Monday 18th Jun, 2018

Cost of delivering NSW Intercity remains uncertain

New Intercity Fleet. Artist's impression: Transport for NSW
New Intercity Fleet. Artist's impression: Transport for NSW

There are signs that the cost of providing the NSW inter-city rail lines with a new fleet will blow out considerably, with a reported $43 million alone being spent on signalling works to accommodate the trains on the Blue Mountains Line.

According to a report by the ABC, this figure, to be paid to the contractor delivering the works, Downer EDI, is for the construction of signalling upgrades and modifications across the rail network.

However, signalling modifications are only a part of the adjustments that need to be made to allow the trains to run on the line between Springwood and Lithgow.

It was revealed last year that the Intercity trains – being constructed in South Korea by a UGL-led consortium for the price of $2.3 billion – are too large to fit on the line.

Indeed, to make way for the new trains – up to 205-metres long – stretches of track will have to be replaced and platforms at 20 stations lengthened.

Moreover, the new trains will be 20cm wider than the current 2.9m-wide trains – much too wide for many of the line’s tunnels.

Earlier this year it was reported that Transport for NSW, in addition to having 10 tunnels widened, will relax safety standards to allow the trains to run.

“There are parts of the network where it is not possible to fully comply with the modern standards due to physical constraints and in these circumstances, additional measures such as speed restrictions, varied track maintenance and timetabling are implemented to ensure safety,” a TfNSW spokesperson was quoted as saying by News Limited.

TfNSW’s Review of Environmental Factors report from February 2018 recommended a “sub-medium electric standard”. This option that would, according to the report, “allow the New Intercity Fleet to operate on both lines and pass each other, and therefore ensure better longer term operational outcomes, while also minimising heritage impacts through reduced tunnel lining modifications”.

Other modification works, such as “notching” – which entails removing chunks of tunnel wall at points of narrow clearance – will also be carried out to enable to new trains to pass through.

Modification works on the tunnels could take up two years. The first trains of the Intercity fleet are planned to be delivered in 2019.

The state government previously boasted that building the trains in South Korea would provide a 25% saving over a local manufacturing programme. So far, the NSW government has not indicated how much the track, platform and tunnel modifications will cost, and how much this cost will exceed the $2.3 billion laid out for the train construction.

According to Constance, this figure was always only going to be for the construction of the fleet, and claimed that the government had always been aware that the Blue Mountains line would have to be modified to accommodate the new trains, which, he said, had been designed for the whole intercity network.

“When I said the 25%, that was in relation to the procurement of trains, the manufacturing of the trains,” Constance said.

“As part of this new inner-city fleet procurement, we’re also building a maintenance facility on the Central Coast, which will provide 350 jobs.”

NSW Auditor-General warned last year that – will the additional modifications required – the whole project could cost as much as $3.9 billion.

With the revelation that $43 million has been required so far for signalling works, the state Labor Opposition has demanded the government open-up about the total costs of the project.

“We know they have forked out $43 million,” Opposition transport spokesperson Jodi McKay said. “We want to know what else is to come.

“We said from the beginning these trains should have been manufactured in NSW, so they fit the tracks and tunnels and we don’t have this excess cost.”

  • Adam

    I don’t think it was ever a secret or accident that the new trains are wider than the double-deck interurban cars (‘V’ sets). Following the precedent of Outer Suburban Tangara and Outer Suburban Car (‘Oscar’) which presently runs to Newcastle, Kiama, and Springwood, (and noting that Oscar was ordered by a Labor government), it seems that building to the suburban carriage profile was at least an option for tenderers, and the design offered by UGL (builder of both Tangara and Oscar) appears to be based on Oscar.
    About 100 years ago, Bradfield decided that the future electric multiple unit suburban trains would be wider than loco-hauled stock (10’6″ compared to 9’6″). A lot of suburban track and platforms had to be adjusted, but no-one now would say that that was a bad choice.

    To say that the platforms are too short for the new trains is a fallacious argument – most of the platforms that are too short for the new trains are too short for the existing trains, and at leas the new trains will have facilities to keep individual doors closed if they are not on the platform; the Oscars have limited selective door control, V sets have no selective door control so today the doors not alongside a platform can be opened.

    It would seem fair to question though how well the necessary works were understood and estimated.

    I would also question why do the hardest portion of work at all – the ten tunnels between Mt Victoria and Lithgow? The overhead wiring of the Blue Mountains is basically life-expired, and passenger numbers (2014 statistics available on TfNSW site) show that Lithgow passenger numbers are well below that of Berry /Bomaderry, which is serviced by a diesel railcar shuttle to Kiama. If the overhead was not already there, it would not be built today (it was built in the 50s for freight, which never met the expectations, and no freight is electric hauled in NSW now).
    So why spend hundreds of millions on overhead renewal and tunnel widening? A solitary two-car diesel railcar set would provide more than enough capacity for the passenger demands, and similar level of service (except in the early morning when several sets which are stabled at Lithgow leave in quick succession). Two sets of diesel railcars would allow for an increased level of service, possibly even allowing for a regional service to towns between Lithgow and Bathurst throughout the day

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