Rail track. Photo: Shutterstock

Urgent track upgrades lead to Auckland-wide speed restriction

Urgent upgrades to track around Auckland have led to KiwiRail imposing a 40km/h speed restriction across the entire network for the next six months.

Testing conducted on the network found that track wear was more widespread than previously understood, leading KiwiRail to bring forward repair work, said KiwiRail group chief executive Greg Miller.

“Following our testing we are accelerating our programme of replacing the most worn sections of rail and resurfacing less damaged sections.”

The speed restriction and need to access the track will disrupt commuter services, with services running every 20 minutes during the day instead of every 10 minutes during the morning and afternoon peak. Journey times will also increase, said Mark Lambert, executive general manager of integrated networks at Auckland Transport.

“We hope to add some extra services at peak times to ensure that we can meet passenger demand, but this speed restriction will unfortunately mean longer journey times for all our customers of up to 50 per cent for this temporary period.”

The works will involve replacing 100 kilometres of track and are expected to take six months. Miller said that KiwiRail had the local capacity to complete the upgrade.

“We are equipped and ready to resolve the issue with the necessary rail already in the country and staff available to lay it. Specialist rail grinding equipment, which will be used to remediate some of the rail, will arrive from Australia shortly.”

While the track upgrade work was anticipated, the move to level three restrictions in Auckland due to cases of COVID-19 has provided an opportunity for KiwiRail to begin sooner.

“We are working closely with Auckland Transport to arrange optimum access to the track so we can get to work as quickly as possible while managing operation of services,” said Miller.

“The faster this work can be completed, the sooner the network can be back to operating safely at full speed as we continue our work to deliver a resilient and reliable rail network for Auckland.”

The works form part of the NZ$1 billion upgrade package for Auckland’s rail network, which includes electrification from Papakura to Pukekohe.

“This is part of the critical upgrade of the rail track infrastructure in Auckland as we plan and prepare for significant increase in services when the City Rail Link is open, and dramatically reducing travel times across the region,” said Lambert. “We are working closely with KiwiRail to ensure the track infrastructure is ready for the future demands that will be placed on it that will continue the transformational journey of rail in Auckland with the opening of the City Rail Link.”

Mount Isa, Queensland. Photo: Creative Commons

Study to assess double-stacked freight on Mount Isa line

The Queensland government will complete a business case into the potential to run double-stacked freight trains from Mount Isa to Stuart and the Port of Townsville.

Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey announced the business case, which will be completed by the end of 2020, along with flood resilience upgrade works.

To improve the line, which was washed out in heavy flooding in 2019, ageing rail equipment such as sleepers and ballast will be renewed. Queensland Rail will conduct geotechnical and survey work this month, which will enable new bridges to be installed and culverts to be replaced with spans and new piers.

“Those works will significantly increase capacity on waterway openings and provide protection to embankments to better withstand flood events,” said Member for Townsville Scott Stewart.

These upgrades are in addition to the $6 million works to improve the line’s resilience between Cloncurry and Hughenden.

Port of Townsville CEO Ranee Crosby said enabling double-stacked freight trains to run on the line would mean more freight coming into the port on rail.

“Townsville Port is Australia’s largest exporter of zinc, copper, lead and fertiliser, with significant growth opportunities from the North West Minerals Province, one of the world’s richest mineral-producing regions,” she said.

“These investments into the Mount Isa to Townsville Rail Line, such as enabling double-stacking of containers on rail, will offer customers greater flexibility in transporting freight to the Port, improving efficiency and helping drive down supply chain costs.”

Queensland Rail, which owns and manages the Mount Isa line, will carry out the business case, and CEO Nick Easy said improving the rail line will unlock further investment.

“The Mount Isa line is a critical connector for communities in North West Queensland and one of the state’s key freight paths, and Queensland Rail is committed to ensuring it meets the needs of communities and freight operators,” he said.

“These investments will help existing mining operators export their resources and encourage new investment in the state’s north west.

TBMs

TBMs head north for CRR duties

Two tunnel boring machines (TBMs) that were in use on the Sydney Metro project have been shipped north to begin digging twin tunnels under the Brisbane river for the Cross River Rail project.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the machines have arrived and are being prepared to start major tunnelling for the underground rail project.

“They are the same machines that dug the Sydney Metro. Now they’ll get a full refit and refurbishment at Herrenknecht’s north-side facility, to prepare them to dig Brisbane’s first underground.”

The two TBMs will excavate the twin tunnels that will connect the rail lines north and south of the Brisbane CBD via a new river crossing. The machines will be launched from Woolloongabba Station on Brisbane’s south-side and emerge at the project’s northern portal at Normanby.

