Queensland Rail passenger train - photo QLD Matt

Police file charges over Gold Coast rail damage

Queensland Police have charged a man for allegedly damaging overhead power lines and a moving train on the railway between Helensvale and Nerang stations, causing commuter chaos on July 13.

Police charged a 22-year-old man with wilful damage in relation to the incident, which left thousands of passengers stranded on their way to the Gold Coast-Manly NRL match in Robina, on the Gold Coast.

“It will be alleged the 22-year-old Helensvale man caused damage to overhead rail power lines situated between the Helensvale and Nerang train stations,” Queensland Police said on Tuesday.

“This has resulted in a southbound train coming in to contact with the affected section of the power lines causing significant damage to the train.”

Queensland Rail suspended services along the line, in both directions, throughout the night of July 13, as repairs took place. Service returned for the morning peak on July 14, and were cancelled again while repairs continued, until around 3pm.

Police said the man was charged with two counts of wilful damage and one count of endangering the safe use of vehicles and related transport infrastructure.

He appeared in the Southport Magistrates Court on Tuesday, and was remanded in custody until a further appearance in September.

Police and Queensland Rail investigations are continuing.

Bombardier DAS - Photo Bombardier Transport

Bombardier anti-collision system gets tick of approval

The first trams equipped with Bombardier Transportation’s new Drivers Assistance System (DAS) will enter service in Frankfurt in August, after the system was approved by German authorities.

BT announced this week its DAS had received homologation for passenger service in Germany, after successful trials with the Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT) and Frankfurt’s transport authority, the Verkehrsgesellschaft Frankfurt am Main (VFG).

BT describes DAS as “a highly-innovative, anti-collision system that gives tram drivers advanced warning of a potential impact with pedestrians, bikers, other vehicles, or objects obstructing the tram tracks”.

The DAS uses a network of stereovision cameras to identify and track the movement of objects on or near a tram’s path, the company explained.

“Should a potential collision be identified, the system issues an audio alert for the tram driver and can even perform and automatic braking function.”

BT says its DAS is designed to complement its BodyGuard system, a sort of external airbag for trams designed to prevent pedestrians from being trapped under a moving tram – typically the cause for the most serious injuries in collision incidents.

Following approval by the technical supervisory authority, VFG’s vehicle no. 272 recently became the world’s first tram to operate with DAS.

Currently using vehicle 272 for training, VGF will soon equip its other 73 “S” tramcars with DAS, making the Frankfurt fleet the first to be completely equipped with the technology, by December 2016.

Bombardier FLEXX bogie. Photo: Bombardier

Research Centre to boost industry’s competitiveness

The new Rail Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (RMCRC) was launched on Tuesday, with its new chairman saying it aims to broaden ties between the rail industry and leading R&D providers.

Chairman Paul Johnson said the RMCRC aims to facilitate collaboration between industry bodies, universities, the CSIRO and businesses.

So far the new Centre has attracted French manufacturer Faiveley, Canada’s Bombardier, Australian businesses Downer, OneSteel  and Simplex CNC Systems, Knorr-Bremse subsidiary Sigma, and Chinese rolling stock manufacturer China Rail Rolling Stock Corp.

The RMCRC was established as a result of the ‘Technology Roadmap’ with the Federal Government pledging $31 million over six years to create it. That figure has been more than matched by industry contributions.

“Collaboration between industry and R&D providers is a result of having a shared agenda driven by the ‘On Track to 2014 Technology Roadmap’ aligned with national research priorities in advanced manufacturing,” Johnson said.

“This launch comes at an important time when global supply chains are at a turning point and where innovation is allowing rail manufacturers to access new and emerging projects with local and international partners.

“There is little doubt that Australian rail manufacturers will reap the benefits of innovative funding and commercialisation models offered through the RMCRC.”

Johnson was joined in launching the Centre by parliamentary secretary to industry and science Karen Andrews, Victorian minister for industry Lily D’Ambrosio, acting Australasian Railway Association chief operating officer Phil Allan, and industry chief executives.

Allan said the industry supports the establishment of RMCRC and believes it will lead to increased capability and a global competitiveness for the Australian rail industry.

“Australia’s geography and geology lends itself to requiring world class rail capability, one that is economically efficient and environmentally friendly and that improves urban amenity,” Allan said.

“The Australian rail industry can demonstrate world’s best practices in terms of design, innovative technologies, signalling, and the infrastructure that underpins it; however in order to impact the supply chain, industry must engage in collaborative research to generate innovative outcomes in technology and to address its advanced manufacturing requirements.

