Toorak terminus. Photo: Yarra Trams

Public opinion asked for on new tram platform

Yarra Trams and Public Transport Victoria (PTV) say the proposed new terminus and level-access platform at Toorak Road is necessary for the continued modernisation of Melbourne’s tram network.

The new platform stop will replace the current combined kerbside tram stop and terminus located on the corner of Toorak Road and Glenferrie Road, the sides said.

The current Toorak Road terminus is the only unprotected terminus remaining on Melbourne’s tram network, and a safety risk assessment completed by Yarra Trams ranks the terminus in the top ten hot spots/stops for severity, with vehicle-to-passenger near misses recorded on an “almost daily basis”.

“It also doesn’t allow for easy boarding and alighting for the elderly, people with prams or people with disabilities,” Yarra Trams said in a release.

The planned new platform will include easier and safer access to trams, increased protection from road traffic, real-time passenger information, and improved passenger amenity including shelters, seating and lighting, Yarra Trams outlined.

Seeking public opinion on the proposed changes, Yarra Trams is hosting an information session on Thursday, July 16, from 6pm to 8pm at the Kooyong Tennis Centre.

Those willing to provide feedback but unable to attend the session can call 1800 800 007.

Pyramid Hill derailment. Photo: ATSB

Report questions buried track at unsealed crossings

The 2013 derailment of a Pacific National train in northern Victoria raises several issues over the construction, monitoring and maintenance of buried track at unsealed level crossings, a report has found.

Pacific National train 9054 derailed at the O’Tooles Road level crossing, at Pyramid Hill, in the early hours of March 5, 2013. The train’s three locomotives remained on the track, but 19 of the first 20 wagons derailed, resulting in severe damage to wagons, a significant loss of grain load and damage to about 270 metres of track.

The train’s crew was unharmed.

A recent report from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) found the train derailed at a fracture in one of the rails, most likely created by a passenger service which had gone through the crossing earlier that night.

The ATSB found the fracture was a result of the rail’s heavily corroded and wasted condition, and said the poor condition of the rail had not been detected by the rail operator, V/Line, nor by V/Line’s ultrasonic testing contractor, Speno Rail Maintenance.

Examination of the track following the incident found it had been heavily corroded – over a number of years. The rail web was most severely wasted in a horizontal band approximately 20mm wide, commencing about 50mm below the top surface of the rail head, the ATSB found.

Based on established corrosion rates and local conditions, the wasting of the rail must have occurred over several years, the Bureau said.

But walking and ultrasonic inspections by V/Line and its contractor – which took place a maximum of 12 months apart and had most recently occurred 10 months prior to the derailment – had not shown the rail to be in need of replacement.

“Level crossings at unsealed roads can present difficulties for automated ultrasonic testing due to contamination of the rail head and the presence of corrosion on the underside of the rail that can disrupt return signals,” the ATSB explained.

Also contributing to the corrosion going unnoticed was the method with which the rail was installed at the unsealed crossing.

“Covering of rails, fixtures and track support with loose road material increases the potential for corrosion and more rapid track degradation,” the ATSB found. “It also limits the ability to conduct efficient and effective visual inspection.”

Moreover, the Bureau found the network standard for level crossing construction did not directly address the challenges of unsealed roads.

“The standard primarily addressed crossings at roads with paved (sealed) surfaces, other than a reference to the application of a bituminous coating to rail that would contact fill material,” the ATSB said.

“The particular challenges related to drainage, the rail and track environment and the mechanisms for inspection, were not addressed within the standard.”

After the derailment, 126 higher risk sites were inspected from a total population of about 1000 unsealed road crossings on Victoria’s regional network. A more careful, detailed assessment of the rail, sleepers and fastenings was undertaken at these locations.

Of the sites inspected, 111 had sufficient data for assessment and analysis.

Two were identified as having priority faults due to web reduced thickness, and 58% were found to have foot height loss meeting the criteria for priority attention.

Deterioration was also found in fixtures and about 25% of crossings had sleepers identified as ineffective. On the Bendigo-Swan Hill section of track, which includes Pyramid Hill, 30% of unsealed crossings were inspected, of which 21% were identified as requiring immediate remedial works – this compares to 12% across the full sample set, the ATSB said.

The Safety Bureau also found that V/Line, and Transport Safety Victoria (the regulator at the time) missed an opportunity to potentially fix these issues following an earlier derailment, at Warracknabeal two years prior.

“In response to the [Warracknabeal] incident, the frequency of ultrasonic inspection on freight lines was increased from every three years to every two years [annual inspections on passenger lines remained in place], and Speno re-emphasised with its operators the requirement to hand test if indications of corrosion were identified during automated ultrasonic testing.”

