Progress on Main North Line earthquake repairs

For the first time since last year’s earthquake, trains have started running again north of Claverley towards Kaikoura on the Main North Line.

Todd Moyle, KiwiRail Group general manager of network services, said that repair work to allow 1000-tonne work trains to move as far as Oaro had been finished. These trains will help complete further work to allow the line to eventually open for freight in the near future.

“Work trains will be laying ballast under and around the sleepers to lock in the track alignment. The work train is followed by a tamper which packs the ballast under the sleepers and makes final adjustments to the alignment and level of the track,” Mr Moyle said.

“The arrival of work trains means progress not just for the rail, but for the whole transport corridor.”

Moyle also implored people to be “extremely careful” around the rail corridor and when using level crossings, now that trains were using the tracks.

“It is not only work trains and tamper units that are moving on the line, but also hi-rail vehicles – vehicles that go on rail. We should all treat the corridor as ‘live’ at all times.”

This message was echoed by Megan Drayton, TrackSAFE Foundation manager, who warned people to stay off the railway and to only cross tracks at level crossings.

“Always slow down as you’re approaching a level crossing and be prepared to stop. Look out for trains, obey the signs and signals at crossings and always stay off the tracks,” she said.

“Trains are deceptively quiet and they can’t stop in a hurry or swerve to avoid anything on the tracks.”

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.

Over 150 kilometres of the Main North Line was damaged in November’s earthquake, and intense repair work has been ongoing over the last six months, fixing tracks, removing debris, and rebuilding critical infrastructure.

Moyle said that allowing the work trains to move north for further work on the rail corridor was a sign of the progress being made towards eventually reopening the line for freight trains.

“This is an enormous project but I am confident we will get the job done safely and as quickly as possible.”

Freight rail track - stock - credit Shutterstock (8)

Applications for Fixing Country Rail now open

Applications are now open for project proposals to upgrade the NSW regional rail network as part of the state government’s Fixing Country Rail program.

Deputy premier, John Barilaro, minister for roads, maritime and freight, Melinda Pavey, and member for Barwon, Kevin Humphries, announced the allocation of $150 million for Round One of the program.

The stated aim of the Fixing Country Rail program is to fund rail infrastructure projects that will improve connectivity on the regional network and reduce transport costs for regional businesses.

The $150 million comes out of the $400 million NSW Restart funding for enhancements to regional rail lines.

“Improving rail takes pressure off local roads, helps improve road safety and efficiencies in freight,” deputy premier Barilaro said.

“We want to enhance local communities, which is why we are focusing our efforts in improving networks in rail, roads and freight.”

The opening of Round One comes after last year’s Pilot Round, which funded projects at Burren Junction, Hillston, and Barellan, among others.

The deputy premier said that economic benefits were already being delivered by these projects.

“For every additional train leaving Burren Junction 70 trucks are being removed from the roads network and producers are saving up to $9 a tonne, while the extended siding has meant big savings in wagon loading times. We want to continue seeing these kinds of results.”

With the opening of Round One the government is encouraging those involved in the regional freight industry to nominate projects for the allocation of funds.

“While Fixing Country Rail funding will only be allocated to rail asset owners and managers, input from the people who produce and move freight will be critical for ensuring we get the best ‘bang for buck’ with any upgrades,” Kevin Humphries said.

Round One applications will be reviewed by a technical panel chaired by Transport for NSW’s Freight Industry Branch and then by the Infrastructure for NSW Independent Regional Assessment Panel, which will make recommendations for project funding.

Applications for Round One will be open until the middle of July.

Freight rail track - stock - credit Shutterstock (8)

10,000 Steel welds complete for new Adelaide-Tarcoola track

10,000 steel welds to create new track have been completed on the Adelaide-Tarcoola Rail Upgrade Acceleration project in South Australia.

