associations

Global railway associations highlight post-COVID mobility improvements

A trio of global railway associations have noted that rail is part of the solution to the linked crises of climate change and coronavirus (COVID-19).

In a joint statement, the associations highlight how mobility is key to creating trade and prosperity, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In Europe, rail accounts for 7.6 per cent of passenger and 17.6 per cent of freight transport, while only producing 0.5 per cent of the continent’s greenhouse gas emissions.

During the COVID-19 crisis, rail also provided an essential service, by enabling the movement of essential workers and crucial goods.

Noting that the current ways of doing business are not enough in future, the International Union of Railways (UIC), the International Association for Public Transport (UITP), and the European Rail Industry Association (UNIFE), set out areas where mobility will need to be improved, committing to a sense of urgency in updating transportation.

“Railways have demonstrated their resilience and their capacity to deliver essential services even in these difficult circumstances. We all know that railway and public transport are the key for a sustainable future, provided that they are able to implement seamless multimodal mobility networks,” said François Davenne, UIC director general.

The three primary areas for change are customer experience, increased capacity, and an increased recognition of the importance of collective travel on rail rather than in individual vehicles. Technologies such as flow management to adapt to consumer patters, the design of intelligent infrastructure networks to optimise existing systems, and autonomous rail vehicles are identified as areas for rail to pursue.

Together, the associations welcomed work done by the EU to boost rail travel, but also pointed to the need to continue to invest in infrastructure, rollingstock, and research to meet future challenges, said Philippe Citroen, UNIFE director general.

“UNIFE believes that the [European Commission]’s recent Multiannual Financial Framework and Next Generation EU proposals are powerful recovery instruments that can help complete EU Green Deal objectives, but they must be mobilised for the decarbonisation of European transportation. This is only possible through a greater multimodal mobility shift with rail at its backbone.”

Recognising the value of public transport will be indispensable to ensuring the resilience of cities in the future said Mohamed Mezghani, UITP secretary general.

“Public transport and the environment are inextricably linked and with a strong local network, emissions are lowered and our cities become healthier and more sustainable.”

Wellington

Passenger services begin to return to normal operations

As the threat of coronavirus (COVID-19) eases, passenger rail operations are beginning to return to normal levels of service, however with some changes.

In New Zealand, where Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that the country was COVID free on Monday June 8, rail passenger operators in Auckland and Wellington have returned to normal service.

This has meant that in both cities, there is no longer any need for physical distancing on trains and the wider transport network.

Both cities, however, have made changes to how fares are collected.

In Wellington, where fares were suspended, fares will be reintroduced on July 1, said operator Metlink general manager Scott Gallacher.

“Reintroducing fares in July makes sense following New Zealand’s excellent response to COVID-19 and the recent removal of physical distancing measures under alert level 1. Our passengers, drivers, staff on trains and at station kiosks can now safely and confidently interact again.”

Hygiene practices will continue, and passengers are still being encouraged to use contactless payments wherever possible, instead of cash.

Chair of Greater Wellington’s transport committee Roger Blakeley thanked public transport workers for their service during COVID-19.

“As a public transport user myself, it’s been fantastic to see cleaners, engineers, mechanics, drivers, ambassadors, communications and operations staff, union reps and many more people behind the scenes coming together to keep public transport running as an essential service.”

In Auckland, a 30 per cent fare discount is available to encourage passengers to travel outside of peak hours. The discount runs from 9am to 3pm and after 6.30pm on weekday. The discount is available to those using the AT HOP card.

In Queensland, discounts of up to 60 per cent are available for long-distance train travel.

Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey encouraged Queenslanders to use rail to explore the state.

“To celebrate long-distance services being reinstated, the Queensland Escape sale means Queenslanders are good to go with huge price discounts to support them to get out of the house, jump on a train and explore our great state,” he said.

Social distancing on these services would continue, as will heightened cleaning regimes. Extra services will start from June 13, with another increase for the school holidays on June 26.

Extra services added to cope with COVID-19 demand

Transport for NSW has added an extra 3,300 weekly bus and train services around the network to allow for passengers to travel safely as patronage returns to the network.

The services include an extra 250 train services on the Sydney Trains network and 3,100 buses across Sydney.

Already, some bus routes have reached their reduced capacity during peak periods, leading to commuters having to wait for the next bus. Capacity has been limited to ensure physical distancing can be maintained on the transport network.

The services began on June 1, in response to the increase in peak hour travel since restrictions were eased over the past fornight.

