Albo blames Lib ‘skimping’ for Moreton Bay woes

Cuts to the federal contribution for the Moreton Bay Rail Link could have been key to the signalling issues which will delay the project’s opening, Anthony Albanese has suggested.

The shadow transport and infrastructure minister has recalled comments he made after the 2014 budget, which reported “savings” which would be recouped by the Commonwealth as major works neared completion.

“That will mean it is an inferior project,” Albanese told a press conference in January 2015.

“You can’t cut that sort of money out without winding the project back. Like winding back sound barriers, like winding back the quality of the infrastructure at the new stations for the project.”

Queensland transport minister Stuart Hinchliffe last week was forced to announce the project would not open in time for its targeted mid-2016 date, after Queensland Rail discovered “significant” issues with the line’s signalling system.

Hinchliffe, who says he was told the project was on track as recently as April, blamed the previous state government’s decision to put the Department of Transport and Main Roads in charge rather than Queensland Rail.

The minister launched a full review into what went wrong last week.

Albanese says voters should look no further than the Federal Liberal Party, who he blames for “skimping” on the flawed project.

“Voters should not forget that when the federal Liberal Government took office it cancelled all Commonwealth investment in public transport projects except those, like the Moreton Bay Rail Link, that were subject to contracts and were under construction,” he said on May 31.

“Instead, the Liberal Government cut $159 million from its contribution to the Moreton Bay Rail Link in its 2014 budget.

“At that time, I warned that skimping on the rail line would reduce its quality.”

The Moreton Bay Rail Link was promised by Julia Gillard during the 2010 federal election, and funding was formalised from the Commonwealth in December 2010.

Albanese says the project will reduce traffic congestion and provide a new option for thousands of commuters who travel from the Redcliffe Peninsula each day.

“The Liberals’ cuts to the Moreton Bay Rail Link fit in with its general lack of support for investment in public transport,” he concluded.

Moreton Bay Queensland Government

Hinchliffe launches review into Moreton Bay signalling

The Queensland Government has released the terms of reference for the independent review of the procurement and delivery of the signalling system for the now-delayed Moreton Bay Rail Link north of Brisbane.

State transport minister Stirling Hinchliffe on May 31 announced the billion-dollar passenger rail project would be delayed after Queensland Rail raised serious concerns over the new line’s signalling system and its integration with the larger network.

Hinchliffe announced an independent review and on Friday he was ready to present the terms of reference that would dictate that review.

“Queensland Rail testing had determined the signalling system currently installed does not meet the operational and safety standards found across the rest of the network,” the minister said.

“This review will determine what went wrong and how the signalling system was selected.

“This review will run separately to the work being undertaken by Queensland Rail into the requirements of the signalling systems in order for Moreton Bay Rail Link to open.”

Hinchliffe said the Queensland Government was in the process of finalising the commercial arrangements of the appointment of an expert to lead the review.

He said the full scope of the review will consider:

Governance and Contractual processes for MBRL, including: 

  • Any signalling system related issues, risks and/or opportunities arising from the decision in 2012 to bring the project under the auspices of the Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR);
  • A review of the signalling system elements of the tendering and contract process;
  • Whether the role assigned to Queensland Rail through contractual and/or governance documents and processes provided for appropriate involvement of the rail operator in the assurance processes relating to signalling; and
  • Contract milestone payments relating to signalling, and gainshare payments, and the grounds upon which any payments have been made.

Performance and integration of signalling systems during design and construction, including:

  • The nature of assurance activities by the project team, Queensland Rail, or other parties to monitor, test, and review signalling systems and signalling system interface/integration;
  • The nature of interface/integration issues experienced between multiple signalling systems on the one network; and
  • The adequacy of assurance activities, and lessons for future rail contract selection and oversight;
  • The processes by which concerns raised by Queensland Rail or other parties regarding the signalling systems or signalling system integration were managed; and
  • The assurance program being implemented by Queensland Rail in order to have the project commissioned

The minister said the Department of Transport and Main Roads, Queensland Rail and other parties will provide relevant documents as requested, subject to commercial or cabinet confidentiality.

He expects the review to be complete by the end of July.

