Queensland Rail passenger train - photo QLD Matt

High Court sides with workers in Queensland fracas

The Rail, Tram & Bus Union will push for a pay rise for Queensland Rail workers after unions on Wednesday won a High Court challenge against industrial relations changes made by the former Newman Government.

A number of unions representing Queensland Rail employees brought their case to the High Court after, in 2013, the Newman Government transferred QR employees to the Queensland industrial relations system – moving them out of the federal system.

The move, according to unions, resulted in the “theft of many conditions,” according to RTBU Queensland state secretary Owen Doogan.

“The case boiled down to whether the Newman Government had the right to simply pass laws bringing QR back under its own lousy workplace laws.

“The High Court said that they did not have that right.”

The judgement, which is thought to impact about 6,000 workers, effectively removes restrictions which limited their ability, and the ability of unions, to take industrial action in response to their employer’s actions.

Electrical Trades Union national secretary Allen Hicks believes the decision could impact industrial relations in other states, telling the Australian Financial Review that the High Court had delivered “a clear warning to conservative governments that there are rules and limits, and the union movement will fight tooth and nail to defend workers’ rights”.

“The Newman government, which was spectacularly dumped by voters earlier this year, had attempted to strip entitlements from employees at this government-owned business by moving them to a ‘statutory authority’, which they claimed was outside the coverage of the Fair Work Act,” he was quoted as saying.

“What the High Court has confirmed is that if a ‘statutory authority’ looks and acts like a company, then it is, in fact, a company, and the Fair Work Act applies.”

Unions have resolved to work with Queensland Rail to reach a new deal.

“The unions will now be seeking to negotiate agreements in the federal arena to replace the agreements which have expired over the last few years in the federal system,” RTBU state secretary Doogan said.

“[On Wednesday] I received a commitment form the QR CEO that there would be no reduction in conditions for QR workers as a result of the High Court decision and that discussions will now commence to address the issues flowing from this agreement.”

CRL credit Auckland Transport

First phase contracts awarded for Auckland’s City Rail Link

Auckland Transport has named a pair of construction consortia to undertake the first phase of construction for the NZ$2.5 billion City Rail Link project.

Two joint ventures were awarded contracts valued at around NZ$3 million as part of the CRL project’s first phase: the JV of Downer NZ and Soletanche Bachy, and the JV of McConnell Dowell and Hawkins.

The first JV, which is led by Downer, will progress the the early CRL work through and under Britomart Station and Queen Street to the Downtown Shopping Centre site. The contract includes establishing temporary accommodation for Britomart Station’s ticketing and customer service operations, and underpinning the former Chief Post Office building to allow construction of rail tunnels underneath it.

That Downer-led JV will also be responsible for certain upgrades to urban space and roads surrounding the project.

The second JV, between McConnell Dowell and Hawkins (known as the Connectus consortium), will construct the cut and cover tunnels under and along Albert Street from Customs Street to Wyndham Street. Work is likely to start in October this year, with the relocation of a major storm water line first on the to-do list.

Representatives of all the successful firms were pleased with the result.

Roger McRae, managing director of McConnell Dowell, said: “McConnell Dowell and Hawkins have a combined history of over 100 years in infrastructure construction in New Zealand.

“It’s enormously satisfying to be working together on a transport project that is helping to shape the future.”

“We are excited to have won a contract for what will be the most significant improvement to Auckland’s transport network since the opening of the Auckland Harbour Bridge,” Downer NZ’s general manager of new business, Chris Moloney added.

The CRL will link Britomart and the city centre with the existing western line near Mount Eden, via an underground rail line.

Auckland Transport says the addition of the new line will mean 30,000 passengers will be able to move to the city centre every hour at peak times, with a train at least every 10 minutes in each direction along the new line.

Chris Meale, Auckland Transport’s project director for the CRL, said the new contracts were a significant step forward for the construction of the line.

“We are now definitely on the way to building a key missing link in our city’s public transport network,” Meale said.

“Once completed, the CRL will turn a one way cul-de-sac rail system at Britomart, into a two way through system that will be able to carry 30,000 people an hour, providing an efficient and reliable transport choice for Aucklanders.”

