Tracklaying has begun on the Carmichael Rail Network as builder Martinus Rail deploys an array of specialist track construction equipment to the site. Read more
As Martinus Rail has experienced tremendous growth, a constant remains its local ownership and investment.
Martinus’ in-house approach is de-risking rail construction.
Having stepped up from a product supply business into a rail construction outfit, the young upstart of the Australian rail construction industry decided three years ago to head out on its own with the purchase of major multi-million-dollar pieces of machinery.
“The business has only been delivering construction projects for around eight years,” said Martinus chief operating officer Ryan Baden. “For the first part of five years, we would be relying on other people’s plant and equipment to do the final piece, mainly tampers, regulators, and flash butt welders. We had grown to a position where it was only the large, tier one contractors that had these pieces of equipment and we were now competing with them.”
To de-risk construction projects it was working on, Martinus made the decision to purchase the plant, machinery, and equipment and recruit their own team to overhaul and maintain the growing fleet.
“It’s essentially about de-risking project delivery and overall business risk ,” said Baden. “We control all the pieces of the puzzle; we recruit all of our own labourers, engineers, and supervisors, plus our strong financial position and current project pipeline means we can significantly invest in our own plant and machinery.
“Our next goal was to purchase our own ballast trains – that has really changed everything for us, it solidified our end vision of having the largest fleet of specialised rail equipment in Australia, all the while ensuring we were well equipped to deliver upcoming projects and maintain full control of logistics and maintenance.”
For any major rail construction project, having a few pieces of bright yellow kit is not enough by itself, there needs to be a level of logistical and rail safety knowhow to ensure that the kit is fully operational, at the right place, and at the right time.
“In the past, particularly for the product supply side of the business, we were using freight forwarders and received good service, but the plan for some time has been to bring it all inhouse.”
As the fleet grew, so did the team. Martinus hired logistics manager Jason Gibson who has previously worked for a large mining company. The vertical integration of Martinus’ supply chain has worked before and is now even more enhanced by their inhouse experts.
The value of these investments was realised straightaway, said David Van Hoos, national plant and asset manager for Martinus.
“The first tamper we secured was mobilised as part of the Gold Coast light rail project Stage 2. We were able to quickly bring it up to site specification and employ our own operators and fitters, we gained flexibility to adapt to program changes and minimise any potential interruptions or delays that may have occurred relying on external suppliers.”
With the successful implementation of the first piece of major plant and several large- scale projects in the pipeline, it made good business sense to create a standalone plant department dedicated to servicing their own rail projects. This has also increased Martinus’ capacity and capability to become a consistent and reliable interface on major rail and civil construction projects.
“What we’ve found is clients are looking to de-risk themselves around interfaces on sites,” said Baden. “In the past, clients would bring us in to deliver the track, someone else to complete the overhead wiring, and another contractor for signalling – that’s three different interfaces for them to manage. With extensive rail knowledge and strong project management skills, the next step to further add value for our clients was bringing in subject matter experts to handle the overhead wiring, signalling and comms as part of the Martinus team.”
THE DEVELOPMENT OF A RAIL-DEDICATED PLANT DEPARTMENT
Having established the plant department, the team under Van Hoos’ leadership has grown to include a maintenance team of 15 fitters, project managers, engineers and support staff.
“Our fitters are key to the success of the plant department, we’ve selected them based on their industry experience, but to build on that experience we’ve also recruited electrical and mechanical apprentices to build a diverse and well-rounded team for the future,” said Van Hoos. “It’s great to be able to invest in the younger generation and teach them everything we know about rail.”
Rather than swelling in size for each individual project, the team at Martinus are employed full-time to ensure that the business can deliver on any of the major projects it is engaged on. Being solely focused on rail has contributed to the energy and enthusiasm in the workshop, said Van Hoos.
Supplementing the skilled tradespeople are local suppliers, when needed. Currently, Martinus is constructing the Carmichael Rail Network (CRN), in Central Queensland, and has just engaged a local Mackay business in a $1 million contract to fabricate the metal framework for the supply consist behind Martinus’ tracklaying machine. Staying in touch with locals has also come in handy as border restrictions have limited the movement of people across Australia and New Zealand. Martinus have engaged Harsco to build two continuous track lifters (CTL), who are local to Martinus’ main plant department in Brisbane. The CTLs are being fabricated and manufactured locally.
