Alstom-built SNCF TGV and Deutsche Bahn-built Intercity-Express (ICE) at Paris Gare de l'Est. Photo: Oliver Probert

Albanese pitches high speed rail to Canberra

Shadow transport minister Anthony Albanese has introduced a bill to the House of Representatives to create a planning authority for a high speed rail line for Australia’s eastern seaboard.

The High Speed Rail Planning Authority Bill 2015, presented to Parliament by the former deputy prime minister on Monday, would create an 11-person authority tasked with beginning detailed planning, and securing the rail corridor needed for a high speed rail link between Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra.

Albanese introduced the same bill to Parliament in 2013, but “the prime minister of the day [Tony Abbott] had no interest in rail and refused to bring the bill on for debate”.

Speaking to Parliament on Monday, Albanese described high speed rail as a “national game changer,” akin to the Snowy Mountains Scheme initiated in 1949 by former Labor prime minister Ben Chifley.

Chifley’s scheme, which created a massive hydroelectricity and irrigation network in southeast Australia, was not completed until 1972. Albanese said high speed rail, like the Snowy Scheme, would not be completed in a single political term.

“Chifley knew that true nation building is not about winning short-term political acclaim, but about taking decisions today that prepare our nation for tomorrow,” Albanese said. “A tomorrow many of us may not have even contemplated.”

The 11-member panel proposed in the bill would include one member from each of the states affected by the proposed line – Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT – along with one member representing local governments, one member nominated by the Australasian Railway Association, and five members appointed by the minister for infrastructure on the basis of qualifications or expertise.

The authority’s roles would include considerations of land use planning relating to the rail corridor, safety, measures to minimise environmental impact, public consultation, and intervention to purchase the corridor.

“High-speed rail exists in every continent other than Australia and Antarctica,” Albanese told his Canberra colleagues.

“New projects are underway all over the world, including in the Asian region, in the UK and in the United States.”

He referred to figures from the two-part high speed rail study he commissioned while he was transport minister under the Labor Government.

With Australia’s population figured to double by 2050, the study predicted travel on the east coast of Australia to grow about 1.8% every year over the next two decades, increasing 60% by 2035. “The study said east coast trips would double from 152 million trips in 2009 to 355 million trips in 2065,” Albanese said.

The 2013 report also found the Melbourne-to-Sydney leg of the high speed rail line would return $2.15 in public benefit, for every dollar invested.

But with a projected price tag of $114 billion, the study made it clear the project would need bipartisan, long-term support to go ahead.

“High-speed rail does require broad support,” Albanese told Canberra.

“Its construction would occur over many terms of government and, indeed, changes of government, which is why it requires broad discussion by this parliament.

“It requires leadership. So let us lead.”

Ribbon cutting at Aurizon's Hexham Train Support Facility. Photo: Aurizon

Aurizon opens $180 million Hexham Train Support Facility

Queensland-based operator Aurizon has officially opened its new $180 million Hexham Train Support Facility in the Hunter Valley.

The Hexham facility is near the Port of Newcastle.

It will provide trains with fuel, water and other supplies, and will be used to conduct light maintenance and inspections. It will also alleviate capacity pressures in the coal supply chain that collectively benefits the local coal industry, Aurizon managing director and chief executive Lance Hockridge said.

“We’re pleased to continue our investment in Newcastle and the Hunter Valley,” Hockridge said. “Aurizon is confident in the local coal industry and we’re here for the long-haul.”

Since spinning off from state-owned Queensland Rail, Aurizon has made a concerted push to win more of the NSW rail market from its primary competitor in that space, Pacific National.

“From small beginnings in 2005, Aurizon has grown to an estimated market share of 30% in the Hunter with a 300 strong workforce,” Hockridge explained.

“Over the past decade, we are proud to have invested more than half a billion dollars in rollingstock and facilities for our growing workforce, and in the community.

“This strategically located facility will provide Aurizon with the platform for the future, through improved capacity, productivity and turnaround times. We want to support the growth and future success of our customers.”

Hockridge was pleased to announce there were no safety incidents during the construction and commissioning phases of the project, which he said was large and complex.