Mango Hill station on Moreton Bay Rail Link. Photo: Queensland Government

Signalling delays Moreton Bay opening

A bemused Stirling Hinchliffe has told reporters the planned mid-2016 opening of Queensland’s Moreton Bay Rail Link will be delayed by “significant” signalling issues.

The state transport minister says he’s not happy to hear of the delay, given the government was until this point told the billion-dollar project was on track for completion by mid-year.

He said on Monday that he had been told the project would hit its targeted opening date as recently as this month.

He told reporters he had only been advised of the issues by Queensland Rail on Monday morning, May 30.

“I am extremely disappointed that this timeframe will not be met,” he said.

“The rail line will not be commissioned until Queensland Rail assesses it as entirely safe and fit for our entire peak and non-peak services.

“This is non-negotiable.”

Hinchliffe laid blame on the former Newman Government, who he said had left the Department of Transport and Main Roads in charge of commissioning the project, relegating Queensland Rail to an advisory role.

He put Queensland Rail in charge of the rest of the project’s commission on Monday.

The $988 million project is jointly funded by the Federal Government ($583 million), Queensland Government ($300 million) and Moreton Bay Regional Council ($105 million).

Thiess is listed as the project’s managing contractor and full rail service provider.

“My priority has to be the safety of the travelling public and integrity of the entire South East Queensland rail network,” Hinchliffe continued.

“This is not an easy decision, but it reflects the seriousness of the advice and problems identified through the testing phase.”

The minister said he would appoint an independent audit investigation into the project, including “how the signalling system was selected and the costs associated with it”.

“Let me be clear, the consistent advice the Government has received is that the project was on track to be delivered mid-year.

“In fact the advice as recently as this month was the project would likely open mid-year.

“Further my incoming-minister brief in December last year clearly stated that the MBRL was ‘on track to be delivered by mid-2016.’”

Hinchliffe took the transport role off the hands of deputy premier Jackie Trad, who is also in charge of infrastructure, planning, trade and investment.

“While the advice has been that the project is on track, I was concerned when the scheduled date for closures to undertake critical connection works and signal testing for MBRL was postponed,” Hinchliffe told reporters.

“This was a red flag for me and it’s why I sought separate written briefs from both the Department of Transport and Main Roads and from Queensland Rail.

“I instructed the Department to provide Queensland Rail with all commercial and technical information requested in order to provide me a final assessment of the status of the project. This is the advice Queensland Rail has given me today.”

Queensland Rail has told the minister the “signalling is not adequate to service a junction as critical as Petrie”.

“The main safety issues from Queensland Rail’s investigation is the increased risk of ‘signals passed at danger’,” Hinchliffe explained.

“Some of the other safety issues identified by Queensland Rail include lack of sufficient stopping distance and increased confusion for train controllers.

“From today, Queensland Rail is responsible for the commission of this project.

“The Government is now entrusting them to take the lead in finalising the commercial and technical arrangements required to get the signalling system up to standard, online and tested.”

Winter blitz to remove crossings ahead of time

A month-long closure of a portion of Melbourne’s Frankston line will help workers remove three level crossings, six months ahead of schedule.

A joint venture of John Holland and KBR is removing three level crossings on the Frankston line – one at North Road, Ormond, another at McKinnon Road, McKinnon, and the third at Centre Road, Bentleigh.

A section of the line will be closed from June 24 to July 31, to allow workers to lower the train line below road level.

Thousands of bus services will replace trains during the closure.

“When train services resume on 1 August 2016, the level crossings at these three sites will be gone for good and trains will travel under the roads,” the Level Crossing Removal Authority said earlier this month.

The closure will also allow crews to begin the three new station rebuilds under the John Holland/KBR deal – Bentleigh station, McKinnon station, and Ormond station.

“We’re not waiting for another near miss or another ambulance to get stuck at the boom-gates,” local member for Bentleigh Nick Staikos said.

“We’re getting rid of these dangerous crossings as soon as we can, to save lives, reduce congestion and improve public transport.”

The Level Crossing Removal Authority has also announced work will ramp up in July to remove four level crossings on the Belgrave/Lilydale split line, with buses replacing trains on certain sections from July 2 to July 10.

A project team of Laing O’Rourke, Fulton Hogan and AECOM is working on crossings on the Belgrave line at Mountain Highway and Scoresby Road in Bayswater.

