Cowra Lines

Cowra Lines need tax money, local member says

Member for Cootamundra Katrina Hodgkinson thinks the mothballed Cowra Lines should receive government funding so they can be re-opened.

Hodgkinson, according to a report from the ABC, believes the Cowra Lines – which were progressively closed between 2007 and 2009 due to safety concerns and low freight volumes – should receive a share of the government’s planned Rebuilding NSW funding.

The state government plans to invest $20 billion into infrastructure through the plan, which was announced in June 2014.

So far the state plans to reserve $7 billion for the Sydney Rapid Transit project, to fully fund a second harbour rail crossing.

$1.1 billion is to be set aside for WestConnex and the Western Harbour Tunnel, and $2 billion is designated for schools and hospitals. Around $4.1 billion has been earmarked for regional transport.

“If it’s going to cost $40 million to get those rail lines up and running again … for that funding to come out of that Rebuilding account,” Hodgkinson was quoted by the ABC, “I think that’s a perfectly reasonable request.

“I think that the door is not closed.”

NSW minister for roads, maritime and freight Duncan Gay said in May that a government search had yielded no private sector tenderer who would renew the Cowra Lines on the government’s desired terms.

“The tender process revealed there was too much uncertainty in the ability of the tenderers to return the lines to full service and run a commercially sustainable business without significant taxpayer support,” Gay said.

But Hodgkinson thinks the Lines are worthy of such support.

“I know [Minister Gay] is still very interested in the Cowra Lines and I think it’s time for the state government to contribute something towards that,” the Cootamundra MP said.

Indeed, Gay said in May the government had not given up on the Cowra Lines, and actually suggested at the time that funding from Rebuilding NSW would be considered for the project down the road.

“As part of our Rebuilding NSW Plan, the Government has committed $400 million to the Fixing Country Rail program,” Gay said, “while $153 million will be invested over the next three years to continue fast tracking repairs and upgrades to the 996km of grain lines across NSW.”

The Cowra Lines are 200km of non-operational rail lines between Blayney and Harden, and Koorawatha and Greenethorpe.

Transport for NSW has estimated the renewal of the lines would cost roughly $30 million, and then $2 million would be needed each year to keep them in a serviceable condition.

Melbourne Tram

Melbourne’s passengers get shared platform

Passengers on Melbourne’s tram Route 55 and bus routes 216, 219 and 220 will now benefit from what Public Transport Victoria is calling a “win for intermodal connectivity”.

Passengers on those routes can now safely and easily switch between modes at Melbourne’s first accessible interchange on Queensbridge Street, PTV said on June 1.

The new platform stop outside Crown Casino is the only place in Melbourne where tram and bus passengers board their vehicle from the same platform.

Two level-access tram stops were built on Queensbridge Street in conjunction with upgrades to track and overhead infrastructure, as part of the $65 million that PTV invests each year to improve Melbourne’s tram network, the authority explained.

PTV said the key customer benefits of the new Stops 112 Casino East and 114 City Road & Kings Way include:

  • easy access to low-floor trams and buses
  • safer and faster boarding
  • new passenger information displays
  • new seating, shelters and pedestrian signals.

The project has been delivered by Yarra Trams on behalf of PTV, in two stages over 10 days.

It is part of a series of major tram network upgrades since the start of May that are scheduled to continue over this long weekend, with the renewal of 40-year-old tram tracks on Swanston Street at Federation Square, Melbourne’s busiest tram stop.

The project will take place from 1am on Saturday, June 6 to 5am on Tuesday, June 9, if all goes according to plan.

During that time Yarra Trams will also take the opportunity to renew the tram tracks on Swanston Street between La Trobe and A’Beckett streets, PTV added.

Preliminary work will begin for the track renewal on Swanston Street in the early hours of Wednesday, June 3, and will continue until the start of the major work at 1am on Saturday, June 6.

Tanzania. Photo: Creative Commons / William Warby

China wins US$9bn Tanzania rail contracts

Tanzania has given contracts to build new railway lines worth about US$9 billion to Chinese firms, according to a Reuters report.

Tanzanian transport minister Samuel Sitta reportedly told parliament on May 30 a Chinese consortium would build a 2,561km standard gauge railway, between Dar es Salaam port, to a number of the nation’s land-locked neighbouring countries, at a cost of US$7.6 billion.

