Light rail has ‘returned to the fabric’ of Australian cities

Danny Broad examines the state of Light Rail in Australasia, and reflects on his time as ARA CEO.

The ARA 2020 Light Rail Conference, held in Canberra on 4-5 March, heralds our inaugural industry rail conference for the decade. The conference was also Caroline Wilkie’s first event as ARA CEO.

As we commence a new decade, new ARA leadership and converge on our Nation’s capital for our annual light rail conference, I feel it timely to celebrate the renaissance of light rail in our regional cities, the nation’s capital, and recent rebirth in Australia’s largest city, Sydney, 50 years after its last tram lines were ripped up.

With light rail now in multiple major and regional cities around Australia, on the agenda in others, and Melbourne home to the world’s largest tram network, we can well and truly lay claim that light rail has returned to the fabric of Australasian cities, and regions.

Late last year saw the much-anticipated return of light rail operations to George Street in Sydney. The 12km route featuring 19 stops, extending from Circular Quay along George Street to Central Station, all the way to Randwick, significantly expands light rail in Sydney and was no small feat to deliver.

It now plays a key role transporting thousands of customers between the city and Sydney’s inner west and south eastern suburbs, building on the existing Dulwich Hill Line in Sydney’s West.

The network will be further expanded with the Kingsford Line which is scheduled to open in March this year. Like many light rail projects before it, I’m sure the pain felt during construction will soon be forgotten and the benefits of light rail travel through Sydney embraced.

Elsewhere in Sydney, construction has commenced this year for Parramatta light rail. Expected to open in 2023, it will be built in two stages to keep pace with the thousands of new houses and jobs being created in Western Sydney. Stage 1 will connect Westmead to Carlingford via the Parramatta CBD and Camellia with a two-way track spanning 12 kilometres. The currently preferred route for Stage 2 will connect Stage 1 and the Parramatta CBD to Sydney Olympic Park along a nine-kilometre route.

A key component in the strategy to renew the Newcastle CBD, Newcastle Light Rail commenced operations in 2017, with a six station 2.7km service running from the Central Business District to Newcastle Beach Park. The first fully integrated public transport network in Australia, the system was designed to turn around declining public transport in the city and has been a resounding success.

Operation of the 12km initial stage of the Canberra light rail, including 13 stops, commenced in April 2019 connecting the northern town centre of Gungahlin through Dickson to the Canberra city centre. More than one million passenger journeys were completed in the first three months, cementing the success of Canberra light rail. Following the success of this route, the ACT government is now progressing with the development of the second stage to connect the city centre to Woden. With the business case for Stage 2A endorsed, work has commenced on extending light rail from the city centre to Commonwealth Park. Like many light rail projects before it, Canberra’s light rail has spurred significant commercial and residential property development along its route. It will no doubt provide an interesting case study on light rail and its ability to rejuvenate and densify cities.

It could be argued that the Gold Coast led the resurgence of light rail in Australia. The initial stage of Gold Coast Light Rail that commenced operation in July 2014 runs from the Gold Coast University Hospital to Broadbeach South. Fast, frequent trams connect 16 light rail stations along a 13-kilometre route. The Stage 2 extension opened in December 2017 ahead of schedule and under budget, in time for the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, establishing a vital connection from the existing northern light rail terminus to the regional passenger rail network. With federal and state government funding now secured for the long-awaited Gold Coast Light Rail Stage 3A from Broadbeach South to Burleigh Heads, following a competitive tender process, a contract for the design and construction of Stage 3A is expected to be awarded in late 2020.

Like Sydney and many other cities around the world, Adelaide phased out its tram network in favour of buses and cars in the 1950’s. Last year, the South Australian Government went to tender to privatise the operations of its heavy rail passenger network and is also contracting out the 16.5km tram operations, as part of an integrated bus-tram tender. Contracts are expected mid-2020.

As in many other cities around the globe, light rail has been on and off the agenda in Perth. As Perth’s population grows, its Metronet program will deliver up to 72 kilometres of new passenger rail and up to 18 new stations. During 2019 the Western Australian Department of Transport commenced early planning for an inner city light rail project.

Across the ditch, investment in transport infrastructure is also booming. The Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) has committed to providing light rail between the City Centre and Māngere to Auckland’s northwest within the next 10 years. The New Zealand government has requested the New Zealand Transport Agency and Infrastructure New Zealand prepare refined proposals for this light rail rapid transit corridor and future network integration, for government consideration. When the government’s assessment process for the City Centre to Māngere Light Rail line is complete early next year, there will be a better understanding of the next steps for the City Centre to North West corridor.

