The Ghan - GSR

Ghan operator GSR sold to Allegro

Australian private equity group Allegro will purchase transcontinental passenger rail group Great Southern Rail from British owner Serco.

Allegro announced on Monday that it would acquire GSR, the operator of a trio of iconic passenger services: the Ghan between Darwin and Adleaide, the Indian Pacific between Sydney and Perth, and the Overland between Adelaide and Melbourne.

Adrian Loader, founding partner and managing director of Allegro, said the fund plans to capitalise on the forecast growth of the luxury experiential tourism sector in Australia.

“We view this as an opportunity to cater to the high-end tourism market,” Loader said.

“The Ghan and The Indian Pacific are iconic rail experiences positioned to provide guests with an opportunity to experience an authentic Australian adventure through the comfort and luxury of travelling by rail.”

Allegro has some experience in the transport and tourism sector: the firm is invested in Australian bus body manufacturer Custom Bus, and in the past held a stake in caravan park owner/operator Discovery Holiday Parks.

Loader said Allegro, which has more than $450 million in committed capital from investors, is interested in businesses that require capital and expertise to grow.

“Through working with management and other stakeholders, we plan to build value and realise the growth potential of these unique Australian assets,” Loader said.

“We look forward to partnering with GSR’s existing management team to generate further benefits for the company’s employees, customers and suppliers.”

GSR chief executive Chris Tallent is expected to stay on after the transaction takes place.

“We look forward to continuing our transformation of Great Southern Rail into one of the world’s greatest rail experience companies in partnership with an experienced tourism investor like Allegro,” Tallent said.

Allegro will fund the acquisition with 100% equity. No formal announcement has been made regarding the value of the deal.

The deal is expected to be completed within six weeks, subject to customary approvals.

Opal banner - Photo: Transport for NSW

20 Sydney stations get Opal top-up machines

Transport for NSW has rolled out 28 Opal top-up machines at train stations and ferry wharves across its network, with 20 stations on the Sydney network getting in on the action.

Minister for transport Gladys Berejiklian – who was re-elected to the seat of Willoughby at Saturday’s election – announced the rollout on Friday.

With 2.5 million Opal cards now issued, including 300,000 senior/pensioner cards and 70,000 concession cards for tertiary students, Berejiklian said more than 200 million trips have been taken so far with Opal cards, and more than 50 million of them have been free.

“Opal has already transformed the way people catch public transport and put an end to Sydney’s ticket queues,” Berejiklian said. “The top up machines will make Opal even more convenient for customers.”

Top-up machines were already operating on the stations along the South West Rail Link. As of this past weekend, new Opal top-up machines are now live at the following stations:

  • Parramatta
  • Penrith
  • Strathfield
  • North Sydney
  • Central
  • Kings Cross
  • Town Hall
  • Martin Place
  • Bondi Junction
  • Wynyard
  • Redfern
  • Sydney Olympic Park
  • Circular Quay
  • Domestic Airport
  • International Airport
  • Museum
  • Chatswood
  • St James
  • Leppington
  • Edmondson Park

Transport for NSW aims to install close to 350 machines across train stations, ferry wharves, and bus and light rail stops this year, providing coverage for about 99% of customers.

The first 100 machines allow customers to top-up their Opal card using a debit or credit card and later machines will accept cash, Berejiklian said.

Existing top-up methods will remain in place.

John Anderson - Toowoomba City Council

Anderson calls for rail innovation

Australian Centre for Rail Innovation (ACRI) boss John Anderson says innovation in the rail industry could be the key to the future prosperity of Australia’s logistics sector.

“For every kilogram of weight removed from a locomotive, you can add another kilogram of goods,” Anderson told the Australian Logistics Council’s annual forum last week.

“When carriages are made stronger and lighter, again more freight can be carried.”

Addressing some 400 guests at the ALC forum, Anderson said alternative materials that do not compromise safety, performance, recyclability or add to maintenance costs present great opportunities for rail and more research into materials technology is needed.

Given Australia’s world-leading position in the area of heavy haul, he said, export opportunities await.

As well as research into materials technology, Anderson believes further nuanced research is needed to highlight the safety and economic gains before governments and the public can be persuaded of the case for change and the case for investing.

“When the research base is persuasive, a national bipartisan rail policy is more likely to emerge. That will benefit all in the industry and, more importantly, consumers and business who directly or indirectly use rail.”

