NZ reveals long-term rail plan

A draft plan would facilitate a long-term planning and funding model for rail in New Zealand, with the aim of boosting passenger figures and freight share on rail to help achieve the government’s zero-emissions goal by 2050.

The draft New Zealand Rail Plan, released by the Ministry of Transport on December 13, outlines the government’s long-term vision and priorities for New Zealand’s national rail network.

It stems from the recommendations of the Future of Rail review, a cross-agency project led by the Ministry of Transport working alongside KiwiRail, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, and the Treasury.

The plan aims to put in place a sustainable approach to rail funding over the longer-term.

Key to this is the Land Transport (Rail) Legislation Bill, presented to Parliament on December 12.

The Bill proposes the implementation of a new planning and funding framework for the heavy rail network owned by KiwiRail. It also proposes funding for the rail network from the National Land Transport Fund, and giving rail ministers decision-making rights on funding rail network investments.

The Bill would make amendments to the Land Transport Management Act 2003 and the Land Transport Act 1998, to implement the new framework.

It also introduces track user charges.

“After years of rail being run into the ground by the previous government, our government is getting rail back on track,” deputy prime minister Winston Peters said.

“We need our rail network to be able to cope with New Zealand’s growing freight needs. Freight is expected to increase by 55 per cent by 2042. Freight carried by rail not only reduces wear and tear on our roads, it reduces carbon emissions by 66 per cent.”

This year’s federal budget included $1 billion in funding for the national freight rail network, $741 million of which for the first phase of works to restore a reliable, resilient and safe freight and tourism network.

“Passenger rail is also the key to unlocking gridlock in our largest cities and boosting productivity,” transport minister Phil Twyford said. “The more people take the train, the more our roads are freed up for those who have to drive.

“Building alternative transport options for people and freight is a vital part of achieving the government’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050. It also helps make our roads safer by reducing the number of cars and trucks on our roads.”

The draft plan will become final when the next Government Policy Statement of Land Transport is finalised in the second half of 2020.

Until then the government is inviting feedback from industry and community groups.

Construction begins on regional rail fleet maintenance facility

Construction towards a maintenance facility for NSW’s new regional rail fleet has begun in Dubbo.

According to minister for regional transport and roads, Paul Toole, $2.8 billion will go towards building the maintenance facility as well as replacing the existing XPT, XPLORER and Endeavour trains as part of the Regional Rail Fleet Project.

Member for Dubbo Dugald Saunders said “the facility will include a main building for standard maintenance, a second for wheel maintenance and a train wash facility using non-potable water.

“The project will also include straightening the Main Western Line through the site and building three tracks within the facility for train maintenance and three outside of it.”

Construction will continue into 2021 and the new trains are expected to be running from 2023.

“The new facility will create around 200 jobs during the construction phase and approximately 50 long term jobs when it opens, including apprenticeships and traineeships,” Toole said.

Momentum Trains, a consortium which includes CIMIC Group companies Pacific Partnerships, UGL and CPB Contractors, were selected earlier this year to deliver the Regional Rail Project as a design, build, finance and maintain contract.

Newcastle light rail celebrates one millionth customer

Newcastle’s light rail service last Friday celebrated its one millionth customer since launching in February this year. 

The customer, a regular light rail commuter, works in Newcastle CBD. He had tapped on at the Newcastle Interchange on his way to the Queens Wharf stop when he and fellow commuters aboard the next departing tram were presented with gift bags to mark the milestone.

Keolis Downer Hunter general manager, Mark Dunlop said that on average the light rail moves over 3620 people a day and over 46 per cent are connecting with bus, ferry and train, as part of an integrated journey.   

“We now have a truly integrated network for Newcastle with light rail, bus and ferry services in the city and it is encouraging more people to get on board public transport. 

“The light rail makes it easy to connect with other modes of transport whether the ferry at Queens Wharf, buses adjacent to the Honeysuckle and Newcastle Interchange stops and trains to the Hunter and Central Coast from the Interchange.” 


NSW Upper House member for the Hunter, Taylor Martin, said that it was clear light rail had changed how people moved around the city.


“Novocastrians are making light rail part of their daily lives,” Martin said.


“The light rail allows office workers to travel to nearby precincts quicker and easier to get to meetings or on their lunch breaks.”


“Patronage has been steadily increasing on weekends and families are definitely taking advantage of light rail to get out and about to explore the Newcastle CBD during school holidays.”

