Newcastle coal terminal. Photo: Chris Mackey / Southern Cross Maritime

Flooding subsides, Hunter network re-opens

A staged return to service for trains on the Hunter Valley network began on Thursday afternoon, after bad weather and flooding led to the network’s closure earlier in the week.

The Australian Rail Track Corporation confirmed just after 1pm on Thursday that trains have started to run again on the network between Maitland and Newcastle.

A statement from the ARTC on Thursday morning said the track operator was planning a staged return to rail services after heavy flooding at Sandgate subsided overnight.

Water damage to some of the equipment between Sandgate and Warabrook was reported, with repairs scheduled. No major track infrastructure damage has been reported by the ARTC at this time.

“We will return services gradually and in line with the conditions throughout the afternoon,” ARTC said on Thursday morning.

“There remains sporadic flooding across the network and at the port [Newcastle], so we will continue to work closely with the Hunter Valley Coal Chain Coordinator to ensure a planned and safe return to coal services.”

NSW TrainLink passenger services have been replaced by coaches in many cases, with a return to service for passenger trains included in the ARTC’s staged return plans.

The network was closed after flooding started to impact services around 6pm on Tuesday, January 5.

Operators and the ARTC will no doubt be pleased the flooding appears to not be as bad as the period of bad weather midway through last year, which saw much of the network shut down for more than a week, and several major ballast washaways and other instances of track damage.

Julia Creek derailment. Photo: Queensland Rail

Footage shows extent of Julia Creek damage

WATCH: Footage from the Julia Creek derailment site has been released by Queensland Rail, as recovery works continue after the December 27 incident which led to the spillage of up to 31,500 litres of sulfuric acid.

Queensland Rail chief executive Helen Gluer inspected the site on north-west Queensland on Tuesday, saying she appreciated the difficult environment crews were working in.

“As site commander, Queensland Rail is coordinating the efforts of all parties to seek to ensure the recovery work of Aurizon and Incitec Pivot and rebuilding work of Queensland Rail happens safely and without further environmental impact,” Gluer said.

Queensland Rail has appointed environmental and geotechnical engineering firm Golder Associates to assist the operation.

“Golders will work closely with all parties, including the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection to assess and help inform treatment of any product leakage and to help ensure the situation is managed closely.”

QR released the following footage from ground level of the derailment site:

The Aurizon locomotive and all 26 of its wagons derailed at approximately 10.20am on December 27, 2015. The wagons, owned by chemicals business Incitec Pivot, contained a total of roughly 810,000 litres of sulfuric acid.

One wagon leaked its contents, with acid reaching the nearby Horse Creek, contaminating it, according to the Department of Environment and Heritage.

Lime is being used to treat the creek, and the surrounding area.

QR revealed on Wednesday that Incitec Pivot believes one additional wagon may also have “a very minor leak,” which QR said is being treated on site.

“Queensland Rail crews are currently on site building access roads from the highway so heavy machinery can commence building the rail deviation,” Gluer continued.

“We understand that Queenslanders rely on rail for passenger and freight services and our crews are working as quickly as possible to restore services through the deviation.”

“Construction of the deviation has unfortunately been delayed due to wet ground conditions around the site, however with water beginning to clear we expect to complete the deviation late next week.”

Gluer said Queensland Rail would keep the local community informed of recovery works and environmental management. Gluer met with local mayors whilst visiting the region.

“I have committed to keeping the region updated on recovery work and the return of rail services,” she said.

“We are also working closely with freight operators to ensure that we can process freight movements as quickly as possible, following the completion of the deviation track.

“We are confident that we will have sufficient capacity with the rail deviation to process outstanding freight movements as quickly and as safely as possible.”

Malcolm Turnbull on a tram. Photo: Facebook / Malcolm Turnbull

Briggs ousting must not hurt rail agenda

COMMENT: While the prime minister may not be directly responsible for Jamie Briggs’ behaviour, he is responsible for appointing an adequate replacement in the former minister’s cities role.

Briggs resigned from his post as minister for cities and the built environment on December 29, after details emerged of alleged inappropriate conduct toward a female government staffer at a Hong Kong bar in November 2015.

Briggs, the federal member for Mayo since 2008, was named to Malcolm Turnbull’s Ministry after the latter overthrew Tony Abbott as prime minister in September 2015.