These ATSB found these changes were not sufficient, however.

“An opportunity was missed to undertake a wider review of track condition monitoring at unsealed crossings and to review the standard of construction at such crossings,” the Bureau found.

Overall, the Bureau found a trio of safety issues associated with the derailment.

One issue was classed as a contributing factor to the incident:

  • The track inspection regime did not identify the deteriorated rail condition at the O’Tooles Road level crossing. The regime placed an over-reliance on ultrasonic testing and did not include sufficient supplementary systems for monitoring the condition of buried track at unsealed level crossings.

The other two identified safety issues were defined as increasing risk in the lead-up to the incident:

  • The ultrasonic testing regime was not effective in consistently identifying corrosion and wasting of the rail web at unsealed level crossings.
  • The method of constructing crossings at unsealed roads heightened the potential for corrosion and track degradation and limited the opportunity for effective visual inspection. The network standard for crossing construction did not directly address the particular challenges of unsealed roads.

Read the full report at http://www.atsb.gov.au/

Kwinana Freeway. Photo: Creative Commons / Arno Kohlem

Road users must pay, sooner rather than later

COMMENT: The idea of motorists paying for the roads they use beyond tolls, fuel excise or registration fees has taken hold in Australia, Michael de Percy writes.

A user-pays system might replace existing fees with charges based on motorists’ actual use of roads. New technologies would allow charges to be applied at different rates during peak periods in the same way we pay for the use of telecommunications or electricity networks.

The Henry Tax Review, the Harper Competition Review, the Productivity Commission’s Public Infrastructure Inquiry, last week’s AFR National Infrastructure Summit, and now the Australian Automobile Association, agree it’s time. But politicians aren’t sure it will pass the “pub test” with voters.

A user-pays system is necessary to reduce congestion on our roads and improve productivity into the future. We must have a debate over how, not if, we should implement a road user-pays system. But chances are political debates will send the user-pays idea down a rabbit hole before it even begins.

Can it pass the “pub test”?

No politician wants to be the one who implements a user-pays system for roads. But while the jury is still out on whether motorists support the idea of user-pays, the current fuel excise hits those who can least afford it the hardest.

A well-designed user-pays system would be fairer. And road users would know exactly what they were getting for their money.

There can be no such thing as a simple debate about transport reform. A debate about user-pays must cover:

The debate will be intense. But business-as-usual will only lead to mounting congestion in our cities, decreased productivity and ultimately a decline in our standard of living. And it will be very difficult to implement the necessary reforms without a user-pays system.

Pricing and charging are not the same

Two important issues must be considered separately in the debate: pricing and charging. First, there needs to be a way to recognise the price – the amount consumers are willing to pay for using roads – relative to the costs associated with the funding, construction and maintenance of roads. Second, there needs to be a way to charge users for actually using the roads where the amount charged reflects the price.

Much of the political debate will likely focus on charging, though pricing will be the major reform. Even though voters are already paying for roads, they don’t really know how much and the contribution has little to do with their actual use of roads.

Without accurate pricing, we can only guess at how to prioritise road construction and maintenance. In the absence of such market information, simply building more roads will not address the underlying issues.

Although a simple per kilometre charge is supported by many, accurate pricing would mean different charges to reflect demand. This may require a combination of per kilometre and congestion charging. Also, charges would need to vary to reflect how much motorists would be willing to pay under different circumstances. A broad user-pays system might even encourage more flexible work practices as the cost of commuting becomes more transparent.

But there are many sticking points. For one thing, the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party is opposed to any user-charges for existing roads, even though road pricing may make it fairer for motorists in regional areas.

We can’t afford another GST ‘birthday cake’

The introduction of road pricing may prove as difficult – if not more – than the introduction of the GST. That took 30 years to happen. Can we really afford to wait that long?

At 650 pages, the Coalition’s Fightback! policy was known as the “longest political suicide note in history”. But more than two decades later, most of Fightback! has been implemented.

However, the GST debate was less complex than the road user-pays debate is shaping up to be. For one thing, John Howard had the backing of the States to introduce the GST. The introduction of road pricing will require getting the States on board again, but in an area that is clearly within the States’ constitutional powers.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s relationships with Queensland and Victoria are far from congenial. And transport reform is shaping up to be a major issue for all levels of government. So it is not difficult to see why politicians “are wary of a voter backlash ” over transport reform.

