South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill. Photo: Creative Commons / Bilby

SA could trial usage-based road charges

The industry has welcomed South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill’s push for a national scheme of usage-based road charges, saying such a scheme will help level the playing field between long distance road and rail freight.

Weatherill told the National Press Club this week that South Australia would be willing to trial such a scheme – as a guinea pig for the nation – in order to address a significant need for more infrastructure funding.

“I don’t think Australians care too much who builds our roads,” Weatherill said.

“They just want them built in a timely fashion, according to some rational set of priorities and at a reasonable cost.”

But it’s not that simple, the premier conceded; general taxation revenue is not enough for governments to cover the rising cost of infrastructure.

“Roads remain a sector that relies heavily on taxpayers to fund new projects,” he continued.

“Under [the proposed] plan, state-based registration and federal-based fuel excise charges are replaced by a charging system based on mass, distance and location, a system that reflects actual use of the road network.”

Weatherill said South Australia would be willing to trial different options for usage-based road-user charging, and would collect data across the state with the view of guiding a national scheme in the future.

Australasian Railway Association acting chief executive Phil Allan praised the premier’s comments, saying all rail freight operators have long been calling for such a scheme, which will provide “a strong incentive for freight businesses to improve the efficiency of their freight supply chains”.

“The interstate rail network has already operated with a similar regime of mass-distance charging for over a decade,” Allan said.

“The rail industry welcomes proposals for road-user charging as a way to level the playing field, meaning many types of freight will become more contestable between road and rail, ultimately lowering costs of transport for getting essential goods between ports, factories, shops and households.”

If it’s implemented in a timely and appropriate manner, the ARA believes Weatherill’s plan can reduce urban congestion, improve efficiency, and drive productivity growth.

“The ARA congratulates Mr Weatherill on his proposal,” Allan concluded. “Introducing heavy vehicle road-user charging is at the forefront of the next wave of economic reform in Australia.”

Blacktown Railway Station. Photo: Creative Commons / Abesty

John Holland to upgrade four Sydney stations

Engineering contractor John Holland has won a $50 million contract to upgrade train stations at Pendle Hill, Wentworthville, Croydon and Blacktown in Sydney.

John Holland said on Thursday that Transport for NSW had awarded it a contract for work designed to make the stations more accessible.

Work across the four sites includes the relocation of railway systems and services, the removal of an existing footbridge and the refurbishment of existing heritage structures.

Three of the four sites will get new lifts under the contract, which also includes the construction of new pedestrian overpasses, the provision of sheltered bicycle racks, and the relocation of an existing memorial and memorial fountain at one station.

John Holland’s executive general manager for infrastructure Jim Salmon said the work will be a significant improvement for local communities.

“The station upgrades will be welcomed in particular by those members of the community that are unable to use stairs, which are still the only means of access to a large number of station platforms in Sydney,” Salmon said. “It’s exciting to be part of such a positive upgrade and to continue our long association with TfNSW.”

Construction is scheduled to kick off later this year.

John Holland was sold by Leighton Contractors in December 2014 to China Communications Construction for $1.15 billion. The sale was granted final approval by the Federal Government in April this year.

Level Crossing fatality - Photo ATSB

Police ‘absolutely sick’ of risky drivers at level crossings

Victorian transit police have issued a plea to motorists to improve their behaviour around rail crossings after a spate of near misses in the past two weeks.

Police have reminded motorists that a new timetable – delivered following the opening of the Regional Rail Link on June 21 – means more V/Line trains are going through level crossings at Deer Park and Sunshine West.

Some motorists have been “dicing with death” by ignoring warning signals and even driving around boom gates, the state’s police force said on Thursday.

Victorian Police Transit Safety Division Inspector Karl Curran said he wanted to get a clear message to drivers who ignore level crossing warning signals.

“If driver behaviour continues this way there is going to be a fatality,” Curran said. “We are absolutely sick of drivers taking potentially deadly risks around railway tracks and level crossings as trains approach at up to 160 km/h.”

