During South Australia’s six-day “circuit-breaker” lockdown, work on rail infrastructure projects will come to a halt. Read more
Masks are now mandatory on public transport in Auckland.
Previously, masks were recommended for public transport and only required in areas under alert level two. Read more
The value of the rail sector to Australia’s economy has grown by 14 per cent, as shown in a new report from Deloitte Access Economics, on behalf of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA).
From 2016 to 2019, the Australian rail industry grew by $3.7 billion. Today, the rail industry contributes $30bn to the Australian economy, 1.5 per cent of the national total.
Transport for NSW will deliver real-time alerts for COVID-19-safe train travel through the Opal Travel app.
The alerts will enable passengers on Sydney Trains and Sydney Metro services to be alerted based on the capacity of the service they typically travel on, allowing commuters to make decisions to further social distancing.
The COVID-19 alerts are in addition to existing alerts on trackwork, delays, and major incidents.
NSW Minister for Transport Andrew Constance said that the function would further enable safe use of public transport.
“The new feature is a world leading piece of innovation that uses real-time capacity and predictive data to help customers make better choices when travelling,” said Constance.
“We have already implemented the green dots across the network, and the notifications are another way we can help maintain physical distancing and keep people COVID safe.”
The new function was rolled out to the app in just 12 weeks and utilised data that already existed.
The developers of the alert function hope that the feature will make passengers feel more comfortable and safer when using public transport.
The alerts have been personalised based on the user’s preferences, and further feedback is hoped to help improve the design.
The Opal Travel app was updated with real-time departure information for public transport in October, similar to the information displayed on screen as stations. Other information such as vehicle position, transfer information, as well as disruptions such as trackwork or delays are also now available through the app.
These function further integrate customer information within the Opal Travel app. While passengers were able to use third party apps for real time travel data, Opal payment functions were only accessible through the Opal Travel App.
The function is expected to roll out to light rail, ferry, and bus passengers in the near future.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack sets out how rail transport could lead Australia out of a COVID-19 recession.
In July 2019, prior to the arrival of COVID-19, governor of the Reserve Bank, Philip Lowe called on governments around the country to invest more in infrastructure. Cutting the official cash rate to a then-record 1 per cent, Lowe said that more spending on infrastructure was needed.
“This spending adds to demand in the economy and – provided the right projects are selected – it also adds to the country’s productive capacity. It is appropriate to be thinking about further investments in this area, especially with interest rates at a record low, the economy having spare capacity and some of our existing infrastructure struggling to cope with ongoing population growth,” he told the Darwin business community.
Much has changed since that speech, but in some ways, Lowe’s words could be read, word for word, again, with added emphasis, as the cash rate is now 0.25 per cent and spare capacity in the form of unemployment has only risen.
To hear how the federal government and opposition are responding to this call for an infrastructure-led recovery, earlier in 2020, Rail Express spoke to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack and his shadow, Catherine King. The below interview with McCormack has been condensed and edited for clarity and length. To read Rail Express‘s interview with Catherine King, follow this link.
THE ROUTE AHEAD FOR INLAND RAIL
It’s a project that all major parties support, however Inland Rail has been a headache for the government and the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) since objections have been raised to the route over floodplains in northern NSW and Queensland. With the rail industry looking for certainty over the project, governments are hoping to increase the project’s momentum.
Rail Express (REX): In June this year there was another review announced about the project, this time looking at the so-called forestry route. Can you provide industry with some certainty about the project, particularly that critical stage between the NSW-Queensland border and Gowrie?
Michael McCormack: It’s important that regional Australia understands that by the mid-2020s when this project is completed that it is going to bring the benefits that have been talked about since the 1890s. There’s been independent analysis, there’s been hydrological reports, there’s been everything you would expect to be in a project of this size, scale, and scope. With the Condamine Plain, I appreciate that some local people have some issues with the selected route and so to certainly make sure that we’ve got the right route we’re looking at that forestry route. We’ll put the ruler over it, we’ll have independent analysis of it, we’ll have a hydrological study of it, just to make sure that the right route is eventually selected.
REX: Currently, we have forestry route review and then we have the independent panel who are reviewing the hydrological modelling on the original route, what happens if the conclusions out of both come into conflict?
