Successful tenderer announced for Murray Basin Rail Project

Federal infrastructure minister Darren Chester and acting Victorian public transport minister Luke Donnellan have named a McConnell Dowell / Martinus Rail joint venture as the successful tenderer to deliver a major upgrade Murray Basin Rail Network.

The contract represents stages two, three and four of the Murray Basin Rail Project, with work to take place from July 2017 to August 2018.

“We are ready to maximise the benefits of this substantial investment in Victoria’s rail network, and deliver a safer, more productive rail freight network for V/Line and the people of Victoria,” McConnell Dowell’s Australian managing director, Jim Frith said.

“Generating local jobs and spending locally will be a key focus of our team and we will be recruiting at least 15% of our workforce from the Murray Basin region.”

The three stages of work included in the contract include gauge conversion and upgrades on rail freight lines from Maryborough to Yelta, Ouyen to Murrayville, Dunolly to Manangatang, Korong Vale to Sea Lake, and Gheringhap to Warrenheip.

This follows the completion of the first stage of the project, where 175,000 sleepers were installed and 3,400 metres of new rail was installed on the Mildura and Hopetoun rail lines, in June last year. Terms for the fifth and final stage of the Murray Basin Rail Project, gauge conversion and upgrade works on freight lines from Warrenheip to Maryborough, are still TBC.

All-in-all, the Murray Basin Rail Project will upgrade 1,055 kilometres of track, and convert it from broad gauge to standard gauge. This will increase the allowable train axle loading from 19 tonnes to 21 tonnes, although the Ouyen to Murrayville line will remain at a 19-tonne axle limit.

Ministers Chester and Donnellan said the project, which has $220 million in funding from the Commonwealth and $220 million from the Victorian Government, will increase exports of regional freight from Portland, Geelong and Melbourne.

“Once the Murray Basin Rail Project is completed, trains on the freight network will be able to carry more product, more often,” Chester said.

“There will be huge benefits to the Australian economy, with the project supporting an increase in competition between the three ports and operators of freight trains and increasing export volumes to overseas markets.”

“This huge project will make it easier for primary producers to get their goods to market — boosting exports, supporting local jobs and growing our regional economy,” Donnellan added.

“This project will create more than 400 jobs at peak construction, with at least 15% of this workforce being recruited from the Murray Basin region.”

Work will begin in coming weeks and will involve the temporary closure of the Maryborough to Yelta and Ouyen to Murrayville sections while the upgrades take place.

The Sea Lake and Manangatang lines will remain open during this time so freight operators can use these as an option to move grain and other produce using rail, V/Line said.

M80 ring road. Photo: Creative Commons / MagpieShooter

Trucks are destroying our roads and not picking up the repair cost

COMMENT: Australia should follow the lead of other nations like New Zealand and Switzerland and increase the charges for heavy vehicles on roads, proportionate to the amount of wear and tear they cause, Philip Laird writes.


It’s high time Australia changed its current road user charges for trucks. The shortfall between the charges for heavy vehicles and the money spent on things like road system maintenance, construction costs, road crashes involving heavy trucks, emissions, pollution and urban road congestion amounts to a taxpayer subsidy for the industry of at least A$3 billion per annum.

The current charges, like those of cars, rely only on annual registration fees and fuel taxation. Instead Australia should be following the lead of New Zealand, Switzerland and some other European countries and introducing a charge system based on mass and distance.

There have been many inquiries over the years into changing the system, and there’s yet another one underway by the National Transport Commission and the federal government. In the meantime, heavy vehicle charges have been frozen at 2015-16 levels for an initial two-year period.

The costs of heavy vehicles

In Australia, the road user charges for trucks are currently determined on a national basis by the National Transport Commission. The annual registration fees depend on factors including the number of axles and gross vehicle mass.

By way of example, the current annual fee for a six axle semitrailer is A$6,334 and for a nine axle B-Double is A$15,016.
With rebates, most trucks pay fuel excise of 25.9 cents per litre (this will change to 24.8 cents per litre on 1 July), whilst motorists pay 40.1 cents per litre.