“A consortium of Chinese railway companies led by China Railway Materials (CRM) has been picked to help us build the railway line,” he reportedly said.

CRM is set to provide 10% of the funding for the project. The rest of the funding is being organised by financial adviser Rothschild, to be lent to the country by a number of banks around the globe.

Sitta beleives construction of the railway will begin in June.

Another contract has been signed, according to Sitta, with Chinese firm China Railway No.2 Engineering Group, to build a 1000km standard gauge track linking coal and iron ore mining projects.

That project is expected to cost around US$1.4 billion.

Tanzania announced earlier this year that it would spend US$14.2 billion on building a new rail network by 2020, with the long-term aim of transitioning into a regional transport hub.

Level crossing removal project. Photo: Department of Transport Victoria

Cranbourne-Pakenham crossing removals released to market

Expressions of Interest are being welcomed for the removal of nine more Victorian level crossings under the Andrews Government’s plan to remove 50 crossings over the next eight years.

The tender for the removal of the first four level crossings was awarded earlier this month, to a joint venture of John Holland and KBR.

Transport minister Jacinta Allan on Monday night hinted that the EoI for the next nine level crossings was coming “very, very soon”.

And that was confirmed on Wednesday, with the EoI released for the nine identified crossings between Caulfield and Dandenong.

The package also includes rebuilding four stations at Carnegie, Murrumbeena, Clayton and Hughesdale, and the roll out of power and signalling upgrades along the line.

Delivering the works as a single package will allow works to be coordinated, saving money, reducing disruption and removing the crossings sooner, the government said.

The Cranbourne-Pakenham line is Melbourne’s busiest, but boom gates along the line are closed for up to 87 of the 120 minutes that make up the morning peak period on weekdays, according to government research.

While this slows down road commuters, level crossings have the added effect of making the rail network less productive, as trains often have to slow down significantly as they pass through them.

The inherent safety risks associated with level crossings also add to the desire to have them removed.

“Some of these boom gates are down for more than 80 minutes every morning,” Allan said. “They are choking our city and putting our lives at risk – they have to go.”

She said the removal of the level crossings, as well as the plan to buy 37 new high-capacity trains for the network, will boost capacity by 42% – creating space for an additional 11,000 passengers in peak hour.

An industry briefing will be held next week to provide more information for the EoI, which will close in late June.

Applications will be evaluated by the Level Crossing Removal Authority, which will then narrow them down to a shortlist of two bidders to continue through the process.

Work on the removal of the level crossings is expected to commence in 2016, and all nine level crossing removals will be completed by 2018, the government said.

“Removing every level crossing between Caulfield and Dandenong will reduce road congestion, make local communities safer, create jobs, and allow for more trains from Cranbourne, Pakenham and Gippsland,” Allan said.

Photo: Aurizon

Aurizon upgrading Central Queensland fleet

A $180 million investment in 40 high-tech track machines and specialised wagons will underpin ever-increasing coal tonnages for Queensland’s coal miners, Aurizon says.

Aurizon on Thursday, May 22, unveiled one of the new 62 metre, 193 tonne track machines at a ceremony at Sarina attended by 60 local employees.

The machines maintain rail sleepers and rock ballast across 2,670km of rail track, maintaining the infrastructure to handle 25,000 train services per year.

“Track construction and maintenance, like Aurizon, has been transformed in recent times,” Aurizon boss Lance Hockridge said.

“We are now more productive, more innovative, using world leading technology and most importantly we are safer.

“These massive machines operate on the $5 billion asset which is the Central Queensland Coal Network, the supply chain that links more than 40 mines with state’s export ports.”

Aurizon’s Central Queensland Coal Network carried 214 million tonnes in 2013/14, an all-time high.

“This investment in new track machines is fundamental to driving even higher tonnage throughput for our customers, while improving safety and reliability across the network,” Hockridge explained

“The upgrade of our mechanised fleet means the Central Queensland Coal Network, critical to the state’s coal sector, will remain in the best possible condition.”

Hockridge paid tribute to the team of employees who operated the machine.

“Our employees that operate these machines are at the ‘heart of our business’, they are the quiet achievers, day-in and day-out, looking after the Central Queensland Coal Network,” he said.

