Eastern Goldfields Railway.

Upgrade underway on Goldfields

Brookfield Rail is on track to deliver a $12.5 million re-railing program on sections of the Eastern Goldfields Railway.

Teams from Brookfield Rail, manager and operator of Western Australia’s 5,500km open access, multi-user freight rail network, will work on sections of the railway across approximately a 140km stretch between Northam and Kwinana.

The company says the maintenance project involves replacing over 40km of heavy duty rail which weighs between 50kg and 60kg per metre, at 71 distinct locations.

The section of network in question transports in excess of 19 million tonnes each year, Brookfield Rail said, providing a vital freight link to the eastern states, and to export markets through Kwinana and Fremantle ports.

Paul Lowney, Brookfield Rail’s general manager of asset management and projects, said the work was critical to providing a safe, efficient and reliable freight network that continues to meet industry needs.

“[The railway] carries everything from passengers on the Indian Pacific to grain carted from the Wheatbelt,” Lowney said.

“We are working closely with our customers and above-rail operators to ensure these critical maintenance works are completed safely and on schedule while minimising impact on our customer’s operations.”

Brookfield Rail is also making improvements to access throughout the area which will significantly improve accessibility for emergency services, the company said.

Works are expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Kaimai Tunnel location. Graphic: Google

Kaimai Tunnel works well underway

A multi-million dollar upgrade of New Zealand’s longest rail tunnel is well underway.

NZ rail operator and manager KiwiRail says the team repairing and upgrading the 8.8km Kaimai Tunnel, on the North Island, has gotten off to a good start.

Project manager Neil Mason and construction manager Tevita Brugger told the media last week that teams have already completed repairs on more than 300 metres of concrete slab and completed cleaning on 5.1km tunnel.

A project to upgrade and repair the tunnel, which sees roughly three-dozen freight rail movements a day, was announced in October 2014.

KiwiRail said the primary goal was to refurbish the rail track and tunnel floor to meet a forecasted growth in freight volumes and axle loads.

Brugger said the material developed to undertake repairs is very special because it is strong enough to run trains on after 90 minutes, is not flammable and does not give off any harmful gasses.

“We still have 350 metres of concrete to do and expect to have it finished by Christmas,” Brugger said.

“The project work is starting to show some effect.

“As a direct result of the work that has been done the line returned to its 80km/h speed for the first time in four years.”

Over a two-day closure in September, the repair team installed a special slot drain into the floor of the tunnel.

“The drain will be used to intercept water running underneath the tunnel,” Brugger explained.

“These water volumes were encountered when the tunnel was built but are not well understood.

“We need to control the water and to do this we need to determine the size of the pipe. The slot drain will allow us to observe the water flowing freely.

“Next year, we’ll start construction on the new leaky feeder radio system followed by a new phone system.”

Brugger said further investigation was needed into the flow of water in and around the tunnel.

The research would help determine the scope of the project, which could take up to 10 years, and cost as much as $50 million.

“Most projects would involve 5-6 days of work on-site per week, whereas we only have access to the tunnel once a week and the rest of the time it remains open, due to high volumes of trains,” Brugger continued.

“On top of that, we are working in a 9km-long tunnel with a single track, with crews who do not live around the area.

“Kaimai is a complex and challenging project and this means that to maximise our production time requires a higher degree of planning and coordination is required.”

Grain siloes at The Rock, New South Wales. Photo: Creative Commons / Golden Wattle

Riverina grain line upgrade begins

NSW ministers Duncan Gay and Niall Blair have announced the start of a $9 million upgrade to the grain rail line between The Rock and Boree Creek, south of Wagga Wagga.

Re-sleepering at The Rock is expected to be completed by the end of the year and involves the replacement of timber sleepers with more modern, long-life sleepers.

The project will extend from the Emerald loading point at The Rock, to Boree Creek.

30,160 new steel sleepers and fastenings will be installed on the main line, 8000 tonnes of rail ballast will be unloaded, and a total of 56km of track will be resurfaced.