The registration fee seems steep. However,a B-Double can cause, per kilometre travelled, 20,000 times the road wear and tear that a family car does.

In New Zealand a heavy six axle semitrailer pays 56 cents NZ (about 52 Australian cents) per kilometre in mass distance charges. In Australia, the same truck hauling 100,000 km a year or more pays registration and fuel road user charges of less than 17 cents per kilometre.

New Zealand’s road user charges, which are mostly made up of mass distance charges levied on heavy truck operations, account for some 37% of all revenue to their land transport fund.

In Australia, National Transport Commission data shows that in 2014-15, heavy vehicle operators paid combined road user charges and registration fees revenues of about A$3 billion. However this only makes up about 12.5% of all government outlays on roads that are now over $24 billion per annum.

It’s hard to see why Australian charges for heavy vehicles should continue to be set at about one third of the respective New Zealand charges. Also it’s not the hard working truck driver who benefits from these subsidies, but those companies who choose to consign big loads by road.

Low charges increasing traffic

The ongoing hidden subsidies for heavy long distance trucks is one reason why there has been a steady drift from rail to road for interstate freight.

By way of example, more than 15 million tonnes per annum of freight is now moved between Sydney and Melbourne, by more than 3,000 B-Doubles and semi-trailers each day and night. On this corridor, rail now moves about 2% of intercapital city freight in containers along with some steel and other bulk freight. This has decrease since the early 1990s, when rail had over 20% of Melbourne-Sydney freight

The decision of Shell Oil in 2009 to cease using rail for long haul movement of petroleum products in New South Wales and to use B-Doubles is yet another shift. It was in part due to the subsidies for most B-double operations, along with ongoing concessions to mass and dimension limits for heavy trucks, leading to heavier and larger trucks.

There have been some minor changes in road user charges for truck over time. However even modest increases have been successfully opposed by the road freight industry, meaning this situation of under-recovery of road system costs has persisted for decades.

Although the necessary reform has proved to be difficult in Australia, there are indications some changes may start to happen.

In July 2016, the Victorian government requested the National Transport Commission review how road costs are allocated for heavy trucks. At the same time the South Australian Premier, Jay Wetherill, called for a national heavy vehicle road-user charging system, run by the Commonwealth. In this proposed system state-based registration and federal based fuel-excise charges would be replaced by a charging system based on mass, distance and location.

In August of that year, Urban Infrastructure Minister Paul Fletcher suggested that trucks weighing more than 4.5 tonnes should pay road user charges that more accurately reflect the damage they do to our roads, with the option of establishing an independent price regulator.

The ConversationWith Australia’s population growing, road outlays now costing more than A$24 billion per year. Road congestion is due to cost over A$20 billion a year by 2020. This means real progress on road pricing reform for heavy trucks is now long overdue.

Philip Laird is Honorary Principal Fellow, University of WollongongThis article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Korean bidder favourite for Arrium

A Korean consortium led by Newlake Alliance Management and JB Asset Management is the preferred bidder to acquire troubled steel and iron ore business Arrium, but a competing British consortium has reportedly vowed to stay in the fight.

Arrium’s Whyalla steelworks went into voluntary administration last year, citing debts of over $4 billion.

The steelworks is responsible for a number of rail contracts, including the Commonwealth’s upgrade of the Adelaide to Tarcoola rail line, as well as Adani’s proposed rail line in Queensland’s Galilee Basin.

KordaMentha, the appointed administrator, recently said it is dealing directly with the Korean consortium, which has been selected as the preferred bidder, and has proposed to transition the facility to Korean firm POSCO’s unique Finex method of steelmaking.

But a spokesperson from a British bidder, GFC Alliance, reportedly told the ABC this week the firm was still “passionate” about acquiring the embattled South Australian steel operation.

The spokesperson reportedly said the company was still pursuing discussions with KordaMentha at this time, despite a KordaMentha representative reportedly telling Whyalla locals the Korean bidder had been selected as preferred after an extensive, and thorough, bidding process.

Meanwhile, well known steel industry insider Ray Horsburgh has questioned the viability of the proposed Finex steelmaking technology, which he says has not been adopted elsewhere.