McCormack: Of course we need to take on board the expert advice, to make sure that the full benefits are passed on, making sure that we can get goods from paddock to port within 24 hours. When you talk to people as I have in the Toowoomba area, and you take Jill Allwright, she’s got a cereal producing factory there, she moved to Toowoomba eight years ago. She set up her company and she’s really looking forward to Inland Rail because freight is over 20 per cent of her operating costs.
REX: I imagine businesses up and down the line such as Allwright’s would appreciate a connection to the ports of Melbourne and Brisbane as well?
McCormack: Well they will, and they’re already benefiting and during COVID-19 when so many industries have been shut down and so many jobs have been lost it’s heartening and rewarding to see that along the Parkes to Narromine section work has just continued and that’s employing thousands of people directly and indirectly.
REX: But in terms of the direct connection between Acacia Ridge and the Port of Brisbane for double stacked trains which is such a significant aspect of what makes Inland Rail competitive, how are you going to ensure that a rail connection is built, if not when the line is opened, soon afterwards?
McCormack: We’re working through those issues with state government as well as local governments. The NSW government for instance has put a special activation precinct around the Bowman area at north Wagga Wagga and invested heavily into that, and so there is buy in there for state governments, there is buy in there for local governments and of course private entities as well. We will continue to work with and negotiate with and embrace all the activity involved with Inland Rail and it’s been a collaborative project.
A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD FOR FREIGHT
Without freight rail continuing to operate throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Australia’s supermarkets shelves would be empty and commodities would be sitting at farms and mines, never making it to market. To ensure that this critical link in the logistics chain continued to operate, governments stepped in, allowing freight to cross otherwise closed borders. In May, the ARTC provided some financial relief for rail freight operators by extending payment terms for current access charges and deferring a consumer price index increase that was scheduled for July. Rail freight operators are still concerned however, with more empty containers being transported by sea, and a lack of competitive neutrality with road freight.
REX: Freight rail has rightly been recognised for the critical role it has played during the COVID-19 pandemic, how are you going to ensure the competitiveness of rail freight continues after the crisis?
McCormack: Some of the real heroes in COVID 19 have been train drivers and intermodal workers, who have delivered. We’ve got this national freight and supply chain strategy since August 2019 when states and territories agreed with the federal government to sign up to the 20 year plan and we’ve got a five year national action plan. We’re tackling the growing and changing freight task and Inland Rail is going to dovetail into that.
REX: One of the concerns of the rail freight industry has been about a lack of a level playing field between rail freight and road transport. One positive thing that we saw come out of the crisis was that the ARTC extended the payment terms for current access charges and suspended CPI-tied increases to the fees.
McCormack: We need everybody to be a player in this regard and yes there have been pressures on rail, I understand that, but that’s why Inland Rail is so important. That’s why the Victorian rail revival and other projects that we’re doing, both transpoting people and transporting freight, are just so crucial and that’s why we are investing so heavily. I am talking to ministers of all political persuasions to get the right outcomes. Is crucial that we get all the right investment in track, the right investment by states in rollingstock, and we bring about benefits for all.
REX: But for those particular fees, for the road transport industry, CPI increases heavy vehicle road user charges have been suspended for about half a decade, while it just happened now for rail. Is there a possibility to extend that to create a more competitive rail freight environment?
McCormack: We do want a more competitive rail freight industry and that’s why we are investing so heavily in it. At the end of the day, businesses and private individuals if they want to get something transported from one side of the country to the other or indeed from one town to the next, they’ll always make decisions based on cost. We want every stakeholder in the country to be competitive, whether it’s air, rail, road, or indeed whether it’s our sea lanes and our maritime freight, has a part to play in this.
AN INFRASTRUCTURE LED RECOVERY?
Infrastructure will undoubtedly play a role in getting Australia back to work after the COVID-19 recession, but what form that infrastructure will take is still up in the air. While some jurisdictions are looking for zero emissions mobility and rail to play a larger role, funding announced so far has brought forward a number of smaller roads projects around Australia, to ensure that planning times are reduced. While the age of the megaproject is not over yet, what shape those projects take could be very different in the future.
