Philadelphia derailment. Graphic: Google Maps / Inset: Philadelphia Fire Department

At least 5 dead, 65 injured in US derailment

At least five people have died, and 65 are reported to be injured after a passenger train derailed north of Philadelphia.

Amtrak Northeast Regional Train 188 was operating from Washington, D.C. to New York when it derailed at Port Richmond, a neighbourhood in north Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at 9.30pm on Tuesday, May 12 (11.30am on Wednesday, May 13 Australian Eastern Standard Time).

“It is an absolute disastrous mess,” Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said at the scene. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my life, and most personnel will say that as well.”

The incident required a four-alarm response from local emergency crews, with 33 apparatus on scene and 120 firefighters and other emergency personnel responding. It was declared a Level 3 Mass Casualty incident by emergency personnel.

Approximately 238 passengers and 5 Amtrak staff were believed to be on the train when it derailed.

“Unfortunately we can confirm at least five individuals deceased,” Nutter said on Tuesday night.

“Seven cars including the engine are in various stages of disarray; turned over, upside down, and on their side.

“Most individuals were able to walk of the train, and many were transported.”

The National Transport Safety Bureau said on Tuesday night it would launch a “go-team” to investigate the accident, and said the team would arrive on Wednesday morning, local time.

Amtrak, the train operator, said it was “deeply saddened by the loss of life” in the derailment.

“Individuals with questions about their friends and family on this train should call the Amtrak Incident Hotline,” the operator said.

“Local emergency responders are on the scene and an investigation is ongoing.”

Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf said he had been in contact with Mayor Nutter and other state and local officials.

“My thoughts and prayers are with all of those impacted by tonight’s train derailment,” Wolf said.

“For those who lost their lives, those who were injured, and the families of all involved, this situation is devastating. I want to sincerely thank the first responders for their brave and quick action.”

The situation is ongoing.

Warren Truss

Federal Budget: Coalition sticks with “world class” East-West Link

The Federal Budget delivered no major new spending for rail projects, including Inland Rail, but did maintain a $3 billion pledge for Melbourne’s discarded East-West Link tollroad project.

Despite calls from the industry, from the shadow minister for transport and infrastructure Anthony Albanese, and from several states, prime minister Tony Abbott and treasurer Joe Hockey stuck to their guns last night, in favouring urban road spending heavily over rail.

The only rail-centric projects featured in the Budget’s infrastructure spending were those with development already underway, having mostly been started by the former Labor Government.

These included continued funding for the Northern Sydney Freight Corridor in NSW, the Moreton Bay Rail Link in Queensland, and the five-year Freight Rail Revitalisation project in Tasmania.

But despite calls from the ARA and others for a bigger commitment to the Inland Rail project, no new funding was committed by the Federal Government.

Infrastructure minister Warren Truss nonetheless assured that Inland Rail remained a priority, with a promise that the Government would schedule further funding in later Budgets, beyond the existing $300 million commitment.

“Nationally, the Government is committed to lifting the economic performance of our rail freight network,” Truss insisted.

“Inland Rail remains a key commitment to boost our national productivity.

“The Australian Rail Track Corporation is continuing pre-construction work and the final business case, with the delivery plan expected mid-2015.”

Once that final business case has been delivered, Truss said the Government will be in a position to secure more funding.

Meanwhile, the Government reiterated Tony Abbott’s prior position, that any Victorian Government which backed the East-West Link tollroad project would be awarded $3 billion in funding from the Federal level.

Victoria’s new State Government, led by Daniel Andrews, famously scrapped the project after it was kicked off in the lead up to the last election by the former Liberal Government.

Critics of the East-West project have highlighted the poor cost-benefit ratio for the project, estimated in 2013 to be a return of 45 cents for every dollar invested. Project proponents insist that it is a road the city of Melbourne desperately needs. But in scrapping the plan, Premier Andrews made his opinion quite clear: the East-West was a bum steer.

It seems, though, that the Federal Government will not change its mind.

“Tonight the Commonwealth Government has reaffirmed its continuing commitment to the construction of Melbourne’s East West Link, despite the Victorian Government tearing up the project contract,” Truss said on Tuesday evening.

“The Commonwealth Government regards the much-needed East West Link as a project of national significance that will create thousands of jobs and reduce congestion for Victorians.