“If it’s so good, then why hasn’t it been used in other countries?” Horsburgh reportedly asked the AFR last week. “It needs proper analysis. The real issue here is – are people being bogged down by the sexiness of new technology?”

Five named to Ballarat upgrade shortlist

Five firms have been named by the Andrews Government to deliver Labor’s $518 million upgrade to the Ballarat Line.

Public transport minister Jacinta Allan on June 16 said the following five firms would compete for the upgrade contract:

  • John Holland, Arcadis, KBR
  • Laing O’Rourke, AECOM
  • Lendlease, Coleman Rail, SMEC
  • CPB Contractors, WSP
  • TRANSFORM (McConnell Dowell, RCR O’Donnell Griffin, Arup, GHD)

Allan said evaluation of the firms’ bids was “well-advanced,” and a decision will be made shortly on the preferred bidder, with a contract expected to be awarded later this year.

The project will duplicate 18 kilometres of single track between Deer Park West and Melton, install extra passing loops, and build new stabling facilities, station platforms and car parking.

“Australia’s best construction firms are lining up to build this critical project for the growing communities along the Ballarat Line,” Allan said.

The project will see the Melbourne Metro Rail Authority move existing stabling yards at Bacchus Marsh station to Maddingley, instead of constructing new stabling at Melton and Rowsley. This will mean staff will work from one location, away from urban areas, Allan explained.

Nearly 90 boreholes have been dug since February as part of preparatory works for the project. Further work including geotechnical drilling, service locating and ecological assessments will be carried out in the coming months to inform the project’s detailed design, the minister explained.

“We’re investing more than half a billion dollars to give commuters in Ballarat, Melton and Melbourne’s West more trains, more often,” Allan said.

The Government says the Ballarat Line Upgrade will create up to 400 jobs during construction. It has committed to 10% of labour hours for apprentices, trainees, and engineering cadets.

Inland Rail: Calvert to Kagaru section progressed

Queensland state development minister Anthony Lynham has said the Calvert to Kagaru section of the Inland Rail project could create as many as 1600 jobs during construction, after the section was declared a coordinated project by the state’s coordinator-general.

The third Queensland stage of the Melbourne to Brisbane project was declared by the coordinator general on June 16. Lynham said the $1.2 billion section covering 53 kilometres from Calvert to Kagaru would now require an environmental impact statement to be prepared.

“This section could create up to 1600 jobs during its four-year construction phase starting in 2020 and 700 jobs during operation for the entire program,” Lynham said.

The Calvert to Kagaru section consists of a new single-track dual-gauge line, including approximately 1.1 kilometres of tunnels through the Teviot Range at Woolooman.

Lynham noted the stage was one of five Inland Rail stages in Queensland, and one of 13 across the whole route.

“This project could be a real boon to Queensland industry, for both growers and manufacturers,” he said. “However, this section will require rigorous planning and engineering to address the potential impacts on the rural community and small farms including minimising flooding impacts on properties along the alignment.”

Federal infrastructure minister Darren Chester said the announcement was an important step in seeing the Inland Rail built.

“Over the next few weeks there will be information on the environmental impact assessment process and opportunities for the community to have their say on the Calvert to Kagaru project,” the minister outlined.

“Calvert to Kagaru is the third section of Inland Rail in Queensland to be declared a coordinated project, following earlier declarations for the Gowrie to Helidon and Helidon to Calvert sections.

“Around 60 per cent of [Inland Rail] construction expenditure is expected in Queensland, while economic modelling forecasts that Inland Rail will boost Queensland’s Gross State Product by $7.3 billion.”

ATSB suggests review of V/Line sleeper standards

A report into a derailment in northern Victoria last year has recommended V/Line undertake a risk review of its standards for sleeper inspection and assessment, and that it implement safety actions to reduce the possibility of future derailments.

Pacific National freight train 9305 – consisting of 2 locomotives hauling 37 flatbed wagons carrying empty containers – was bound for Tocumwal in NSW, having departed from Tottenham Yard, Melbourne, when it derailed while passing through Katunga at approximately 12.25AM on 30 May, 2016.

