Major Projects & Infrastructure

Major rail projects taking next steps in construction around Australia

Inland Rail

Around Australia, major rail projects are connecting cities and reshaping regions. With delivery now underway, AusRAIL Live & On Demand gave attendees an insight into the progress these projects have made.

The largest, and perhaps most ambitious rail project in Australia, has in 2020 expanded from the delivery of one line, to construction of three separate projects simultaneously. Sydney Metro is one of the defining transport projects not only in Australia but around the world, and is going towards reshaping Sydney into a metropolis of three cities.

Since the opening of the Northwest Line, connecting the city’s north west growth area to the jobs hub of Macquarie Park and densifying suburbs such as Epping and Chatswood,
there have been 25 million journeys on the driverless metro system, the first for passenger rail in Australia. Customer satisfaction rates are also some of the highest by transport mode in Sydney, and the service has maintained a 99 per cent reliability rate. Operator Metro Trains Sydney is hoping to continually improve on these figures, and according to Sydney Metro CEO Jon Lamonte, October 2020 was the best month for the service so far.

“November is shaping up to be even better,” said Lamonte.

The next lines are looking to replicate this success.

On Sydney Metro West, which will link Westmead and Parramatta to the Sydney CBD via the Inner West, work is underway to prepare for the arrival of tunnel boring machines. This began in November 2020 at the future site of The Bays station, located between Glebe Island and White Bay Power station.

With the environmental impact statement for the line and stations released, the new metro line will provide a variety of station typologies to service the communities it passes through. Lamonte highlighted the distinction between the station in Parramatta and Five Dock. In Parramatta, the Metro station will be part of creating a new access route from the river to the CBD, providing a hub for the dense urban environment of Sydney’s riverside CBD. By way of contrast, in Five Dock, a suburb which previously had no rail connection, the station will be designed to integrate with the existing village setting.

The remaining piece of the puzzle for Sydney Metro West will be its connection to the Sydney CBD. Lamonte said that Sydney Metro was continuing to provide advice to government on a location for a Sydney CBD station and integration with existing rail services there, and a station in Pyrmont was confirmed in December.

While Sydney Metro West is about improving the link between Sydney two existing CBDs by doubling the rail capacity between Parramatta and Sydney, Sydney Metro – Western Sydney Airport is all about creating a new city for Sydney, the Aerotropolis.

“This is Metro becoming the transport spine for a new city,” said Lamonte.

With a commitment to begin construction before the end of 2020 to have the line open by the time the new airport opens in 2026, early geotechnical investigations have begun at St Marys ahead of the start of tunnelling.

In line with its commitment to create a new city, the line will be a catalyst for the development or redevelopment of communities along the route. In St Marys, where 74 per cent of people travel to work by car with a third of those travelling out of Sydney for work spending 90 minutes commuting a day, Metro hopes to provide efficient public transport connections and more jobs closer to home for Western Sydney.

At Orchard Hills, currently a semi-rural residential area, the new station and Metro alignment will be at the core of a new community.

“Here we are trying to create a community and ensure the station becomes a community resource, where people can live, work shop, play, have public spaces. We’re very much about the community that we can create,” said Lamonte.

While construction remains in the early stages for Sydney Metro West and Western Sydney Airport, with computer-generated renderings providing an idea of what the future line could look like, on Sydney Metro City and Southwest, the project is looking a lot more concrete.

Tunnelling is now complete along the alignment, with new tunnels now connecting Chatswood to the Sydney CBD via North Sydney, and then continuing on to Sydenham via Waterloo. At the time of AusRAIL Live & On Demand, linewide contractor Systems Connect was in the process of delivering materials ahead of laying track in the coming months, with all rail now in the tunnels.

Each of the new stations are coming into focus, with caverns dug out for Victoria Cross, slab laying underway for the concourse at Barangaroo and connections built between the new Martin Place station and the existing Sydney Trains station.

COVID-19 has proven a blessing in disguise for the project, with lower patronage at Central meaning works on the new underground station have been able to be sped up, while more truck movements throughout the CBD have been possible as office workers work from home. Lamonte said that digging underneath Central Station is expected to breakthrough into the tunnels below a few weeks following his presentation.

With both Central and Sydenham remaining a live rail environment, innovative construction and scheduling methods have been implemented. At Central, supporting beams underneath the suburban platforms have allowed work to continue, while two platforms have been closed off at Sydenham to build the metro platforms.

For the existing stations between Sydenham and Bankstown that will be converted to Metro Stations, a major change to the customer experience will be the introduction of platform screen doors and mechanical gap fillers to ensure there is no space between the train and the platform, a first for Australia.

Throughout construction, said Lamonte, there has been a focus on “really trying to encourage industry to come up with different ways of doing this”.

This has been implemented in areas from the use of recycled materials and energy saving technologies to involving social enterprises, small businesses and charities. As Lamonte highlighted, whether in planning, construction, or operation, “this is a project about involving the community, and we are very aware of our opportunities but also obligations in that respect”.

Tunnel boring machines are ready to begin tunnelling in 2021 on Cross River Rail. Credit: Cross River Rail.

While South East Queensland is expected to continue its trajectory of population growth, unlike Sydney, jobs growth is expected to remain in central Brisbane. To address this, Cross River Rail is about overcoming bottlenecks and unlocking rail transport through Brisbane, Graeme Newton, CEO of the Cross River Rail Delivery authority told listeners at AusRAIL Live & On Demand.