“The Commonwealth Government will provide $3 billion to the first Victorian Government willing to build the East West Link.”

Recorded in the Budget as a contingent liability, the funding essentially sits, stagnant, waiting for any Victorian Government to take it for the East-West.

“Clearly, the Victorian Government has abandoned responsible governance and created sovereign risk,” Truss opined, “which means the East West Link is being mothballed—delayed but not dead.

“The Victorian Government will waste over half a billion dollars not to build this world class project.

“But the East West Link may still be reinstated at a later date by a government willing to do the right thing by the people of Victoria.”

Truss demanded a return of the $1.5 billion of unspent funding for the project, “consistent with obligations under the Memorandum of Understanding” between Victoria and the Commonwealth.

Truss concluded: “The Commonwealth Government wants to invest in major infrastructure projects of national significance in Victoria should the Victorian Government come forward with credible options.”

Rail industry wish list ahead of Budget

The Australasian Railway Association has outlined three key areas it wants to see addressed in tonight’s Federal Budget.

Last year’s Budget was widely perceived as a horror show for rail.

ARA interim chairman Bob Herbert says he’s disappointed rail has not featured prominently on the Government’s policy agenda over the past year, and says it’s imperative to the rail industry that certain priorities be pursued in future budgets.

“We’ve outlined to Government the importance of creating jobs and economic growth from continued investment in critical rail infrastructure and services throughout Australia,” Herbert said on Friday.

The ARA has put together the rail industry’s wish list for the Budget, dividing it into three key areas which need Federal attention.

 

  1. Inland Rail, and strengthening freight networks

ARA argues the single most important rail project in this Budget cycle and the next is the Inland Rail project. The 1700km-long rail line, which would connect Brisbane to Melbourne via a number of inland regions, would provide Australia’s transport system with a modern, road-competitive rail corridor, the industry lobby says.

Herbert last week called Inland Rail “a critical piece of rail infrastructure … enhancing freight movement along Australia’s east coast”.

The ARA is calling for certainty on the project’s future through a clear and significant funding commitment across the Forward Estimates from the 2016/17 Budget.

It also wants a clearer implementation timeframe and a spending commitment for the existing $300 million toward detailed planning, land acquisition, community consultation and exploration of regional freight rail links.

Commencement of works should take place by late this year, and the project should be complete by 2026, the association said.

 

  1. Investment in major urban rail projects

It’s perhaps the most talked-about aspect of State and Federal Budget balance in recent memory: the Abbott Government does not want to fund urban rail projects, instead funding roads so the states can handle rail in cities.

The ARA is not ready to give up on asking Abbott to change his mind, however.

“State governments cannot be expected to solely foot the bill for passenger rail infrastructure needs of our cities,” Herbert argued.

“Their future productivity and liveability depends on Federal Government investment in an integrated transport system.

“This investment will meet the challenges of rising traffic congestion, increasing costs of living and growing carbon emissions in Australia’s cities.”

The ARA is calling for the Federal Government to co-fund several light and heavy passenger rail projects with state and local governments, including Melbourne Metro Rail, and Brisbane’s Cross River Tunnel project.

The association also wants the continued use of asset recycling, such as on the Capital Metro light rail project in Canberra.

 

  1. Supporting Australian manufacturing, contracting and supply

“Our final platform focusses on the priorities of the suppliers, manufacturers and contractors of the rail industry, who need support from the Federal Government through programs that help to foster innovation and job creation in our local rail sector and assist with forming alliances, partnerships, joint ventures and the like,” Herbert said.

With 110,000 jobs created by the rail industry in Australia, and 16,000 of those in the manufacturing sector, the ARA believes the Federal Government should do more work to provide programs to support innovation and job creation in the sector.

Specifically, the ARA wants to see programs identified which benefit rail’s small to medium enterprises, including programs that address pre-qualification requirements and assistance with forming alliances, partnerships, joint ventures and more.

The ARA also wants the Government to support the standardisation and simplification of the regulatory framework for both passenger and freight networks under a single national rail regulatory body.

 

“The rail industry eagerly awaits this year’s Federal Budget announcement and look forward to progressing these important priorities to ensure a stronger future for rail,” Herbert concluded.


Related story: Albo asks Abbott not to ‘look the other way’ on urban funding

What do you want from tonight’s Federal Budget? Do you agree with the ARA’s goals? Share your thoughts below.