Qube train. Photo: Qube

Victoria’s Ultima Terminal will generate millions in new exports

Victoria’s minister for ports and freight Melissa Horne officially opened a rail freight terminal in Ultima, northern Victorian, for exporting to the Asian market.

The QUBE Ultima Intermodal Terminal officially opened yesterday, however trains have been running on the line since at least June according to Fully Loaded.

Recently, the state government spent $23 million on an upgrade of the Manangatang freight line. It went towards the replacement of sleepers over a 90km section of the line in the Ultima region by V/Line. Track formation was also improved with new ballast which will improve the ride quality for trains.

Two trains a week currently service the Ultima facility, but it’s expected that will expand to three or four trains a week.

“This new facility is creating jobs for the local community and is helping to get more freight onto rail – removing around 4,000 truck trips every year from Victorian roads,” Horne said.

QUBE, Pentarch Agricultural and Pickering Transport, through a joint venture, invested $3.65 million in the facility

“Already two trains a week are using this terminal to provide integrated rail solutions to the intermodal and bulk markets, and we hope to expand this when more local products become available later this summer,” QUBE Managing Director Maurice James said.

Hay from local farms is compressed and loaded into containers at the facility. The containers are then put on a train and taken to the Port of Melbourne for export to Asia.

Pentarch markets Australian oaten hay, cottonseed and other grain internationally and the new facility will generate millions of dollars in new exports to Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China.

Sydney CBD light rail. Artists Impression: Transport for NSW

Sydney Light Rail open date announced

Sydney’s CBD and South East Light Rail is set to open on the 14th December, NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian and transport minister Andrew Constance have announced.

“The CBD and South East Light Rail is a big step towards revitalising our city and will transform the way we live, work and go out in Sydney,” Berejiklian said.

“Trams will be fare-free for the opening weekend so the community can ride the new light rail to celebrate this historic event.

“The new network will move up to 13,500 commuters an hour during peak time in both directions, replacing the conga line of buses which used to sit in traffic on George Street. A coupled tram holds up to 450 customers, the equivalent of up to nine standard buses.”

The service was initially slated to open in March this year, but suffered delays as well as budget and legal issues. The total cost for the service ended up being $2.9 billion, double the original cost predicted by then transport minister Berejiklian in 2012.

Constance revealed the first passenger services will start at 11am on Saturday and run between Circular Quay and Randwick until 1am.

“We have launched multiple safety campaigns telling people to stay safe around light rail. We need pedestrians to keep their heads up and drivers to stay out of the tram corridor and not queue across intersections.”

Services on the CBD and South East Light Rail will run from 5am to 1am every day of the week, according to the timetable.

AusRAIL: What’s next for Inland Rail

Inland Rail CEO Richard Wankmuller has updated industry on the progress of  the project and what it will tackle next now that Queensland has given the greenlight to construction.

“We’re moving over the next few months to the next section. This is much larger, at least double the size of what we’ve completed so far. Now that we’ve been given the green light, we can begin the economic stimulus of this area. We’re trying to accelerate that as much as possible for these vital areas that have been impacted by the drought,” Wankmuller said, speaking at the AusRail Plus conference.

This section comprises 28km of new dual gauge track between Gowrie (north-west of Toowoomba) and Helidon (east of Toowoomba).

“This is an engineering feat. It will be very challenging, and we have to make sure that we get it right,” according to Wankmuller.

“The centrepiece is a 6.2 km long tunnel to be constructed through the Great Dividing Range of Toowomba, a mountainous terrain which leads down into the Lockyer valley, creating topographical and geological challenges requiring eleven rail and two road bridge and viaduct structures totalling 6.7km in length between Gowrie and Helidon.

“The tunnel through the Toowomba Range and I will call it The Tunnel, because The Tunnel is the second largest great tunnel in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s going to be an engineering marvel not just because of its size and its length but because of all the challenges that are involved in designing a world class and efficient system.

“But we do have to attack some of the big challenges which include ventilation. When you put a diesel freight train through a tunnel like that you have a lot of heat and you have to make sure you’re ventilating it appropriately and making it safe. We are future proofing it so passenger rail can go through if needed in the future.

“The highest of the thirteen structures along this section is the Six Mile Creek Viaduct which is expected to be about 966 metres long and 49 metres high at its maximum. By comparison the total length of the Sydney Harbour Bridge is 1149 metres and the bridge’s height clearance for shipping is around 49 metres. The second viaduct is expected to extend to about 1.8km in length, and in addition to rail bridges there are three crossing loops posed between Gowrie and Helidon, each about 2.2 kms in length.”

