$276m Sydney Trains ‘nerve centre’ announced

Transport for NSW has announced plans to build a $276 million operations centre for Sydney Trains at Green Square.

Transport minister Andrew Constance said the new ‘rail nerve centre’ would be built aimed at reducing train delays and providing faster information to customers.

“This new centre will ultimately improve train reliability for customers and when there are delays, information will be communicated much more quickly,” Constance said.

“This is a massive commitment to a transformational project that will help ensure Sydney Trains can continue to improve the service it provides to customers.”

TfNSW said it looked at similar facilities in London, Hong Kong and Tokyo to ensure the design of the building incorporates the latest technology to improve train services.

Sydney Trains boss Howard Collins said the organisation’s performance has been held back in recent years by outdated technology, and having to respond manually to incidents.

“At the moment we manage the trains and tracks, respond to incidents, communicate with customers and monitor their safety from different locations and in different ways,” Collins explained.

“One example is that during an incident, there are multiple phone calls made between the person reporting the incident, the person who controls the trains, another party in charge of fixing the fault and then the response team in the field.

“The new centre will mean each of these parties are informed the moment the issue is reported because they will all be in the same location, receiving more information, they can ensure the best response to get our customers moving again.”

The facility is set to open in 2018, according to TfNSW.

Burke Road level crossing boom gate removal. Photo: Level Crossing Removal Authority

Construction blitz to tackle three level crossings

Work to remove three level crossings in south-east Melbourne is being targeted through an eight-day “construction blitz,” acting premier James Merlino has said.

A concentrated period of work began on January 24 at the McKinnon Road, North Road and Centre Road level crossings, as part of the Victorian Government’s plan to remove 50 of the state’s worst road/rail crossings over an eight year term.

Merlino and acting public transport minister Luke Donnellan visited McKinnon Road to inspect the crossing removal works, as well as the rebuilding of the nearby McKinnon Station to suit the new rail alignment.

“This eight-day construction blitz will lay the ground work for construction of the train tracks underneath North, Centre and McKinnon Roads, safely separating trains from cars, trucks and pedestrians,” Merlino said.

Merlino said the three crossings were “nestled in the heart of busy shopping strips, and are some of Victoria’s most dangerous”.

The government attributes three deaths and “dozens” of near-misses to the three crossings in just over a decade. Statistics show boom gates at the crossings down 30 to 48 minutes during the two-hour morning peak, disrupting more than 60,000 cars and trucks, and three public bus routes.

During the concentrated construction period, new signalling will be installed at McKinnon Road, and the road surface will be reinforced. Centre Road will also be reinforced.

Seventeen 40-ton beams will be laid across North Road to form a bridge, which will allow the construction team to dig out the train line underneath, the government explained.

Platform works will be undertaken at Ormond Station, which is also being completely rebuilt as part of the North Road level crossing removal.

Local member for Bentleigh, Nick Staikos, was pleased with the work.

“These dangerous crossings are nestled in the heart of busy community shops, putting local lives at risk every single day,” he said. “That’s why we’re not wasting a moment removing them.”

V/Line train. Photo: Victorian Government

Vic Parliament not happy with V/Line over wheel wear issues

Victorian transport minister Jacinta Allan has labelled Victorian regional operator V/Line’s “failure to adequately prepare for increased regional services” as “unacceptable,” after wheel wear issues forced rollingstock off the rails earlier this month.

A review will be undertaken into V/Line’s operations as a result of the recent maintenance ordeal.

A statement from Allan’s department over the weekend said the minister had been informed of the situation which she said included “a failure to plan for additional track-greasing – which has led to an escalated rate of wearing on the wheels of VLocity carriages”.

Allan blamed “this lack of preparation” for the cancellation of train services across the network.

“I am advised that these issues are being addressed through additional maintenance and the replacement of wheels,” Allan said, “and that services will progressively resume over the coming week.”

