Coal Train Photo Hunter Valley Coal Chain Coordinator

Shutdowns on Hunter network this week

The Australian Rail Track Corporation is conducting a range of rail maintenance tasks on the Hunter Valley coal chain this week.

Starting on Tuesday, May 19 at 6am and scheduled to run through until late Thursday evening, May 22, the scheduled maintenance is resulting in a shutdown of the line.

ARTC’s executive general manager for the Hunter, Jonathan Vandervoort, said the shutdown is particularly important to ensure the quality and condition of the track was at its best following recent extreme weather events.

With $20 million in rail maintenance planned, as well as the finalisation of major projects, the shutdowns are an important part of the coal chain calendar, Vandervoort said.

“These shutdowns are planned more than a year in advance to allow customers to manage their throughput and production schedules and to ensure integration across the intricately managed Hunter coal chain.

“We recognise there is som disruption when important works like this take place.”

Over a thousand ARTC staff and contractors are at work in dozens of sites across the Hunter rail corridor from Newcastle to Narrabri and from Muswellbrook to Ulan.

“We appreciate the patience and understanding of our customers and the community as these works are vital to keeping the network reliable and safe.

“We would especially like to ask motorists to take care near the rail corridor, as there will be more trucks on the road than usual, entering and exiting work sites,” Vandervoort said over the weekend.

ARTC’s next major network-wide maintenance shutdown is scheduled between July 14 and 16.

Level Crossing Victoria. Photo: Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources

Contract awarded for first four level crossing removals

The Andrews Government has announced the winning contractor to remove four level crossings, the first in a plan to remove 50 of the state’s most dangerous.

A John Holland and KBR consortium will remove the four level crossings, at Centre Road in Bentleigh, North Road in Ormond, McKinnon Road in McKinnon and Burke Road in Glen Iris, under a $524 million package.

At each location, the rail line will be lowered under the road, with Bentleigh, Ormond, McKinnon and Gardiner stations rebuilt to provide street level access down to the platforms.

“These level crossings frustrate motorists, hold back our train system and put lives at risk every day. The only way to fix them is to get rid of them, and we’re getting on with it,” Andrews said on Tuesday.

“We’ve awarded the contract for the first four crossings. Works will start within weeks and in a few years they’ll be gone.”

Minister for transport Jacinta Allan gave some insight into the methodology behind awarding the first four crossings together.

“Delivering the works at the four sites as one package means safer roads, better stations and more trains sooner, with less disruption,” Allan said.

“The new stations will be safer, more accessible and easier to get to, with better connections to trams and buses.”

At Burke Road, where significant community consultation has already taken place, construction will kick-off in the coming weeks.

Community engagement will be carried out at Centre, North and McKinnon roads over the coming months, with construction to start later this year.

This consultation will start with an information booth at Bentleigh Station in the afternoon of May 20, where interested locals can discuss the project with team members.

Andrews said the projects will create more than 350 jobs, and will be complete by 2018.

The contract for the next four level crossing removals and an Expression of Interest for level crossings along the Cranbourne-Pakenham line will be announced shortly.

The Labor Government provided $2.4 billion in the 2015-16 Victorian Budget for the removal of at least 20 level crossings in its first term.

Amtrak derailment - Photo NTSB

FBI called in to probe projectile theory

Investigators have called on the FBI following speculation that an Amtrak train, which derailed last week in Northern Philadelphia, was struck with a projectile.

Train 188 was operating between Washington, D.C. and New York, N.Y. when it derailed on a curve just after going through Philadelphia.

8 passengers were killed, and more than 200 are reportedly injured – at least 11 critically.

National Transport Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt shed more light on the situation towards the end of last week, conducting two more press conferences on-site, following his initial press conference on Wednesday (local time) last week.

Sumwalt has confirmed media speculation that the train was exceeding 100 miles per hour just before it entered the curve where it derailed.

