Port of Fremantle - Photo Fremantle Ports

Rail struggle in Fremantle due to ‘shorthaul’ competition

WA transport minister Dean Nalder says while the government is trying to get more freight on rail running through the Port of Fremantle, the mode is not a natural fit for the bulk of its trade.

Nalder has told WA parliament that current market share for freight moved by rail is around 14%.

The government hopes to lift that figure to a 30% share for rail, but the distance travelled by most of Fremantle’s containers is inhibiting that transition.

“It is difficult for rail to compete effectively with road over the shorthaul distances which are involved with the greater part of the Fremantle container trade,” the minister said.

According to Nalder, the state government’s key strategies to increase the percentage of freight moved by rail from Fremantle Ports include investment in railway infrastructure at the port and on lines running to and from the port; improvements in efficiency of rail operations; and continuing subsidies for containers moved by train.

Nalder expects the port of Fremantle to reach maximum container capacity in eight years if there is a high average annual growth rate.

Alternatively a low average annual growth rate would mean the port will not reach capacity for 21 years (through to 2036).

Nalder said the current estimated annual container capacity at the port is between 1.2 and 1.4 million 20ft equivalent units (teus).

The most recent truck survey, taken in 2014, determined that an average of 2600 container vehicles were visiting the port each week day.

Lift upgrade at Joondalup Station - Photo PTA WA

Joondalup lift upgrade part of 6-station, $7.1m plan

The Public Transport Authority of WA has completed a major lift upgrade at Joondalup Station, as part of a $7.1m plan to upgrade 20-year-old facilities at six Perth stations.

WA transport minister Dean Nalder earlier this month announced the completion of the lift replacement at Joondalup, which began in January and was completed inside its three-month timeline.

The new, bigger lift can accommodate two large wheelchairs at a time, Nalder said.

“I accept the temporary closure of the lift created difficulty for some passengers,” Nalder said. “This has been undertaken with the very best of intentions so that the lift is reliable in the long-term.”

“A growing number of people rely on public transport and for passengers with accessibility challenges, our rail and bus systems are incredibly important. So we must ensure our facilities are accessible and operational.”

The project team removed the lift and built a new steel structure within the operating train station. To reduce the impact on passengers, the project was shortened from four months to three.

The works are part of a $7.1 million project to replace lifts and escalators at the following stations:

  • Warwick
  • Joondalup
  • Whitfords
  • Stirling
  • Glendalough
  • Perth Station (some facilities, not all)

“I understand that passengers with mobility issues, or prams and young children may have had to change their travel plans due to these works,” Nalder concluded, “but I believe it will improve their journeys on the Transperth system in the long term.”

Coal Train Photo Hunter Valley Coal Chain Coordinator

Hunter Valley network on track; North Coast remains closed

The Australian Rail Track Corporation is still unable to operate serviced beyond Maitland, but main line operations for local passenger trains have returned to the Hunter network since it was closed last week due to flooding.

The ARTC said on Sunday night that the Hunter Valley network should be opened by Monday morning, but confirmed that the North Coast line would remain closed.

Following flooding and high winds last week, the ARTC shut the Hunter Valley network between Maitland and the Port of Newcastle, along with its North Coast network.

Initially the authority believed it could re-open the Hunter network on Friday last week, but flood waters were slow to retreat, and the ARTC announced a further closer to the Hunter network of 48 hours.

The ARTC said on Monday that it would be able to give a forecast for return to services between Maitland and the port sometime on Tuesday afternoon.

“With flood waters dropping over the weekend and improved weather conditions, ARTC teams have been able to make good progress with repairs to the track between the Port of Newcastle and Maitland,” the ARTC said.

A Pacific National test train was run on the track to de-scale the rail and ensure all repaired signaling and track circuitry was working properly.

“The Maitland flood gates remain up but water has been dropping at a rate that we expect the gates to be removed tomorrow morning,” the ARTC said.

“There are still sections of track with high water levels around Wallis Creek, and this will be the key area of focus for our team after the flood gates come down.

“Some parts of the network are still without power, and there remains a sizeable track repair and signalling repair job to take place over coming days.”