Minister Gay said the funding is part of the state’s continual work on grain lines across the state, aimed at helping ensure freight movements from the farm to the port via rail continue to be efficient and timely.

Gay, minister for roads, maritime and freight, said the NSW Liberals & Nationals Government has invested more than $246 million into upgrading and repairing grain rail lines in regional NSW since 2011.

“By upgrading grain lines,” he said, “we are creating more reliable travel times, cutting costs for freight operators and farmers and are continuing to maximise the value of the NSW grain harvest.”

Blair, minister for primary industries, lands and water, said a productive crop season can see in excess of 100,000 tonnes of grain transported on the line between The Rock and Boree Creek.

“This state produces 36% of Australia’s wheat, worth $2.5 billion to our economy each year,” Blair said. “That’s why we need to make sure that we support getting produce from paddock to port efficiently.”

Blair said the upgrade would benefit farmers in Wagga Wagga, Narrandera, Oaklands and Coleambally.

Member for Wagga Wagga Daryl Maguire welcomed the news, noting work to extend the existing grain line by 750 metres at Ardelthan had just been completed, and new over-rail loading equipment will be installed by GrainCorp and Emerald Grain in the coming months.

“Similar to roads, when grain rail lines are upgraded, freight movements become more efficient,” Maguire said, “cutting costs for freight operators – which benefits farmers, local businesses and local communities.”

Rail line at Port Botany. Photo: Sydney Ports Corporation / Brendan Read

Botany Rail Line upgrade contract awarded

An Austrian-based business has taken out the first construction contract for Stage 3 of the $75 million Port Botany Rail Line upgrade.

Federal infrastructure and regional development minister Warren Truss has announced Rhomberg Rail will perform the work, on the back of a record month for containers hauled to and from Port Botany by rail.

“Reducing the impact of freight traffic on motorists by developing cross-metropolitan, rail container shuttle services has been a focus of the Australian and New South Wales governments for some years and this upgrade will allow more efficient access to the port, improve productivity and prepare it for future growth,” Truss said.

Under the contract Rhomberg will deliver concrete re-sleepering and embankment upgrade works to the freight network between Sefton and Campsie in Sydney’s west. Truss said the work should take roughly 18 months, starting this November. Pre-construction commenced in July.

“Stage 3 will not only improve the rail line’s reliability, but improve the connectivity between the port and the broader Sydney rail freight network, including intermodal terminals,” Truss, who is also the leader of the National Party and deputy prime minister, said.

“These upgrades will bring the entire metropolitan freight line up to ARTC standards.”

Australian Rail Track Corporation chairman John Fullerton welcomed the announcement, identifying a noticeable modal shift to rail in New South Wales.

“In August 2015, a record number of containers were railed to and from Port Botany – over 30,000 Twenty Foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) – or around 15.9 per cent modal share for rail for the month,” Fullerton said.

“With the future freight task only growing, the opportunity for rail to pick up more transport work in New South Wales is compelling.

“No other transport mode has the current existing capacity for this growing freight task or the ability to have an immediate impact on traffic congestion that currently gridlocks the city.”

Newcastle station pre-closure. Photo: Creative Commons / Abesty

Liberals achieve Newcastle closure with $50m deal

The controversial removal of the passenger line into Newcastle has been confirmed by an act of parliament.

An amendment bill passed through the New South Wales Upper House on October 14, allowing the state to remove the passenger rail line between Wickham and Newcastle railway stations.

The state shut the line at Hamilton – the station before Wickham – on Boxing Day 2014, with buses connecting passengers to Newcastle and the surrounding area from that site.

In the long term, the government aims to develop a light rail line through Newcastle, starting at a new interchange with heavy rail at Wickham.

It has removed boom gates along the closed section of railway, and has installed several temporary crossings over the track, but it hasn’t started ripping up the track itself – an act that would definitively ‘close’ the line.

Under section 99A of the Transport Administration Act, an infrastructure owner is not allowed to close a rail line without parliament approval.