In his second conference last week, he was able to be more specific, saying that video evidence from the train’s locomotive car showed more precisely the speed in the lead-up to the incident.

Sumwalt said just over a minute before the derailment, the train speed went above 70 miles per hour (113 km/h).

22 seconds later, it had accelerated to 80 miles per hour (129 km/h). 12 seconds after that – around half a minute prior to the derailment – it had reached 90 miles per hour (145 km/h).

16 seconds before the end of the recording, Sumwalt detailed, the train went through the 100 miles per hour (161km/h) mark. The curve ahead of the train, where it eventually derailed, has an authorised speed of 50 miles per hour.

“Just before entering the curve is when the engineer applied the engineer-induced [emergency] braking,” Sumwalt described.

“And I would describe it as mere seconds into the turn, we can see the train tilting approximately 10 degrees to the right, and then the recording went blank.”

Sumwalt denied media rumours that the engineer was not talking with the NTSB, and said the engineer was “extremely cooperative” with investigators, but was accompanied by his lawyer, which is “not unusual”.

“He recalls ringing the train bell as he went through the North Philadelphia station,” Sumwalt said. “But he has no recollection of anything past that.”

Amtrak’s North Philadelphia station is around 4.5km from the derailment site.

“He said that he did not feel fatigued, nor did he report any illness,” Sumwalt explained.

The engineer reported no problems with his train handling, “and when asked he demonstrated a very good working knowledge of the territory,” Sumwalt said. “Speed limitations, things like that.”

The 32-year-old engineer began his railroad career while in college, as a brake man, then started with Amtrak in 2006 and has been a locomotive engineer since 2010.


Projectile theory

While investigators are treating the incident as an accident, they have called in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to look at what is believed to be an impact point on the train’s windshield, from a projectile prior to the derailment.

The train’s 39-year-old assistant conductor (one of two assistant conductors on board), who started with Amtrak in 2011, was in the fourth car – the Café car – when the incident occurred.

“She stated that before departing Washington the entire crew conducted a safety briefing, where they went over all of the speed restrictions along their intended route,” Sumwalt outlined.

“She reported it was a normal run through Philadelphia

“She reported that approximately 3-4 minutes after departing Philadelphia, she said she heard the [Amtrak] engineer talking to a SEPTA engineer.”

SEPTA is the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority – the local regional train operator.

“She recalled that the SEPTA engineer reported to the train dispatcher that he had either been hit by a rock, or shot at,” Sumwalt said.

“The SEPTA engineer said that he had a broken windshield and he placed his train into emergency stop.

“She also believed that she heard her engineer saying his train was struck by something.”

The train derailed shortly after the assistant conductor reportedly heard this message.

“Our investigation has not independently confirmed this information,” Sumwalt explained, “but we have seen damage to the left-hand lower portion of the Amtrak windshield, which we have asked the FBI to come in and look at for us.”

The train’s 35-year-old, second assistant conductor, hired by Amtrak in May 2014, was in the last passenger car with about 40 passengers on board. He reported some radio issues during the journey, but nothing else untoward prior to the incident.

Both assistant conductors said they had a happy working relationship with the train’s engineer.

The train’s conductor, the fourth and final member of the on-board crew, had not been interviewed by the NTSB as at the end of last week, due to hospitalisation.

Over this past weekend the NTSB began the process of reconstructing the train at its facility.

No anomalies were recorded in any of Train 188’s pre-inspection records taken prior to its journey. Track geometry inspection, performed the day before the accident, found no anomalies either.

In 1943, a train derailed on the same curved section of track as Train 188, killing 79 and injuring 117. That incident was reportedly caused by overheating, which led to a broken axle.

Robert Sumwalt NTSB press conference

Derailed train approached bend at over 160km/h

A train which derailed at a rail bend in north Philadelphia earlier this week, killing at least seven onboard, was travelling at more than twice the authorised speed at that bend, according to the National Transport Safety Bureau.

