Value of rail construction contracts fall in 2020

While governments have trumpeted major stimulus spending projects in rail to spur the economy out of COVID-19, the value of contracts awarded in 2020 has fallen significantly, according to analysis from Infrastructure Partnerships Australia (IPA).

In 2019, contracts to the value of $27.1 billion were awarded in the infrastructure sector. In the first eight months of 2020, only $6.7bn in contracts have been awarded, a quarter of the 2019 total.

Of the contracts awarded, rail has been overlooked, with roads, water, social infrastructure and other transport receiving more money.

According to IPA, as governments have turned to small-scale stimulus projects, approvals and signatures on contracts has fallen. In many cases, these projects were already funded and were brought forward to get money flowing into the economy and increase business activity to rebound after COVID-19.

“Over the last few months, governments have taken smart steps to accelerate small-scale quick to market projects to soften the COVID landing,” said IPA chief executive Adrian Dwyer, who noted that larger projects will sustain the economy for the long term.

“This data shows we now need to accelerate approvals of large-scale projects, add to the major infrastructure pipeline, and ensure we keep pace on delivery,” he said.

“As we governments prepare for the delayed budget season, this is the time to scale up for the long economic recovery ahead.”

With the third quarter of 2020 drawing to a close, contract values could pick up for 2020 in the final quarter, with the contract for the next stage of Sydney Metro expected to be announced. Other contracts, such as those for the Narrabri to North Star section of Inland Rail, could also contribute to the 2020 total.

While rail was the smallest infrastructure sector in 2020 by contract value, it was the largest in 2019, with $11.6bn committed to the sector. In 2018, $6.6bn of contracts were awarded to rail projects.

There is over $3bn of announced funding for rail as part of state and federal stimulus plans.

Tender process begins for Sydney Metro – Western Sydney Airport

A call for registrations of interest has kicked off the tender process for the construction of Sydney Metro – Western Sydney Airport.

Prospective tenderers are invited to put forward their interest in delivering 10 kilometres of twin metro railway tunnels. The tunnels will stretch from St Marys to Orchard Hills and between the Airport and Aerotropolis.

The tunnels will form part of the new rail line which will connect Western Sydney Airport with the city’s rail network at St Marys, via Orchard Hills and Luddenham.

NSW Minister for Transport Andrew Constance said construction is close to starting.

“Construction starts later this year on a project that will become the transport spine for the Western Parkland City,” Constance said.

“The new railway will link residential areas with jobs hubs and connect travellers from the new airport with the rest of Sydney’s public transport network.”

The project has also confirmed the station locations at St Marys, Orchard Hills, Luddenham and the two airport stations. A stabling and maintenance facility is planned for an area adjacent to the alignment south of Orchard Hills. Two services facilities will be built within the alignment, one at Claremont Meadows and another at Bringelly.

With locations confirmed for the stations, the nature of the line is beginning to shape. At St Marys, the new station underneath the existing Sydney Trains station will enable interchanges between the Sydney Metro line and the existing rail network.

The stations at Orchard Hills and Luddenham would support future residential and commercial development.

Two stations will be at the airport itself, with one at the Airport Business Park and one at the Airport terminal.

A final station will be built at the Aerotropolis, which would be the commercial heart of the Western Sydney Aerotropolis.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Sunday the station would be the core of a new city.

“Where we are standing today will become a major new transport interchange, right in the heart of the future central business district for the Western Parkland City.”

The automated metro line will be controlled from a facility at Orchard Hills where train stabling and maintenance will occur.

Federal Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure Alan Tudge said with construction beginning before the end of 2020, the project will soon be delivering benefits.

“This city-shaping investment is being fast-tracked to help our economy recover from COVID-19 and deliver a major stimulus right in the heart of Western Sydney,” said Tudge.

“Western Sydney residents will reap the benefits of this investment well before the first train leaves the station.”

The future line will not only include tunnels but elevated viaducts and at-grade rail.

The station locations come as the NSW Planning Minster, Rob Stokes rezones 6,500 hectares of land around the future airport to allow for the development of the Aerotropolis.

The rezoning includes the Aerotropolis Core, which will be rezoned for mixed use, as well as the Northern Gateway, which covers mixed use around the Luddenham train station site and enterprise zoning surrounding that.

