Cowra Lines

No suitor for Cowra Lines renewal

NSW minister for roads, maritime and freight Duncan Gay says the government can’t find a suitable tenderer to restore and run the Cowra Lines in the state’s central west.

After appeals from local communities for a restoration and re-opening of the lines, a tender process was opened, but it seems no-one is interested in doing the work on the government’s terms.

“The tender process revealed there was too much uncertainty in the ability of the tenderers to return the lines to full service and run a commercially sustainable business without significant taxpayer support,” Gay explained.

“An extensive evaluation including advice from independent experts concluded neither of the two proposals received for the recent Cowra Lines Request for Tender had adequately addressed the tender criteria.

“Transport for NSW received two tenders to restore, maintain and operate The Cowra Lines but neither was found to sufficiently demonstrate they could manage the lines on a commercially sustainable basis.

“The tenders were thoroughly assessed against criteria such as a strong business case, technical ability, financial backing and the ability to manage operational risks.”

Gay said Transport for NSW would maintain a close watching brief over how The Cowra Lines, as well as other non-operational rail lines in NSW, could potentially be brought back into operation where sustainable freight demand exists.

He said further options for bringing The Cowra Lines back into service may also be explored as part of the government’s Fixing Country Rail program.

“As part of our Rebuilding NSW Plan, the Government has committed $400 million to the Fixing Country Rail program, while $153 million will be invested over the next three years to continue fast tracking repairs and upgrades to the 996 kilometres of grain lines across NSW,” Gay explained.

The initial evaluation of the Cowra Lines tender identified a preferred tenderer.

But a detailed review by the tender panel and independent experts has shown the level of risk associated with the preferred tenderers’ proposal was too great to be acceptable, according to Transport for NSW.

The Cowra Lines are 200km of non-operational rail lines between Blayney and Harden, and Koorawatha and Greenethorpe.

They were progressively closed between 2007 and 2009 due to safety concerns and low freight volumes.

An estimated investment of more than $30 million would be required to restore the infrastructure, with further ongoing maintenance costs estimated at more than $2 million each year. Transport for NSW launched an open tender offering a fixed term licence to restore, operate and maintain The Cowra Lines in March 2014.

“over the past three years we have worked closely with the Blayney, Cowra, Weddin, Harden and Young councils and the private sector to investigate whether the Cowra Lines could be reopened and made commercially viable again,” Gay continued.

“While the tender process did not result in The Cowra Lines being leased to a private sector operator, it has generated market interest and provided valuable information that may assist in bringing the lines back into operation at some point in the future.”

rail damage - Transport NSW

ARTC re-opens North Coast

The Australian Rail Track Corporation has re-opened the North Coast network between Telarah and Dungog.

ARTC said last week that it estimated being able to re-open the network over the weekend, and held to that estimate, opening the line on Saturday, May 9.

“The North Coast line section of track between Telarah and Dungog reopened this morning according to schedule and freight, coal and passenger services are now returning to operations with the first trains passing through this morning successfully,” the corporation said.

Significant sections of ballast were washed away on the line during heavy rains which led to flooding in late April. In some sections, entire portions of land were washed away beneath the rail infrastructure, contributing to the hefty closure.

The ARTC closed both the North Coast and Hunter networks following the flooding, but was able to re-open the Hunter network earlier than the North Coast, which was more significantly damaged.

“ARTC would like to thank our customers, local communities and stakeholders for their patience and assistance while repair and recovery works have been completed over the last three weeks,” the corporation said on May 9.

“Our focus will now turn to ensure the safe and gradual return to normal operations.

“ARTC also has post-site tidy up and remediation works in and around Tocal and surrounding communities planned for coming weeks during normal construction hours.”

Queensland flooding. Photo: Queensland Fire and Emergency Services - QFES / Facebook

Did Moreton Bay Rail project cause flooding?

The Queensland Government has commissioned an independent investigation into local residents’ concerns that flooding which hit over 100 houses in Moreton Bay last week was caused, in part, by the new construction of the Moreton Bay Rail Link.

