Final preparations before construction begins on Narrabri to North Star Inland Rail

The final shipments of steel rail and concrete sleepers for the Narrabri to North Star section of Inland Rail have arrived as the last planning approvals are finished.

With these deliveries completed construction can take the next step forward, with the planning process fast tracked by the NSW government and approved on August 13.

A final contractor is yet to be announced, however three shortlisted tenderers were announced in December 2019. These are: Lendlease Engineering, a joint venture between Downer EDI and Seymour White named RailFirst, and Trans4m Rail, a joint venture between Rhomberg Rail Australia, BGC Contracting, and SEE Civil.

Construction is expected to begin later in 2020.

So far, 21 trains have delivered 24,775 tonnes of Australian-made steel, with the last of the 2,474 165-metre long lengths delivered in the last week.

42 trains have delivered 116,396 Australian made sleepers from Mittagong and 224,939 sleepers from Wagga Wagga.

Federal Member for Parkes Mark Coulton said that once construction begins, local businesses and communities will benefit.

“As we near construction on the next section of the project, benefits are going to flow via local industry and supplier participation, employment and workforce development in communities surrounding the Narrabri to North Star section,” said Coulton.

With the Parkes to Narromine section of Inland Rail nearing completion, communities along the alignment there have seen the impact that the construction phase has had.

“On the first section of Inland Rail between Parkes and Narromine, we saw more than $100 million spent with local businesses and nearly 700 locals work on the project. There were 99 local businesses that supplied goods to the project in some form,” said Coulton.

“Inland Rail is a project that creates opportunity and jobs in the short, medium and long-term – with the local jobs created in supply contracts like the rail and sleepers, the future jobs and investment during construction, and the enduring benefits that will come from the enhancement and expansion of regional supply chains.”

approvals

Inland Rail investment requires route confirmation

A senate committee has heard that for Inland Rail to unlock investment in regional Australia industry requires certainty about the future of the project.

Speaking to the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport and References Committee Inquiry on the management of the Inland Rail project, Australasian Railway Association (ARA) CEO Caroline Wilkie said that the rail industry was ready to invest.

“There has already been significant investment in terminals and other infrastructure at regional hubs to serve the Inland Rail project when it is up and running,” said Wilkie.

“Further investment – and all the benefits that come with it – will only follow when business and industry finally have certainty about the future of the project.”

Also speaking at the inquiry was Inland Rail CEO Richard Wankmuller who noted that Inland Rail has been cited as a catalyst for the growth of regional cities such as Wagga Wagga, Parkes, and Moree, the so-called bushtropolises.

Already, on the Parkes to Narromine project, Inland Rail construction has created 833 sustainable jobs of employment for six weeks or more, and $100 million has been spent in the regional community around Parkes.

Questioning from senators looked at the uncertainty of the route, particularly through Queensland. Such speculation on the route is limiting the ability of the rail sector to make investments off the back of Inland Rail, said Wilkie.

“ARA has members that need certainty regarding the commencement of construction and ongoing operation of Inland Rail. Continued public speculation about the route is destabilising for companies and causing stress and unnecessary hardship for those both on the government’s existing route and communities such as Cecil Plains and other communities not on the current alignment.”

Senators also raised the competitive pressure rail freight is facing from other modes of transport. With rail taking a declining share of freight between Sydney and Melbourne and Sydney and Brisbane, reducing transit times to under 24 hours would enable the rail freight to be more competitive. Ensuring that the Inland Rail route allows for a transit time of under 24 hours between Melbourne and Brisbane will be critical, said Philip Laird, an academic at the University of Wollongong.

Inland Rail

Wrong time for delays on Inland Rail

All parties should respect the outcome of the latest reviews into Inland Rail, and get on with the transformational project, writes ALC CEO Kirk Coningham.

In mid-June, Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivered a major economic address in which he announced that to hasten the pace of Australia’s post-COVID-19 economic recovery, the federal government would move to cut approval times for projects under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

At the end of 2019, approval processes associated with this act were taking an average of 90 days – the Prime Minister has committed to reducing this to 30 days by the end of 2020.

