To make the most of infrastructure investments, the playing field for rail freight needs to be evened out, writes Caroline Wilkie, CEO of the ARA.
The confirmation of funding for the Port of Melbourne direct rail line to South Dandenong in August was welcome news for business, industry, and residents in the region.
The direct rail connection to the port forms part of the wider Port Rail Shuttle Network and will make it easier and more cost effective for businesses to access port facilities.
The Federal and Victorian government funding will deliver tangible benefits to businesses in Dandenong’s manufacturing sector and improve the efficiency of port operations.
Ultimately, the project will also take 100,000 trucks off the road, helping give local residents their city back in the process.
In the same month, the NSW government fast tracked approvals for the Botany Rail Duplication and the Cabramatta Rail Loop, putting its support behind greater use of rail within its freight network.
The projects will not only deliver this critical new infrastructure to meet the state’s freight needs but will take 54 trucks off busy city roads with every additional freight train travelling on the Botany line.
That will make a crucial difference as the Port of Botany’s freight task increases by 77 per cent in the 20 years to 2036.
As Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole observed when announcing the approvals, these new connections are so important because the more freight is moved on rail, the less congestion there is with fewer trucks on the roads.
These projects are great examples of the difference rail freight can make, and why continued investment is essential to the continued liveability of our cities and towns.
But while the benefits of projects like these are obvious, more needs to be done to ensure the rail sector can meet our increasing freight needs.
While Australia’s freight task is growing – and will continue to grow – the role rail freight plays in meeting this demand has actually declined.
Recent years have seen the rail industry’s share of the freight task eroded by policy settings that favour other modes of transport and frustrate investment in the sector.
As a result, less than one per cent of freight travelling between Sydney and Melbourne is moved by rail – a far cry from the 40 per cent share the rail network maintained in the 1970s.
While the vast expanses of the country have seen east- west connections hold up better, rail freight’s modal share has started to slip there too, with rail now carrying just 54 per cent of the freight task across the Nullarbor.
It is hard to reconcile the declining role of rail freight at a time where the sector needs more capacity than ever before.
Part of the problem is how we price rail freight when compared to road.
While getting trucks off the roads remains a focus in these busy and often congested urban areas, heavy vehicle road reform has simply not progressed.
So, while rail freight access charges are based on maintaining and operating the infrastructure it requires, the road freight industry is not expected to fully cover the cost of maintaining and operating the roads it uses.
As we hear more about the importance of easing congestion, the sustainability benefits of using more rail services and the value of creating city precincts that make it easier for residents to get around, favourable pricing models for road freight is increasingly difficult to reconcile.
We must have a level playing field for all to ensure rail freight can grow to support the increasing demand for freight across the country.
This, together with harmonisation of standards across the country, could enliven the rail freight sector again and ensure it is ready to support the growth of our economy over time.
After all, the industry has shown how much can be achieved under the right settings.
Australia was the first country to move to fully autonomous freight trains when the mining sector adopted the technology to service iron ore mines in the Pilbara.
This capability has become a hallmark of mining in the region and the significant benefits the industry delivers to the broader economy.
Use of rail for bulk commodities has increased, bucking the trend of the broader sector.
With a level playing field and certainty of standards across the country, there is no telling what additional benefits further innovation in the sector could deliver.
But first, we need to get the basics right so that rail freight can compete equally and fairly.
After all, we cannot allow new investment in rail infrastructure that busts road congestion in our cities to be eroded by a policy environment that only encourages business and industry back to the roads in the end.
Aurizon will invest $50m in low carbon locomotives such as battery and hydrogen-powered trains to meet a net zero goal by 2050.
The freight hauler and network owner will also look to maximise the benefits of the electrified freight network in Queensland, particularly as more renewable energy is fed into the grid.
Managing director and CEO of Aurizon, Andrew Harding said that the company was confident that technology would meet the company’s goals.
“We are confident that rapidly-advancing technology in the rail sector will unlock major benefits like we are seeing in motor vehicles, energy generation and general industry. Our focus will be low-carbon technology for our locomotive fleet which accounts for more than 90 per cent of Aurizon’s CO2 emissions.”