The state initially tried to circumvent this rule by transferring ownership of the above ground rail infrastructure on the section from RailCorp to the Hunter Development Corporation.

But that move was halted late last year, however, after community action group Save Our Rail successfully challenged it in the Supreme Court.

That left the government with only one option if it wanted to destroy the line: to pass the necessary amendment in parliament.

To win the votes needed from the Shooters and Fishers Party, the NSW Liberals agreed to deliver an extra $50 million into the Newcastle revitalisation kitty, bringing the total project funds to $510 million.

When reading the bill a second time in the Upper House on October 14, roads, maritime and freight minister Duncan Gay explained the government’s predicament.

“Due to specific arrangements relating to the heavy rail line into Newcastle, the relevant government entities considered that section 99A would not require an Act of Parliament before the heavy rail infrastructure from Wickham to Newcastle was removed,” he said.

“The Government acted in a manner consistent with its clear commitment to deliver the timely transformation of the city.

“In December, a group [Save Our Rail] opposed to the closure of the line – a minority group that is opposed to change and economic development – obtained a court order with the effect that government entities could not close the line and remove the infrastructure without an Act of Parliament.

“Government entities have appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal, which has not yet handed down its decision.

“The purpose of this bill is to end the current uncertainty and to ensure that the Newcastle Urban Transformation and Transport Program can proceed without delay.”

Save Our Rail was disappointed by the news.

“The SOR struggle has always been on behalf of the community, based on identified needs and sound research,” the group said in a statement on Thursday.

“Save Our Rail will not back away from our commitment to the Hunter region and the city of Newcastle. To remain viable as a major regional city Newcastle requires an efficient intercity rail connection direct to the CBD and to the beach, our tourist drawcard.”

Greens minister Mehreen Faruqi reportedly condemned the vote.

“The NSW government has prioritised the interests of private developers over the public transport needs of an entire region,” Dr Faruqi was quoted by Fairfax.

“The government has teamed up with the Shooters and Fishers Party to rob the Hunter, Central Coast and Newcastle of a world-class public transport future to flog off public land.”

Opponents of the move believe the government is replacing the heavy rail line with a light rail line into Newcastle so it can sell the excess land for development. If the government were to keep the heavy rail line open, as well as developing the light rail option, it would not be able to “flog off” the land, it is argued.

But Minister Gay says replacing heavy rail with light rail in this case is simply the right option.

“The [Wickham] interchange will allow seamless connections between different modes,” he told Parliament. “It will be the gateway to the central business district.

“Light rail will allow Newcastle to capitalise on this opportunity for renewal and reach its potential as an economic, social and cultural centre.

“The Government believes Newcastle deserves a world-class transport system. This bill will ensure its delivery.”

Aurizon Train

Aurizon could be biggest loser in WICET fallout

Aurizon says a dispute with the owners of Wiggins Island Coal Export Terminal (WICET) over payments for the terminal’s rail loop could cost it up to $27 million every year for the next two decades.

The Queensland-based rail operator announced a deal in September 2011 with the eight mining companies involved in WICET, known as the Wiggins Island Rail Project.

Under the contract, ASX-listed Aurizon covered the cost of building an $843 million rail loop to deliver coal to WICET. In return, the mining companies were to pay Aurizon back over time, presumably as they used the rail connection to export coal to international buyers.

However, with the market for seaborne coal now in the proverbial toilet, and the rail loop built, the seven WICET proponents who are still solvent have reportedly asked Aurizon to cut them a new deal. (One original WICET proponent, Bandanna Energy, went into administration late last year.)

Related story: Coal facility built for expansion; but will it ever come?

Aurizon told the ASX on Monday morning it was disputing the validity of notices it received from the seven miners.

“Those notices purport to exercise a right under the relevant agreements to reduce the financial exposure of those customers to Aurizon Network in respect of the Wiggins Island Rail Project,” the rail company said.

Aurizon warned that if the miners’ claims are valid, they could cost the rail operator a total of $509.5 million over a 19.5 year period.