“The border restrictions have also forced us to look outside of the rail industry to build our team,” said Van Hoos. “We have employed members from the military, electricians from the automotive industry, and fitters from the mining sector all led by experienced industry leaders – this diverse mix adds another level of knowledge and bring a unique set of skills to our team.”
“With travel restrictions in place, it’s been a great advantage to have Harsco close by as we’ve been able to have regular progress visits and factory acceptance testing at Harsco’s workshop. Any issues can be resolved very quickly, and seeing the production in the workshop first-hand has also been a bonus.”
MULTIGAUGE AS STANDARD
While the CRN and another project that Martinus is currently working on, the Forrestfield Airport Link are narrow gauge, the team are mindful that having dedicated narrow gauge plant and equipment will limit where it can work in Australia, New Zealand, and internationally.
“We operate an international rail business that works across three different gauges and probably about 20 different railway networks. Van Hoos and the in-house rollingstock engineers work closely to ensure that our build specification enable us to move the machinery around safely, quickly and efficiently,” said Baden.
In terms of the equipment that Martinus has purchased, which in addition to ballast wagons and the continuous track lifting machine also includes a sleeper laying machine, a track laying machine, four tampers and four ballast regulators, six flash butt welders among other pieces of plant, all are designed to be used across multiple projects.
“When purchasing plant, be it new or second-hand, we have been focused on gauge convertible plant which ensures the flexibility from one project to the next,” said Van Hoos.
Being able to move between standard and narrow also allows Martinus to work on shorter jobs on metropolitan networks.
“Soon, we will be taking delivery of 40 ballast wagons, two continuous track, six flash butt welders on hi-rail trucks – all brand new, gauge convertible equipment ready to go,” said Van Hoos.
This fleet is complimented with six locomotives that Martinus purchased from KiwiRail.
“It was perfect timing for Martinus that KiwiRail were renewing their current locomotive fleet. The gauge and specifications of the locos were aligned to our requirements for CRN” said Van Hoos. “These locomotives will be used for construction only to haul our ballast and sleeper wagons.”
While the fleet sets Martinus up for any number of projects around Australia and New Zealand, as the past year has shown, there are any number of unpredictable events that could occur in the meantime and require new thinking to ensure projects get over the line. In New Zealand, where Martinus has a contract to provide flash butt welding services to its Woburn depot and around the network. Of course, getting people there has not been possible so Van Hoos has come up with a unique fix.
“We’ve come up with a solution to train a local operator via video link under the supervision of our project team in New Zealand. One of our Australian based operator/fitters has been providing non- stop online training for carefully selected Martinus fitters and operators in New Zealand. This initiative has allowed us to continue on despite travel restrictions and resulted in minimal delays to KiwiRail’s re-railing projects.”
Martinus is ready to look at rail construction in a different way.
A new rollingstock operator is in the process of establishing itself to haul coal to Abbot Point.
Bowen Rail Company has applied for accreditation as a rollingstock operator with the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR). If the application is successful, the Bowen Rail Company will legally be able to operate rollingstock.
The Bowen-based business, which according to reports is owned by mining company Adani, stated in an August press release that it will be focused on servicing the Abbot Point terminal, where Adani will export the coal mined at its Carmichael mine.
“Bowen Rail Company’s initial focus will be to provide haulage services to the existing Abbot Point export terminal using the industry’s most technologically advanced rail fleet.”
The press release states that the company has purchased locomotives and rollingstock, with the first four locomotives to arrive in 2021. Bowen Rail Company head of project delivery David Wassel said the type of locomotives purchased would enable the company to hire more broadly.
“The benefit of our fleet is that it can be operated by anyone once they have had the right training, regardless of their physical size, age or experience, which means we can open up operator-type roles to a much broader workforce and to people who haven’t necessarily worked in the rail sector,” he said.
“Our goal is to ensure approximately half of our workforce is comprised of new-to-rail industry employees.”
The establishment of the company follows Adani’s struggle to secure an above-rail haulage agreement with an established operator.
In 2019, Adani was snubbed by Genesee & Wyoming Australia, now known as One Rail Australia, and Aurizon had been under pressure from shareholders to not provide above-rail services to Adani. Aurizon said it was not aware of Adani seeking to negotiate above-rail services.
