is vital to not only creating more jobs, but also connecting the southern Gold Coast to the rest of the line and getting more people onto public transport into the future,” said Palaszczuk.

The operator, GoldlinQ, has shortlisted three contractors to build stage 3A. Announced in early February, those contractors are John Holland, a joint venture between Fulton Hogan and UGL, and CPBSW, a joint venture of CPB Contractors and Seymour Whyte Constructions.

Member for Gaven Meaghan Scanlon said that these works will enable the successful contractor to begin immediately.

“By getting started now, we’re paving the way for major works to start on the next stage as soon as possible once the construction contract is awarded.”

Measures are in place to ensure social distancing guidelines are followed during the construction works, for the benefit of both workers and the community, said Scanlon.

“The plans outline social distancing and other protective measures covering workers, as well as safeguards for the community during these challenging times.”

In addition to the construction compound, borehole testing and site investigations are taking place at night along the Gold Coast Highway.

The $709 million Stage 3A is jointly funded by the local, state and federal government, which have contributed $92m, $351m, and $269m, respectively.

International bodies urge continuity in public transport

An international group of transport organisations have issued a statement urging that public transport services must run despite coronavirus (COVID-19) mitigation measures.

The group includes the International Association of Public Transport (UITP), the International Union of Railways (UIC), United Cities and Local Governments, and the International Transport Workers Federation.

In the statement, the group calls for continuity in public transport, particularly so that key workers can keep getting to and from work.

“Ensuring continuity of public transport and local mobility services is essential for society and the economy. This will ensure that the health crisis does not turn into a social one.”

The statement identifies measures that need to be taken to ensure that services continue, including the provision and supply of protective equipment for transport staff and operators. This will ensure the health and safety of staff and passengers.

The statement notes that in some cities, patronage has dropped by 90 per cent, and this can have a devastating impact on operators which rely on passenger revenues.

The authors call upon governments to rapidly adopt measures including financial support which supports the preservation of jobs and the industries which supply the transport networks.

Some best practice measures outlined in the statement include providing accurate and up to date information, conduct regular deep cleaning and disinfection, adapting service levels to passenger demand while ensuring continuity, and providing dedicated services for healthcare personnel. The implementation of these measures is of benefit not only to the networks themselves, write the authors.

“Bearing in mind that passenger transport systems are vital to the regular functioning of the economy, these measures would not just support the sector in question but the whole of society.”

Utility excavation work starts in Parramatta CBD

Parramatta Light Rail is progressing significant works in the Parramatta CBD. From 8pm, Thursday, April 9, until 5am, Monday April 27, the intersection of Phillip and Church streets will be closed to allow utility works.

The works involve replacing an existing water pipe with a concrete covered pipe. The work will allow for water service operation to continue during light rail construction and operation.

Works to be done at the intersection include excavation, isolating and draining the existing water main, covering the water main and reinstating the roadway.

Buses, cars, and pedestrians will be diverted around the construction site.

Other works on the Parramatta Light Rail project are also continuing, such as the change from heavy rail to light rail on the former Carlingford Line. The project is considered an essential service and is therefore progressing as scheduled.

Meanwhile, the project is encouraging locals and subcontractors to continue to support local eateries whose foot-traffic has been impacted by coronavirus (COVID-19) shutdowns.

Underground utility work plagued the construction of the Sydney CBD and South East Light Rail line, with Transport for NSW settling for $576 million with contractor Acciona due to extra costs involved in underground utility work. Although the Parramatta CBD is not as dense as the Sydney CBD, early work was done to identify utilities that are owned by 15 different providers and the program has used an underground 3D digital model to find where utilities are located.

Rail R U OK?Day updated with COVID-19 resources

The importance of looking out for friends, colleagues, and mates in the rail industry has only been further highlighted this year with the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

As routines are upended and social distancing is adhered to, loneliness and isolation can be further compounded, while obligations to look out for family members, partners and, friends outside of work can increase.

With these factors in mind, the TrackSAFE Foundation has reaffirmed that Rail R U OK?Day will continue as scheduled on Thursday, April 30. In addition, TrackSAFE has released additional materials relevant to the current working environment.

Resources that TrackSAFE have collated include updates to the RailRes App, as well as support and counselling services provided by Lifeline, Beyond Blue, and the National Mental Health Commission.

Additionally, R U OK? CEO, Katherine Newton has released a special message to encourage people to stay connected and give practical tips to stay in contact despite physical distancing laws. This messages has been supplemented by Connection Cards, which can be distributed without contact.

Materials to encourage electronic communication and online events have also been uploaded to the TrackSAFE website.

Ahead of this year’s Rail R U OK?Day organisations and participants can draw on the five years of successful R U OK?Days since 2015, with 55,000 rail employees participating in 2019. Over 70 rail companies are registered for the initiative and 105 Champions will facilitate the day.