REX: What projects are you looking at in terms of bringing forward work or funding and is there a change in preference in terms of wanting to do smaller projects that can get started straight away?
McCormack: Well I can almost say watch this space because it was of course really genuinely pleasing to be working with the states and request that they bring forward some of the projects that we’ve asked them to. I wrote to them late last year and I sent another letter to them early this year when COVID-19 really started to take hold on all aspects of the economy.
REX: There’s two projects, for example, that are sitting with you right now awaiting federal approval; the Murray Darling Basin Rail Project and Melbourne Airport Rail. Is there any indication that you can move forward on either of those?
McCormack: I’ve actually messaged Victorian Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan about that and other infrastructure projects. There’s a lot happening in Victoria, a lot happening with Commonwealth money of course, and we want to make sure that whether it’s Murray Basin Rail or Melbourne Airport Rail, it’s something that’s been talked about for years and years and we’re delivering.
REX: In particular with the Melbourne Airport Rail Link, your colleague Treasurer Josh Frydenburg has suggested that super funds should bring forward more investment in infrastructure and this is one project where a consortium of super funds said they want to build a tunnel from Sunshine to Southern Cross station. Are you leaning towards a tunnel or an above ground option?
McCormack: Let’s continue to talk about that. There are some announcements that are soon to be made, whether it’s Melbourne, whether it’s our capital cities or whether it is our most rural and remote and outback towns. There’s plans being drawn up whether it’s tunnels for rail, tunnels for the Coffs Harbour bypass or whether it’s just getting that long awaited bitumen on roads in outback dusty Queensland cattle tracks.
THE FASTER OR HIGH-SPEED RAIL DILEMMA
In a speech delivered to shadow cabinet in May, Anthony Albanese reaffirmed Labor’s commitment to building a high-speed rail link between Melbourne and Brisbane, via Sydney and Canberra. As a nation-building project it would certainly be iconic, but could COVID-19 actually turn Australia’s long held dream of high-speed rail into reality?
REX: The leader of the opposition brought up high-speed rail but you have suggested you wanted to focus on faster rail. Could you give us an indication about your thinking about why you’d like to focus on faster rail rather than high-speed rail?
McCormack: I can remember holding a community conference in my home town of Wagga Wagga when I first was elected back in 2010. The late Brian Nye headed up the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) back then and I invited him to speak. I was amazed at how many people turned up but even back then, the cost of high-speed rail a link between Sydney and Melbourne via Canberra, it had a price tag then on it of $114 billion. That figure has just escalated and while there have been moves to protect and preserve the corridor so that we can ultimately do something along these lines you have to have the willingness, the capacity, and also the commuter interest to do it.
Australia is a big country and we don’t have the population that some of those countries which have invested heavily in high-speed rail do. In Australia we’re investing in the infrastructure fits the bill for what we’re doing right now.
High-speed rail, I’d like to see it in my lifetime, but we’re a big country and we’re very densely populated in our capital cities. There are opportunities of course for this type of investment but given the fact that it’s going to be very difficult to with COVID-19 to actually find that sort of investment anywhere in the world at the moment, there are other priorities at hand.
Commuters are getting back on trains, buses, and ferries in Western Australia, with patronage back up to almost 80 per cent of pre COVID-19 levels.
With the state COVID-19 free apart from overseas arrivals, life in Western Australia is beginning to return to pre-COVID norms.
WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said that the state had one of the best returns to public transport of any jurisdiction around the world.
“Western Australians’ return to public transport is back to almost 80 per cent of pre-COVID levels – one of the most successful returns to public transport across the world.”
In the latest publicly available figures, there were 3.755 million train boardings on the Transperth system in August. This is five times the number of boardings in April, which saw the lowest number of boardings with 718,519, and almost 70 per cent of 2019 figures. Patronage levels in September and October have been higher.
Driving the strong growth in patronage is the return of school students, with almost 100 per cent of pre-COVID-19 patronage, and pensioners, who had 90 per cent of pre-COVID levels. Tertiary students, however, remained low, at 60 per cent, due to the possibility and uptake of studying online.
The Western Australian government hopes that these numbers can lead to a return to growth in overall patronage numbers. In 2018-2019 the system saw the first growth in total boardings since 2012-2013. With further connections coming online with the completion of Metronet projects, these numbers are likely to increase.