At the same time, the Prime Minister also unveiled a list of 15 major infrastructure projects nationally that are on what he termed the “fast track” for expedited approval under a bilateral model agreed between federal, state, and territory governments.

At the top of this list was the Inland Rail project, which regular readers of Rail Express will know is one of the most iconic freight infrastructure projects ever undertaken and will play a significant role in modernising our supply chains. Inland Rail will allow a transit time of 24 hours or less for freight trains between Melbourne and Brisbane via regional Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland.

Yet, with construction on the project already underway, some groups are now attempting to have changes on the Border to Gowrie section of the route in Queensland.

Despite the fact that extensive and independent analysis of corridor options has previously confirmed the route chosen in 2017 is the best option, there is now a further review taking place at the request of the federal government.

The whole point of constructing Inland Rail is to provide a safe and efficient freight rail link for Australia’s east coast that permits a transit time of 24 hours or less for freight between Melbourne and Brisbane. Altering the route to the more complex one being advocated by some will make travel times longer and will make construction a more complicated and costly exercise.

This latest review process seems to run counter to efforts to expedite the construction of Inland Rail, and unlock the economic, employment and regional development opportunities that the project offers to areas that have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The enormously successful Inland Rail Conference presented by ALC and the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) in Toowoomba last year clearly demonstrated a high level of support for the project from the communities along its proposed alignment. Many local businesses have already been making investment decisions based on the route chosen in 2017.

Eleventh-hour attempts to alter the approved route of the Inland Rail project are causing uncertainty for investors and local communities, placing a brake on employment growth and regional development opportunities at a time the economy can least afford it.

Inland Rail has been talked about for decades. The last thing local communities or the economy need now is for those benefits to be placed at risk by endless reviews of modelling that has already been thoroughly examined and re-examined.

Once this latest review of the is concluded, it is incumbent on all parties to respect its outcomes and turn their attentions to expediting construction. That way, this once-in-a-generation freight rail project can start delivering benefits for local workers, businesses, exporters and consumers that are now needed more than ever.

Inland Rail grants support sustainable communities

Local communities along the Inland Rail route alignment have benefited from grants of between $1,000 and $4,000 to support community groups.

The grants are the fifth round of the Inland Rail Community Sponsorships and Donations program and are focused on the Riverina and Central West regions of NSW.

Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said the grants were in addition to the benefits that have flowed from the construction of Inland Rail.

“We are already seeing the immediate benefits from Inland Rail, with more than 690 local jobs and businesses boosted by the $100 million in local contract commitments flowing from construction of the Parkes to Narromine section,” he said.

The grants are hoped to contribute to local and regional prosperity, well-being and sustainability through the support of events, projects, and activities.

The latest rounds of grants have been tailored to the conditions that are a result of COVID-19. Grants for events and activities must comply with current state restrictions, and applicants are encouraged to put forward projects that require funding for online or digital delivery or include work to be carried out by local businesses and with local suppliers.

While Inland Rail is expected to bring in benefits of up to $13.3bn to communities and regions along the alignment, the grants announced now are ensuring communities can be sustainable now to benefit in the future, said McCormack.

“Supporting the sustainability of these and other communities along the rail corridor is paramount and the Inland Rail sponsorships and donations program is yet another example of how communities can benefit from this unique project.”

Successful recipients include:

$4,000 to the Junee Basketball Association for the purchase of scoring benches at the local recreational centre.

$4,000 to the WIRED Lab Cootamundra to upgrade online infrastructure that will enable community members to participate online.

$4,000 to Silo FM 89.5 Inc. for the purchase of new broadcasting equipment for community radio.

$3,500 to Kurrajong Waratah for the purchase of a weatherproof shelter for the community gardens as part of the Hildasid Farm Project.

$2,837 to the Central West Astronomical Society for the purchase of a data projector and batteries.

$1,136 to Wirrinya Progress and Sports Association for the purchase of tennis court nets for children’s activities.

$1,100 to the Parkes Que Club to provide domestic violence bags for women and children.

Wagga Wagga

Contracts awarded for Wagga Wagga intermodal facility

Wagga Wagga council has approved two contracts to begin the construction and operation of the Riverina Intermodal Freight and Logistics (RiFL) Hub.