Deputy premier and minister for infrastructure Jackie Trad on Tuesday announced the review, following a meeting with Moreton Bay Regional Council mayor Allan Sutherland, and the director general of transport and main roads, Neil Scales.

“Locals close to the project, the Member for Murrumba and Mayor Allan Sutherland asked the government to look into the matter and that is exactly what we are doing,” Trad said.

“While the rain was unprecedented, we could not ignore concerns that the Moreton Bay Rail Link project may have contributed to the flooding in Rothwell and Deception Bay.”

Trad has commissioned the firm SMEC to conduct the review.

“SMEC is one of the Top 100 international design firms and has operated for more than 40 years, and has worked on previous projects including the Snowy Mountains Scheme – Australia’s largest infrastructure project,” Trad said.

“Comprehensive modelling was previously completed for the Moreton Bay Rail corridor.

“This event was extremely severe with more than 300mm of rain falling within three hours.”

The Palaszczuk Government has also announced further financial support for communities hit the hardest by Friday’s storm.

Mayor Sutherland welcomed the announcement of the review.

“The community has raised what are quite real concerns about any potential impact of rail works on flooding in the Deception Bay, Rothwell and Mango Hill area,” Sutherland reported.

“I am confident a thorough investigation of those works and any potential impacts will be undertaken as part of the State Government’s review.”

Murrumba MP, Chris Whiting also welcomed the action of the Queensland Government.

“Many residents that I spoke to over the weekend were concerned about the potential impact by works associated the Moreton Bay Rail Link and I know they will be eagerly awaiting the findings.”

The investigation is expected to be completed within 12 weeks.

rail damage - Transport NSW

ARTC brings North Coast re-opening forward

After “significant progress” repairing its heavily-damaged North Coast network in the past week, the Australian Rail Track Corporation has brought forward the re-opening of the interstate line.

The ARTC now believes it can open the North Coast line between Telarah and Taree for operations as of 10am this Saturday, May 9.

“This will allow a full return to Sydney-Brisbane, export coal and passenger rail services from this timeframe onwards,” the ARTC said on Tuesday.

The North Coast network, along with the Hunter coal network, were both knocked out of action late in April by extreme weather and flooding.

Crucial to the export of coal from northern NSW, the Hunter network was reopened roughly a week after it had been shut.

But the North Coast line, which sustained significant damage, including land and ballast washaways, in almost 50 sites, has remained closed into May.

The ARTC late last week announced it would not be able to re-open the line until May 17. Operator Aurizon sent home its staff from its Brisbane-Sydney operations until May 18.

But the good news over the weekend means services to the interstate network may return earlier than expected.

“ARTC made significant progress with repair works between Telarah and Dungog over the weekend and as a result we are able to bring forward the forecast to return the ARTC network along the mid North Coast operations, with some certainty,” the ARTC said.

The ARTC said the forecast has been brought forward due to heavy rains in the area last week fortunately avoiding work sites, as well round-the-clock work periods and the ability to deliver truck movements from Martin’s Creek Quarry, in double shifts, 18-hours a day.

The cancellation of the local Tocal Agricultural Days also helped, the ARTC added, as it allowed for consistent access over three days through the main access point to the major washaway sites.

“We cannot thank the Agricultural College enough for their assistance over the last two weeks in allowing us access to the main repair sites,” the ARTC said, “their support has been immense in allowing us to return operations quickly, safely and ahead of schedule.

“Following completion of civil works later this week, there will be final track testing and certification requirements before the track can be formally reopened.”

The ARTC said its operations staff is underway planning a return to service with its customers, and will manage a staged, balanced return to operations from Saturday morning onwards.

Anthony Albanese, ASA

Albo rips Greens’ ‘fantasy world’ transport policy

The NSW election took place over a month ago, but it’s not too late for federal shadow transport and infrastructure minister Anthony Albanese to lampoon the Greens for their pre-election transport policy.

“One of the advantages of representing a minor political party is that because you aren’t trying to win government, you never have to deliver on your promises,” Albanese wrote in an op-ed for The Australian on Tuesday, which he later re-published on his own site.

“But that fact should not excuse politicians from minor parties from offering genuine, workable solutions to policy challenges facing the community.”

