V/Line train. Photo: Victorian Government

Board announced for Vic’s regional transport

The Victorian Government has announced the terms of reference for its Regional Network Development Plan, which is aimed to provide Victoria’s first ever short, medium and long-term strategy for better regional public transport.

Transport minister Jacinta Allan last week announced the make-up of the Regional Transport Advisory Group, which is tasked with driving consultation with local communities, and providing recommendations to government throughout the development of the plan:

  • Jaclyn Symes, MP (co-Chair)
  • Richard Elkington, Gippsland Regional Development Committee Chair (co-Chair)
  • Jo Bourke, Executive Director, Wimmera Development Association
  • Bruce Anson, CEO, Warrnambool City Council
  • Janet Dore, CEO, Transport Accident Commission
  • Trevor Budge, Manager of Strategy, City of Greater Bendigo
  • Patience Harrington, Chief Executive, City of Wodonga
  • David McKenzie, Chair, Committee for Greater Shepparton
  • Judy Verlin AM, Chair, Committee for Ballarat

The plan is aimed to move Victoria away from ad hoc service improvements, towards a more coordinated regional public transport network where train and bus services work together to get people where they need to go quicker and safer.

“The Regional Network Development Plan will provide a long-term strategy for better train and bus services in regional Victoria, to get people home quicker and safer.”

The plan will consider infrastructure upgrades, network extensions and rolling stock, including next generation high capacity regional trains to cater for peak demand, Allan added.

“Now we have the Terms of Reference and the membership of the advisory group finalised, we can get out and speak to regional Victorians about what they want out of public transport in their area.”

“The Andrews Labor Government is listening to the community and investing in better public transport for passengers now and well into the future – that’s what this Plan is all about.”

Consultation will start on 23 June with stakeholder workshops in Gippsland and continue across regional Victoria in the coming months.

Coal wagons Aurizon. Photo: Aurizon

Restoring balance to the Australian freight sector may not be as complicated as you think

Lance Hockridge 

COMMENT: Last week’s release of the Infrastructure Australia (IA) Audit saw “congestion” and “traffic chaos” splashed across the front pages of the nation’s newspapers. This was a good thing.

Traffic congestion resonates with readers, it gets us talking about the daily grind on our roads and how it robs us of precious hours – in the workplace, at home with family or at the footy or netball field.  IA’s publishing of individual road and corridor statistics was smart. The numbers were shocking too: congestion could be costing Australia north of $50 billion a year in lost productivity by the 2031.

There were calls for tolls and new user charges because the existing funding model isn’t working and governments, with constrained budgets, just can’t be expected to stump up more and more. What follows will be a lively debate because road user charges and other more aggressive measures such as congestion taxes have been a very hard sell in Australia.  We take comfort in our “free” roads and rarely demand transparency on how they are funded and maintained by taxpayer money.

Infrastructure Australia, under its remit from the Federal Government, is now working on a 15 year infrastructure plan to be presented by late 2015. A period on consultation will happen with stakeholders and the community. The final result will be a recommended pipeline of projects to promote long-term productivity: the right projects, for the right reasons, and delivered at the right time.

Major players in the Australian freight industry are very interested in the substance of the IA Audit (and key findings such as those listed below), and how policy reform and new models of funding and risk sharing might play out between government and the private sector.

  • The current level of public sector expenditure – especially in the transport sector, which remains largely funded by government rather  than user charges – may be unsustainable in the face of increasing budget pressures to fund welfare and health services. (Finding 27)
  • Current arrangements for the funding of land transport represent the most significant opportunity for public policy reform in Australia’s  infrastructure sectors. (F 28)
  • As well as being the largest infrastructure sector, transport is also the most challenging, with relatively high projected growth in demand, a low proportion of user-based funding and market-based pricing mechanisms, challenges with project selection processes … (F62)

The message is clear: more and more public spending is not always the panacea, nor is the building of more and more roads by government. In reality we’ve got to pull a range of levers. In freight transport, we must look more to policy reform and the private sector for funding, and insist that rigorous, independent cost-benefit analysis be the basis for all public infrastructure investment.

