Coal Train Photo Hunter Valley Coal Chain Coordinator

Hunter Valley network on track; North Coast remains closed

The Australian Rail Track Corporation is still unable to operate serviced beyond Maitland, but main line operations for local passenger trains have returned to the Hunter network since it was closed last week due to flooding.

The ARTC said on Sunday night that the Hunter Valley network should be opened by Monday morning, but confirmed that the North Coast line would remain closed.

Following flooding and high winds last week, the ARTC shut the Hunter Valley network between Maitland and the Port of Newcastle, along with its North Coast network.

Initially the authority believed it could re-open the Hunter network on Friday last week, but flood waters were slow to retreat, and the ARTC announced a further closer to the Hunter network of 48 hours.

The ARTC said on Monday that it would be able to give a forecast for return to services between Maitland and the port sometime on Tuesday afternoon.

“With flood waters dropping over the weekend and improved weather conditions, ARTC teams have been able to make good progress with repairs to the track between the Port of Newcastle and Maitland,” the ARTC said.

A Pacific National test train was run on the track to de-scale the rail and ensure all repaired signaling and track circuitry was working properly.

“The Maitland flood gates remain up but water has been dropping at a rate that we expect the gates to be removed tomorrow morning,” the ARTC said.

“There are still sections of track with high water levels around Wallis Creek, and this will be the key area of focus for our team after the flood gates come down.

“Some parts of the network are still without power, and there remains a sizeable track repair and signalling repair job to take place over coming days.”

The ARTC said crews will continue to work through the week to return the track to normal operating conditions.

“Residents are advised that this will involve heavy track repair machines working around-the-clock conducting track resurfacing and rail grinding.

“This is essential to get the network back up and running and we apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

The corporation said it will continue to work with customers and the Hunter coal chain on an operational start up plan for coal, passenger and general freight that will take into account the need to meet passenger timetables, provide coal customers with access to the port, “and above all, safety”.

The North Coast network, which sustained substantial damage during last week’s extreme weather – including severe ballast washouts and several landslips – remains closed, with no forecast for re-opening yet offered by the ARTC.

Melbourne Tram

PTV chair steps down

Public Transport Victoria chairman Ian Dobbs has told premier Daniel Andrews he will not be returning to his post at the end of his current term on June 30.

Andrews announced on Friday that Dobbs had informed him he would step down.

“Earlier today Ian Dobbs advised me that he would not be seeking another term as Chair of the Public Transport Victoria Board,” Andrews said on Friday, April 24.

“Ian has had a long and decorated career in public transport, both here and overseas.

“As inaugural chair and chief executive officer of PTV, he was a strong advocate for better public transport for Victoria.”

Andrews said Dobbs’ work will be continued through ongoing projects, including the much-talked-about Melbourne Metro Rail, the Level Crossing Removal Project and a number of other PTV projects.

“On behalf of the Government, I would like to thank Ian for his significant contribution to Victoria over many years and wish him all the best for the future,” Andrews concluded.

Dobbs was named inaugural chief executive and chairman when PTV was founded in April 2012. As per legislation, Dobbs handed the role of chief executive over to Mark Wild on February 1, 2014.

Before taking up his role at PTV, Dobbs led the former Victorian Public Transport Corporation from 1993 to 1998.

rail damage - Transport NSW

Hunter network to remain closed; North Coast significantly damaged

After it originally thought it could re-open its Hunter Valley network as early as Thursday afternoon, the Australian Rail Track Corporation has announced the network will remain closed for at least 48 hours longer.

Re-opening of the ARTC’s North Coast network looks to be even further away, with significant damage recorded and crews scrambling just to get a grip on just how much repair work is needed.

The ARTC said on Wednesday night the Hunter Valley coal network was expected to re-open on Thursday afternoon, but warned that “the reopening [of the Hunter Valley network] remains contingent on improved weather conditions and receding water levels which continue to hamper repair works.”

It appears that those conditions did not improve for the ARTC overnight.

Due to high flood waters, the Maitland flood gates being closed and continued difficult conditions, the forecast for a return of Hunter Valley operations was revised on Thursday around noon, with a re-opening pushed back “an additional 48 hours at the earliest.”

The ARTC closed the Hunter and North Coast networks on Monday, due to  extreme weather and flooding in the region.

With the extended difficult conditions, the Hunter Valley network will remain closed now, meaning Hunter coal train, freight and passenger services remain suspended.

Re-opening of the North Coast network, which suffered major damage to its ballast at various points, looks to be even further away, however.

“The ARTC network along the mid-North Coast around Dungog remains closed and there is no current forecast for re-opening,” ARTC said on Wednesday.

“Initial track inspections indicate more than 18 sites have experienced significant washaways or landslips and each will require significant reinstatement works.”