Media one-liners will hinder reform

To make matters worse, the complexity of transport reform will be more difficult to explain in media-grabbing one-liners than the impact of the GST on a birthday cake. And history suggests that another “birthday cake” incident has the potential to put transport reform on hold for several years.

We cannot put all of the responsibility on our politicians. Sensible debate with large-scale community support for reform is essential. Otherwise, achieving transport reform will make the implementation of the GST look like a political cake-walk.

In the meantime, whether user-pays happens now or in the future, the longer we wait, the more we will pay.The Conversation


Michael de Percy is Senior Lecturer in Political Science at University of Canberra. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article here.

Six things other cities can learn from Transport for London’s success

COMMENT: Complaining about public transport might seem as English as moaning about the weather. And it isn’t very British to shout about success. So what follows might seem odd, but here goes: Transport for London leads the way as an effective transport authority. There, said it. And it does so by building popular and political consensus around the importance and urgency of transport investment. Step by step, the city reliant on Victorian suburban railways and a Georgian underground railway increases its fitness to cater to the demands of a growing 21st-century city, writes Nicole Badstuber.

Transport for London has succeeded by creating an integrated transport authority from the fragmented patchwork of services it has inherited piece by piece since 2000. Today, 30m journeys are completed on TfL’s network every day. A testament to the TfL model is that both Sydney and Auckland adopted many aspects of it. Here are six lessons from its success that other cities can follow:

1. An integrated network

Under the iconic TfL brand, different public transport modes were integrated to provide end-to-end services. Unlike other transport authorities, TfL also manages the main roads and streets in London, as part of which it is in charge of cycling, taxi and mini cab regulation, traffic signalling and congestion charging.

A testament to the successful integration of the different types of transport on offer is the significant growth in public transport usage, in particular bus services. Since 2003, the percentage of car users has dropped by ten points. And the success of cycling policies and campaigners’ efforts is reflected in the rapid increase in cycling uptake.

2. Easy to use

The transport system has become easy to use with the introduction of smart ticketing in the shape of the Oyster card in 2007 and cashless payment cards in 2014, allowing people to use their debit and credit cards.

By making data on their services openly available to app developers, many transport apps for London have been created which make the use of the network easy and accessible. Clear network maps at stations and street maps across the city make getting around easier and more hassle-free.

Since TfL was created in 2000, investment in the system has created a more reliable and safe system. For example, on London Underground reliability has improved significantly, with the excess journey time due to delays reduced by 40% since 2000. Clean and staffed stations create a safer and more welcoming environment for passengers to use.

3. Strong leadership

Key to TfL’s success is having a vocal and charismatic mayor to champion the transport agenda and secure political and financial support for it. The Mayor of London chairs the TfL board and currently spends £11bn – two-thirds of his annual budget – on transport via TfL. This is three times more than on policing and 21 times more than on the fire brigade. TfL’s revenues from fare and advertising cover only half its costs. To bridge the shortfall TfL relies on grants and borrowing. For these it is vital for TfL to drum up support across the political spectrum. Cross-party support ensures long-term funding security. It allows the transport authority to plan into the future and reduces the risk of projects being stopped midway through.

As a directly elected, executive mayor, London’s incumbent holds significant power. He has both the mandate and authority to realise his vision for the city’s transport. Without it, policies such as the congestion charging scheme in central London may not have been implemented. The potential downside, however, is that more contentious projects (the Emirates-sponsored cable car and the garden bridge spring to mind), both celebrated by the incumbent mayor, Boris Johnson, and supported by TfL funds can also gain traction.

4. Unlocking potential

Transport is key to realising the mayor’s vision for London as a whole. With statutory responsibility for transport, land use and economic development, the three are seen as interdependent. Transport is therefore developed in a way that unlocks new development sites and facilitates the continued growth of the city’s industries.

The Olympics marked a shift in this thinking. TfL was no longer in the business of just transport service provision – instead, its role evolved to be part of wider mayoral objectives, whether to promote London as an attractive business centre, a liveable green city – or to tackle the housing crisis. By promoting its supportive role in the delivery of wider objectives, TfL becomes a key player in shaping London and strengthens its position for funding and involvement.

5. Thinking strategically

Transport for London’s role is a strategic planner rather than an operator. With the exception of London Underground, which is wholly owned and run by TfL, the network is run on a concession system: TfL plans and manages the network, while private companies run the service.

For example, Transport for London will stipulate a bus services’ route, frequency and service hours. The private company will run the buses, employ the bus drivers and supervise the depot for a fee. London will carry the revenue risk, the risk that fare income will not cover the cost of the service provision. By taking on that risk TfL reduces the cost of the service provision. All buses, the Docklands Light Railway and the London Overground are provided in this way.