Take for example, our general freight corridors on the eastern seaboard, the heavily trafficked and populated strip stretching from Melbourne to Brisbane. The freight carried interstate on these corridors accounts for about 60% of Australia’s total interstate freight flows. Here rail, usually the heavy-lifter for long-distance freight in modern market-based economies, remains seriously underweight. Between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, trucks account for about 90% of all freight transported – rail’s share has been in constant decline over the past 40 years.

The rail freight industry has worked to reduce transit times and improve reliability. But where rail freight operators pay a direct user charge to access infrastructure, truck operators primarily pay for road use through fuel excise. The combination of low increases in excise and improved fuel technology means heavy vehicle operators are paying less in real terms for the access they are getting to improved infrastructure that delivers them a commercial benefit. It is the opposite of the way it works in other sectors including rail.

Although it is not the only reason for a major imbalance, this difference in pricing is an important factor. As a result, we are not realising the productivity and social benefits that freight rail could deliver were it to be given a genuine opportunity to play to its main strengths, including long-haul interstate freight and port-shuttle services where rail offers substantial productivity and social benefits. I’m not diminishing the role of the heavy vehicle sector, but this imbalance inevitably means more traffic congestion and accidents, a bigger carbon footprint and more intensive use of fuel.

Compare this to the North American rail freight sector, revitalised in the last three decades through sustained reform, deregulation and private investment.  It’s estimated that freight rates in real terms have fallen 30-40%; modal share has climbed to 35%, and almost $500 billion re-invested by the private sector. The North Americans are considered the world’s most efficient and competitive railroads, to the benefit of industry, consumers and the economy.

While not pretending we have the scale of North American economies, there’s opportunities for reform and investment in the Australian freight sector.

  • Incentivise more private sector investment in freight infrastructure in commercially-oriented projects that share risk between government and the private sector.  A good example is the proposed Moorebank Intermodal Terminal, west of Sydney, where the Commonwealth is working with Qube / Aurizon to create a nationally-significant and largely privately-funded freight asset that will be open access and multi-user.
  • Be targeted, strategic and ‘play the long-game’ in freight infrastructure investment to deliver productivity and economic benefit. This includes existing “brownfield” infrastructure that merits investment to lift efficiency, remove bottlenecks or build capacity.
  • Implement road pricing for heavy vehicles where direct user charges genuinely reflect the cost of infrastructure, its maintenance and expansion, and ultimately, drive the best investment decisions. Distance-based charging for heavy vehicles has been used in New Zealand since the 1987.
  • Plan and secure suitable freight corridors, as part of urban planning, and ensure provision of efficient road, rail and port interfaces. The Federal Government’s seed funding and securing of corridors for the Inland Rail project is a good illustration.
  • Further develop the rail modal share targets that some state governments have identified, and back these up with substantial policy changes that will enable them to be met. For example, New South Wales has set a target to double the proportion of freight carried on rail on key freight corridors by 2020. Such an approach is consistent with policy initiatives in the Europe and the United States.

I look forward to an increasingly robust debate about Australia’s future infrastructure requirements, and particularly how we identify, fund and execute on most productive, long-run reform and investment opportunities. This is critical to improving Australia’s international competitiveness.

Lance Hockridge is the managing director and chief executive officer of Aurizon. He was appointed in 2010.

Hockridge will speak at the AFR National Infrastructure Summit. View the full speaker line-up, and register here.

Transport apps. Graphic: Trafi

Search begins for next timetable apps

Public Transport Victoria has launched the search for the next generation of apps using timetable data, with a month-long ‘incubator’ program for new ideas.

Known as the VicTripathon, the event was kicked off on Saturday with a two-day ‘tech jam’ – a weekend of intensive workshops to support participants who have limited experience developing digital products.

Participants ended the weekend presenting their product concepts to a panel, with five concepts progressing to the month-long incubator phase.

Running from Monday, June 1 to Thursday, July 2, the incubator phase will give the five successful teams access to a range of experts so they can further develop their product.