“The effect of the notices, if valid, would be to substantially reduce the above regulatory return component of project revenue that Aurizon Network will receive under the Project Deeds,” the company said.

“The exact impact would be dependent upon a number of variables by which the above regulatory return component is calculated, some of which are yet to be determined.

“Accordingly, at this point in time Aurizon can provide guidance that the annual impact would be in a range from $0 to $27 million in Earnings Before Interest and Tax per annum over the 19.5 year life of the above regulatory return component.”

The company did stress that in the current financial year, the miners’ claims could only impact its EBIT by $10 million.

Aurizon delivered first rail for WICET in April 2015, and trial coal shipments began in May.

Coal Train Photo Hunter Valley Coal Chain Coordinator

Hunter Valley to shut down for maintenance

The Australian Rail Track Corporation will close the Hunter Valley coal rail network for three days next week as part of scheduled maintenance work.

The network-wide maintenance shutdown will kick in at 6am on Wednesday, October 7, is timed to finish late on Friday, October 9.

ARTC said the shutdown will mean limited train operations to allow maintenance to be delivered in a safe and efficient way; nearly 1000 ARTC and contract staff will be on the rail corridor during the works.

“By ‘closing down’ the network and with fewer trains running we can ensure we get the maximum amount of rail maintenance done efficiently in the safest possible environment for our people,” ARTC executive general manager for the Hunter Valley Jonathan Vandervoort said.

Typical rail maintenance tasks like replacing sleepers, cleaning and compacting ballast, improving the condition of level crossings as well as technical jobs like signalling work are scheduled to take place throughout the Valley.

“Unfortunately, with work of this scale there will be some disruption and we would like to ask motorists and members of the community to be aware of changed traffic conditions and heavy work vehicles entering and exiting sections of the corridor,” Vandervoort added.

“We would like to thank the community for the patience and understanding while the works take place as we appreciate it does cause inconvenience.”

Maintenance work will take place throughout the Hunter from Newcastle to Narrabri and from Muswellbrook to Ulan, ARTC said.

The next network-wide shutdown is scheduled between November 10 and 13.

Wooden railway sleepers. Photo: Creative Commons / LooiNL

KiwiRail to pay $110,000 for contractor struck by train

New Zealand rail operator KiwiRail has accepted the judgement of the Auckland District Court, which ordered it pay $110,000 to the family of a Downer contractor who was severely injured when the digger he was operating was struck by a train in the central North Island region in June 2014.

KiwiRail group general manager Todd Moyle said the state-owned business, which is responsible for rail operations in New Zealand, would willingly pay reparations to the family of Paul Anderson, who has spent more than 12 months in hospital after the incident.

“KiwiRail completed a thorough investigation of what happened and found that we had not taken all practical steps to ensure that everyone working at the site was off the track before a train came through,” Moyle said.

“As a result, this terrible accident occurred.”

According to WorkSafe New Zealand, the incident occurred on June 17, 2014, when Anderson – a Downer contractor – was carrying out work for KiwiRail in a digger on the Raurimu Spiral, National Park.

Worksafe says KiwiRail track workers gave a north-bound goods train permission to drive through the site, and the train did not have time to stop once the digger came into view.

Anderson sustained severe traumatic brain injury and severe chest and lung trauma, according to WorkSafe.

“Multiple failings by KiwiRail have had a devastating impact on the victim’s life,” WorkSafe chief inspector Keith Steward said, adding that the incident was entirely preventable.

“[Anderson] continues to live with these tragic consequences to this very day.

“Every worker has a right to trust that their employer is looking out for their safety and that the necessary safey precautions and systems for managing potential risks are in place.”

Moyle says KiwiRail has made changes following reviews into the safety procedures across its rail network.

“We recognised that we needed to do more to protect our teams when they are working on the network and make sure that no trains enter worksites unless all workers and all equipment is off the track.

“As a result of these changes, all worksites across the country now have a register to record all personnel and vehicles operating near the tracks.”

Additionally, KiwiRail has introduced a ‘lock-on lock-off’ procedure.

