Full schedule of services resume on Main Western Line

Services on the Main Western line have returned to full capacity after work crews completed repairs to line the line following bushfires and flooding.

Over 150,000 man hours have been put in since the Gospers Mountain Bushfires hit the railway in December. Flooding following heavy rains in February also washed away sections of track.

Some freight services and diesel-powered passenger services had resumed in mid-January, however due to the damage to signalling equipment and overhead powerlines, regular Intercity commuter services were cancelled.

Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole said that the repairs had covered great lengths to get services back up and running.

“We know just what a vital transport link this line is for both passenger and freight services – and our crews have put in a superhuman effort to repair the devastation caused by the summer bushfires and flash flooding soon after,” said Toole.

“More than 200 employees worked to replace more than 50 kilometres of fibre optic cables and 37km of high voltage power lines damaged in the fires.”

Other equipment that had to be replaced included 75 power poles, a signal control hut, a substation, thousands of small pieces of safe working systems. The high-voltage power supply also had to be rebuilt and 540 trees removed from the corridor.

“It’s been a huge task but it’s great to know services on the Blue Mountains Line are now back on track – and ready to support essential travel for those returning to work and school and from June 1, those looking to enjoy a break in the bush,” said Toole. 

Acting chief executive of Sydney Trains Stewart Mills acknowledge the hard work of those who contributed to getting services back up and running.

“I’d like to thank every person who has worked so hard to rebuild, test and commission infrastructure critical to the safe operation of passenger and freight trains between Mount Victoria and Lithgow.”

Summer events show need for resilience focus

Kirk Coningham, CEO of the Australian Logistics Council, outlines how the effects of this summer will continue to be felt in the freight rail sector.

It is reasonable to say that many Australians have experienced a challenging beginning to 2020, and the flow-on effects are likely to affect our industry in a variety of ways over the months ahead.

The bushfires that burned through vast swathes of the continent had a devastating impact on families, local communities, and businesses. The immediate scale of the tragedy is recorded in lives and homes lost and understandably, that is where the initial focus of recovery efforts has been.

Yet in some respects, that is only the beginning of the story. With the fires now extinguished and the immediate physical threat having passed, it is becoming apparent that recovery efforts – and the cost of those efforts – will be significant.

These costs will include significant repairs that will have to be undertaken to repair damaged transport infrastructure.

Throughout the early weeks of this year, ALC has been participating in regular industry discussions convened by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Regional Development, Michael McCormack, which are focused on providing industry advice and assistance to the federal government in shaping its recovery response to the fire crisis.

What was already a difficult beginning to 2020 is now being further compounded by the challenges associated with the coronavirus.

As in the case of the fires, the initial focus is on protecting lives through containment and quarantine efforts. Yet, as with the fires, once the immediate threat is contained, there will be significant economic effects to consider.

Australia’s freight rail sector plays a crucial role in getting imported freight
to customers, as well as transporting Australian products to the point of export. The disruptive effects of an episode like the coronavirus have obvious flow-on effects across the whole supply chain – and these will need to be managed effectively and responsibly.

Over recent weeks, experts have warned that the ongoing restrictions on the movement of goods and people in China – our largest trading partner – are likely to adversely impact Australia’s agricultural exports. The effects are also being felt in other export sectors, including minerals and resources.

On the other side of the coin, restrictions on the departure of vessels from China means those importing goods to Australia – and road transport businesses which supply them – are also likely to feel a slowdown.

Improving the resilience of Australia’s supply chains to withstand the effects of natural disasters and international events was clearly identified in the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy released last year.

It was a theme echoed in the 2020 Infrastructure Priority List released by Infrastructure Australia in February. The updated list placed a renewed emphasis on enhancing the capacity of national infrastructure to cope with disruptive events – whether they be as a result of natural disasters or through other unexpected events such, as global epidemics or terrorism.

The early part of 2020 was a powerful demonstration of why our governments must join with industry in acting more urgently to address that challenge.

NSW government praised for resumption of services on Blue Mountains line

After fires forced the closure of the Blue Mountains line in late December and early January, limited services resumed between Mount Victoria and Lithgow on the evening of Monday, January 21.