At just 38 years of age, Briggs took up the Coalition’s key new front bench role, the first specifically angled urban development since 1975, and one which the new prime minister stressed would be key to his agenda, and to the future of the nation.

It seems odd in hindsight, then, that Turnbull would give such an important role to an individual with so little ministerial experience, and – apparently – such a flair for the controversial.

The morning after Turnbull’s coup, Briggs turned up to Parliament House in a wheelchair, with a knee injury which his spokesman at the time said was sustained while he was jogging.

Briggs later revealed he was hurt trying to crash tackle Abbott at a private party – or as he described it, a “wake” – on the evening of the leadership spill.

The incident at the Hong Kong bar is alleged to have taken place just 75 days after the high jinks at the Abbott party – thus creating two notable instances of (most likely booze-induced) bad behaviour in the space of less than three months.

Upon accepting Briggs’ resignation, Turnbull said minister for environment Greg Hunt would act as minister for cities and the built environment.

It is not yet known whether Turnbull plans to name a new, full-time cities and the built environment minister.

But he should.

When he took over as prime minister, Turnbull stressed the new cities role would represent a step-change between his leadership and Tony Abbott’s.

Briggs, shortly after being appointed, said: “The focus that the Prime Minister wants me to put on this cities portfolio is to talk about and advocate for the need to win the battle of human capital.

“To do that we need liveable cities; and we need liveable cities for people to want to be part of a vibrant economy, a future economy.”

The new agenda was welcomed by the rail sector, by the states, and even by Opposition cities and transport minister Anthony Albanese.

But for the sake of all it stands for, the new cities role cannot be wrapped up into the environment portfolio in the long-run.

Turnbull needs to name a new minister for cities and the built environment before Parliament returns in 2016. With the first session scheduled for February 2, the countdown is on.

Derailed sulfuric acid train in Queensland. Photo: Queensland Police Service

Acid enters creek after Queensland derailment

Up to 31,500 litres of acid has leaked from a train which derailed near Julia Creek in north-west Queensland on December 27, according to police.

A locomotive and all 26 wagons it was towing derailed around 20km east of Julia Creek at roughly 10.20am on December 27, 2015.

The train, operated by Aurizon, was believed to be transporting roughly 817,000 litres of sulfuric acid in wagons belonging to Incitec Pivot.

Three crew on board the train were reported to have sustained minor injuries and were transported to a nearby hospital.

According to Queensland Police, one of the derailed wagons is likely to have ruptured, leaking as much as 31,500 litres of sulfuric acid, which typically has a pH of 1 or lower. The most extreme acids have a pH of close to 0, while a pH of 7 is neutral.

Testing after the derailment on nearby Horse Creek by staff from the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection found the river had a pH of close to 3 at at least one site, with the river only returning to neutral pH levels three kilometres downstream.

“This tells us some of the sulfuric acid has made its way into the waterways,” minister for environment and heritage protection Dr Steven Miles said.

“Acidic water is a concern because it can kill fish and riparian [riverside] vegetation.”

Workers are using limestone (which typically has a pH of roughly 8) to neutralise water and land around the site.

“Response crews have accessed locally sourced limestone which will be aerially applied to the area,” Dr Miles said on December 31. “Lime filled sandbags will also be placed across Horse Creek to treat flows already in the creek.

“Adding limestone to waterways is considered safe and effective, and has been used for many decades to treat waterways with acidic water.

“We will continue monitoring and providing advice as to how best address any environmental impacts.”

Acting under the Public Safety Preservation Act, the Queensland Police Service initially designated a two kilometre exclusion zone around the incident, closing the Flinders Highway in both directions between Julia Creek and Richmond.

The exclusion zone was reduced to 50 metres on January 1, allowing the highway to be re-opened.

The Queensland Government announced an independent investigation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau would take place.

“While it is too soon to speculate on the cause of the derailment, by engaging the Australian Transport Safety Bureau in these early stages, we can ensure the incident is thoroughly investigated and that we receive the best advice in a timely manner,” transport minister Stirling Hinchliffe said.

A preliminary report into the incident is expected by the end of February. A full report and recommendations will be released by September, Hinchliffe projected.

“Further details about the extent of damage to the infrastructure and the timeframes for the track reopening will be available once the recovery crew has access to site,” he added.

