Tram leaving Broadwater Parklands on the Gold Coast Light Rail

Testing begins on Gold Coast Light Rail Stage 2

Testing of the new trams for Stage 2 of the Gold Coast Light Rail are now underway, with the first tram being successfully driven along the 7.3-kilometre between Gold Coast University Hospital and Helensvale station last Friday.

Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who was visiting the Gold Cast on Friday, said that Stage 2 would build on the “fantastic legacy” of the currently existing Gold Coast light rail system.

“Once Stage 2 is complete locals and tourists alike will have a smooth, one-transfer journey between Brisbane and the Gold Coast’s most iconic destinations,” the premier said.

“Testing has gotten underway successfully and Stage 2 is well on track to be ready in time for the 2018 Commonwealth Games.”

Energisation of the light rail corridor was completed a little over a week ago, which has enabled the testing that will be carried out over the following months to ensure the system is safe prior to the commencement of passenger services.

“Trams are currently being tested on the new line at night, starting at low speeds. As the testing progresses, the trams work their way up to operational speeds of up to 70 kilometres per hour,” state transport minister Jackie Trad said.

“Gold Coast locals between Broadbeach and Southport are very familiar with the light rail in their area. Now residents and road users in Parkwood, Arundel and Helensvale will start to become familiar with light rail operations in their neighbourhood.”

Communication systems for Stage 2 are also going to be tested, before they are connected with the existing light rail operations centre.

GoldinQ CEO Phil Mumford said that the connection process would be occurring outside of light rail operating hours to ensure there was no impact of Stage 1 operations.

He also stressed the need for motorists to be aware of the ongoing operations.

“Although trams will be on the new Stage 2 tracks for the next few months, it’s important to remember the entire Stage 2 alignment will remain a construction zone until testing and commissioning is complete,” he said.

After the completion of the testing period, passenger services for Gold Coast Light Rail Stage 2 are expected to begin in early 2018.

2017 a milestone year for rail, good and not so

COMMENT: 2017 is a big year for rail anniversaries in Australia, some important, some not so important, some to celebrate and some, well probably best if you make up your own mind. Mark Carter reflects on three of the most notable milestones.

 


Most would agree the anniversary of greatest significance will be the this year’s centenary of the Trans Australia Railway (TAR) which was completed in October 1917.

Events planned for this October to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the opening of the standard gauge railway between Port Augusta and Kalgoorlie are quickly gaining pace.

On 17 October 1917, two track laying teams, one working eastward from Kalgoorlie and the other westward from Port Augusta, met near Ooldea on the Nullarbor Plain. There was no official opening at the time, no doubt due to the nation’s involvement in the First World War. Five days after the rails were joined, the first transcontinental passenger train departed Port Augusta for Kalgoorlie on 22 October 1917.

Fifty years later the 50th anniversary of the joining of the rails was commemorated by the former Commonwealth Railways with the installation of two monuments at Ooldea in 1967, though over time these timber structures have virtually disintegrated under the harsh outback conditions.

Australian Rail Track Corporation has manufactured two replicas of the 50th anniversary monuments, which will be unveiled at the same site on Tuesday 17 October, to commemorate the ‘joining of the rails’ and all of the track workers who over the years have maintained this important link.

Well over 500 people are expected to travel considerable distances to attend the unveiling at this remote location, with the event sponsored by businessman and philanthropist Dick Smith.

Further celebrations are expected to follow at Port Augusta on 22 October to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the departure of the first westbound passenger train. The nearby Pichi Richi Railway intends to operate a special steam train to Port Augusta from Quorn to coincide with displays and exhibitions mounted at the Port Augusta railway station.

The National Railway Museum at Port Adelaide will be launching a special Trans Australian Railway Centenary Exhibition from Friday 22 September, culminating with a formal TAR Centenary cocktail function at the museum, sponsored by Bowmans Rail, on Friday 13 October for special guests and rail industry participants.

The 1700km long TAR was completed long before the phrase ‘’nation building’’ entered our vocabulary, but obviously the term would be every appropriate providing it providing the first reliable land link between the east and west of the country across incredibly hostile terrain, and all achieved during a time of war.