The intermodal facility will connect producers and exporters from the Riverina region to the Inland Rail line.

Construction of stages two and three of facility will be carried out by Canberra-based Huon Contractors. Visy Logistics will operate and manage the RiFL Hub terminal and master siding in a public private partnership between Wagga Wagga Council and Visy Logistics.

Once complete the terminal will be the only inland terminal capable of servicing a 1,800m long train configuration.

Stage two of the project involves a 4.9km rail master siding and intermodal terminal area and is funded through a $14.4 million grant from Transport for NSW’s Fixing Country Rail Program.

Stage three of the project will create the industrial area surrounding the Hub. Across 60 hectares, the work will include fitting fibre to the premises internet in the existing Bomen Business Park. These $29.2m works are funded through the NSW government’s Growing Local Economies program.

Wagga Wagga Council general manager Peter Thompson said that having such a facility would put Wagga Wagga on the map for interstate rail freight.

“The partnership with Visy cannot be understated. This company moves significant amounts of freight volumes each year and seeing a large percentage of that processed and distributed through a strategically located freight terminal between Sydney and Melbourne has Wagga Wagga on everyone’s radar.”

Huon Contractors director Adam Howard said the company would be looking for local involvement.

“Having grown up in Wagga, I’m proud that Huon Contractors will be building this project. We intend to utilise local contractors and suppliers as much as possible to deliver this project.”

In July, Deputy NSW Premier and Minister for Regional NSW John Barilaro opened public consultation on a new special activation precinct for the adjoining Bomen Business Park, which is hoped to drive businesses to take advantages of the connections offered by Inland Rail. The plan targets manufacturing, agribusiness and freight and logistics business as prime beneficiaries of improved freight connections.

Once complete, businesses located at the RiFL Hub will be able to get their freight to 80 per cent of the Australian population within 32 hours.

Toowoomba

Toowoomba now home to project office for Inland Rail

The Toowoomba home of the Inland Rail project was officially opened today, July 30.

The new Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) project office increases the footprint of Inland Rail in the regional Queensland city and will provide an ongoing base as construction begins.

Local member John McVeigh opened the office, which can accommodate up to 40 people.

“The office will serve as a hub for ARTC’s community engagement for a number of sections of the project and will provide a basecamp for technical staff when in the field,” he said.

McVeigh said the office is one example of how Inland Rail will benefit local communities along the alignment, with the building constructed by a local company.

“More than 60 per cent of the Inland Rail investment will be made in Queensland and much of this will be in Toowoomba. As we fast become a northern freight and logistics hub – it’s fitting that ARTC increase their presence in town as they work to refine the design of Inland Rail.”

Inland Rail will pass by Toowoomba on the western and northern outskirts of the town, connecting the region to Brisbane at Acacia Ridge, and NSW and Victoria as well as the wider interstate freight network.

Discussions for an intermodal terminal between Pacific National and Wagner Corporation are underway  for the route at Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport, to enable freight to be transferred from the Inland Rail network to airborne freight and the local region.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said that the project would enable such connections between local and international markets.

“Regional Australia is a significant contributor to our economy and Inland Rail will facilitate our regions connecting to markets at home and abroad, providing a sustainable and long term benefit to these communities and Australia more broadly.”

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said that the location would provide an interface between the local community and project staff.

“No one understands regional towns better than the people who live and work there. Local knowledge and a connection to community improves the delivery of Government services and programs, such as Inland Rail.”

Parkes

$185m investment to build on Parkes rail links

The NSW government has announced $185 million investment to build on rail infrastructure delivery in Parkes.

The future site of the intersection of Australia’s major freight lines, Parkes is expected to play a central role in Australia’s logistics networks and supply chains.

Inland Rail will pass through Parkes, connecting Melbourne and Brisbane via regional NSW, Queensland, and Victoria, and will intersect in the Central West town with the rail line linking Sydney to Perth.

The NSW government’s current investment will fund the Parkes Special Activation Precinct, which will leverage these links to develop a logistics and intermodal hub. Parkes also has the advantage of being much more affordable than metropolitan cities, with land values at just 5 per cent of the capitals.

NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro said the investment in roads, sewer, and water connections will help grow regional NSW.