Fully-funded by the federal government, the $252 million project is upgrading approximately 600 kilometres of track on the interstate network between Adelaide and Tarcoola, which is used for intermodal freight traffic to and from Western Australia and heavy minerals rail freight.

The new track will support an increase in rail size along the line from 47 kilograms per metre to 60 kilograms per metre and an increase in axle loads from 23 tonnes to 25 tonnes, improvements that are expected to increase productivity for services that use the line, as they allow the operation of heavier freight trains moving at higher speeds.

“More productive trains means greater payloads and getting goods to market quicker,” federal infrastructure and transport minister Darren Chester said, commenting on the upgrade progress.

“This 10,000 weld milestone is good news for our farmers and miners competing on a global stage, and for domestic consumers who will benefit from more cost effective transport.”

Rowan Ramsey, federal Liberal member for Grey, said that providing the rail link with new steel tracks and increasing productivity was crucial to moving commodities across Australia.

“This stretch is a critical link in the national supply chain, with 80 per cent of the items transported on land between Australia’s east coast and west coast travelling by rail,” Ramsey said.

130 jobs are expected to be created over 3 year span of the project, the first of which have been employed at ARTC’s flashbutt welding facility at Spencer Junction in Port Augusta, where the 10,000 welds have been carried out.

Further jobs in construction and in project management will be created for the laying of the new track over the next few years.

The project to upgrade the Adelaide-Tarcoola rail link is expected to be completed in late 2019.

Conflict continues over Vic rail funding

The dispute over the allocation of federal budget funds to Victoria’s rail infrastructure projects heated up this week with the bitter war of words continuing between Labor and Liberal figures at both federal and state levels.

On Monday, Victoria’s state transport minister Jacinta Allan joined with Labor’s federal shadow minister Anthony Albanese to attack the federal budget, and to claim that the Turnbull government had “dudded” the Victorian government’s request for the $1.45 billion in Asset Recycling Initiative funds meant for the state’s regional rail upgrades.

“The Turnbull government is ripping off Victoria — it’s as simple as that,” Allan said.

Since the budget’s release last Tuesday — which included a commitment of $1 billion in investment on Victorian infrastructure — the Andrews Labor government has claimed that the Turnbull government was not giving the state its fair share, with premier Daniel Andrews saying in a press conference last week that a massive gap had been left in their own commitments to upgrade the regional network.

“Even if all that money could be invested in regional rail, $1 billion can’t be made into $1.45 billion of work,” he said.

While $2.2 billion of Asset Recycling funds have been provided to the NSW Liberal government, the Andrews Labor government says that that Victoria “will get absolutely nothing” of the $1.45 billion that it claims is owed after leasing the Port of Melbourne through the Asset Recycling agreement with the federal government.

Labor called this “another kick in the guts for Victoria”, as the state receives 8 per cent of federal infrastructure funding overall, while NSW receives 45 per cent.

“Only Labor will give Victorians their fair share, so we can build the better transport, schools and hospitals they need and deserve,” Allan asserted on Monday, welcoming the support from the federal opposition.

Albanese added to his ongoing criticism of the budget’s funding strategies, stating that the budget papers themselves reveal that federal infrastructure investment for Victoria in the coming years is to be “further reduced from its already pathetic levels”, shrinking to $280 million in 2020-21, and by $150 million this year.

“These vicious cuts highlight the chasm between the coalition government’s rhetoric on infrastructure and its total inability to engage in the planning required to take projects from the drawing board and into construction,” he said.

Allan was also reported by The Border Mail as saying on Monday that the $100 million the federal government has promised for upgrades to the North East rail line was not enough.

“The Turnbull government needs to justify how they think $100 million will properly fix the track, given their own experts say it will cost more than that,” she was quoted as saying.

“As they have failed to provide any evidence to support their claims, people have every right to be sceptical.”

The Andrews government claims that the cost of the upgrades is closer to $130 million, and wants assurance that federal investment will be adequate for the update the tracks require before committing itself investing in new rolling stock.