“These are the people that will use these machines to get the network up and running quicker following natural disasters and will ensure it remains a world class asset carrying out more productive and efficient maintenance practices.”

While thanking those employees, however, Hockridge did hint that the new machines made work on the rail track far more efficient.

“Ultimately the arrival of these new machines mean we will be able to do more quality work in far less time,” Hockridge said, “something that is critical as we continue to transform.”

Paul Larsen, CEO Brookfield Rail. Photo: Oliver Probert

Larsen states position on CBH deal

Brookfield boss Paul Larsen says he wants to see CBH commit to moving more of its grain by rail, as part of ongoing negotiations for a long term deal between the parties.

In an open letter published on Brookfield’s website, Larsen looked to “correct the public record”, and explain his position on the negotiations.

“Brookfield Rail, until the recent interim deal [with CBH], received between $1.8m and $4.5m in access fees a month (the equivalent of around $6.50 a tonne of grain),” Larsen wrote.

“This cost to CBH represents a relatively small portion of the overall supply chain costs that growers pay to get their crop to market and represents a minimal 2.5% of the ultimate market value of the grain.”

CBH and Brookfield came to terms on a temporary deal after CBH wagons were forced off the road for several hours in early May.

At the time, CBH complained it had been “backed into a corner” by the rail operator, which controls the WA network CBH needs to use to export its growers’ product.

But Brookfield argued the time had come for it to earn more money from CBH, a sentiment echoed in the recent letter from Larsen.

As well as hinting to increased fees, Larsen indicated the operator wants to see more business from CBH under a long term contract.

“Only 55-60% of each year’s grain harvest travels by rail to port with the remainder moved by road,” Larsen stated.

“The rail network has capacity and capability to do more and we want to see this share increase significantly.

“If CBH commits to move more grain by rail, transporting grain by rail will become more commercially viable than transporting grain by road – an outcome that will benefit not just growers but all Wheatbelt communities.

“If governments move to recover from the trucking industry the true cost of their usage of government owned regional roads, rail will be even more competitive,” he added.

Larsen said Brookfield and CBH had been working towards a long term deal since December 2013. With the current negotiation period due to end on June 24, he said his side is committed to coming to terms on a deal without resorting to “an arbitrated process”.

“However in doing so, we will not compromise on the safety and efficiency of the rail network,” he said. “Nor will we resile from the fact that access fees must increase to cover the basic costs of maintaining safe and efficient operations on our tracks for the long term, including re-opening the Tier 3 lines that CBH is seeking access to.”

The ‘Tier 3’ lines are among WA’s least-used. Brookfield says it cannot operate these lines without incurring extra costs, which will have to be passed down to users, like CBH.

“There are a number of ways in which to structure such an agreement, and we will continue to discuss the best way to achieve this at the negotiating table with CBH over the coming weeks,” Larsen resolved.

“Ultimately, we are committed to get more grain on rail.”

NWRL tunnel at Bella Vista. Photo: Transport for NSW

Photos: TBM breaks through to North West Rail Link station

Elizabeth, one of the four tunnel boring machines working on Sydney’s North West Rail Link, has broken through into the new Showground Station site.

Transport for NSW’s North West Rail Link Facebook page shared the news to its followers on Tuesday afternoon.

 

With the breakthrough at Showground, tunneling for the project is now more than a third complete, the project’s management said.

“Elizabeth started tunnelling in September last year, four months ahead of schedule, and is now halfway through its nine kilometre journey from Bella Vista to Cherrybrook,” NWRL said.

“Over the coming weeks, TBM Elizabeth will undergo maintenance as she is moved through the Showground station area, before setting off again towards Castle Hill station and then on to Cherrybrook where she will be pulled from the ground.”

The four TBMs in operation have so far built over 12km of new tunnels, with a further 18km set to go.

“The twin 15km tunnels from Bella Vista to Epping are Australia’s longest-ever railway tunnels,” the NWRL detailed.

“More than one million tonnes of crushed rock has been excavated from the tunnels and recycled on commercial, residential and environmental projects elsewhere in Sydney.”

Showground Station is being built underground, with its platforms about 20m below ground level. It will feature 600 commuter car spots, 15 kiss-and-ride spots, four taxi spots and a bus interchange.