“Aurizon is creating a leaner, smarter and faster business for our customers but safety will always remain the priority in all that we do,” he said.

The operational footprint of the Hexham facility only occupies 15% of the total land area on site, with roughly 53 hectares of the site dedicated as vegetation offset.

Pictured: Aurizon representatives (L to R): Mark Burns, Ed McKeiver, Patrick O’Donnell, Mike Franczak, Lance Hockridge and Scott Riedel.

Aurizon coal train. Photo: Aurizon

Moving more coal with less workers, wagons and fuel: Aurizon outlines plan

Up to 740 jobs will be slashed by Aurizon over the next three years in a push to cut $300 million in costs and boost operational productivity.

Aurizon announced on Wednesday it wants a 4 to 7% reduction in operational costs over the next three years.

To do that, it will reduce its workforce by between 529 and 740 full time equivalent (FTE) roles (a reduction of 10 to 14%), remove as many as 45 locomotives and 698 wagons from its active fleet, and increase its locomotive availability by 2 to 3%.

While that’s going on, Aurizon says it will boost labour productivity by 20 to 25%, lift locomotive utilisation by 15 to 20%, and raise wagon utilisation by 12 to 15%.

At the same time, the operator aims to improve fuel efficiency by 7 to 10%.

A slide from Aurizon’s investor presentation. Graphic: Aurizon.

Aurizon’s executive vice president of operations Mike Franczak told investors on Wednesday the company was able to make these ambitious targets due to new technology, and the enterprise agreements signed with staff this year.

“The enterprise agreements grandfathered to Aurizon at IPO were not competitive and did not support transformation,” Franczak said in his presentation. Aurizon became a publicly-listed company when it was spun off from Queensland Rail and floated in an initial public offering (IPO) by the Queensland Government in July 2010.

The three new enterprise agreements signed by Aurizon and its staff this year will allow the company to make the staff cuts it has projected, and reduce the ability of unions “to delay critical change initiatives”, Franczak explained.

A number of measures in the enterprise agreement signed with train crew and transport operators, in particular, are projected to help productivity targets.

Roster planning changes allowed for a 5 to 10% increase in crew and driver availability, resulting in a reduction of staff required by 65 FTEs. The changes also allow for a 3 to 6% uplift in footplate – the time on a shift crews spend actually driving trains.

Franczak also pointed out the operations contract changes could result in an up to 10% improvement in absenteeism, a 15 to 20% reduction in overtime costs, along with other productivity gains.

Further cost cutting and productivity gains would be found in Aurizon’s rollingstock engineering and maintenance operations.

The closure and consolidation of surplus depots could eliminate “surplus headcount,” while the use of electronic rollingstock examination capability to enable predictive, condition-based maintenance would also improve efficiency, Franczak explained.

“Wayside condition monitoring is an example of our maintenance transformation,” he said.

Aurizon’s share stayed roughly stable on Wednesday, when the presentation was made; it opened at $5.15 a share and closed at $5.13, down 0.4%.

Port Waratah Coal Services (PWCS) terminal at the Port of Newcastle. Photo: Chris Mackey

Hunter coal terminal approved

After almost five years of planning, a new rail receival and export terminal has been approved for construction at the Port of Newcastle.

The New South Wales Planning Assessment Commission has determined the Port Waratah Coal Services proposal for a fourth coal terminal at Newcastle can be approved “with stringent conditions”.

The $4.8 billion open access coal export terminal, Terminal 4, would have the capacity to ship 70 million tonnes of coal per annum.

Constructing the terminal would involve the development of new rail and coal receival infrastructure, comprising up to four arrival tracks, two dump stations and up to four departure sidings.

The terminal would also include coal stockpile pads, stackers and reclaimers, wharf and berth infrastructure for up to two shiploaders, and berthing for up to three ships.

Under the approval, PWCS will undertake contamination and remediation works and site preparation ground treatment, including pre-loading for foundation, with sand dredged from the Hunter River.

The project also includes associated infrastructure like roads, fences, landscaping, car parks, water management infrastructure and temporary facilities.