Talking on ABC radio on Monday, federal infrastructure and transport minister Darren Chester responded, saying that “Premiers complaining about not getting enough money from the federal government is a bit like the sun coming up every morning; it does happen every day”.

Chester said that the federal government was helping the state Labor government fulfill “its own responsibilities” towards public transport system by putting forward $500 million for Victoria’s regional rail system, including $100 million for the North East line.

“Right now premier Andrews has zero on the table, he doesn’t have a single dollar from the state government there to negotiate with, and we are encouraging him to come to the table with money. Let’s have a proper conversation about how we can invest together in the future of regional Victoria,” he said.

Joining Chester for a press conference at Wangaratta on Tuesday, state Nationals member for Ovens Valley Tim McCurdy echoed the federal minister’s comments.

“Jacinta Allan and Premier Daniel Andrews need to stop playing the games and get on and provide the rolling stock that we need so importantly here on the North East line,” he said.

Nonetheless, the state Labor government has so far remained firm, with Jacinta Allan telling The Border Mail that the ball was in Canberra’s court.

“As soon as the Turnbull Government can prove their investment will properly fix the track, we will order new trains for the North-East line.”

Chester backs Inland Rail plan despite critics

Infrastructure minister Darren Chester has reinforced the government’s Inland Rail plan, despite a private sector group suggesting the project could blow out by up to $6 billion above forecast costs.

National Trunk Rail director Jon Grayson told Fairfax after the Budget that the government’s plan – which has approval from Infrastructure Australia – could cost as much as $16 billion, despite the current business case forecasting a cost of between $9.9 billion and $10.7 billion.

The Turnbull Government aims to deliver Inland Rail – an inland connection between Brisbane and Melbourne – via an $8.4 million equity investment into the Australian Rail Track Corporation, as well as a PPP for the most complex section of new track – a tunnel through the Toowoomba Range.

The 1700-kilometre Inland Rail route would only need new track to be built along 40% of its length, with the rest of the route created by upgrading existing track.

Grayson reportedly believes this method could result in a major blowout in costs, pushing it well above the $12 billion to $13 billion price tag NTR has placed on its alternative plan.

NTR wants to build an all-new, 1595-kilometre rail line between the two major cities, which would rely on no existing infrastructure and – NTR says – would deliver a better end-product.

“We don’t believe [the Government’s proposal] can be built for $10.7 billion,” Grayson was quoted in the AFR on May 12.

“We think it will be significantly more than that.”

Grayson reportedly believes the plan to upgrade vast amounts of existing track presents significant construction risks, while a 100%-new rail plan would create a shorter, flatter, more reliable piece of infrastructure.

Nonetheless, the Turnbull Government appears to be committed to its existing plan, with Minister Chester visiting regional NSW on May 12 to promote Inland Rail to the local community.

“This project has been through an exhaustive process. It’s been talked about for decades, it’s had the tick of approval by Infrastructure Australia, it has a positive cost-benefit ratio. It’s the type of project that will make a difference in people’s lives,” Chester told the media gathering.

“It is a long-term investment that our kids and our grandkids will thank us for.

“Admittedly, it takes several decades to maximise the benefits but governments have to think long term.”

Sydney Metro bridge deck in the air

The deck of the new Sydney Metro skytrain bridge is now in the air, with premier Gladys Berejiklian welcoming the development as a “critical milestone in delivering a 21st century railway system” to the city.

The bridge is the first cable-stayed railway bridge on a curve to be built in Australia.

270 metres long, it is made up of 88 concrete segments — each weighing between 70 and 140 tonnes — that were put in place in an engineering operation that occurred 7 metres above ground.

The bridge deck will eventually be supported by 32 cables and two 45-metre-high towers, to be installed over the coming months.

More than 4,600 have reportedly worked on the skytrain project so far. When completed the skytrain will move above ground for 4 kilometres between Kellyville and Rouse Hill on the Sydney Metro Northwest line.