In addition to actions undertaken internally, Aurizon will also push for government action.
“We directly advocate for policy actions to increase the use of rail freight on key national freight corridors. Our aim is to ensure that rail freight remains competitive and part of the solution as the economy transitions to a low-carbon future,” said Harding.
The company’s commitment follows the latest Sustainability Report from the freight operator. In the report, Aurizon advocates for lowered electricity costs to reduce the risk of substituting electric locomotives for diesel-powered trains. In addition, Aurizon outlines that the company has been advocating for greater infrastructure investment, improvements to regulation and finding efficiencies at interfaces between modes.
To meet the goal of lower emissions, Aurizon said that it would be making significant investments in new rollingstock shortly.
“Aurizon is already working with other railroads and manufacturers on the early development of battery and hydrogen-powered locomotives for deployment in a heavy-haul railway environment. This includes options of upgrades to the existing fleet and new rollingstock. We would expect to see prototypes trialling on our network by 2025, as technology advances and costs come down further,” said Harding.
“Locomotives are long-life assets of 20 – 30 years. We have some significant decisions ahead in renewing our locomotive fleet – potential game-changers for the freight industry – when we invest in the next generations of rollingstock to power our business through to 2050.”
Construction will begin next year on two level crossing removals in Glen Huntly.
The level crossings at Neerim and Glen Huntly roads will be gone by 2023 and the project completed by 2024, a year ahead of schedule.
The crossings will be replaced by lowering the Frankston Line into a trench, and constructing new road bridges for both crossings.
Removing these level crossings will only benefit the 20,000 vehicles that travel through the two level crossings a day, but also improve journeys for tram passengers on route 67, which crosses the rail line at Glen Huntly Road. The crossing at Glen Huntly Road is one of Melbourne’s last tram squares, a manually operated crossing used by trains and trams, which slows trains down significantly.
200 trains pass through the crossings each day, causing the boom gates to be down for half the morning peak.
In addition to the level crossing removals, the new Glen Huntly station will be part of a new precinct, increasing connectivity and improving community safety, said Victorian Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan.
“Our level crossing removal project isn’t just getting rid of those dangerous and congested boom gates – we’re delivering new train stations, more open space and new pedestrian and cycling infrastructure.”
The two crossings in Glen Huntly are the last to go on the Frankston Line, and when complete, the 18 crossings between Flinders Street and Moorabbin will be gone.
A number of new stations have had their designs revealed, with Bell and Preston stations being upgraded with colourful designs that reference the local communities.
For North Williamstown station, a priority was maintaining the village feel of the local area. Improvements to lighting, landscaping and crossings, will improve local connectivity and safety.
The new Glenroy Station, which is part of the level crossing removal at Glenroy Road, two sides of the rail line will be reconnected for the first time in 100 years.
“We’ve removed half of the 75 level crossings we promised, well ahead of schedule – and with works continuing in line with strict safety protocol during the pandemic, we’re not wasting a minute getting the rest gone for good,” said Allan.
In the same way that the inflexible old oak trees get uprooted in a strong storm in Aesop’s fable, a track support with too high track stiffness will cause premature failure and result in higher maintenance costs than anticipated. Track support that is too stiff does not spread the load sufficiently, resulting in extremely high localised impact loads and stresses (in track, sleepers, and fasteners). This may result in microcracks in rigid sleepers, failure of screws or clips, ballast attrition or ground vibrations. Causes for too high track stiffness include rigid subgrade (including concrete bases such as bridges, viaducts, tunnels) and overly stiff sleepers, such as concrete sleepers. Read more
Hydrogen trains have met all four test requirements in a trial conducted in the Dutch province of Groningen.
Local operator Arriva trialled Alstom’s Coradia iLint trains, in partnership with railway infrastructure manager ProRail and energy company Engie over two weeks in March, 2020. The trains were tested on the line between Groningen and Leeuwarden.