The extensive geotechnical investigations have been carried out with extensive stakeholder consultation, according to Inland Rail.

“This is one of the more challenging sections and it is challenging on a world scale, so we had to put together a world class team and we’ve done that. We now have 400 or so of the world’s best working directly for Inland Rail, not to mention the 1000s of service providers helping us meet this challenge. But the challenge is real.

“But Inland Rail’s ingenuity isn’t just about these really difficult challenges it’s also about what we do every day. We’re very proud of what we do every day and safety is near and dear to our heart every day. We look at innovation in all industries and one of the interesting things we’ve adopted is one we stole from the mining industry where we’re electronically tagging our people so when they enter a danger zone with equipment, that equipment automatically shuts down before there can be any reaction to that person and their equipment.

“We’ve changed the steel rail profile itself, which for many years has been the same design. We’ve rounded it out so we don’t need to grind it to get our trains in operation, this is going to lead to less maintenance.

“In 1700km we’re going to have 2-3 million concrete sleepers. We’re going to have to get those fabricated, delivered and unloaded on site. We’ve found a way to do that efficiently, by designing hydraulic machinery we can use to unload it in the most efficient way possible and touch it the least amount of times. If we can save 10 minutes or even 2 minutes every time we unload it across all those millions of sleepers, it saves a lot of time and productivity gains.”

One of the reasons for the delay in Queensland getting on board with Inland Rail has been the controversy surrounding the Condamine floodplain, Wankmuller addressed this.

“It’s not just about having global technology capabilities, it is about having local knowledge. That’s how you make a truly world class flood model. You talk to the local people and see what they’ve seen in previous storm events. By working together with global expertise and the local knowledge of people that have been there for generations, you get a model that makes sense and replicates what actually happens. So now you know you can rely on it in the future, because if you can’t, everything you do from that point is wrong.

“It is all about safety and we’re committed to not making the situation any worse than it was going to be anyhow by us being there. Water has to flow, it has to flow around and through our structures, and there’s some engineering challenges in that that we’re geared up to meet, and we’re doing the work to get it right.”

Wankmuller wrapped up with a call to federal and state governments to accelerate their uptake of the project.

“We need the federal and state governments to work together and they’re doing that but there’s still a lot left to do. We don’t know where the intermodal tunnel rails are yet, in Melbourne or Brisbane. Hard to build a rail line when you’re storing your stock.”

AusRAIL: Improving heavy machinery through simulation

Plasser & Theurer tells Rail Express how its research and development team is embracing the future of track construction and maintenance.


Since 1953, Plasser & Theurer has supplied more than 16,300 heavy duty machines for installing, renewing and maintaining rail tracks and overhead lines around the world. Despite this long and successful history, the company has emphasised a focus on new technologies with its research and development team.

One example of this is the Hardware in the Loop (HIL) simulation method, which Plasser & Theurer has used for over a year. The method allows the manufacturer to test and optimise the function of machine control units as soon as design is completed and – crucially – before the machine is built.

The HIL method simulates the actual environment of a component by digital means. The result is reduced costs: laborious test and development assemblies can be constructed in a virtual environment, saving time and allowing for testing at any stage, irrespective of the production progress.

Plasser & Theurer HIL expert, Harald Daxberger, said another major benefit of the method is enhancing overall quality of the machine, thanks to the fact testing can be used directly to improve the design.

“In our case, it is always a specific machine we model,” Daxberger explained. “This simulation is then used to connect the actual control device to test functioning.”

At present, Plasser & Theurer primarily applies this procedure to testing machine controllers. The major advantage is testing can begin directly after completion of design and software development rather than during commissioning of the machine, leaving enough time to optimise the configuration of functions. Commissioning then becomes more efficient as system issues can be identified and resolved early on.

Another strength of the HIL method is proving proper functioning of a machine before completion. Daxberger says this is particularly helpful when building large customised machines and has already been used in one specific case.

In one case, the purchaser of a track renewal and ballast cleaning machine wanted to know whether the automatic system provided to prevent overfilling of the ballast hoppers would work flawlessly. To achieve this, Plasser & Theurer set up a model simulating the ballast flows and the interaction of the conveyors. This model was connected to the actual control unit which regulates both the speed of conveyors and their position. With the help of this test arrangement, the Plasser & Theurer team was able to prove that the automatic system would work as intended.

Daxberger says the HIL method can be used for more than just optimising control units.