Prior to the election, the Greens proposed a plan which included shutting down the existing Kingsford Smith airport, cancelling development of the second airport at Badgerys Creek, and building a new airport outside the Sydney basin, connected to the city via a high speed rail line.

Albanese isn’t a fan.

“If this were put in place, Sydney would be the only global city without an airport,” he observed.

“It’s the stuff of fantasy. It has no place in the world of serious policy debate.”

Albanese said that individual, “realistic” Greens party members know the policy is not a practical one.

“Yet the policy remains and enables the party to campaign for zero impact of aviation activity anywhere,” the former deputy prime minister wrote, “despite the fact modern aviation is a driver of economic activity.”

Albanese accused the Greens of “giving up” on the decades-long debate surrounding Sydney’s aviation needs. He said that before opposing the existing plans for another airport at Badgerys Creek, the party opposed the proposal to build the airport at an alternative site.

“The Greens opposed Wilton, too,” Albanese recalled.

“In the light of this, their proposal to banish Sydney’s airport to an unnamed site and to link it to the city with a high-speed rail line cannot be taken seriously.

“The comprehensive study into the plan to build a high-speed rail line from Brisbane to Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra found that 67km of tunnelling in Sydney would be necessary for it to operate.

“It’s a serious project worthy of support. But, like any major infrastructure project, high-speed rail would affect communities along the route. Tunnels require ­exhausts. Construction creates ­inconvenience.

“Delivering high-speed rail, just like building the Badgerys Creek airport, will require explanation of the benefits and broad support across the political spectrum.

“Indeed, it is likely that the challenges of high-speed rail construction will create issues over a far wider area than the second airport.”

Albanese accused the Greens party of being more interested in exploiting local communities’ fear of change for political gain, than it is on acting on principle.

“Given the Greens’ record on opposing a second Sydney airport, opposing the Moorebank Intermodal – which will take freight off trucks and on to rail – as well as opposing safety upgrades to the Pacific Highway, it would be remarkable if they did not confect reasons to oppose high-speed rail in practice,” he pointed out.

“When it comes to economic infrastructure, the Greens are political opportunists.”

Tony Abbott. Photo: Tony Abbot MP

Asciano, Aurizon, G&W and others tell Abbott: The time has come for Inland Rail

A collection of rail, logistics and freight companies have appealed, in an open letter to the prime minister, for the government to “finish the job” of building the Inland Rail project.

The letter, co-signed by Asciano, Aurizon, Genesee & Wyoming, Linfox, Qube, SCT Logistics and Toll Group, praised the government’s $300m commitment to planning the rail line, but said the industry believes “it is time for governments to take the next step to finish the job”.

“The good news is that freight volumes on Australia’s east coast are set to soar – doubling by 2030 and tripling by 2050,” the letter observed.

“This increase in economic activity will be great for Australian families and businesses in generating income and jobs, but also presents significant challenges for the nation.

“Inland Rail is the smart solution to these freight challenges, and the best time to build it is now.”

Published as a full-page ad in the Australian Financial Review over the weekend, the letter appeased with the government’s road-first mentality, saying, “The road transport sector is essential for this country and will remain so”.

“But rail has a much greater contribution to make in society as a whole, reducing pressure on our existing road infrastructure, essential services and the environment.”

Inland Rail, a project connecting Brisbane and Melbourne via a rail line through central NSW, is projected to cost several billion dollars to construct.

Federal minister for infrastructure and regional development Warren Truss announced early tenders for the project in March.

But project supporters – as evidenced by the open letter – don’t believe the government is working fast enough to kick-start the project.

“The first tenders for the improvement of some of the line that already exists have now been advertised,” the companies said.

“The companies are asking that Infrastructure Australia now be asked to review the business case ahead of Commonwealth investment in the project.

“About 80% of freight moving between the east and west coasts of Australia travels on rail. This is a highly productive, cost-effective and low emission service.

“Today, less than 30% of freight moving between Melbourne and Brisbane travels by rail. Building the Inland Rail is a huge opportunity for this country.”

“Prime Minister, as your Government considers the business case for Inland Rail over the coming months, we urge you to consider the points that we have raised today, and invest accordingly,” the letter concluded.