Bushfires in the Blue Mountains area laid waste to a 25 kilometre stretch of railway, damaging signalling equipment and rail infrastructure. In early January services between Mount Victoria and Lithgow were expected to be closed for months, after being suspended since 19 December.

Minister for Regional Transport and Roads, Paul Toole, highlighted that crews have been working on restoring services since the closure.

“Sydney Trains’ engineers have worked tirelessly to develop temporary systems that will allow us to restore rail connectivity and safely operate a limited number of freight trains from Monday evening and passenger trains from Tuesday 21 January,” he said.

“We recognise how important this rail connection is to passengers travelling to and from the west and to moving freight and we are doing everything possible to resume full services as soon as possible.”

Freight on Rail Group (FORG) of Australia chair Dean Dalla Valle, praised the NSW government for its swift resumption of services, noting that without the rail line, more freight had to be moved via roads.

“NSW Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole MP and Sam Farraway MLC – both Bathurst boys – immediately understood the urgent need to restore rail freight services along the bushfire impacted section of track between Lithgow and Mount Victoria.”

The damage was so extensive that significant parts of the line will need to be wholly restored, said Toole.

“This will be a long recovery process as we are essentially rebuilding some parts of the operating system from scratch.”

Sydney Trains staff have removed over 300 trees and relaid kilometres of communication, electrical, and signal wiring.

Dalla Valle highlighted the nature of the NSW operator’s response.

“I’d also like to call out Sydney Trains Chief Executive Howard Collins OBE for rolling up his sleeves, quickly travelling to bushfire impacted zones to assess first-hand what needed to be done, and liaising closely with industry,” said Dalla Valle.

Schedules are still be altered to account for maintenance, said NSW TrainLink chief executive Pete Allaway.

“The first Bathurst Bullet, the Broken Hill XPLORER and most Dubbo XPT services will resume to a slightly altered timetable, with the remaining affected services to continue to be replaced by coaches and buses while repair work continues.”

Bushfires damage signalling systems in Blue Mountains

Extensive damage to the Blue Mountains rail line in NSW, during the unprecedented bushfire season which has seen an estimated 6.3 million hectares destroyed, will see the line remain closed to electric trains for another two months.

The Gospers Mountain megafirehas apparently destroyed large sections of communications and signalling systems, power supply, and other railway infrastructure along 25-kilometres of the rail line.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the megafire, which started in late October, had by December destroyed an area seven times the size of Singapore, more than 444,000 hectares.

Transport for NSW says that the focus for the next two weeks will be to assess damage, though work will start immediately to open roads where only minor work, such as the removal of dangerous trees and emergency road surface repairs, is needed.

While it will take longer to fully rebuild infrastructure, due to extent of the damage, a small number of diesel-powered trains will begin operating by late January, with the date yet to be determined.Crews are, however, working towards enabling limited freight services between Mount Victoria and Lithgow from late January.

The closure of the line has meant passengers who usually travel by Xplorer trains from Broken Hill, or diesel-powered XPTs from Dubbo, have had to catch buses for their entire journeys to and from Sydney.

In the meantime, buses will replace trains between Mount Victoria and Lithgow.

Qld, NSW experience freight rail incidents during holiday season

In late December, four Pacific National freight train wagons, transporting copper anodes, derailed at Mingela on the Mount Isa line.

In response, Queensland Rail immediately closed the rail corridor between Sellheim and Mingela for all rail traffic while response crews worked to secure and inspect the site.

Recovery crews soon commenced necessary repairs and the network was opened less than a week later.

Crews broke down the damaged track, completed reballasting and replaced the damaged sleepers and rail. Recovery works were fast-tracked by the ability to source locally and services were able to resume before the start of the new year.

Meanwhile, the unprecedented bushfire season forced the closure of the Main Southern railway line in NSW, for two days from 4thJanuary to 6th.

The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) said it suspended operations due to extreme fire conditions and high wind activity in the rail corridor between Macarthur and Goulburn.

As of the 6th of January, ARTC reopened the Main South railway line, following completion of tree removal and restoration of power lines by power supply companies.

“We would like to thank our customers for their patience and cooperation during these unforeseen circumstances. We would also like to thank all emergency services for their support and acknowledge their continuing efforts at this time,” an ARTC spokesperson said.