ARTC confirmed on Thursday that its crews have now identified 22 work sites along the line, which require “significant repair works,” with “a large amount of track underwater”.

In one of those landslip sites, the ARTC said, a large embankment, approximately 8m high and 75m in length, washed out and across the rail line.

“The high water has compounded the response task and 14km of track between Paterson and Telarah is either under water or still unable to be inspected due to flooding and access being closed off (both on foot and by road),” the ARTC said.

“Given the nature and the extent of the damage ARTC is mobilising a dedicated project team to coordinate the repair and recovery efforts required. Project planning and sourcing equipment, material, supplies and other resources is underway.”

The ARTC said the damage to the rail line is believed to be worse than that of the 2007 floods in the same region.

“The scale of the response and high water levels mean ARTC is unable to provide a forecast for a return to operations for this section of the network.”

Track Ballast - photo public domain

‘Hundreds of metres’ of North Coast ballast washed away

The Australian Rail Track Corporation has confirmed damage to its North Coast network includes the removal of substantial amounts of ballast by flooding this week.

ARTC’s Hunter Valley and North Coast networks remained closed on Wednesday, with operations suspended due to extreme weather, and damage to tracks and associated infrastructure.

Crews from the track authority began to inspect the damage in the Hunter and mid-North Coast regions throughout Wednesday, to get a better idea of the damage and to begin planning repairs.

“Conditions and access throughout the region remain difficult,” the ARTC said, “and it will take throughout today [Wednesday] to get a full picture of the repair task and any initial forecasts.”

The ARTC announced the closure of the lines on Tuesday, after high rainfall, severe flooding, strong winds, fallen trees and debris, power failures and fallen power lines impacted the Hunter Valley network, particularly between Maitland and the Port of Newcastle.

“A number of track locations are under water,” the ARTC said on Wednesday. “Full assessment will not be able to be made until water levels recede.

“Damage in the North Coast includes hundreds of metres of ballast washed away at various locations, a number of land slips and damage to signalling equipment.”

Further south, high winds also impacted services into Port Botany overnight on Tuesday, and the Sydney Metropolitan Freight Network was impacted by the weather on Wednesday morning.

Rio Tinto train - Photo Rio Tinto

Train derailment slowed Rio exports last quarter

Mining giant Rio Tinto has put lower quarterly sales through the first three months of 2015 down to bad weather, and a train derailment.

Rio announced its quarterly production results to the ASX on Tuesday, which included quarterly sales for its Pilbara iron ore business of 69.3 million tonnes.

While that figure was 8% up on the same quarter in 2014, it was down 12% on the previous quarter.

“This was a result of weather impacts from Tropical Cyclone Olwyn and a train derailment which temporarily blocked the inload train circuit at Dampier,” Rio said in its report.

There is no investigation listed by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau relating to the derailment.

While analysts were skeptical that the unlucky operational quarter in the Pilbara would allow Rio to achieve its 350 million tonne target for its Australian and Canadian iron ore ventures in the 2015 calendar year, the miner remained confident.

“Rio Tinto expects 2015 global shipments approaching 350 million tonnes … from its operations in Australia and Canada,” the miner said. “Shipments and production are each subject to weather conditions.”

Rather than luck, chief executive Sam Walsh said the company’s success would come down to the efforts it has made to streamline its operations around the world.

“We continue to drive efficiency in all aspects of our business,” Walsh said, “which is reflected in our solid production performance during the first quarter.

“By making best use of our high quality assets, low cost base and operating and commercial capability our aim is to protect our margins in the face of declining prices and maximise returns for shareholders throughout the cycle.”

Since its most recent peak at roughly US$140 a tonne just over a year ago, the price of iron ore has declined dramatically, to below US$47 a tonne at times in April, before settling this week around the US$50 mark.

For many of Australia’s smaller iron ore producers, the decline has meant the shutting down – or consideration of shutting down – of mines and export operations.

But for Rio and fellow big player BHP Billiton, the price decline simply means slimmer profit margins. Unlike many mining juniors, and Fortescue Metals Group, Rio and BHP produce market-grade iron ore for less than the current spot price, so they can still turn a profit.

What Rio’s temporary slowdown tells the market is that the price decline is not being driven solely by oversupply – Rio sent 10 million tonnes less into the seabourne market in the first quarter of 2015 than it did in the last quarter of 2014 – but that demand really is that bad.

UBS mining analyst Glyn Lawcock, quoted in Wednesday’s AFR, in fact said it appears that “Australia’s exports actually over the last six months look to have trended down”.

“What that tells you right now is that the weakness in the iron ore price hasn’t actually been the producers’ fault,” Lawcock was quoted. “It tells you that demand has been pretty poor over the past quarter.”