Anthony Albanese, ASA

Albo asks Abbott not to ‘look the other way’ on urban funding

Shadow transport minister Anthony Albanese has again criticised the Abbott Government’s infrastructure plan, ahead of Tuesday’s Federal Budget.

Last week Albanese described cuts in last year’s Budget, and on Monday the shadow transport minister was again on his soapbox, criticising Abbott’s roads over rail infrastructure plan.

“Tony Abbott must deliver genuine new investment in productive infrastructure,” the former deputy prime minister demanded.

“In last year’s Budget, Mr Abbott slashed billions of dollars of planned investment in urban public transport. Despite this he has attempted to mislead Australians by claiming he has lifted infrastructure investment.”

Albanese last week said the prime minister has so far in his term “cut funding to projects approved by Infrastructure Australia such as the Melbourne Metro and the M80, in order to fund the now discredited East-West Link told road without seeing a cost-benefit analysis.”

On Monday, Albanese took the time to address urban congestion in major cities, pleading with the prime minister to reverse his decision and fund rail projects, instead of leaving the states to do it.

“Since taking office, Mr Abbott has completely withdrawn from urban policy, leaving cities around Australia in the lurch,” Albanese said.

“The Coalition has also withdrawn billions of dollars of investment in urban rail, which had been allocated by the previous Labor Government,” he continued.

“If Mr Abbott continues this way, his prejudice against public transport will seriously impact urban congestion and inhibit national economic productivity and jobs growth.

“It will also consign millions of Australians to life in drive-in/drive-out suburbs where there are few jobs and no public transport.”

Albanese said the Labor Party’s approach was more “commonsense”.

“Labor believes the Commonwealth should work with the states to develop a fully integrated transport system that includes roads and passenger rail,” he reiterated.

“Labor knows we can’t afford to look the other way when 80% of Australians live in our cities.”

Track Ballast - photo public domain

Victoria’s 17 ‘worst’ crossings named for removal

Daniel Andrews has revealed some of the Victoria’s worst level crossings, following the announcement in his 2015/16 Budget of a plan to kick-start their removal.

The Victorian premier said data on the 17 ‘worst’ level crossings showed massive delays caused by the intersections, and said road users have every right to be annoyed.

“This data shows the frustration, delay and distress these level crossings create every morning,” Andrews said.

Boom gate data from the worst of the 17 level crossings – at Koornang Road on the Cranbourne-Pakenham line – showed the gates to be down for a maximum of 87 minutes between 7am and 9am on weekdays, or 72.5% of the peak morning period.

On the same line, the Clayton Road intersection is closed for up to 82 minutes every morning peak.

In fact, on the Cranbourne-Pakenham line, the nine crossings listed are closed for more than an hour on average, every morning.

“That’s why we’re removing every level crossing between Dandenong and Caulfield,” Andrews explained.

The Victorian state Budget, announced last week, included a $2.4 billion commitment “to kick-start” the planned removal of 50 of the state’s “most dangerous and congested level crossings”.

The announcement made late last week listed 17 crossings, which will be the first removed under the scheme:

Level Crossings table

 

Victorian public transport minister Jacinta Allan labeled the crossings “congested death traps,” and said they “put pressure on local roads and stop us running more trains”.

“They need to go,” Allan insisted.

“Whether you travel by car, bus or train, removing our worst level crossings will get you to work and back home safer and sooner.”

Graffiti. Photo: Oliver Wolters

Sydney Trains targets graffiti with new sensor system

A high-tech sensor system is being used on “an undisclosed number” of Sydney Trains, to sniff out “graffiti thugs,” Transport for NSW said on Thursday.

According to the transport authority, a number of trains on the Sydney network have been fitted with the “Mousetrap” system, which uses an electronic sensor which detects the vapour of both spray paint, and marker pens.

A detection by the Mousetrap system can trigger CCTV captures of alleged graffiti offenders, which can be passed on to Sydney Trains staff, and Police Transport Command.

NSW minister for transport Andrew Constance on Thursday said the system has already let do the arrest of 30 offenders.

“Mousetrap is our latest weapon in the war against graffiti thugs damaging our trains,” Constance said. “Vandals won’t know where and they won’t know when we’re watching.”

The system is in its early stages of development, but Sydney Trains is confident so far in the initial results.

