New stabling yard opens on Geelong line

The Wyndham Vale stabling yard has now opened.

The yard, located north of Wyndham Vale station, will provide more flexibility for trains on the Geelong line serving the Victorian regional network.

A day 10 works program of testing and commissioning was carried out in the leadup to the opening, which involved driver training for familiarisation with the new infrastructure.

The stabling yard can hold six V/Locity trains at a time and also includes staff amenities, security, and utilities.

With further works being carried out to expand the capacity of regional rail in Victoria, particularly along the Melbourne-Geelong corridor, there is room for the yard to expand when needed.

The construction of the site involved the use of sustainable materials. Recycled plastic sleepers, recycled plastic asphalt and recycled glass sand were all used to build the facility.

RFI disagrees with Bellarine MP over Geelong fast rail

The Rail Futures Institute (RFI) has disputed comments made by the Victorian Minister for Police and Minister for Water Lisa Neville, whose electorate covers the Bellarine Peninsula and outer Geelong.

In comments reported by the Geelong Advertiser, Neville said that the only way fast rail can be brought to Geelong would be via the Werribee corridor.

RFI president John Hearsch said that their alternative proposal for services via Wyndham Vale, would cut the current 50 minute journey down to 35 minutes with trains running at up to 200km/h.

Under the RFI proposal, fast trains from Geelong would share the route from Sunshine to the city via new high speed tunnels built as part of the Melbourne Airport Rail Link. The Victorian government is yet to make a decision as to whether dedicated tunnels from Sunshine to the CBD will be built or whether airport trains, as well as regional trains from Geelong would share the Melbourne Metro Tunnel.

Hearsch noted that a separate new tunnel between Clifton Hill, the CBD, Fishermans Bend and Newport, known as Melbourne Metro 2 would allow for high speed trains from Geelong to travel on the Werribee corridor.

“However, MM2 is a massive project with twin tunnels each 17 km in length, seven or eight large underground stations, and two under-river crossings including one near Newport under the main shipping channel. Think of it as Melbourne Metro (MM1) doubled in scope, cost and time to construct. We have provisionally costed it at between $26 and $30 billion and consider it would take between 15 and 20 years to plan and construct from the time that Government starts to fund it,” said Hearsch.

The Victorian government has not committed to funding Melbourne Metro 2, however it has been included on long-term planning projects.

Hearsch also called for a more immediate focus on electrifying the Regional Rail Link tracks from Southern Cross to Wyndham Value to enable higher capacity electric trains.

“Geelong Fast Trains and a connection at Sunshine for a 10-minute journey to Melbourne Airport could both be operational by 2028,” said Hearsch. “This can only occur with a new tunnel under Melbourne’s inner west to unlock much needed capacity needed to provide quality rail services to regional Victoria and Melbourne’s west.”

Other bodies have joined concerted calls for the construction of a separate airport rail link, with the Committee for Melbourne chair, Scott Tanner, writing that plans for airport trains to use Melbourne Metro tunnels risk further exacerbating congestion issues.

Australia’s faster rail future

Faster rail forms part of the federal government’s strategy to deal with population growth and congestion. The National Faster Rail Agency’s acting CEO Malcolm Southwell discusses his agency’s work at AusRAIL Plus 2019.

Australia’s major cities are a key driver of the nation’s economic success and support the majority of the population in employment and economic growth. They are also growing, exponentially.

“Our population is expected to reach 33 million people by 2040, and most of those 6.6 new Australians will settle in our major capital cities,” acting CEO of the National Faster Rail Agency (NFRA), Malcolm Southwell, said at the AusRAIL Plus 2019 event held in Sydney.

“Around 64 per cent of us live in cities and we’re one of the most urbanised nations in the world. As such, we have issues with congestion, housing supply and affordability.”

Congestion costs are also expected to rise. According to Infrastructure Australia’s estimates, road and public transport congestion in the major cities will cost almost $40 billion by 2031, more than doubling from around $19bn in 2016.

Over 80 per cent of the estimated $21bn increase will occur in Greater Sydney, Greater Melbourne and south east Queensland.

A faster rail solution will go some way to alleviating population pressure in the cities. In comparison to other countries around the world, Australia has a relatively large land mass but low population density. While Australia has 3.2 persons per square kilometre, the US has 36. The UK has 275 persons per square kilometre, and Japan has 347.

