Federal budget, tenders update, R&D highlight May-June issue

The latest edition of Rail Express magazine is now available to read in its digital, true-to-print format.

Highlights of this issue include a full review of the federal budget, including a $5 billion splash for Melbourne Airport rail, funding for Queensland’s north-south rail corridor and controversy over a new import levy.

There’s also a feature on tendering, which looks at some big wins in recent months for key firms like Arup, Mott Macdonald and Aecom.

And don’t miss our supplement on Below Rail Infrastructure & Network, where we hear from Siemens on how signalling can help Australia’s struggling passenger networks cope with rapid demand growth.

Click here to read the May-June edition of  Rail Express

$7.3m training centre opened at UoW

Federal education and training minister Simon Birmingham has officially launched the University of Wollongong’s new rail training centre.

ITTC Rail is the shorthand for the new Australian Research Council (ARC) Industrial Transformation Training Centre for Advanced Technologies in Rail Track Infrastructure.

Set up to train the next generation of rail engineers, it is the first ever rail training centre to be funded by the Australian Government, with a $3.9 million ARC grant supported by an additional $3.4 million in contributions from the NSW Government and industry and university partners.

Headquartered at the University of Wollongong, ITTC Rail is designed to bring together rail track infrastructure expertise from all sectors of the industry, with eight universities and 11 national and international industry partners taking part.

“Given the dependency of the Australian economy on efficient heavy haul, there is a pressing need to upgrade ageing rail infrastructure by rejuvenating higher degree training with a new generation of engineers with advanced knowledge and practice skills,” ITTC Rail director Buddhima Indraratna said.

Professor Indraratna said improvements in the efficiency, reliability and cost-effectiveness of freight haulage can have significant flow-on benefits to the rest of the economy, increasing productivity in industries including agriculture, mining and manufacturing.

Commuter transport will also be included in ITTC Rail’s work, with a focus on how new materials, advanced manufacturing and innovative design and construction can benefit that sector.

“Australia also has some of the world’s heaviest as well as longest heavy-haul trains, exceeding four kilometres at times, with considerable challenges offered to railway engineers along problematic soil terrains,” Indraratna continued.

“Through specialist training of industry-focused researchers, ITTC Rail will meet the challenge of designing, constructing and maintaining the rail network.

“This will involve close collaboration with companies in the rail supply chain, programs to promote novel design approaches, and innovative fabrication of products using advanced manufacturing techniques.”

Minister Birmingham opened the training centre officially on May 23.

“Our commitment to rail infrastructure investment will generate jobs, ease congestion in our cities, increase the capacity of our freight routes and better connect regional areas,” the minister said.

“The Turnbull Government’s investment in the new training centre at the University of Wollongong will ensure Australia’s future workforce has the specialised skills and expertise to deliver on projects such as the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail, the Port Botany Rail Upgrade and the Melbourne Airport Rail Link.”

Universities contributing to ITTC Rail are University of Wollongong, Swinburne University of Technology, University of Sydney, Queensland University of Technology, Curtin University, University of Queensland, Western Sydney University and University of Newcastle.

Industry partners are the Australasian Centre for Rail Innovation, Metro Trains Melbourne, Bridgestone Corporation, Snowy Mountains Engineering Corp, Innovative Technology Beijing, China Railway Eryuan Engineering Group, Ecoflex International, Geofrontiers, Polyfabrics Australasia, Nu-rock Technology and Elasto-Plastic Concrete.

Melbourne to host UITP 2021

The International Association of Public Transport has selected Melbourne as the host city for its massive Global Public Transport Summit in 2021, the first time the event has made its way south of the equator in over 25 years.

The association, known as UITP (Union Internatinoale des Transports Publics), announced Melbourne as the winning bidder for UITP 2021 on May 16, after it was shortlisted alongside Moscow and Hamburg late last year.

UITP said Public Transport Victoria would serve as the local host for the event.

“With the biggest tram network in the world and major projects expected to be well underway during 2021, it will be the perfect time to showcase what our city has to offer,” PTV chief executive Jeroen Weimar said.

Victorian public transport minister Jacinta Allan said the state was home to some of Australia’s biggest infrastructure projects.

“With our massive program of major transport projects like the Metro Tunnel and level crossing removals, it makes sense that the world’s biggest public transport conference wants to come to Victoria,” Allan said.