“Just moments before the derailment, the train was placed into engineer-induced braking,” NTSB board member Robert J. Sumwalt told the media less than a day after the incident.

“Maximum authorised speed through this curve was 50 miles per hour.

“When the engineer-induced brake application was applied, the train was travelling at approximately 106 miles per hour.

“Three seconds later, when the data to the recorders terminated, the train speed was 102 miles per hour.”

Sumwalt said the figures were preliminary, but indicated there was no reason they would be significantly incorrect. “We’re pretty close on that,” he said.

Sumwalt briefed the media on Wednesday afternoon, local time, roughly 20 hours after Amtrak train 188 derailed on a left turn in Port Richmond, north Philadelphia.

The entire train, consisting of one locomotive and seven passenger cars, derailed. 238 passengers and 5 crew were onboard.

The train had forward-facing video camera and an event recorder. Both have been sent to the NTSB’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.

“The locomotive and all but two of the train passenger cars are currently being moved to a secure location where detailed examination and documentation can occur,” Sumwalt said.

“Throughout the next few days investigators will work on scene.”

The NTSB will interview the train’s crew and other personnel, as well as passengers of the train. Train control signals will be tested, as well as the systems on the train itself.

“Our mission is to find out not only what happened, but why it happened, so we can prevent it from happening again,” Sumwalt said.

As of Wednesday evening local time, the NTSB had not spoken with the train’s driver, but Sumwalt said it planned on doing so.

“This person has gone through a very traumatic event, and we want to give him the opportunity to convalesce for a day or two … but that is certainly a high priority for us.”

Related: At least 5 dead, 65 injured in US derailment

Fairfield line - WA PTA

WA Budget: Rolling stock, radios and railways

New rail cars, a radio renewal program and funding commitments for long term projects are all included for the rail industry in WA’s state Budget, announced on Thursday.

State treasurer Mike Nahan said the government recognised the importance of public transport.

“The public transport network plays a critical role in efficiently transporting people and reducing congestion on Perth roads,” Nahan said in his Budget speech.

“In recognition of this, the 2015/16 Budget contains a significant investment in public transport.”

WA will spend $104.4 million on 21 new railcars and 105 Transperth buses in 2015/16.

The government has also committed an undisclosed level of funding to undertake necessary planning for the new C-series railcars, as part of the state’s ten-year program to procure 300 railcars between 2018 and 2028, at a total cost of $1.2 billion.

Nahan also committed $53.4 million over the forward estimates for the Public Transport Authority’s radio replacement project, which is being conducted due to the planned closure of the analogue spectrum by 2020.

$18.7 million will go to the Transperth Rail Resilience Package, a program designed to reduce the likelihood of “infrastructure-related incidents,” while also improving network reliability and safety.

Finally, Nahan committed $45.5 million towards the $2 billion Forrestfield-Airport Link – a rail project which is planned to deliver a 20 minute rail journey to the airport for citizens living in Perth’s eastern suburbs, by 2020.

The Forrestfield-Airport is expected to create 2000 jobs during construction, which is due to start in 2016, Nahan said.

The treasurer said the project, and other infrastructure initiatives, were vital as WA transitions from its largest ever investment and construction phase to a production and export phase.

“There’s no doubt our eastern suburbs communities will also enjoy improved facilities and liveability,” he added.

“The Gateway WA [road] project will revolutionise key transport routes around the Perth Airport and important industrial areas, and the Forrestfield-Airport Link will accelerate the development of the eastern suburbs and give them easy access to the city.”

Hockey Budget Photo: Youtube / Joe Hockey MP

Parts of rail do like the Budget

While most of the news and opinion concerning the rail industry following Tuesday’s Federal Budget has been negative, there are at least two key stakeholders who have found things to like.

TasRail on Thursday bucked the trend by welcoming the Budget.

The state-owned operator thanked the Abbott Government for a $59.8 million investment, which will be matched by the Tasmanian Government, to create a $119.6 million Infrastructure Investment Program (IIP).