“We’re not just about building fast rail in the hopes that it works, we’re taking an evidence-based approach,” Southwell said.

“Professor Andrew McNaughton of the UK, who is working with the NSW government on their faster rail plans, has publicly noted that reducing transit times to one hour or less is a particular sweet spot for improved access to higher paying jobs in capital city CBDs and increased economic development in regional centres.”

The Faster Rail Plan, which the NFRA is tasked with delivering, intends to better align future population growth by linking major cities and growing regional cities in order to take pressure off the cities and strengthen economic ties with regional areas.

With the December 2019 appointment of Barry Broe as inaugural chief executive officer of the NFRA, the agency is expected to ramp up its operations this year.

Southwell was acting CEO from the agency’s creation in July 2019 until January 2020. He spoke at AusRAIL to update the rail industry on the NFRA’s work to date and what to expect in the future.

So far, eight faster rail corridors have been identified, including: Sydney to Newcastle, Sydney to Wollongong, Sydney to Parkes (via Bathurst and Orange), Melbourne to Greater Shepparton, Melbourne to Albury-Wodonga, Melbourne to Taralgon, Brisbane to the Gold Coast, and Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast.

The NFRA will work in partnership with state and territory governments and private industry to develop the rail infrastructure necessary to accommodate a faster rail solution between major cities and key regional centres. It will develop proposals, examine routes and begin the process of corridor planning, acquisition and protection.

“We’ve started a conversation with states on the east coast about interoperability and standards of faster rail projects to avoid a repeat of issues around passenger services between jurisdictions,” Southwell said.

An expert panel will provide advice to government on faster rail related matters including existing business cases, new potential faster rail corridors, future developments across networks and infrastructure requirements and priorities. The panel will advise on staging and delivery options.

The NSW government has appointed Professor Andrew McNaughton to lead the panel. He has more than 45 years’ experience working on rail infrastructure projects, including the UK’s High Speed project.

The first three of the overall eight faster rail business cases have now been completed, the agency confirmed in January. The business cases for Sydney to Newcastle, Melbourne to Greater Shepparton and Brisbane to the regions of Moreton Bay and the Sunshine Coast are now being reviewed by the agency. NFRA will provide advice to government on the findings and its recommendations for next steps in the coming months.

These corridors and the remaining five, which are “progressing well” according to the agency, were identified based on the intention to support growing population movements.

For example, the agency’s first priority, to deliver faster rail between Geelong and Melbourne, will have major benefits for those living along the corridor, including quicker access to work and services in both locations, as well as greater choice around housing and less congestion.

“Geelong is one of the fastest growing regions, growing at a rate of around 2.7 per annum,” Southwell said.

“Transport connectivity between Melbourne and Geelong is constrained by existing infrastructure and rail investment has not kept up with population growth. These constraints have a range of flow on effects, including hampering regional development and increasing road congestion.

The agency acknowledges, however, that better connectivity could, in some circumstances, result in regional towns becoming dormitory suburbs for larger cities.

“We’re very much aware of these concerns and as part of our work we’ll look for the opportunities where faster rail can actually work for the economy and job markets in these regional towns. We’re actively talking to regional centres about the challenges and opportunities faster rail will bring to their economy.”

Southwell is adamant that faster rail will resolve population pressures if regional centres are made attractive.

“For example, lowering operating costs for enterprises in regional towns will attract businesses to the area. Faster rail will provide these businesses will labour markets in the capital cities and provide opportunities for economic development in regional towns.

“That effect is evidenced here in Australia. In Geelong, rail was instrumental in maintaining the attractiveness of the city following the large and sudden downturn in the manufacturing sector. Research and modelling work have shown that the emergence of strong employment centres has been able to attract service jobs, and that was greatly facilitated by an increase in efficient rail services.”

Faster rail services are capable of reducing travel time in the corridor even further, from an hour to closer to half an hour, and thus enable more commuters to travel along the rail corridor.

Another challenge the agency will need to soon resolve is cost.

“Studies conducted between 2010 and 2013 on a high-speed rail between Melbourne and Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane found that it would have an estimated construction cost of around $114bn in 2012-dollar terms.

“Noting current construction market pressures and inflation impacts, this figure will increase significantly in today’s terms and could be as high as $150 to $200bn.

