Cowra Lines

No suitor for Cowra Lines renewal

NSW minister for roads, maritime and freight Duncan Gay says the government can’t find a suitable tenderer to restore and run the Cowra Lines in the state’s central west.

After appeals from local communities for a restoration and re-opening of the lines, a tender process was opened, but it seems no-one is interested in doing the work on the government’s 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 explained.

“An extensive evaluation including advice from independent experts concluded neither of the two proposals received for the recent Cowra Lines Request for Tender had adequately addressed the tender criteria.

“Transport for NSW received two tenders to restore, maintain and operate The Cowra Lines but neither was found to sufficiently demonstrate they could manage the lines on a commercially sustainable basis.

“The tenders were thoroughly assessed against criteria such as a strong business case, technical ability, financial backing and the ability to manage operational risks.”

Gay said Transport for NSW would maintain a close watching brief over how The Cowra Lines, as well as other non-operational rail lines in NSW, could potentially be brought back into operation where sustainable freight demand exists.

He said further options for bringing The Cowra Lines back into service may also be explored as part of the government’s Fixing Country Rail program.

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

The initial evaluation of the Cowra Lines tender identified a preferred tenderer.

But a detailed review by the tender panel and independent experts has shown the level of risk associated with the preferred tenderers’ proposal was too great to be acceptable, according to Transport for NSW.

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

They were progressively closed between 2007 and 2009 due to safety concerns and low freight volumes.

An estimated investment of more than $30 million would be required to restore the infrastructure, with further ongoing maintenance costs estimated at more than $2 million each year. Transport for NSW launched an open tender offering a fixed term licence to restore, operate and maintain The Cowra Lines in March 2014.

“over the past three years we have worked closely with the Blayney, Cowra, Weddin, Harden and Young councils and the private sector to investigate whether the Cowra Lines could be reopened and made commercially viable again,” Gay continued.

“While the tender process did not result in The Cowra Lines being leased to a private sector operator, it has generated market interest and provided valuable information that may assist in bringing the lines back into operation at some point in the future.”

GrainCorp expansion - Credit GrainCorp

GrainCorp to spend $60m on network

GrainCorp says it can reduce rail costs by $5 a tonne by spending $60 million on site upgrades across its network.

The grain handler on Monday announced the $60 commitment as part of Project Regeneration, a three-year plan to spend a total of $200 million, announced in June last year.

GrainCorp says the plan will return 1 million tonnes of grain from roads to rail, while also reducing rail costs by that $5 a tonne figure.

The handler hopes to develop its network to over 50 high capacity country sites, supporting an “efficient rail operation”.

Works at each site fall broadly into four categories: new country sites with new high speed over-rail loaders, new high speed over-rail loaders at existing sites, upgrades to existing rail loading infrastructure, and capacity expansion.

With this year’s $60 million commitment, GrainCorp will upgrade 13 of its sites.

New country sites will be developed at Yamala, near Emerald (QLD), and Calleen, near Ungarie (NSW).

New over-rail loading equipment will be added to Nevertire and Ardlethan in NSW.

Upgrades to existing infrastructure will take place at Narrabri, Burren Junction, Spring Ridge, Junee, Oaklands, Tocumwal in NSW, and Rainbow and Murrayville in Victoria.

Meanwhile capacity expansion works will take place at Red Bend and Ardlethan, both in NSW.

GrainCorp boss Mark Palmquist said the works would be staged for the receival of the winter crop this year, and the rail outloading program next year.

“We are very excited about the benefits this investment will deliver to growers and other customers using our network,” he said.

“Reduced complexity, faster rail loading times and shorter train cycle times will increase the volume of grain transported by rail and reduce supply chain costs, which translates to improved grower returns.

“We continue to work closely with governments to encourage complementary investment in government-owned rail sidings.”

In particular, Palmquist said the company welcomed the NSW government’s focus on increasing grain rail freight, and its $400 million Fixing Country Rail commitment.

“Without the NSW government’s investment to extend sidings at Ardlethan and Nevertire, our investment to upgrade those two sites would not have been possible,” he explained.

Palmquist added that GrainCorp was “encouraged” by its positive engagement with the Victorian and Queensland governments.