TasRail chief executive officer Damien White said the funding would deliver further improvements to the safety and reliability of the network and provide an increased level of certainty for TasRail’s customers.

“It’s certainly good news for our customers as well as those currently considering a shift from road to rail,” White announced.

A prioritised program of works has been developed to support the investment, which TasRail will funnel into its Rail Revitalisation Program.

“We’ve been working constructively with the Federal Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development and the Tasmanian Department of State Growth to prepare appropriate documentation in support of the investment,” White explained.

Works to upgrade prioritised sections of the Western Line, the South Line and the Melba Line could commence within weeks, subject to weather.

The funding will also provide for selected re-railing, re-sleepering and drainage works on the Fingal, Bell Bay and Derwent Valley Lines, TasRail said.

“Investment in infrastructure upgrades and new assets, combined with TasRail’s focus on business excellence, has helped to achieve a turnaround in the performance of the rail freight business,” White continued.

“The rate of derailments has halved, operating costs have reduced and we’ve seen a step change in the efficiency and productivity of our operations.

“All of this translates to an ongoing increase in freight volumes on rail, growing customer confidence and the attraction of new business opportunities.”


Another industry member to praise the Federal Budget was Inland Rail Implementation Group chair, John Anderson.

Shadow infrastructure minister Anthony Albanese on Thursday wrote in Rail Express that since the Coalition promised to get on with Inland Rail prior to the election, this was the second Federal Budget where no extra funding (aside from the original $300 million) had been committed.

But Anderson, who was the leader of the National Party throughout the first half of last decade, welcomed the Budget “and its continuing commitment to deliver Inland Rail”.

Anderson said there was no need for extra funds until his Implementation Group had finished putting together a report for the Government.

“While additional funds will be required for further development and construction, they are not required immediately,” Anderson reasoned.

“There are sufficient funds presently available for the pre-construction work to continue, which is being ably led by the ARTC on the Government’s behalf.

The Implementation Group’s report is expected to Government in mid-2015, he said.

“The Implementation Group’s report will provide Government with the advice it needs to release further funds for construction in next year’s Budget.

“Inland Rail is a bigger project than expected. It has required significant additional work to develop the business case and delivery plan, and to ensure that it is robust.

“There have also been delays in the work undertaken due to the change in government in Queensland.”

Anderson said work undertaken to date has been “the most detailed of any work on Inland Rail,” and puts the Government in a good position for the implementation.

“I look forward to benefits that Inland Rail will provide to the national freight task,” Anderson concluded.

Port of Fremantle - Photo Fremantle Ports

Fremantle Port for sale amid ‘perfect storm’

Colin Barnett will sell WA’s biggest container port, Fremantle, to raise funds for rail projects through difficult financial conditions.

The premier dropped the bombshell news during Thursday’s state Budget, saying that in the face of ballooning net debt, a collection of state-owned assets would be privatised.

Fremantle, which handles 700,000 TEUs* each year, is the top asset on the list.

“The decision to pursue a sensible program of further asset sales will enable the Government to build new infrastructure to support future growth without putting further pressure on the State’s finances,” Barnett explained.

State treasurer Mike Nahan forecast a net operating balance deficit of $2.7 billion for 2015/16, leaving the state with a net debt of $31 billion by the end of June next year.

As well as Fremantle, Nahan confirmed WA would sell the state-owned TAB, the Forest Products Commission and other assets.

The treasurer said the Government was responding to the “perfect storm” of economic conditions which has led to a $3.9 billion revenue fall in 2015/16 (down 13%), and a forecast $10.21 billion decline between 2014/15 and 2017/18.

“Commodity prices have plummeted, our share of GST revenue has been driven to record lows and softening economic conditions have directly reduced all other major sources of State tax revenue,” Nahan reasoned.

The Federal Government recently announced a $499 million packet would be delivered to relieve the state, but that funding was directly assigned by the Commonwealth to a selection of road projects around WA.