Anderson said more research was also needed in areas of:

  • track conditioning monitoring
  • technologies for improving rolling stock performance
  • new technologies for improving worker and passenger safety and operational efficiency
  • improving transport mobility in urban centres
  • economic analysis for calculation projections for population and freight movements for planning purposes
  • calculating the costs and efficiency of links between rail and other modes of transport

The former deputy prime minister stressed the importance of concentrating on where rail does well or where expansion will pay off rather than wasting resources, saying: “You can only make that judgement after the research has been done”.

“Australian rail manufacturing faces strong competition,” he added, “particularly from China, and suffers from inadequate infrastructure, historic under-investment and the legacy of interstate rivalry.

“This is perhaps why the case for research into better methods is more pressing.”

Anderson said ACRI hopes to “publish research to the widest possible audience and to contribute more broadly to the Australian and New Zealand public debate about rail transport and transport more broadly, with the aim of delivering economic and safety benefits to the whole community”.

He argued that rail needs national standards and national regulation in matters like product approval and validation, bidding processes, safety, wayside energy storage, data and communication, intermodal cargo handling, electronic systems, and risk management.

ACRI was launched in 2014 to build upon the research base generated by the Cooperative Research Centre for Rail Innovation, which was part of the Federal Government’s general program of scientific research and ended after seven years on June 30, 2014.

Originally published in Lloyd’s List Australia.

Elections - Photo Bidgee

NSW Election: No easy choice for voters

MARK CARTER: With New South Wales election campaigns in full swing, once more it has quickly become obvious that transport policy in Australia is something that is usually dreamt up on the run to suit the current electoral cycle, with sometimes no thought for what might actually be the best outcomes for long-suffering commuters.

The Australasian Railway Association (ARA) has attempted to sift through the various commitments and promises from the major parties, with a full list available here.

To be honest, I’m largely uninspired.

Most of the Coalition’s major policies have already been announced in various forms; which is not necessarily a bad thing. I may not agree with all their rail policies, but to be fair they are getting on with the job and to an extent have broken the nexus of changing policy every time an election comes around.

The cornerstone of their rail policy remains the North West Rail Link and its part in creating the Sydney Rapid Transit ‘brand’, with a second harbour crossing for rail coming eventually, which will link up with a converted Bankstown line.

Very big ticket items; the latter two only happening if voters succumb to the emotional blackmail of selling of half of the State’s electricity assets. I suppose there would still be half left for the next round of big ticket items a few years down the track, but after that it’s anyone’s guess where the money will come from.

Labor says it will allocate $3.4bn for a second Sydney Harbour crossing subject to rigorous cost benefit analysis.

The Coalition has made a big deal of the opening of the South West Rail Link (SWRL) while at the same time accusing Labor of not having opened a single rail line during its 16 years in power from 1995 to 2011.

Of course this is all a bit rich given that the SWRL was initially planned and started by the previous Labor administration.

The ABC reports transport minister Gladys Berejiklian as being dismissive of the opening of the Epping-Chatswood line, calling it only ‘half a railway’ because it the Parramatta to Epping section of the line never went ahead.

This is surprising, as Ms Berejiklian conveniently forgets to mention it was the incoming NSW Coalition government that effectively ruled against proceeding with the Parramatta extension, despite some $2bn plus in Federal funding being available for the project.

Funny game politics?

Berejiklian would also be aware of the old adage, “What the government gives with one hand, it takes away with the other.”

While the Coalition has been making the most in spruiking the opening of a new railway in the shape of the SWRL, reportedly under budget and ahead of time, this has coincided with the closure of the heavy rail link to the Newcastle CBD.

If the Newcastle link really had to go, then surely it should only have been after the planned light rail alternative was in place. Policy on the run once again.

Personally I’m still yet to see anything from the Coalition that they are serious about light rail in Newcastle and the whole debacle may well cost them a seat or two at the weekend.

Of course the beads and trinkets have come out for country voters with opaque promises of an upgraded fleet to replace the XPT trains on regional routes and even the spectre of ‘tilt’ trains raised again after a 20-year hiatus.

No surprise either to see the Federal Government announcing less than three weeks before the state election the first tenders for preparatory works associated with the Inland Rail project, a large part of which will pass through regional NSW.

Given the $300m currently available for the project has been sitting in the bank for four years now, and there is still no genuine indication of how the project will be paid for, will this $300m end up being used as the biggest political slush fund in Australian history?

Voters in NSW may well find themselves between a rock and hard place if rail transport policy is one of their key deciders.