A project team of CPB Contractors, Aurecon and Arcadis is working on crossings on the Lilydale line at Blackburn Road, Blackburn, and Heatherdale Road, Mitcham.

The Belgrave/Lilydale work in early July will focus heavily on piling activities, as well as the construction of road bridges in preparation of major works over summer, the Level Crossing Removal Authority explained.

Platform screens for Metro Tunnel as $1bn signalling deal goes to market

Victorian premier Daniel Andrews says new high-capacity signalling will allow the five underground stations along the Melbourne Metro Tunnel to have platform screen doors.

Andrews and public transport minister Jacinta Allan announced expressions of interest are now being sought for the Metro Tunnel Project Rail Systems Alliance.

As part of an Alliance with government agencies, the winning bidder for the contract will deliver up to $1 billion of signalling, communications and other related systems on the multi-billion-dollar Metro Tunnel.

The contract will also cover new signalling on the existing Sunbury line and Cranbourne/Pakenham line, which will be combined once the Metro Tunnel is complete.

High-capacity signalling technology will be trialled using X’Trapolis trains on a section of the South Morang line.

This will enable a more seamless roll out of the technology in the future, Andrews and Allan said on Thursday.

“Next-generation signalling will be tested with the newest trains on the network, and rolled out ahead of the Metro Tunnel, so it’s ready for the new network we’re building,” Allan said.

Andrews added: “The Metro Tunnel’s advanced signalling will deliver more trains, more often, and help create 3900 jobs.”

The premier said he is expecting EoIs from all over the world for the massive contract. The EoI period ends on Thursday, June 23.

The Tenders VIC website suggests interested parties “form consortia that have the requisite experience, capability and capacity to deliver the Rail Systems Alliance works”.

The tender process is being conducted by the Melbourne Metro Rail Authority, the government authority responsible for the delivery of the tunnel project.

Rio Tinto train - Photo Rio Tinto

Rio delays rail automation, cuts iron ore guidance

Mining giant Rio Tinto is experiencing delays in its automated rail scheme in the Pilbara, and has cut into its iron ore export guidance as a result.

Part of Rio’s Mine of the Future program, AutoHaul is an initiative to create a fully-autonomous heavy haul, long distance railway system to move hundreds of millions of tonnes of iron ore from mine to port in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

Rio fitted trains with AutoHaul for testing throughout 2015. The miner has said 2016 will see the system reach full functionality, so it can be put through the regulatory approvals process prior to official integration into operations.

But the AutoHaul rollout has been delayed, the miner announced on Tuesday.

“Testing and verification of AutoHaul is continuing, with over 75,000 kilometres of mainline trials competed,” Rio said, “however, some delays are being experienced.”

The miner didn’t go into specifics, but said the delays would impact production in 2017.

Rio updated its Pilbara iron ore guidance to be between 330 and 340 million tonnes in 2017, down from 350 million tonnes.

It did not adjust its global outlook for 2016, of 350 million tonnes of iron ore production on a 100% ownership basis.

This forecast was based on a solid first quarter, where the miner exported 80.8 million tonnes of iron ore from its operations in the Pilbara and Canada, up 17% compared to the first quarter of 2015.

Elsewhere, aluminium production was up 10% year-on-year to 887,000 tonnes in the quarter, and bauxite was up 13% to 11.01 million tonnes.

Chief executive Sam Walsh said the result demonstrated the miner’s commitment to operational excellence.

“However, we continue to experience volatility in commodity prices across all markets,” he conceded.

“In the face of a testing external environment, our focus remains on delivering further cost and productivity improvements, disciplined capital management and maximising free cash flow, to ensure that Rio Tinto remains strong.”

Rio’s iron ore outlook cut for 2017 comes a week after rival Fortescue Metals Group said it was running ahead of schedule for iron ore exports in the 2015/16 financial year, thanks to kind conditions for exports at Port Hedland during the March quarter.

FMG exported 42 million tonnes of iron ore in the March quarter 2016, up 4% year-on-year.

Procedural flaws bigger factor than meth in 2015 fatality: ATSB

A lack of clear safety instruction has been labelled a more significant factor than the presence of methamphetamine in the system of a rail worker who was killed by a passenger train north-east of Perth in 2015.