Even though TfL does not run the service, TfL branding is used on all concessions and worn by staff to present a integrated and recognisable network to the passenger.

6. Building on its successes

Transport for London seeks to take over more of the transport network within the Greater London boundary. Building on the success of the Olympics and London Overground, TfL is campaigning to take over more of the rail network in Greater London. A recent report indicates how much of the Greater London rail network TfL may take over:

In the immediate future TfL has set its sights on routes terminating outside the authority boundary in neighbouring counties of Kent and Surrey, southeast of London.

TfL’s London Overground provides a good model for further suburban rail takeovers. For just over £1 billion, a neglected urban railway infrastructure was combined to create an orbital network. The route boasts high passenger satisfaction levels, which reflect the investment in clean, well-staffed and safe stations that are fully integrated into the TfL transport network. Since TfL took over in 2007, passenger numbers have increased five fold – from 2.5 million to 13.5 million.

There’s clearly a lot to learn from TfL’s success.


Nicole Badstuber is PhD Researcher and Research Assistant in Transport Policy and Governance at University College London at UCL. This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Moorebank Artist's Impression: MIC

Primer: 6 things to know about Moorebank

The Moorebank Intermodal Freight Precinct was given the green light on Thursday. Here’s six key takeaways from the deal.

 

1. Moorebank will be a significant freight precinct

The agreement signed this week between the Aurizon and Qube joint venture (SIMTA) and the government’s Moorebank Intermodal Company (MIC) combines 158 hectares (ha) of Commonwealth land with 83ha of SIMTA land, for a total precinct area of 241ha (2.41 square kilometres).

MIC SIMTA land at Moorebank. Graphic: Google / Jim Wilson / Oliver Probert
Graphic: Google / Jim Wilson / Oliver Probert

Combined, the sites create a precinct “large enough to handle freight trains and onsite warehousing,” the MIC said on Thursday.

 

2. It is in a prime location, according to research

The MIC said the chosen site is the only one that ticked all the boxes during past research.

“The Moorebank precinct has unique characteristics that make it ideal for an intermodal,” the MIC said on Thursday, explaining that the site is next to existing road and rail infrastructure in the Southern Sydney Freight Rail Line and the M5 Motorway.

On top of the ideal size and location of Moorebank, there was the obvious added benefit that the site was ready for development.

“No other identified site has all these characteristics,” MIC said, “making the precinct a once-in-a-generation opportunity.”

Moorebank will be connected to the Southern Sydney Freight Line via a railway line that enters the precinct at its Southern Boundary.

 

3. Healthy starting capacity, with room to grow

Moorebank will be built to have an initial capacity of 250,000 TEU per annum, from an original opening date of late 2017. This capacity will initially be for the import/export (IMEX) portion of the precinct.

Alongside this IMEX terminal will be an interstate freight terminal, which will open in 2019 with an initial capacity of 250,000 TEU.

The IMEX terminal will be designed so it can be ramped up to 1.05 million TEU per annum, while the interstate terminal will be able to expand to a total capacity of 500,000 TEU per annum, according to the MIC.

The precinct will ultimately house 850,000 square metres (about 35% of the total site) of warehousing, where containers can be unpacked before delivery to their final destination.

 

4. Rail will reduce future road congestion

The rail-focused nature of the site is aimed at reducing the future growth of road transport at Port Botany, the state’s busiest container port.

The IMEX side of the facility will ultimately result in 60,000km less travel by trucks every day on Sydney’s roads, MIC said. This is achieved by replacing some of Port Botany’s inbound and outbound traffic with rail.

“The terminal will enable more freight to make part of its journey by rail,” MIC said. “This will reduce the growth in container trucks travelling between Port Botany and west/south Sydney, and between Sydney and other capital cities or regional areas.”

While around 5000 containers travel to and from Port Botany by road each day, throughput at the port is predicted to be as high as 19,000 containers a day in 2030.

“As part of a national intermodal network, Moorebank will get more interstate freight on rail, taking advantage of the economic and environmental benefits of rail, and recent improvements to the national freight rail network,” MIC said.

 

5. Environmental and social considerations

The rail line into Moorebank will join the main freight line near the existing Glenfield Waste Facility, and will enter the terminal from the south. Through this approach, MIC said, trains will enter the site as far as possible from nearby homes.

Noise pollution will also be reduced through the rail connection being built with wider turns, reducing the potential noise made by trains. Trains will also be loaded and unloaded in the centre of the combined site, in a further effort to reduce visual and noise pollution for surrounding residents.