As I have already suggested, despite some contentious decisions the incumbent Coalition government have initiated a number of rail related projects with a few to the future, including the SRT and further light rail expansion.

Despite my earlier defence of Labor’s past record, it has to be admitted that it prevaricated over its public transport policies for much of its time in office and while many of its plans could be viewed as positive, it regularly failed to deliver, the various ‘metro’ proposals being a case in point. I’m not seeing much yet that will lead them out of that wilderness.

I should add that this lack of bi-partisan long-term transport is not something exclusive to New South Wales and in a future column we will take a look at some of the policy reversals going on in Queensland, Victorian and Western Australia – not always generated by a change of government either.

Central station tram stop. Photo: Gareth Edwards

NSW Election: Breaking down parties’ promises to rail

NSW voters will go to the polls just 24 hours from now, and all the major transport promises have now been put on the table.

A list compiled by the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) this week comprises promises made by the NSW Liberals, NSW Labor and The Greens over the past month.

It reveals that while few promises have been made by any party on freight rail and rolling stock, there are true battle grounds established on passenger rail, and services and administration.

“The rail industry has released its key election platforms for rail and now we hope to work with the government elect in ensuring our concerns are registered, priorities pursued and action is taken,” ARA chief Bryan Nye said.

The full list, available here (PDF link), shows the only promise made to freight rail is the Baird Government’s $1 million commitment towards upgrading the Dubbo rail triangle – a drop in the bucket compared to other commitments.

The platforms of light and heavy passenger rail, however, give voters more to sink their teeth into.

“I applaud the strong commitment from all parties, in particular the Baird Government, regarding passenger rail funding for projects such as the second Sydney Harbour crossing and the Western Sydney light rail project, both of which were outlined as priorities in our key platforms document,” Nye said.

“I am, however, disappointed to not see a greater commitment across the board for rail freight, in particular infrastructure investment for long and short haul rail in the state’s mining and agriculture industries, through key policies such as duplicating the Port Botany rail line upgrading existing regional freight lines and connections to the planned Inland Rail network.”

Nye did credit the incumbent Baird Government for its 2013 Freight and Ports Strategy, and said the rail industry “would like to see more of the recommendations implemented,” with one example being the continued separation of passenger and rail.

“With new projects come new trains and new technologies, therefore we would also hope to see benefit brought to the local manufacturing industry with a strong focus on stimulating the local economy and in turn creating jobs and a stronger future for rail manufacturing in Australia,” Nye added.

Rail turnout - RISSB

ARA rejects leadership, membership unrest

The Australasian Railway Association has rejected speculation in regard to leadership changes and membership unrest.

This follows an article published today on the Rail Express website today which reported on the separation of the ARA board and the Rail Industry Safety Standards Board (RISSB) and also an ARA announcement to members that it will undertake a review of its role in the Australasian rail industry.

The Rail Express article quoted un-named sources which speculated on ramifications of the split in the ARA and RISSB boards.

“The fact that Rail Express sourced and published the content of this member communique is disappointing in itself but to rouse speculation on the roles of the ARA staff is completely pre-emptive not only to the ARA and our staff but also to the review process currently underway,” the spokesperson said.

FOOTNOTE: The earlier Rail Express article indicated that the ARA Chief Executive, Bryan Nye, had not responded to calls further information. Rail Express acknowledges that Mr Nye was not contacted personally about this matter.

Stadium Station map. Graphic: WA government

Contractor announced for Perth’s Stadium Station project

A pair of Australian rail and engineering businesses will deliver the $100 million station and railway project for Perth’s new sports stadium.

Construction of the station at the new Perth Stadium will begin within months, after transport minister Dean Nalder late last week named Laing O’Rourke and AECOM as the companies selected to build the infrastructure.

The $100 million project will see the construction of a station and associated rail infrastructure. It is part of a $358 million package for public transport infrastructure at the site.

“The station is a vital part of the new Perth Stadium project and will enable up to 28,000 passengers to depart the new stadium within an hour of an event,” Nalder said.

Nalder said Laing O’Rourke and AECOM will mobilise on-site quickly to ensure the works are completed on schedule in late 2017, which will allow time for the infrastructure to be tested in the lead-up to the 2018 AFL season.

“When complete, Stadium Station will be the second largest station on Transperth’s network – with six platforms connected by two pedestrian concourses, each with multiple passenger lifts for access by people with mobility issues.