The premier joined NSW’s transport and infrastructure Andrew Constance to walk along the newly raised deck of the bridge, the design of which is inspired by the Anzac Bridge over Windsor Road at Rouse Hill.

Constance said that the Sydney Metro project was moving ahead quickly and would soon alter transport in the city.

“Before you know it, a new metro train will be running here every four minutes in the peak in each direction, bringing reliable metro rail to this region – and Australia – for the first time,” the transport minister said.

Stage 1 of the Sydney Metro, the Northwest project, will open in the first half of 2019, while Stage 2 services extending the metro-style railway from the Northwest under the harbour into the CBD will open in 2024.

Gawler electrification tender process opened

The tender process for the electrification of Adelaide’s Gawler rail line has begun, with companies invited to register their interest for the roughly $300 million contract.

South Australian transport and infrastructure minister Stephen Mullighan said on May 9 the RoI period would open for interested parties on May 10.

He said the State Government would contribute $152.5 million to electrify the line to Salisbury, but a matching commitment from the Federal Government would be needed to complete the project.

“This is the first stage of a long-awaited project which will provide real transport benefits to commuters in Adelaide’s northern suburbs,” Mullighan said.

“The Gawler electrification project will enable faster, safer, more reliable and more comfortable rail services which will encourage more people to leave the car at home and take public transport.”

Companies with experience in rail electrification works are invited to register on the SA Tenders website. Those eligible will be invited to complete a full tender by July, so work can begin in early 2018.

The Gawler rail electrification works will include:

  • Installation of the overhead wiring system including masts and gantry supports
  • Installation of a new signalling system
  • Installation of an Automatic Train Protection system
  • Installation of a new fibre optic communications system cable
  • Installation of protective works and modifications to existing infrastructure
  • Service relocations, vegetation trimming and removal and other works necessary to enable the electrification to proceed

The contract will require all steel to be sourced from Australian-standard certified fabricators and mills.

According to the Government’s figures, patronage rose by more than 30% on the Gawler line over the seven years to 2016, making it Adelaide’s most popular line.

“Almost 5 million trips were recorded on the Gawler line last financial year and that doesn’t factor in the hundreds of thousands of free trips taken on our trains every year with services such as the MAC Footy Express,” the minister said.

“If not for the Federal Liberal Government’s decision to withdraw funding from the project when Tony Abbott was elected Prime Minister we would be able to complete even more of this important public transport project.”

Mullighan said the state would continue to lobby the Turnbull Government to recommit to the project.

Train services resume after closure for Torrens Junction works

Train services on Adelaide’s Outer Harbour and Grange lines have resumed after a 10-day closure, and on the Gawler line after a 7-day closure, during which $20 million worth of works were completed at Torrens Junction.

The state government reported that over 375 people were employed during the closure, while 400 tonnes of reinforcing steel was used and approximately 250 piles were drilled and constructed in the creation of works that go towards the state government’s $238 million Torrens Junction Rail Project.

Currently, traffic is held up for a total of more than 2 hours every day at the junction, as passing freight trains close crossings for up to six minutes each time.

The aim of the project is to separate the interstate freight railway from the Outer Harbor passenger railway by building a rail underpass at Park Terrace for the passenger line.

When completed, freight trains will no longer need to give way to the passenger trains at the junction, thereby reducing delays to the freight service and to the road network.

“Removing the need for freight trains to stop at the Torrens Rail Junction will also mean they don’t have to slow down or stop through the Torrens Road and Hawker Street level crossings, reducing traffic delays at these locations,” transport and infrastructure minister Stephen Mullighan said.

“Separating this rail line from vehicle traffic will improve travel times for commuters, freight and transport vehicles and all road users who navigate this part of Adelaide’s Inner City Ring Route every day,” the minister added.