Services by VLocity trains – V/Line’s newest fleet of rollingstock, manufactured by Bombardier – were further disrupted last fortnight when a train failed to trigger boom gates at a level crossing in Dandenong.

Allan said the boom gate trigger issue was separate to the wheel wear issue.

“On the separate issue of a boom gate activation failure, restrictions imposed by Metro have now been lifted on the Bendigo line and will be lifted on the Seymour line on Saturday,” Allan explained.

“This will free up additional non-VLocity carriages to run on the Gippsland corridor, while testing on the VLocity fleet continues to allow the Gippsland line restrictions to be lifted. These restrictions are expected to be lifted by mid-late next week.”

Allan said the state government has instructed Public Transport Victoria to accelerate the rollout of axle counters across metropolitan lines used by V/Line services.

“The recent disruptions and poor performance of V/Line indicate a lack of capacity to deliver the services regional passengers expect and deserve,” she said.

“Cuts in the tens of millions of dollars by the former Liberal National Government left the operator on its knees, without the capacity to deliver the growing number of services that regional network needs.

“As a result, I have asked that an independent review of the operational capacity of  V/Line be undertaken, which will look at the structure, capability and expertise of the regional operator.”

All travel on V/Line services will be free from Saturday, January 23, to Sunday, January 31.

“Passengers without a ticket will be able to jump on any V/Line train or coach and not pay a cent,” Allan said.

“Those pass holders who have already paid for a ticket will be eligible for a refund.

“I know regional passengers are frustrated – I am frustrated too. That’s why we are doing everything we can to restore services and confidence to our regional train network.”

VLocity carriage. Photo: Creative Commons / Marcus Wong

Level crossing trigger failures have happened before: Donnellan

Victoria’s acting transport minister Luke Donnellan says he’s furious with the revelation that V/Line rollingstock has reportedly failed to trigger level crossing signals on a number of occasions dating back to 2011.

V/Line’s VLocity rollingstock has been banned from a number of sections of the Victorian regional and metropolitan network, after a train reportedly failed to trigger level crossing boom gates in Dandenong last week.

Now Donellan, talking with reporters this week, has revealed the recent incident may not have been the first of its kind.

“What’s been identified in the report was incidents in 2011 and ’12,” Donnellan was quoted by the ABC.

“It’s disappointing that that was the trigger to take action and comprehensively nothing was done.

“As to which particular agencies or so forth didn’t undertake their role, that’s what we’re working through currently.

“We’re furious and we need to get to the bottom of it.”

Donnellan did not specify what type of rollingstock was involved in past incidents.

Metro Trains has reportedly refused to confirm reports by the Herald Sun that a senior Metro engineer recommended short-term fixes to the issues in February 2013.

Donnellan told the press it was incredibly fortunate the issue had not caused a serious incident already.

“We’re trialling some track circuit assisters to see whether they’ll improve the issue with setting off the boom gates,” he said. “We’ve asked the agencies to get moving to get this fixed as soon as we can.”

The Rail Tram & Bus Union is calling this the “doomgate saga”, and was quick to highlight some potential culprits on Wednesday.

“The former Liberal State Government ripped $73 million from V/Line, also putting a two year freeze on the purchase of all new rolling stock, forcing it to do more with less,” the union’s state secretary Luba Grigorovitch said.

“V/Line has experienced huge increases in patronage and the introduction of the Regional Rail Link, without being properly funded to manage this growth.

“The consequences of failing to adequately maintain the rail network couldn’t be more serious.”

With a significant portion of its rollingstock out of service due to this issue and ongoing issues surrounding wheel wear, V/Line has replaced a number of its services with coaches.

Services are impacted on the Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo and Gippsland lines.

V/Line train going through level crossing. Photo: RailGallery.com.au

Safety scare, wheel wear pulls VLocity trains off Gippsland line

Public Transport Victoria has confirmed VLocity trains have been removed from certain parts of the Melbourne network, after one train reportedly failed to trigger equipment at a level crossing in the Dandenong corridor last week.