The crew reportedly felt a bump and rough riding, which was followed by a loss of brake pipe pressure resulting in an application of the brakes. After the driver released the locomotive independent brake, the train eventually came to a stop, allowing the crew to investigate the cause of the brake and advise Centrol of the incident.

The ATSB report reveals that the train had derailed after passing over a fractured flash butt welded rail joint. The joint had been disturbed by the passage of the train enough to laterally misalign the rail ends, causing a wheel flange to impact with the rail head on the down-end, which lead to further disarrangement of the rail.

While several wagons remained upright and continued following the track alignment, several others veered to the east of the track, causing a separation between the wagons. This lead to a loss of brake pipe pressure and the subsequent application of the train brakes.

According to the report, the derailment resulted in damage to approximately 350 metres of track. No injuries occurred during the incident.

An analysis of the condition of the fracture surfaces of the rail joint indicated that the fracture had occurred several days prior to the freight train 9305’s passage.

It is likely, the report states, that “the passage of trains had resulted in the deterioration of rail fixings around the fracture. This deterioration was sufficient to allow the development of a lateral discontinuity at the fracture during the passage of train 9305 resulting in the derailment of the train”.

The report concluded that contributing factors leading to the derailment included microscopic defects present in the weld zone of the flash butt weld, likely the result of “improper material processing” during the welding of the joint; a higher than normal loading of the rail due to inadequate support of the rail (which was not identified prior to the incident); the failure to detect the fracture prior to the incident, in part due to an “ineffective” inspection regime (considered crucial); and the deferment of remediation works to replace deteriorated sleepers.

The ATSB noted that V/Line has since completed a joint servicing program, redeveloped its ultrasonic inspection and assessment standard to include more specific instructions and requirements for ultrasonic testing (including a requirement to report non-sizable defects in more detail), and, further, that V/Line has conducted ultrasonic inspections of an additional 100 flash butt welds and 50 thermit welds on the Tocumwal line, in which no further defects were detected.

V/Line reportedly intends to conduct a risk review to evaluate the “appropriateness” of the current inspection standards for sleeper condition. The ATSB has recommended that V/Line act implement safety actions that will respond to the results of the risk review and lower the risk of train derailment in the future.

First train since earthquake arrives in Kaikoura

Further progress has been made in repairing the Main North Line, after the arrival of the first work train at Kaikoura from Oaro in south since last year’s earthquake.

New Zealand’s transport minister Simon Bridges said that the arrival of the train earlier this month marked significant milestone in the process of getting the line up and running again.

“The train’s arrival demonstrates the progress that KiwiRail is making to restore this vital part of New Zealand’s freight network,” the minister said.

“The train, carrying a load of rail and sleepers, will help progress KiwiRail’s rebuild and will be used to replace buried and damaged track.”

The establishment of this connection from Oaro to Kaikoura, Bridges said, will be a key part of eventually reopening the line.

“Being able to get trains to Kaikoura means resources can now be positioned in Kaikoura, allowing work trains to operate in the north, south and middle sections of the Main North Line.”

Trains will therefore be able to carry materials to help repair work on the rail line and for the reinstatement of State Highway 1, which was also heavily damaged in the earthquake.

Despite the progress that the arrival of the train signals, much work still needs to be done. The tunnel at Kaikoura remains damaged, and the work train had to be pushed through the tunnel and pulled out from the other end.

The Main North Line is a major supply link for New Zealand’s freight services and its reinstatement is considered vital for the economy.

“Before the quake struck KiwiRail was shifting a million tonnes of freight a year over the line. They are working hard to fully reopen this important freight connection as soon as possible,” he said.

“The government’s priority is to restore the pre-earthquake transport links to Kaikoura and its surrounding communities, and ensure these vital links are resilient for the long term.”

No conviction for rail crossing crasher

A man who caused the derailment of a V/Line train at Kangaroo Flats near Bendigo has avoided conviction after the case was heard in court last week.

In the Bendigo Magistrates’ Court last Monday the 18-year-old pleaded guilty to one charge of unlawfully and negligently obstructing a railway carriage.