Freight productivity will also be further enhanced through the upgrade by the facilitation of longer (1800-metre) freight trains to operate between Adelaide and Melbourne.

During the temporary closure, temporary rail lines were constructed for Gawler, Outer Harbor and Grange passenger services, while construction work began on a new bridge at Park Terrace and Gibson Street.

Piling works were also carried out from the River Torrens to Torrens Rail Junction, and at Bowden Station, where preparations are underway for the construction of a new lowered station.

Work progresses on Sydney’s light rail

Track laying, road moving and traffic adjustments were all part of the significant progress made on Sydney’s light rail project in April.

New light rail tracks have been installed at zone five on George Street (near Market Street), at zone six outside the Queen Victoria Building, and at zone two near Circular Quay, where track work is reportedly nearing completion. Construction work is also planned to begin in zone one (at Circular Quay east of George Street) on Friday 5 May.

Over the Easter weekend, advantage was taken of lower traffic volumes to install track at the intersection of George Street with Bridge and Grosvenor Streets, while work started in zone 13 on Eddy Avenue between Pitt and Elizabeth Streets.

Surry Hills’ first track was also laid over the long weekend at the intersection of Elizabeth and Devonshire Street. Work is now reportedly underway on the relocation of the extensive water, gas, and electrical utilities that currently run under Devonshire Street towards Central Station in preparation for the laying of track in the latter half of this year.

In early April, Anzac Parade was returned to its original alignment after 8 weeks of construction on the light rail tunnel under the road at Moore Park; excavation of the tunnel is to begin next month. Extensive work is also underway on the Eastern Distributor Bridge — including barrier placement, road pavement, and vegetation and utility work — which will continue over May.

The first electrical substation was completed at Randwick, on Alison Road, and weekend work on the intersection of Alison Road and Darley Road that began on 28 April is to continue over the next three weeks.

Randwick’s final construction zone was established on High Street at the end of March. This has lead to significant traffic changes due to the closure of the road between Wansey Road and Avoca Street for geotechnical and heritage surveys. Excavation is also underway for the new underground substation under High Cross Park, and utilities work is soon to begin for the laying of electrical cables in the area.

Chester: Andrews spending money he doesn’t have

Infrastructure minister Darren Chester has slammed Victoria’s regional rail plan, saying it relies on federal money the state is not entitled to spend.

The Andrews Government announced major upgrades to the regional rail network as part of the Victorian Budget on May 2.

But the plan relies on $1.45 billion from the Federal Government’s discontinued Asset Recycling Initiative, which Victoria believes it is entitled to for selling the Port of Melbourne last year.

The Turnbull Government is only willing to pay half that amount, however, arguing the state missed the June 30, 2016 deadline it imposed for deals to be finalised under the scheme.

The debate is far from over, but Chester took to ABC Radio in Victoria on April 4 to criticise Premier Andrews.

“[State and federal treasurers] haven’t been able to reach agreement on the $1.4 billion which Victoria claims it’s owed, yet we have the premier out there making announcements with money he doesn’t have,” Chester said.

“I find it a bit odd to have a state government announcing federal government funding even though [Andrews] knows it is in dispute.”

Chester also highlighted the plan’s 100% reliance on Asset Recycling cash, saying it showed the state was not willing to put “a single cent, not one dollar” of its own money towards regional railways.

The federal infrastructure minister seemed to suggest Premier Andrews is being unnecessarily – and perhaps intentionally – difficult over the project.

“The Prime Minister has made it clear he is keen to work with states, right across Australia, on passenger rail projects,” Chester said.

“You’d think in that circumstance that the State Government would prepare a plan, a business case, and dedicate some funding for it and go to the Commonwealth and say, ‘let’s work in partnership on this project’.

“That hasn’t happened. I haven’t received a plan. I haven’t received a business case and all I’ve received is one letter from the Premier demanding $1.4 billion for us to fund all of his regional rail upgrades, without a cent from the State Government.”