The Age reported on Saturday that a VLocity train had failed to trigger boom gates at Progress Street in Dandenong on Friday, January 16.

PTV confirmed the network operators – Metro Trains Melbourne and state-owned regional operator V/Line – had chosen to ban the trains from certain parts of the network until the issue is resolved.

VLocity trains are the latest generation of rollingstock on the V/Line network.

“Metro and V/Line have jointly advised PTV that VLocity trains will not operate on parts of the metropolitan network while technical investigations are carried out,” PTV said on Saturday.

“VLocity trains continue to operate safely on the regional network. This decision is about ensuring the safety of rail services for passengers and the community.”

It is not yet known whether the reported level crossing error is linked to a wheel wear issue, which has seen some VLocity carriages removed from the network for maintenance.

“V/Line has identified higher than normal wheel wear on some VLocity carriages, over the past 30 days, which requires additional maintenance,” V/Line said on Monday, January 18.

“This means fewer carriages are available to operate the timetable and in some cases, train services will need to be replaced with coaches.”

V/Line said it is working closely with the trains’ manufacturer, Bombardier, to schedule the required maintenance and return the affected carriages to service as soon as possible.

“V/Line, Bombardier and an independent expert from the Institute of Rail Technology are investigating the cause of the issue.”

The ongoing issues have impacted services throughout the network, with some cancelled services replaced with coaches for the entire journey.

Most trains going through the Gippsland line, where the level crossing incident reportedly took place, are being replaced with coaches, while the operator’s older Sprinter and locomotive fleets, which have not been banned, have also been put to use on the line.

“Sprinter and locomotive-hauled trains … will operate through the metropolitan network to and from the city,” V/Line stated.

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

Moreton Bay Rail electrified, testing to begin

12.6km of overhead wiring systems have been switched on along the Moreton Bay Rail line, allowing developers to begin an extensive testing phase, Queensland transport minister Stuart Hinchliffe said on Wednesday.

The Moreton Bay Rail project connects six new stations in Brisbane’s north-east with the existing passenger line at Petrie.

Hinchliffe, who was recently added as minister for transport and the Commonwealth Games by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, said the rail line would mean more than 650 services between Brisbane and Kippa-Ring – at the end of the Redcliffe Peninsula – each week.

“Queensland Rail and the project team will be monitoring the track infrastructure and signalling equipment and undertaking speed testing to ensure trains are operating safely and efficiently along the new line,” the minister outlined.

“Over the past two and a half years, more than three million hours of work has gone into this project to reach this milestone.”

The new line features more than 44,000 sleepers, 100,000 tonnes of ballast and 170 kilometres of signalling cable along 60 kilometres of total narrow gauge track.

Warren Truss called the electrification a “significant milestone” for the federal, state and local government funded project.

“Turning on the power today is an enormous achievement for the project, and means the Moreton Bay community is one step closer to receiving train services for the very first time from mid this year,” Truss, the deputy prime minister and minister for infrastructure and regional development.

“This is an exciting time for the project and means a new rail line, which has been eagerly awaited for the past 100 years, will soon become a reality.”

The $988 million project, approved by the Gillard Government shortly after the 2010 election, was jointly funded by the Commonwealth ($583 million), Queensland ($300 million) and Moreton Bay Regional Council ($105 million).

Queensland infrastructure minister Jackie Trad called electrification of the rail line “a critical milestone”.

“The new Moreton Bay Rail Line is the region’s biggest infrastructure project in more than a generation and has supported 800 jobs during construction,” Trad said.

Rail track. Photo: Shutterstock

Siemens joins push for private Inland Rail

The group advocating a private sector alternative to the Inland Rail project has added a major ally, with German multinational Siemens entering into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to support the push.

National Trunk Rail is a proponent of a private sector-funded inland rail line between Brisbane and Melbourne it says is shorter, straighter, flatter and faster than the current project being worked on by the Federal Government.