“The five incubation phase teams have one month to develop their concept to a market-ready product, and present it to a panel of judges who will determine an incubation phase prize winner, based on the product that best enhances a customer’s experience,” Public Transport Victoria said on May 28.

Two other grand prizes will be awarded and participation is open to all developers to submit market-ready products using PTV’s API data.

PTV’s new Timetable API (Application Programming Interface) dataset includes, for the first time, real-time tram information, some real-time bus information and service disruption information, the authority said.

VicTripathon is being run for PTV by a consortium, which comprises Collabforge (consortium leader), Open Knowledge Australia, Code for Australia, Owl Ventures and NICTA.

Freight rail track - stock - credit Shutterstock (8)

ARA begins search for new CEO

Executive recruitment firm Jo Fisher has begun its search for the next chief executive of the Australasian Railway Association, with the role advertised late last week.

Former chief executive Bryan Nye formally left his post at the end of April. As a result, the industry body is currently being run by interim chief operating officer Phil Allan, and interim chairman Bob Herbert.

But the association is well on its way to finding its next chief executive, with job ads popping up in a number of different mediums last week.

Recruitment agency Jo Fisher posted one such ad to popular job site SEEK on Thursday, May 21.

“The Australasian Railway Association (ARA), the peak membership based body representing the rail industry – passengers, freight and track operators, contractors and suppliers – is seeking to appoint a leader to take the organisation through an exciting phase of change for the long term delivery of value adding services to its national membership,” the agency wrote.

“The role reports to a Board, representative of the industry and committed to policies and their advocacy to enhance the prosperity and standing of all facets of rail in the Australian and New Zealand economies.”

According to Jo Fisher, ARA’s next boss “will be experienced in leading change, with an ability to focus on the strategic direction for rail”.

“The ideal candidate will demonstrate political acumen with excellent stakeholder management, advocacy and media skills,” the ad continues.

“The role also entails a commercial orientation, the management of budgets, and the leadership of its Canberra-based professionals.”

See the ad here.

Melbourne tram. Photo State Government Victoria

Five findings of the infrastructure audit

Infrastructure Australia last week released its Australian Infrastructure Audit Report, and there’s a lot in it for the rail industry to digest.

The report, billed as Australia’s first-ever “comprehensive infrastructure audit,” suggests a huge amount of work is needed to get Australian infrastructure on pace with economic and population growth.

Five key factors stood out for the rail industry.


  1. There is a serious need for investment in transport

Releasing the report on Friday, Infrastructure Australia chairman Mark Birrell said Australia must act now before demand pressures affect living standards and economic competitiveness.

“Experiences of transport networks failing to keep pace with demand, water quality standards being uneven, energy costs being too high, telecommunication services being outdated, or freight corridors being neglected are now so common that they necessitate a strategic response,” Birrell said.

Infrastructure Australia said in its report that without investment in new transport capacity and/or means of managing demand, car travel times in Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane and Canberra are expected to increase by at least 20% in the most congested corridors by 2031.

“In some cases, travel times could more than double,” the report warns.

“Demand for public transport in the capital cities (measured by passenger kilometres travelled) is set to rise by 55% in Sydney, 121% in Melbourne, and an average of 89% across all capital cities.

“Unless peak period passenger loads are managed and capacity is increased, commuters in all capital cities will see more services experiencing ‘crush loadings’, where peak demand exceeds capacity.”

Both public transport and road infrastructure will need to be expanded to meet this growth in demand, the audit found.


  1. Australia needs a long-term infrastructure plan

The report says Australia would benefit from a strong and consistent pipeline of well-planned infrastructure projects.

Infrastructure Australia says a consistent pipeline “would provide greater certainty for infrastructure constructors and investors, and provide the basis for a well-resourced environment for project procurement and informed decision making”.

It said state and federal governments need to take action to make major project procurement more efficient.

This will reduce administrative burdens, and streamline assessment processes across governments, the report says.

“Integrated infrastructure and land-use planning is essential if there is to be strategic decision-making at all levels of government.

“Whilst there have been improvements in this area, progress has been slow in securing the many benefits that will be gained from an integrated approach to managing infrastructure challenges.”