Aurizon Train

Fair Work supports Aurizon in ‘landmark’ decision

Aurizon has welcomed a decision by the Fair Work Commission to terminate expired enterprise agreements from May 18, in which the Commission found the rail operator’s bargaining to be “rationally based,” while the unions’ was “not common”.

Queensland-based Aurizon is in the middle of a prolonged bargaining saga with a number of unions, including AFULE, QSU, CEPU, AMWU, RTBU, APESMA and Together Queensland.

The rail operator is trying to negotiate new deals for its Queensland workforce, which was formerly covered by a set of 14 enterprise agreements.

Two of those enterprise agreements have already been replaced by a single deal which was agreed to and formalised on January 21.

But the majority of employees are still not accounted for under new contracts, and are currently working under the remaining 12 expired enterprise agreements.

Under the Fair Work Act 2009, enterprise agreements continue to operate after their nominal expiry date until they are replaced.

But if the Fair Work Commission decides – upon application from either party – to terminate the enterprise agreement, the workers formerly under that deal would no longer be covered.

In this case, the Commission has approved Aurizon’s request, and the termination will occur on May 18, 2015.

That means negotiations can no longer be easily stalled by either side, as that deadline approaches. Aurizon said the decision should get the ball rolling again on negotiation talks.

“This is a landmark decision, not only for Aurizon but in the broader context for Australian industrial relations,” Aurizon managing director and chief executive Lance Hockridge said.

“Our aim always has been to negotiate in good faith workplace agreements that are contemporary and forward looking, and match those already agreed by unions with our direct competitors,” Hockridge explained.

“We anticipate today’s decision will assist us in moving towards that outcome.”

The decision from the Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission said many of the provisions sought by the unions so far in negotiations were not common in most enterprise agreements.

“They restrict Aurizon in making business changes that it wishes to make in response to a competitive market situation,” the Commission said. “The restrictive provisions restrain Aurizon’s capacity to effectively manage its labour resource needs.”

Meanwhile, the Commission found Aurizon’s goals to be reasonable.

“Aurizon has endeavoured to negotiate changes to those provisions but the lengthy and comprehensive negotiations have not led to an agreement,” the Commission found.

“Many of the changes sought by Aurizon in the negotiations seem to us to be rationally based.

“We readily understand its desire that its now private sector business no longer be restrained by provisions that were effectively imposed through the privatisation process.

“We do not think the changes proposed [by Aurizon], objectively viewed, involve exploitation or unfairness in the terms and conditions of employment of Aurizon employees.”

Funding approved for first stage of ATMS implementation

Australia’s rail and logistics industries have welcomed the Federal Government’s approval of the $15.5 million first tranche of funding towards the implementation of the Advanced Train Management System project.

Deputy prime minister and minister for infrastructure and regional development Warren Truss announced the funding approval on Tuesday morning.

Viewed as the next development in rail communication and management, the Australian Rail Track Corporation says the implementation of ATMS will see modern technology to significantly upgrade capabilities of the Australian rail industry.

According to the ARTC, the ATMS will:

  1. Replace trackside signalling with in-locomotive displays of authorities to drivers
  2. Provide precise location of trains both front and rear
  3. Provide new digital network control centres, each capable of controlling all traffic on the ARTC national network
  4. Provide a back up capability in the event of failure at one control centre
  5. Provide enforcement of authorities on each locomotive if a train is at risk of exceeding its authority
  6. Provide switch settings and automatic route clearances
  7. Provide information (voice and data) to all locomotives via the Telstra 3G National Network.

“ATMS uses GPS navigation, broadband communications and state-of-the-art computer technology to locate and route trains in real time, allowing trains to operate more safely and closer together,” Truss said on Tuesday.

“ATMS will further improve the reliability of our national rail network, increasing on-time performance and safety. It will also increase capacity for the movement of freight across the nation, boosting the productivity of our industries.”

Truss said the Australian Government has committed $50 million to start the roll out of ATMS across Australia, with trains operating between Whyalla and Port Augusta in South Australia set to be the first to implement ATMS as part of stage one of the project.

ARTC chief executive and managing director John Fullerton said ATMS will transform the industry.

“ATMS will be gradually scaled up in a live but safe operational environment so the system’s full capabilities can be tested,” Fullerton said.

“Initial trials commenced in January 2015 and so far two locomotives that travel between Port Augusta and Whyalla have been fitted with in-cab ATMS equipment.

“Planning is already underway for the next set of trials which will involve further consultation with the end users of the system, rail operators. These trials are expected to commence later this year.

“The system is custom-engineered technology and will transform the way freight rail infrastructure is managed and monitored across the country.”

The first stage of implementation is being jointly delivered by ARTC and Lockheed Martin Australia.

Australasian Railway Association chief executive officer Bryan Nye welcomed the news.

“ATMS is designed to improve rail network capacity and reliability, through a communication based train management system that allows network controllers and the train drivers to operate in closer proximity than ever before and to be assured that they are doing it safely,” Nye said.