Siemens, in the MoU announced on Tuesday, has agreed to become a core member of the NTR team.

“We are dedicated to powering Australia’s rail networks into the future,” Siemens Australia chief executive Jeff Connolly said.

“This MoU strengthens our intelligent infrastructure solutions portfolio in rail networks and operators across Australia.”

NTR chairman Martin Albrecht said an alliance with Siemens would be crucial to NTR delivering a 21st century solution to meet the needs of industries that could benefit from an inland rail line.

“The need for an inland freight rail line is now, and a competitive integrated transport supply chain solution will be critical to achieving the national productivity required to deliver sustainable prosperity from Australia’s recently negotiated Free Trade Agreements,” Albrecht said.

Albrecht also welcomed the government’s recent moves to investigate the privatisation of the Australian Rail Track Corporation, and the acknowledgement of the role the ARTC has to play in the potential delivery of an inland rail route.

“NTR is encouraged that the government’s terms of reference will specifically look at the delivery and/or operation of inland rail by a party other than ARTC,” he added.

“NTR stands ready to deliver a superior private sector inland rail solution … should the government open up its vision for inland rail to an efficient private sector solution, without the need for investment of billions of dollars of taxpayers’ funds.”

The NTR team also announced on Tuesday the addition of former Queensland director general of the Department of the Premier and Cabinet Jon Grayson.

Burke Road level crossing boom gate removal. Photo: Level Crossing Removal Authority

Video: Work underway at Burke Road level crossing

WATCH: Victoria’s level crossing removal project reached a major milestone last week, with the first set of boom gates removed from a crossing at Burke Road in the south-east Melbourne suburb of Glen Iris.

The Burke Road level crossing was one of the first to have work underway, as part of the state’s plan to remove 50 of the most dangerous and congested crossings over the next 7-8 years.

Work at Burke Road started six months ago, and with the boom gates now gone, cars are free to travel over the junction without having to wait for passing trains.

The Burke Road level crossing is being removed by a consortium of John Holland and KBR. The gates were removed on January 2, 2016.

Buildings and platforms at Gardiner Station are currently being demolished and the team will soon start installing the new train and tram lines for when services resume, the Level Crossings authority said last week.

Newcastle coal terminal. Photo: Chris Mackey / Southern Cross Maritime

Flooding subsides, Hunter network re-opens

A staged return to service for trains on the Hunter Valley network began on Thursday afternoon, after bad weather and flooding led to the network’s closure earlier in the week.

The Australian Rail Track Corporation confirmed just after 1pm on Thursday that trains have started to run again on the network between Maitland and Newcastle.

A statement from the ARTC on Thursday morning said the track operator was planning a staged return to rail services after heavy flooding at Sandgate subsided overnight.

Water damage to some of the equipment between Sandgate and Warabrook was reported, with repairs scheduled. No major track infrastructure damage has been reported by the ARTC at this time.

“We will return services gradually and in line with the conditions throughout the afternoon,” ARTC said on Thursday morning.

“There remains sporadic flooding across the network and at the port [Newcastle], so we will continue to work closely with the Hunter Valley Coal Chain Coordinator to ensure a planned and safe return to coal services.”

NSW TrainLink passenger services have been replaced by coaches in many cases, with a return to service for passenger trains included in the ARTC’s staged return plans.

The network was closed after flooding started to impact services around 6pm on Tuesday, January 5.

Operators and the ARTC will no doubt be pleased the flooding appears to not be as bad as the period of bad weather midway through last year, which saw much of the network shut down for more than a week, and several major ballast washaways and other instances of track damage.

Christmas reading: Rail Express AusRAIL edition

In case you missed it, Rail Express published a digital edition of its AusRAIL magazine in November. You can read the magazine, which includes features, interviews, analysis and comment covering the Australian and New Zealand rail industry, in digital format on our website.

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