During tunnelling, the TBMs will carve through the Albert Street and Roma Street stations sites. The TBMs will travel 30 metres a day and line the tunnels with concrete segments as they create the passages. An expected 290,000 cubic metres of soil will be generated over the course of tunnelling.

Each of the TBMs weighs 1,350 tonnes and is 165 metres long. At its peak, refurbishment work will be done 247 at Herrenknecht’s site in Pinkemba.

Palaszczuk said that preparing the TBMs to work on the Cross River Rail project will create local jobs.

“More than a dozen people have started working on the refit of the Cross River Rail TBMs, and that will increase to up to 35 people during peak activity – local jobs at a local factory.”

State Development Minister Kate Jones said these jobs would have a long-term benefit to Queensland.

“Cross River Rail will transform the way we travel and it will also leave behind a legacy of skilled workers trained by world-leaders in specialist trades,” said Jones.

Circular Quay

Feedback sought on new train station at Circular Quay

The NSW government is seeking community feedback on a redesigned Circular Quay, including a new train station.

Community input is being sought as part of the Circular Quay renewal project, which is currently in the design and planning phase.

Transport for NSW (TfNSW) is leading the project and has shortlisted two consortia to develop the early design ideas. CQC Partners is led by Lendlease and its public private partnership arm Capella Capital. Plenary Group has tipped John Holland as its construction contractor.

A TfNSW spokesperson said that the redevelopment of Circular Quay will amount to a wholescale renewal.

“There will be a reimagining of its public spaces, new ferry wharves and an upgraded train station which will see this area become a place that all Sydneysiders can be proud of.”

In addition to public input, TfNSW is also current in early stages of consultation with local stakeholders. Six principles have been identified to guide the redevelopment, including the area’s flow, effectiveness and vitality.

Future demand for daily transport and the capacity to handle major events will be part of the precinct’s design. The interchange is expected to handle a 40 per cent increase in visits by 2041.

“Circular Quay needs generous spaces for the 15 million visitors and 64 million public and active transport trips; not to mention the enormous crowds that flock to events like Vivid and the New Year’s Eve fireworks each year,” said the TfNSW spokesperson.

Plans for the $200 million upgrade of the area have been underway since 2015 and was originally planned to have begun construction in 2019. The project is now expected to break ground in 2023.

The elevated rail line at Circular Quay and the Bradfield Expressway, which sits above it, has long been a target for renewal. Proposals to lower the rail line or turn the expressway into a high-line style park have been raised in the past. In the current renewal plan major changes to the road and rail corridor are not expected.

Harrybilt

Straddling both gauges: A dual hi-rail attachment

A local manufacturing solution to Australia’s dual-gauge headache from Harrybilt Engineering.

A perennial issue for the Australian rail industry has been the various gauges across the national network. A legacy of the pre- federation era when each state developed their own railway networks to transport produce to their respective ports, in the century since federation there have been a series of efforts to standardise gauges across Australia.

Despite these efforts, and the many hours of work and negotiation that have gone into standardisation programs, rail networks businesses and maintainers still have to contend with multiple gauges in different parts of the country. In some instances, this has meant the duplication of equipment, particularly plant that is required to run on rails. Having multiple hi-rail trucks, excavators, and other equipment can limit productivity and increase cost, particularly when working in sections where two grades interact.

Ballarat-based specialist engineering and manufacturing business Harrybilt Engineering has developed a solution to this headache, that overcomes Australia’s unique multiple- gauge system. The Hi Brid Rail System can be attached to wheeled excavators to allow the machinery to operate on standard- or narrow- gauge railways.

Designed by the family-owned rail specialists, Harrybilt Engineering’s Hi Brid Rail System on standard gauge operates the same as the Rail Guidance System, which allows the excavator’s tyres to safely move on the rail. For narrow gauge, the excavator’s tyres contact a drum, which drives the rail wheels in a friction drive set-up.

The dual-gauge solution was developed after hearing from the rail infrastructure industry that the capacity for machinery to switch between narrow- and standard-gauge networks would greatly increase their productivity. Working from this need, Harrybilt Engineering designed and manufactured the Hi Brid system to best suit the needs of the sector.

The system meets Australian standard AS7502 for road-rail vehicles and is fitted with four failsafe braked rail wheels for increased safety.

The rail system is managed from inside the driver’s cab via a programmable logic controller (PLC) system. Having all controls fitted inside the drivers’ cab allows for the safe and efficient operation of the Hi Brid System.

Released in 2019, the system was designed locally by Harrybilt Engineering’s specialist team of railway maintenance equipment engineers. The company has over 19 years of experience designing and manufacturing Hi Rail and Rail Guidance Systems for road rail vehicles, in addition to the 35 years of experience manufacturing equipment for the rail industry.