Curran said he’s asked transit police to patrol high risk level crossings, and to issue penalty notices of up to $758 to any motorists who cross tracks when boom gates are closed, drive across tracks when warning signals are operating or fail to stop or give way at level crossings.

He said road users should slow down, look carefully and listen for trains when there is a crossing ahead and obey any traffic signals.

“You must not cross when gates and booms are operating or when red lights are flashing – do not try and beat the train at the level crossing,” he warned motorists.

“Motorists need to be aware that they should not queue on the crossing and only attempt to cross when there is room for their vehicle on the other side.

“We know that everyone is busy and often rushing to their destination but taking a little longer will mean that at least you get there alive.”

Cranbourne Line. Photo: Creative Commons

Key players to duke it out for major crossing removal tender

John Holland and Leighton Contractors, each already part of their own four-crossing removal contract in Victoria, are pitted against each other in the bidding for the next contract, which will remove nine more crossings and rebuild four stations.

Premier Daniel Andrews on Tuesday announced a pair of consortia had made the shortlist for the contract to remove the nine level crossings on Melbourne’s Cranbourne-Pakenham line, and to rebuild four stations:

  • the consortium of John Holland, Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR), McConnell Dowell Constructors and Jacobs (known as the Excelerate consortium)
  • the consortium of Lend Lease Engineering, Leighton Contractors, Aurecon Australia and Parsons Brinckerhoff Australia

The contract is the third major level crossing tender announced by the Andrews Government since it came to power in 2014. Part of a scheme to remove 50 of the state’s most dangerous crossings over the next eight years, the government has doled out contracts first for two packages of four crossings, and is now preparing to select a contractor for the biggest contract so far.

And while not incredibly surprising, it is interesting to note that key players from each of the shortlisted consortia are each responsible for one of the four-crossing contracts already handed out.

A consortium of John Holland and KBR was picked in May to remove the first four level crossings, at Centre Road in Bentleigh, North Road in Ormond, McKinnon Road in McKinnon and Burke Road in Glen Iris.

A consortium of Leighton Contractors, Aurecon and Hyder Consulting was selected as the preferred contractor to design and construct level crossing removals at Heatherdale Road in Mitcham, Blackburn Road in Blackburn, and Main and Furlong Roads in St Albans.

And now John Holland and KBR, and Leighton Contractors and Aurecon, are pitted against each other for the contract which appears to be the most valuable so far.

The package will remove all nine level crossings between Caulfield and Dandenong, rebuild four stations at Carnegie, Murrumbeena, Clayton and Hughesdale, and roll out significant power and signalling upgrades, the Government said.

“These nine level crossings are crippling local roads, slowing down trains and putting lives at risk,” Acting Premier James Merlino said.

“Announcing the shortlist brings us closer to starting work and getting rid of these congested death traps on our busiest rail line once and for all.”

As part of the process, each proponent will be required to demonstrate adherence to significant local content targets, including the use of local steel, and a workforce comprising of 10% apprentice-based employees, he said.

Transport minister Jacinta Allan said the level crossing removal along this specific line is part of a targeted program to improve service on the corridor, which is Melbourne’s busiest.

Together with signalling upgrades and 37 new high capacity trains (Expressions of Interest sent out last week), the level crossing removals are hoped to increase capacity on the line by 42%.

“Removing every level crossing on our busiest line is critical for our train system and our economy,” Allan said, “unlocking major economic centres in the south east and supporting thousands of local jobs.”

Level crossing Victoria - Photo: Creative Commons

Level crossing penalties double in Victoria

The Victorian government has more than doubled fines for pedestrians and drivers who illegally cross train tracks.

The infringement for the unauthorised crossing of tracks by drivers and cyclists has increased from $295 to $607, while the maximum court penalty has also more than doubled from $1,467 to $3,033.

The infringement for pedestrians caught illegaly crossing tracks has gone from $148 to $379, while the maximum court penalty has risen from $738 to $1,517.

Acting Premier James Merlino said the Andrews Government was determined to save lives by reducing the number of pedestrians, cyclists and drivers crossing train tracks where boom gates are down, or where there is not a designated crossing point.