Perth in particular compares well to other state and international capitals. According to the International Association of Public Transport Sydney is only at 50 per cent of pre-COVID levels, while Brisbane is at 60 per cent and Auckland is at 70 per cent. The ongoing lockdown in Melbourne is leading to patronage figures at 5 to 10 per cent of 2019 levels.
At the Year in Infrastructure conference, hosted by infrastructure software company Bentley Systems, audiences were told that adoption of digital tools for infrastructure delivery and operations will only accelerate after the experience of COVID-19.
With global investment in infrastructure as method of economic recovery coming together with the impetus for more sustainable methods of construction and mobility, efficiencies through using digital tools are becoming unavoidable.
Through the use of digital twins for modelling and simulations in the design and construction phase, or for monitoring asset and network performance in the operational stage, more environmentally friendly materials can be used, waste can be reduced, while costs can be reduced and timelines shortened.
In addition, as COVID-19 has demonstrated, projects will still need to continue even when workforces are dispersed, either working from home, or across countries without being able to easily meet in person.
These factors have meant that digital tools such as those supplied by Bentley Systems are invaluable for infrastructure builders, managers, and operators.
Another macro factor that is impacting on the adoption of digital tools in the infrastructure space is the possibilities of big data and IoT. With more data being collected than ever, modelling and simulation software will be needed to make sense of this data and allow it to be seen as a productive resource.
One example of the benefit of digital twins can be seen in the adoption of digital engineering tools in the design and construction of the world’s tallest rail pier girder bridge in northern India. Constructed by Indian Railways, the railway bridge is required to support high-speed and broad gauge trains for the next century in difficult terrain. Seismic events and strong winds were also a concern for the 141 metre tall bridge.
On of the Year in Infrastructure Awards finalists, Indian Railways is using Bentley tools including OpenRail, PLAXIS, and STAAD, and the project has been able to make savings of US$24.61 million ($34.58m). These efficiencies were found through the better selection of types of materials and construction methodologies.
Once the bridge is complete, embedded instruments and drone surveys will be used to monitor the health of the bridge remotely, with a digital twin used to simulate how the bridge is behaving and the effect of inputs. This will ensure the infrastructure manager will be able to make timely decisions to ensure the sustainability of the bridge.
Auckland and Wellington are removing caps on capacity levels designed to enable physical distancing on trains, buses, and ferries.
Wellington’s transport operator Metlink said that face coverings have been an effective way to limit the risk of COVID-19 spreading and that capacity could return to normal.
“This change comes on the back of the hard work of Metlink staff and passengers who have shown fantastic support for face coverings, giving the Government confidence to relax physical distancing on public transport,” said Metlink general manager Scott Gallacher.
In Auckland, while physical distancing is still recommended, restrictions have also been lifted.
“The relaxation of physical distancing requirements on public transport is good news for Aucklanders and will allow more people to use our trains, buses and ferries to get around the city,” said Auckland Mayor Phil Goff.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that physical distancing on public transport was no longer required, and the wearing of face masks made the lifting of capacity limits possible.
“Mask use will continue to be compulsory, and has been key in the recommendation by the Director General that this change is safe to occur.”
To assist in the event of an outbreak, in Auckland and Wellington passengers are still encouraged to scan QR codes, and maintain hygiene practices on public transport.
“It’s important that everyone continues to wear a face covering on public transport to limit spread of COVID-19. Please also keep track of your movements with the NZ COVID Tracer app and continue good hygiene practices like handwashing and covering coughs or sneezes,” said Goff.
While COVID-19 alert levels are remaining where they are at the moment, level 2.5 in Auckland and level 2 in the rest of the country, they are expected to come down further next week.
Gallacher welcomed the efforts of staff and the community.
“Thank you for your ongoing cooperation and patience, as we work together to keep our community safe and healthy.”
Major rail works will be carried out during a possession of NSW regional lines from Saturday, September 5 to Monday, September 7.
The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) will be conducting the works, which include rail maintenance and enhancement works from Albury to Moss Vale and Cootamundra to Parkes.
Known as the annual ‘super possession’, the rail lines in both regions will be shut down over the weekend for yearly maintenance work.