Track Ballast - photo public domain

Victoria’s 17 ‘worst’ crossings named for removal

Daniel Andrews has revealed some of the Victoria’s worst level crossings, following the announcement in his 2015/16 Budget of a plan to kick-start their removal.

The Victorian premier said data on the 17 ‘worst’ level crossings showed massive delays caused by the intersections, and said road users have every right to be annoyed.

“This data shows the frustration, delay and distress these level crossings create every morning,” Andrews said.

Boom gate data from the worst of the 17 level crossings – at Koornang Road on the Cranbourne-Pakenham line – showed the gates to be down for a maximum of 87 minutes between 7am and 9am on weekdays, or 72.5% of the peak morning period.

On the same line, the Clayton Road intersection is closed for up to 82 minutes every morning peak.

In fact, on the Cranbourne-Pakenham line, the nine crossings listed are closed for more than an hour on average, every morning.

“That’s why we’re removing every level crossing between Dandenong and Caulfield,” Andrews explained.

The Victorian state Budget, announced last week, included a $2.4 billion commitment “to kick-start” the planned removal of 50 of the state’s “most dangerous and congested level crossings”.

The announcement made late last week listed 17 crossings, which will be the first removed under the scheme:

Level Crossings table


Victorian public transport minister Jacinta Allan labeled the crossings “congested death traps,” and said they “put pressure on local roads and stop us running more trains”.

“They need to go,” Allan insisted.

“Whether you travel by car, bus or train, removing our worst level crossings will get you to work and back home safer and sooner.”

rail damage - Transport NSW

ARTC re-opens North Coast

The Australian Rail Track Corporation has re-opened the North Coast network between Telarah and Dungog.

ARTC said last week that it estimated being able to re-open the network over the weekend, and held to that estimate, opening the line on Saturday, May 9.

“The North Coast line section of track between Telarah and Dungog reopened this morning according to schedule and freight, coal and passenger services are now returning to operations with the first trains passing through this morning successfully,” the corporation said.

Significant sections of ballast were washed away on the line during heavy rains which led to flooding in late April. In some sections, entire portions of land were washed away beneath the rail infrastructure, contributing to the hefty closure.

The ARTC closed both the North Coast and Hunter networks following the flooding, but was able to re-open the Hunter network earlier than the North Coast, which was more significantly damaged.

“ARTC would like to thank our customers, local communities and stakeholders for their patience and assistance while repair and recovery works have been completed over the last three weeks,” the corporation said on May 9.

“Our focus will now turn to ensure the safe and gradual return to normal operations.

“ARTC also has post-site tidy up and remediation works in and around Tocal and surrounding communities planned for coming weeks during normal construction hours.”

rail damage - Transport NSW

ARTC brings North Coast re-opening forward

After “significant progress” repairing its heavily-damaged North Coast network in the past week, the Australian Rail Track Corporation has brought forward the re-opening of the interstate line.

The ARTC now believes it can open the North Coast line between Telarah and Taree for operations as of 10am this Saturday, May 9.

“This will allow a full return to Sydney-Brisbane, export coal and passenger rail services from this timeframe onwards,” the ARTC said on Tuesday.

The North Coast network, along with the Hunter coal network, were both knocked out of action late in April by extreme weather and flooding.

Crucial to the export of coal from northern NSW, the Hunter network was reopened roughly a week after it had been shut.

But the North Coast line, which sustained significant damage, including land and ballast washaways, in almost 50 sites, has remained closed into May.

The ARTC late last week announced it would not be able to re-open the line until May 17. Operator Aurizon sent home its staff from its Brisbane-Sydney operations until May 18.

But the good news over the weekend means services to the interstate network may return earlier than expected.

“ARTC made significant progress with repair works between Telarah and Dungog over the weekend and as a result we are able to bring forward the forecast to return the ARTC network along the mid North Coast operations, with some certainty,” the ARTC said.

The ARTC said the forecast has been brought forward due to heavy rains in the area last week fortunately avoiding work sites, as well round-the-clock work periods and the ability to deliver truck movements from Martin’s Creek Quarry, in double shifts, 18-hours a day.