The extra trains and buses are in addition to 800 wekly bus and light rail services that were added during May.

According to Transport for NSW, the increase in services will provide 59,000 extra spaces on trains and 37,000 extra spaces and buses each week.

The NSW government is continuing to advise commuters to use alternative travel arrangements, such as driving, walking, or cycling, or work from home, where possible.

In Victoria, passenger groups are asking for more services outside of the peak periods.

Public Transport Users Association spokesperson Daniel Bowen said that unless frequency outside of the peak was increased, the benefits of staggering work times wouldn’t be realised on the transport network.

“It makes sense to encourage staggered working hours, with people travelling at different times – but this won’t help if public transport frequency and capacity is not boosted to enable it.”

Bowen said that in comparison to Sydney and Perth, Melbourne’s off peak capacity of trains every 20 minutes severely limits the network’s capacity outside of peak periods, particularly with the current limits in place.

“The public transport network is key to Melbourne’s economic recovery from this crisis. But it must be run in a way that ensures passengers and staff are as safe as possible.”

Fundamentally, capacity must be managed, and the key to this is encouraging staggered travel, which is only possible by providing sufficient services throughout the day,” said Bowen.

SA releases roadmap for safe COVID-19 travel

The South Australian government has released a public transport roadmap to get passengers back on trains, trams, and buses safely.

The plan draws on the Australian Health Protection Principle Committee (AHPPC) Principles for COVID-19 Public Transport Operations.

“We have a strong plan to keep South Australians safe on public transport that has been developed based on the expert health advice,” said Minister for Transport Stephan Knoll.

The roadmap includes a trial of extensions to the morning and afternoon peak periods on the Gawler train line, further markings on platforms, updated signage and posters, and the accelerated introduction of an app which will provide real-time information.

In addition, Adelaide Metro will accelerate the conversion of the diesel train fleet to 2×2 seating, rather than 2×3, to allow for more aisle space. Hand sanitiser will also be on offer at Adelaide Railway Station.

“Currently patronage on public transport is down around 70 per cent and we will be rolling these additional measures out as our economy opens up and more people catch a train, tram or bus,” said Knoll.

The measures are in addition to initiatives implemented in March which included more frequent cleaning, no cash handling, staggered arrival of trains at Adelaide Railway Station, signage and announcement.

“We also echo the advice of health officials and encourage South Australians to take personal responsibility for their travel arrangements and their behaviour on public transport,” said Knoll.

“As the health officials have said, that could mean staggering your travel where possible, not traveling during peak periods unless it’s essential and avoiding public transport if you’re unwell.”

If successful, the extended peak services will be expanded from the Gawler line to other lines.

The government will also partner with the City of Adelaide to encourage cycle and walking where possible and staggering travel in the Adelaide CBD.

Procurement reform a vital step for economic recovery

ARA CEO Caroline Wilkie makes the case for procurement reform in rollingstock and signalling to assist infrastructure spending to stimulate the economy.

Governments in Australia have indicated that they will continue to fund committed infrastructure projects and have begun to bring projects forward to further stimulate the economy to support job growth and investment due to the impacts of COVID-19.

The Australasian Railway Association (ARA) commends this sensible approach. Infrastructure spending is in the long-term national interest, stimulating multiple parts of the economy, not just construction. Stimulating rail manufacturers and suppliers would be of immense benefit, particularly in regional Australia, where many are located.

However, there are other areas where governments could go further to identify and act on measures that could be introduced to support further cost savings and improve the delivery of new rail projects.

Reforms in the area of tendering and procurement would deliver better, faster, and cheaper projects in the rail sector. While this debate is not new within the infrastructure portfolio, the economic impact of COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of pursuing efficiencies to ensure the rail infrastructure construction sector and rollingstock supply chain remain in a position to support the government’s infrastructure agenda and further stimulate the economy during
these difficult economic times.

Australia’s tendering practices are significantly costlier and more time consuming compared to international benchmarks. The tendering costs in Australia are estimated to be around 1-2 per cent of a project’s total cost, which are double the world benchmark of 0.5 per cent. Increased tender costs are immediately reflected in the project pricing, so reducing the costs of tendering should be important to all parties. High tender costs also increase the risk profile for tenderers and thereby tend to discourage participation.

The ARA proposes that significant benefits could be realised if improvements were made to current Australian industry procurement practices. Substantial improvements can be achieved through more streamlined and consistent tender processes that improve efficiencies for both suppliers and purchasers, from pre- qualification right through to contract award.