Details reported in The Bendigo Advertiser indicate that on the afternoon of February 15 the man’s four-wheel-drive became stuck on the track when attempting to accelerate over the line.

The man had made this attempt after becoming lost on bush tracks on Kangaroo Gully Road.
The man called his father, who then called 000 to inform emergency services of the situation.

However, the train driver of an approaching train (which was on its way to Bendigo) did not receive the message in time, and had to initiate the emergency breaks upon sighting the man and the vehicle.

The train collided with the vehicle at almost 130 kilometres per hour, causing the front carriage to derail. The car was dragged 65 metres, while the train only came to a halt 640 metres further along the track.

The train driver and several passengers suffered minor injuries in the collision. There were reportedly 80 passengers on board at the time.

Damage to the track means that over 1100 concrete sleepers will have to be replaced, and according to The Bendigo Advertiser, V/Line’s repair costs will be over $2 million.

The man’s defence counsel argued that, while the act was negligent and “a very stupid thing”, community work would be a suitable punishment as there was no criminal intent.

A number of character references were reportedly submitted to the court, which were considered “impressive” by magistrate Sarah Leighfield.

The magistrate made clear that while the charge was a serious one, the youth of the man and the evident lack of intent had to be taken into consideration.

Having avoided conviction, the man was placed on a community corrections order for 12 months, and must complete 150 hours of unpaid community work along with a road safety awareness test.

Brookfield completes 3-year Merredin upgrade

The completion of a turnout installation in the Merredin town site on June 1 marked the end of a three-year upgrade of rail infrastructure in the town, a major hub on the Eastern Goldfields Railway, WA network manager Brookfield Rail has said.

A $3 million upgrade program has been carried out along the track between the Mary and Barrack Street level crossings in Merredin. The work involved the installation of 3000 concrete sleepers, two new concrete turnouts and an upgrade of the Barrack Street crossing.

The final turnout installation, completed last week, involved over 30 Brookfield Rail employees and local contractors from Merredin, Northam and the Goldfields, working through a single 10-hour shutdown of the EGR, Brookfield said.

The EGR provides western WA with its only rail connection to the eastern side of Australia. It handles around 80% of all containerised freight passing between east and west, and provides regional bulk minerals and grain customers with access to port sites at Fremantle and Kwinana.

Brookfield says the Merredin upgrade program was designed to “future proof” EGR operations, with new structures designed to withstand harsh conditions, carry higher axle loads and cater for projected rail traffic requirements.

“This will ensure Brookfield Rail can continue to optimise operations and work with customers to improve the supply chain and maximise use of the railway,” the company said in a statement.

GPS technology to help rail maintenance works

The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) says GPS technology will help maintain worker safety during upcoming maintenance work on the Hunter Valley Railway Network.

Sections of the track will be shut down during works starting this Friday to allow scheduled maintenance tasks to be carried out, including full track reconstructions, new rail being laid, level crossing improvements, ballast cleaning, rail corridor tidy up works and signalling maintenance.

GPS navigation technology will be used to help complete these tasks quickly while preserving the safety of workers on the site.

ARTC executive general manager for the Hunter Valley, Jonathan Vandervoort, said that GPS equipped machines would carry out onsite earthworks after calculation work has been done to ascertain quantities and to scope out possible problems.

“The system allows plant operators to figure out the depth of excavation and means a surveyor does not have to be continuously around plant to assess and communicate the levels,” Mr Vandervoort said.

“The clever use of technology has allowed us to minimise the disruption to the community by completing work faster and increased safety by reducing the number of workers around mobile plant.”

Vandervoort said more than $20 million worth of essential maintenance will include a range of scheduled maintenance tasks including full track reconstructions, new rail being laid, level crossing improvements, ballast cleaning, rail corridor tidy up works and signalling maintenance.

ARTC is recommending motorists to take extra care while the maintenance works are being carried out.

Works will start on the evening of June 9 on the line from Islington to Telarah and from Port Waratah and Kooragang to Maitland, while further works will begin on the morning of June 10 from Maitland to Muswellbrook, Ulan, and Narrabri. The maintenance works will be completed at all sites by June 13.