Skitube. Photo: Creative Commons / EurovisionNim

Stadler to upgrade Perisher railway

Swiss rail manufacturer Stadler will upgrade the Skitube Alpine Railway in the Snowy Mountains in New South Wales, under a new contract from Perisher Ski Resort.

The Skitube provides access to snowfields at Blue Cow Mountain and the Perisher Valley, giving passengers access between three stations – Bullocks Flat, Blue Cow and Perisher Valley.

It is served by 11 Comeng carriages, including four driving carriages, four motor cars and three non-driving carriages.

Skitube employs a Swiss-designed rack and rail system which uses a toothed cog pinion wheel engaging with a centrally located ‘third rail’ style rack to drive and brake the trains safely up and down the steep mountain inclines.

Perisher chief executive Peter Brulisauer says after nearly 30 years of operation, replacement parts are becoming increasingly hard to find, so the decision has been made to upgrade and modernise Skitube.

“Skitube has safely carried over four million passengers up to Perisher Valley and Blue Cow and remains the most efficient and practical way to allow people to experience the very best of Perisher,” Brulisauer said.

The modernisation program is scheduled to be carried out during the off-season between October 2016 and April 2017.

The new train control system to be installed by Stadler includes upgraded braking, electronic control equipment and driver displays for controlling and monitoring train functions, the Swiss company said.

“Stadler will also carry out commissioning, safety and functionality tests together with Perisher’s rail specialists,” the manufacturer outlined.

Skitube was built in October 1984, by a consortium of Australian and Swiss companies. It involved the boring and drill-and-blasting of two tunnels, 3.3 and 2.6 kilometres in length.

“In 1998 Stadler took over the original equipment manufacturer, the Swiss Locomotive and Machine Works firm, which was responsible for designing and manufacturing the Skitube rack railway system.

“The rack railway system allows trains to climb much steeper grades than would otherwise be possible – up to 25 degrees, depending upon the type of rack system employed, compared to four to six degrees for standard trains.”

Other Stadler rack railway trains include the train up to the Monserrat Monastery near Barcelona in Spain, and the Swiss Jungfrau train, which carries passengers to Europe’s highest station to view the Matterhorn.

Port of Portland chief executive officer Jim Cooper. Photo: David Sexton

Portland boss high on Murray rail project

The Murray Basin Rail Project is making waves in the shipping industry, with the Port of Portland in south-western Victoria set to get a boost from the rail upgrade, which will allow it to handle larger freight volumes.

As the westernmost commercial port in Victoria, Portland is close to the South Australian border and important in agricultural and mineral export trades.

It is regularly visited by bulk vessels which collect consignments of grain, mineral sands and hardwood woodchips among other commodities.

Portland is currently isolated from the Murray freight network due to its standard-gauge rail connection but as part of the state government’s $416m Murray Basin project, it is set to get direct access to the Murray Basin freight network.

Whereas much of Victoria, including Portland, is on standard gauge, the north-west of the state (a crucial grain producing area) is on broad gauge.

The project to standardise the rail network is expected to be finished about 2018.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews recently joined Portland Mayor Robert Halliday and Port of Portland chief executive Jim Cooper on a port tour.

Andrews said the extra funding would help the south-west.

“By better connecting Portland to primary producers across North Western Victoria and over the border into New South Wales, the $416m project will boost the amount of product exported through the port, supporting jobs and driving economic growth in South Western Victoria,” Andrews said.

“Our commitment to the full Murray Basin Rail Project will bring big benefits to Portland, providing direct access to North-West Victoria and New South Wales for the first time.”

Not only would the project move commodities more efficiently, it would also ease pressure on the regional roads network, a network that has been badly damaged from heavy flooding in recent years.

Port of Portland chief executive Jim Cooper talked of a “once in a generation initiative” that would not only boost efficiency but triple the catchment size, allowing them to compete with Geelong in the grain market.

He said Portland already had the advantage of being the only port in Victoria able to handle a fully-loaded panamax bulker.

Premier Andrews has also called on the federal government to contribute to the project.

The government believes the project will boost the amount of product moved through Portland, as well as securing the future of the Iluka’s Hamilton processing plant which uses Portland as an export terminal.