Moyle explains: “Before going on to the track everyone at a site, whether working or visiting, is issued with a padlock which has to be attached to a board held by the site protector. When the person comes off the track, they remove their padlock. A train will be allowed to pass through the site only when all padlocks are removed.”

Moyle offered his sincere apologies to Anderson’s family.

“They live every day with the consequences of this accident and while we make the reparations willingly, we understand no amount of money can change what happened.

“The safety of everyone who works for us and who travels with us is our primary concern, and we will continue to work to prevent an accident like this from happening again.”

ARTC hiring women in Hunter. Photo: Youtube / ARTC

ARTC to recruit ‘women only’ in Hunter

The Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW will allow the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) to specifically hire women for track maintenance roles across the Hunter Valley.

ARTC boss John Fullerton said the move was part of the company’s drive to have a 30% female workforce by 2020. ARTC’s workforce currently comprises just 18% women, and its Hunter Valley workforce is just 12%.

“Increasing the diversity of our workforce is a must in today’s competitive business environment,” Fullerton said.

“We recognise that a talented and diverse workforce is fundamental to building a commercially-strong, innovative and customer-focused organisation.

“The rail industry is heavily male-dominated and our workforce, particularly in the field, is largely male. When recruiting for track roles the vast majority of applicants are also male.”

ARTC had to obtain an exemption from the Anti-Discrimination Board to direct its employment towards women; it is against the law in NSW for an employer to target a specific sex for a role without one.

The company will initially hire up to ten workers for the Hunter, with infrastructure maintenance and signalling maintenance roles on offer in Muswellbrook, Maitland, Scone and Newcastle.

“A more diverse workforce leads to greater innovation and creativity, develops stronger problem-solving skills through different ways of thinking and increases morale, motivation and engagement,” Fullerton said.

“Put simply, greater diversity leads to better business results.”

ARTC will hold the exemption for two years from July 6, 2015.

An information session will be held at ARTC’s Muswellbrook maintenance centre on Sunday, September 27 from 11am to 1pm.

Grain. Photo: Shutterstock

WA grain industry urges ACCC to block Asciano takeover

Brookfield’s proposed takeover of ASX-listed logistics and infrastructure firm Asciano will hurt the competitiveness of WA’s grain industry, according to the peak farming body in the state.

The Western Australia Farmers Federation has reportedly submitted to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission that the takeover should be blocked to prevent a monopoly market being created on Australia’s west coast.

“WA Farmers urges the ACCC to deny the proposed acquisition, as the monopolistic nature of the infrastructure involved will lead to anti-competitive behaviour in the already turbulent rail freight network in WA,” the group was quoted by the AFR.

The Bermuda-based Brookfield Infrastructure Partners already owns rail infrastructure operator Brookfield Rail in Western Australia.

“Brookfield could position their vertically integrated assets to squeeze out competition,” the federation reportedly argued.

A spokeswoman from grains co-operative CBH, also quoted in the AFR, said that group had also submitted its rebuttal to the ACCC.

“CBH has concerns about the deal at this point in time and is adamant that Australia must have an appropriate regulatory framework that ensures better price setting and performance monitoring before approval is given for any key infrastructure acquisitions such as Brookfield’s purchase of Asciano.”

Asciano announced late in August the terms agreed between the two parties, which are based on a per-share valuation of $9.15 – 10c more than the initial offer announced on July 1.

Under the terms of the deal, Asciano will be acquired by a consortium led by Brookfield Infrastructure Partners, for an “implied value” of $9.15 a share, valuing the Australian logistics and infrastructure business at approximately $12 billion.

Asciano shareholders will receive $6.94 in cash, and 0.0387 Brookfield Infrastructure shares, for every Asciano share they own. Each 0.0387 Brookfield Infrastructure share has an implied value of $2.21.

Brookfield Infrastructure will seek an ASX listing concurrent with the transaction.

The ACCC announced it would review the transaction in August, saying the review would concern the potential competition and market implications of an acquisition.

Asciano is the parent company of rail operator Pacific National and ports and terminals operator Patrick.