Spit Kits - Photo: spitkit.co.uk

Sydney train workers want ‘spit kits’ to identify offenders

The NSW Branch of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union ‘spit kits’ should be used to collect evidence following spitting assaults on transport workers on the Sydney network.

‘Spit kits’ allow staff members to swab an offender’s saliva to obtain their DNA following spitting incidents. This DNA can then be tested, to see whether a match can be found within the Police database.

“Spit assaults on transport workers are unfortunately on the rise,” the RTBU NSW Branch said on its Facebook page this week.

“We’re calling for portable testing equipment to track down the offenders.

“The ‘spit kits’ work by testing the DNA in saliva against existing databases of people with criminal records. In the UK the kits have been a big success and have led to a decrease in spitting attacks.”

Indeed, Transport for London, which introduced trial kits in early 2003, says they’ve reduced spit attacks on staff by 75%.

“The kits were first introduced on London Underground Zone 1 stations in the summer of 2003 as part of a programme to tackle violent and antisocial behaviour towards staff,” TfL said in July 2013.

Following the successful trial, the kits were distributed to all London Underground stations in October 2003. The use of the kits, coupled with publicity about their use, helped reduce the average number of reported incidences from 12 per reporting period to just three, over the next decade, TfL said.

By all accounts, the ‘spit kit’ deployment in London has been a success.

“From 1 April 2012 to 31 March 2013, 91% of all spit kit submissions resulted in a DNA profile being obtained,” British Transport Police detective inspector John Justice said.

“73% of all spit kit submissions resulted in the DNA identification of an offender.”

And the success of the kits in the London Underground, specifically, might expedite their implementation in the Sydney Trains network. Howard Collins, chief executive of Sydney Trains, was the chief operating officer of the London Underground from July 2008 to June 2013.

Cement rocks. Photo: Honeywell

East-West road project scrapping ‘difficult to fathom’

Despite the rail industry’s support of the Victorian Labor Government’s scrapping of the East-West Link tollroad project, one contractor is still struggling to comprehend the decision.

Martin Brydon, chief executive of cement business Adelaide Brighton, told Fairfax this week that the scrapping of the tollroad was not in the best interests of the economy.

“Australia needs an infrastructure program,” Brydon reportedly told the Australian Financial Review on Tuesday. “It is very frustrating to see the political machinations in Victoria with the East-West; it is difficult to fathom.

“It is incredulous that contracts of that size could be entered into in good faith only for them to be effectively torn up. I don’t see how that engenders investment or confidence.”

Australia’s construction sector – like the world’s as a whole – has slowed down in recent years, and that slowdown was no doubt worsened in Brydon’s eyes by the Andrews Government’s decision.

The slowdown has triggered consolidation talks, leading some analysts to bring up the potential re-kindling of a decade-old proposal between Adelaide Brighton and competitor Boral.

Brydon reportedly told Fairfax the impending merger of global players Holcim and Lafarge could trigger a round of consolidation in the Australian construction sector.

If that happens, Brydon told Fairfax this week, he would be keen to see Adelaide Brighton involved. And he said that while a merger with Boral remains unlikely, it still makes sense, a decade on from the failed takeover bid from Boral in 2004.

Boral’s 2004 bid for Adelaide Brighton was valued at $867 million. Adelaide Brighton now has a market capitalisation of $3 billion.

“I’ve always held the view that the construction materials assets of both companies in Australia should come together,” Brydon was quoted yesterday by the AFR. “There is a natural fit.

“I don’t think [a merger with Boral is] going to happen in the short term,” he conceded, however. “Boral has indicated it is not something they are interested in.

“There is some prospect that the existing players in Australia could see further rationalisation and Adelaide Brighton would be very pleased to participate if that were to occur,” he said.

“The Swiss [Holcim, which has interests in Australia] having merged with Lafarge; do they really see this relatively small market in Australia absolutely fitting with their strategy to be in all growth markets in the world? Some would say, probably not,” Brydon was quoted as saying by Fairfax.

“I’m not saying there is anything on the table, but we think about it, and would welcome the opportunity to participate.”