It is also expected that the upgrade will help boost grain export volumes at a time when there is added demand for grain in the global market, the government predicting the state as a whole will see an increase of 500,000 tonnes a year.

The state government is also talking up possible freight benefits and from competition between regional centres as a result of a better links to the ports of Portland, Geelong and Melbourne.

The full Murray Basin Rail Project is to standardise lines from Geelong to Mildura, Manangatang, Sea Lake and Murrayville and reopen the unused standard gauge connection between Maryborough and Ararat.

The state government has asked the commonwealth to partner with the state of Victoria in contributing further funding.

This article originally appeared in Rail Express affiliate Lloyd’s List Australia.

Aeroplane. Photo: Creative Commons / Don-Vip

Badgerys rail plan is pragmatic approach: Truss

Sydney’s second airport will not have the passenger numbers to justify a rail connection from day one, but the site will be built with a future rail line in mind, federal infrastructure minister Warren Truss has said.

Truss announced Badgerys Creek in Sydney’s west had been officially declared an airport site on August 26.

“The airport will be a game changer for the region, New South Wales and the national economy,” he said. “It will connect Western Sydney with the rest of the world and deliver tens of thousands of jobs through both construction and long-term operation, returning around $24 billion to the economy.”

Despite all that contribution, Truss – who is also the deputy prime minister – insists the airport will not need a train station connecting passengers to the CBD from day one.

“With the initial expectations of the number of passengers in the early years we don’t anticipate that a railway line just servicing the airport would be commercially viable,” the minister told reporters gathered at the future airport site. “As time goes by passenger numbers will grow and then clearly that access will be required.”

Truss said the government will build Badgerys Creek Airport with a retrofitted rail line in mind.

“A route has to be established that essentially crosses right across the airport site, so it’s a significant issue in the design of the airport, the runways and the buildings on this site,” he explained. “We’re talking with the New South Wales Government about rail access to this site … those discussions have been going on for some time.”

The airport will be built with tunnels and space for the train station already on site, at an additional cost of between $400 and $500 million, Truss said.

“I’m aware that retrofitting costs money, so the intention is to make sure that sufficient is done now at least so that the railway can be simply fitted at a later stage,” the minister reasoned.

“What I think is more important is a passenger rail line to service the people in the industries that live and work in this area, and therefore the interests of the airport and the interests of the local community hopefully will build sufficient demand for that railway line to be a viable proposition, and we’ll continue to talk with New South Wales about how quickly a rail service can be provided to this site.”

The government has been slammed by the Opposition and the rail industry for not building a rail line to the airport to operate from day one.

“Tony Abbott’s support for an airport to be built in Western Sydney without a link to the rail network is absurd,” shadow transport minister Anthony Albanese said in March. “It’s no shock that [NSW Premier] Mike [Baird] hasn’t come out against his mate Tony.

“Badgerys Creek is a greenfield site, providing the perfect opportunity for state and federal governments to work together and build the airport and associated infrastructure properly.”

Acting Australasian Railway Association chief operating officer Phil Allan earlier in August called the omission of a rail line a “blunder”.

“The rail option needs to be there from the start,” Allan opined.

“We are very supportive of the construction of a second airport … What we cannot support is the construction of such an important transport hub without the necessary public transport infrastructure links required that will enable people to move in and out of the airport efficiently, safely and sustainably.”

His sentiments were similar to those expressed by Paul Bredereck, managing director of regional airline Jetgo, to Fairfax earlier this month.

Bredereck reportedly labelled plans to build an airport with no rail link “small league”.

“For God’s sake, it is a major international airport and no express rail service to the CBD?” Brederick was quoted. “In the last few weeks I have driven from Bankstown to Sydney Airport. It is not a pleasant experience. Buses from Badgerys Creek to the CBD? Who are you kidding?”

One of the Australian aviation industry’s most influential figures – Qantas boss Alan Joyce – however, was not as alarmed at the plans.

“The last thing we want to do is to add cost burdens on these things that are not justified,” Joyce was quoted as saying by Fairfax.

The Qantas chief executive reportedly believes what Truss is saying: low passenger figures in the early years of the airport’s operation mean a train line won’t be needed.

Joyce added it was important for a major infrastructure project not to be “overdeveloped from day one”.