Unfortunately, one gets the feeling that if this kind of project was put forward in today’s political climate the chances of getting it off the ground would be slim. It is worth remembering that for much of its early life the TAR was primarily a passenger carrier and much of the freight was supplies to keep the railway running.

It was only after dieselisation in the 1950s that it started to develop as a freight route to eventually grow into the strategic corridor it has become today, commanding as it does over 80% of the East West land transport freight task.

It is a tad ironic that less than a month after theses celebrations it will be the 20th anniversary of the break-up of the federally owned Australian National (AN), the direct descendant of the Commonwealth Railways which had been established in 1917 to administer the TAR.

The events leading up to the sale of AN in 1997 are complex. A good doctoral thesis could be written on AN’s demise which would have to draw on the early days of competition policy, the move to separation of above and below assets, and the sale of government business – all of which have brought huge changes to the industry in the last 20 years.

The sale of AN heralded the privatisation of much of the Australian rail industry. AN’s mainland freight assets were sold off to US regional operator Genesee & Wyoming Inc; the interstate passenger assets to a consortium operating as Great Southern Railway; and the Tasmanian assets to US railway mogul Ed Burkhardt’s Australian Transport Network.

The interstate track controlled by AN stayed in government hands through its shareholding in Australian Rail Track Corporation, and remains so to this day. And of course, ARTC has since grown to encompass the entire interstate network west of Kalgoorlie through to Brisbane.

It’s interesting to reflect that of the original purchasers of the AN business only G & W has survived. The interstate passenger business has seen its ownership structure modified several times and is now in the hands of private equity. Tasmania’s rail services have gone full circle and are now back in government ownership.

And of course, this also means that G & W will celebrate their 20th anniversary in Australia in November as well. The wave of major US railroads rumoured to have been coming to Australia’s shores back in the 90s never materialised and after a few other early starters fell by the wayside it was left to regional operator G &W to fly the US flag for many years until the more recent arrival of Watco in Western Australia

Over those 20 years G & W has done well for itself. There have been ups and downs, but their Australian operations, fluctuating exchange rates aside, have always been one of the company’s biggest money spinners. Things of course got even bigger last year with their latest acquisition of the Glencore rail business and assets in the Hunter Valley.

While the Trans Australian Railway has well and truly met the test of time, the jury is still out on whether the gradual privatisation of the nation’s rail freight assets that started with the sale of AN, was a good idea.  Fair to say it’s not been the rip-roaring success promised at the time, but with the way things were going under government control back in the 1990s, things could have turned out a lot worse.

It will be interesting to see if the TAR is around in another hundred years’ time and whether its ‘nation building’ status will have been matched by that of the long anticipated Inland Rail project?

First freight trains to run on Main North Line next week

The New Zealand train operator KiwiRail has announced that the first freight services on the Main North Line are to run on 15 September, following months of repair work to the earthquake-damaged route.

Initially, freight trains will service the Picton to Christchurch line during the day, with limited, low-frequency services running at night to allow repairs to both the line and the road to continue.

“There is still a sizeable amount of work to be done before we return the line to its pre-quake state,” KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy said.

This limited re-opening of the line is expected to take pressure off the alternate inland route which has, since the earthquake, taken the bulk of freight moving south.

“Even with the restrictions that will be in place, we still expect that up to 2000 trucks a month will be taken off that road,” said Reidy.

Teams have been at work on the line since the November earthquake, replacing damaged track, rebuilding bridges, repairing tunnels, and clearing the large slips along the route.

In early August, when the last track weld was completed, 150 kilometres of line had been tamped, five thousand new concrete sleepers laid, the formation under 12 kilometres of track rebuilt, and 5 kilometres of track realigned.

KiwiRail plans to mark the return of freight services with celebrations in Christchurch and Kaikoura, timed to occur when the very first train makes its journey along the line.

“That is a measure of the importance of the rail line to our national network, especially for connecting the country for our customers.  Before last year’s earthquake we were moving one million tonnes of freight a year on it,” Reidy said.

Altona Loop duplication, crossing removal works begin

Victoria’s Level Crossing Removal Authority has officially kicked off construction on the Kororoit Creek Road level crossing removal, and the partial duplication of the Altona Loop.

