Rail R U OK? Day. Graphic: TrackSAFE Foundation

Thursday marks Rail’s R U OK? Day

April 16, 2015 will be the inaugural industry-wide Rail R U OK? Day, with the TrackSAFE Foundation leading a group of Australian companies to raise awareness of depression and trauma as a result of rail incidents.

A spin-off of the R U OK? not-for-profit, Rail R U OK? Day is designed to focus on engaging rail staff in conversations about their emotional status by promoting them to answer the simple question: Are you okay?

“We believe stations are a place of interaction and engagement within communities that foster people coming together,” TrackSAFE said.

“Let us extend this sentiment into our work environment by showing support for our rail staff.”

Several major Australian rail businesses have signed on for the inaugural Rail R U OK? Day, including ARTC, Aurizon, Bombardier, Downer, John Holland, Genesee & Wyoming, Pacific National, UGL and several others.

Paul Larsen, chief executive of Brookfield Rail, which is also signed up to take part, said the company is committed to helping its employees feel safe and supported at work.

“Looking after ourselves and each other is important for all of us,” Larsen said. “However we are all guilty of getting caught up in the details of our days and failing to realise those around us might not be ok.

“Together the rail industry is making positive steps to increase awareness of the importance of mental health by encouraging rail employees to connect with, and offer support to, one another.

“We realise that regular, meaningful conversations can really help someone who is struggling to feel supported and connected,” he continued.

“That is why we will be actively encouraging employees to start meaningful conversations with their workmates by asking them, are you okay?”

Brookfield will coordinate a series of activities on Thursday aimed at encouraging their employees to take part in these conversations.

TrackSAFE and R U OK? have partnered to deliver the new campaign. Click here for more information.

Melbourne Tram

Melbourne trams get later in March

Melbourne’s trams were on-time at their final destination just 65.2% of the time in the month of March, as punctuality figures on the Yarra Trams network dropped more than eight percentage points below the 12-month average.

The March figure of 65.2% on-time services was even lower than the February figure of 66.2%, which was already the lowest figure recorded in the past 12 months, as Rail Express reported last month.

As well as the poor ‘on-time’ figure for trams at their final destination, the ‘on-time’ figure for trams along the duration of their trip also reached a 12-month low in March.

Trams were ‘on-time’ throughout their journey just 78.0% of the time on the Yarra Trams network. This was a new 12-month low, following the low set in February of just 78.9%.

Yarra Trams put the poor February results down to “a high number of special events, major tram improvement projects, traffic congestion and third party incidents.”

Now the on-time figure has worsened, Public Transport Victoria chief executive Mark Wild had this to say: “Yarra Trams had a very busy month requiring hundreds of extra trams to move large crowds to the Grand Prix, the Cricket World Cup, the Melbourne International Flower & Garden Show and other special events.”

Wild, however, said it was “encouraging” that the operator still ran 98.9% of scheduled services during the month of March, despite the events.

The March scheduled service figure was up slightly on the February figure of 98.7%, but was still lower than the 12-month average of 99.1%.

Elsewhere, Melbourne’s Metro trains were on-time at their final destination just 92.1% of the time in March – the lowest figure since April last year.

“We are working closely with Metro to ensure that performance on metropolitan trains continues to improve, and continues to trend upwards over the long term, with a particular focus on continuing to reduce station skipping,” Wild said.

Mount Everest. Photo: Creative Commons / shrimpo1967

China wants to build a railway under Mount Everest

The Chinese Government believes a rail line between China and Nepal would strongly boost bilateral trade and tourism between the nations.

State-owned media outlet the China Daily late last week reported that government experts, at the request of the Nepalese Government, had begun to look into a rail line which would tunnel under Mount Everest to link the two Asian nations.

“If the proposal becomes a reality, bilateral trade, especially in agricultural products, will get a strong boost, along with tourism and people-to-people exchanges,” Chinese Academy of Engineering rail expert Wang Menshu said.

A 251km extension to China’s national railway was completed from Lhasa to Xigaze in August. State sources reported in December that China plans to extend this railway 540km to Kerung – the Chinese town nearest to Nepal – by 2020.

But China believes there is more potential in that extension. During a visit to Nepal late last year, foreign minister Wang Yi reportedly discussed extending the line to Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, and potentially beyond that.

Reports in state media last week furthered that message, and drew attention from a variety of sources after the potential route was detailed.

“The changes in elevation along the line are remarkable,” Wang Menshu said. “And the line will probably have to go through Qomolangma so that workers may have to dig some very long tunnels.”