In addition, MIC said: “Studies show the precinct will make only a small contribution to airborne pollutants and background pollution will remain well within government guidelines. There will be no measurable health impact of diesel emissions from the precinct.”

On top of these considerations, Moorebank is being built by the bank of the Georges River, and MIC will “enhance and preserve” this vegetation as part of a biodiversity offset model.

 

6. Private funding key to development

The cherry on top of the Moorebank development (for the government at least) is it’s costing them a lot less than prior estimates.

We already know the current Federal Government isn’t a big fan of rail development as a whole, so with the original potential price tag for a hub at Moorebank estimated at almost $1 billion in government spending, Canberra will no doubt be pleased with the new agreement.

SIMTA will facilitate or provide most of the capital investment for the project, with the Aurizon/Qube joint venture set to contribute roughly $1.5 billion over the first 10 years.

“SIMTA will bear most of the revenue risk of the volume of freight using the terminal,” MIC said.

The Commonwealth, meanwhile is providing just $370 million, with its money going towards the rail connection, biodiversity offsets, and preparation of Commonwealth land – resulting in very little revenue risk, the MIC said.

 

Find out more at www.micl.com.au

Moorebank Intermodal Terminal. Graphic: MICL

Moorebank hub gets green light

A 1.5 million TEU intermodal terminal will be built in Sydney’s south west after the Commonwealth came to terms with Aurizon and Qube Logistics to build a site by 2017.

Aurizon and Qube’s joint venture, the Sydney Intermodal Terminal Alliance (SIMTA), owns a plot of land alongside Commonwealth property, in Moorebank.

Authorities have for some time been investigating an intermodal container terminal at the site, with the government’s Moorebank Intermodal Company (MIC) selecting SIMTA as preferred bidder for the project in early 2014.

The deals announced on Thursday combine the SIMTA- and Commonwealth-owned land under a land trust, and lease that land to SIMTA under a 99-year lease.

Moorebank is seen as one solution to Sydney’s freight traffic growth over the medium to long term. With waterfront real-estate at Port Botany running out, Port Botany will add to the list of existing off-site distribution hubs designed to take some pressure off the road infrastructure at the port itself.

The project also achieves the state’s long-term goal of putting more freight on rail: with the link between Port Botany and Moorebank being by rail, there will theoretically be less trucks visiting the port directly in the future.

Moorebank will have import-export capacity up to 1.05 million TEU* a year and a separate inter-state terminal with capacity for up to 500,000 TEU a year. Around 850,000 square metres of integrated warehousing will be built.

SIMTA will provide up to $1.5 billion in private investment for the project while the MIC will provide $370 million, instead of the original $900 million.

“Combining the site into a single development optimises the outcomes and minimises taxpayer exposure,” federal infrastructure and regional development minister Warren Truss said in a joint statement with finance minister Mathias Cormann.

“This new, major interstate terminal will get more freight off our highways and onto rail, driving significant improvements in national productivity.

“There will be open access for rail operators and other users of the Moorebank facility to promote competition.”

The government expects total economic benefits of the project at close to $9 billion, by relieving traffic congestion on Sydney’s roads, reducing costs to business, and achieving better environmental outcomes.

The Moorebank site has rail access to Port Botany via the Southern Sydney Freight Line, which runs from McArthur to Birrong, and the state rail network.

Moorebank sits on the M5 motorway and is approximately 4.5km to the east of the M7 motorway. These two motorways, with other highways to the east, effectively create a semi-rectangular motorway system around Sydney that is also intersected by major “A” roads around its circumference.

Canberra estimates that 1,300 jobs will be created during the construction phase with up to 7,700 jobs created when the precinct goes live.

Subject to planning and environmental approvals by Commonwealth and state authorities, work on the project will begin this year. The import-export terminal is expected to start operations in late 2017 while the interstate terminal is planned to operate from 2019.


With Oliver Probert.

*The twenty-foot equivalent unit (often TEU or teu) is an inexact unit of  container volume. Shipping containers typically come in twenty-foot (1 TEU) or forty-foot (2 TEU) lengths.

Revitalising Newcastle. Photo: Revitalising Newcastle

Newcastle MP wants more info on rail drilling

Local member for Newcastle Tim Crakanthorp says the state government needs to give the city more information on the geotechnical drilling being undertaken along the closed down heavy rail line.

The heavy rail line into Newcastle was shut down last year, as part of a long term project to install a light rail network through Newcastle.

Many local residents were not happy with the closure, and the removal of the line is subject to a court appeal, set to take place in July.