“Your decision to provide full construction funding for Inland Rail will create new jobs and have a transformative impact on Australia’s supply chain for generations to come.”

Freight rail track - stock - credit Shutterstock (8)

ARTC confirms: North Coast closed to at least May 17

49 sites on the Australian Rail Track Corporation’s North Coast interstate network in NSW require repair work of some kind following last week’s flooding and storm damage.

A report from rail operator Aurizon on Wednesday suggested the interstate network between Brisbane and Sydney would be out of action until at least May 18. The ARTC on Thursday confirmed a preliminary forecast for reopening of the line of May 17.

“With a consistent supply of materials continuing, weather remaining cooperative and continued positive progress of existing works, ARTC’s initial target is to reopen the track for operations on 17 May 2015,” the ARTC said on Thursday evening.

“We will constantly review this date based on site conditions and progress and will take every opportunity to bring this forecast forward if we can.”

Since last week’s extreme weather, the ARTC has identified 49 sites on the North Coast network that require repair work of some kind.

The work ranges from minor track repairs to large washaways.

As of Thursday, April 30, ARTC engineers and track engineers had completely scoped 47 of the 49 sites, while 41 sites have had works commence, with some already completed.

“Three major sites at Tocal are a key focus for the team,” the ARTC outlined.

“These sites include completely establishing new rail track from the ground up and filling in sizeable track washaways, some greater than 10m deep and 70m wide.”

The ARTC did not identify this incident specifically, but it’s likely that the Tocal sites referenced on Thursday include the one which let to the spectacular destruction of an impromptu suspension bridge, captured on film by the local Tocal College.

“Geotechnical assessments have been completed at these locations and the engineering task to recover the track around Tocal is underway,” the ATSB said.

“ARTC will continue to provide progress reports over the coming weeks.

“We thank the community and our customers for their continued patience with us as we work to recover operations as quickly and safely as possible.”

Wild weather affects Melbourne trains. Photo: Shutterstock

Kempsey to provide interstate relief

The Australian Rail Track Corporation and operator Pacific National have “revived” the Kempsey rail yard in northern NSW, after last week’s severe weather and flooding damaged and closed the main interstate rail line south of Dungog.

The ARTC has shut the North Coast network to at least May 17, after flooding and other extreme weather events caused significant damage to infrastructure in the region.

With trucks in high demand, Kempsey will play a key role in moving freight between Sydney and Brisbane over the next few weeks, with the interstate network out of action, the ARTC said.

Trucks will be using Kempsey Yard as a temporary stop-off point to unload containers on to a daily train heading north and then picking up extra freight to take south, ARTC’s executive general manager for interstate, Peter Winder said.

“While the use of the yard is only short-term, it is providing us with a critical freight solution while we get the track repaired and back up-and-running again just south of Dungog,” Winder said.

“We would like to thank council for helping us get this temporary solution up-and-running and really appreciate their support in this time of need for the freight industry.

“We would also like to thank the community in advance for bearing with us over the next few weeks while there are some additional truck movements in-and-out of town.”

The yard will be operational over the next three to four weeks starting today (Friday, May 1), from 6am to 6pm with corresponding truck movements around that time frame.

A train will arrive at Kempsey around 6am, and will depart around 8pm. At this stage only one train per day will be operating, the ARTC said.

Train shunting activities within the yard aren’t expected to activate the Belgrave Street level crossing, the corporation added.

Trucks will arrive/depart from Pacific Highway via Frederickton and Macleay Valley Way, First Lane and then onto Gladstone Street.

Trucks will enter the yard via Gladstone Street and exit on to Belgrave Street before turning back up to Gladstone Street to depart. Equipment in use in the yard will include heavy forklifts and it will involve movements of containers from truck to train and vice-versa, the ARTC said.

“We would like to apologise for the short notice around this activity and the inconvenience over the next few weeks. We thank the community for its patience with us, during this emergency solution,” Winder concluded.

rail damage - Transport NSW

Hunter coal network to open Wednesday afternoon

The Australian Rail Track Corporation has announced that the Hunter Valley coal rail network, which was closed by severe weather and flooding last week, will return to service early on Wednesday afternoon, April 29.