Qomolangma is known to most English speakers as Mount Everest.

Wang said engineers will face a variety of technical difficulties once the project begins. Those engineering difficulties, and other physical factors, will likely restrict trains running on the line to a maximum speed of 120 km/h, he said.

Redfern Station - Photo: J Bar

Access boost at Redfern Station

Transport for NSW has announced major construction plans to improve access at one of Sydney’s busiest train stations, Redfern.

Being done as part of the NSW Government’s Transport Access Program, the work includes the addition of lift access to the station’s platforms 6 and 7, an improved access point at the station’s northern ‘Lawson Street’ entrance, and the addition of fencing and lighting at various points to improve security.

A Transport for NSW spokesperson said the work was being done following an extensive local public feedback stage.

“When these improvements are completed, the station will be more accessible for customers, making their transport journey easier and more efficient,” the spokesperson said.

“I thank the community for taking the time to provide feedback on the proposal when plans were on public display in December and January.”

Transport for NSW announced on Friday it had received planning approval for the changes, and said early work will begin today (Monday, April 13).

From today through to Thursday, April 16, work will be carried out at night between 6pm and 5am to relocate underground cables and pipes near the lift site.

There will also be some excavating work from 5am on Saturday, April 18 to 1am on Monday, April 20, to prepare footings for the new lift.

Major construction work will take place in coming months.

“We are completing the work at night and on weekends to minimise disruption to rail services and Redfern Station customers,” the spokesperson said.

“The improvements at Redfern Station will include lift access to platforms 6 and 7 as well as improved access from Lawson Street.”

Redfern’s platforms 6 and 7 service the busy T2 inner-west line.

“For the first time for customers in a wheelchair, the elderly, parents with prams, and travellers with luggage will be able to access trains more comfortably,” the spokesperson said.

“I know this upgrade will make a real difference for local residents, and encourage more people to choose public transport.”

The NSW Government says its Transport Access Program is intended to deliver accessible, modern and integrated transport infrastructure.

PTV's new tramTRACKER system on the Yarra Trams network. Photo: Yarra Trams

PTV rolls out tramTRACKER to 50 more stops

The successful trial of a solar-powered arrival prediction system for Public Transport Victoria’s Yarra Trams  network has resulted in the addition of the mini units to 50 more stops.

PTV installed tramTRACKER units at nine tram spots on the Melbourne network in 2014, and found they resulted in “a high degree of satisfaction” among customers.

“The success of this trial meant funding approval from PTV for a further 50 tram stops,” the company said this morning.

The tramTRACKER live arrival prediction screens are designed to deliver information on the next arriving trams in real time. They include voice options for visually impaired customers, alerts for planned or unplanned disruptions and advice on which trams are low-floor for easy access.

PTV says the units are suited to fit all of its tram stops, while solar power was chosen to improve network sustainability.

Installation of the 50 new devices was completed at the end of March.

PTV also recently installed 30 new remote PA units, after 10 such units were successfully trialled on Collins Street last year.

The PA units allow operator Yarra Trams to broadcast live to passengers at tram stops across the CBD. Typical announcements include safety reminders, information about extra trams to special events, and service disruption information.

PTV chief executive Mark Wild said the authority was committed to improving customer experience across its networks.

“Real-time information provided by these innovations helps customers make more informed decisions about their travel options,” Wild said.

Yarra Trams chief Clément Michel said the tramTRACKER mini units provide a lower cost option to many alternatives.

“tramTRACKER mini uses existing passenger information infrastructure found at tram stops which has been used for many years,” Michel explained.

“The design of tramTRACKER mini includes a number of anti-vandal features and provides automatic alerts back to the Operations Centre when the data feed cannot be found.

“Customers surveyed thought this was a great way to provide live disruption information at tram stops.”

The new PA systems, Michel added, will provide an extra level of quality customer experience.

“Live announcements will mean customers receive more detailed information than is possible through digital information displays at the stop,” he said.