“The purpose of this will be to provide that turn up and go service that we all need in our rail systems and having that extra capacity plus crossing of the river is what we’re looking to do,” said Newton.

This need has driven not only the construction of new stations but the integration of the new underground river crossing with the existing network. In the city, the stations are located closer to major employment and activity hubs, such as Albert Street being the central CBD underground station and Woolloongabba providing a smooth connection for public transport to major events.

Part of the project also includes accessibility and capacity upgrades to stations on the Gold Coast Line and increased capacity at Clapham stabling yard and enhancements at Mayne yard.

According to Newton, construction on the project itself is well progressed, with up to 60 per cent of excavation complete for station boxes such as at Boggo Road. Tunnel boring machines are being assembled and will be launched in early 2021 and tunnel throughout the year.

“It’s been over a year since construction commenced and we’re seeing great progress,” said Newton. “2021 is the year of tunnelling.”

Work at each of the station sites varies depending on their nature, with demolition occurring at Roma Street, acoustic sheds installed at Albert Street and drainage works and earth moving at the tunnels’ northern portal. Similar to Sydney Metro, work on the expansion of Exhibition Station could also progress faster due to COVID-19 and the resulting limits on events at the site.

Through design and early construction stages, Cross River Rail has been looking to new ways of reducing disruptions and improve project delivery. This has in part been done through the use of digital engineering tools such as Building Information Modelling (BIM). The models are provided by the contractors and are tied to a timeframe. Updated each day, the BIMs provide a real time way of tracking what is being built against what was proposed and then the as-constructed product.

“It allows us to get a good proximate location of where the works are, right down to the technical detail,” said Newton.

The technology is not only providing information for project delivery staff and technical needs, but has been able to visualise the project for a public audience. The information has also been applied to a VIS model.

“That puts all the technology into an environment which is like a gaming environment. You can actually walk around the whole project, in and out of every station and have a look at any detail right to the design expectation. We can see what it’s going to be looking like on day one. We’ve got a high degree of certainty of what the user experience will be on the day,” said Newton.

Besides tunnelling, 2021 will also see further steps taken on the rollout of European Train Control System (ETCS) signalling technology. With the pilot on the Shorncliffe Line complete, train fitment at Redbank will be underway and preparations will be made for further trials. While ETCS will be first operational in the new tunnels, the technology will also be deployed to the wider South East Queensland network, to increase capacity and safety.

Split into numerous sections, construction both began and finished on various areas of Inland Rail in 2020.

On the Parkes to Narromine (P2N) section, which opened in September 2020, the benefits of a community-focused approach to rail construction have already been felt. Out of the 1,862 people who worked on the project, 762 were local residents. The leg created 938 sustainable jobs and 99 local businesses including 9 Indigenous businesses have supplied the project. In total, $109.7 million was spent with local businesses with construction occurring from December 2018 to August 2020.

A relatively short project, under 100km long, the completion of P2N provides a snapshot of the further benefits that will come as construction begins on longer sections. The next project to get underway is Narrabri to North Star, with a ground breaking ceremony held in late November. Having seen the positive impact on the P2N project further south, Inland Rail CEO Richard Wankmuller told attendees at AusRAIL Live & On Demand that contractor Trans4m rail got an unexpected welcome.

“The point they, Trans4m, made that this one of the first times ever that they’re doing an infrastructure project and they get to the community and they’re welcomed with open arms,” he said. “People are very excited to see them.”

While the project is hoping to continue maximising the economic impact, reducing the environmental impact also goes towards the success of the project. So far, Inland Rail has re-used formation and existing ballast, ash, and foundation in the construction of rail designed to take larger loads. Ballast and ash have been used to construct supply roads, which in turn has reduced the use of water to keep down dust.

Pre-cast concrete culverts used in building the track are carbon neutral, and 98 per cent of steel on the existing track is re-used either elsewhere on the ARTC network or the nearby Country Regional Network (CRN). Looking forward, Wankmuller said that N2NS expected to re-use 95 per cent of the existing formation.

2020 has also seen changes to the contract and procurement structure for the next legs of Inland Rail. New delivery mechanisms will accelerate work and by breaking up projects more companies at various levels within the construction industry are able to be involved.

“In the end we think the industry is potentially limited by the risk that’s realised, not that risk that they take. So, what we’re trying to do is minimise the risk that they take and greatly minimise the risk that is realised so we get as many competitor available to us as possible going forward,” said Wankmuller.

As of early December 2020, Inland Rail had $1.65 billion under contract progressing and two to three times that amount under procurement. With perhaps the most complex section of the project tendered as a PPP – the Gowrie to Kagaru leg – and an alliance format for the Tottenham to Albury section, Wankmuller said that Inland Rail was designing the delivery mechanisms to fit the project while encouraging innovation and collaboration.

For companies wishing to be involved, Wankmuller highlighted that what is important to Inland Rail is a focus on social performance and creating jobs within the local community, as seen in the P2N section.

“This is an all of community project,” he said. “It’s about all of us working together.”

With construction beginning on major parts of the project in 2021 and trains already running on completed sections, the future of Inland Rail will be decided by its connections to existing rail networks, intermodal hubs, and ports. Wankmuller said that the project was ensuring that interoperability with the CRN was being pursued to the greatest
deal possible, but that business cases on connections between either end of the project and ports in Melbourne and Brisbane need to be completed.

Once these final connections are completed, Inland Rail will achieve its goal in connecting the country.