Melbourne tram. Photo State Government Victoria

Five findings of the infrastructure audit

Infrastructure Australia last week released its Australian Infrastructure Audit Report, and there’s a lot in it for the rail industry to digest.

The report, billed as Australia’s first-ever “comprehensive infrastructure audit,” suggests a huge amount of work is needed to get Australian infrastructure on pace with economic and population growth.

Five key factors stood out for the rail industry.

 

  1. There is a serious need for investment in transport

Releasing the report on Friday, Infrastructure Australia chairman Mark Birrell said Australia must act now before demand pressures affect living standards and economic competitiveness.

“Experiences of transport networks failing to keep pace with demand, water quality standards being uneven, energy costs being too high, telecommunication services being outdated, or freight corridors being neglected are now so common that they necessitate a strategic response,” Birrell said.

Infrastructure Australia said in its report that without investment in new transport capacity and/or means of managing demand, car travel times in Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane and Canberra are expected to increase by at least 20% in the most congested corridors by 2031.

“In some cases, travel times could more than double,” the report warns.

“Demand for public transport in the capital cities (measured by passenger kilometres travelled) is set to rise by 55% in Sydney, 121% in Melbourne, and an average of 89% across all capital cities.

“Unless peak period passenger loads are managed and capacity is increased, commuters in all capital cities will see more services experiencing ‘crush loadings’, where peak demand exceeds capacity.”

Both public transport and road infrastructure will need to be expanded to meet this growth in demand, the audit found.

 

  1. Australia needs a long-term infrastructure plan

The report says Australia would benefit from a strong and consistent pipeline of well-planned infrastructure projects.

Infrastructure Australia says a consistent pipeline “would provide greater certainty for infrastructure constructors and investors, and provide the basis for a well-resourced environment for project procurement and informed decision making”.

It said state and federal governments need to take action to make major project procurement more efficient.

This will reduce administrative burdens, and streamline assessment processes across governments, the report says.

“Integrated infrastructure and land-use planning is essential if there is to be strategic decision-making at all levels of government.

“Whilst there have been improvements in this area, progress has been slow in securing the many benefits that will be gained from an integrated approach to managing infrastructure challenges.”

A key benefit of a more cooperative approach to infrastructure, the report says, would be the establishment of best practice principles for infrastructure planning, procurement, delivery and operation.

“Improvements in infrastructure project appraisal and project selection (including the consistent use and transparent reporting of cost benefit analyses) are necessary if Australians expectations are to be realised,” the report explains.

 

  1. Rail freight’s share will grow in the future, due to bulk

Infrastructure Australia predicts the mode share of rail freight within the national freight task to grow over the period to 2031, but says this will not be due to a major shift of container freight onto the rail network.

“This is mostly due to increased haulage of minerals for export,” the independent body explained.

“Demand for national rail infrastructure is projected to grow, especially in WA, Queensland and NSW.”

WA accounts for roughly 50% of the national rail freight value-add, due to mining in the Pilbara, and the audit projects that the value-add from rail freight services will grow to $9.5 billion in 2031, an increase of 75%.

 

  1. Total public and private funding needs to increase

As a proportion of GDP, spending on infrastructure has been higher in the last five years than in the preceding 20 years.

But the audit finds that fiscal pressures – such as the need to fund health, retirement and other social welfare programs – mean governments will struggle to maintain current levels of infrastructure spending in the medium to long term.

“Private investment in infrastructure has grown, with more private owners and developers of infrastructure,” the audit recognises.

“Creating the conditions for further private investment is an important strategy in meeting future infrastructure needs.”

To do this, the report says, Australia will have to increase the amount of funding available from both public and private sources, to maintain and grow our infrastructure networks.

“Current funding arrangements are unsustainable,” Infrastructure Australia said, “particularly for the transport sector.”

The audit says reform is needed.

“While users contribute a proportion of the cost of transport infrastructure through licensing and registration, fuel excise, public transport tickets and freight network access charges, governments still pay the lion’s share.

“The current system therefore relies on limited revenue sources … and it does not ensure that the revenue is directed to transport outlays, new projects or improved performance of networks.”