Despite this, UrbanGrowth NSW is going ahead with ground testing along the corridor, over the next month, between 7am and 5.30pm on weekdays, and on Saturdays if necessary.

While the government department has assured residents that work will create minimal impact on residents, Crakanthorp has asked why work is being done on a corridor which might not change in the future, should a court appeal find in favour of keeping the line.

“If they’re geotechnical drilling there, you’d assume they’re looking to see if there’s any mine subsidence under there,” Crakanthorp told the ABC.

“But you wonder why they’re doing that because there’s an appeal in the court over the rail line in July.

“At least the government should wait until the outcome of that court case is known.”

Crakanthorp, a Labor MP, doesn’t thing the government is telling the people of Newcastle enough about its plans for the corridor.

“The government is doing a large amount of drilling from Worth Place to Watt Street, which is not an area that seems to be specified for a great deal of development,” he said.

“So we’re just wondering what is going on there.

“The government originally said it would be green space, then they said there’d be cafes, then large development.

”What are their plans now? Non-stop high-rise development from Worth Place to Watt Street?

“They need to come clean on what is going on down there.

“[State Premier] Mike Baird called this the people’s project, yet the people of Newcastle are being kept in the dark.”

Melbourne tram. Photo State Government Victoria

Five findings of the infrastructure audit

Infrastructure Australia last week released its Australian Infrastructure Audit Report, and there’s a lot in it for the rail industry to digest.

The report, billed as Australia’s first-ever “comprehensive infrastructure audit,” suggests a huge amount of work is needed to get Australian infrastructure on pace with economic and population growth.

Five key factors stood out for the rail industry.

 

  1. There is a serious need for investment in transport

Releasing the report on Friday, Infrastructure Australia chairman Mark Birrell said Australia must act now before demand pressures affect living standards and economic competitiveness.

“Experiences of transport networks failing to keep pace with demand, water quality standards being uneven, energy costs being too high, telecommunication services being outdated, or freight corridors being neglected are now so common that they necessitate a strategic response,” Birrell said.

Infrastructure Australia said in its report that without investment in new transport capacity and/or means of managing demand, car travel times in Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane and Canberra are expected to increase by at least 20% in the most congested corridors by 2031.

“In some cases, travel times could more than double,” the report warns.

“Demand for public transport in the capital cities (measured by passenger kilometres travelled) is set to rise by 55% in Sydney, 121% in Melbourne, and an average of 89% across all capital cities.

“Unless peak period passenger loads are managed and capacity is increased, commuters in all capital cities will see more services experiencing ‘crush loadings’, where peak demand exceeds capacity.”

Both public transport and road infrastructure will need to be expanded to meet this growth in demand, the audit found.

 

  1. Australia needs a long-term infrastructure plan

The report says Australia would benefit from a strong and consistent pipeline of well-planned infrastructure projects.

Infrastructure Australia says a consistent pipeline “would provide greater certainty for infrastructure constructors and investors, and provide the basis for a well-resourced environment for project procurement and informed decision making”.

It said state and federal governments need to take action to make major project procurement more efficient.

This will reduce administrative burdens, and streamline assessment processes across governments, the report says.

“Integrated infrastructure and land-use planning is essential if there is to be strategic decision-making at all levels of government.

“Whilst there have been improvements in this area, progress has been slow in securing the many benefits that will be gained from an integrated approach to managing infrastructure challenges.”

A key benefit of a more cooperative approach to infrastructure, the report says, would be the establishment of best practice principles for infrastructure planning, procurement, delivery and operation.

“Improvements in infrastructure project appraisal and project selection (including the consistent use and transparent reporting of cost benefit analyses) are necessary if Australians expectations are to be realised,” the report explains.

 

  1. Rail freight’s share will grow in the future, due to bulk

Infrastructure Australia predicts the mode share of rail freight within the national freight task to grow over the period to 2031, but says this will not be due to a major shift of container freight onto the rail network.

“This is mostly due to increased haulage of minerals for export,” the independent body explained.

“Demand for national rail infrastructure is projected to grow, especially in WA, Queensland and NSW.”

WA accounts for roughly 50% of the national rail freight value-add, due to mining in the Pilbara, and the audit projects that the value-add from rail freight services will grow to $9.5 billion in 2031, an increase of 75%.

 

  1. Total public and private funding needs to increase

As a proportion of GDP, spending on infrastructure has been higher in the last five years than in the preceding 20 years.

But the audit finds that fiscal pressures – such as the need to fund health, retirement and other social welfare programs – mean governments will struggle to maintain current levels of infrastructure spending in the medium to long term.