“You don’t want to build an infrastructure facility that can carry 100 million people from day one but … have only 2 or 3 million people using the facility and you’re paying for that,” Joyce was quoted.

“It’s not good for the airlines, it’s not good for the taxpayer, it’s not good for anybody developing it.”

Fortescue Chief Executive Officer Andrew Forrest aboard the first train loaded with iron ore. Photo: FMG

Fortescue spruiks rail, mine assets as profit slumps

A year of declining commodities prices have led many to question the future viability of Australia’s third player in iron ore. This week’s announcement of Fortescue Metals Group’s financial results for 2014/15 have put all the cards on the table.

Fortescue recorded an 88% decline in net profit after tax to US$316 million in 2014/15.

According to its calculations, Fortescue made US$2.2 billion in volumes gains compared to 2013/14, and made further gains worth US$1.6 billion through cost cutting.

But the declining price of iron ore took a US$7.2 billion chunk out of the company’s earnings, leaving it with a final EBITDA figure of US$2.5 billion, down 56% from last year.

Chief executive Nev Power said the results reflected the company’s ongoing improvement in productivity and efficiency with strong production and costs outcomes achieved.

“In a challenging environment of lower iron ore prices, this focus on efficiency and productivity from our world class assets will continue to see operational improvements and cost reduction while we maintain production at 165mtpa to create long term value for Fortescue shareholders,” Power told the ASX.

Stephen Pearce, the company’s chief financial officer, spend the day emphasising the value of the company’s cashflow position, and infrastructure assets.

“Our successful debt refinancing, closing cash balance of US$2.4bn and sustained operational efficiency and productivity gains have delivered solid operating cashflows, further strengthening Fortescue’s balance sheet,” Pearce said to the ASX.

He was later quoted by Fairfax saying the company’s infrastructure and mining assets are now worth “way more” than the $20bn that went into developing them, before emphasising there was “no need to hurry one way or another” on rumoured assets sales.

“We have four years until our next debt maturity,” Pearce was quoted as saying.

“We don’t need to do a transaction at all; it is really if with any discussions that we do have with parties from time to time, there is an appropriate view of long-term value.

“We have created absolutely world-class assets in the Pilbara, and we are quite unique in that we own 100% of them, so we have the opportunity to entertain those discussions but it does have to be at appropriate long-term value.”

Photo: David Gubler /

Is this Australia’s weirdest railroad crossing?

PHOTOS/VIDEO: This drawbridge style cane train crossing over the QR main line near Bundaberg is a site to behold.

“The cape gauge main line is used at speeds of up to 160km/h,” photographer David Gubler said on the popular online forum Reddit, “hence they replaced the diamonds by this strange solution.”

The sugar cane railway crosses the mainline thanks to an interesting drawbridge mechanism.

Click photos to enlarge.

Photo: David Gubler /
Photo: David Gubler /
Photo: David Gubler /
Photo: David Gubler /
Photo: David Gubler /
Photo: David Gubler /
Photo: David Gubler /
Photo: David Gubler /


Take a look at the crossing in action in the video below.

Pictures/Video courtesy of David Gubler,

Resleepered track on WA's Leonora Branch Line. Photo: Brookfield Rail

Brookfield upgrading Goldfields rail

WA rail operator and manager Brookfield Rail is on track to deliver a $15.8 million investment project to upgrade it’s a 56km rail section in the Goldfields region.

Brookfield says the project, which commenced in May 2015, will deliver vital improvement works to a section of rail line between Kalgoorlie and Leonora.  When it is completed, the company says the line will be upgraded from a 1-in-4 steel/timber sleeper pattern to a 1-in-2 steel/timber sleeper pattern.

Infrastructure general manager Paul Lowney said the project will improve safety, efficiency and reliability of the rail network in the region.

“This upgrade reduces the reliance on timber sleepers, whilst providing improved strength and stability to support future demands on the network,” Lowney said.

This line currently transports 1.4 million tonnes of nickel, sulphur and intrastate freight each year, with Brookfield predicting freight volumes to increase in the coming years.

Work is being completed on a live railway to ensure no disruption to reliable rail operations.

”The project is testament to Brookfield Rail’s commitment to safety and industry best practice,” Lowney said.