Because of its close proximity to a Ramsar wetlands site, the Planning Assessment Commission ruled PWCS must prioritise certain biodiversity and remediation works.

Adverse environmental impacts must be minimised and regularly monitored.

PWCS will also build three biodiversity offset sites at Ellalong Lagoon, Brundee Swamp Nature Reserve, and Tomago.

PWCS first lodged the application for Terminal 4, which will be situated on Kooragang Island, in 2010. At that stage the coal export business was considering a site that could allow a throughput of 120 million tonnes of coal per annum.

While the scope of the project has been reduced, the site will still have the potential to expand, with further development approval.

PWCS chief executive Henni du Plooy said the world has changed since the company originally lodged the application, and the need for extra coal export capacity is not so immediate.

The approval process has involved around 1700 days of assessment, 125 days of public exhibition and 30 hours of public hearings.

The project will now be reviewed by the Commonwealth under the Environmental Protection and biodiversity Conservation Act.

This article originally appeared on Rail Express affiliate Lloyd’s List Australia. See the original here.

Roe Highway upgrade - Perth Freight Link. Photo: Creative Commons

Perth Freight Link: a local’s view

Controversy around the Perth Freight Link has become highly emotive for local citizens and a huge political football for the government, Kent Stewart writes.

A recent article [in Rail Express affiliate Lloyd’s List Australia] states that community surveys indicate a whopping 95% support a rail link. Surely this indicates that 95% are opposed to a road link?

The map of the Perth Freight Link in the article conveniently finishes on the south side of the Stirling Bridge and ignores the massive congestion in the tiny strip of Tydeman Road between Beach Road and Stirling Highway on the north side of the bridge. This strip is the feeder for all cargo coming out of North Quay.

This strip is less than a kilometre long and has up to 1000 trucks a day feeding into it from Northport Terminal and Berth 11 and 12 gates as well as carrying commuter traffic.

Add to this a rail level crossing on Tydeman Road and four sets of traffic lights and you have traffic chaos. Most days it is chaotic with trucks trying to change lanes to get to the Stirling Bridge but when the road is closed for a train crossing it is even worse.

To solve this almost insurmountable problem given the current amount of the road traffic is a daunting task. To consider an increase in cargo movements through this route is even more implausible.

Equally the rail link from North Fremantle has its problems in as much as it has to share the passenger rail line over the rail bridge and pass through new residential areas in South Fremantle. Containers can only be single stacked on these trains because of the height limitation of the electrification wires for the passenger service.

The Inner Harbour as an ongoing container terminal is doomed. Even at its current capacity it is choking the roads. Any attempt to increase capacity would be a disaster.

Fifteen years ago we had the opportunity for a privately funded shipping terminal at James Point in the Outer Harbour – at absolutely no cost to the taxpayer.

The government of the day rejected this proposal for whatever political reasons. This proposal had excellent container freight corridors to the big depots in Kewdale and Welshpool and at the same time would remove the livestock trade from the Inner Harbour.

Not only that, the government walked away from a massive, multi-million dollar real estate windfall with the opportunity to sell off all the North Quay harbour frontage and beachside land as highly valuable real estate.

The only sensible option to allow realistic growth of trade through the Port of Fremantle is to develop the Outer Harbour option.

Victoria Quay and the Inner Harbour could remain as an excellent terminal for cruise ships, ferries and visiting warships and a much more attractive harbour for the residents of Fremantle.

Surely some sense could be shown by investing taxpayers’ dollars more responsibly on a true vision for the future for the Port of Fremantle?

* Kent Stewart is the executive director at Maritime Engineers.

This article originally appeared in Rail Express affiliate Lloyd’s List Australia.

Hills M2 toll road (owned by Transurban) Photo: Creative Commons / Sardaka

Briggs defends ‘policy pivot’

Cities and built environment minister Jamie Briggs has defended the government’s policy shift on infrastructure funding, but has stopped short of labelling Tony Abbott’s road-first mentality an ideological issue.

Briggs spoke with University of Canberra political expert Michelle Grattan on The Conversation’s political podcast this week.