The cancellation of the local Tocal Agricultural Days also helped, the ARTC added, as it allowed for consistent access over three days through the main access point to the major washaway sites.

“We cannot thank the Agricultural College enough for their assistance over the last two weeks in allowing us access to the main repair sites,” the ARTC said, “their support has been immense in allowing us to return operations quickly, safely and ahead of schedule.

“Following completion of civil works later this week, there will be final track testing and certification requirements before the track can be formally reopened.”

The ARTC said its operations staff is underway planning a return to service with its customers, and will manage a staged, balanced return to operations from Saturday morning onwards.

V/Line train. Photo: Victorian Government

11 rail commitments in Victorian Budget

Victorian transport minister Jacinta Allan has described the state’s 2015/16 Budget as “the biggest investment in public transport in Victoria’s history,” with as much as $6.32 billion committed to rail projects.

Allan said the Budget, which was handed down on Tuesday, lays the foundations for a public transport system able to move millions more people as Victoria grows into Australia’s most populous state.

“The Andrews Labor Government is investing in the transport projects that Victoria needs, so people can get to work and get back home to their families safer and sooner,” Allan said.

“This investment is a part of the Labor Government’s plan for a high-capacity, high-frequency train system where you don’t need a timetable – you just turn up and go.”

11 separate commitments directly relevant to rail are included in the 2015/16 Budget:

  1. $2.4 billion is committed to kick-start the Andrews Government’s planned removal of 50 of Victoria’s most dangerous and congested level crossings.The commitment will see the removal of at least 20 level crossings in the Government’s first term. If the Andrews Government lasts beyond that, and all 50 crossings are removed, the scheme will cost a total of between $5 and $6 billion.
  2. $2 billion  will be spent on 83 new trams and trains across the state’s metro and regional rail passenger networks. As announced on Monday, the funding will finance the delivery of:
    • 37 new high capacity metro trains ($1.3 billion)
    • 20 new E-Class trams ($274 million)
    • 21 new VLocity carriages ($257 million)
    • 5 new X’Trapolis trains ($90 million)
    • Maintenance and refurbishment to extend the life of the current Comeng train fleet ($75 million)
    • Extending the life of the B-Class Tram fleet ($21 million)
  3. $1.5 billion will go towards the first works to construct the Melbourne Metro Rail project. Premier Daniel Andrews made headlines in April by announcing the planned spending, which will go towards anticipated planning, design and significant early works for the project, which is expected to commence construction in 2018. The Melbourne Metro is expected to cost $9 to $11 billion to complete.
  4. Up to $220 million could go to the Murray Basin Rail project, once the business case for that project is finalised in coming months. $30 million has already been fast-tracked to this project, Allan said.
  5. $55.6 million is provided for Stage 1 of Victoria’s first trial of High-Capacity Signalling, set to be rolled out on the Sandringham line.
  6. $50.5 million is set aside to upgrade 52 level crossings
  7. $50 million has been committed to trial the Homesafe scheme – a plan for all night public transport on weekends, to begin on January 1, 2016. The Government says the plan is designed to get shift workers and late night travellers home safely.
  8. $18.8 million in funding is assigned to a road and rail minor works fund, intended to be used to pay for critical maintenance and improvements around the transport network.
  9. $13.1 million is committed to upgrade the Frankston Station precinct. $50 million is set to be made available for this project in future budgets, Allan said.
  10. $9 million is for the planning and preparation of the business case for the Mernda Rail Link, with remaining funds for the project to be assigned in future budgets.
  11. $2 million has been committed to the Bendigo Metro Rail Project.

All in all, the 2015/16 Budget commits to just over $6.3 billion in spending for rail or rail-related projects, but almost all of that spending sets the scene for even more state spending down the track. Projects like Melbourne Metro, the Rolling Stock plan, and the level crossing removal scheme will likely all see more money spent in coming years.

The Australasian Railway Association yesterday congratulated the Victorian Government for delivering “a strong, smart transport infrastructure plan that will not only future-proof the efficiency and productivity of the state’s heavy and light rail networks; but also provide greater certainty to local rolling stock manufacturers and suppliers”.