“We know it’s early days for Mousetrap but its success has been in allowing Sydney Trains to move from a strategy of removing graffiti to one where we stop it as it happens,” Sydney Trains boss Howard Collins explained.

“Our message to graffiti vandals is clear: Spray the paint and run the risk.”

It’s estimated that graffiti removal from Sydney Trains cost taxpayers $34 million last financial year, up from $30 million in the prior period.

Collins says graffiti is the cause of a large proportion of customer complaints, with Sydney Trains removing around 11,000 instances of graffiti every month.

“We know customers feel unsafe when they are using a train which is covered in graffiti and offenders often place themselves and others in danger by trespassing on the railway or being somewhere they shouldn’t,” Collins recognised.

“I am determined to reduce the amount of graffiti vandalism on our train network and to make trains a more attractive option for customers.”

Kwinana Freeway. Photo: Creative Commons / Arno Kohlem

$500m, but not a buck for rail

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has responded to WA’s calls for an increased share of GST revenue, awarding the state with $499 million in infrastructure funding. But none of it’s for rail.

Abbott, in a joint statement with deputy PM Warren Truss and federal finance minister Mathias Cormann, said a $499 million commitment would be made in the upcoming 2015/16 federal Budget, for WA roads.

“This investment acknowledges the specific circumstances facing Western Australia as a result of their GST revenue shortfall next financial year,” the ministers said in the joint statement.

WA, which already believes it gets an unfair share of GST funding, will receive even less of a percentage starting July 1.

This, coupled with a sinking iron ore price which is set to reduce the state’s royalties and tax earnings, led to a recent appeal by the state to get more federal funding.

“As foreshadowed at the recent meeting of the Council of Australian Governments, WA is facing particular challenges at present and we are committed to ensuring it can continue to build the infrastructure of the future to boost jobs and growth,” the federal ministers reported on Wednesday.

“Our investment will help the people of Western Australia continue to foster the wealth, strength and dynamism upon which our country critically depends.”

The $499 infrastructure injection will contribute to a range of projects, including the Mitchell and Kwinana Freeways, NorthLink WA, the Reid Highway, the Road Highway, and a number of other road projects.

But true to form, the federal government has not committed any funding to rail projects in the state.

Federal shadow minister for transport and infrastructure, Anthony Albanese, was quick to criticise the funding, tweeting:

But this is not a surprising move from the Abbott Government, which is committed to funding only roads, and interstate rail projects, leaving the states to fund urban and state-wide rail infrastructure.

“This investment will support vital infrastructure projects aimed at reducing congestion so people can spend less time in traffic and more time at home with their families,” the three federal ministers explained.

“This commitment to Western Australia is an important part of building a stronger and more prosperous Australia.”

Arncliffe Station Photo: Abesty / Creative Commons (Inset: Artist's Impression / Transport for NSW)

Two more stations get upgraded under access scheme

NSW minister for transport Andrew Constance has launched a pair of station upgrades under the state government’s Transport Access Program.

Arncliffe Station, on Sydney Trains’ Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra lines, will receive four new lifts, a new pedestrian underpass and a number of other upgrades. Thirroul Station, on the South Coast line, will receive 150 new parking spaces, along with other upgrades.

The Transport Access Program, Constance said on Tuesday, is aimed to deliver “accessible, modern, secure and integrated transport infrastructure”.

Arncliffe’s four new lifts are designed to make catching the train easier for customers in wheelchairs, those who are less mobile, and parents with prams, the minister said.

“The [Arncliffe] upgrade will also provide two family accessible toilets, two new accessible parking spaces, upgraded CCTV and an improved transport interchange on Firth Street with sheltered bus stops and a new kiss and ride zone,” Constance noted.

A new pedestrian link will also be built underneath the rail line, between Arncliffe Street and Wollongong Road, with early works now underway.

“Early works including site establishment will start in the coming weeks in preparation for major construction which will start in the middle of this year.”

The plans for the station upgrade were on public display between February and March 2015, and Constance said several improvements were made to the plans as a result, including reducing the height of lift shafts.

Meanwhile, at Thirroul Station, a 150-bay carpark will be built, complete with security fencing, lighting and CCTV, Andrews said.

“We know how frustrating it can be driving around trying to find somewhere to park before catching a train, so these extra spaces will come as welcome relief for those who use Thirroul Station,” Constance said.