“This contract will involve not only building the Stadium Station, but also significant rail works, including infrastructure that will enable Transperth to store up to 117 railcars on the Burswood Peninsula, ready for use at the end of a game.”

The transport projects for the new Perth Stadium also include a pedestrian footbridge linking the stadium site to East Perth and a dedicated bus facility on the peninsula to load up to 20 buses at a time.

Nalder said the total construction workforce on the various contracts for the new Perth Stadium transport components would range from between 1800 to 2000.

Fairfield Airport line - WA PTA

Nalder announces EOI candidates for Forrestfield-Airport link

WA minister for transport Dean Nalder has announced the five consortia which have expressed interest in delivering the $2 billion Forrestfield-Airport rail link.

The state government said the five “strong” EOIs for the project represent “another important milestone” in its delivery.

Nalder announced EOIs from:

– Connecting Forrestfield (Lend Lease and Ghella)

– CRCC-BGC-VDM JV (China Railway Construction Corporation, BGC and VDM)

– Forrestfield Connect (Acciona, BAM and Ferrovial Agroman)

– JHL JV (Leighton Contractors and John Holland)

– SI-NRW JV (Salini Impregilo and NRW)

The state will now shortlist companies to progress to the Request for Proposal stage. Geotechnical studies for the project are already nearing completion.

Nalder said the EOIs showed a high level of market interest, with the project attracting major international contractors to Perth.

“The strong mix of national and international respondents is a positive development for the project and shows the market has been well engaged, informed and is prepared to bid for this innovative project,” Nalder said.

Shortlisted respondents will be announced in late April, with the contract to be awarded by mid-2016. It will be a single design and construct package including tunnel and civil infrastructure, track, stations and rail systems with signalling, communications and power, the department said.

The geotechnical work, already underway and nearing completion, includes water and soil quality sampling along the route. More than 100 bore holes have been drilled as part of the geotechnical investigations and samples have been taken from 70 monitoring wells.

The minister said the sampling would help the project team make informed decisions about the best way to proceed with tunnelling for the new rail line.

“This innovative project will see two rail tunnels bored underground from Bayswater, beneath the Swan River and Perth Airport, out to Forrestfield,” he said.

“It is vital that we are aware of any potential soil or water conditions prior to tunnelling, to ensure construction impacts during the delivery phase are minimised.”

Badgerys Creek May 2014 - Advanstra

Parties butt heads on second airport rail line

Labor’s plan to build a rail line to the proposed second Sydney airport at Badgerys Creek has sparked a debate between the major parties at both state and federal levels.

NSW Labor leader Luke Foley announced on Friday that Labor will build a rail line to the proposed Western Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek before the airport is operational.

But Foley said Labor can only follow through on that promise if it wins the NSW election at the end of the month, and if Labor comes into power at the next Federal election, which must occur within the next 22 months.

“Unlike Mike Baird and Tony Abbott, State and Federal Labor will ensure there’s a train line servicing the airport when it opens – not years down the track,” Foley said.

“The rail link to Badgerys Creek is just another example of Mike Baird failing to take the fight up to his mate Tony Abbott on behalf of the people of NSW.”

Federal shadow minister for transport and infrastructure, Labor’s Anthony Albanese, was with Foley to announce Labor’s commitment to the project.

“Tony Abbott’s support for an airport to be built in Western Sydney without a link to the rail network is absurd,” Albanese said.

“It’s no shock that Mike [Baird] hasn’t come out against his mate Tony.

“Badgerys Creek is a greenfield site, providing the perfect opportunity for state and federal Governments to work together and build the airport and associated infrastructure properly.”

Albanese said the funding for the rail line would be factored into the lease to whichever private company or consortium constructs and operates the airport.

Albanese’s direct opponent, federal minister for infrastructure and regional development Warren Truss, called the joint press conference a “brain snap,” and questioned the funding plan.

“Really?” Truss asked.

“The lessee is going to have to build an airport that will not break-even for years and not process sufficient passengers to justify a rail line for a decade or more.”

Truss pointed out that Albanese was “the same guy who wanted to put the airport at Wilton” during his tenure as transport and infrastructure minister, and “the same guy who failed to fund the South West Rail Link when he was minister”.

Truss also criticised the NSW Labor party, which he said during its last tenure “announced 12 rail line projects, but only built half a line at twice the cost and double the timeframe for delivery (Parramatta to Epping).”