A GrainCorp shed at the Port of Portland. Photo: David Sexton

Take-or-pay deals could challenge GrainCorp

GrainCorp managing director and chief executive officer Mark Palmquist has warned a dry 2018/19 season could result in poor grain production figures, which would leave the receival and marketing operator in a tight spot in terms of its take or pay rail contracts.

Looking ahead to the 2018/19 season in a financial update last week, Palmquist warned prevailing dry conditions across most of Australia’s eastern grain belt would present serious challenges for growers, with dry-sowing occurring in many areas.

“The current production outlook emphasises the importance of the steps we are taking to diversify GrainCorp’s grain origination footprint while keeping a strong focus on managing our cost base,” he said.

“In the event of a smaller harvest, our existing take-or-pay rail contracts will present a challenge, however these commitments expire in FY19.

“Our new rail contracts will provide greater flexibility to manage transportation costs through the crop cycle, further reducing our fixed-cost base,” he said.

GrainCorp reported a 40% drop in crop production in Australia’s east led to a 64% decline in underlying net profit after tax in the first half of FY18.

It reported $119 million underlying EBITDA in the first half, down 49.6% year-on-year, and a $36 million underlying net profit after tax, down 64% year-on-year.

Palmquist said the grains operator had done well to deliver a solid profit despite significantly lower volumes.

“Our grains team has done a good job of adapting the network to the smaller harvest and closely managing its cost base,” Palmquist said on May 11.

“Pleasingly, the formation of the grains business unit ahead of harvest has been effective with improving performance in a low-volume year while also improving customer service, rail utilisation and absorbing the cost of integration.”

Future Parramatta light rail stabling site to be decontaminated

Infrastructure service provider Ventia has been awarded the contract to deliver the remediation works at the future site of the Parramatta light rail project’s stabling and maintenance facility at Camellia.

Beginning in July, the company will carry out works to address chemical and asbestos contamination at the proposed site on Grand Avenue.

Historically, the area was used for industrial and chemical manufacturing purposes going back to the 1930s, leading to soil and groundwater contamination.

The Camellia site will eventually be the location of the Parramatta light rail’s stabling and maintenance facility for the network’s light rail vehicles, and will also house maintenance buildings and a control centre.

Ventia’s CEO, Mike Metcalfe, said that the company’s extensive experience made it well-suited to carry out the important work.

“Ventia has successfully remediated more than 140 major environmental projects over the past 30 years,” Metcalfe said.

“We look forward to partnering with Transport for NSW on the Parramatta light rail project, ensuring the proposed light rail depot site is suitable for future commercial and industrial use.”

The remediation works will occur in two stages, with the first expected to be complete in early 2019 and the latter by the middle of 2020.

The first stage will involve the installation of an underground barrier wall around the site to prevent the movement of groundwater in and out of the site, thereby preventing wider contamination. A groundwater treatment plant will be installed at the site while the barrier is constructed.

The second portion of works will involve the installation of an integrated capping system across the surface of the site.

Liberal Party member for Parramatta Geoff Lee said that the remediation works were an “important first step” in the delivery of the light rail system.

“Managing historical contamination is essential to enable the safe construction and long-term operation of the depot and to protect the environment,” Lee said.

The works form the first of the four major contracts for the delivery of Stage 1 of the Parramatta light rail. Contracts for enabling works, infrastructure works, and the supply, operation and maintenance of the network are currently out to tender.

ARTC to conduct Condamine floodplain consultations

Information sessions for the Australian Rail Track Corporation study on the Inland Rail project’s Condamine Flood Plain crossing will take place this week in Millmerran and Brookstead in southern Queensland.

The sessions will enable landowners and other community members will be able to provide feedback to the ARTC on the specialist studies that are being carried out for the project.

ARTC’s Rob McNamara said that the study’s technical specialists hoped that community members would share their local knowledge of the floodplain.

“No-one knows this area like the locals and we are keen to hear from the people who know this area best,” McNamara said.

“We invite locals to come to the sessions next week and talk to us about what’s involved in these investigations, to share their knowledge, to ask questions, and, if required, arrange opportunities for a one-on-one meeting.”

Last year, the federal government and the ARTC announced that the Inland Rail project would take a route between Yelarbon and Gowrie that would cut through the Condamine Floodplain in the Darling Downs region.

The announcement was met by landowner concerns that a rail crossing of the floodplain was potentially dangerous, and cause damage to the area’s agricultural land.