“This precinct is all about attracting money, economic growth and jobs to regional NSW,” he said.

“We know that where there is significant government investment, it attracts private investment ten-fold. This precinct could attract up to $1 billion in private investment over the next 10 years.”

The precinct will be developed by the Regional Growth NSW Development Corporation, who will lead design and construction, applications and approvals, and provide assistance for those businesses looking to set up in the regions.

The precinct stretches over 4,800 hectares of land, and can be used for purposes such as freight and logistics, food processing, warehousing, plastic and e-waste recycling, and cold chain storage.

The precinct will also focus on sustainability, as it will be Australia’s first UNIDO Eco Industrial zone. The initiative of the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation seeks to enhance the environmental, economic and social performance of industrial businesses through collaboration.

Work is now complete on the link between Inland Rail at Parkes and the Broken Hill rail line to Perth.

NSW Farmers and CWA launch legal action on Inland Rail

The NSW Farmers and the Country Women’s Association of NSW have begun legal action against the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) regarding its handling of the Inland Rail project.

The two organisations have appointed a law firm to raise concerns about the ARTC’s hydrology modelling. NSW Farmers Inland Rail taskforce chair Adrian Lyons said that flood modelling was causing concerns.

“We are using this opportunity to demand the ATRC engage in a productive manner with affected landholders,” he said.

“We have also stressed the need for transparency around the key documents underpinning the proposed route, particularly the hydrology modelling which to date has caused consternation in our members.”

Inland Rail CEO Richard Wankmuller said that the infrastructure project has had ongoing engagement with NSW Farmers for the past two years.

“We were able to come to agreement on land access protocols and principles and we have published the answers to all their questions in the past.”

Of particular concern is the stretch of rail between Narromine and Narrabri. The Environmental Impact Statement for that section is currently being finalised for submission to the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment and the ARTC will be meeting with all affected landowners between June and September.

“We have met with over 100 of the farmers and landowners that we are working with collaboratively to deliver Inland Rail between Narromine and Narrabri in the past couple of months,” said Wankmuller.

“Those are productive meetings, that will ensure that we can build Inland Rail to the highest standards while mitigating the impacts on those farmers.”

Lyons said that NSW Farmers had recommended to members to not engage with ARTC.

CWA of NSW CEO Danica Leys said that the engagement could extend to other sections of the project.

“Currently, our legal correspondence is focused on the Narromine to Narrabri stretch of the rail route, but our aim is that any positive developments would be mirrored in other parts of the infrastructure.”

Wankmuller said that ARTC would continue to work with farmers.

“Working with farmers is the best way for us to ensure that we can mitigate their impacts and deliver Inland Rail to the highest standards.”

Planning process accelerates over a billion dollars of NSW rail projects

NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes is accelerating three major rail projects as well as development above the new Crows Nest Metro Station and around the CBD and South East Light Rail.

Stokes said that moving projects such as the $700 million Inland Rail from Narrabri to North Star, the $273m Botany Rail Duplication, and the $115m Cabramatta Rail Loop would enable the state to economically recover from coronavirus (COVID-19).

“The fast-tracked assessment program is a key part of the NSW Government’s COVID-19 Recovery Plan as we continue to get shovel-ready projects out the door to keep people in jobs and keep the economy moving.”

The proposal to revamp of Central Station as part of the Western Gateway project will also be accelerated. Transport for NSW is proposing new planning control to enable the development of a technology centre adjacent to the rail corridor.

All projects will be determined by August 14, 2020.

Australasian Railway Association (ARA) CEO Caroline Wilkie welcomed the announcement by Stokes.

“It is good to see the NSW government recognise the significant community benefits rail delivers by accelerating these projects,” she said.

“Infrastructure investment will be the cornerstone of our economic recovery and sustainable, long term rail projects will form an important part of that.”

Completion of the Inland Rail section as well as the Port Botany duplication and Cabramatta passing loop will improve NSW’s freight rail network, enabling further growth and reducing trucks on roads in Sydney and regional NSW.

Rail’s role to play in activating development in other precincts has been recognised in the proposal to increase building height and floor space controls near the light rail line in Kingsford and Kensington. In Crows Nest, Sydney Metro is proposing to increase the building height and floor space controls to enable development above the new station.