The ARTC said crews will continue to work through the week to return the track to normal operating conditions.

“Residents are advised that this will involve heavy track repair machines working around-the-clock conducting track resurfacing and rail grinding.

“This is essential to get the network back up and running and we apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

The corporation said it will continue to work with customers and the Hunter coal chain on an operational start up plan for coal, passenger and general freight that will take into account the need to meet passenger timetables, provide coal customers with access to the port, “and above all, safety”.

The North Coast network, which sustained substantial damage during last week’s extreme weather – including severe ballast washouts and several landslips – remains closed, with no forecast for re-opening yet offered by the ARTC.

Melbourne Tram

PTV chair steps down

Public Transport Victoria chairman Ian Dobbs has told premier Daniel Andrews he will not be returning to his post at the end of his current term on June 30.

Andrews announced on Friday that Dobbs had informed him he would step down.

“Earlier today Ian Dobbs advised me that he would not be seeking another term as Chair of the Public Transport Victoria Board,” Andrews said on Friday, April 24.

“Ian has had a long and decorated career in public transport, both here and overseas.

“As inaugural chair and chief executive officer of PTV, he was a strong advocate for better public transport for Victoria.”

Andrews said Dobbs’ work will be continued through ongoing projects, including the much-talked-about Melbourne Metro Rail, the Level Crossing Removal Project and a number of other PTV projects.

“On behalf of the Government, I would like to thank Ian for his significant contribution to Victoria over many years and wish him all the best for the future,” Andrews concluded.

Dobbs was named inaugural chief executive and chairman when PTV was founded in April 2012. As per legislation, Dobbs handed the role of chief executive over to Mark Wild on February 1, 2014.

Before taking up his role at PTV, Dobbs led the former Victorian Public Transport Corporation from 1993 to 1998.

Moreton Bay Queensland Government

ARA backs Queensland in federal funding fight

Australasian Railway Association chief executive Bryan Nye has backed Queensland transport minister Jackie Trad’s call for federal funding of urban rail, calling the Moreton Bay Rail line “symbolic” of a better time.

Trad on Wednesday inspected the first train lines being placed down on the $1 billion project, and used the occasion to tell the media she was campaigning for the federal government to alter its stoic stance against urban rail funding – and would continue to do so.

Nye welcomed the project milestone, but said the Moreton Bay project was more significant to the rail industry than that.

“The construction of this rail line is symbolic, because it represents more than just decreased city congestion, efficient public transport services and a safer way to travel,” Nye said on Thursday.

“It represents a time when the federal government worked with the states to build the infrastructure this country needs, which is on the railway networks of our biggest cities.”

The Moreton Bay Rail Link was funded $583 million by the federal government, $300 million by the Queensland government, and $105 million by the local council.

Once complete, the new infrastructure will connect Lawnton to Kippa-Ring via 14km of double track, including six new stations and 22 bridge structures to provide grade separation of road and rail.

“Australia as a nation is facing increasingly serious economic, social and environmental problems with traffic congestion clogging our roads, transport emissions choking our urban environment, higher cost of living and the continued growth of our major cities,” Nye continued.

“What is needed is investment in an integrated transport system that links our roads, rail and ports to help move the growing numbers of people and goods across Australia.”

Nye said the ARA hopes to continue to work with all levels on government in ensuring that the right infrastructure choices are made for rail.

“State governments cannot be expected to foot the bill for the increasing passenger rail infrastructure needed in our cities,” he said.

“It is through the collaborative efforts of governments on key infrastructure projects, like the Moreton Bay Rail Line, that true potential for rail and other key infrastructure projects can be realised.”

rail damage - Transport NSW

Hunter network to remain closed; North Coast significantly damaged

After it originally thought it could re-open its Hunter Valley network as early as Thursday afternoon, the Australian Rail Track Corporation has announced the network will remain closed for at least 48 hours longer.

Re-opening of the ARTC’s North Coast network looks to be even further away, with significant damage recorded and crews scrambling just to get a grip on just how much repair work is needed.

The ARTC said on Wednesday night the Hunter Valley coal network was expected to re-open on Thursday afternoon, but warned that “the reopening [of the Hunter Valley network] remains contingent on improved weather conditions and receding water levels which continue to hamper repair works.”