McNamara was keen to play down warnings and doubts about the project’s feasibility.

“There are numerous examples of rail lines crossing floodplains, making use of structures such as bridges, viaducts and culverts, and this process is about coming up with a best-fit solution for this particular floodplain,” he said.

The study is to take into account the entirety of the Condamine catchment, including areas that lie downstream and upstream from the study area.

The ARTC’s study team will gather information before developing and testing a hydrology model. This will go towards the development of a design solution for the rail crossing, which will have to pass approval via the release of an environmental impact statement (EIS).

McNamara said that landowners and other community members would be given “multiple opportunities” throughout this process to contribute and pass on feedback.

“The project consultants have already started meeting with landowners one-on-one to gather information and anecdotal evidence about historic flooding impacts,” he said.

“They will also be seeking input on the operational aspects of properties such as land access, road access, where and how equipment and stock is used, and how landowners use their properties.

“The consultants want to understand any implications so they can work towards mitigating them and subsequently provide an acceptable solution.”

The information and consultation sessions will be held this week at the following venues:

  • Thursday 19 April: Millmerran Cultural Centre, Millmerran
  • Saturday 21 April: Brookstead Hall, Brookstead

Concept designs released for an upgraded Bayswater station

The Western Australian Government has released early concept plans for upgrades to Bayswater Station in Perth, which will link the new Morley-Ellenbrook and Forrestfield-Airport rail lines into the existing network.

The concept designs show that the station is to be relocated onto a new lifted rail bridge over King William Street that will replace the existing rail bridge, while new public space will be created around Bayswater town centre. New platforms will be 150 metres long to support six-carriage trains and will be aligned closer to Whatley Crescent.

A turnback siding will be created within the existing rail corridor between Meltham and Bayswater stations, to be used by trains servicing the Forrestfield-Airport Link and Morley-Ellenbrook Line.

“This is a huge step for Bayswater, which will see vast improvements to its town centre as a result of this upgrade,” state transport minister Rita Saffioti said.

“This also forms the first stage of the Morley-Ellenbrook Line that will link into the existing rail network around Bayswater Station.”

Community consultations have begun around the release of the designs, with the government encouraging locals to voice their opinions on the upgraded station’s features, including architecture, station design, public spaces around the station, location and design of a potential bus interchange, parking requirements and landscaping.

Two “drop-in” consultation sessions will be taking place at Bayswater Primary School on 21 April and 5 May, while an online survey is available.

“The recent community survey for the Morley-Ellenbrook Line showed the broad community interest in progressing Metronet, and our next step starts this week as we consult with the Bayswater side of the future train line,” Saffioti said.

“The Metronet team will work with the community to get their feedback on a range of proposals for the upgraded station including improved pedestrian access and safety, bus and rail interchange facilities, and better lighting and more seating.”

Construction on the $86.4 million upgrade project is set to begin next year and reach completion prior to the opening of Forrestfield-Airport Link in late 2020.

Matured mining sector to pay dividends: Chief Economist

The nation’s chief economist has projected Australia’s “remarkable” resource export growth phase to finally end in 2020, but this growth has set the table for mining to provide a significant boost to the Federal Budget through to at least 2023.

The latest Industry Department outlook indicates consistent high volumes, and stronger-than-expected commodity prices will help Australian mining exports contribute roughly $1 trillion to the economy over the next five years.

With most of Australia’s major iron ore projects now fully online, iron ore exports are projected to stay stable between 880 and 900 million tonnes a year between now and at least 2023.

Stable volumes will result in a gradual decline in overall export value due to a predicted decline in the price of iron ore. The chief economist is forecasting an average iron ore price of $61.80 a tonne in 2018, dropping to $50 a tonne (in real terms) in 2019, then to $49, $51, $52 and $53 a tonne in the subsequent four years.

Despite the price declines, iron ore is still projected to be – by far – the country’s valuable mining export, with a projected value of $54.6 billion, in real terms, in FY23.

Mining sector phases

 

Australia’s metallurgical (i.e. steelmaking) coal exports are forecast in the most recent figures to grow incrementally, from 197 million tonnes in 2018 to 212 million tonnes in 2023. A gradual decline in the market price for met-coal (in real terms) will result in a gradually dipping overall value for the export, however.