Without a doubt the jewel in the crown of Light Rail in Australia is the Melbourne tram network, which dwarfs all others. It is indeed the world’s largest, with over 250km of double track, completing over 200 million trips annually, by 493 trams with over 1,760 stops. The network is being continually upgraded with a rolling program of new and consolidated tram stops, new substations, track upgrades, as well as maintenance and repairs on existing infrastructure. It is ubiquitous to Melbourne, Australia’s fastest growing city, and is successfully woven into the city’s fabric. It is one that we should all be truly proud of.

This is my last editorial for Rail Express as the ARA CEO. The next edition will be authored by our new CEO Caroline Wilkie who commences with the ARA in mid-February.

I’m immensely proud of the ARA team and their achievements over the last four years to support our members and all sectors of the rail industry. The numerous highlights are difficult to summarise, however a number of milestones come to mind including:

  • Publishing the National Rail Industry Plan and the Value of Rail reports to highlight the economic and social benefits that rail provides for our communities,
  • Publishing the BIS Oxford Economics Skills Gap Report that highlighted the skills and resources challenges facing our industry and advocating how government and industry can best address these,
  • Presenting with 12 senior rail executives to all Transport Ministers at the Transport and Infrastructure Council in August 2019 on the rail industry skills and resources challenges and gaining their support to develop an action plan with the National Transport Commission,
  • Progressing the Smart Rail Route Map and technology agendas,
  • Working with industry and governments to improve accessibility for people with disabilities.
  • Lodging countless submissions to parliamentary and government inquiries, advocating for rail, engaging with governments and industry to advance the Inland Rail project as well as the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy,
  • Supporting Rail Careers and the drive for a younger more diverse workforce through programs such as Future Leaders, Young Rail Professionals, the Women in Rail Pilot Mentoring Program, the formation of the Young Leaders Advisory Board (Y-LAB), and our work with careers advisers at careers fairs,
  • Holding hundreds of functions and events including conferences, training courses, networking dinners, lunches, seminars and forums to provide networking and knowledge sharing opportunities for our industry,
  • Growing the ARA’s membership to more than 150 companies,
  • Developing with the ARA board, Y-LAB and the ARA Team the ARA Strategy Map 2019 to 2024 to set the strategic direction over the next five years. This map details both strategic objectives and strategic outcomes that will provide a platform for Caroline and the ARA team to drive a supportive agenda for all sectors of the rail industry.

I’m very proud of these and other achievements of the ARA team and thank them, our former chairman Bob Herbert AM, the ARA board and all our ARA member companies for their continuing support.

I’d like to express my thanks also to Rail Express for its partnership with the ARA and continuing to produce quality digital and print rail news publications.

Rail has a bright future and I look forward to continuing to support the industry in my new role as ARA Chair.

Bumper year for ARA

Danny Broad shared some parting thoughts to the rail industry about the importance of smart rail technology and the need for young blood.

Outgoing Australasian Railway Association CEO Danny Broad hosted his last AusRAIL as CEO before handing over the reins to incoming CEO Caroline Wilkie.

Broad was elected ARA chair at the 2019 ARA Annual General Meeting (AGM), taking over from Bob Herbert – who will continue his contribution to the rail industry as Chairman of the ARA’s harm prevention charity, TrackSAFE Foundation.

“I thank Bob for his strategic leadership and achievements as chairman of the ARA, specifically the development of a new constitution, leading to improved governance and democracy within the ARA,” Broad said.

As part of his outgoing address, Herbert addressed some of the issues he considered significant to the rail industry.

“Rail is a victim of our federation. There is no one sovereign government calling all the shots for rail like there is for industries like defence or shipbuilding. Make no mistake, this holds rail back, with nine governments to deal with on key national issues,” Herbert said.

“It has stopped rail throughout its history, from the time the first rail tracks were carried. The cause lies in the way our political imperatives play out, it brings a natural cautiousness in decision making. Governments are always in different stages of the election process and rail is disadvantaged as a consequence.”

As an example, Herbert cites the operation of the Transport and Infrastructure Council (TIC).

“This is the forum where transport ministers across the jurisdictions come together twice a year and are supported by a body of senior bureaucrats. Unfortunately, outcomes from this process can only be described as last common denominator.”

As such, he explained how trying to achieve a National Rail Plan is “still illusory”.

“The bureaucrats so often have differing priorities to industry, and they become entrenched within government departments. In some cases, meeting with industry seems to be anathema to them, so progress is at a snail’s pace and this is extremely frustrating for industry.”