Gladys Berejiklian, NSW Liberal’s minister for transport and infrastructure, echoed Truss’s criticisms.

“Labor’s announcement today is that they will build a new train line if two Labor governments are elected and all the stars align,” Berejiklian said, “or maybe when pigs fly.”

Berejiklian said the latest Transport for NSW estimate costed a 24km line from the South West Rail Link to the Western Line via Badgerys Creek at close to $2.5 billion, significantly more, she said, than Labor thinks it will cost.

“Let’s be clear,” she added, “Labor have not made a clear commitment of a single dollar to this project today.

“Typical Labor, transport planning on the back of an envelope two weeks before an election with no funding to back it up.”

Albanese responded to the criticisms on Friday evening.

“The [Liberal] Government would say [the funding was unachievable] because they don’t have a plan to build a rail line to a new airport,” the shadow minister told Patricia Karvelas on ABC’s Radio National.

“It’s quite extraordinary that in all the discussions that have gone one around a need for a second Sydney Airport, all of them had as one of the obvious things to [build] was a rail link, as well as improved road links.

“The road links are happening, but the rail links aren’t happening, because the Abbott Government has this bizarre view of the world, which is that the Commonwealth should have nothing to do with rail, just roads only. And Mike Baird … has just gone along with that.”

As for the $2.5 billion price tag referenced by Berejiklian, Albanese asked: “Have you seen the figures, Patricia? Because none of the other journalists that have raised those figures have seen them.

“We found that the cost of the rail line, just from Leppington just being extended to Badgerys Creek, which is half the distance, would be around $300 to $400 million.”

The Department of Infrastructure expects transport operations to commence at Badgerys Creek in the mid-2020s.

Road projects - Ingram Publishing

Albanese grills Government on road choices

Shadow minister for transport and infrastructure Anthony Albanese has again called out the Government for its propensity to fund major road projects, suggesting that Infrastructure Australia is being ignored in Federal decision making.

Speaking at an Australian Logistics Council forum in Melbourne on March 12, the former deputy prime minister said the Labor Government, when it was in power, used Infrastructure Australia to its advantage to make wise planning decisions.

“When Labor Government took power, Australia was 20th in the OECD for infrastructure investment as a proportion of GDP,” Albanese recalled. “When we left, Australia was 1st.”

While the budget for roads was doubled under Rudd/Gillard/Rudd, that government also rebuilt more than a third of the national freight rail network, Albanese said, with $3.4 billion spent on 4000km of track.

“One outcome of our investments is that by 2016, the average trip from Brisbane to Melbourne will have been shortened by seven hours,” he said. “The journey from the nation’s east to west coasts will have been reduced by nine hours.”

Albanese praised recent decisions by Woolworths and Australia Post to move some of their freight to rail.

“That’s highly significant,” he said. “There will always be a role for moving freight by road. But when we move freight on to efficient, properly maintained rail systems, we make the roads safer and we reduce carbon emissions.”

Albanese said the former Labor Government’s propensity towards rail projects was triggered by analysis from Infrastructure Australia; analysis which – Albanese believes – the Abbott Government doesn’t follow closely enough.

“I am deeply concerned that the current government is drifting away from the Infrastructure Australia model,” Albanese said.

“Despite pre-election promises that it would adhere to, and indeed strengthen, the model, the current government appears to have succumbed to political temptation and is drifting away from transparency and evidence-based policy making.”

He said the worst example of this is the Government’s $3 billon commitment to the (now shelved) East-West Link in Melbourne, to which it committed $1.5 billion in advanced funding in its 2014 Budget.

“It did this without Infrastructure Australia having seen a cost-benefit analysis, let alone having approved the project,” Albanese said.

“As those of you who live in Melbourne know, the project was at the very centre of November’s state election campaign.

“After the election, documents released by the incoming Andrews Government showed that the project had a benefit-cost ratio of only 0.45. That’s a paltry return of only 45 cents in the dollar.”

Albanese said the government’s decision to fund East-West Link over other projects – including the Melbourne Metro Rail Project – was therefore not a good one.

“In this case, proper process went out the window along with common sense and respect for taxpayers,” he said.

“The last thing this nation needs is political parties fighting election campaigns on the basis of the delivery of major infrastructure projects that have not undergone independent scrutiny.

“Only the facts can empower voters to make informed judgements about what politicians say in the heat of electoral battle.”

Albanese also questioned the Government’s decision to fund Sydney’s WestConnex road project, which he said had also been questioned in recent months.