Merlino, speaking from the Centre Road level crossing in Bentleigh, said the move was also hoped to reduce trauma for train drivers.

The Centre Road crossing has seen two fatalities and 25 near-misses over the past decade.

Merlino criticised the Liberals and Greens for recently voting against the Labor Government’s Level Crossing Removal Project, which he said was also aimed at improving safety.

“People are getting seriously injured and killed on our train network,” Merlino said.

“That’s why we are removing 50 of our most dangerous level crossings, while increasing the fines for illegally crossing the tracks.

“The Andrews Labor Government has a plan to make our communities, our road network, and our rail system safer and we are not wasting a single day to make it happen.”

Public transport minister Jacinta Allan said the doubling of fines would “make people think twice about dangerously sneaking across the tracks”.

“People just need to stop taking chances so they don’t hurt or kill themselves and potentially traumatise train drivers, just to save a few extra minutes,” Allan said.

Sydney Metro, not to scale. Graphic: Transport for NSW

New Transport for NSW secretary key to Metro plan

Mike Baird last week announced the appointment of Transport for NSW’s new secretary, saying the appointment would be crucial to the Sydney Metro plan.

Baird named Tim Reardon as secretary, Transport for NSW, on June 30. Reardon has been acting secretary since February, and joined Transport for NSW in 2011 as deputy secretary.

Baird said he was looking forward to working closely with Reardon, calling him an outstanding candidate.

“Tim will provide strong leadership at Transport for NSW as we ramp up our bold infrastructure agenda, including Australia’s biggest public transport project, Sydney Metro,” Baird said.

Sydney Metro is the new title for the planned stand-alone, high-capacity rail line which will run from Sydney’s north west, through Chatswood, then under the harbour and CBD and on to Bankstown.

Sydney Metro Northwest – formerly called the North West Rail Link – is under construction, with a planned opening for 2019.

The Sydney Metro City & Southwest – the extension through the city and to Blacktown – is scheduled for a 2024 opening, the government has said.

Port of Melbourne lease crucial to level crossing removal

COMMENT: The lease will help make a good port, a great port, and its proceeds will fund the removal of our 50 worst railway crossings, Victorian treasurer Tim Pallas writes.

Removing level crossings will create thousands of construction jobs and get Victorians home safer and sooner. It’s a boost for jobs, industry and our transport system.

The lease will make our port even better, increasing efficiencies and competitiveness, and maintaining Victoria’s position as the freight and logistics capital of Australia – good news for producers and manufacturers who export all over the world, and consumers who want affordable products.

A 50-year lease is proposed allowing the leaseholder to plan for capacity-expanding investment and providing future port land development flexibility.

The Essential Services Commission’s existing regulatory arrangements will be strengthened with the leaseholder to set prices in line with transparent principles.

Annual increases will be capped at CPI for at least 15 years to protect Victorian producers, manufacturers, other exporters and importers, and consumers.

To keep our supply chain costs competitive, capacity at the port of Melbourne needs to be optimised before a second port is built.

Industry has been calling for investment certainty, and we want to provide it.

The coalition’s KPMG report advises that developing the port of Hastings now would be “materially negative on a net present value basis over the life of the asset” and difficult to justify on a whole-of-state basis.

Victoria University puts the cost of developing the port of Hastings in excess of $12bn, casting doubt on it as a viable option.

Yet the opposition keeps prosecuting the case for Hastings even though their own ‘how to lease a port’ bible says it will lose money and warns of the costs and risks of the premature development of a second port.

Their report also puts the landside costs of the port of Hastings at more than double those of the port of Melbourne – a looming disaster for our exporters and hiking up costs for all Victorians.

The KPMG report calls for a lease of between 40 to 50 years. In line with this, Labor proposes a 50-year lease, allowing the leaseholder to plan for capacity-expanding investment and providing flexibility about future port development.

The lease arrangements clearly stipulate a 50-year lease and anyone who says otherwise is simply wrong.

There is no obligation on the government to extend the lease beyond 50 years. Any extension would need to be agreed between the government of the day and the leaseholder.