Freight trains and the Inlander passenger service on the Mount Isa line continue to be impacted as a result of the incident.

“The recovery of the line will be a complex and lengthy process, but our crews are working hard to resume train services as quickly and safely as possible by building a temporary rail track around the crash site,” Queensland Rail reported.

As of 9am on Saturday, January 2, the locomotive and all 26 wagons remained on their side, and the track remained closed.

“Aurizon have advised they will attend to the recovery of their locomotive and support Incitec Pivot in the recovery of their wagons and product,” Queensland Rail said. “Aurizon and Incitec Pivot will ensure their recovery work happens safely and without environmental impact.”

Jamie Briggs speaking at SAFC in September 2015. Photo: Jamie Briggs / Twitter

Briggs resigns after Hong Kong bar incident

Jamie Briggs has announced his resignation as minister for cities and the built environment, after alleged inappropriate conduct toward a female government staffer in a Hong Kong bar in November.

Briggs visited Hong Kong to meet with transport officials, including Victor Chan, the general manager of property development for rail operator MTR.

 

On the evening of Friday, November 27, Briggs was joined by his chief of staff Stuart Eaton, as well as a female staffer from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), for dinner and drinks in Hong Kong’s Lan Kwai Fong district, according to multiple reports.

The woman, whose identity has been kept anonymous, was reportedly made uncomfortable by some of Briggs’ behaviour at the venue.

According to one report in The Australian, Briggs allegedly told the staffer she had “beautiful eyes”. It was also alleged by several sources that Briggs kissed the staffer on the neck or cheek at the conclusion of the evening.

Making matters worse for the minister, a photograph which was published in The Australian and on several other sites, featuring Eaton with the DFAT staffer at the bar, was said to have come from Briggs’ mobile phone, and to have been circulated by Briggs to a number of his colleagues following the alleged incident.

Reports suggest the staffer’s initial concerns following the evening’s events were passed on to DFAT secretary Peter Varghese and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, leading Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to reportedly order an independent investigation.

 

Briggs Trouble in Little China. Photo: Daily Telegraph Twitter
How Briggs’ resignation was reported by the Daily Telegraph. Photo: Daily Telegraph / Twitter

 

Briggs tendered his resignation from his front-bench role on December 29.

“At the conclusion of the official programme for the day, my chief of staff and I went for dinner and we invited several other officials of which one female public servant agreed to attend,” Briggs explained.

“At the conclusion of the dinner, which I paid for personally, we went to a popular and, as it transpired, very crowded bar for drinks during which we interacted between the three of us and with others in what I believed, at the time, was an informal manner.

“At the conclusion of the evening, the public servant left to return home and my chief of staff and I returned to our hotel together.

“At no point was it my intention to act inappropriately, and I’m obliged to note, for the record, that nothing illegal has been alleged, or in fact did occur.”

Briggs said he has apologised directly to the staffer.

“But after careful reflection about the concerns she raised, and the fact that I was at a bar, late at night, while on an overseas visit, I have concluded that this behaviour has not met the particularly high standards for ministers,” he said.

Briggs was the first minister for cities since John Carrick was appointed minister for urban and regional development under Malcolm Fraser in 1975.

While other ministers have held transport and infrastructure roles in the recent past, Turnbull said in appointing Briggs that the role was designed to provide a new way forward for Australia’s cities, and for urban transport.

Appointed on September 21, Briggs held the ministerial role for just 100 days. His role will now be taken over by environment minister Greg Hunt.

“Ministers are expected to uphold high standards of behaviour as set out in the Ministerial Standards,” Turnbull said upon accepting Briggs’ resignation.

“On this occasion his conduct fell short of that standard. After being invited to reflect on his position, he offered his resignation which I have accepted.”

Turnbull said while he was disappointed by “the conduct that led to his resignation,” he believed Briggs was capable in his service as minister.

“I look forward to Mr Briggs continuing to make a valuable contribution to the work of the government in the future.”

Rail track. Photo: Shutterstock

ARTC plans ‘mega’ holiday maintenance

The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) is preparing for a ‘mega maintenance shutdown’ in North East Victoria, the Riverina and Southern Highlands over the Christmas and New Years break.