The chief economist is forecasting real contract prices for metallurgical coal to decline from $200.5 per tonne in 2018, to $162.9 per tonne in 2023, resulting in a trade worth $33.6 billion in FY23, compared to a forecast $39.9 billion in FY18.

In thermal coal, the chief economist is forecasting incremental growth in volumes, and slight declines in overall export value, between 2018 and 2023.

Australia is forecast to export 202.1 million tonnes of coal in FY18, worth $22.9 billion. This will shift to 208 million tonnes of exports in FY23, worth $17.1 billion (in real terms), according to the projections.

In contrast to coal and iron ore, the value of the LNG export market is set to increase dramatically over the next five years.

61.6 million tonnes of LNG forecasted in FY18 will grow to a projected 78.9 million tonnes in FY23. Thanks to forecasted stability in the price of gas, this will result in a value growth from $30.4 billion in FY18 to $38.8 billion in FY23, according to the new figures.

The chief economist, Mark Cully, said the overall outlook was for a stable – and substantial – resource export trade for Australia.

“In the annual update of our five year forecasts, we project export earnings to decline slightly from current levels, before levelling out at about $212 billion to $216 billion from 2019–20 onwards,” Cully said on April 9.

“In total, the next five years will deliver more than $1 trillion in resources and energy export income. This compares with average annual export earnings of $72 billion in the decade prior to the onset of the resources boom, validating our long-held view that the mining boom would continue to reap dividends long after the price peak in 2011.”

Cully said increasing global supply for steelmaking commodities, and declining production in China, would drive the price declines in metallurgical coal and iron ore.

He said the price of Australian LNG, set by the oil price, is expected to increase modestly, constrained by price-sensitive shale oil production in the United States and sluggish growth in world oil consumption.

The modest growth lines up nicely with the Australian LNG sector’s final transition into the production phase. “The last of Australia’s LNG projects is scheduled for completion by the end of the year,” Cully said.

Resources minister Matt Canavan said the new figures demonstrate the resources sector is going from strength to strength.

“Australia’s resources and energy export volumes are projected to hold up near their current historical highs over the next five years and in that period earn more than a trillion dollars for Australia,” Canavan said.

“We are seeing healthy growth in commodity prices, particularly iron ore and metallurgical coal, combined with growing export volumes, especially in LNG.”

Canberra light rail: First new trees planted on Northbourne

Tree life has returned to the median strip of Northbourne Avenue in central Canberra, in what’s being called a “major milestone” for the city’s light rail project.

ACT transport and city services minister Meegan Fitzharris said the tree planting, on April 6, marked the beginning of the transformation of Canberra’s northern gateway.

“Light rail is not just a transport project,” Fitzharris said. “It will transform Northbourne Avenue and revitalise this important gateway to the nation’s capital. Today marks an important milestone, with the first Eucalyptus mannifera being planted on Northbourne Avenue.”

The first plantings kick off a program which includes over 1,000 trees, and more than one million plants in total, planned for the Canberra Metro light rail route, including trees, native wildflowers, herbs, forbs and grasses.

Under the project’s Light Rail Landscape Plan, the northern parts of the corridor will feature a grassland landscape, which will transition to a more formal grand boulevard design along Northbourne Avenue. Plant types were selected after community consultation and discussions with the National Capital Authority.

The first tree, a five-metre gum, was planted between Elouera and Girrawheen Streets.

“These gums are considered an impressive species which have featured in other landscaping projects around Canberra over the past 50 years, creating beautiful native boulevards,” Fitzharris said.

“Importantly, today’s planting of Eucalypts begins the replacement of all the trees removed during construction,” the minister added. “I know these trees were special to many people across Canberra, and I hope the new gums we are planting here today will be too.”

Local manufacturing, catenary-free light rail and more in March-April edition

Rail Express is pleased to present the March-April Edition of the magazine in its digital format.

Click here to check out the digital edition of Rail Express March-April!

Click here for the pull-out special supplement on Rolling Stock Manufacturing & Rail Supply!

The latest issue of Rail Express includes a wrap-up of the ARA’s Light Rail event, held in Sydney in March, including comments from ARA boss Danny Broad on why more and more cities are choosing light rail.

Our special pull-out feature covers the challenges facing local manufacturing, and how a strong local rail sector can help the industry.

The magazine also includes the latest news and analysis from around the region, including a dramatic start to the year in Canberra, and the latest on Inland Rail.