Heavy rain and wind last week left the ARTC’s Hunter and North Coast networks flooded and damaged, with the corporation announcing on Tuesday, April 21 that it had closed the rail lines.

An initial forecast for the Hunter network predicted a possible re-opening as early as last Friday, April 24. But flood waters were slow to recede, and the ARTC had to extend that forecast by at least 48 hours.

On Monday, April 27, the corporation announced that infrequent passenger services would resume in Hunter, but that operations on the Hunter coal rail network were still offline.

“We currently remain unable to operate beyond Maitland,” the track administrator said on Monday.

“Large sections of track are now visible through the water line and the local team has been able to continue repair and refurbishment of signalling and track equipment.

“There are still sections of track with high water levels around Wallis Creek Bridge, however initial inspections of the bridge structure have taken place and are positive.”

A day later, on Tuesday, April 28, the ARTC was able to confirm a forecasted re-opening of the Hunter coal rail line of “early tomorrow afternoon (29 April)”.

“ARTC is working closely with our customers and the Hunter coal chain on the operational start-up plan,” the corporation said.

“ARTC maintenance crews will continue to work through the week to return the track to normal operating conditions.”

The ARTC prepared residents for a noisy few days, saying the work would “involve heavy track repair machines working around-the-clock conducting track resurfacing and rail grinding”.

“This is essential to get the network back up and running and we apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

While the forecast will be welcomed by operators on the crucial Maitland-to-Newcastle line and the broader Hunter network, users on the ARTC’s interstate, North Coast track are in for a longer wait.

The North Coast network, which was crippled by fast-moving flood waters which removed huge sections of ballast, and landslides which in places completely covered the rail line, is still closed a week later.

“The mid North Coast track remains closed, however works have been progressing well,” the ARTC said. “A number of minor repair jobs have been completed.

“Focus remains on two major project sites around Tocal where geotechnical assessments have been completed and all-weather and alternative access roads are being prepared to allow for consistent supply of materials.”

Coal Train Photo Hunter Valley Coal Chain Coordinator

Hunter Valley network on track; North Coast remains closed

The Australian Rail Track Corporation is still unable to operate serviced beyond Maitland, but main line operations for local passenger trains have returned to the Hunter network since it was closed last week due to flooding.

The ARTC said on Sunday night that the Hunter Valley network should be opened by Monday morning, but confirmed that the North Coast line would remain closed.

Following flooding and high winds last week, the ARTC shut the Hunter Valley network between Maitland and the Port of Newcastle, along with its North Coast network.

Initially the authority believed it could re-open the Hunter network on Friday last week, but flood waters were slow to retreat, and the ARTC announced a further closer to the Hunter network of 48 hours.

The ARTC said on Monday that it would be able to give a forecast for return to services between Maitland and the port sometime on Tuesday afternoon.

“With flood waters dropping over the weekend and improved weather conditions, ARTC teams have been able to make good progress with repairs to the track between the Port of Newcastle and Maitland,” the ARTC said.

A Pacific National test train was run on the track to de-scale the rail and ensure all repaired signaling and track circuitry was working properly.

“The Maitland flood gates remain up but water has been dropping at a rate that we expect the gates to be removed tomorrow morning,” the ARTC said.

“There are still sections of track with high water levels around Wallis Creek, and this will be the key area of focus for our team after the flood gates come down.

“Some parts of the network are still without power, and there remains a sizeable track repair and signalling repair job to take place over coming days.”

The ARTC said crews will continue to work through the week to return the track to normal operating conditions.

“Residents are advised that this will involve heavy track repair machines working around-the-clock conducting track resurfacing and rail grinding.

“This is essential to get the network back up and running and we apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

The corporation said it will continue to work with customers and the Hunter coal chain on an operational start up plan for coal, passenger and general freight that will take into account the need to meet passenger timetables, provide coal customers with access to the port, “and above all, safety”.

The North Coast network, which sustained substantial damage during last week’s extreme weather – including severe ballast washouts and several landslips – remains closed, with no forecast for re-opening yet offered by the ARTC.