The opposition’s claims that blasting at the heads will be required are false. This is scaremongering – plain and simple; blasting at the heads hasn’t occurred for over 80 years.

Any future dredging of the shipping channels in Port Phillip Bay will continue to require the relevant environmental conditions and approvals.

The bill recently introduced into parliament, foreshadows a contractual regime should a second competing container port be required, to be negotiated with the preferred bidder – motivating the leaseholder to maximise the port’s capacity and minimise the need for a second, competing, container port.

This is a complex transaction. It isn’t easy, but it is right.

It’s a great example of asset recycling –unlocking billions of dollars from the port lease to plan and build vital transport infrastructure and making us eligible for significant funds through the Commonwealth’s asset recycling initiative.

Leasing the port of Melbourne to create jobs, fund the removal of Victoria’s 50 worst level crossings and make our port even better was an election promise – now the Andrews government is getting on with it.

This op-ed originally appeared in Rail Express sister publication, Lloyd’s List Australia.

Pyramid Hill derailment. Photo: ATSB

Report questions buried track at unsealed crossings

The 2013 derailment of a Pacific National train in northern Victoria raises several issues over the construction, monitoring and maintenance of buried track at unsealed level crossings, a report has found.

Pacific National train 9054 derailed at the O’Tooles Road level crossing, at Pyramid Hill, in the early hours of March 5, 2013. The train’s three locomotives remained on the track, but 19 of the first 20 wagons derailed, resulting in severe damage to wagons, a significant loss of grain load and damage to about 270 metres of track.

The train’s crew was unharmed.

A recent report from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) found the train derailed at a fracture in one of the rails, most likely created by a passenger service which had gone through the crossing earlier that night.

The ATSB found the fracture was a result of the rail’s heavily corroded and wasted condition, and said the poor condition of the rail had not been detected by the rail operator, V/Line, nor by V/Line’s ultrasonic testing contractor, Speno Rail Maintenance.

Examination of the track following the incident found it had been heavily corroded – over a number of years. The rail web was most severely wasted in a horizontal band approximately 20mm wide, commencing about 50mm below the top surface of the rail head, the ATSB found.

Based on established corrosion rates and local conditions, the wasting of the rail must have occurred over several years, the Bureau said.

But walking and ultrasonic inspections by V/Line and its contractor – which took place a maximum of 12 months apart and had most recently occurred 10 months prior to the derailment – had not shown the rail to be in need of replacement.

“Level crossings at unsealed roads can present difficulties for automated ultrasonic testing due to contamination of the rail head and the presence of corrosion on the underside of the rail that can disrupt return signals,” the ATSB explained.

Also contributing to the corrosion going unnoticed was the method with which the rail was installed at the unsealed crossing.

“Covering of rails, fixtures and track support with loose road material increases the potential for corrosion and more rapid track degradation,” the ATSB found. “It also limits the ability to conduct efficient and effective visual inspection.”

Moreover, the Bureau found the network standard for level crossing construction did not directly address the challenges of unsealed roads.

“The standard primarily addressed crossings at roads with paved (sealed) surfaces, other than a reference to the application of a bituminous coating to rail that would contact fill material,” the ATSB said.

“The particular challenges related to drainage, the rail and track environment and the mechanisms for inspection, were not addressed within the standard.”

After the derailment, 126 higher risk sites were inspected from a total population of about 1000 unsealed road crossings on Victoria’s regional network. A more careful, detailed assessment of the rail, sleepers and fastenings was undertaken at these locations.

Of the sites inspected, 111 had sufficient data for assessment and analysis.

Two were identified as having priority faults due to web reduced thickness, and 58% were found to have foot height loss meeting the criteria for priority attention.

Deterioration was also found in fixtures and about 25% of crossings had sleepers identified as ineffective. On the Bendigo-Swan Hill section of track, which includes Pyramid Hill, 30% of unsealed crossings were inspected, of which 21% were identified as requiring immediate remedial works – this compares to 12% across the full sample set, the ATSB said.