In August 2018, members of the ARA met with the council so that companies could present their challenges to the council.

“These were telling representations from our members on challenges relating to skills, resources, and standards,” Herbert said. As a result, the council decided to develop the Rail Action Plan through the National Transport Commission.

“We’ve seen the first cut of this plan and so far, I regret to say, it falls a short of what we would like. So, there’s a lot more argy bargy to be doing with the National Transport Commission.”

However, he warned industry against relying on government to deliver “what we can deliver ourselves”.

As part of his own AusRAIL address, Broad recapped some of the ARA’s activities in what he called “an exciting and demanding year in all sectors of rail”.

The ARA, Broad said, spent 2019 advocating to governments about some of the biggest issues facing the industry.

“We have focused on advocating to governments on how best to address the skills shortage, resulting in the development in the National Rail Action Plan, by the National Transport Commission.”

The ARA has been calling on state, territory and federal governments to commit to a unified pipeline for major rail projects, to allow the private sector to better prepare itself with adequate skills and equipment to ensure contracts are executed as efficiently as possible.

As part of this, the organisation recommended the federal government resource the Australia & New Zealand Infrastructure Pipeline in its 2019-20 Budget Submission.

The ARA lodged seventeen submissions to parliamentary and government inquiries on behalf of the sector over the last year.

One of the key issues for a number of its submissions to government in 2019 included advocating for fairer rules for freight rail operators.

“As far as possible, domestic rail freight markets should operate on an even footing with other modal choices. This requires an environment with equitable regulatory settings to enable competitive neutrality between competing modes of transport,” says the ARA’s annual report 2019.

The ARA also called for an extension of the Inland Rail line, the largest freight rail project in Australia.

“The current project has the Inland Rail line ceasing at Acacia Ridge. The ARA calls for a commensurate project to ensure a freight rail line continues all the way to the Port of Brisbane. Research undertaken by Deloitte shows that building a dedicated freight rail connection to the Port of Brisbane could achieve a 30 per cent rail modal share, which would remove 2.4 million truck movements from the local road network,” according to the annual report.

Among other issues, the ARA also calls for a “pragmatic approach to fast rail that recognises the need to plan for an invest in elements such as modernised signalling systems, passing loops, track duplication, and other critical requirements to increase infrastructure capacity and speed of passenger services”.

“We have been progressing the smart rail and technology agendas, working with industry and governments on improving accessibility, advocating for rail and supporting rail careers through programs such as the women in rail pilot mentoring program and the formation of the young leaders advisory board, a potential attraction and retention campaign and the future leaders program to name just a few,” Broad said.

“I’m very proud of where the ARA is now, and feel it is the right time to pass on the reigns to our new CEO,” Broad concluded.

New members appointed for ARA young leaders board

Four new young rail professionals have joined the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) Young Leaders Advisory Board (Y-LAB).

The new members are:

  • Jane Gillespie, senior consultant at Arup;
  • Josh Steed, team lead at SNC Lavalin;
  • Melanie Bowden, area manager at CPB Contractors; and
  • Alexander Daview, project manager at the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC).

In addition to the four new members, the ARA has appointed two reserve members to step in for vacancies that may arise due to career movements. The reserve members are; Tahni Littlejohn, systems analyst manager at Transport Canberra and City Services, and Karthik Krishna Kumar, project manager at Bombardier.

The new members join the four continuing Y-LAB members.

The Y-LAB is part of the ARA’s push for involvement in the rail industry from a younger generation of the workforce. The thoughts and insights of this group have been incorporated into the workings of the ARA, said ARA chair and acting CEO, Danny Broad.

“The Inaugural Y-LAB made a big impact last year, giving us some clear direction on how to attract a younger workforce, participating in the ARA Board’s Strategy Day to develop our 2019-24 strategic plan and many other key contributions.”

Broad was enthusiastic about the participation of younger members of the rail industry in the program and what this meant for the industry as a whole.

“The fact that we had such a strong field to draw from, with 37 applicants is testament to the eagerness of younger employees to contribute to the future of our industry and I look forward to working with the second iteration of Y-LAB in the year ahead.”

Arup will host the first meeting of Y-LAB for 2020 on March 3, in Sydney.

Broad acknowledged the work that the outgoing members have done.

“I’d like to thank our outgoing members, Jamie Ross-Smith of UniPart, Tegan Ball of Queensland Rail, Amy Lezela of Metro Trains Melbourne and Mike Groves of Network Rail Consulting for their contributions during 2019.”