“ATMS is the cornerstone technology that will boost improved communications and digitalisation in the rail industry.”

Nye said the system would allow the industry to get the most out of existing infrastructure, reducing the need to construct new or upgraded track infrastructure.

“It is incredibly important as it allows for a safer, more cost and time efficient and ultimately more productive system that will benefit not only the Australian rail industry but also the nation’s economy given the forecasted increasing freight task,” he added.

Australian Logistics Council managing director Michael Kilgariff also welcomed the news, saying it meant 21st Century technologies would be harnessed to maximise freight efficiency.

“Economic analysis undertaken by ALC shows productivity boosting initiatives, such as the ATMS project, will deliver broader economic benefits in the billions of dollars.”

According to an ALC report released in July 2014, a 1% improvement in efficiency in the rail sector can generate $2 billion in gains for the economy every year.

“Future-focused technology, like ATMS, enhances the capacity for industry to transport products around Australia’s rail system more efficiently and safely,” Kilgariff said.

rail damage - Transport NSW

Photos show alarming damage to track at Dungog

Transport NSW Info has shared a pair of photos showing significant damage to rail infrastructure north of Dungog as a result of the extreme weather conditions experienced in NSW on Tuesday.

“Today’s severe weather conditions have disrupted many public transport services across the state,” Transport NSW Info wrote on its Facebook page just after noon on Tuesday.

“The Hunter Line remains closed due to flooding at Hexham. These pictures show the damage to the track north of Dungog.”

Coal Train Photo Hunter Valley Coal Chain Coordinator

Extreme weather knocks out ARTC’s Hunter Valley network

No coal trains are running into Newcastle on Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) lines, and extensive repairs are needed before the ARTC can reopen its Hunter Valley coal and North Coast networks, after wild weather forced closures on Tuesday.

“All coal and freight services into Maitland and Newcastle have been suspended due to flooding,” the ARTC reported on Tuesday afternoon.

“The ARTC network in the Hunter Valley and North Coast, NSW, has been impacted significantly by the extreme weather conditions being experienced across northern NSW at the moment.

“High rainfall, severe flooding, strong winds, fallen trees and debris, power failures and fallen power lines and power poles have all contributed to operations being halted in the Hunter Valley coal network and trains travelling via the North Coast of NSW.”

As a result of that damage, the rail manager said extensive repairs will be needed, with no timetable set for the line to be reopened.

“The track will require extensive repairs in order to return services safely,” the ARTC said.

“Given the current weather conditions and forecast further weather events and rising water over track, it is not possible to provide a forecast for when services might return.

“Access to locations is difficult and while the weather continues, staff will continue to monitor the situation, begin initial planning and mobilise resources in readiness for when the repair works can safely begin.

“ARTC is working hard to return services as quickly as possible, however there is currently no forecast for return to operations.

“The track washaways on the North Coast will take some time to repair.”

The weather conditions also halted several passenger services in the region, with NSW TrainLink reporting the closure of its Hunter Line services, and partial closure of its Central Coast & Newcastle Line services.

Freight rail track - stock - credit Shutterstock (8)

Shipping lines should incentivise use of rail

COMMENT: Major issues need to be resolved if importers and exporters are to put more containers on rail, Freight & Trade Alliance chief executive Paul Zalai writes.

In response to our ongoing advocacy on container detention reform, Freight & Trade Alliance (FTA) has received feedback from Sydney-based logistics providers who have recently paid tens of thousands of dollars in fees.

This was the direct result of delayed rail deliveries at Port Botany between August 2014 and March 2015.

Operational stakeholders have made a series of public statements pointing at each other as the cause of the problem.

The associated container detention issues are extremely complex and without complete transparency and a thorough understanding of the situation, I am not going to attempt to adjudicate who is to blame.

The bottom line, which nobody disputes, is that there are clearly major issues to be resolved.

We have highlighted the situation to port authorities and have received what seems to be a genuine commitment to facilitate solutions.

We are also involved in ongoing engagement with the ACCC and understand that the issue will be referred to in the next official Container Stevedoring Report.

While this provides a level of comfort that the regulators will examine the issues, it does little in the short to medium term to restore confidence in the use of rail.

This is where the shipping lines must step up by extending container detention periods for import containers leaving the port by rail – at least until the major operational issues have been rectified and a consistently reliable service is provided.

While this is by no means the complete solution, it would be a good starting point to improve rail uptake and fits in with formal submissions that the lines see rail as a vital part of the end-to-end supply chain.

Unless there are some commercial incentives, the import sector will avoid the use of rail which could leave the New South Wales’ intermodal terminals as “white elephants”.

Paul Zalai is an advocate for the Australian freight & trade sectors. This column originally appeared in our sister publication Lloyd’s List Australia.