“The RMCRC presents a significant opportunity for the industry to bridge this gap, providing a clear direction to build capability and avoid duplication, therefore strengthening the overall performance and productivity of our local manufacturing industry.”

Tracks at Hamilton Station. Photo: Creative Commons / Orderinchaos

Newcastle closure goes before Court of Appeal

A crucial decision over the closure of the heavy rail line into Newcastle will be handed down in coming weeks, after the state government and community action group Save Our Rail presented their cases to the NSW Court of Appeal in Sydney.

During the case, each side appealed a different aspect of the decision handed down on December 24 last year by Supreme Court Justice Michael Adams.

Adams last year essentially ruled the government would need to pass an act of parliament if it wanted to rip up the rail track into Newcastle.

In the long term, the state government wants the heavy passenger network to only go as far as Wickham Station, where a new terminus will interchange passengers to a new light rail line into the heart of Newcastle. Buses will be used until that light rail line is built.

To facilitate the project, the state wants to remove the remaining track, between Wickham and Newcastle Station, according to reports.

But Section 99A of the Transport Administration Act 1988 (NSW) prevents a rail infrastructure owner from closing a rail line without first passing an act of parliament.

So, in what Justice Adams labelled a “device” to avoid that law, the state government on December 19 transferred ownership of above ground rail infrastructure from RailCorp – a rail infrastructure owner – to the Hunter Development Corporation (HDC).

It’s thought that the government believed HDC could then remove the line without an act of parliament.

Identifying the “device” planned by the state, however, Justice Adams thwarted that plan, ruling HDC had become a rail infrastructure owner through that transaction.

With that ruling in place, the state was unable to start removing the rail line between Wickham and Newcastle. But it still went ahead and shut the line at Hamilton – the station before Wickham – on Boxing Day, meaning services on the line now only go as far as Hamilton, with buses connecting passengers to Newcastle and the surrounding area.

The state has removed boom gates along the closed line, and has installed several temporary crossings over the track, but it hasn’t started removing the infrastructure itself.

The key part of the appeal hearing, which concluded on July 16, was the government disputing Justice Adam’s ruling that it would need an act of parliament to permanently close the line between Wickham and Newcastle.

State lawyers argued the closing of the rail line to Civic and Newcastle stations did not constitute the “closure” of the rail line as a whole. The ABC reported that Justice Anthony Meagher, presiding over the case, quickly retorted that the validity of that argument “depends if you’re looking at this from the perspective of someone in Newcastle.”

Save Our Rail vice-president Kim Cross, meanwhile, told the ABC that the appeal case could have wide-reaching ramifications.

“If the HDC is able to acquire the rail corridor in Newcastle, it could acquire the rail corridor in places including Bathurst, Lithgow – any place, any railway in the state,” she was quoted by the ABC.

“There would be no protection in terms of the necessity to require an act of legislation.”

The case before the Court of Appeal concluded on Thursday, July 16, with a decision expected in the coming weeks.

Aurizon coal train. Photo: Aurizon

Aurizon’s union saga nears end

A new enterprise agreement covering roughly 1500 Aurizon employees has been approved by union vote, moving the Queensland-based operator a step closer toward ending its two-year battle with unions.

82.7% of employees who voted on the new agreement were in favour, in a ballot that ran from June 6 to 15, Aurizon said. 886 votes were in favour of the agreement, while 185 were against.

The Construction and Maintenance Enterprise Agreement is one of the three major EAs Aurizon and unions – primarily the RTBU – have been trying to come to equal terms on for the last two years.

Under the union-approved deal, which replaces and unifies nine separate deals, employees will earn a 4% pay increase each of the next three years. In return, Aurizon will remove the ‘no forced redundancies’ provision from the deal, and will no longer supply rail passes for the majority of its employees: only those with more than 25 years’ experience will be able to keep their passes, and theirs will be removed from 2018.

With the positive vote from union members, the agreement has been put to the Fair Work Commission, and will be in force seven days after approval from the Commission.

It will join the Staff Enterprise Agreement – covering roughly 1300 employees – which was implemented in January. The third major agreement, the Train Crew and Transport Operators agreement – covering around 1700 workers – has come to an in-principle deal, and will be voted on by union members between July 20 and 27.

For both Aurizon and the unions, the developments signal the end of a long, drawn out negotiation period. As is often the case, both sides insisted they were bargaining in good faith, and both have felt – at times – that the other side was being unreasonable.