ARTC general manager of asset management – interstate Brian Green described the works that would take place.
“This year’s works include track re-railing, resurfacing and reconditioning, as well as level crossing upgrades, track ballasting, turnout maintenance and bridge maintenance,” he said.
Preparatory works have been underway since August 29 and demobilisation is expected to continue until September 11.
Green said that ARTC works to ensure that as much is done as possible during the shutdown period.
“ARTC makes the most of these short windows to carry out jobs in a planned approach that minimises the impact of major works on train operations and reduces the potential for unplanned downtime on these sections of the rail corridor.”
Passenger services are being replaced by coaches and those in the community are advised to be aware of extra vehicles.
“Our work teams will endeavour to minimise any noise and disruptions the works may cause,” said Green.
“We also ask people in communities close to the rail corridor to be cautious during the shutdown period and keep an eye out for increased vehicle movements in and out of work sites.”
Extra measures are also in place to limit the chance of any spread of COVID-19.
“COVID-19 requires ongoing vigilance in many aspects. The health and safety throughout the works is of critical importance so we have ongoing strict hygiene protocols in place to minimise potential risks to the community and the teams involved in the maintenance shutdown,” said Green.
“All of the combined frontline teams continue to practice social distancing and minimising interactions with the local community. For example, where we previously we would have door knocked to inform nearby neighbours of the upcoming works, we will do a letterbox drop of information ﬂyers instead.”
ASCI2021 promises to demonstrate how the Australian supply chain and others around the globe have weathered COVID-19 and provide insights to their future resilience.
If any images comes to define the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it may be the sight of normally well-stocked supermarket shelves emptied of consumer goods from pasta and flour, to toilet paper and hand sanitiser.
While panic buying was an irrational response to the nature of the COVID-19 threat – there was no chance of Australia running out of many of these items – what the rush on supermarkets and other stores did demonstrate was the finely calibrated nature of Australia’s supply chains. To meet the needs of consumers for fresh goods at any time of the year and to avoid overwhelming storage spaces, Australia’s supply chain managers have been working to ensure that products are ready just in time, and ready to be plucked from the shelves at a customer’s whim.
The massive increase in demand due to panic buying brought to light the fragility of this system. In addition, as international flights were grounded, Australia’s ability to export its world-renowned fresh produce was immediately curtailed.
What this did was bring the role of the supply chain manager, and the people who enable the links in the chain to connect, out of the back-office and into the public spotlight. Monique Fenech, head of sales and marketing at the Australasian Supply Chain Institute (ASCI), has seen this firsthand.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has really brought supply chain management to the forefront of people’s minds. We’re starting to talk about supply chain as an essential service, which has never been the case before.”
In a way by virtue of its success, the complexity of Australia’s supply chain has not often been on view to customers, however the critical role of the professionals in this field has never been more in demand as trade routes recalibrate and new markets are being identified.
“Supply chain management rolls off people’s tongues, they’re all talking about it from a consumer standpoint. But even more impact has been made within organisations because supply chain managers have been brought into the boardroom to fix this problem, look at these outages, look at these delays, look at these increased prices. Executive are asking, ‘We don’t have access to our air freight like we used to, what are we going to do?’ So that’s really changed the internal profile of supply chain management within the organisation,” said Fenech.
While the scale and magnitude of the current crisis may be beyond what was planned for at the beginning of 2020, Fenech counters that dealing with these kinds of issues, whether they be due to a pandemic or other cause, is actually the bread and butter of the profession.
“This situation is business as usual for our supply chain managers; they deal with risk on a day-to-day basis. A good example of that is where perhaps they might have a dual sourcing strategy in place already because for some, not all, supply chains that would be considered best practice, so they would already have set in place some business continuity strategies,” Fenech said.
The next step will be for companies to reset their risk management plans and contingency procedures to account for the ongoing restrictions and the likelihood of another pandemic happening again. This reality calls for supply chains to not simply return to a pre-COVID-19 status, but rather learn from the experience of the pandemic and bounce back more resilient than ever.
“As opposed to going back to the way things were, it’s about bringing all of the political, economic, geographic, and social impacts that affect our supply chains into the mix using really smart technologies such as artificial intelligence to give us a better idea of where our supply chains are vulnerable and how we can improve them in the new decade,” said Fenech.