Grattan asked how the new Turnbull-led Government could justify “pivoting” from the Abbott Government’s roads-only infrastructure funding mentality, to one which is agnostic regarding the road and rail funding balance.

“Mass transit was always part of the agenda,” Briggs argued. “It was a decision of the Abbott Government to really focus on how could we ensure our cities were moving properly in the sense of the road networks.”

Briggs deferred when Grattan suggested Abbott’s road-first thinking was “ideological,” however.

“There was a direct approach in respect to funding roads, absolutely,” he said.

“But we had options … there was some public transport funding provided through the asset recycling initiative, particularly in Sydney with the new Sydney Harbour crossing.

“I don’t think there’s been a huge switch, if I can put it that way. There’s been a change in the discussion about what it is we need.”

More than an ideological issue, Briggs argued, the government had to deal with a simple issue of economics.

“We will never be able to meet the infrastructure needs of Australia through purely our balance sheets,” he stated.

“But I do agree with Malcolm Turnbull in the sense that we should have  a non-discriminatory approach to what we fund.”

Briggs said the ball is in the states’ courts, with that in mind.

“The state governments have got to do a lot more work in providing projects for us to consider,” he said.

“Other than the big, major commitment that Mike Baird’s made with the new crossing of Sydney – which has still got some time to go – there’s not a lot of detail around some of these major mass transit projects.

“They haven’t been through Infrastructure Australia; there’s not business cases. We need the states to do that work, but we are happy to engage with them.

“These are expensive projects. Each of them is very expensive.

“I think the estimate in Queensland is some $5 billion for Cross River Rail; it’s some $11 billion – and probably higher – in Melbourne for Melbourne Metro; large amounts in Perth as well; and in Adelaide for that matter.

“The government’s Budget situation hasn’t improved instantaneously with the change of prime minister.

“The challenge for the new treasurer is the same as it was for the old treasurer: we’ve got less money than we were expecting to have through revenue and expenditure pressures; the states are in the same situation.”

Josh Frydenberg on the Bolt Report. Photo: Channel Ten

Mining minister Frydenberg: Coal here to stay

WATCH: New minister for resources, energy and Northern Australia Josh Frydenberg has assuaged concerns that the new Turnbull Government could be bad for Australia’s coal sector in a TV interview with opinion machine Andrew Bolt.

Frydenberg, who Bolt labelled “the new Mr Coal,” said the climate-conscious Turnbull was not a threat to Australia’s carbon-based energy producers.

“I think the prime minister and I understand that coal is an important part of the energy mix,” Frydenberg told the program on Sunday.

“The world gets more than 40% of its electricity from coal.

“More than one billion people in the world don’t have access to electricity, so the Australian supplies are extremely important.

“Coal in Australia provides tens of thousands of jobs, tens of billions of dollars in terms of export revenue, and our coal is low in sulphur, low in ash, and is being used right throughout the region in these high-efficiency, low emission new coal burning electricity plants.”

Frydenberg was hesitant to agree with Bolt’s assertion that “Tony Abbott was right: Coal is good for humanity,” but said he supported the moral case for providing coal and gas “to lift people out of energy poverty”.

The new minister was also confident the Adani coal mine in Queensland would go ahead. “It’s an important project,” he said. “This is going to see more than $16 billion worth of investment, [and] more than 10,000 jobs being created.”

Bolt also probed the new minister over renewable energy.

“I’m not ideological about what types of renewable energy we have,” he said. “I think renewable energy is an important part of the overall energy mix … but it’s important to understand that with renewable energy, Andrew, that you can’t do it without natural resources.

“To make a wind turbine you need 220 tonnes of coking coal. To make a solar panel you need 16 different metals and minerals,” he said.

Watch the full interview below.

WICET coal terminal rail unloader and stockpile. Photos: WICET

Coal facility built for expansion; but will it ever come?

ANALYSIS: Queensland’s newest coal rail and export terminal has a stage one capacity of 27 million tonnes a year, and is designed to expand to more than four times that. But with coal prices down, and shifting global energy markets, will expansions ever take place?