Mike Baird and Gladys Berejiklian. Photo: Mike Baird / Twitter

Baird names new cabinet for NSW

Newly re-elected NSW premier Mike Baird has named his cabinet, which features a new minister for transport and infrastructure.

Andrew Constance was named minister for transport and infrastructure at the first Liberal Party room meeting since the election in Sydney on Wednesday.

Former transport and infrastructure minister Gladys Berejiklian has been named the state’s treasurer, and minister for industrial relations.

“I am particularly proud that Gladys Berejiklian and Gabrielle Upton will become the first women in NSW history to hold the positions of Treasurer and Attorney-General,” Baird said.

Baird named a similar roster to the group he headed pre-election, with four changes: Katrina Hodgkinson, Kevin Humphries, Jai Rowell and Matthew Mason-Cox were shifted to the back bench, while Niall Blair, Leslie Williams, David Elliot and Mark Speakman were newly appointed to the cabinet.

The new NSW ministry is as follows:

  • Mike Baird: Premier, Minister for Western Sydney
  • Troy Grant: Deputy Premier; Minister for Justice and Police, the Arts, Racing
  • Gladys Berejiklian: Treasurer, Minister for Industrial Relations
  • Adrian Piccoli: Minister for Education
  • Duncan Gay: Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight; Vice-President of Executive Council
  • Anthony Roberts: Minister for Industry, Resources and Energy
  • Jillian Skinner: Minister for Health
  • Andrew Constance: Minister for Transport and Infrastructure
  • Brad Hazzard: Minister for Family and Community Services, Social Housing
  • Rob Stokes: Minister for Planning
  • Dominic Perrottet: Minister for Finance, Services and Property
  • Gabrielle Upton: Attorney-General
  • Pru Goward: Minister for Mental Health, Medical Research, Women, Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault; Assistant Minister for Health
  • John Ajaka: Minister for Ageing, Disability Services, Multiculturalism
  • Stuart Ayres: Minister for Trade, Tourism and Major Events; Sport
  • Victor Dominello: Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation
  • John Barilaro: Minister for Regional Development, Skills, Small Business
  • Paul Toole: Minister for Local Government
  • Niall Blair: Minister for Primary Industries, Lands and Water
  • Mark Speakman: Minister for the Environment, Heritage; Assistant Minister for Planning
  • David Elliott: Minister for Corrections, Emergency Services, Veterans Affairs
  • Leslie Williams: Minister for Early Childhood Education, Aboriginal Affairs; Assistant Minister for Education
Anthony Albanese, ASA

Albanese again argues case for transport funding

Shadow minister for transport and infrastructure Anthony Albanese has once again grilled the Federal Government for its refusal to fund public transport projects at the state level.

It’s one of the favourite pastimes of the former deputy prime minister; he’s back on the prime minister’s case for his refusal to fund states’ public transport projects – specifically in the rail sector.

Albanese on March 27 labelled Tony Abbott’s focus on roads “absurd,” and said the prime minister was “short-changing Australian cities and damaging quality of life for Australian families living in the outer suburbs”.

Albanese voiced his support for a recent report from community group National Growth Areas Alliance, which called for better transport links to support the outer suburbs of Australian cities.

“Four million Australians live in outer suburban areas, where population growth is double the national rate,” Albanese said.

“Increasing numbers of Australians are living in drive-in/drive-out suburbs where they can afford housing but where local job opportunities are limited.

“Since taking office in 2013, Mr Abbott has refused to invest a cent in urban public transport and scrapped planned investments in major urban rail projects including the Melbourne Metro and Brisbane’s Cross River Rail Link.”

NGAA represents 24 of Australia’s “fastest growing” municipalities. The NGAA release last week said 3.3 million people were living in the NGAA areas in the 2013 census, and this was expected to rise to 4.1 million people by 2021.

“It is imperative that the government act to connect outer suburban communities to public transport at the earliest possible stage of their development,” Albanese said.

“This will not happen under Mr Abbott’s roads only policy.”

Albanese warned the Coalition’s “prejudice against public transport” make traffic congestion worse, and will inhibit national economic and jobs growth.