These changes would minimise the consumption of resources on redundant and non-productive outcomes, reduce procurement cycle times, further reducing costs and releasing industry capacity for delivery. Further, tendering on the basis of appropriate and more standardised contracting models and risk allocation frameworks for delivery will also reduce tender development and negotiation costs. Creating a consistent and well understood delivery environment will also lead to more successful project delivery outcomes.

The ARA commends the recent procurement-related initiative in NSW, embodied in the NSW government’s Action Plan: A 10-point commitment to the construction sector. The plan reduces the red tape for firms with a proven track record and supports streamlined prequalification schemes for contractors, tiered according to their size and capacity. It reviews existing pre-qualification schemes to ensure they focus on capacity and capability and do not impose unnecessary costs and administrative burdens on suppliers; and minimise the number of project-specific bidders that are required to generate and submit prior to the selection of a preferred tenderer.

The ARA believes that all states should adopt similar principles.

The benefits arising from any process optimisation and standardisation are multiplied when adopted across Australia’s procurement agencies. The ARA supports the convergence and the maximum practical standardisation of procurement practices on a national basis as an urgent and worthwhile objective.

Under the auspices of its Rail Industry Group, the ARA has convened an expert committee of suppliers, consultants, and other interested parties to make specific recommendations for improvement.

The Best Practice Guide to Rolling Stock and Signalling Tendering in the Australian Rail Industry analyses present deficiencies in current tendering frameworks that add unnecessary cost and complexity to already complex tender processes. It makes recommendations for improved practice by procuring agencies in eleven thematic areas.

The ARA has written to Transport and Infrastructure Council ministers with the Guide and is meeting officials to advocate for its implementation.

Procurement – similar to standards, specifications, and training – particularly in regard to rail systems, are areas where Australia has suffered due to its colonial legacy, with differing policy and arrangements in place throughout the six states acting as a deadweight against a national industry.

States, territories, and the federal government have demonstrated their ability to work collaboratively on issues of national significance where there is clear benefit to doing so during this pandemic. This cooperative model should be utilised for other key matters where federation has imposed challenges for industries, where significant savings can be achieved through harmonisation such as rail industry procurement.

Curfew suspensions for freight should be permanent: ALC

The Australian Logistics Council (ALC) has called upon state and territory governments to make temporary curfew suspensions permanent.

The curfews were lifted in the early days of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic to enable logistics and transport operators to rapidly restock supermarket shelves that were emptied due to panic buying.

ALC CEO Kirk Coningham said that the past months had proven the benefits of relaxed curfews.

“As governments turn their minds to policy actions that will drive economic recovery, the removal of curfews is an obvious opportunity that will be of lasting benefit to the freight and logistics sector and to all Australian communities,” he said.

“The most visible manifestation of the COVID-19 crisis for many Australians was the sight of supermarket shelves that had been stripped bare due to panic buying. The single most effective government action taken to address this challenge did not involve massive expenditure, but the stroke of a ministerial pen.”

While the curfew suspensions primarily applied to trucks making deliveries to supermarkets outside of regular hours, freight rail also has limits on movements imposed by noise restrictions.

Coningham said that removing curfews had a role to play in ensuring freight networks operated efficiently outside of crisis periods.

“This includes removing curfews on overnight deliveries to supermarkets and other retail premises, removing bans on heavy vehicles using particular routes, removing curfews on port operations and the removal of airport noise curfews that inhibit the movement of air freight.”

The ALC also highlighted that a number of behavioural changes, such as changes to public transport usage and the increased adoption of home delivery services meant that curfews no longer made sense.

“As physical distancing requirements mean fewer Australians use public transport, road congestion in our major cities will be a major challenge. Removing curfews that prevent overnight deliveries will allow freight operators to schedule more tasks during off-peak periods,” said Coningham.

“Similarly, increasing demand for home delivery of essential items including groceries is likely to be an enduring feature of supply chains post-COVID. The removal of curfews will give logistics operators and their customers greater capacity and flexibility when using the road network to meet this growth in demand.”

Report highlights challenges and opportunities for rail’s response to COVID-19

Global technology provider Thales has released a new report highlighting the challenges of and solutions to the current coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis in the rail transport sector.

Acknowledging that in many cases transport networks have been on the front line of responding to COVID-19, the report’s authors write that transport operators will need to develop new ways of operating.

“There is no historical precedent for this, no model to work from. The challenge is huge,” the report highlights.

Since the arrival of COVID-19 onto the global stage, a range of challenges have emerged for transport operators. The report categorises these into four sectors: revenue, health, mobility, and climate challenges.