“Whatever the amount, this is a significant cost, and obviously needs to be considered against all the other projects making up a core share of taxpayer’s funds.”

The Australasian Rail Association says that it supports the utilisation of innovative financing and funding mechanisms such as “value capture” development opportunities along rail corridors to help fund faster rail infrastructure.

“It will be critical that the Agency, under Mr Broe’s leadership, recognises the need to invest in existing and new lines to stretch government dollars and provide a faster rail service offering that meets the needs of the Australian population,” ARA chair Danny Broad said.

“In addition to supporting the establishment of new fast rail lines as a means to decentralise Australia’s population and support regional development, the
ARA highlights that optimising our existing networks cannot be overlooked,” the ARA’s Annual Report 2019 said.

“Faster rail can be achieved through upgrades and modifications to existing rail infrastructure, such as passing loops, new signalling systems and level crossing removals.”

Meanwhile, the NSW government says it will examine a range of funding options and smart staging, as part of the Fast Rail Network Strategy, to ensure the fast rail network provides value for money.

Each funding option considered as part of the strategy will be assessed based on the estimated cost of the project in light of economic and other benefits to the community, and complementary revenue- generating opportunities.

The state government says that international experience shows that fast rail networks can be delivered in stages, with each stage delivering immediate benefits.

NSW’s short- to medium-term focus will be on upgrades and the optimisation of existing rail routes, with dedicated track improvements such as junction rearrangements, curve easing, deviations, passing loops and level crossing removals on existing routes.

Its longer-term focus will be on a dedicated and purpose-built rail line, with new lines and routes, as well as new rolling stock.

According to Southwell, the national agency is cognisant that its work will affect the future of how people live.

“This is no simple task and requires debate and dialogue from all sides of the equation. We’re still very new but through ongoing conversations with our key stakeholders, including those in regional communities, we acknowledge that consideration needs to extend well beyond just building a new rail line and a train station,” Southwell said.

Councils call for increased services along Geelong line

Two councils west of Melbourne have joined together to call for investment in rail services to Geelong.

The Greater Geelong council passed a motion with the support of the Wyndham City council outlining the commitments that they see as needing to be made by state and federal governments.

The services are: two new electrified metropolitan rail lines to Melton and Wyndham vale, separate from the Geelong and Ballarat lines; increased track capacity between Sunshine and the CBD, investment in the Geelong and Ballarat lines, including electrification and fast electric regional trains; connecting the Wyndham Vale and Werribee lines; and a timeline and dedicated funding for the network.

“Fast and frequent rail services to Wyndham and Geelong have the potential to significantly impact the long-term liveability of our regions, opening up employment and education opportunities, and allowing our residents to spend less time on the train and more time with their loved ones,” said Mayor of the Greater Geelong council Stephanie Asher.

The calls follow demands made by other groups for a separate rail line between Sunshine and the CBD, to carry trains to and from the airport, and offers of extra funding from the private consortium building the line.

Similarly, the councils reject the alternative of putting airport trains on the current line.

“The proposal for the Melbourne Airport Rail Link reported to be under consideration would put extra trains onto already over-crowded tracks between the CBD and Sunshine. This would devastate the prospects of achieving desperately needed faster and more frequent services to Melbourne’s west and regional Victoria,” said Asher.

“Our trains are already slow and overcrowded, and will only get worse without action.”

Josh Gillian, mayor of Wyndham City council, echoed Asher’s concerns.

“We are in urgent need of an increase to existing services. Squashing more trains onto an already busy line will only prevent this from happening.”

Population growth along the Geelong rail line has increased to 131 per cent over the past five years, according to Gilligan this is higher than any other regional line.

“As our population continues to soar, we need other tiers of government to back us and deliver the infrastructure we need. We know that our trains are already full, especially at rush hour, forcing our residents to cram into carriages or wait for the next train.”

Currently, the Victorian government is investing $160 million in the Geelong Line, as part of the Regional Rail Revival project. This involves upgrades at Waurn Ponds, and Armstrong Creek.

Industrial action continues to affect PTV performance

Ongoing industrial dispute across the Public Transport Victoria (PTV) network has affected January performance for all three operators.

It was revealed in the public transport performance results for January 2020, published by the Department of Transport on Tuesday, that the monthly reliability of Metro Trains, V/Line, and Yarra Trams has fallen below the threshold.