This investment builds on the $295 million Brookfield has invested in the rail network infrastructure in the Goldfields region within the last five years. The project is on schedule for completion later this year.

Dubbo rail triangle. Graphic: Google

Dubbo Rail Triangle upgrade complete

The recently-completed $1.66 million upgrade of the Rail Triangle in Dubbo, NSW, has automated the operation of switches for rail and road traffic, saving time at the busy junction.

Deputy premier and member for Dubbo Troy Grant said earlier this month the upgrade was critical to improving access for trains travelling to the north, south and west of the state that use the busy central junction point.

“The recently completed upgrade will deliver improved travel times and increase efficiency for all trains that travel in and around Dubbo,” Grant said.

“Prior to the upgrade, switches for rail and road traffic at the Triangle needed to be manually operated. Now, the Triangle has new automatic switches, which will save trains up to 15 minutes travel time.

“Some of the key routes to benefit include between Parkes and Cobar, northern NSW and Coonamble, and southern NSW and Orange.

“This is a great win for country NSW, allowing freight to arrive at destinations on time more regularly, meeting deadlines for domestic and export customers.”

Minister for roads, maritime and freight Duncan Gay said the upgrade will also deliver benefits to surrounding roads, which previously experienced heavy traffic build up due to train delays.

“By cutting travel times at the Triangle we also deliver flow on benefits to other critical road corridors, including Wheelers Lane and Cobbora Road with reduced delays at level crossings,” he said.

“Wheelers Lane in particular experiences 20,000 vehicle movements per day, making it one of the main roads into the city of Dubbo.”

The state will invest a further $865,000 for further upgrades at Wheelers Lane, including the installation of high intensity LED lights, bells, reflective boom gates and pedestrian facilities such as automated swing gates to boost safety, Gay explained.

As for the $1.66 million Triangle upgrade, the NSW Government contributed $1.36 million and Australian Rail Track Corporation contributed $300,000.

Photo: Ports of Auckland

Ports of Auckland to open Bay of Plenty freight hub

Ports of Auckland and Toll Group will build a rail connection to a new intermodal hub near the New Zealand port, to improve efficiency and provide more competitive options for local exporters.

PoA said this week it will open an intermodal freight hub in Mount Maunganui, in conjunction with transport logistics expert Toll Group and land owner Triton Pacific.

“Bay of Plenty exporters now will have an easy-to-access choice of ports through which they can export their goods,” PoA chief executive Tony Gibson said.

“Competition is a good thing. Our Bay of Plenty freight hub will help make New Zealand exporters more competitive on the world stage by making their access to global markets more efficient and easy.”

The hub at Mount Maunganui adds to existing PoA hubs at Wiri, South Auckland, and Longburn, Manawatu.

“The development of PoA’s third intermodal freight hub (or inland port as they are sometimes called) is part of a concerted strategy to invest in a network of freight hubs across the North Island,” Gibson said.

These intermodal sites will improve options to New Zealand exporters, reduce their costs, and maintain the port’s position as the country’s busiest port by volume, he explained.

“It also enables us to reduce excessive empty container movements and better balance the volume of exported goods with imported goods through our port,” Gibson continued. “This is good for exporters, for New Zealand’s supply chain logistics and for the port.”

Toll New Zealand managing director Greg Miller said the company was excited to be partnering with PoA, saying intermodal could become the preferred way to complement existing port capabilities across New Zealand.

“Toll has a long history of offering its customers end-to-end supply chain solutions, and we look forward to working with PoA to provide more choice and ultimately better service for Bay of Plenty exporters,” Miller said.

1.4 hectares will be developed initially at the site, but there is an option to develop further capacity. The land is adjacent to a rail siding and will be developed to include a rail connection, container handling facilities and other value added logistics services, PoA said.

The project is expected to be operating by the end of 2015.

Tony Abbott. Photo: Creative Commons / Nick-D

Abbott attacks ‘sabotage’ of major infrastructure, resources projects

The recent Federal Court success of the Mackay Conservation Group against Adani’s proposed Carmichael coal mine and rail project could be the last of its kind, if Tony Abbott gets his way in Canberra.

The Prime Minister has announced a move to repeal section 487(2) of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, which allows environment and conservation groups to challenge administrative decisions in the courts.