A key benefit of a more cooperative approach to infrastructure, the report says, would be the establishment of best practice principles for infrastructure planning, procurement, delivery and operation.

“Improvements in infrastructure project appraisal and project selection (including the consistent use and transparent reporting of cost benefit analyses) are necessary if Australians expectations are to be realised,” the report explains.


  1. Rail freight’s share will grow in the future, due to bulk

Infrastructure Australia predicts the mode share of rail freight within the national freight task to grow over the period to 2031, but says this will not be due to a major shift of container freight onto the rail network.

“This is mostly due to increased haulage of minerals for export,” the independent body explained.

“Demand for national rail infrastructure is projected to grow, especially in WA, Queensland and NSW.”

WA accounts for roughly 50% of the national rail freight value-add, due to mining in the Pilbara, and the audit projects that the value-add from rail freight services will grow to $9.5 billion in 2031, an increase of 75%.


  1. Total public and private funding needs to increase

As a proportion of GDP, spending on infrastructure has been higher in the last five years than in the preceding 20 years.

But the audit finds that fiscal pressures – such as the need to fund health, retirement and other social welfare programs – mean governments will struggle to maintain current levels of infrastructure spending in the medium to long term.

“Private investment in infrastructure has grown, with more private owners and developers of infrastructure,” the audit recognises.

“Creating the conditions for further private investment is an important strategy in meeting future infrastructure needs.”

To do this, the report says, Australia will have to increase the amount of funding available from both public and private sources, to maintain and grow our infrastructure networks.

“Current funding arrangements are unsustainable,” Infrastructure Australia said, “particularly for the transport sector.”

The audit says reform is needed.

“While users contribute a proportion of the cost of transport infrastructure through licensing and registration, fuel excise, public transport tickets and freight network access charges, governments still pay the lion’s share.

“The current system therefore relies on limited revenue sources … and it does not ensure that the revenue is directed to transport outlays, new projects or improved performance of networks.”

If there is no change to this, the report warns, maintenance of existing assets would need to be cut back, and new projects aimed at maintaining or raising levels of service in our cities and regions would likely not proceed.


  1. We need to sweat our assets

Infrastructure Australia urged a newfound focus on resilience and improved maintenance, noting that existing assets will need to be maximised to cope with future growth.

“Maintenance and resilience are major themes in the audit,” the independent body said on Friday.

“Most of the infrastructure that Australians will use in 2031 has already been built, but maintenance standards are often below par.

“Service providers will need to improve whole-of-life asset management processes, including adequate long-term funding strategies, to ensure infrastructure networks are able to provide reasonable levels of service in the future.”


Ardlethan siding. Photo Creative Commons / Mattinbgn

Two rail sidings named for upgrade

NSW roads, maritime and freight minister Duncan Gay has announced the first two projects which will receive funding under a grain rail sidings upgrade program.

Following consultation with major grain receivers and regional transport operators, the state says it’s identified a list of key sites for potential upgrades.

The first two funded projects are at Ardlethan and Nevertire.

At Ardlethan, $3.44 million will be spent to extend the existing rail siding by 750m, to a total of 1170m. GrainCorp and Emerald Grain will install new over-rail loading equipment. Together, the upgrades are expected to save seven hours of loading time by reducing train shunting.

At Nevertire, $2.9 million will be used to extend the current grain loop by 750m, to a total of 1215m. Transport for NSW says this will allow a 600m train to load in a single pass at the existing GrainCorp site. Together with more new over-rail loading equipment to be installed by GrainCorp, the improvements at Nevertire are expected to save between five and seven hours in loading time, again by reducing train shunting.

Gay said the funding announcement was the first of many.

“A total of $21 million is being spend on upgrading rail sidings on the Country Regional Network over the next three years,” he outlined.

“The broad acre grain crop is worth $4.2 billion each year to the NSW economy and is reliant on an efficient rail and road network including strong connections to silos and intermodal terminals.”

As suggested through the first two commitments, the upgrade program is going to focus on lengthening sidings to allow faster loading, and passing loops to allow to allow longer trains to operate more efficiently.