ARA’s new interim chairman, Bob Herbert, said the Budget was a clear sign that the state was listening to the rail industry.

“This announcement supports the ARA’s priority policies that were outlined to all the political parties prior to the Victorian election late last year, which included greater orders of rolling stock for metro and regional train services; acceleration of the renewal of Melbourne’s tram fleet with E-class light rail vehicles to meet growing demand; and a mandated 50 per cent local content in all rolling stock orders – all of which are outlined in this Budget,” Herbert said.

“Support from Government for our local rail manufacturing industry is imperative to its future, having watched the decimation of Australian rail manufacturing and the loss of jobs that goes with that over the past decade.

“This injection of funding in to the local rail manufacturing industry will ease ongoing pressures and enable industry to invest in new innovation and technologies as well as broaden the skill set of workers.”

WA grain dispute. Photo Oliver Probert / CBH / Ingram Publishing

CBH says it’s ‘backed into a corner’ by Brookfield

CBH boss Andy Crane has accused operator Brookfield of “holding a state-owned asset to ransom” as the grain handler’s rolling stock was temporarily forced off the rails last week.

CBH and Brookfield are engaged in protracted negotiations over a long-term agreement for CBH’s wagons to run on the WA grain network, which Brookfield leases exclusively from the state government.

An interim agreement expired at midnight on Thursday, April 30, forcing CBH’s $175 million rail fleet off the network.

“Brookfield Rail is effectively holding a state-owned asset to ransom,” Crane said at the time. “This is unacceptable.”

Brookfield and CBH reached a new interim deal on Friday, May 1. The deal will last until December 31, 2015, or until the sides reach a long-term agreement.

But CBH is not happy, saying it was forced to take an unfair interim deal to avoid an extended shut-down.

“We were backed into a corner by multinational Brookfield Rail,” Crane argued on Friday.

“The agreement will see an increase to current rail access costs across the network.

“Given the peak shipping demand over the next few months, [CBH] had no option but to sign this agreement, to protect the international reputation of WA’s grains industry.”

CBH and Brookfield are midway through a 90-day negotiation process under the Railway Access Code.

Brookfield is reportedly asking for more money than CBH is willing to pay under a new, long term access agreement.

The rail operator welcomed the new interim agreement, but said its focus remained on reaching a long-term deal.

“[The interim deal] will provide supply chain and certainty for WA grain growers well into their next harvest and also allows us to concentrate on reaching a sustainable longer-term deal with CBH,” Brookfield chief executive Paul Larsen said.

“We remain hopeful that both parties will negotiate in good faith to agree a long term deal by the end of the [Code’s] June deadline.”

In a separate statement, Brookfield defended its long-term desire to earn more money from CBH, saying it is a matter of public record that it has not received sufficient revenue from CBH to cover the costs of operating the grain network, or to fund the capital expenditure required to maintain the lines.

But CBH is steadfast in its views that the rail operator is trying to take more than its fair share.

“We will keep battling to make that a long term reality for WA growers, so that they can use this state owned asset in a fair and reasonable manner,” Crane said.

“WA growers are already paying too much for rail access.

“A clear example of this is the fact that Eastern State’s counterparts pay significantly less than Western Australian rail access costs.

“We will continue to fight for a fair go for WA’s grain industry.”

Asset Management conference speaker Photo Gnangarra

Tackling Australia’s massive rail asset management task

The scale of the asset management task in Australia’s rail industry is enormous, and it’s essential for the industry to understand the need to adopt consistent and interoperable standards, director of asset management at Network Rail Consulting Australia and New Zealand Philip Chalk says.

Chalk, who will speak at Informa’s upcoming Asset Management in Rail Conference, joined us to discuss his experience and give some insights into Network Rail Consulting’s asset policies.


Can you tell us a bit more about your background, your role at Network Rail Consulting and Network Rail Consulting as a company?

I have been involved in the planning, design and management of transport infrastructure for almost 40 years, during which time I have worked in numerous countries around the world starting in New Zealand.

I joined Network Rail Consulting a little over a year ago following a two year stint working as a strategic asset management advisor at Network Rail’s Milton Keynes complex.

Known as the Quadrant, it’s a striking new building that houses over 3000 mainly technical and engineering resources under one roof.