65 projects will make up a package of essential rail upgrades between Melbourne and Sydney, the ARTC said, with $6 million in works planned over a four day stretch from December 27 to 31.

“This time every year we take the opportunity to deliver a large package of maintenance work when fewer trains are running after the Christmas freight rush,” ARTC executive general manager for interstate Peter Winder said.

“We do this to get the maximum amount of rail maintenance done efficiently in the safest possible environment for our people as well as minimising impact on everyday operations.”

Rail maintenance tasks will include rail grinding, ballast resurfacing, re-railing, upgrading rail turnouts, track undercutting, drainage maintenance and technical jobs like signalling work.

Roughly 600km of track will be worked on.

Track reconstruction work will take place within Junee, Moss Vale and Goulburn railway yards. The Bethungra level crossing (Olympic Highway) will be upgraded. Major repairs will take place at on the Spring Street underbridge at Moss Vale, and more underbridge repairs will take place in Tallong.

Almost 500 metres of track undercutting will also be delivered in various locations in North East Victoria from Craigieburn to Seymour, the ARTC outlined.

“We would like to get wide awareness of this work taking place, so the community knows what is happening around their neighbourhood and can ask us questions to find out how they are affected,” Winder continued.

“We know this period is a time when families are visiting and travel to different events is regular, so we want as many people as possible to know about what is going on, when.

“Around $6 million worth of work will take place in this shutdown, which is an important part of making sure we continue to run the safest possible network and maintain high reliability levels for our customers.”

The bulk of the work will take place between December 27 and 28 at the Victoria end of the corridor, and between December 29 and 31 in NSW.

The ARTC says most work will be during day time hours only, but some track machine and major work packages will require night work.

Christmas reading: Rail Express AusRAIL edition

In case you missed it, Rail Express published a digital edition of its AusRAIL magazine in November. You can read the magazine, which includes features, interviews, analysis and comment covering the Australian and New Zealand rail industry, in digital format on our website.

The 92-page magazine can be viewed in digital format by clicking here.

Instructions: simply use your mouse to drag the pages just like you were reading a magazine. Alternatively, you can use the left and right arrows on your keyboard. To zoom in on a page, use the magnifying glass icon on the bottom left menu.

We hope that you enjoy the magazine. If you have any feedback, please feel free to email our editor: oliver.probert@informa.com.au

For more information about advertising in Rail Express, please click here.

New Acland station. Artists Impression: City of Port Philip

Makeover for Route 96 terminus

The Council of Port Philip has endorsed a new streetscape framework for the tram terminus at Acland Street, St Kilda.

The renewal plan is part of Public Transport Victoria’s Route 96 Upgrade project.

Under the proposal, which was endorsed at a Council meeting on December 8, Acland Street will include “an integrated streetscape with a promenade feel to encourage pedestrians to stroll along the street”.

A new level-access tram terminus for Yarra Trams’ route 96 will be located just before the entrance to Acland Court, and will be designed for use by people with disabilities, parents with prams and people with luggage and shopping bags, the Council explained.

A new public plaza will be built between Acland Court and Barkly Street.

The Council decision came after a two phase community engagement stage during 2015, which yielded roughly 1500 individual consultation responses. The Council also worked with PTV and Yarra Trams to come to a proposed design for the project.

Now it has endorsed the proposal, the Council will draft a Memorandum of Understanding with PTV to detail each organisation’s responsibilities in the plan, and the delivery and co-funding of the project.

Construction is planned to start in mid-2016 and is set to be complete by summer 2016.

Waterloo station. Artists impression: Transport for NSW

Waterloo selected over Sydney Uni for final Sydney Metro station

The last major alignment decision for stage two of the Sydney Metro line has been made, with an alignment under Waterloo chosen ahead of an alternate option under Sydney University.

Waterloo is the 31st station chosen for the Sydney Metro line, after the state government heard from community and business representatives over the past month to consider options for the line between Central and the existing train line at Sydenham.

NSW Premier Mike Baird said the government would look to develop a value capture around Waterloo station to be reserved for the Metro project and associated infrastructure, under a similar model to that recently proposed for the Parramatta Light Rail project.

“The metro station creates the opportunity to transform Waterloo and make it a better place to live for future and existing residents, many of whom are amongst the most vulnerable people in NSW,” Baird said.