“These upgrades will help build stronger freight infrastructure across the grain belt to ensure producers can move their goods to market on time and more cost effectively,” Gay added.

Under the rail sidings program, which was announced in the 2014/15 state Budget, it is expected upgrades will be carried out at up to five more sites across the state in the next three years.

Gay welcomed the recent announcement by GrainCorp that the handler would invest $60 million in upgrading its sites, including 11 in NSW.

“Eliminating constraints on the freight network requires a sustained and collaborative effort between industry and government,” Gay said. “I look forward to seeing the cost savings from our targeted network improvements being passed onto growers.”

Sydney CBD light rail. Artists Impression: Transport for NSW

Sydney light rail is a wasted $2bn, says former treasurer

Former NSW treasurer Michael Egan has labelled the Sydney CBD light rail development a catastrophe waiting to happen, at an upper house inquiry in Sydney this week.

The inquiry was being conducted by the Leasing of Electricity Infrastructure Committee which, as the name suggests, is conducting a series of inquiries to report on the proposed leasing of electricity infrastructure in NSW.

Egan, who was the state’s treasurer between 1995 and 2005, was presenting to the inquiry his views on the potential privatisation of the state’s electricity assets, an issue he described as “very close to [his] heart”.

But the subject matter of the inquiry turned to rail, when Egan was asked how he thought proceeds from privatisation should be spent.

“Not all infrastructure spending is worthwhile,” Egan said.

“If you look at Japan, it has been spending on public works for the last 20 years in the hope of reviving its economy and it has not really worked—it is still crawling along.

“The assets that you purchase or invest in have to be good ones.”

Sydney’s new light rail development, he said, was not a good purchase.

“For example, the proposed light rail to go from George Street to Randwick and Kingsford is going to be a catastrophe not only whilst it is being built but also after it is built,” he opined, “because people are going to have to change their mode of transport twice.

“The light rail trams will carry fewer passengers than the buses do now. So I think it is going to be $2 billion badly spent.”

Some local businesses along the route have expressed concern that the construction work, and the resulting lack of parking spaces, will inhibit their operations.

But other businesses say the result of the light rail project will be a net-gain for the stretch, with the future George Street projected by some to be a bustling pedestrian zone, prime for surrounding business.

Tell us your thoughts below.

V/Line train. Photo: Victorian Government

Vic’s public transport consultation to start in June

Community consultation on Victoria’s first ever long-term strategy for regional public transport will kick off next month.

Aimed at developing a 20 to 30-year scheme, the Regional Network Development Plan will set out priorities for regional public transport services, infrastructure and investment.

Transport minister Jacinta Allan noted there has been a metropolitan rail Network Development Plan in place since 2012 but never one for regional services.

“Melbourne has had a plan for many years and it’s time to bring that forward thinking to the needs of regional Victoria,” she said.

“The Regional Network Development Plan will, for the first time, set out a plan for better public transport in regional Victoria in the short, medium and long-term.”

Allan said the lack of a strategy for public transport had held rural and regional Victoria back for too long.

“Regional public transport users and communities will be front and centre in our plan for better public transport in regional Victoria.”

The goal of the plan is to move away from ‘ad hoc’ service improvements, towards a more coordinated regional public transport network where train and bus services work together to get people where they need to go, she said.

Infrastructure upgrades, network extension and rolling stock, including next generation high capacity regional trains to cater for peak demand, will also be included in the plan.

A Regional Transport Advisory Group, with representatives from all regions, will advise the Government during the consultation process and drive engagement with local communities and councils.

Consultation will take place over the next three months.


Major project safety measures apply to small projects, too

Bob Hammer gives his thoughts on the Office of the National Safety Regulator’s major projects guidelines released late last year.

Bob HammerI read with interest the guideline recently released by the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator [note] Major projects guideline version 1.0, 14 November 2014. Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator, Adelaide.[/note] and thought that the advice provided in the document applies as much to small projects as to large ones.

In fact I suspect that sometimes the smaller projects may be more at risk than large ones because they do not generate the same level of scrutiny.