This year, the two interactive question marks, Quentin and Quinn, departed from Canberra, with Major Projects Canberra, Canberra Metre Operations and Transport Canberra and City Services hosting the beginning of the seven week journey. This year was the first time that organisations in Canberra had participated in the Rail R U OK?Day.

Final stage of Sydney’s CBD light rail opens

The 12-kilometre Sydney CBD and South East Light Rail network is now complete and operational.

Passenger services are now running on the new L3 Kingsford Line between Circular Quay and Kingsford.

The first passenger tram departed Juniors Kingsford at 5am Friday, April 3 and services on the line will run until 1am on Saturday morning.

This is the second part of the $2.9 billion CBD and South East Light Rail project, which began operating between Circular Quay and Randwick four months ago.

Sydney Light Rail stated that operations will be fine-tuned over a period of time as the L3 Kingsford Line is integrated with the L2 Randwick Line and while services are bedded down.

“With light rail running down Anzac Parade through Kensington and Kingsford, it is vital all road users follow traffic signals and for pedestrians in particular to be aware that there are two-stage crossings to connect to the light rail stops,” Sydney Light Rail said in a statement.

NSW Minister for Transport Andrew Constance didn’t attend the opening due to travel restrictions and opened the line remotely via video message.

“Opening the Kingsford leg is an important completion of the project,” Constance said in his virtual message.

“It’s not a time to get on the light rail for fun.”

Transport for NSW stated that the opening of the new line is focused on benefiting passengers who need to undertake essential travel, giving them another option.

The opening of the new line provides public transport for workers and the community in the south east as it services the important health precinct and the city.

From 4 April 2020, trams on both the L2 Randwick Line and L3 Kingsford Line will operate between 5am and 1am, with weekday services between 7am and 7pm running every 4-8 minutes in the CBD and every 8-12 minutes in the South East.

In Parramatta, work is continuing on the construction of the light rail line there. As construction of public transport is deemed an essential service, the project is progressing as planned.

Plan identifies most suitable route for Newcastle light rail extension

The NSW government has released a summary report of the strategic business case for the extension of the Newcastle Light Rail.

The summary concludes that the most suitable route for an extension would be from Newcastle Interchange to the John Hunter Hospital via Broadmeadow, however there is “no urgent need” to extend stage one, following from economic assessments of an extension.

In preparing the strategic business case for the extension of Newcastle Light Rail, Transport for NSW identified 17 corridors, with four priority corridors chosen for further investigation. The four priority corridors all lead from Newcastle Interchange and radiate out to Wallsend, Mayfield, Charlestown, and John Hunter Hospital, via Broadmeadow.

The route to John Hunter Hospital was preferred due to a series of factors: the development of the Broadmeadow Urban Renewal and Entertainment Precinct, as well as the John Hunter Hospital redevelopment; the 1.15 per cent per annum growth in employment, the highest of any of the corridors; the need for public transport connectivity to John Hunter Hospital; the economic potential of the corridor; and the potential to fast track the development of new housing along the corridor.

“The preferred corridor has the potential for better employment growth, more housing and higher public transport usage than other potential routes,” said a Transport for NSW (TfNSW) spokesperson.

“It would also support the future Broadmeadow Urban Renewal and Entertainment Precinct and the redeveloped John Hunter Health and Innovation Precinct; important strategic centres for lifestyle and specialist employment opportunities in Newcastle.”

Despite these advantages, the strategic business case found that due to the pace of transformation in the Newcastle City Centre, dedicated bus corridors could be implemented in the shorter term, and then upgraded to light rail in the future.

“Transport will also investigate the initiatives identified in the 2018 Greater Newcastle Future Transport Plan, such as rapid bus and bus headstart initiatives, to deliver improved transport services in the area,” the spokesperson said.

The summary report identifies a number of reasons to continue to invest in public transport in Newcastle. In particular, Newcastle has a lower share of public transport usage than Sydney and Wollongong, the lack of visible connections between the city and employment clusters such as the John Hunter Hospital, and the need to manage population growth in Newcastle, which is forecasted to increase by 20 per cent in the next 20 years.

When conducting the economic analysis of the options, the report found that the route to John Hunter Hospital had a positive benefit cost ratio, however there were constructibility issues, particularly the steep gradient up Russel Street.

“Further investigations are needed to determine an alignment that is safe and technically feasible, particularly given the steep gradient between New Lambton and the John Hunter Hospital,” said the TfNSW spokesperson.

The existing Newcastle Light Rail has been credited as reshaping the city centre in Newcastle and driving urban renewal along its route.