The project includes construction of a new rail bridge and duplication of 800 metres of track on the Altona Loop, part of the Werribee rail line in Melbourne’s south-west.

The Altona Loop partial duplication will allow trains to pass or to wait off the main Werribee line.

“This will significantly improve reliability and reduce the probability of trains bypassing the loop,” the LXRA said in a statement.

The key goal of the project – of course – is the removal of the road-rail level crossing at Kororoit Creek Road. 22,000 vehicles use the crossing each day, and it is part of VicRoads’ Principal Freight Network, meaning it is designated as a key transport corridor.

A dual rail bridge will be built over the railway to eliminate the crossing.

A weekend rail line closure from Friday night, September 1, to early on Monday morning, allowed crews to install temporary rail crossings so construction equipment can cross the rail line and install concrete barriers to protect workers from passing trains.

“Over the coming weeks, locals will start to see more activity around the level crossing and duplication site, with the team beginning to establish fencing and barriers, clearing topsoil and relocating underground utilities in preparation for major construction later this year,” the LXRA said.

“The $82 million contract for the duplication and removal of the level crossing will be completed by the end of 2018.”

Energy costs stifle BlueScope

Shares in Australian steel manufacturer BlueScope have dropped almost 20% since it detailed the threats of rising energy costs and dumping from Asian rivals in its FY17 annual report on Monday.

BlueScope announced a doubling in full-year after tax profit to $716 million, off the back of an underlying EBIT of $1.1 billion, up 89% year-on-year.

But outgoing chief executive Paul O’Malley – who it was announced on Monday will be replaced next year by Australia & New Zealand head Mark Vassella – said energy costs were a major threat to the ongoing prosperity of BlueScope.

“A sharp increase in energy costs for our Australian operations risks undermining recent cost and productivity improvements,” O’Malley said.

“Combined gas and electricity costs for the company’s major manufacturing sites at Port Kembla, Springhill and Western Port are forecast to increase 75% between FY16 and FY18, to an estimated $145 million in FY18.”

O’Malley said the firm was “very concerned about tightening of supply” in both the gas and energy markets, having highlighted its concerns to government and regulators.

The company also highlighted the potential threat of unfair Asian competition in the Australian market, saying “as trade restrictions take hold in global markets, import product offerings are taking advantage of gaps in the Australian anti-dumping regime, which together with volatility in [foreign exchange rates], is leading to lower domestic steel margins”.

It also added lower margins for its US steel business as an ongoing concern.

Altogether, the market was not pleased with the annual report, despite the healthy profit figure.

Shares trading above the $14 mark prior to the announcement immediately dropped to around $11.50 after the report, where they have stabilised since.

ARTC “maintenance blitz” in southern NSW

The Australian Rail Track Corporation is carrying out more than 40 individual maintenance projects on the line between Sydney and Albury.

The works are taking place from 18 to 22 August and will include ballast cleaning, rail corridor tidy-up works, improvements to rail structures and signalling maintenance.

“This shutdown will see the staff on the ground working around the clock to get the job done quickly and safely in the window where fewer or no trains will be running,” Brian Green, general manager asset management for ARTC’s Interstate Network, said.

“We’d like to thank the community for their patience with us while this important work is delivered and we would also like to ask motorists to take extra care and be cautious of trucks entering and exiting work sites.”

Certain passenger services, such as the XPT and Southern Highlands are to be replaced by coaches over the weekend.

Passengers are encouraged to visit www.nswtrainlink.info for information on services.

Your digital edition of the Rail Express August Issue is here!

Rail Express is proud to announce the release of its 2017 August Issue, along with a special supplement on Women in Rail.

The issue represents a return to print for Rail Express outside of our annual AusRAIL Edition. It includes feature stories on State and Federal Budgets, major projects, disaster recovery in New Zealand and much, much more.

The Women in Rail supplement includes interviews, analysis and commentary on the state of gender equality in the rail workforce.

Click here to view the August Issue.

Click here to view the Women in Rail supplement.

Our next issue, due out in October, will include features on:

  • Civil Engineering & Contracting
  • Freight Rail
  • Signalling & Communications
  • Track & Below Rail Infrastructure
  • Predictive Maintenance
  • Recruitment & Training
  • Tendering

For advertising opportunities, contact Daniel.Macias@mohimedia.com.