While the Staff agreement was done and dusted earlier this year – replacing two old deals with one new one – talks dragged on over the final two deals, which together were set to replace a set of 12 old agreements. Aurizon stood on one side; unions – including AFULE, QSU, CEPU, AMWU, RTBU, APESMA and Together Queensland – on the other.

The conflict came to a head in April, when the Fair Work Commission ruled Aurizon was allowed to cancel the old agreements, leaving employees covered only by the Rail Industry Award (2010), the National Employment Standards, and individual contracts, conditions Aurizon described as “less favourable” to workers.

Speaking at the time, Aurizon boss Lance Hockridge praised the Fair Work decision.

“This is a landmark decision, not only for Aurizon but in the broader context for Australian industrial relations,” he 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.”

Unions appealed the Fair Work decision, but following a hearing in May, Aurizon formally scrapped the old deals.

This week, announcing the successful vote on one of the major new agreements, and the dates for voting on the other deal, Aurizon’s executive vice president for Human Resources, John Stephens, praised employees for approving the deal.

“After two years of bargaining in good faith with unions, the positive vote on this Enterprise Agreement is a very welcome result,” he said.

“It will be the catalyst for significant productivity enhancements and improved workplace flexibility. This is good for employees, customers, business efficiency and the broader economy.”

SA train derailmend April 2014. Photo: ATSB

Report questions ATSB’s intent

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau too often hides behind a ‘no-blame’ policy and hesitates to label the true cause of rail incidents, a new paper suggests.

Rail engineer Ross Mitchell and solicitor Adam Bisits teamed up to put together the paper Lessons from Australian Derailment Investigations, which they presented recently at the International Heavy Haul Association Conference in Perth.

The paper finds some reports of derailments from the ATSB’s national railway accident investigation unit do not identify cause, or proper cause, when a cause seems fair – or even obvious – to identify.

Mitchell and Bisits believe investigators are too hesitant to label the cause of an incident, because they are instructed by legislation and the Bureau to not attribute blame, but they are also not explicitly instructed to label cause.

“The issue is that the ATSB looks at factors rather than causes,” Bisits told Rail Express.

“The ATSB hides behind the provision in their legislation that their job is not to distribute blame … well that’s fine, but you should still have to find a cause.”

The ATSB says on its website, “An ATSB investigation is purely aimed at determining the factors which led to an accident or safety incident so that lessons can be learned and transport safety improved in the future.”

“This is not practical and too general,” Mitchell and Bisits respond in their paper. “Rail operators and others want to know causes.”

Establishing cause is the dominant purpose of incident investigations in the United States, the United Kingdom, and in many other jurisdictions, the pair said in their presentation. But in Australian legislation – with one exception being Queensland’s – does not ask for cause.

Speaking with Rail Express, Bisits recalled one incident in 2006 where a bridge repairer at Geelong was seriously injured when a freight train collided with the elevated platform he was working on. The train had gone through a signalbox which should have instructed the driver to stop, but was instead cleared well before the train got there – a fact which Bisits tells Rail Express should have been clearly labelled as the ‘cause’ of the incident.

But because investigators could not identify whether the missing stop signal was caused by a single-person error, or a misunderstanding between multiple people, the report did not identify a “single decisive factor leading to the collision,” instead choosing to label a number of potential safety factors which contributed to the incident.

“That’s just not good enough,” Bisits said, adding in his presentation: “This does not show a proper regard for railway workers.”

Ross Mitchell is a Sydney-based rail operations and design engineer, who has consulted to engineering and mining companies. Adam Bisits is a Melbourne-based solicitor, who has for a long time had a ports and railway specialty.

The pair’s report also suggests investigations take too long to put together, and finds there is a possible lack of independence and conflict of interest, due to the Bureau working with a high level of anonymity.

“In Australia the actual investigators (assuming the commissioners are not personally investigating) are a mystery,” the report says, “including those who come from outside the public service, the special investigators, or consultants.

“Yet in Australia the pool of actual investigators is small and their past may have been with current important train operators or track owners.

“Thus there is a potential for ATSB investigations not to be completely independent, and for this to be hidden because the actual investigators are not publicly identified.”

Sydney Train

TfNSW gets new deputy secretary

Transport for NSW secretary Tim Reardon on Wednesday announced who will take up the newly-established role of deputy secretary for freight, strategy and planning at the department.

Clare Gardiner-Barnes has been named to the new role, and will move from her current role as chief executive at the Northern Territory Department of Transport.

Gardiner-Barnes has over 20 years’ experience in the public sector with leadership roles across a number of areas of government, Reardon said.