“Private investment in infrastructure has grown, with more private owners and developers of infrastructure,” the audit recognises.

“Creating the conditions for further private investment is an important strategy in meeting future infrastructure needs.”

To do this, the report says, Australia will have to increase the amount of funding available from both public and private sources, to maintain and grow our infrastructure networks.

“Current funding arrangements are unsustainable,” Infrastructure Australia said, “particularly for the transport sector.”

The audit says reform is needed.

“While users contribute a proportion of the cost of transport infrastructure through licensing and registration, fuel excise, public transport tickets and freight network access charges, governments still pay the lion’s share.

“The current system therefore relies on limited revenue sources … and it does not ensure that the revenue is directed to transport outlays, new projects or improved performance of networks.”

If there is no change to this, the report warns, maintenance of existing assets would need to be cut back, and new projects aimed at maintaining or raising levels of service in our cities and regions would likely not proceed.

 

  1. We need to sweat our assets

Infrastructure Australia urged a newfound focus on resilience and improved maintenance, noting that existing assets will need to be maximised to cope with future growth.

“Maintenance and resilience are major themes in the audit,” the independent body said on Friday.

“Most of the infrastructure that Australians will use in 2031 has already been built, but maintenance standards are often below par.

“Service providers will need to improve whole-of-life asset management processes, including adequate long-term funding strategies, to ensure infrastructure networks are able to provide reasonable levels of service in the future.”

 

Railroad turnout. Photo: Creative Commons / Centpacrr

Abbott’s road bias is bad for the earth

COMMENT: Conservation expert Ian Lowe says the Abbott Government’s transport policy is more evidence that it is not interested in environmental reform.


The 2015-16 Budget is very disappointing in the broad area of environmental protection. Last year’s cuts to important bodies like Environmental Defenders Offices have not been reversed. Even the funding of a core Coalition initiative, the Green Army, has been cut by A$73 million over four years.

While it is not in the Budget, government members are running a parliamentary inquiry which seems to be aimed at removing charitable status from environmental groups, sparked by claims from the Minerals Council of Australia that environmental objections are adding to the cost of new projects.

The argument being run by some Coalition politicians is that it is quite acceptable for community groups to plant trees or rehabilitate degraded landscapes, but unreasonable for them to campaign against logging old-growth forests or degrading the land with new open-cut mines. Presumably they hope that removing charitable status would make it less likely that the public would donate to environmental groups, reducing their capacity to embarrass the government or slow down new proposals with destructive impacts.

Like the withdrawal of funds from EDOs, it suggests that the government really believes its rhetoric about “green tape”, the claim that we have been over-zealous about protecting the environment and consequently have held back desirable investments. On the contrary, successive reports on the state of the environment and ABS reports on measures of progress all show that the most significant environmental indicators are all getting worse while the economy continues to grow.

While there is an extra A$100 million over four years for measures to protect the Great Barrier Reef, the cuts to Landcare and the continued promotion of the export coal industry put the reef under increased pressure. There is no new money for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which has been making a real difference.

Bill Shorten’s Budget in Reply was no better on environmental issues. While there was a welcome commitment to funding science and science education, which contrasts with the apparent government hostility to the science which keeps providing inconvenient evidence about the environmental costs of current approaches, I did not hear any concrete plans to apply science to protect the integrity of our ecosystems.

Critically, the government’s budget still shows no sign that it is taking seriously our responsibility to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The allocation for the Emissions Reduction Fund will not meet even the present inadequate target, let alone the sort of goal Australia will be expected to take to the Paris talks later this year.

There is no funding for urban public transport, but the government will spend billions on roads. This is possibly not surprising, given that the ministers who drew up and approved the Budget have probably not been on a train, bus or tram for decades, but it is gross negligence in the context of urban development.

Not only is public transport critical for millions of city-dwellers today; it is the only credible way of coping with the increasing numbers in our cities that the government is proposing.

Transport also links directly to questions of energy use, urban air quality and our contribution to climate change.

Unless there is a dramatic shift to electric cars or hydrogen vehicles, road traffic will continue to burn petroleum fuels, polluting the city atmosphere and driving climate change.

A political fight on transport policy is looming in Victoria, where the budget retains A$3 billion for the cancelled East-West Link road project. The Commonwealth government is reportedly demanding that Victoria return the A$1.5 billion that was allocated before the state election.

With Prime Minister Tony Abbott having said before that election that it would be a referendum on the road project, the new Victorian government feels it has a mandate to use the funds for other transport projects.