This next decade will be the focus of the ASCI’s conference, ASCI2021, to be held on the 23rd and 24th of February at the William Inglis Hotel in Sydney. The conference’s theme is “Supply Chain Vision In The Decade For Action”, adapting the United Nation’s priority of the same name for the supply chain industry. Janet Salem, economic affairs officer, circular economy at the United Nations will deliver an international keynote highlighting the theme’s application for supply chain managers.
One area that Fenech sees as improving based on the experience during COVID-19 is the connection and collaboration between suppliers, something that the conference will highlight.
“Deepening the collaboration that we have with our suppliers is only going to make the supply chain more efficient and also more robust. Once that trust is there and the collaboration is there, the visibility inevitably becomes greater, and that is the end goal for a supply chain manager – to have complete visibility across the end-to-end supply chain and sometimes it takes something like a catastrophe to bring you closer to your supplier.”
DELIVERING BEST PRACTICE IN SUPPLY CHAIN MANAGEMENT
For the past 60 years, ASCI has been working with the supply chain management industry to grow the career profile of supply chain management.
“Back in the early days, inventory management was a new career and we travelled to the US to find some global standards that we could use in Australia. We’re applying that same technique now to global end to end supply chain standards and in order to do that we’re looking at global compliance and global regulation and bringing that down to the level that we need to communicate to members,” said Fenech.
In Australia, ASCI provides best practice knowledge to build the standards of supply chain management.
“We call that our Professional Accreditation Scheme. Just like lawyers, engineers, and accountants, they have professional accreditation bodies that they belong to and they are registered within a professional accreditation scheme as well. That proves that they can practice within that field and they’ve proven their knowledge in that field,” said Fenech.
“We’ve never had anything like this in supply chain management in Australia so now is really good time to address it, considering the complexities of the end- to-end supply chain have been made so apparent through COVID-19.”
To assist its members in adapting to the disruptions of COVID-19, ASCI is conducting research and benchmarking global best practice so that Australian supply chains can come out of the pandemic more resilient that ever.
“Currently, ASCI is working with the University of Melbourne on a risk survey, to see how we’ve been redefining risk and that will be a really important part of our conference on day two where we will be presenting those findings for the first time and giving our supply chain managers who are delegates at that conference a first look in as to what they need to be doing to reset their business continuity plans.”
While discussions were held at the beginning of the pandemic to understand whether the conference’s theme should change to focus directly on the events of the past six months, the advisory board ultimately decided that the theme of “Supply Chain Vision In The Decade For Action” encompassed the ongoing challenges that supply chains would face into the future.
“If companies don’t change the way they do things and put their supply chains front and centre of their operational efficiency, then they’re just not going to survive in the new era,” said Fenech.
Over the two days of the conference, ASCI has assembled a panel of local and international supply chain leaders, who will share their insights from a range of sectors. These include the medical, industrial, defence, and fast-moving consumer goods sectors, as well as the transport and logistics sector.
On February 25, delegates will be able to tour the under-construction Western Sydney Airport site, the core of the future Aerotropolis and new logistics hub for Western Sydney. Attendees can participate in a panel discussion with local councils, moderated by Amanda Brisot, general manager Western Sydney Business Connection.
With multiple streams on each day, Fenech highlights that it is worth businesses bringing multiple attendees.
“Supply chain managers should think about bringing a few members of their team because there are certainly different experiences that each of their team members could have throughout the two-day conference. Team- members can come together afterwards to share key learnings across those functions.”
Streams on day one will cover procurement, operations management, and logistics management, while on day two streams encompass systems and technology, supply chain management, and the future supply chain management workforce.
“There are some great stories in there from Metcash, for example, about how COVID-19 brought about some great opportunity for them to work with Woolworths and Coles,” said Fenech.
ASCI2021 will also host the 28th ASCI awards’ dinner, and with so much upheaval during the past year, Fenech expects some engaging stories to come out of the awards. “It will be one of the best because we want to see where excellence exists, where excellence has been demonstrated through these really tough times, and often it’s during tough times that innovation really does
For more information, to book tickets, and view the full program go to: http://www.asci-2021.com.au/.