The new position of deputy secretary of freight, strategy and planning is tasked with bringing together all of Transport for NSW’s policy, planning and regulation into the one area, streamlining decision making and accountability.

“Transport for NSW is undergoing organisational reform to ensure that it can effectively deliver the government’s significant investment in new infrastructure and service improvements,” Reardon said.

“Ms Gardiner-Barnes will play a critical role in the development of strategy and policy for public transport and roads networks and work closely with industry to ensure the safe and efficient movement of freight in the State.

“I am pleased to have someone of Ms Gardiner-Barnes’ calibre join Transport for NSW at this important time,” Mr Reardon said.

Gardiner-Barnes will take up her position in August.

Burke Street level crossing removal. Graphic: VicRoads

First level crossing removal work begins

Work has begun at the first level crossing set to be removed under the Andrews Government’s program, at Burke Road in Glen Iris, Melbourne.

Premier Daniel Andrews and roads minister Luke Donnellan visited the site on Tuesday to announce that major construction has officially started on the Level Crossing Removal Project.

“This is the start of the most important road, rail and community safety projects in Victoria’s history,” Andrews said, “the removal of our most dangerous, deadly and congested level crossings.”

The Burke Road level crossing is said to be one of the worst on the list of those set to go; its boom gates are down for an average of at least 40 minutes for every morning peak (7am to 9am), and more than 26,000 vehicles and 150 trains use the crossing every day.

The RACV has named the intersection in its top 10 for congestion hot spots in Melbourne, every year since 2006. This resulted in many frustrated motorists driving unsafely, and many frustrated pedestrians ignoring barriers and warning signals, to rush to catch their train or tram, the Premier’s office said.

A consortium of John Holland and KBR is in charge of the removal: Burke Road was among four sites the consortium was awarded in May after a competitive tender process – the first such process undertaken by the Andrews Government in its plan to remove 50 level crossings in eight years.

“Victorians have been held hostage by these relics of the past for too long,” Andrews said this week. “They need to go, we’re getting on with it, and major works start today.”

The first work to be undertaken is the demolition of the Gardiner Station car park, and the lowering of the rail line under Burke Road. Gardiner Station will be rebuilt to provide access to platforms below street level.

Andrews said the new station will be safer, more accessible and more user-friendly than the old station, and a new tram super-stop will be built near the entrance, making it easier to transfer between trains and trams.

Donnellan emphasised the project was as much a roads project as it was a rail one.

“Getting rid of [the level crossing] will get motorists, passengers and local residents home safer and sooner,” he said. “Works are ramping up at Burke Road and at other sites across Melbourne as part of the Andrews Labor Government’s plan to unclog our roads, make communities safer and build a bigger, better public transport system.”

Major works on the weekend of July 24 to 26, including the  demolition of station platforms and buildings, will require the closure of the Glen Waverley rail line, with buses replacing trains between Burnley and Darling, the department said.

Buses will also replace the Route 72 tram on Sunday, July 26 and the intersection of Burke Road and Carroll Crescent will be closed from later this month until early next year.

Brisbane suburbs and coal corridor. Graphic: The State of Queensland (Department of Natural Resources and Water) 2007

Mining body slams community train dust study

Community action group Clean Air Queensland will continue its fight against coal trains despite the Queensland Resources Council attacking its trackside dust study.

Clean Air Queensland (CAQ) released the results of its air quality monitoring study in early May.

The organisation says that, using industry-standard air quality monitoring equipment, its members monitored particle pollution levels along the Brisbane train line at Wynnum, Fairfield and Morningside.

CAQ is concerned that with an expansion of coal mining in south east Queensland, increased coal train traffic to the Port of Brisbane will have a deleterious effect on residents’ health.

The group says its study found “alarming rates of pollution in Brisbane associated with dust from coal trains travelling to the Port of Brisbane.”

According to CAQ’s publicity: “The study   ‘Health Hazard in our Suburbs’ – shows coal train pollution readings of 900 per cent above normal levels.”

CAQ spokesperson Michael Kane said the study showed coal trains were emitting “alarming amounts of pollution” as they passed close to homes, schools and workplaces.

“The report shows that coal trains are regularly emitting dangerous levels of air pollution in Brisbane suburbs and the government must now act to protect the community,” Kane said.

The day after CAQ’s study was released, peak state mining industry lobby group Queensland Resources Council (QRC) said it was deeply flawed and misleading.

QRC chief executive Michael Roche said the monitoring carried out by CAQ was unsound and the report wouldn’t stand up to peer review.