“We are not aware Adani has commenced any commercial process with regard to the tender of above-rail haulage contracts or indeed whether they intend to,” said an Aurizon spokesperson.
Adani will still have to negotiate an access agreement with Aurizon to use the Central Queensland Coal Network, which connects that Carmichael Rail Network to the Abbot Point terminal. Aurizon is legally obliged to consider and assess all access requests however a spokesperson said that all requests are confidential.
“We cannot comment on any discussions that may occur as part of any application made by Adani,” the Aurizon spokesperson said.
To meet the other requirements of operating a rail haulage company, a Bowen Rail Company spokesperson said the company would go it alone.
“Bowen Rail Company will be self-sufficient with respect to rollingstock maintenance and supporting infrastructure. All contract arrangements are commercial in confidence.”
Construction of the Carmichael Rail Network is currently underway, with piling for bridge structures about to begin.
Martinus is about to begin piling works for the first bridge on the Carmichael Rail Network.
Already, construction of the first of many waterway crossings has begun while bulk earthworks continue.
Chief operating officer Ryan Baden said the project involved a number of civil construction processes.
“We are delivering the port-side civil works, which is around 86 kilometres of the earthworks formation with 10 multi-span superstructures – one that spans 50 metres, 87 culvert structures and three-million cubic meters of cut to fill.”
To prepare the rail for installation, on-site flash-butt welding is taking place.
Martinus has 300 staff on site working on the project and is looking to involve locals wherever possible.
The contract for civil construction works on the Carmichael Rail Network has been awarded to BMD.
Mining company Adani announced that the $350 million contract would include earthworks, drainage, bridges, rail camp construction, and road upgrades to connect the Adani mine site to the Central Queensland Coal Network.
The announcement is the second civil works contract awarded for the Carmichael Rail Network, with Martinus delivering a separate package of work.
Adani Mining CEO Lucas Dow said that the local company would be suited for the job.
“BMD is a proud Queensland company and we’re thrilled to have them on board and delivering the largest package of works awarded on our project,” said Dow.
“As people will already know BMD has operated in North Queensland for more than 25 years, with Townsville forming their regional base for delivery of this contract.”
Dow expects the works to create 600 jobs.
Scott Power, group executive director – operations at BMD said that local suppliers and communities would benefit.
“At a time when jobs across the country are hard to come by, this project is generating much needed employment opportunities for locals and locally based suppliers in north and central Queensland,” said Power.
“The award of this contract is recognition of the capability and capacity of Australian contractors and provides a boost for our teams, supply chain and the communities in which we operate.”
In total, 200km of rail will be constructed, comprising 26,417 tonnes of steel and 319,000 sleepers. The line will progress over 460 culverts, 17 bridges over waterways, 2 road over rail bridges, 68 crossings, and local road upgrades.
Adani has awarded the civil construction contract for the Carmichael Rail Network to Martinus.
The $220 million contract includes 86km of rail formation works, a road over rail bridge, nine waterway bridges and over 200 culverts and 35 rail crossings.
The rail project extends for 200km of narrow gauge rail linking the Carmichael Mine to existing rail infrastructure.
Measures in line with coronavirus (COVID-19) precautions have been put in place, said Adani Mining CEO Lucas Dow.
“We’re following all advice from Queensland Health and the federal government and doing all we can to keep our people and the community safe,” he said.
“We also understand how important it is to continue our operations where safe and practicable to provide certainty of employment for our staff and contractors.
“I want to make it clear that the health and safety of our staff is our first priority, however where we are able to continue to operate safely and in line with advice, we will do so.”
Social distancing measures, health screening, and increased hygiene practices are part of the efforts to prevent any spread of COVID-19.
Adani awarded a previous $100 million contract for track works. To date, the first rail camp is complete, with a second under construction and a third about to begin. Across the entire 200km network 26,147 tonnes of steel will be used and 319,000 sleepers will be laid. The entire project will include 460 culverts, 17 bridges over waterways, two road over rail bridges, 68 railway crossings, and local road upgrades.
The workforce for the project will be based out of Rockhampton and Townsville.
Martinus is half owned by Malaysian contractor Gamuda, which indicated in a press release in October 2019 that it was seeking to further enter the Australian rail market. Gamuda has also set up a local subsidiary, Gamuda Engineering Australia.