“It will also consign millions of Australians to life in drive-in/drive-out suburbs where there are few jobs and no public transport,” he added.

Cranbourne-Pakenham Upgrade. Graphic: Labor Victoria

Labor replaces ‘Liberal con’ plan for Cranbourne-Pakenham with its own

Victoria’s new Labor Government has dropped the former Liberal Government’s $2.5 billion upgrade proposal for the Cranbourne-Pakenham line, and has launched an upgrade plan of its own.

The Andrews Government announced on Tuesday that it will not proceed with the existing proposal for the Cranbourne-Pakenham line, which it said “was brought to the previous government as a complex unsolicited bid by a private sector consortium”.

Labor said the plan “didn’t go far enough and couldn’t even deliver what the Liberals had promised,” and said it estimated the project costs would blow out to $3.1 billion – $600 million more than the plan estimated.

“The Liberals promised billions of taxpayer dollars to a private sector consortium without knowing if the project would even work,” state treasurer Tim Pallas said.

“The Liberals lied about their own project, disregarded their own process, and came close to blowing billions of taxpayer dollars on a proposal that didn’t stack up.”

Minister for public transport Jacinta Allan added: “The unsolicited bid was riddled with problems. It wasn’t up to scratch and didn’t go far enough. We’re getting on with a bigger and better plan.”

Private consortium members MTR, John Holland Rail and UGL will reportedly be paid $30 million in compensation, and the Andrews Government will buy their intellectual property for the upgrade to the line.

The new plan will see 37 new trains added to the line, with 50% of their construction to take place in Australia.

Nine level crossings will be removed between Dandenong and Caulfield, and four stations will be rebuilt: Clayton, Carnegie, Murrumbeena and Hughesdale.

A new train depot and maintenance facility will be put in Pakenham, and new and upgraded rail infrastructure will be installed in the corridor, including power and signalling upgrades.

“Fewer level crossings and more trains means fewer delays and more services, every single day,” Allan said. “It will transform Melbourne’s busiest rail line.

“Removing level crossings will create Victorian jobs. Building trains locally will protect Victorian jobs. This helps our transport system and our economy.”

Premier Andrews said: “I live in the south-east so I know the level crossings nightmare all too well.

“The boom gates between Dandenong and Caulfield stay down for up to 80 minutes over the morning peak. If we don’t act now, transport in the south-east will eventually grind to a halt.

“We’re removing 50 of our most dangerous and congested level crossings, to get people home safer and sooner.”

The Ghan - GSR

Ghan operator GSR sold to Allegro

Australian private equity group Allegro will purchase transcontinental passenger rail group Great Southern Rail from British owner Serco.

Allegro announced on Monday that it would acquire GSR, the operator of a trio of iconic passenger services: the Ghan between Darwin and Adleaide, the Indian Pacific between Sydney and Perth, and the Overland between Adelaide and Melbourne.

Adrian Loader, founding partner and managing director of Allegro, said the fund plans to capitalise on the forecast growth of the luxury experiential tourism sector in Australia.

“We view this as an opportunity to cater to the high-end tourism market,” Loader said.

“The Ghan and The Indian Pacific are iconic rail experiences positioned to provide guests with an opportunity to experience an authentic Australian adventure through the comfort and luxury of travelling by rail.”

Allegro has some experience in the transport and tourism sector: the firm is invested in Australian bus body manufacturer Custom Bus, and in the past held a stake in caravan park owner/operator Discovery Holiday Parks.

Loader said Allegro, which has more than $450 million in committed capital from investors, is interested in businesses that require capital and expertise to grow.

“Through working with management and other stakeholders, we plan to build value and realise the growth potential of these unique Australian assets,” Loader said.

“We look forward to partnering with GSR’s existing management team to generate further benefits for the company’s employees, customers and suppliers.”

GSR chief executive Chris Tallent is expected to stay on after the transaction takes place.

“We look forward to continuing our transformation of Great Southern Rail into one of the world’s greatest rail experience companies in partnership with an experienced tourism investor like Allegro,” Tallent said.

Allegro will fund the acquisition with 100% equity. No formal announcement has been made regarding the value of the deal.