“It’s hardly surprising that this group, which includes anti-coal activist groups including Lock the Gate, 6 Degrees and Friends of the Earth would come up with such a report,” Roche stated.

“I would challenge them to undertake independent and peer-reviewed monitoring, which the coal industry has been doing along the rail corridor to the Port of Brisbane for more than two years.

“They undertook only nine monitoring sessions, utilising a method that is not consistent with the Australian air quality standards.

“They admit themselves in the report that they don’t know the distribution of air particles beyond the railway line.

“It’s also telling that they ignored some results from coal, freight and passenger trains that passed during the monitoring period. One would have to wonder why.

“In addition, the study included no wind direction monitoring, which means they would have no way of knowing the origins of the dust measured.

“More than two years’ worth of data from industry-funded monitoring, using methods consistent with the National Air Quality Standards, is in the public domain. I would urge people interested in learning more about air quality along the corridor to visit the Queensland Government’s air quality website where the results of the independent monitoring are reported in near real time.

“Industry has nothing to hide, as evidenced by the fact that since the start of continuous monitoring, the only instances where recorded air quality was above the national standards were independently found to be unconnected to coal-dust emissions, and usually a result of either bushfires, dust storms or track and road maintenance.

“Veneering, which is used on all Queensland coal trains to minimise dust emissions, is world-leading practice and the Queensland Department of Health noted in the 2013 independent dust monitoring findings, that ‘for people living along the rail corridor, the dust concentrations measured during the investigation are unlikely to result in any adverse health effects.’

“I would urge the Queensland Government to see this report for what it is – just another attack by anti-coal activists on our coal sector, which in 2013/14 directly employed more than 26,000 people full time, spent more than $15 billion in the state and contributed almost $2 billion in royalties to the government.”

Clean Air Queensland appeared undaunted by Queensland Resources Council’s salvo.

It said that “instead of trying to shoot the messenger, the Queensland Resources Council should support community efforts to keep Brisbane free of coal dust pollution.”

Community efforts to directly monitor coal dust are only set to grow.

A recent post on the home page of Clean Air Queensland’s web site said that “We are using the same Osiris dust monitors used in the last study and are looking for people to assist who can give 4 or more hours a week.

“Volunteers will be trained to become community scientists and use the Osiris monitoring equipment to collect data on passing coal trains. No experience is necessary.”

This article originally appeared in Rail Express sister publication, the Australian Bulk Handling Review.

Tram stopped at Southport South on the Gold Coast Light Rail. Photo: Creative Commons / David Ansen

Asset recycling key to Federal funding, Abbott says

States looking to get Commonwealth funding for public transport projects should sell off public assets and engage the Federal Government’s asset recycling program to attain funding, the prime minister has said.

Speaking with reporters on the Gold Coast, Tony Abbott used that region’s successful light rail project to point to another project – Canberra’s Capital Metro light rail project – which will earn $60 million in Federal funding thanks to the ACT’s decision to sell off $400 million in assets.

The PM, who drew the ire of the rail industry and several states when he cut funding for urban rail projects in favour for road funding, reiterated his stance to reporters.

“Urban public transport has always been a question for state and local government,” he said.

“Yes, there were a few exceptions made under the Rudd-Gillard Government, but the Rudd-Gillard Government was the most monumentally incompetent government in our history.

“It spent money that it just didn’t have, it made commitments that, frankly, were utterly unsustainable and the last thing that this Government is going to do is go down the path that the former Government so regrettably blazed.

“So,” he continued, “we are not in the business of funding urban public transport other than through asset recycling.

“And if the State Government is so keen to have a Federal Government contribution to the [planned] light rail [extension] here on the Gold Coast they can do what the ACT Labor Government did, which was to sell off some assets to trigger asset recycling.”

Abbott said the recycling program was “a very clear and obvious way” for states like Queensland to secure federal contributions to urban rail projects.

“We are providing an additional $6 billion over the forward estimates for roads in Queensland above and beyond what was going to be the case under the former Government,” Abbott continued.

“That’s $6 billion more for roads in Queensland. That means that the state Government won’t have to spend quite so much, so that means that there’s more state Government money available if they want to see the light rail system extended quickly.”

Related story: A solution for rail: Listen to Tony Abbott

Abbott said the government could also look into reports that light rail operators believe they can fund an extension privately.

“All they need is additional permissions and additional franchising from the state government,” he said.

“Now, if the state Government doesn’t have the money, despite all the extra money that the Commonwealth is spending on roads in Queensland, there is a no-cost-to-the-public sector option that the state Government could consider.”