The Coalition’s polling in Victoria is looking dire, so it will be interesting to see if they try to take transport money from the state government.

Public transport not only uses energy much more efficiently, it can also be driven by cleaner forms of energy from the sun and wind.

While ordinary Australians are still voting with their roofs in unprecedented numbers, installing more solar panels in the first quarter of this year than in the corresponding period last year, the government’s attack on the Renewable Energy Target has predictably all but halted investment in large-scale wind and solar projects.

The Opposition has made very significant, arguably borderline irresponsible, concessions to try to end the impasse, but the Coalition’s proposed conditions of allowing forestry residues to count as renewable energy and requiring further reviews every two years has proved a bridge too far.

While the government is openly attacking investment in clean energy technologies, the budget made no attempt to wind back the massive subsidies of fossil fuel supply and use. In fact, a question in the Senate revealed a possible further subsidy that was not noticed in the initial discussions of the Budget. The promised multibillion-dollar fund for infrastructure in northern Australia could be used to pump public funds into the struggling proposals for massive new coal mines in Queensland.

With financial institutions increasingly unwilling to support projects that look dubious investments in strictly financial terms, finance minister Mathias Cormann refused to rule out the possibility that the infrastructure fund could be used to help kickstart coal mines. He repeated Abbott’s famous assertion that “coal is good”, not just pointing to the export revenue the mines provide but also claiming that new coal mines will “lift millions out of poverty”.

Underlying the deafening silence about climate change in the budget and the continuing promotion of coal exports is the lingering suspicion that the government isn’t serious about the most urgent global environmental problem. The latest intervention by Abbott’s chief business adviser Maurice Newman bordered on farce, not just denying the science but claiming that the world’s scientists are part of a gigantic conspiracy organised by the United Nations. That assertion makes ideas that the Moon landings were faked on a back lot in Hollywood, or the CIA organised the 2011 attacks on the World Trade Centre, seem comparatively rational.

More worrying than Newman’s bizarre public statement was a subsequent letter to the editor from a Coalition politician, Senator Cory Bernadi, praising Newman for his contribution to the debate. That reveals openly that sections of the Coalition party room are still in denial about the scientific evidence which has now been clear for decades.

In 1992, the Council of Australian Governments adopted the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development (NSESD. It committed the Commonwealth and all state and territory governments to a pattern of development that would not reduce opportunities for future generations. The current emphasis on minerals exports sits uncomfortably with this goal, as it is systematically reducing the capital stock available to future generations to provide money for this generation.

More fundamentally, the NSESD says explicitly that economic development should recognise the need to protect our unique Australian biodiversity and maintain the integrity of our ecological systems. We are still losing biodiversity, mainly because of the destruction of habitat, compounded by the impacts of introduced species and now increasingly by the changes to the climate.

The Budget and the Opposition’s response suggests that neither side recognises the imperatives of the NSESD. The government clearly thinks that the economy is supremely important and that the integrity of our environment is an optional extra. What is portrayed as a path back to surplus makes several heroic assumptions, most fundamentally ignoring the inevitable limits to growth and the impacts of proposed economic developments on our ecological systems. People often find economic forecasting a bit depressing. But what is most depressing is the diminishing prospect of a sustainable future.

Ian Lowe is Emeritus Professor, School of Science at Griffith University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Wentworth Falls station - Photo: Creative Commons / Abesty

Wentworth Falls upgrades gain planning approval

Transport for NSW is assessing tenders to find a construction partner, after planning approval was received for improvements at Wentworth Falls Station, on the Main Western Line in the Blue Mountains.

“This is great news for Wentworth Falls and other Blue Mountains residents who are keen to see the station become accessible to all customers for the first time,” transport minister Andrew Constance said.

“They will benefit from three new lifts providing easy access to the footbridge and platforms from new station forecourts.

“We’re also upgrading footpaths and landscaping, new kiss and ride areas, bike parking facilities and accessible toilets.”

Once a contractor is on board, the project will progress to detailed design and major construction.

The plans for the station upgrade were publicly exhibited last year.

Transport for NSW says all feedback was considered by the project team and will be used to guide the design as it develops in the future.

Transport says the existing heritage features of the station area have been taken into consideration, with the NSW Government set to work with heritage consultants as the design is progressed to ensure characteristics are preserved.

The planned retention of mature trees will also assist in maintaining the character of the area, Transport says, with the added benefit of screening the new infrastructure – reportedly a reoccurring topic in community feedback.

The station improvements are part of the Transport Access Program, a NSW Government plan which has developed lift and other access improvements at several stations around the NSW network.