Operated by Keolis Downer as part of the Newcastle Transport integrated transport provider, since its installation in early 2019, the Newcastle Light Rail has carried over a million passengers and public use across the entire network in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie in 2019 was 23 per cent higher than in 2018.

Sydney business community want more funding for Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2

David Borger, executive director of the Western Sydney Business Chamber said Stage 1 of Parramatta Light Rail is at risk of being a “white elephant” due to funding concerns for future stages of the line.

The Western Sydney Business Chamber is urging the NSW government to allocate funding in the NSW budget to get the next stage of the Parramatta Light Rail ready for construction.

Borger said the NSW government committed to building a Parramatta Light Rail network and the business community don’t want to see Stage 1 put at risk of being a “white elephant because the NSW Government has shelved the next stages”.

“We understand that Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 is awaiting an ‘investment decision’ by the NSW cabinet. My message to government ministers is give the project the green light and let’s get on with connecting Sydney’s central city with its surrounding suburbs,” he said.

Borger said stage 2 of Parramatta Light Rail ticks so many boxes when it comes to a good public transport project and it builds on the taxpayer investment in Stage 1.

In a Business NSW’s NSW Budget Priorities report, released as a pre-budget submission this month, Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 is listed an infrastructure priority.

Business NSW executives stated in the report that Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 has reached the point in its development where further meaningful work needs to be sustained by a government commitment to move forward with the project.

“This budget should allocate funding to allow the next stage of project development to be completed, with an eye to moving towards construction as Stage 1 is completed,” Business NSW executives said.

Infrastructure Australia has also noted the importance of public transport to Parramatta CBD, but Business NSW executives said the next major deliverable that can improve matters has been stuck in a holding pattern since the completion of early business case development.

Connecting hubs of major activity at Parramatta and the Sydney Olympic Park, and joining up the heavy rail, Metro and ferry transport networks, Light Rail Stage 2 serves a fast-growing part of the city. 

Borger said the true value of light rail is when it is a network.

“The NSW Government may very well be needing some economic stimulus projects towards the end of the year. Getting Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 shovel ready would be a common sense decision,” he said.

A spokesperson for Parramatta Light Rail said a final Business Case for the second stage of Parramatta Light Rail is currently being considered by the NSW Government, with an investment decision to follow.

Planning work is currently being further developed and informed by consultation with the community, stakeholders, other NSW Government agencies and transport projects including Sydney Metro West.

In October 2017, the NSW Government announced the preferred route for the second stage of the Parramatta Light Rail, which will connect Stage 1 and Parramatta CBD to Ermington, Melrose Park, Wentworth Point, and Sydney Olympic Park.

It will have 10-12 stops over a ten-kilometre two-way track, with travel times of around 25 minutes from Sydney Olympic Park to Camellia, and a further eight minutes to Parramatta CBD.

Hopes for improved punctuality on Victorian public transport

With an in-principle agreement signed between the Rail Tram and Bus Union and Yarra Trams, there are hopes that tram punctuality in Melbourne will improve, following a below target result in February.

Yarra Trams recorded a punctuality rate of 81.5 per cent, with major disruptions due to industrial action occurring on February 17 and 20. This met the punctuality target of 79 per cent, however a reliability figure of 96.2 per cent fell below the 98 per cent target.

Other factors impacting on the result included a derailment of a Route 12 tram on Saturday, February 1, and a truck bringing down overhead wires on Swan Street on Friday, February 28, which impacted Route 70 trams.

The in-principle agreement between Yarra Trams and the RTBU will contribute towards improvements in punctuality in the coming months, highlighted Victorian Department of Transport head of transport services Jeroen Weimar.

“It’s pleasing the parties have come to an agreement that will end any further disruptions for our tram passengers.”

Other transport operators also had lower than targeted results. V/Line services had a punctuality result of 86.8 per cent and a reliability result of 88.8 per cent. V/Line has a target of 96 per cent reliability and 92 per cent punctuality.

Events affecting this result included the train derailment at Wallan on Thursday, February 20. This led to trains on the Seymour, Shepparton, and Albury lines being suspended while investigation and repair works were underway.

“All parties worked together in the wake of the tragedy to support the recovery and investigation and ensure the line could reopen once certified for passenger services to return,” said Weimar.

Bright spots for the regional operator included the Gippsland and Warrnambool lines, which experienced a boost to punctuality and reliability of roughly six per cent, the largest improvement on the regional network.

Metro Trains had a positive month, by delivering 98.6 per cent of scheduled services, above its 98.5 per cent target. Punctuality just fell short of the 92 per cent target at 90.3 per cent.

During February, heavy rain, track and signal faults and police operations disrupted the network.

“We continue to work with Metro Trains to ensure punctuality improves in line with what passengers expect from our metropolitan network,” said Weimar.