For operators which rely on fare revenue for operations, rapid drops in ridership numbers have had a severe financial impact. In addition, extra cleaning and the introduction of social distancing measures has increased costs, while restrictions on capacity have limited revenue.

Transport has also been identified as an area of concern when it comes to the transmission and spread of COVID-19, placing extra responsibilities on transport operators to ensure the health of their passengers and staff.

Maintaining mobility while staff work from home and cybersecurity threats increase is also a challenge for operators.

Finally, climate challenges have not been altered by COVID-19, and the rail sector continues to play a part in helping communities achieve their emissions goals.

To meet these challenges, Thales has catalogued a range of digital tools which can assist transport operators. These range from using cameras to detect body temperature and compliance with mask wearing, and integrating traffic management systems to reduce crowding by smoothing connections between modes and services, to technologies for remote operations and infrastructure maintenance.

While some of these solutions are in direct response to the COVID-19 crisis, in other cases, the pandemic has served to highlight areas where existing issues need to be overcome. For example, the adoption of flexible train services to adapt to changes in demand and the provision of dynamic passenger information systems.

Amid these uncertainties, Thales highlights that rail operators should start asking more fundamental questions about their services to ensure that once the immediate crisis is over, they continue to provide adaptive and appropriate mobility solutions.

“For now, the priority is restoring services and rebuilding trust,” write the report’s authors. “Looking to the future, the trends point to a need for next-generation transportation systems. Access to secure, diverse and reliable sources of mobility will be vital not only to ensure long-term economic recovery, but also to address wider societal goals.”

Read the report here: https://thalesgroup-myfeed.com/ThalesTransport_Covid19_Whitepaper?elqCampaignId=458.

Illawarra, Central Coast commuters concerned for safety as public transport usage increases

Local MPs in the Illawarra and Central Coast are concerned that passengers travelling on trains in these regions may not be able to safely distance themselves from other passengers.

Illawarra MP Ryan Park said that the ‘no dot, no spot’ campaign did not account for the realities of regional commuters.

“It takes commuters in the Illawarra and the South Coast an over an hour to get into Sydney, on trains that are regularly overcapacity already,” he said.

“These changes mean that some people won’t be able to get on their regular trains if there isn’t enough space, leaving them waiting to see if they can fit on the next train.”

Wyong MP David Harris said that trains were already at capacity, leaving Central Coast commuters unable to catch a train into Sydney.

“For Coast rail commuters the reality is trains from Newcastle will already be full before they reach Central Coast stations,” he said.

“Trains starting from Wyong will be full before they reach Woy Woy. Most commuters won’t even know if seats are available until they get onto the train and then will they be required to leave the train?”

While patronage had dropped by 73 per cent, in the last week a nine per cent increase has been recorded on the previous week.

A Transport for NSW spokesperson said that the department is looking at where it can add services to increase capacity, having run to a full schedule while COVID-19 restrictions have been in place.

“Changes will be considered to increase public transport services where capacity and resources are available. TfNSW is looking to add services during off-peak times, where possible.”

Shellharbour MP Anna Watson said in the absence of real-time data on the capacity Illawarra and South Coast trains, extra station staff should assist commuters.

“Any public transport strategy for our region needs to include surging the number of public transport workers at stations helping people get to work on time, and helping make sure there is capacity for them to safely board trains and buses,” she said.

The TfNSW spokesperson said that information is available.

“Customers should plan ahead and use real time information provided through apps, social media and Transport Info to see which public transport services have space available to maintain physical distancing.

“We do need everyone to take personal responsibility when using our services.”

While the NSW government has been encouraging employers to stagger work times, Wollongong MP Paul Scully said that decentralisation could reduce crowding.

“It could be greatly improved by working with employers to stagger start and finish times; setting up satellite offices in large centres like Wollongong and the provision of additional services both in Wollongong and between Wollongong and Sydney,” he said.

In a changed world, freight sector shows its agility

The Australian Logistics Council’s CEO, Kirk Coningham, explains how the industry has been on the front foot during a time of crisis.

Like every other industry, Australia’s freight and logistics sector has spent recent weeks grappling with the realities of doing business in a changed world.

While for many this has meant transitioning to working from home arrangements, contemplating shifts from bricks and mortar retail arrangements to online sales in retail, and a changed focus for hospitality businesses towards takeaway and delivery sales, the challenge for this sector is somewhat different.