A Public Transport Authority (PTA) track worker died after he was hit at a level crossing by an A-series train operating between Perth and Midland on the Transperth passenger network, just after 10.30am on February 10, 2015.

According to the final incident report, released this month by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, the man was within the rail corridor with another maintenance worker, inspecting a pedestrian level crossing gate, when he turned around and began to cross the railway.

Despite an earlier warning from one of his colleagues of an oncoming train, the sounding of the train’s horn by its driver, and a further verbal warning from a colleague as he began to cross the track, the worker appeared to be unaware of the train’s approach prior to his death, the ATSB reported.

A toxicology report identified the presence of methamphetamine and amphetamine in blood and tissue samples taken from the man in a post mortem examination.

While the Bureau did note that the use of stimulants such as methamphetamine is associated “with a range of neurocognitive effects in humans that may affect performance,” it decided “it was not possible to determine whether this contributed to the incident.”

Instead, the ATSB identified a series of safety system errors as major contributing factors in the fatal collision.

“The PTA maintenance workers had not implemented any form of track worker protection at the site,” the Bureau wrote.

“This was partially due to the PTA not having documented instructions specifying the level of protection required, preferring that track workers make their own assessment based on their knowledge of the Network Rules.

“The ATSB found that, under these arrangements, track workers could make an incorrect assessment, placing themselves at a greater risk of being struck by a train.”

The key issues on the day of the incident seemed to arise from PTA’s position that maintenance workers are trained and competent to determine the appropriate level of worksite protection for any given job.

On the day of the incident, the Bureau said, the team of three workers should have assigned a lookout, to observe the site and warn other workers to leave the danger zone (within 3m of the outer rail on either side of the track) as trains were approaching.

The Bureau said no lookout had been assigned and no discussion had taken place regarding worksite protection – a discussion which is supposed to be led by the team’s assigned protection officer, who in this case was the man eventually killed by the oncoming train.

“In this occurrence, the ATSB found that the protection officer had not discussed the worksite protection method with the train controller or the contractors prior to commencing work,” the ATSB found.

“It was evident that the role of a lookout had not been allocated, as all three track workers continued to be engaged in maintenance tasks.

“At the time of the collision, the protection officer was involved with maintenance tasks rather than the assigned role of protection officer.”

In response to the incident, the PTA issued a safety alert stating all employees required to work within, or likely to enter, the danger zone must be protected from rail traffic.

The safety alert reinforced the requirements of lookout protection.

PTA has also introduced a new system of safe-working accreditation for work of this type, replacing the existing accreditation with “a more rigid tier-based process”.

“The ATSB is satisfied that the actions taken by the PTA significantly reduces the safety risk, and when combined with completion of the additional training should fully address this safety issue,” the Bureau concluded.

North Road level crossing in Ormond. Photo: Level Crossing Removal Authority

Level Crossing Removal Authority preparing Easter blitz

Victoria’s Level Crossing Removal Authority has announced a ramp-up in work at a trio of level crossings during the Easter break, to accelerate their removal.

The authority, part of the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources, said last week it will use the Easter period  to knock off key chunks of work at level crossings at North Road in Ormond, McKinnon Road in McKinnon, and Centre Road in Bentleigh.

The Easter blitz follows an eight-day period of concentrated work which took place at the three crossings in late January.

All three crossing removals are under the same contract, held by a consortium of John Holland and KBR. The contract includes a fourth crossing, at Burke Road in Glen Iris, which had its boom gates removed earlier this year and is slated for completion by mid-2016.

Over Easter, construction crews will lay bridge decks at McKinnon and Centre roads, which the authority said will allow traffic to flow while the train line is dug underneath.

Meanwhile, demolition will begin at Ormond and McKinnon stations so they can be completely rebuilt. Bentleigh station will close in June for rebuilding as well.

The Level Crossing Removal Authority has informed residents of a series of bus replacement services for the train shutdowns that have to take place during the work, and have also arranged for road closures during certain stretches of the construction process.

According to the authority, the concentrated construction period over Easter will help crews have the crossings removed “months ahead of schedule”.

The removals are part of the Andrews Government’s plan to remove at least 20 level crossings by 2018, and 50 by 2022.