The Safety Bureau also found that V/Line, and Transport Safety Victoria (the regulator at the time) missed an opportunity to potentially fix these issues following an earlier derailment, at Warracknabeal two years prior.

“In response to the [Warracknabeal] incident, the frequency of ultrasonic inspection on freight lines was increased from every three years to every two years [annual inspections on passenger lines remained in place], and Speno re-emphasised with its operators the requirement to hand test if indications of corrosion were identified during automated ultrasonic testing.”

These ATSB found these changes were not sufficient, however.

“An opportunity was missed to undertake a wider review of track condition monitoring at unsealed crossings and to review the standard of construction at such crossings,” the Bureau found.

Overall, the Bureau found a trio of safety issues associated with the derailment.

One issue was classed as a contributing factor to the incident:

  • The track inspection regime did not identify the deteriorated rail condition at the O’Tooles Road level crossing. The regime placed an over-reliance on ultrasonic testing and did not include sufficient supplementary systems for monitoring the condition of buried track at unsealed level crossings.

The other two identified safety issues were defined as increasing risk in the lead-up to the incident:

  • The ultrasonic testing regime was not effective in consistently identifying corrosion and wasting of the rail web at unsealed level crossings.
  • The method of constructing crossings at unsealed roads heightened the potential for corrosion and track degradation and limited the opportunity for effective visual inspection. The network standard for crossing construction did not directly address the particular challenges of unsealed roads.

Read the full report at

Tram platform upgrade. Photo: Yarra Trams

Work kicks off to upgrade tram stop

Work has begun on a new tram terminus in East Brunswick, Melbourne, as part of ongoing accessibility upgrades to Route 96.

The new terminus at Blyth Street, East Brunswick, will have two tracks instead of the existing one, and a 33 metre platform that is aimed to improve safety for passengers boarding and alighting.

The work also allows for real-time passenger information, upgraded passenger amenities and improved access to E-Class trams, Yarra Trams said on June 26.

Yarra explained the current tram stop, located south of Blyth Street, experiences high patronage.

“The stop currently functions as a safety zone stop located in the middle of a busy road and the terminus is restricted to one track generating delays to both trams and vehicles,” the operator explained.

“To improve the functionality of the area, the tram stop and terminus will be relocated north of Blyth Street and upgraded with a new level access platform and a dual-track terminus.”

Yarra Trams is looking to make Route 96 Melbourne’s first fully accessible tram line.

“These works are critical to the ongoing improvement of the network and will help cater for future public transport demand,” the company said.

Melbourne Port lease passes lower house

The Port of Melbourne Lease Transaction Bill has passed through Victoria’s Legislative Assembly, the state’s lower house, despite strong opposition from the Coalition and Greens.

The Port of Melbourne Lease Transaction Bill will now make its way to the Legislative Council, the state’s upper house.

Labor said the long-term-lease proceeds would go to the Victorian Transport Fund (VTF) to be used to support the removal of Victoria’s 50 ‘worst’ level crossings, building the Melbourne Metro rail project, and the West Gate Distributor.

Opposition leader Matthew Guy announced earlier this week that the Liberal-Nationals would recommend an inquiry to the upper house, potentially stalling the lease which is due for passage early next year.

The Coalition are opposed to the Bill in its current form due to clauses that would likely create a long-term, private port monopoly that kills off the development of a second container port for 70 years, and would allow the government to regulate port prices.

“This bill will be a noose around the necks of Victorians for the next three generations,” shadow minister Michael O’Brien said.

“In previous incarnations Labor governments gave us the desalination plant disaster, the myki mess, the smart meter stuff-up and the pokies licensing lemon.

“We will not stand by while it adds this port rot to its list of financial disasters for Victoria.”

And Tasmania’s minister for infrastructure Rene Hidding said his government is likely to make a submission to any inquiry.

Tasmania relies heavily on the port and complains a price hike would undermine its competitiveness.

Meanwhile, Peter Van Duyn, a maritime and logistics scholar from Victoria University, said the opposition’s blocking of the legislation could leave a multi-billion dollar hole in the state budget.