“They will provide updates on the status of the disruption and alternative travel options where possible.”

tramTRACKER mini units are now located at the following tram stops:

Bridge Road at:

  • Bosisto Street
  • Church Street
  • Richmond Town Hall
  • Coppin Street
  • Burnley Street
  • Yarra Boulevard

Brunswick Street at:

  • Fitzroy Bowling Club
  • Gertrude Street
  • Johnston Street
  • Hanover Street
  • Leicester Street
  • Newry Street
  • Alexandra Parade

Burwood Road at

  • St James Park
  • Hawthorn Station

Gertrude Street at:

  • Brunswick Street
  • Napier Street

Gisborne Street at:

  • Albert Street

Queens Parade at:

  • Clifton Hill Interchange

Smith Street at:

  • Johnston Street
  • Rose Street
  • Gertrude Street
  • Peel Street
  • Keele Street
  • Alexandra Parade

Swan Street at:

  • Lennox Street
  • Church Street
  • Edinburg Street
  • Burnley Street
  • Stawell Street
  • Madden Grove
  • Punt Road
  • Richmond Station

Toorak Road at:

  • South Yarra Station

Victoria Street at:

  • North Richmond Station
  • Nicholson Street
  • Church Street
  • Flockhart Street
  • McKay Street
  • Leslie Street

Wellington Parade at:

  • Lansdowne Street
  • Simpson Street
Waikato Plan. Photo Waikato Region

No room for rail in Waikato’s future transport plan

An everyday commuter rail line between Hamilton and Auckland has been ruled out for now, with Waikato Regional Council’s Hugh Vercoe saying commuter rail is not a feasible option between the two New Zealand centres.

The only option at the moment for passengers looking to travel between Hamilton and Auckland via train is KiwiRail’s scenic Northern Explorer journey. But with its luxury price tag, and once-a-day, six-day-a-week timetable, that service is not a viable option for ‘commuter’ duties.

Several public submissions for the newly-released 2015-2045 Waikato transport plan supported the development of a suitable commuter rail line between the two cities.

But the report, which Waikato Regional Council approved on Tuesday, says the commuter rail plan is not a possibility for now.

“In addition to network constraints, the working party also identified that at that time there was no willingness to pay for this service by the region’s ratepayers, partner councils and the NZ Transport Agency,” the report reads.

“This service is a medium to long term priority for the Waikato region,” it adds.

Vercoe, who is Waikato’s regional transport committee chairman, said the top priority of the public transport plan was the completion of the Waikato Expressway, a four lane, 102km highway through the region.

He noted the call from some for a viable commuter rail option between Hamilton, or North Waikato and Auckland, but said such a project was not likely any time soon.

“The plan expresses support for the concept,” he said, “but acknowledges it is currently not a feasible option.

“However, under the plan, the committee will continue to look for opportunities to pursue commuter rail further.”

John Holland. Photo John Holland

Hockey gives nod to Chinese acquisition of John Holland

Federal treasurer Joe Hockey has given the go-ahead to the $1.15 billion acquisition of Leighton Holdings’ subsidiary John Holland by China’s CCCC International.

John Holland, whose current projects include work on the North West Rail Link and part of Victoria’s Regional Rail Link, was put up for sale last year by Leighton, which is looking to improve its gearing in the face of a slowdown in the global construction industry.

Other rumoured potential suitors in the deal included South Korea’s Samsung and Brisbane’s ATEC Rail, but CCCCI was announced the winner after a several-month bidding process.

CCCCI is owned by the Chinese state-owned business China Communications Construction Company (CCCC). The Chinese company and Leighton signed a binding agreement late in 2014.

Hockey, who has blocked at least one major international acquisition in the past (the attempted acquisition of GrainCorp by US giant Archer Daniels Midland), approved the John Holland deal on Wednesday.

“The Government welcomes foreign investment where it is not contrary to our national interest,” Hockey said.

“Foreign investment has helped build Australia’s economy and will continue to enhance the wellbeing of Australians by supporting economic growth and prosperity.”

Hockey also responded to concerns by some who noted the debarment of CCCC by the World Bank in 2011, following alleged fraudulent practices during work on the Philippines National Roads Improvement and Management Project.

“I note there have been some media reports about CCCC in relation to a World Bank debarment,” the treasurer said. “I have sought advice on these and other issues in relation to CCCC. As a result, appropriate arrangements have been put in place to mitigate any concerns in relation to this issue and I am satisfied that this investment is not contrary to our national interest.”

Leighton has said its work in hand will fall by roughly $5.5 billion after the deal occurs.

XTD system. Photo XTD

Brisbane stations to have cross-track video boards by June

ASX-listed outdoor media business XTD says it will have its Cross Track Digital advertising system installed in four of Brisbane’s busiest train stations by June this year.

XTD in January signed a seven-year contract with Queensland Rail to have its LED billboards installed across four stations on the metro network, and this week announced a partnership with advertising company APN Outdoor to take on the advertising rights for the new systems.