If there is no change to this, the report warns, maintenance of existing assets would need to be cut back, and new projects aimed at maintaining or raising levels of service in our cities and regions would likely not proceed.

 

  1. We need to sweat our assets

Infrastructure Australia urged a newfound focus on resilience and improved maintenance, noting that existing assets will need to be maximised to cope with future growth.

“Maintenance and resilience are major themes in the audit,” the independent body said on Friday.

“Most of the infrastructure that Australians will use in 2031 has already been built, but maintenance standards are often below par.

“Service providers will need to improve whole-of-life asset management processes, including adequate long-term funding strategies, to ensure infrastructure networks are able to provide reasonable levels of service in the future.”

 

Fremantle Rail Bridge. Photo: WA PTA

Early warning system for hazardous bridge

The Public Transport Authority of WA has begun work on an early warning system for trains about to cross the Fremantle Rail Bridge, after a series of dangerous incidents in recent years.

In August 2014, strong currents caused a container ship to break its mooring and crash into the bridge, closing it for 12 days for inspection by structural engineers.

That followed a 2011 incident, in which a refuelling ship crashed into the bridge, damaging the overhead traction wiring system and cutting rail access in and out of the port.

The state has responded with several measures aimed at reducing the danger of shipping incidents around the rail bridge, a number of which are already completed or underway.

One of those measures: state transport minister Dean Nalder announced the implementation of an early warning system had begun on May 25.

“This early warning system will provide an extra level of safety by alerting the PTA, giving them the ability to switch the signals to red and stopping trains from crossing the bridge,” Nalder said.

The project is estimated to be completed in September 2016.

The installation is one of several initiatives under way on and around the bridge, which the state has packaged together.

Also included in the works has been a $4.4 million project to remove and replace more than 1000 rail sleepers on the bridge, which was completed in early 2015.

Main Roads WA, on behalf or the PTA, will be completing pier strengthening works on the bridge. The work is expected to be complete in late-2016.

A $21.1 million contract has been awarded to York Civil and Marine & Civil to construct new concrete and steel bollards downstream from the rail bridge to absorb significant force in the case of impact by a vessel.

And finally, a new LED message board has been installed to improve vessel navigation through the southern channel.

Ardlethan siding. Photo Creative Commons / Mattinbgn

Two rail sidings named for upgrade

NSW roads, maritime and freight minister Duncan Gay has announced the first two projects which will receive funding under a grain rail sidings upgrade program.

Following consultation with major grain receivers and regional transport operators, the state says it’s identified a list of key sites for potential upgrades.

The first two funded projects are at Ardlethan and Nevertire.

At Ardlethan, $3.44 million will be spent to extend the existing rail siding by 750m, to a total of 1170m. GrainCorp and Emerald Grain will install new over-rail loading equipment. Together, the upgrades are expected to save seven hours of loading time by reducing train shunting.

At Nevertire, $2.9 million will be used to extend the current grain loop by 750m, to a total of 1215m. Transport for NSW says this will allow a 600m train to load in a single pass at the existing GrainCorp site. Together with more new over-rail loading equipment to be installed by GrainCorp, the improvements at Nevertire are expected to save between five and seven hours in loading time, again by reducing train shunting.

Gay said the funding announcement was the first of many.

“A total of $21 million is being spend on upgrading rail sidings on the Country Regional Network over the next three years,” he outlined.

“The broad acre grain crop is worth $4.2 billion each year to the NSW economy and is reliant on an efficient rail and road network including strong connections to silos and intermodal terminals.”

As suggested through the first two commitments, the upgrade program is going to focus on lengthening sidings to allow faster loading, and passing loops to allow to allow longer trains to operate more efficiently.

“These upgrades will help build stronger freight infrastructure across the grain belt to ensure producers can move their goods to market on time and more cost effectively,” Gay added.

Under the rail sidings program, which was announced in the 2014/15 state Budget, it is expected upgrades will be carried out at up to five more sites across the state in the next three years.

Gay welcomed the recent announcement by GrainCorp that the handler would invest $60 million in upgrading its sites, including 11 in NSW.

“Eliminating constraints on the freight network requires a sustained and collaborative effort between industry and government,” Gay said. “I look forward to seeing the cost savings from our targeted network improvements being passed onto growers.”