Jeroen Weimar, department of transport head of transport services said all parties need to come to the table and come to an agreement quickly to prevent further inconvenience.

More protected industrial action is planned across the network this month, with expectations that February performance targets could be affected too.

A PTV spokesperson has stated services are expected to be significantly disrupted on metropolitan trams next week and V/Line Ballarat and Gippsland lines.

“We’re working closely with Yarra Trams to reduce the impact of industrial action as much as we can,” the spokesperson said.

The PTV January report stated that other factors also played a role.

“While the driver resourcing issue was a major factor, Metro’s performance was also impacted by hot weather and storm activity.”

Lighting strikes affected rail equipment throughout the month as well as damage to overhead equipment on the Frankston line on Friday, 10 January.

“We continue to work with Metro Trains on plans to improve performance, through the rollout of initiatives including extra staff on station platforms, new technology on platform displays and ongoing work to prevent people illegally walking on tracks,” Weimar said.

Extreme heat impacted the tram network, with some routes cancelled, replaced or diverted when the temperature went above past 40 degrees in late January.

Yarra Trams ran an extra 3,724 tram trips during the Australian Open at Melbourne Park, which was a 21 per cent increase on the extra trips run for last year’s event.

Despite extreme weather and planned industrial action, between December and January, V/Line improved its punctuality from 85 to 90.6 per cent and reliability from 90.7 to 94.6 per cent.

“V/Line’s three busiest lines, Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo, experienced sharp rises in punctuality from December, growing from 89.9 to 92.6 per cent, from 91.8 to 93.3 per cent and from 86.1 to 90.2 per cent respectively,” a PTV spokesperson said.

“The January Ballarat punctuality figure was also the line’s best in more than three years and follows significant improvements delivered as part of the Ballarat Line Upgrade late last year.”

Weimar said it’s “encouraging”  to see regional trains improving throughout the month.

January included the excavation and concreting of the final section of the Metro Tunnel’s eastern entrance while adding new sections of track. 

Six new tram stops were also installed on Nicholson Street in the city’s north, making Route 96 Melbourne’s most accessible.

Metro Trains and Yarra Trams will pay compensation to eligible passengers after both operators fell below their reliability thresholds in January.

Contractor announced for Geelong and Warrnambool line upgrades

Upgrades to the Geelong and Warrnambool line will be carried out by Downer, Rail Projects Victoria announced.

As part of the $1.75 billion Regional Rail Revival program, Downer will deliver signalling upgrades between Waurn Ponds and Warrnambool and a new crossing loop at Boorcan to increase reliability and improve recovery times on the Warrnambool line.

On the Geelong Line Downer will construct a second platform, duplicated track, a pedestrian overpass, improved and new parking, bicycle storage facilities, and more CCTV, lighting, and myki machines.

According to Mark Mackay, executive general manager transport projects at Downer, the project will draw upon Downer’s expertise.

“Our committed team of experts will deliver an integrated solution, future-proofed to minimise rework and maximise opportunities for passengers and the community,” he said.

Construction will begin in mid-2020 and completion is hoped for by late 2021.

In addition, Downer will construct a new stabling facility at Waurn Ponds for the overnight stabling of V/Line trains for more frequent future services.

Elsewhere as part of the upgrades on the Regional Rail Revival program, planning works are being undertaken on Stage 2 of the Geelong Line Upgrade, which includes the Waurn Ponds Duplication Project. Track will be duplicated from South Geelong to Waurn Ponds, and level crossings will be removed at Fyans Street and Surf Coast Highway. South Geelong and Marshall stations will also be upgraded.

Downer will utilise its knowledge gained from the Waurn Ponds station in 2014, as well as work on the Bendigo station upgrade, and the High Capacity Metro Trains maintenance facility.

V/Line driver’s near-miss with a train after failing to stop at signals

An Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) rail safety investigation found a V/Line driver ran through a level crossing before the boom gates were down at Marshall, Victoria.

On January 2nd 2018 at around 2pm, V/Line train 7750 travelling to Geelong and 1305 V/Line travelling to Warrnambool were heading towards each other on a single track in suburban Geelong.

The two trains were 940m apart from colliding when a control room worker in Melbourne issued an emergency call instructing the drivers to stop.