One of the reminders in the guideline is that designers, manufacturers, suppliers and constructors of railway assets (regardless of the size of the project) have significant legal responsibilities. Section 53 of the Rail Safety National Law requires that (in my words), subject to the ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’ test, these persons must ensure that whatever they are designing, supplying, manufacturing and/or building is safe, be able to demonstrate that it is safe and to provide the necessary information to enable the asset to be operated and maintained safely.

Although smaller rail projects are usually delivered under the management of and in compliance with the accredited rail transport operator’s safety management system the legal responsibility remains with the designer, manufacturer and/or supplier.

The guideline also states that “good practice dictates that effective risk-based system engineering and safety assurance processes should be implemented”.

Again, good advice for smaller projects provided that the processes are sized to match the level of risk within the project.

A question I like to pose is “How will I know that the asset delivered by this project will be safe to operate and maintain?”

From my experience, the sooner that question is asked and answered through the establishment of a safety assurance process the better the chance of delivering the project without major issues.

Another piece of good advice in the guideline is to consider the requirements of the operator and maintainer throughout the project lifecycle. I would go further and suggest that the operator and maintainer should be active stakeholders throughout the development, design and delivery process.

This helps to ensure that the asset can be safely operated and maintained after it is delivered.

I observed one major station upgrading project in Sydney that placed the platform lighting on a high canopy directly above the edge of the platform. The lighting outcomes were great, but in order to change a light fitting the maintainer now has to get a scissor lift onto the platform (no mean feat in itself), stop trains from running and turn off the traction power.

I suggest that the maintenance issues were not adequately considered during design!

I was fortunate to work on the design and delivery of the Airport Line in Sydney.

This was one of the first rail tunnels in NSW that did not include personnel refuges within the tunnel, meaning that maintenance workers were not permitted to enter the tunnel while trains were running (in itself a significant safety improvement).

The maintainer and the operator were very heavily involved in the design process and we were able to ensure that as much equipment as possible was placed in the stations where it could be maintained safely rather than in the tunnels.

Auckland to canvass for light rail

Auckland Transport has opened public consultation on a statutory variation which would formalise plans to build a light rail network.

The transport authority on Monday opened the consultation period for a number of proposed variations for its Regional Public Transport Plan – a 2013 document which outlines the future development objectives for Auckland and its surrounding regions.

One proposed variation is the proposal to develop a light rail network.

Auckland Transport has been pursuing a light rail plan since an independent study in 2012 identified future transport demand and ways to meet it.

“Investigations into alternative public transport options for those parts of the Auckland isthmus that cannot be served by the Metro rail network have identified that light rail is the best public transport option to provide for increased capacity, reliability and speed,” Auckland Transport outlined this week.

A separate public consultation recently revealed strong support for the concept, according to the authority.

“As a result, AT is investigating its introduction on some critical routes as part of a multi-modal improvement package.”

The announcement follows a call from the Board of Auckland Transport in late January for a light rail network which would relieve traffic congestion on some of the region’s busiest roads.

The authority believes existing rail and buses, the City Rail Link (CRL) development and this proposed light rail network will fit together under Auckland’s long term integrated transport plan.

“CRL does not address access from the north, the central and southern isthmus or university and Wynyard Quarter,” Auckland Transport explained in a February document.

“Buses from non-rail areas will create significant congestion and affect economic growth. Bus terminal capacity is at a premium and will become challenging and costly.

“More of the same means bumper to bumper cars will be replaced with wall to wall buses.”

Instead, Auckland Transport has proposed light rail to the public, explaining that 16 trams can handle the same passenger volume as 50 buses. The authority has also pointed to successful light rail projects in Montpellier (France), Bergen (Norway) and Dublin (Ireland) in recent years.

This week’s announcement puts the light rail proposal to the public, with the authority hoping to add it to the Regional Public Transport Plan.

Other variations opened to public consultation on Monday included a simplified zone fare structure to reflect Auckland’s new transport network, a ferry development plan, and a new service descriptions to enable the implementation of the new bus network.

Consultation is open until 4pm on June 5.