Local member for Heathcote Lee Evans said the additional car spaces would be welcomed by the community.

“A lack of parking around train stations is one of the big issues for customers,” Evans reported.

“The new car park being built at Church Street will benefit those who park and ride at Thirroul and return street parking to those who live, work and shop locally.”

Queensland flooding. Photo: Queensland Fire and Emergency Services - QFES / Facebook

Did Moreton Bay Rail project cause flooding?

The Queensland Government has commissioned an independent investigation into local residents’ concerns that flooding which hit over 100 houses in Moreton Bay last week was caused, in part, by the new construction of the Moreton Bay Rail Link.

Deputy premier and minister for infrastructure Jackie Trad on Tuesday announced the review, following a meeting with Moreton Bay Regional Council mayor Allan Sutherland, and the director general of transport and main roads, Neil Scales.

“Locals close to the project, the Member for Murrumba and Mayor Allan Sutherland asked the government to look into the matter and that is exactly what we are doing,” Trad said.

“While the rain was unprecedented, we could not ignore concerns that the Moreton Bay Rail Link project may have contributed to the flooding in Rothwell and Deception Bay.”

Trad has commissioned the firm SMEC to conduct the review.

“SMEC is one of the Top 100 international design firms and has operated for more than 40 years, and has worked on previous projects including the Snowy Mountains Scheme – Australia’s largest infrastructure project,” Trad said.

“Comprehensive modelling was previously completed for the Moreton Bay Rail corridor.

“This event was extremely severe with more than 300mm of rain falling within three hours.”

The Palaszczuk Government has also announced further financial support for communities hit the hardest by Friday’s storm.

Mayor Sutherland welcomed the announcement of the review.

“The community has raised what are quite real concerns about any potential impact of rail works on flooding in the Deception Bay, Rothwell and Mango Hill area,” Sutherland reported.

“I am confident a thorough investigation of those works and any potential impacts will be undertaken as part of the State Government’s review.”

Murrumba MP, Chris Whiting also welcomed the action of the Queensland Government.

“Many residents that I spoke to over the weekend were concerned about the potential impact by works associated the Moreton Bay Rail Link and I know they will be eagerly awaiting the findings.”

The investigation is expected to be completed within 12 weeks.

rail damage - Transport NSW

ARTC brings North Coast re-opening forward

After “significant progress” repairing its heavily-damaged North Coast network in the past week, the Australian Rail Track Corporation has brought forward the re-opening of the interstate line.

The ARTC now believes it can open the North Coast line between Telarah and Taree for operations as of 10am this Saturday, May 9.

“This will allow a full return to Sydney-Brisbane, export coal and passenger rail services from this timeframe onwards,” the ARTC said on Tuesday.

The North Coast network, along with the Hunter coal network, were both knocked out of action late in April by extreme weather and flooding.

Crucial to the export of coal from northern NSW, the Hunter network was reopened roughly a week after it had been shut.

But the North Coast line, which sustained significant damage, including land and ballast washaways, in almost 50 sites, has remained closed into May.

The ARTC late last week announced it would not be able to re-open the line until May 17. Operator Aurizon sent home its staff from its Brisbane-Sydney operations until May 18.

But the good news over the weekend means services to the interstate network may return earlier than expected.

“ARTC made significant progress with repair works between Telarah and Dungog over the weekend and as a result we are able to bring forward the forecast to return the ARTC network along the mid North Coast operations, with some certainty,” the ARTC said.

The ARTC said the forecast has been brought forward due to heavy rains in the area last week fortunately avoiding work sites, as well round-the-clock work periods and the ability to deliver truck movements from Martin’s Creek Quarry, in double shifts, 18-hours a day.

The cancellation of the local Tocal Agricultural Days also helped, the ARTC added, as it allowed for consistent access over three days through the main access point to the major washaway sites.

“We cannot thank the Agricultural College enough for their assistance over the last two weeks in allowing us access to the main repair sites,” the ARTC said, “their support has been immense in allowing us to return operations quickly, safely and ahead of schedule.

“Following completion of civil works later this week, there will be final track testing and certification requirements before the track can be formally reopened.”

The ARTC said its operations staff is underway planning a return to service with its customers, and will manage a staged, balanced return to operations from Saturday morning onwards.