“It is certainly feasible that we can use this tool for remedying any faults in operation,” he said. “For this purpose, we would simulate the entire situation including its environment on the computer and therefore not need to go to the construction site.”


Visit Plasser Australia at AusRAIL PLUS at Stand 345.

To find out out more of Plasser & Theurer’s research and development work, visit


Auckland smooths out kinks in metro network

Auckland’s metro network is being smoothed down by a rail grinder which will, ultimately, extend the lifespan of the track.

By removing irregularities from worn and corrugated tracks, rail grinders correct the shape of the track and bring significant benefits to maintenance operations, such as reducing track and wheel maintenance and prolonging rail track life.

“Over time the top of the rail track where the train wheels run develops stress points, defects and metal build up from the steel wheels travelling on the track. It’s a problem common to every rail network around the world that has to be managed,” KiwiRail’s executive general manager for operations Siva Sivapakkiam said.

“It’s a bit like driving a car with flat tyres. You still get there, but it uses a lot of fuel, doesn’t steer well and the ride quality is poor. In the same way, if the rail isn’t the correct shape it wears out more quickly than it should.”

As it moves along the tracks the rail grinder can sometimes create sparks from the grinding which, alongside the loud noise, can draw a lot of attention.

“It’s quite a sight when you see it in operation. Most people won’t have seen this type of thing on the rail line before and experience overseas is that some people see the sparks and think something is wrong with one of our trains. Rest assured, we’re working closely with local communities and authorities to keep everyone informed of what to expect,” Sivapakkiam said.

The machine carries water, however, and sprays the track as it passes to manage any potential fire risk.

The Auckland network has 198,000 commuter services each year and 246 freight trains running per week. This level of services makes it hard to schedule maintenance, including grinding.

The rail grinding work around the Auckland metro areas is scheduled for over the summer period. It will start on the Southern and Western lines in December, then travel along the Eastern line in the new year.

Due to the busy commuter service, KiwiRail will conduct the work at night when no commuter trains are running.

KiwiRail will carry out other maintenance and upgrade works over the holiday period to improve the condition and performance of the Auckland network.

Arc Infrastructure’s top 2020 priorities

Arc Infrastructure last week named Murray Cook as its newly appointed CEO, effective 1 January 2020. Cook spoke to Rail Express about his priorities for the new year.

Cook has been executive director at Arc Infrastructure, which manages Western Australia’s freight rail network, since January 2019. Prior to this, he spent two years as vice president of operations at Brookfield Infrastructure Group Australia, parent company of Arc Infrastructure.

Having held senior positions within Arc Infrastructure and Brookfield for almost 10 years Cook has significant internal experience. He also spent five years with Brookfield Rail in the senior positions of General Manager Finance and General Manager Strategy and Development.

“One of our biggest assets is the knowledge and experience of our people,” Cook said, speaking to Rail Express.

“One of my focuses next year will be looking at how we can utlise this, coupled with the data we are gathering and analysing, to continuously improve our operations and asset management.”

“It is an exciting time for our business and our people and I look forward to continuing to build on the outstanding legacy that Paul (Larsen, former CEO) leaves by continuing to pursue the growth projects Arc has been focused on in recent times.”

Cook commenced his career with KPMG’s taxation practice and subsequently held senior positions in operational, commercial and project areas at Alinta, WestNet Infrastructure Group and Fortescue Metals.

He holds a Bachelors of Laws and Commerce from Murdoch University and a Graduate Diploma in Finance and Investment (FINSIA). He is a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

Cook has spent over 20 years developing broad business experience in the resources and infrastructure sectors. With such expansive industry experience, he is sure to bring a few ideas to the role of CEO.

Rail bridge construction underway in Melbourne

Work towards rail bridge foundations has now commenced in an inner Melbourne suburb.

Thirty-four piles (deep concrete foundations to support the rail bridge) are being bored at the Toorak Road site in Kooyong.

Piling rigs and cranes have been at work on the site of the level crossing removal project. A piling rig is a specialist piece of equipment with a high mast that enables it to dig deep into the ground.

The piles at Toorak Road will be up to 20 metres deep and 2.1 metres in diameter. The locations of the piles were determined after geotechnical investigations were conducted in late 2018 and early 2019.

Once the piles have been bored, cranes will lift a steel cylindrical ‘cage’ into place to reinforce the pile, with each piling cage weighing between 9 tonnes and 12.5 tonnes. The hole is then reinforced with steel and concrete.

“This process creates secure foundations and ensures safety and stability of the rail bridge,” according to a Victorian government statement.