The Wiggins Island Coal Export Terminal (WICET) achieved mechanical completion on April 30, 2015. With ramp-up to full stage one capacity forecast for some time in 2016, it will soon be sending coal into the seaborne market at a rate of 27 million tonnes per annum (mtpa).

WICET was approved at the peak of the coal market – when prices for Australian thermal standard soared to almost US$200 a tonne – and financial close was achieved by the WICET Group in 2011, as the coal market bounced back from the GFC.

When construction on WICET began in December 2011, coal sat at US$120 a tonne.

40 months later, in April 2015, mechanical completion was announced and the coal price was US$62 a tonne – down 48.5%. Click the below image for full resolution.

WICET coal price diagram. Graphic: Oliver Probert

Far from ideal.

The consortium responsible for WICET stage one is made up of eight coal businesses: Aquila Resources, Bandanna Energy, Caledon Coal, Cockatoo Coal, Glencore, New Hope Group, Wesfarmers Curragh and Yancoal.

Since they signed up to be part of that team, those eight have had mixed fortune.

First, the (relatively) good.

Aquila is 50% invested in the 4mtpa Eagle Downs hard coking coal mine, which was 30% complete in June 2015, and is targeting completion in 2016.

Caledon is progressing its mining venture in Queensland, ramping up production at its Cook mine and awarding a 4mtpa contract in mid-2015 to rail operator Aurizon to haul coal to WICET.

Next, the not so good.

Glencore, despite being a major mining business, has had struggles of its own, with significant debt now looking tough to deal with in the current market for commodities.

New Hope Group is still undertaking exploration and geotechnical work at its Colton project, where it was aiming to mine to produce exports for WICET.

Wesfarmers Resources, another major miner, has been forced to make significant cutbacks at its Curragh mine. Wesfarmer’s managing director for resources said earlier in 2015 that coal “remains challenging,” predicting “continued low export prices … which will result in a significant downward impact on profitability.”

Finally, the ugly.

Yancoal, a Chinese-owned producer, announced an after tax loss of more than $145m in the first half of the 2015 calendar year. Chief executive Reinhold Schmidt said the company was “focused on reducing costs and maintaining consistent strong production targets”.

Cockatoo Coal has had a tough time, undertaking significant cost cutting measures earlier this year, along with market fund raising, and a share price drop from 10c in 2011, to less than a tenth-of-a-cent in the second half of 2015.

Bandanna Energy appointed administrators on September 22, 2014. Since July 2011 its share price has dropped from $2.13 a share, to below 10c.

What does all this mean for WICET?

The export facility was designed around an efficient staged development model. While stage one export capacity sits at just 27mtpa, stage four – the final stage in current plans – gives an indicative throughput capacity of 120mtpa. Click the graphic below to expand.

WICET diagram. Graphic: Oliver Probert WICET

Each of the four stages would add another rail receival station. The facility, which currently features zero stacker reclaimers, would have 3 added in stage two of development, 3 more added in stage three, and 1 more added in stage four, giving it a potential of 7 total stacker reclaimers. Shiploaders at the site would also increase with each stage, as would berths.

All of this would mean big business for rail, shipping, and peripheral businesses. The question is whether the current market would support that kind of expansion.

$2.6 billion was spent by the WICET consortium to build the terminal in its current state.

WICET can currently unload a 2500 metre train, and can unload 9200 cubic metres of coal per hour, translating to between 6900 tonnes per hour, and 8250 tonnes per hour, depending on the product. It can load a single 220,000dwt vessel at a typical rate of 4000 to 7000 tonnes per hour from its single shiploader.

The terminal made its first shipment of coal, amounting to 73,000 tonnes, in late April.

If the second stage of WICET was developed, the train unloading facility would double in capacity, the number of berths would jump from one to three, and one shiploader would be added. This would more than double the terminal’s capacity, from 27mtpa to 60mtpa.

Current environmental approvals allow for an expansion up to 84mtpa of throughput, which would represent stage 3 of development (although stage 3 of the expansion would allow for a maximum throughput of 90mtpa).

The maximum possible throughput of stage 4, 120mtpa, would of course require additional environmental approvals to be granted.