Knowing the needs of rail infrastructure maintenance businesses in Australia and the growing demand for specialist engineering capability and expertise, the company has recently doubled is production floor space to cater to the expanding local market. With this capability within the business, Harrybilt is able to customise its systems, including the Hi Brid Rail System to meet a customer’s requirement. The company has already fitted the system to three separate excavator models, and could, if needed deploy, its engineering capabilities to fit the system to equipment other than an excavator.

Combining versatility with solid engineering, the Harrybilt Hi Bird Rail System is designed to meet the unique, multiple-gauge needs of the Australian rail infrastructure sector.

Production of concrete segments for Cross River Rail underway

Pre-cast concrete segments for the Cross River Rail tunnels are now being made at a site in Wacol, south-west Brisbane.

The project will require a total of 25,000 segments to line the tunnels underneath the Brisbane River and CBD, from Dutton Park to Bowen Hills.

Wagners Precast was the successful tenderer for the manufacture of the concrete segments and will carry out the work from its site in Wacol.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said this was a good example of the local businesses that would benefit from the Cross River Rail project.

“Hundreds of local businesses are benefitting from work related to the project. In this case here at Wacol we have a 100 per cent Queensland-owned company employing local workers to build the concrete walls that will line the 5.9 kilometres of twin tunnels,” she said.

Six of the 27cm thick and 1.7 metre long segments will create one tunnel ring, of which over 4,000 are required for the Cross River Rail tunnels.

Once the segments are finished in Wacol, trucks will haul them six at a time to the work sites. At full production levels, the site will produce 140 segments a day, using 105,000 cubic metres of concrete over the course of the project.

State Development Minister Kate Jones said she was staggered by the magnitude of the project.

“If you lay the 25,000 segments they’ll produce for Cross River Rail end-to-end you’d reach from Wacol to the heart of Brisbane City with a few segments to spare.”

In addition to the economic benefits of Cross River Rail, said Palaszczuk, the project is also supporting training and apprentices. At Wacol, 570 training hours were delivered in May.

“Investing in major infrastructure projects like Cross River Rail means more jobs, more training opportunities and more support for the economy right when we need it most,” the Premier said.

“7,500 jobs for workers will be created throughout the life of the project along with 450 opportunities for trainees and apprentices.”

Jones said the project was having a real impact on Queensland’s economy each day.

“Cross River Rail is pumping over $4 million a day into the economy, and over $370m is already being spent with more than 400 businesses that make up the supply chain for the project.”

Major projects

Victoria launches online major projects portal

Victoria has launched an online portal to give suppliers a comprehensive overview of major projects in the state.

The Victorian Major Projects Pipeline went live today, July 24, and covers projects worth over $100 million. These include major rail projects including the Suburban Rail Loop, Metro Tunnel Project, Melbourne Airport Rail, the Level Crossing Removal program and others.

The projects range from those in the business case/planning phrase, to procurement, and delivery. Each project is categorised by region, sector, and procurement agency, with indication of cost, procurement start and delivery start. The projects can be organised in a list or timeline format.

Links to contact details and specific project information is available through the portal.

Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan hope that industry would use the portal to plan ahead.

“This portal will be an invaluable tool for industry going forward as we plan and prepare to deliver Victoria’s biggest ever infrastructure agenda.”

According to a statement from the Victorian government the portal will be updated quarterly with new project announcements and budgets.

Developed by the Office of Projects Victoria (OPV), which provides independent advice to improve project delivery and project benefits, the portal is in addition to other public information available on Victoria’s Big Build Website.

OPV CEO Kevin Doherty said the project was a collaborative effort.

“OPV has worked closely with key delivery agencies and the construction industry to develop this portal which will literally help build a bigger and better Victoria.”

Beerburrum

Tender details for stage one of Beerburrum to Nambour works released

The tender for the first stage of the Beerburrum to Nambour Rail upgrade will be released next month.

The move is a step forward for the long-awaited Sunshine Coast rail project with a call for tenders on early works released in June.

While the early works tender focused on improvements to roads and surrounding infrastructure, the Stage 1 tender includes line duplication, station upgrades, parking facilities and rail passing loops.

Specifically the works include: the duplication of the track north of Beerburrum to Glass House Maintains on an improved alignment and duplication between Glass House Maintains and Beerwah within the existing corridor; road over rail bridges at Beerburrum Road, Barrs Road, and Burgess Street; parking at Beerburrum, Landsborough, and Nambour; a bus interchange at Landsborough; and the relocation of utilities.

Early works will begin in 2021 with major construction to commence from 2022.