Planning documents indicate future rail links between the Aerotrpolis Core and Leppington and further south towards Macarthur.

“Today’s approval lays the foundations for the transformation of 6,500 hectares of land into a thriving metropolis with new homes, jobs and public spaces supported by a new, world-class Metro line,” said Minister for Jobs, Investment, Tourism and Western Sydney Stuart Ayres.

New roof

New roof above Central Station taking shape

The new roof above the future Northern Concourse is currently being installed at Central Station in Sydney.

The roof is part of the redevelopment of Central Station as the hub expands to serve Sydney Metro services from 2024.

NSW Minister for Transport Andrew Constance said the feature roof will provide light and shade.

“The 80-metre-long and 40-metre-wide roof extends from the northern end of Platform 8 to Platform 16 and will sit more than 16 metres above ground to enable natural light to filter into the station,” he said.

The structure was manufactured and pre-assembled in the Hunter Valley town of Kurri Kurri, with segments transported to Sydney. There are 58 cassette roof sections, known as hockey sticks for their shape, and each weigh about five tonnes. In addition, eight girders weighing 30 tonnes and up to 21 metres long are being installed.

The perforated aluminium cladding panels enable air to flow through the roof, and the design includes 21 diamond-shaped skylights with lighting and speakers.

The roof is expected to be completed by the end of the year, with Central Walk to be open to commuters in 2022.

To enable passengers to change between the future Metro lines, Sydney Trains services, light rail services and buses, Central Walk will extend from Chalmers Street, underneath current platforms and provide access to the Metro station, 30 metres underneath Central.

Excavation has reached 18 metres below ground and breakthrough into the tunnel box is expected in the coming months.

Laing O’Rouke won the $955 million construction contract with architecture firm Woods Bagot and John McAslan + Partners.

Automated, continuous process for embedded rail track receives research funding

A $4 million Australian research project will look to automate the construction of embedded rail track (ERT), with the potential to apply the technology in the construction of heavy-haul and high-speed rail.

The project has received $1.5 million in funding through the federal government’s Cooperative Research Centres Projects (CRC-P) grant scheme, as well as cash and in-kind contribution from the research partners.

Currently, ERT is only used in limited lengths due to the high cost and length of time that it takes to lay the concrete-embedded slab track. However, ERT is much safer than regular ballasted track, and with fewer components, needs less regular maintenance.

The University of Wollongong (UoW) is one of the project participants and project leader Philip Commins from UoW said the project would look to utilise advanced robotics to lay the track. Over the course of the project, the team from UoW will be looking into how this technology can be used to lay slab track with millimetre-level accuracy.

“Do you need multiple robots, or, is there another process to do this? Do you need material handling or is there another process where you remove material rather than trying to hold material, or add material in place? There’s a whole host of ideas that we’re going to be investigating to find which one works best and how do we then proceed to make this process robust in a harsh Australian environment,” said Commins.

With ERT laid in concrete, there is less room for error in construction than when construction ballasted track. In the current manual process, this need for accuracy means that track is laid in 50 metre segments. To overcome this, one area the project will explore will be how to continuously lay ERT.

“Ultimately we think that to drive down the cost the time of installation we want to do this in a continuous fashion,” said Commins. “We want to say, ‘We’re starting here today and we need to get to there by the end of today,’ and the machine ideally shouldn’t stop.”

To get to this goal, the research project will take two years to identify challenges, and find the hardware and software solutions required, as well as the needs for materials and logistics.

The project also involves the University of Technology Sydney, Downer, Embedded Rail Technology, and Antoun Civil.

Cross River Rail

Cross River Rail expanding inclusion in design and construction

The Cross River Rail project is incorporating local communities of suppliers and future passengers into its current design and construction programs.

The $5.4 billion project is contributing $4 million a day into to the local economy, partly through contracts with suppliers such as IDEC who will deliver the acoustic sheds at three major construction sites.

The sheds are in use at the Roma Street and Albert Street sites and a third is being installed at Woolloongabba.

IDEC CEO Glenn Gibson said that major projects such as CRR allow for business continuity.

“We are specialists in our field, and contracts like this one with CRR are vital for companies like ours to provide continuity and job security for our staff.”

The CRR contract provides work for 70 employees, including boilermakers, roof panel builders, riggers, and engineers and designers. Two apprentices are also working on the project.