As part of the station’s construction the government’s plan is to replace and renew the “ageing” Waterloo social housing estate, with a mix of private, affordable and social housing.

The government says there will be no loss of social housing from the current figure of 2000 dwellings as a result of the project.

While some residents may need to move into other housing in the local area during redevelopment, the government said many will be able to relocate into new social housing on the estate as the renewal progresses.

“Waterloo Station will help bring new jobs to the area as well as providing a direct public transport link to employment hubs at Barangaroo and Martin Place,” Baird explained.

“Sydney Metro is a game-changer for our city,” transport and infrastructure minister Andrew Constance added. “The station at Waterloo will make this rapidly growing part of Sydney more accessible and take pressure off Redfern and Green Square stations.”

Planning minister Rob Stokes said: “Waterloo metro station will be the catalyst for the delivery of an additional 10,000 homes and thousands of new jobs in the precinct for families who live in the area.”

Social housing minister Brad Hazzard said the community will be consulted about the future of the neighbourhood to help prepare more detailed precinct plans with new parks, homes and community facilities.

“The metro station will transform the Waterloo housing estate for the better, building a dynamic community with better amenity, better homes, better facilities, fantastic transport and more jobs,” Hazzard said.

“I can assure Waterloo tenants that if they want to remain in Waterloo after the redevelopment, they can do so.”

An Environmental Impact Statement for the station development is expected by mid-2016. The government is planning to stage the area’s renewal progress over a 15-20 year period, with the first relocations not expected until midway-through 2017.

Sydney Metro is a 75km rail project.

The first stage of the project, known as Sydney Metro Northwest, is already under construction, with a new metro under construction from Rouse Hill to Epping. The existing line between Epping and Chatswood will be converted to metro standard, to create ‘stage one’ of the project between Rouse Hill and Chatswood.

Announced more recently, the second stage of the project – Sydney Metro City & Southwest – will see the line extended from Chatswood, through North Sydney and under the harbour to the CBD. It will continue under the city at several new stops, to re-join the existing rail line at Sydenham. The line between Sydenham and Redfern would then also be converted to metro standard, to create the full Sydney Metro line, from Rouse Hill to Bankstown.

The final major alignment decision was whether to run the line from Central to Sydenham on a western curve under the University of Sydney, or to run it on an eastern curve under Waterloo.

With Waterloo the chosen alignment, the government said it will look into improving public transport at the University of Sydney, through significant upgrades to Redfern Station and improved pedestrian connectivity through Redfern and Darlington.

Coal. Photo: Shutterstock

Boost for Adani mine and rail in Land Court

A Queensland court has recommended the state approve Indian giant Adani’s proposed $16.5bn Carmichael coal mine, rejecting claims by environmental groups the mine would be unprofitable and would not find the finance it needs to go ahead.

Land Court president Carmel MacDonald rejected the environmental group Coast and Country’s case against the proposed mega-mine in the Galilee Basin on Tuesday.

MacDonald said the economic benefits of the Adani mine and rail project would outweigh the potential environmental damage.

She said strict water and fauna conditions should apply to Adani, but the Carmichael mine should be allowed to go ahead.

Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche said the Land Court approval, along with re-approval from the Commonwealth for the mine earlier this year, cleared another obstacle for Adani, which Roche says has been the target of green activist ‘lawfare’ since 2010.

With that in mind, Roche warned the court’s decision still left the door ajar for green groups to come back and cause more trouble for the prospective miner.

“Coast and Country are serial abusers of the Queensland court system and we fear that they will not respect the Land Court’s recommendation as the final word,” Roche said.

“Adani has become the target of green activists’ vexatious litigation, having already faced two federal appeals and a string of cases against the Abbot Point expansion.”

Shortly after the Land Court decision was made, the Environmental Defenders Office – which represented Coast and Country in court – tweeted to its followers to help “supercharge” its Federal Court challenge through donations on its website.

Roche said this was only more evidence of the environmental group’s vexatious tactics.

“The activists’ disrupt and delay tactics are clearly outlined in their anti-coal playbook Stopping the Australian Coal Export Boom, and continue to deny Queenslanders thousands of needed jobs and millions of dollars to help pay for state services such as schools, police and hospitals,” Roche said.

“Everyday Queenslanders are increasingly frustrated that a handful of inner-city green activists can continue to deny communities crucial jobs.”