The funding plan for the significant removal program got a big boost earlier this week, with the State Government and Opposition agreeing to terms on the sale of the Port of Melbourne.

Freight rail track - stock - credit Shutterstock (8)

Queensland commits $12.5m to level crossing upgrades

The state government will invest $12.5 million to install additional protectoin mechanisms to improve safety at key regional level crossings in Queensland.

State transport minister Stirling Hinchliffe this week announced the funding, which followed the tabling of the final report into an incident involving a bus and the Kuranda Scenic Railway train at a level crossing in Cairns last year.

“I am thankful this incident was not more serious, however it reinforces the importance of promoting the safe use of our roads and rail network – particularly at open level crossings,” Hinchliffe said.

“While the Rail Regulator report found the Draper Street level crossing operated as designed and the train was driven appropriately, there is no doubt lessons can be learnt from the incident.

“The report identified some recommendations for both Cairns Regional Council and Queensland Rail to implement, which included maintaining regular contact and investigating the possibility of synchronising traffic and level crossing signals.

“Since the incident last year improvements have been made to the road markings at the crossing to help improve understanding of the need to stop for trains at the crossing.

“I am pleased that Queensland Rail and Cairns Regional Council are holding discussions about further possible enhancements to the Draper Street level crossing.”

Hinchliffe said work was already underway on a $1.5 million upgrade to the existing safety protection at the nearby Kate Street level crossing in Portsmith.

“Safety is a top priority for the Palaszczuk Government and level crossings are regularly reviewed to ensure the appropriate level of protection is in place,” he said.

“This $12.5 million in funding will ensure key level crossings across the state will be upgraded from passive to active protection by June 2017, with more mechanisms installed like flashing lights and boom gates.”

Hinchliffe said the number of near miss incidents on the Queensland Rail network has dropped by 17% over the past two years, but added, “we must remain vigilant when it comes to level crossing safety”.

“The Palaszczuk Government is committed to improving safety at level crossings through investment in education and engineering upgrades and innovations, however it is up to motorists to obey the signs and signals,” he said.

TrackSAFE Foundation executive director Naomi Frauenfelder welcomed the news.

“We are pleased the Queensland Government has responded to the challenge of keeping pedestrians, motorists and cyclists safer around key regional level-crossings across the state,” she said.

“With around 130 pedestrian level crossing incidents causing death or serious injury every year and an additional 20 collisions with vehicles, it’s pleasing to see the Queensland Government play their part for the people of Queensland and invest in level-crossing safety.”

NSW TrainLink train. Photo: RailGallery.com.au

NSW TrainLink customers get real-time data for trains, coaches

NSW transport minister Andrew Constance has welcomed the commissioning of a data feed from transport technology and communications firm 4Tel, which gives NSW regional customers access to real-time service information through their mobile phones.

NSWTrains rail and coach passengers can now check on their service through popular mobile apps TripView, NextThere, Arrivo Sydney, Triptastic, Metarove, abil.io, Moovit and Transit App.

“The data will be available across eight transport apps, providing regional customers with the most up-to-date information currently available,” Constance said, “with train updates recorded every 30 seconds, and coach services every few minutes.”

4Tel, an SME founded by Derel Wust in 2001, which operates out of Newcastle, generates the real-time information through its 4Trak application, which it has been using to track trains since 2008.

The 4Trak system collects real-time position information (track and GPS data) of trains and coaches on the NSW regional network, then compares that data to the planned timetable. It then calculates the estimated arrival times for passenger information systems, and for the external application feed.

Constance continued: “For the first time regional customers will have access to the same information about their services as our metropolitan customers …

“By using the real-time apps, customers will know when to leave home or work to get to the station or stop, and those meeting-up with different transport modes will be able to use real-time information to plan their entire trip door-to-door.”

NSW TrainLink customers now can access real-time information for the North Coast, North Western, Southern and Western regional train and coach service. The data will also be available for South Coast line customers, between Kiama and Bombaderry and the Blue Mountains, Hunter and Southern Highlands lines, TfNSW said.

“There have been over three million downloads of real-time data transport apps since they became available and 90 million requests for timetable data each month,” Constance said.

“Including regional data on the transport apps demonstrates the NSW Government’s commitment to improving public transport services right across NSW.”