The simple reality is this; those on the front line of Australia’s freight logistics industry can’t work from home. Our ports, stevedores, road, rail, and air freight operators are working tirelessly to keep supply chains flowing and make sure Australian communities can access the goods they need day-to-day.

As challenging as the COVID-19 crisis is, it would be far worse without the dedicated support and service offered by those working in Australia’s logistics industry.

All levels of government have made it clear that freight transport and logistics remain an essential service. In turn, this means that those who are working around the clock to support households and communities at this challenging time deserve the strongest levels of support and flexibility from governments and from the wider community.

In the difficult circumstances that all of us are currently enduring, the health and security of our workforce must remain paramount.

As instances of panic buying occurred in the early days of the COVID-19 event, it was distressing to hear instances of transport workers and in-store retail personnel being accosted by angry consumers.

The current situation is having an impact on the day-to-day lives of all Australians – and perhaps it is inevitable that this is causing frustration and irritation for some. However, taking those frustrations out on delivery drivers or retail workers is completely unacceptable.

Far more positive has been the determined and collegiate way in which all parts of the supply chain have worked effectively to address challenges as they have arisen, to ensure that freight can continue getting to the places it needs to go, efficiently and safely.

This has included working to remove barriers that prevented overnight deliveries to supermarkets and retail outlets such as noise curfews that stopped heavy vehicle access and the use of loading docks. Industry worked quickly with state and territory governments around Australia to either remove these curfews or have their enforcement suspended for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis. This helped stock levels to recover and reduced the occurrence of panic buying.

The decision of several state and territory governments to effectively close their borders posed significant potential threats to the efficiency of freight movement on both road and rail.

Again, it was impressive to see the way that representatives of both modes set aside commercial considerations and worked collaboratively with industry groups to ensure restrictions on cross-border movement caused as little delay to freight movement as possible.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the COVID-19 situation is the uncertainty over its duration. Naturally, this causes anxiety in the community and makes business planning especially difficult.

However, what is certain is that in addition to ensuring the community can continue to access essential goods, the freight and logistics sector also has a vital role to play in providing economic opportunity.

Already, there is evidence of some pick-up in consumer demand and economic activity in China, which will remain a critical export market for Australia.

As we look to sustain Australian businesses and create employment opportunities, our freight sector will be essential in supporting our exporters’ efforts to get their goods into recovering markets. Governments and local communities must understand the importance of their task as part of Australia’s economic recovery, and provide every support possible to help our workforce achieve it.

$328m for transport upgrades around Victoria

300km of regional rail track and 15 train stations will be upgraded as part of a $2.7 billion spending plan to help Victoria recover after the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The spending will be spread across the economy, including education, social housing, and tourism upgrades, however $328 million is targeted at the transport sector.

Part of the funding will go towards upgrades of trains and trams and is in addition to the $107bn Big Build program.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said that the funding will go to projects that will begin immediately.

“We’re getting to work on hundreds of new projects across the state, meaning shovels in the ground – and boots in the mud – within a matter of weeks and months,” he said.

“From upgrading our roads and rail, to critical maintenance for social housing and new projects for our tourist destinations, this package will create jobs for our local tradies and so many others – and support local businesses all over Victoria.”

$90m will be invested in upgrading and replacing sleepers, structures, and signalling across the regional rail network. This funding will cover the renewal of 300km of sleepers and ballast across the regional network.

$62.6m will go towards the maintenance and restoration of trams and regional trains. Over half of this funding will go towards improving the reliability of V/Line trains.

$23m will be spent on improving stations and stops, including better seating, passenger information, toilets, and accessibility upgrades.

$5.6m will be spent on removing rubbish and graffiti as well as managing vegetation along transport corridors.

Chief executive of Infrastructure Partnerships Australia Adrian Dwyer said that the funding was well structured.

“The phase one package provides the right blend of projects and programs that will support job creation and stimulate economic activity,” he said.

“The focus on new and existing projects across schools, social housing, and road and rail maintenance means that the benefits of this stimulus will be broad-based.”

Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas said that the funding will help the wider economy.

“We’ve always said Victoria is the engine room of the nation – with this package, we’re cranking the engine and kickstarting our economy.”

The entire funding package is expected to create 3,700 direct jobs with many thousands more in the supply chain. For companies which need to hire extra employees, the Victorian government has mandated that new hires are to be found through the Working for Victoria scheme.

In a press conference on May 18, Andrews said that this announcement would be followed by other announcements which will target particular sectors. Andrews would not confirm whether the Melbourne Airport Rail Link would be announced, however he suggested that a decision would be made soon.