The sheds are prefabricated by IDEC and then installed on site over 10 weeks. By using the sheds, CRR is able to work at night and during bad weather, while minimising dust and noise pollution in the surrounding area.

CRR is also involving the wider community in the design of the project. In one initiative, six stations that will undergo accessibility upgrades have been modelled to allow for those with blindness and low vision to give input on the stations’ designs.

The 3D model of the stations are being made with the assistance of Braille House, which provides. Braille products f or the vision impaired. Braille has been embossed on the tactile model for increased legibility.

So far, a model of the upgraded Fairfield station has been constructed, and Braille House general manager Sally Balwin said this would overcome issues that transport infrastructure has for those with a disability.

“We’re pleased to have worked with Cross River Rail on the Fairfield Station concept design tactile model. Train stations can be a challenge for people using a cane or a guide dog to navigate, and it can impact their ability to access public transport.”

Wendy Sara, production manager at Braille House has been working with the CRR team to construct the station models.

As a blind person, it’s important to be included in the consultation and to be given the opportunity to explore by touch the changes to be made to the upgraded station,” said Sara.

“The provision of access to the tactile model will help blind and low vision people feel confident in navigating the upgraded Fairfield station once completed.”

Demolition makes way for Gold Coast light rail

The demolition of a service station in Burleigh Heads has been completed, allowing construction to commence on the new Burleigh Heads station for the extension of Gold Coast Light Rail.

Stage three of the project will lengthen the line to terminate at Burleigh Heads and the project is getting closer to awarding the tender for major construction of the line.

Queensland Transport Minister Mark Bailey said that to assist businesses along the line a targeted program will manage the impacts of construction.

“There will be plenty of construction happening, which is why we want get in now before they start laying down the tracks to engage meaningfully with businesses to see how we can support as the next stage of light rail is built,” said Bailey.

Chairman of operator GoldlinQ John Witheriff said that the project was close to awarding the tender for the main construction works on the $709 million stage three.

“The review panel is now undertaking an extensive in-depth process to ensure value for money and the best engineering and construction solutions are delivered.”

Once complete, the extended light rail line will enable further transport improvements along the north-south spine of the Gold Coast.

“The Gold Coast has benefitted tremendously from light rail, with more than 50 million trips already taken, cutting traffic on Scarborough Street at Southport by 47 per cent and increasing pedestrian movement to Pacific Fair Shopping Centre by 180 per cent,” said Bailey.

“Once complete, we’ll see trams travel all the way from Helensvale to the sands of Burleigh beach for commuters, families and tourists, providing a long-term benefit for the city’s businesses, hotel and tourism operators, and of course the hundreds of ongoing light rail jobs.”

The demolition is part of preparatory works that are progressing as the state and local governments look to finalise details of stage four, which would connect the line to the Gold Coast Airport.

Level crossings to go and access improved on Armadale Line

The Western Australia government has unveiled a series of works for Perth’s Armadale Line to improve safety and increase access along the line through Perth’s south-eastern suburbs.

The WA government and federal government will jointly fund the removal of up to six level crossings.

The $415 million plan to remove three level crossings at Oats Street, Mint Street, and Welshpool Road, along with assessment of three level crossings at William, Wharf, and Hamilton streets has been submitted to Infrastructure Australia.

Procurement will begin on the Metronet project before the end of 2020, said WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti.

“Submitting the business case to Infrastructure Australia is the next step forward to removing these boom gates,” she said.

The rail line will be raised over the road at the level crossings for up to 2.8 kilometres. The elevated rail option will enable better connections between adjoining communities, safer roads, and less noise.

As part of the WA Recovery Plan, train stations on the Armadale line will be upgraded to improve disability access.

$8 million will be spent on Cannington, Gosnells, and Kelmscott stations to bring them up to the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport 2002 (DSAPT).

These improvements will include better pedestrian access, the relocation of passenger information and ticket vending machines, and better lighting, signage, and CCTV coverage.

At Gosnells station, upgrades to the parking area will be part of the works, while at Kelmscott Station the bus stand infrastructure will also be improved.

“Public transport is for everyone, and we have a responsibility to ensure that anybody using our stations can do so as safely as possible, regardless of their mobility levels,” said Saffioti.