Sydney-based XTD says its Cross Track Digital video boards offer “world-first cross-track digital media,” which “bring new revenue streams to major rail operators and outdoor media companies”.

The boards provide for video images supported by high-definition sound installations in the immediate proximity. They shut off shortly before a train arrives at the station, and turn back on when it departs.

“XTD installations have been designed as a stand-alone digital media channel that does not use or interfere with any of the existing station controls or monitoring equipment,” the company says. “This enables our system to be easily installed into almost any metro train network in the world, both underground and above ground.”

Over 60 of XTD’s boards are already installed on the Sydney Trains and Melbourne Metro networks.

Research indicates the average train commuter spends 12 minutes each day on a platform, with 67% of commuters saying they notice advertisements on train platforms more than anywhere else.

XTD estimates its existing network currently delivers 8.4 million gross contacts per week. The company thinks Brisbane’s metro network, which has more than 55 million customers annually, is a natural growth location for its business.

“With digital out-of-home messaging and public transport becoming increasingly relevant to the commuting public worldwide, we have a unique platform in the marketing communications industry to connect with people in their daily work routines,” chief executive Steve Wildisen said.

XTD plans to expand next into North America.

Tasmania derailment. Photo: Google / West Coast Wilderness Railway

Lubrication lacking in derailment of historic loco

The derailment of a 1953-built Drewry locomotive near Teepookana, Tasmania, was caused by an under-lubricated axle box horn guide, according to a new report.

On December 9, 2014, locomotive 71SG travelled from Regatta Point to Dubbil Barril, to collect an empty passenger carriage for transfer back to Regatta Point.

The train’s operator, West Coast Wilderness Railway, was collecting the empty carriage in preparations for the planned commencement of passenger services along the line on December 15, 2014.

The 27 tonne, 7.6 metre locomotive left Dubbil Barril with the empty carriage in tow at around 11:36am on December 9. Roughly 40 minutes later, the train’s crew radioed in to report the locomotive had derailed all wheels.

Photo: ATSB / West Coast Wilderness Railway
Photo: ATSB / West Coast Wilderness Railway

One member of the three-person crew suffered minor injuries, described by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) as bruising and stiffness. Damage to the locomotive was described as minor, and the empty passenger carriage remained on the track.

An investigation by West Coast Wilderness Railway found the track condition and geometry did not contribute to the incident. Crew interviews and a review of the damage done ruled out the possibility that the train was exceeding the enforced 10km/h speed limit on the historic line.

Instead, mechanical examination of the locomotive found the cause of derailment to be the front-right-hand axle box horn guide, which had jammed due to a lack of lubrication.

“The jammed horn guide had restricted axle articulation while the locomotive was negotiating a slight left-hand curve, causing the leading wheel on the right side to climb the rail head and derail to the right,” the ATSB reported on April 8.

Photo: ATSB / West Coast Wilderness Railway
Photo: ATSB / West Coast Wilderness Railway

West Coast Wilderness Railway operates three diesel locomotives like Train 71SG, and uses them primarily for shunting as well as the occasional freight service.

While the locomotives receive regular maintenance, the ATSB found they can spend long periods idle, often outside, thus exposing them to “the harsh environment of Tasmania’s west coast.”

As a result of the investigation, West Coast Wilderness Railway has advised the ATSB that it will investigate its examination and recording methods, as well as the possibility of improving the lubricating delivery message for its machines.

“This incident highlights to operators and maintainers the importance of continually monitoring and reassessing risks to the safe operation of rolling stock,” the bureau concluded, “particularly with respect to low utilisation operating scenarios.”

Luas tram stopped at Abbey Street, Dublin, 2012. Photo William Murphy

Quality of rail, tram and people key to Dublin’s light rail success

Brian Brennan, managing director of Transdev Ireland, says the success of Dublin’s Luas light rail system is down to the quality of the employees, vehicles, and system itself.

“The system that was built in Dublin is of a very, very high quality,” Brennan said last week at Informa’s 2015 Light Rail conference in  It’s fully accessible, [and] has got an excellent tram.

“The opportunity then was for Transdev to recruit high calibre people – experienced personnel – to allow us to develop a world class network.”

Innovation, he said, was also key to the network’s successful implementation.

“We’ve continually tried to innovate, and this was recognised by some national awards throughout the last number of years.”

Luas was opened in 2004, replacing Dublin’s old tramways network. It is operated by Transdev, the same company which operates Sydney’s existing light rail network, along with Auckland’s urban passenger trains, and other transport networks around Australia.

See the full interview with Brian Brennan below.