The trial had four objectives for the hydrogen-powered trains: authorisation by the Dutch national safety assessor to run on the Dutch railway network; zero emissions in the commercial service of the current timetable; quick and easy refuelling; and familiarising the general public with hydrogen mobility.
On all four objectives, the trains met the requirements.
“The tests have demonstrated how our hydrogen train is mature in terms of availability and reliability, providing the same performance as diesel equipment, and with the benefit of low noise and zero emissions. The Coradia iLint hydrogen train supports the transition towards global sustainable transport systems,” said Bernard Belvaux, managing director, Alstom Benelux.
To meet the commercial service performance requirement, the trains were tested on an all stations service and an express timetable. The trains were tested on fuel consumption, compatibility with infrastructure, acceleration, braking, docking, and maximum speed. All went without a hitch.
During the trials, the trains were found to be significantly quieter than current diesel trains. Drivers were also familiarised with the trains and found them smooth, comfortable, and easy to drive.
Powered by hydrogen produced from renewable energy, refuelling went faster than expected and was conducted safely.
The Netherlands follows Germany in testing Alstom’s hydrogen-powered trainsets.
“After Germany, the Netherlands is the second country in Europe where the Alstom’s hydrogen train has proven itself a unique emissions-free solution for non-electrified lines,” said Belvaux.
Other trails and plans for implementation are being developed in Austria, Italy, and the UK.
The next European operator to begin trails of hydrogen trains will be Austrian rail company ÖBB.
In partnership with Alstom, ÖBB will run the hydrogen-powered Coradia iLint in passenger service until the end of November in a trial.
The Coradia iLint has been trialled successfully in Northern Germany and trials in the Netherlands have been conducted in 2020. Agreements with rail companies in Italy and the UK have also been signed in 2020 to progress the delivery of hydrogen-powered rollingstock in those countries.
In the Austrian trial, the trains will be run on unelectrified lines in the south of the country which are geographically challenging.
Jörg Nikutta, Alstom’s CEO in Germany and Austria said the trains would fill a gap in the decarbonisation of rail.
“The train’s emission-free drive technology offers a climate-friendly alternative to conventional diesel trains, especially on non-electrified lines.”
Andreas Matthä, CEO of ÖBB-Holding AG said the company was looking at new technology that could make rail more environmentally friendly.
“As the largest climate protection company in Austria, we are actively shaping the mobility of the future with technological alternatives.”
The Austrian trial comes as the UK rail sector looks to fully decarbonise, with hydrogen-powered trains to play a key role. The Interim Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy, put together by Network Rail in partnership with the rail industry, sets out which lines will be electrified and where alternative traction technologies will be used to meet the net zero carbon emissions target.
The strategy identified 11,700 kilometres of track where electrification would take place, battery operation on 400km and hydrogen on 900km. To do this, between 150 and 200 battery and hydrogen trains would be required.
A new station for the Melbourne suburb of Cheltenham has opened on schedule on Sunday, August 16, despite restrictions on construction activity during Melbourne’s stage 4 lockdown restrictions.
The new station on the Frankston line is one of two that were replaced during a winter works blitz, with the neighbouring Mentone station opened early in late July. Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan said that work has continued within the new requirements.
“Despite the challenging conditions the pandemic has created, we’re continuing work on our critical infrastructure projects with strict safety measures to create safer connections for our communities and support local jobs.”
Along with the new stations, level crossing has been removed to improve community connectivity and safety along the rail line, taking the total number of level crossings removed to 38 out of the 75 goal by 2025.
Both Cheltenham and Mentone stations are five-star Green Star rated for their environmentally sensitive construction. This has included solar panels, water saving and rainwater collection, and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
The new station also includes a forecourt and community open space. A new passenger car park is expected to be completed by mid 2021. Landscaping works and active transit links are continuing and will finish by late 2020.
The Frankston line has seen significant renewal, with eight stations rebuilt out of a total of 12, and a total of 18 level crossings removed.