So the question has to be asked: With the seaborne coal market remaining unfriendly, and major coal consumers around the globe turning off coal, will those expansions ever take place?

Only time will tell.

E-Class Melbourne tram. Photo: Liam Davies

Newman ‘delighted’ by cities minister appointment

Malcolm Turnbull’s move to appoint Jamie Briggs to the new role of minister for cities and built infrastructure has been welcomed by public transport advocate Peter Newman, and Greens MP Adam Bandt.

Newman, a professor at the Curtin University in WA, is a well-known supporter of public transport policy. He is one of the key opponents of the Perth Freight Link road project, which will connect a new tollroad to Fremantle Port, rather than boosting rail capacity.

One move he’s not opposed to, though, is the creation of the new federal ministry.

“I was absolutely delighted, taken by surprise, I’d have to say,” Newman said of Briggs’ appointment on ABC Radio on Monday.

“It does show that it’s a completely bi-partisan idea and one that should be historically looked back on to say this is the moment that the Federal Government said cities really do matter.”

Briggs will work with states to develop urban design and public transport plans for the major cities.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott, when he named his first ministry, gave Warren Truss the title of minister for infrastructure and regional development.

Missing from Truss’ title – which he retains under Turnbull – is the word ‘transport’. This was perceived by many as Abbott cementing his view that the Commonwealth should not fund urban public transport, and should instead stick to federal projects, and roads.

Anthony Albanese was the minister for infrastructure and transport under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, when the Labor Party was in power between 2007 and 2013. As the shadow minister for transport and infrastructure, he has pressured the Liberal Government on its anti-public-transport stance, and this pressure was ramped up when, last year, Bill Shorten added ‘cities’ to Albanese’s shadow portfolio.

The addition of Briggs as the minister for cities, then, makes the concept a bi-partisan one, as Newman suggested.

“It was an extreme view that was around for many years that you’ll never get people out of their cars, you’re in your car you’re the king and nobody else matters,” Newman continued, “[Abbott] actually has a quote like that in his book.

“It’s really disappeared especially among the young and the wealthy who are now locating in places where you don’t need a car. And car use is actually in decline in all the world’s big cities.”

Greens minister Adam Bandt said the cities role had potential, if it was used correctly.

“If this new cities ministry has some teeth and is able to direct how Commonwealth money is spent and perhaps from time to time tells the states to be a bit more sensible about how they spend the money that they get from the Commonwealth Government, then it could be a good thing,” Bandt told ABC Radio.

“You know you’ve been to a good city … if you can travel around without using a car.

“Melbourne could become one of those if we put more money into public transport, including into a metro rail project.”

Melbourne Metro rail tunnel. Graphic: Victorian Government

Metro tunnel construction impact surveys begin

The Melbourne Metro Rail Authority has launched a community engagement program for local residents who may be affected by the construction of the new underground rail network.

Letters have been sent to 21,000 residents and businesses along the alignment of the new, nine kilometre, twin rail tunnels being built as part of the $9 – $11 billion project.

“This consultation process is about starting open, honest and respectful conversations with people who may be affected by this critical project,” Victorian public transport minister Jacinta Allan said.

The Victorian Government has warned the construction of the Metro tunnel will cause “significant disruption”.

“The nature of that disruption will vary widely along the length of the corridor,” the government said in a statement, “however, it will include temporary noise and visual impacts during construction, changes to infrastructure close to houses and businesses and, in some cases, acquisition of property.”

Melbourne Metro Rail Authority – a government body – has committed to work closely with all affected property owners, traders and residents “to ensure they understand the project and the process”.

Information sessions will be held in October and November.

The tunnel is part of the Melbourne Metro Rail Project, designed to transform the public transport network in Victoria’s capital by unlocking capacity in the centre of the train system. It’s estimated the project will provide room for 20,000 extra passengers in the network every hour.

The Andrews Labor Government is continuing to appeal to the Commonwealth for funding for the project. The state has committed $4.5 billion already.

“Melbourne needs Melbourne Metro Rail,” Allan campaigned, “without it our city will grind to a halt.”