During my time there, Network Rail was preparing its strategic business plan for Control Period 5 which runs from April 2014 to March 2019. A critical part of this work was developing asset policies to justify its projected investment in maintenance and renewals.

Network Rail Consulting was launched in 2012 as the consulting arm of Network Rail, the owner and operator of Britain’s rail infrastructure. Our goal is to provide high-level technical consultancy services using skilled resources with hands-on rail experience to help clients improve their railway.

We operate only outside of Britain but can draw on the full range of skills and resources within Network Rail – a total of around 8,000 technical staff across all disciplines.

Our first permanent location, other than our London headquarters, was established in Sydney in 2013 to serve the Australian and New Zealand markets. This was followed by offices in the USA and, more recently, Saudi Arabia.


Network Rail has developed asset policies to drive maintenance and renewal interventions over the next 35 years – can you tell us a little bit more about these policies and how often will they be reviewed?

In a nutshell, the asset policies set out the major requirements and decision-making criteria for asset maintenance, inspections and renewals.

They take a risk-based approach while minimising whole life costs.

The policies also set out the specific asset outputs that will be achieved for the funding available in Control Period 5 (some $17 billion for maintenance and renewals) in terms of safety, availability and sustainability.

They form an important part of Network Rail’s asset management system and, as such, are subject to continuous improvement. However they will undergo a major review in the two years leading- up to Control Period 6 which starts in April 2020.


What are you most looking forward to at the conference?

Sharing experiences. One of the reasons I really enjoy working in asset management is that it is very collaborative and the practitioners tend to be very open about the challenges they face.

There is no right or wrong way so by sharing our stories we can all learn from each other, improve our approaches and move towards the goal of finding the optimal asset investment regime to deliver the agreed outputs to our customers – sustainably.


Chalk will deliver a Keynote Presentation on ‘Optimising maintenance and renewal interventions in Network Rail’ at the Sydney conference in July.

The conference will provide an essential forum to assess efforts towards collaboration, improving the sharing of data and standardising asset tracking, leading to massive cost efficiencies and significant improvements in levels of service.

Additional speakers will include:

  • Michael Killeen, 747 & 767 Fleet Manager, Qantas Engineering Operations, Qantas Airways
  • Maria Palazzolo, CEO, GS1 Australia
  • Warwick Talbot, General Manager, Engineering and System Integrity, Maintenance Directorate, Sydney Trains
  • Rob MacGregor, Business Development Manager, Inspired Systems
  • Paul Reichl, Senior Research Engineer and Data Scientist, Institute of Railway Technology, Monash University
  • Simon Ratcliffe, General Manager – Maintenance, Reliability & LCC, Downer Rail
  • Tony Frazer, GM Asset Management, Interstate Division, ARTC
  • Christopher Stinchcombe, Director, Rolling Stock, Yarra Trams

Asset management banner

Freight rail track - stock - credit Shutterstock (8)

ARTC confirms: North Coast closed to at least May 17

49 sites on the Australian Rail Track Corporation’s North Coast interstate network in NSW require repair work of some kind following last week’s flooding and storm damage.

A report from rail operator Aurizon on Wednesday suggested the interstate network between Brisbane and Sydney would be out of action until at least May 18. The ARTC on Thursday confirmed a preliminary forecast for reopening of the line of May 17.

“With a consistent supply of materials continuing, weather remaining cooperative and continued positive progress of existing works, ARTC’s initial target is to reopen the track for operations on 17 May 2015,” the ARTC said on Thursday evening.

“We will constantly review this date based on site conditions and progress and will take every opportunity to bring this forecast forward if we can.”

Since last week’s extreme weather, the ARTC has identified 49 sites on the North Coast network that require repair work of some kind.

The work ranges from minor track repairs to large washaways.

As of Thursday, April 30, ARTC engineers and track engineers had completely scoped 47 of the 49 sites, while 41 sites have had works commence, with some already completed.

“Three major sites at Tocal are a key focus for the team,” the ARTC outlined.

“These sites include completely establishing new rail track from the ground up and filling in sizeable track washaways, some greater than 10m deep and 70m wide.”