The deal is expected to be completed within six weeks, subject to customary approvals.

Opal banner - Photo: Transport for NSW

20 Sydney stations get Opal top-up machines

Transport for NSW has rolled out 28 Opal top-up machines at train stations and ferry wharves across its network, with 20 stations on the Sydney network getting in on the action.

Minister for transport Gladys Berejiklian – who was re-elected to the seat of Willoughby at Saturday’s election – announced the rollout on Friday.

With 2.5 million Opal cards now issued, including 300,000 senior/pensioner cards and 70,000 concession cards for tertiary students, Berejiklian said more than 200 million trips have been taken so far with Opal cards, and more than 50 million of them have been free.

“Opal has already transformed the way people catch public transport and put an end to Sydney’s ticket queues,” Berejiklian said. “The top up machines will make Opal even more convenient for customers.”

Top-up machines were already operating on the stations along the South West Rail Link. As of this past weekend, new Opal top-up machines are now live at the following stations:

  • Parramatta
  • Penrith
  • Strathfield
  • North Sydney
  • Central
  • Kings Cross
  • Town Hall
  • Martin Place
  • Bondi Junction
  • Wynyard
  • Redfern
  • Sydney Olympic Park
  • Circular Quay
  • Domestic Airport
  • International Airport
  • Museum
  • Chatswood
  • St James
  • Leppington
  • Edmondson Park

Transport for NSW aims to install close to 350 machines across train stations, ferry wharves, and bus and light rail stops this year, providing coverage for about 99% of customers.

The first 100 machines allow customers to top-up their Opal card using a debit or credit card and later machines will accept cash, Berejiklian said.

Existing top-up methods will remain in place.

John Anderson - Toowoomba City Council

Anderson calls for rail innovation

Australian Centre for Rail Innovation (ACRI) boss John Anderson says innovation in the rail industry could be the key to the future prosperity of Australia’s logistics sector.

“For every kilogram of weight removed from a locomotive, you can add another kilogram of goods,” Anderson told the Australian Logistics Council’s annual forum last week.

“When carriages are made stronger and lighter, again more freight can be carried.”

Addressing some 400 guests at the ALC forum, Anderson said alternative materials that do not compromise safety, performance, recyclability or add to maintenance costs present great opportunities for rail and more research into materials technology is needed.

Given Australia’s world-leading position in the area of heavy haul, he said, export opportunities await.

As well as research into materials technology, Anderson believes further nuanced research is needed to highlight the safety and economic gains before governments and the public can be persuaded of the case for change and the case for investing.

“When the research base is persuasive, a national bipartisan rail policy is more likely to emerge. That will benefit all in the industry and, more importantly, consumers and business who directly or indirectly use rail.”

Anderson said more research was also needed in areas of:

  • track conditioning monitoring
  • technologies for improving rolling stock performance
  • new technologies for improving worker and passenger safety and operational efficiency
  • improving transport mobility in urban centres
  • economic analysis for calculation projections for population and freight movements for planning purposes
  • calculating the costs and efficiency of links between rail and other modes of transport

The former deputy prime minister stressed the importance of concentrating on where rail does well or where expansion will pay off rather than wasting resources, saying: “You can only make that judgement after the research has been done”.

“Australian rail manufacturing faces strong competition,” he added, “particularly from China, and suffers from inadequate infrastructure, historic under-investment and the legacy of interstate rivalry.

“This is perhaps why the case for research into better methods is more pressing.”

Anderson said ACRI hopes to “publish research to the widest possible audience and to contribute more broadly to the Australian and New Zealand public debate about rail transport and transport more broadly, with the aim of delivering economic and safety benefits to the whole community”.

He argued that rail needs national standards and national regulation in matters like product approval and validation, bidding processes, safety, wayside energy storage, data and communication, intermodal cargo handling, electronic systems, and risk management.

ACRI was launched in 2014 to build upon the research base generated by the Cooperative Research Centre for Rail Innovation, which was part of the Federal Government’s general program of scientific research and ended after seven years on June 30, 2014.

Originally published in Lloyd’s List Australia.