It appears that those conditions did not improve for the ARTC overnight.

Due to high flood waters, the Maitland flood gates being closed and continued difficult conditions, the forecast for a return of Hunter Valley operations was revised on Thursday around noon, with a re-opening pushed back “an additional 48 hours at the earliest.”

The ARTC closed the Hunter and North Coast networks on Monday, due to  extreme weather and flooding in the region.

With the extended difficult conditions, the Hunter Valley network will remain closed now, meaning Hunter coal train, freight and passenger services remain suspended.

Re-opening of the North Coast network, which suffered major damage to its ballast at various points, looks to be even further away, however.

“The ARTC network along the mid-North Coast around Dungog remains closed and there is no current forecast for re-opening,” ARTC said on Wednesday.

“Initial track inspections indicate more than 18 sites have experienced significant washaways or landslips and each will require significant reinstatement works.”

ARTC confirmed on Thursday that its crews have now identified 22 work sites along the line, which require “significant repair works,” with “a large amount of track underwater”.

In one of those landslip sites, the ARTC said, a large embankment, approximately 8m high and 75m in length, washed out and across the rail line.

“The high water has compounded the response task and 14km of track between Paterson and Telarah is either under water or still unable to be inspected due to flooding and access being closed off (both on foot and by road),” the ARTC said.

“Given the nature and the extent of the damage ARTC is mobilising a dedicated project team to coordinate the repair and recovery efforts required. Project planning and sourcing equipment, material, supplies and other resources is underway.”

The ARTC said the damage to the rail line is believed to be worse than that of the 2007 floods in the same region.

“The scale of the response and high water levels mean ARTC is unable to provide a forecast for a return to operations for this section of the network.”

flooding photo transport for nsw

Transport NSW Info shares more flooding images, video

Transport NSW Info again utilised social media on Wednesday to convey to its customers the extent of the interruptions which caused delays across the greater Sydney and northern NSW transport network.

The Facebook page for Transport NSW Info has seen a more than 300% increase in it’s followers in the past week, and the public transport authority has used its new reach to share videos and photos of the flooding across the transport network.

Around noon on Wednesday the authority shared the following.

Flooding at Bardwell Park has caused the partial closure of the T2 Airport Line between Turrella and Revesby. A limited…

Posted by Transport NSW Info on Tuesday, April 21, 2015

And later in the day, Transport NSW Info shared an incredible video showing a 45 minute period in which Bardwell Park Station was surrounded by flood water, garnering more than 5,000 ‘likes’ and half-a-million views in just four hours.

This timelapse CCTV footage from Bardwell Park Station captures flood waters rising over 45 minutes, forcing the partial…

Posted by Transport NSW Info on Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Rolling delays and closures have occurred on the NSW and Sydney rail networks this week due to extreme weather impacting the state’s east coast.

Rio Tinto train - Photo Rio Tinto

Train derailment slowed Rio exports last quarter

Mining giant Rio Tinto has put lower quarterly sales through the first three months of 2015 down to bad weather, and a train derailment.

Rio announced its quarterly production results to the ASX on Tuesday, which included quarterly sales for its Pilbara iron ore business of 69.3 million tonnes.

While that figure was 8% up on the same quarter in 2014, it was down 12% on the previous quarter.

“This was a result of weather impacts from Tropical Cyclone Olwyn and a train derailment which temporarily blocked the inload train circuit at Dampier,” Rio said in its report.

There is no investigation listed by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau relating to the derailment.

While analysts were skeptical that the unlucky operational quarter in the Pilbara would allow Rio to achieve its 350 million tonne target for its Australian and Canadian iron ore ventures in the 2015 calendar year, the miner remained confident.

“Rio Tinto expects 2015 global shipments approaching 350 million tonnes … from its operations in Australia and Canada,” the miner said. “Shipments and production are each subject to weather conditions.”

Rather than luck, chief executive Sam Walsh said the company’s success would come down to the efforts it has made to streamline its operations around the world.

“We continue to drive efficiency in all aspects of our business,” Walsh said, “which is reflected in our solid production performance during the first quarter.