The ARTC did not identify this incident specifically, but it’s likely that the Tocal sites referenced on Thursday include the one which let to the spectacular destruction of an impromptu suspension bridge, captured on film by the local Tocal College.

“Geotechnical assessments have been completed at these locations and the engineering task to recover the track around Tocal is underway,” the ATSB said.

“ARTC will continue to provide progress reports over the coming weeks.

“We thank the community and our customers for their continued patience with us as we work to recover operations as quickly and safely as possible.”

Whyalla Derailment - Photo: ATSB

Maintenance shortcuts led to derailment: ATSB


An inadequate rail joint likely led to a South Australian derailment last July, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau has found.

Genesee & Wyoming Australia (GWA) train 24KW was travelling towards the port of Whyalla on July 7, 2014, when a break in the line occurred, causing seven fully-loaded bottom-dumper wagons to derail.

The incident took place on a railway belonging to ASX-listed miner Arrium, between Iron Branch and 21km Junction.

Arrium’s track is continuous welded rail, meaning rail segments are joined together through flash welding.

But in the months prior to the incident, the section of rail in question had undergone tamping and re-railing. As a result, rail segments in that section were joined with bolted fishplates (welding was planned for a later date).

A fishplate joint features a pair of metal bars (fishplates) which are placed either side of a rail, and fastened together with a number of bolts.

Fishplate joint. Photo: Creative Commons / PixOnTrax
An example of a fishplate joint. Photo: Creative Commons / PixOnTrax


Some rail lines are joined together permanently via the fishplate method. In these cases, Australian standard joints usually feature six total bolts – three on either side of the rail joint – according to the ATSB’s report, released on April 28.

The temporary use of fishplate joints is common practice on a continuous welded line, after maintenance work has taken place. In these cases, just four bolts are typically used – two on either side of the joint – the ATSB said.

But according to the safety bureau, evidence shows that one of the fishplate joints which failed in the South Australian derailment had been secured with just two bolts – one on either side of the joint.

“Examination of the southern rail joint showed that the Iron Baron end of the joint had been fastened with only one bolt,” the ATSB said.

Whyalla derailment -- Iron Baron end of southern fishplate joint with just one bolt. Photo: ATSB
Iron Baron end of southern fishplate joint with just one bolt. Photo: ATSB


“While the Whyalla end of the southern rail joint had completely separated during the derailment sequence, the components were recovered and examined,” the bureau continued.

“The holes through both fractured fishplates and the rail web showed no definitive indication that bolting had been installed through two of the three bolt holes, suggesting that the assembly had also been secured through a single bolt through this end of the joint.”

On top of this, the ATSB found that bolt holes on the southern rail joint had been widened through a flame cutting method, making it hard for the bolts to be sufficiently tightened.

“It was … evident that both the field and gauge-side fishplates had been modified by slotting (elongating) the bolt hole using an oxy/acetylene thermal cutting tool,” the ATSB explained.

According to the safety bureau, flame cutting of joint components “is usually only acceptable for emergency repairs,” and when such repairs are made, a speed restriction of 10km/h is usually applied.

In this instance, however, no such restriction was applied. Train 24KW was travelling at 50km/h when the incident occurred.

Adding to the alleged use of just two bolts and widened holes on the southern joint, several fishplates in both the north and south rail joints showed signs of pre-existing fatigue, the ATSB said.

“The southern fishplated rail joint was assembled using inappropriately-modified fishplates with an inadequate number of through-bolts,” the bureau summarised, “reducing its structural integrity and allowing relative movement within the joint under the load of a train.”

Arrium’s rail line was shut for two days following the incident, while recovery personnel and track and train maintenance crew conducted recovery and restoration works.

Whyalla derailment -- Train 24KW. Photo: ATSB
Train 24KW. Photo: ATSB


The train sustained “serious” damage, according to the bureau’s report.

As a result of the derailment, Genesee & Wyoming Australia replaced all the fishplate joints with mechanical welding.

GWA and the contracted maintenance company, Transfield Services Australia, also completed an audit of maintenance standards and processes, and in November 2014 Transfield disseminated a document Mechanical Joint Rectification to all track maintenance staff.