The ATSB found that the driver of train 7750 did not respond to the Stop indications of signals MSL10 and MSL8 at Marshall.

The driver of train 7750 entered the single line section between Marshall and South Geelong and then into the Marshalltown level crossing before the crossing booms had lowered.

At approximately the same time, The 1305 V/Line Melbourne to Warrnambool service with two crew and 166 passengers on board had departed Geelong and was headed towards Marshall on the same single line section.

The trains were scheduled to cross using the loop track at Marshall.

The investigation report stated that in preparation for the cross of the two trains at Marshall, the train controller “was observing the signalling control and CCTV VDU when he saw train 7750 go through Marshall platform travelling too fast to stop at MSL10,”

“Realising that train 7750 would not be able to stop, the train controller made a fleet radio transmission to all trains in the area to ‘Red Light’ (Stop), the CCTV also allowed the train controller to confirm that train 7750 had stopped beyond the Marshalltown Road level crossing.”

The investigation concluded that the driver of V/Line train 7750 was most likely influenced by symptoms associated with nicotine withdrawal, having not applied a nicotine patch on that day.

“Following this incident, the driver of train 7750 tested positive for an inactive metabolite of cannabis, with levels suggesting use within the previous 7 days,” the report stated.

It could not be determined whether that had affected the driver’s performance at the time of the incident.

Report authors say attempts by V/Line safety critical workers to stop smoking should be managed under medical supervision.

As a result of the incident, V/Line has installed a train protection system at Marshalltown Road level crossing to stop a train that has passed a signal at Danger, which has over-speed sensors to prevent a train entering the crossing when unprotected.

V/Line has continued with planning for the provision of three-position signalling for this section as part of other infrastructure projects.

The driver of train 7750 no longer works for V/Line.

Upgrades to signalling systems will streamline exportation from Geelong

Final improvements are being made to Victoria’s rail freight infrastructure to streamline the journey of this year’s grain harvest to the Port of Geelong.

Signalling systems are now being upgraded in the North Geelong and North Shore area, making up the final stage of the Geelong C Box Project.

Rail signals into and out of the Port of Geelong are currently changed manually, which ultimately slows down grain exports and limits the type of trains that can access the terminal.

“The Geelong C Box Project will remove the need for manual signalling, doubling the capacity of the grain loop and eliminating wait times,” said Minister for Ports and Freight, Melissa Horne.

The upgrades are intended to enable more grain freight trains to travel from the state’s grain growing regions to the Port of Geelong for exportation.

“With Victorian grain growers set to experience a bumper harvest this year, it is important we can move grain efficiently from the farm gate to port via Geelong’s rail freight network,” said minister for ports and freight Melissa Horne.

Automating the C-Box will enable better control of train movements from V/Line’s train control centre, allowing both standard and broad-gauge trains to access the grain site.

Rail engineering and signalling experts are carrying out the work within the rail corridor and at rail crossings.

As such, traffic management will be in place at rail crossings in the area during the works to ensure the safety of all road users.

The works are expected to be completed by the end of next week.

Geelong to get a high speed rail link

An implementation plan is now in place for a high-speed rail that would enable a 32-minute journey from Geelong Station to Melbourne, which sit roughly 75 kilometres apart.

“That would completely transform this region in the process, building that connectivity,” said Australian Federal Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure Alan Tudge, announcing the launch of the Geelong City Deal Implementation Plan on Tuesday.

The cities could be linked by trains travelling between 250 and 300 kilometres an hour under the plan.

Funding for the project will be covered by both the federal and Victorian governments, who are currently in discussions regarding the Geelong project which will integrate with the Melbourne Airport Rail Link project.

Initial construction work linking Southern Cross to Sunshine will constitute the most complex and expensive part of the project, according to Tudge.

Altogether it is a $10 billion project, said Tudge, with  $6 billion of these funds going towards Southern Cross to Sunshine station work, covered by funding for the Melbourne Airport Rail Link which is estimated to cost between $8 billion and $13 billion.

A $50 million business case is currently underway for the Geelong project, according to the state government.

Victorian Minister for Regional Development Jaclyn Symes said all three levels of government, including local, were committed to achieving a shared vision for Geelong over the next 10 years through the City Deal.

“The City Deal is expected to inject $370 million into Geelong and the broader Great Ocean Road region,” said Tudge.