When stage 4 restrictions were put in place across Melbourne, construction on major rail infrastructure projects, including the Level Crossing Removal Project, was cut to 25 per cent of normal staffing levels. The Major Transport Infrastructure Authority (MTIA) has implemented strict safety and hygiene measures including the wearing of masks and physical distancing requirements across all MTIA sites which include level crossing removals as well as project such as the Melbourne Metro Tunnel.
The ACT’s government’s plan for the extension of the current light rail line to Woden, in the city’s south, has taken the next step forward, with the ACT government releasing for public comment the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) preliminary documentation.
The documentation covers the stage from the city, where the current line ends, to Commonwealth Park, otherwise known as Stage 2A and supports federal approval of the line.
ACT Minister for Transport Chris Steel said this step meant that construction could soon begin.
“With the planning approvals set in motion for the extension of light rail to Commonwealth Park, work will continue to refine the project’s planning and design development with a view to construction starting as early as next year.”
The EPBC documentation covers measures the government will take to mitigate the light rail line’s impact on the critically endangered Golden Sun Moth. To address this, the preliminary documentation notes that there will be no need to install a traction power substation or connection power supply, while intersection and road layouts were refined.
The 1.7-kilometre Stage 2A will run without overhead wires to protect the cultural value of the centre of Canberra and improve visual amenity. Future light rail vehicles will travel on green tracks along Commonwealth Avenue, with landscaping besides and between the rail tracks.
Stage 2A will include three stops, one at Edinburgh Avenue on London Circuit, City South, and Commonwealth Park, where the line will terminate.
Chair of the Public Transport Association of Canberra Ryan Hemsley said the project would improve outcomes now and into the future.
“By extending Canberra’s light rail network, we can deliver a much-needed shot in the arm for Canberra’s construction industry, with the double benefit of providing improved public transport options in the longer term.”
Stage 2B, which will continue the light rail line to Woden via the Parliamentary Triangle, will require a more rigorous planning assessment process, and is expected to take up to 18 months.
At a press conference announcing the release of the EPBC preliminary documentation, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said that environmental approvals should be streamlined, with too many federal agencies involved in the project.
Local communities along the Inland Rail route alignment have benefited from grants of between $1,000 and $4,000 to support community groups.
The grants are the fifth round of the Inland Rail Community Sponsorships and Donations program and are focused on the Riverina and Central West regions of NSW.
Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said the grants were in addition to the benefits that have flowed from the construction of Inland Rail.
“We are already seeing the immediate benefits from Inland Rail, with more than 690 local jobs and businesses boosted by the $100 million in local contract commitments flowing from construction of the Parkes to Narromine section,” he said.
The grants are hoped to contribute to local and regional prosperity, well-being and sustainability through the support of events, projects, and activities.
The latest rounds of grants have been tailored to the conditions that are a result of COVID-19. Grants for events and activities must comply with current state restrictions, and applicants are encouraged to put forward projects that require funding for online or digital delivery or include work to be carried out by local businesses and with local suppliers.
While Inland Rail is expected to bring in benefits of up to $13.3bn to communities and regions along the alignment, the grants announced now are ensuring communities can be sustainable now to benefit in the future, said McCormack.
“Supporting the sustainability of these and other communities along the rail corridor is paramount and the Inland Rail sponsorships and donations program is yet another example of how communities can benefit from this unique project.”
Successful recipients include:
$4,000 to the Junee Basketball Association for the purchase of scoring benches at the local recreational centre.
$4,000 to the WIRED Lab Cootamundra to upgrade online infrastructure that will enable community members to participate online.
$4,000 to Silo FM 89.5 Inc. for the purchase of new broadcasting equipment for community radio.
$3,500 to Kurrajong Waratah for the purchase of a weatherproof shelter for the community gardens as part of the Hildasid Farm Project.
$2,837 to the Central West Astronomical Society for the purchase of a data projector and batteries.
$1,136 to Wirrinya Progress and Sports Association for the purchase of tennis court nets for children’s activities.
$1,100 to the Parkes Que Club to provide domestic violence bags for women and children.