“These upgrades will mean all patrons using Cannington, Gosnells and Kelmscott stations will be able to use Transperth train services with dignity and independence.”

The project is part of the WA Recovery Plan, which has identified projects that can begin immediately and inject activity into the WA economy.


Breakthrough at Parkville Station for Melbourne Metro Tunnel

The first tunnel boring machine (TBM) has broken through into the future Parkville station as it excavates from Ardern Station to the State Library Station.

This is the first TBM to make it to Parkville after being launched in May, with the second TBM to make it to Parkville in the next weeks.

The TBM is now being moved through the station box. During this period the TBM will be cleaned and recommissioned before being launched towards the State Library Station.

All four TBMs are currently excavating future metro tunnels underneath Melbourne.

Victorian Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan thanked those working on the project for their efforts.

“It’s fantastic to see [TBM] Joan arrive at the future Parkville station. The Metro Tunnel is working through the pandemic supporting thousands of jobs, while creating the new space to run more trains more often.”

The stations themselves are also progressing, with work on the permanent structure for Parkville Station below Grattan Street taking place. Station entrances are also currently under construction.

The project is creating nearly 7,000 jobs and those currently on site are required to adhere to COVID-19 safety measures due to Victoria’s stage 4 restrictions.

“Construction of the Metro Tunnel is continuing under strict health requirements – keeping workers safe while they deliver this vital project,” said Allan.

With the 1.2-kilometre tunnels between Arden and the western tunnel entrance in Kensington completed last year and tunnelling underway from Anzac Station to the eastern tunnel entrance at South Yarra, more than 290,000 cubic metres of rock and soil have been excavated. 23,000 concrete segments have been installed to line the walls of the tunnels.

Once complete, estimated in 2025, the project increase Melbourne’s rail capacity by half a million passengers a week during the peaks.


Starting from first principles: An independent approach to condition monitoring

Getting the balance right between preventative maintenance and over-spending on upkeep requires an independent set of eyes highlights Lycopodium.

The Port of Newcastle handles over $18 billion worth of freight each year, with 97 per cent of trade moved by rail. This makes ensuring that the lines which feed into the port from the Hunter Valley coal network and the links to interstate freight lines are in good condition a critical requirement.

Scott Campbell, general manager – rail for Lycopodium Infrastructure knows this well having worked with a number of rail infrastructure owners whose exports travel to the Port of Newcastle.

“If there is a fault or a defect that will prevent freight transport, that’s a huge impediment, not just to the individual companies who are trying to get a train through but to the logistics and transport industry in Australia,” said Campbell. “Some coal producers put out up to 10 trains a day, so that’d be about 80,000 tonnes of coal per day out from their facility. If there’s a failure in the infrastructure on a particular day and it takes a week to repair and get the trains back on track that’s potentially half a million tonnes of coal and when the market is good, that’s at $100/tonne. That’s a huge amount of money.”

Lycopodium assists freight operators and infrastructure owners nationally to determine the right rail maintenance program that suits their operations. For Campbell, this is about ensuring that maintenance is done in a controlled manner.

“Commercially and logistically, it’s imperative to get a maintenance program in place so you do preventative maintenance rather than breakdown maintenance. Being able to understand the status of track condition and to fix or upgrade the track back to a fit for purpose standard before there is an issue means you can program and plan your production and your maintenance, reducing risk to operations.”

What sets Lycopodium apart is that unlike maintenance contractors, there is no large shed of equipment and machinery waiting to be deployed to work on the track. While Lycopodium is an accredited rollingstock operator with its own hi-rail inspection plant for on-the-spot repairs, their focus is about designing the maintenance program to fit the job at hand.

Operating in all mainland states, Lycopodium is an independent advisor when it comes to maintenance, with deep expertise in design, project management, and infrastructure management, and has the ability to conduct track inspection and certification.

“We provide an independent, fit for purpose solution. We will go there and do the inspections, certify the tracks, and identify defects,” said Campbell. “If required, we can then prepare scoping documentation to call tenders and manage the maintenance work on behalf of the client.”

With Australia’s vast network of rail track providing very different tasks depending on the location, Lycopodium can design a maintenance program that responds to the needs of a particular section of track. With this information in hand, infrastructure owners can then ensure their maintenance provider is providing them the best value for money.