The upgrade is jointly funded by the Queensland and federal governments, with each contributing $390 million and $160.8m respectively.

Queensland Minister for Transport and Main Roads Mark Bailey said the project would create 333 jobs in stage one.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said the upgrade would entice more commuters to travel by train.

“Reduced travel times, greater service reliability and increased parking at stations will attract more travellers to rail, between the Sunshine Coast region and Brisbane in particular,” he said.

The Beerburrum to Nambour upgrade was listed by Infrastructure Australia as a priority project in June 2018, and detailed planning followed in 2019.

Federal member for Fisher Andrew Wallace said that early industry briefings hoped to garner involvement from local businesses.

“The industry briefing was a good opportunity to give local businesses some indication on what kind of work was coming down the line and allow the project team to get early feedback that will help as they develop the final scope for the upgrade,” he said.

Rail Back on Track administrator Robert Dow welcomed the commitment from both governments to get the project underway, however noted that further works could be included in the package.

“The planned commencement of Beerburrum to Nambour is very welcome but we would have like to have the track duplication through to Landsborough.”

Further duplication would improve train frequency for passenger as well as freight on the heavily-used North Coast Line.

rail industry

Get policy settings right and rail will help lead recovery

In the aftermath of COVID-19, there is a huge opportunity for the rail industry to support Australasia’s rebound, writes Caroline Wilkie, CEO of the ARA.

As COVID-19 struck, many industries wound down as travel restrictions and social distancing measures started to bite.

The much-discussed hibernation was a necessary reality for many, but for the rail industry the essential work of keeping our communities connected and economy moving ploughed on.

Public transport operators kept the trains running on time, and in many cases maintained their normal schedules to ensure those who needed to travel could maintain social distancing requirements.

The added work of additional cleaning and maintenance to keep their customers COVID safe was quickly implemented and continues as we return to a more normal way of life.

Throughout all the changes we’ve seen since this crisis began, dedicated teams that support the safe operation of our train network have been a saving grace for those that still needed to get to work, to care for family or simply buy essential supplies.

The rail freight industry also became an important part of keeping supply chains open as international borders closed.

The big swings in demand for household basics like toilet paper called for fast and reliable delivery to replenish supermarket shelves, and Australia’s freight operators helped meet that challenge throughout the worst of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the suppliers that maintain and operate the industry’s rollingstock, track and technology kept the network operating smoothly by continuing their essential work.

The outstanding efforts of the rail industry in difficult times has been of great benefit to the community and we thank the many people who have gone above and beyond in their roles to meet the challenges of this time.

But as the industry kept on moving, rail suppliers, contractors and freight operators were still feeling the impact of COVID-19.

A recent Australasian Railway Association (ARA) survey of 58 of its members found constraints on international shipments and falling customer spending were the biggest challenges they were experiencing in the face of the pandemic.

Concerned about the financial impact on their business, they worried the pipeline of government projects would slow – and some had already seen evidence of just that.

About half had deferred investments, putting workplace expansions and capital expenditure on hold as they repositioned their businesses to get through these unprecedented times.

But the industry showed its commitment to the long term, with only a relatively small number of respondents taking the tough decision to stand down staff or roll out redundancies.

Despite the challenges, the survey respondents were already planning for recovery and preparing their businesses for the growth that will eventually come.

Our members told us maintaining the current project pipeline was the single most important thing governments could do, followed by funding stimulus projects.

The ARA has acted on this feedback and has been engaging with federal and state governments on potential stimulus projects to support the rail industry.

ARA members also called for improved local content policies and procurement processes as more and more businesses considered a shift to using more local suppliers.

In fact, a staggering three quarters of those looking to make changes to their supply chain said they would seek more suppliers in Australia or their home state.

This is a huge opportunity for the rail industry and for Australian jobs.

The ARA’s tendering framework, released in May, supports the need for a nationally consistent procurement approach.

Making such a change was already considered vitally important before COVID-19, but now, taking that step could help the industry realise its ambition to support even more local content.

Strong local content policies and more uniform national standards would give suppliers the economies of scale they need to build sustainable businesses here in Australia and help the industry boost the resilience of its supply chains.

The success of the National Cabinet has shown that collaboration between the states can work to achieve consistent approaches.

That is exactly what we need right now.

The good news is the industry is ready for that recovery and expect it will come quickly when the time is right.

About a third of survey respondents told us they could be back to normal operations within a month once the impact of COVID-19 was over.

Most others said it would take them less than a year.

So as the many essential workers in the rail industry keep working through this most unusual year, there are signs of optimism for recovery on the other side of this event.

Getting the policy settings right to speed that process will be key to supporting a strong rebound for the benefit of all Australians.