At least some of the funding from asset sales, however, would be directed to rail projects and new rolling stock, Nahan said.

“This is a good outcome for Western Australia,” the treasurer insisted.

“We will build the Forrestfield line, we will get the rolling stock and we will reduce debt.”

Currently, just 14% of Fremantle’s containers are handled by rail.

But the port corporation has a long term goal to lift that to 30%, with rail considered more economically and socially sensible.

And if history is any indication, the privatisation of a commercial port like Fremantle should accelerate commercial improvements like that one.

Fremantle could be sold in a package deal with the nearby Kwinana Bulk Terminal, which currently is listed under the same port authority.

Kwinana was put up for sale in 2014, along with the Utah Point bulk terminal at Port Hedland in the Pilbara region.

The Utah Point sale is reportedly off the cards, however, due to the struggles of primary customer Atlas Iron, and the dip in the price of iron ore.


*TEU refers to a twenty-foot equivalent unit, a classification used to give a single measurement for a number of shipping containers, which are commonly either forty, or twenty feet in length.

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.

Melbourne Metro Train. Photo: Creative Commons / Zed Fitzhume

Victoria to clamp down on station skipping

Public Transport Victoria will begin publishing the number of stations skipped by trains on the metro network, in a transparency move by the Andrews Government.

Public transport minister Jacinta Allan says the number of stations skipped by metropolitan trains will be published each month on the Public Transport Victoria website, “as part of a push by the Andrews Labor Government to further reduce the practice”.

Public Transport Victoria’s monthly Track Record report usually features punctuality and overall service data for the state’s metro and country trains, and trams. The report will now include data on station skipping.

Allan said the data will show the number and proportion of overall services that run express when they were not timetabled to, as well as historical data, so trends in station skipping can be monitored.

The minister said that while there’s been a 0.5% per cent drop in station skipping since the election, to just 0.2% of services, the practice was still a serious concern for many passengers.

This month’s Track Record report showed 97 Metro services ran as unplanned express, out of the more than 60,000 scheduled services.

Allan said greater transparency would give passengers the accountability they deserve and help to improve train punctuality.

“Passengers need a train system that actually works and we’re delivering it,” Allan campaigned.

“While the previous Liberal Government defended station skipping, Labor is taking a strong stand against it.

“By publishing the data, passengers will get the transparency they deserve. If Victorian’s don’t like what they see, then more will need to be done to put an end to the practice.”

Allan said the government has already had discussions with PTV and Metro about how skipping can be reduced within the current contractual arrangements, and will ensure the issue is addressed in future contract negotiations.

Wentworth Falls station - Photo: Creative Commons / Abesty

Wentworth Falls upgrades gain planning approval

Transport for NSW is assessing tenders to find a construction partner, after planning approval was received for improvements at Wentworth Falls Station, on the Main Western Line in the Blue Mountains.

“This is great news for Wentworth Falls and other Blue Mountains residents who are keen to see the station become accessible to all customers for the first time,” transport minister Andrew Constance said.

“They will benefit from three new lifts providing easy access to the footbridge and platforms from new station forecourts.

“We’re also upgrading footpaths and landscaping, new kiss and ride areas, bike parking facilities and accessible toilets.”

Once a contractor is on board, the project will progress to detailed design and major construction.

The plans for the station upgrade were publicly exhibited last year.

Transport for NSW says all feedback was considered by the project team and will be used to guide the design as it develops in the future.

Transport says the existing heritage features of the station area have been taken into consideration, with the NSW Government set to work with heritage consultants as the design is progressed to ensure characteristics are preserved.

The planned retention of mature trees will also assist in maintaining the character of the area, Transport says, with the added benefit of screening the new infrastructure – reportedly a reoccurring topic in community feedback.

The station improvements are part of the Transport Access Program, a NSW Government plan which has developed lift and other access improvements at several stations around the NSW network.