“We work on a lot of private sidings around the country where we do the inspections, identify any defects and then put in place a maintenance program,” said Campbell. “We assess the condition of the infrastructure at the time of inspection, report on the severity of any defects and provide an analysis on infrastructure condition trends.”

Through rigorous inspection and trends analysis, Lycopodium’s engineers begin from first principles. By starting with the infrastructure configuration and condition, rather than inferring from theories or assumptions, the maintenance program is tailored to the specificities of that track.

“Our engineers look at the duty of the rail, what tonnage is going to be going across the track over any given year – not just the overall tonnage, but the point tonnage – what the axle load is going to be. We look at the status of the infrastructure from the formation of the ballast to the rail, sleepers and fastenings, and then we provide a maintenance management plan to the client so that again the predictability is there and they can forecast costs when they need to have an outage to conduct on-track maintenance,” said Campbell.

The maintenance needed, whether it be rail grinding, safety measures, or upgrading ballast and sleepers, is therefore based upon the actual usage rate of the track.

Lycopodium brings an independent view to the maintenance and management of rail infrastructure.

To get this understanding of a network or section of track, Lycopodium works with the client in partnership. A round of inspections are done to form a base line and then once usage is discussed a further maintenance inspection will be carried out to see the trends of the track’s wear.

“If a grain siding is only going to be putting out 50,000 tonnes a year and it’s only going to be operated at the end of a harvest, we’re not going to be inspecting the track every month for 12 months,” said Campbell. “We’re going to look at it at the end of the harvest, so we do a condition assessment at the end of it, and we will compare that with how we predicted it would be.

“We might do a six-month inspection and look at how it’s stood up to almost no use and then come back in closer to harvest time where we’ve predicted what the condition is going to be. Then, we will see what maintenance is required so that the siding is suitable for their forecast use over the next harvest season.”

Within the rail group, Lycopodium has 40 staff, including track inspectors and certifiers, maintenance manager, and condition analysts. The data from the inspections is fed into Lycopodium’s Maintenance Management Systems (LycoMMS) so that clients can get a real-time understanding of where the defects in the track are. This tool can then be used to forecast when maintenance is needed.

“A lot of the industry have conducted regular inspections and upgrade tracks to a standard that’s not required,” said Campbell. “What we have focused on is engineering from first principles and monitoring to make sure that the track is fit for purpose, while making sure that the clients don’t overspend on an asset.”

“Focusing on a rail asset’s actual condition and usage, rather than an assumption can avoid overspending in the order of three times the amount required,” said Campbell.

“Marrying up the strong engineering principles with the maintenance management system that provides monitoring and trending, we can then tailor a maintenance program to a client’s real needs, rather than a best guess.”

Fremantle Traffic Bridge

Procurement fast tracked for new rail-road bridge

A new multimodal bridge over the Swan River at Fremantle will be brought forward by six months.

The $240 million project is funded on a 50-50 basis by the Western Australia and federal governments and has had procurement brought forward by six months, with construction expected to start by late 2021, said federal Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure Alan Tudge.

“Fremantle continues to be a bustling hub and we brought forward funds so construction on this project could kick off sooner.”

The bridge will carry rail and road traffic, as well as providing a pedestrian and cycle link between north and south Fremantle. The current bridge is nearing the end of its useful life.

The alliance contract is expected to be awarded in early 2021, said WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti.

“Community consultation is now underway and will inform the project’s development and design to ensure we reach the best possible outcome for this significant infrastructure in Fremantle.”

Infrastructure Australia added the project to its Infrastructre Priority List in February, 2019. The independent advisory body noted that rail connectivity in the region is limited due to the shared Fremantle Rail Bridge. Currently, passenger services are given priority, however both freight and passenger volumes on the bridge are expected to increase. Adding more connections would prevent delays and improve freight efficiency into and away from Fremantle Port.

In seeking community input for the project in early August 2020, the WA government noted that the project is highly complex and positioned in a challenging area. Issues including heritage-listing, ensuring continued connectivity while the new bridge is constructed, and ensuring ease of navigation on the river will impact upon the nature of the project.

“It has been well known for more than a decade that the Fremantle Traffic Bridge needs replacing so we’re excited to reach the stage of community consultation,” Saffioti said at the time.