Don’t miss out on your listing in the 2018 Rail Directory

The deadline is approaching for new entries, updated listings, and advertising opportunities in the 2018 edition of the Australasian Rail Directory.

The Australasian Rail Directory is published each year by Rail Express in conjunction with the Australasian Railway Association.

Companies looking to update their listing, and those wishing to add a new one, have until September 5 to email their requests to the Directory’s editor, Ronda McCallum.

“The Australasian Rail Directory is a fantastic resource for the industry, and is distributed to all the delegates at AusRAIL each year, along with hundreds more through our mailing list,” McCallum outlined.

“We also distribute the Directory in an online format, attracting many more eyeballs throughout the calendar year.

“But time is running out for those looking to add or update their listing the 2018 edition.”

Contact Ronda at Ronda.McCallum@mohimedia.com.

Advertising opportunities are also available in the Directory, with a range of options on offer. Contact Margaret Shannon for more information at Margaret.Shannon@mohimedia.com, or call (02) 9994 8086.

Coal Train Photo Hunter Valley Coal Chain Coordinator

100 projects targeted during Hunter network shutdown

More than 100 projects will be delivered during a 62 hour shutdown on the Hunter Valley rail network this week, the Australian Rail Track Corporation has detailed.

The ARTC will shut down the network from 6am on Tuesday, August 15, until 8.30pm on Thursday, August 17.

Work will take place within the rail corridor from Kooragang Island, north to Narrabri and also along the Ulan line from Muswellbrook.

The scheduled activity includes track reconstructions, new rail, level crossing improvements, ballast cleaning, rail corridor tidy-up works and signalling maintenance.

“These works are an essential part of keeping one of the busiest rail networks in the country running safely and reliably,” ARTC Hunter Valley executive general manager Jonathan Vandervoort said.

“We would like to thank the community for their patience with us while this important work is taking place – we appreciate it can be an inconvenience for our neighbours and there are often a number of ‘big yellow machines’ in operation during this work.”

Vandervoort noted the work also coincided with Rail Safety Week.

“So you will see a few rail safety week badges on our vehicles – we are asking the community to please use this as a reminder to be cautious around the rail corridor, take care near worksites and be aware there may be a number of additional trucks running in the area than usual.”

Some passenger rail services will be impacted on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday including between Scone and Maitland, and some trains between Telarah and Maitland and long distance trains to the North West.

Final track weld brings closer Main North Line reopening

The earthquake-damaged line between Picton and Christchurch has finally been linked up, as the last weld in the track was completed this week, bringing closer its eventual reopening for freight.

Transport minister Simon Bridges said KiwiRail staff held a small ceremony near Rakautara, north of Kaikoura, to mark the occasion.

“This is an important milestone in getting the line open again, and in easing the pressure on upper South Island roads,” the minister said.

The Main North Line, which runs between Picton and Christchurch, is a major link in New Zealand’s transport supply network, with over 1 million tonnes of freight travelling between the North and South islands every year before the earthquake.

Work teams have been at work on the line since the November earthquake, replacing damaged track, rebuilding bridges, repairing tunnels, and clearing the large slips along the route.

KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy praised those involved in working on the numerous sites along the line, including engineers and construction workers from KiwiRail, NZTA and other contractors in the North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery alliance.

“On the rail side, 150 kilometres of line has been tamped and made ready for trains. Five thousand new concrete sleepers have been laid, the formation under 12 km of track has been rebuilt, and 5km of track has been realigned,” Mr Reidy said.

“This has been a mighty effort, and the reward is that the track should open to freight within a month, well ahead of schedule.”

The line is soon to be open again to freight, but will initially be restricted to low-speed, low-frequency services, as further repair work remains to be completed before the route is back to its pre-earthquake state.

“A lot of work still remains to be done, but the workers from KiwiRail and its partners in the North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery (NCTIR) alliance have done a great job getting it to this stage,” Bridges said.

“The government is committed to restoring the road and rail services along this important coastal corridor, and it is great to see the significant progress being made.”