“We want the highest environmental standards to apply to new projects in Australia,” the Prime Minister told the House of Representatives on Tuesday. “But, once those standards have been met, those projects must be allowed to proceed.”

Referencing the recent successful challenge against Indian giant Adani’s Carmichael coal mine and rail to port plans, the PM accused green groups of ignoring Australia’s jobs market with its “sabotage” of the mining industry, and challenged the Opposition to support his move to repeal the legislation.

“[Carmichael] is a project that will create 10,000 jobs,” Abbott said. “This mine is being legally sabotaged by green activists running a strategic campaign against the coal industry and, in fact, against all large developments.

“I can inform you that this government will repeal section 487(2) of the EPBC Act, which gives activists the standing to sabotage decisions.

“This government knows where it stands on jobs. The question is: where does Labor stand on jobs?”

Deputy PM and minister for infrastructure and regional development Warren Truss weighed in, saying legal challenges against major mines added to the impact of the downturn in the mining market, especially in Central Queensland.

“We need to find ways to smooth the approvals process so that we can get jobs being created again in Central Queensland,” Truss said.

“The reality is that [environmental activists] have got a deliberate strategy, raising substantial amounts of money to stop projects. They outline in detail their intention to use legal processes to delay and delay until the proponents are eventually exhausted and walk away.”

Nationals MP Bruce Scott, member for Maranoa – which includes the proposed site of the Carmichael mine – voiced his concern for extreme “lawfare” interfering with jobs in his electorate.

Science and industry minister Ian Macfarlane supported Scott’s concerns, saying, “we need sustainable development of our mineral resources, including coal, to ensure that our economy continues to grow.”

Macfarlane appeared later on the ABC’s 7.30 Report, telling host Leigh Sales that the repeal was aimed at removing the right of extremist groups, not those who the Government agreed still deserve the right to appeal.

“For farmers for instance, who butt up to coal, mines, they will be the first to call out any environmental concerns,” Macfarlane said. “So we’re not taking away that right. We’re just saying if people live 600km away from a coal mine or from a development proposal, what right do they have to prevent that proposal to provide an economic boost to the region?”

Wooden railway sleepers. Photo: Creative Commons / LooiNL

Andrews backs Murray Basin project

Victorian premier Daniel Andrews has called for the Federal Government to support the Murray Basin Rail Project, after the state government announced it would put $220 million towards it on Monday.

The project, worth $416 million in total, will standardise and upgrade the entire Murray Basin rail network.

Lines from Geelong to Mildura, Manangatang, Sea Lake and Murrayville will be upgraded and standardised, and the standard-gauge connection between Maryborough and Ararat will be re-opened.

Andrews, joined by public transport minister Jacinta Allan and agriculture minister Jaala Pulford, said the project would enhance connections to the Port of Melbourne, and would fix missing links in Victoria’s freight network.

Axle loading on Murray Basin freight lines will be increased to 21 tonnes, allowing larger trains to carry more product with each trip. More freight on rail, Andrews argued, meant 20,000 truck trips off the roads each year, and a more competitive export industry in Victoria.

“The Andrews Labor Government is committed to the full Murray Basin Rail Project, which will boost the safety, capacity and reliability of freight services and better connect primary producers to the state’s major ports,” the premier said.

“This is good for farmers, their families and our economy, and we’re calling on the Abbott Government to step up and contribute to this critical project.”

“Standardising the Murray Basin rail network, and increasing the loads it can carry, will allow primary producers to get more produce to port, more efficiently – boosting jobs and the regional economy,” public transport minister Jacinta Allan added.

Victoria has allocated up to $220 million from its 2015/16 Budget for the project. $5 million of that was fast-tracked in February to get work started on critical maintenance and safety works.

Andrews has written to deputy prime minister Warren Truss asking for Commonwealth funding. The business case, also released on Monday, was been sent to Infrastructure Australia for assessment.

On the current timetable, major works are expected to commence in the second half of 2016. 270 jobs will be created during construction, Andrews said.

“Food and fibre are the future of our economy. By supporting our farmers to get their goods to market faster, we’re boosting exports and making sure we stay ahead of the game,” minister for agriculture Jaala Pulford concluded.