“By making best use of our high quality assets, low cost base and operating and commercial capability our aim is to protect our margins in the face of declining prices and maximise returns for shareholders throughout the cycle.”

Since its most recent peak at roughly US$140 a tonne just over a year ago, the price of iron ore has declined dramatically, to below US$47 a tonne at times in April, before settling this week around the US$50 mark.

For many of Australia’s smaller iron ore producers, the decline has meant the shutting down – or consideration of shutting down – of mines and export operations.

But for Rio and fellow big player BHP Billiton, the price decline simply means slimmer profit margins. Unlike many mining juniors, and Fortescue Metals Group, Rio and BHP produce market-grade iron ore for less than the current spot price, so they can still turn a profit.

What Rio’s temporary slowdown tells the market is that the price decline is not being driven solely by oversupply – Rio sent 10 million tonnes less into the seabourne market in the first quarter of 2015 than it did in the last quarter of 2014 – but that demand really is that bad.

UBS mining analyst Glyn Lawcock, quoted in Wednesday’s AFR, in fact said it appears that “Australia’s exports actually over the last six months look to have trended down”.

“What that tells you right now is that the weakness in the iron ore price hasn’t actually been the producers’ fault,” Lawcock was quoted. “It tells you that demand has been pretty poor over the past quarter.”

Aurizon Train

Fair Work supports Aurizon in ‘landmark’ decision

Aurizon has welcomed a decision by the Fair Work Commission to terminate expired enterprise agreements from May 18, in which the Commission found the rail operator’s bargaining to be “rationally based,” while the unions’ was “not common”.

Queensland-based Aurizon is in the middle of a prolonged bargaining saga with a number of unions, including AFULE, QSU, CEPU, AMWU, RTBU, APESMA and Together Queensland.

The rail operator is trying to negotiate new deals for its Queensland workforce, which was formerly covered by a set of 14 enterprise agreements.

Two of those enterprise agreements have already been replaced by a single deal which was agreed to and formalised on January 21.

But the majority of employees are still not accounted for under new contracts, and are currently working under the remaining 12 expired enterprise agreements.

Under the Fair Work Act 2009, enterprise agreements continue to operate after their nominal expiry date until they are replaced.

But if the Fair Work Commission decides – upon application from either party – to terminate the enterprise agreement, the workers formerly under that deal would no longer be covered.

In this case, the Commission has approved Aurizon’s request, and the termination will occur on May 18, 2015.

That means negotiations can no longer be easily stalled by either side, as that deadline approaches. Aurizon said the decision should get the ball rolling again on negotiation talks.

“This is a landmark decision, not only for Aurizon but in the broader context for Australian industrial relations,” Aurizon managing director and chief executive Lance Hockridge 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,” Hockridge explained.

“We anticipate today’s decision will assist us in moving towards that outcome.”

The decision from the Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission said many of the provisions sought by the unions so far in negotiations were not common in most enterprise agreements.

“They restrict Aurizon in making business changes that it wishes to make in response to a competitive market situation,” the Commission said. “The restrictive provisions restrain Aurizon’s capacity to effectively manage its labour resource needs.”

Meanwhile, the Commission found Aurizon’s goals to be reasonable.

“Aurizon has endeavoured to negotiate changes to those provisions but the lengthy and comprehensive negotiations have not led to an agreement,” the Commission found.

“Many of the changes sought by Aurizon in the negotiations seem to us to be rationally based.

“We readily understand its desire that its now private sector business no longer be restrained by provisions that were effectively imposed through the privatisation process.

“We do not think the changes proposed [by Aurizon], objectively viewed, involve exploitation or unfairness in the terms and conditions of employment of Aurizon employees.”

rail damage - Transport NSW

Photos show alarming damage to track at Dungog

Transport NSW Info has shared a pair of photos showing significant damage to rail infrastructure north of Dungog as a result of the extreme weather conditions experienced in NSW on Tuesday.

“Today’s severe weather conditions have disrupted many public transport services across the state,” Transport NSW Info wrote on its Facebook page just after noon on Tuesday.

“The Hunter Line remains closed due to flooding at Hexham. These pictures show the damage to the track north of Dungog.”