“This is a great example of improved project approvals processes making a real difference for businesses, jobs and the people that depend on them,” said Wilkie.

How RCS Australia is using COTS technology to solve complex signalling challenges

Working between rail operators and technology vendors, RCS Australia are taking a technology neutral, functional approach to signalling.

The digitalisation of all facets of industry is a process that has been underway for decades now, and has most recently spawned the new term, Industry 4.0. Primarily concerned with the integration of cyber and physical systems, it is a term not often heard in the rail sector. However, as digital systems open up new possibilities for rail infrastructure builders and operators, organisations are required to work with new technology.

One company making this happen in Australia is Rail Control Systems Australia (RCS Australia). As CEO Paul Hann explains, knowing both sides of the equation enables RCS Australia to translate emerging technology for the rail industry.

“We understand the authorised rail operators (AROs), we understand some of the barriers that they face, particularly from a technical perspective. Similarly, we’ve built relationships with the technology providers. Rail is a little bit different to their normal market, so we bridge that gap.”

RCS Australia has experience working with legacy signalling systems around Australia and having seen the limitations of proprietary technology, the company understood that its position as a technology neutral company unaffiliated with a particular vendor could serve the rail industry.

“We understand that our clients’ needs and requirements should be driving the technology, not the other way around. That was really what was driving our move more into looking at technology solutions and how we can apply those to our clients, the AROs,” said Hann.

As both Hann and Jacquelle Coldhill, Director, Commercial and Projects, know, the core competency of railway operators are the operation and maintenance of existing signalling systems, not necessarily the design, construction, and commissioning of new technology. Having developed an array of competencies to serve just that need, RCS Australia can use their expertise drawn from projects around Australia to guide the successful implementation of innovation in signalling.

“There can often be different challenges in understanding what the ARO actually wants. Sometimes you have to work with them to help them understand what’s best for their railway and how the equipment or the solution can actually address their needs,” said Coldhill.

Since its formation in 2007, RCS Australia has grown to encompass signalling engineering, construction, testing and additionally, the selection and implementation of technology platforms and solutions.

“With in-house capability from feasibility and scheme development through to construction and commissioning, being able to provide technology solutions to address some of our client’s needs as part of the package was a missing piece of the puzzle,” said Hann.

RCS Australia’s solutions have been implemented on a number of major rail projects.

LOCAL KNOWLEDGE
In some instances, to address a perceived dearth of local expertise, rail projects have turned overseas to solve their signalling challenges. One issue with this approach, however, is that the unique specifications of each Australian rail system may not be immediately known, highlights Coldhill.

“Some of the challenges with using an international workforce comes down to understanding project specific competency requirements and having experience on a particular network and with the standards required by the ARO. Importantly, we understand that Australia is not a one size fits all market. Implementation of a given technology can be quite different across AROs. Through our team’s mix of local knowledge and technology expertise we aim to provides specific and appropriate solutions for our clients,” said Coldhill.

This innate understanding, combined with a technology neutral approach, leads to a customer-centric outcome.

“Local knowledge combined with a commercial off the shelf (COTS) solution means that we can genuinely drive things by requirements,” said Hann. “We’re not trying to shoehorn a technology into a project, quite the opposite. We’re trying to match a solution with the requirements of the ARO, combining local knowledge with the ability to source the right solution.”

In addition, RCS Australia are based locally, and are able to continue providing support long after the first trains are running over the new system.

“We can provide ongoing support once a project is delivered. We’re an Australian company committed to long term relationships with our clients, so there’s considerable ongoing post commissioning support, whether it’s training, maintenance or further development and innovation,” said Hann. “Our interest is really in the growth of the Australian rail industry, we’re not here to sell widgets.”

CURRENT WORK
RCS Australia’s knowledge of signalling comes from a diversity of projects around the country. These include standalone freight networks, the integration of metropolitan and regional networks, and new, high capacity suburban lines. Currently, the team is engaged on a number of major projects, including Cross River Rail, Melbourne Metro Tunnel, and Inland Rail. While the scope of each project is quite different, as Hann points out, the approach is the same.

“As providers of safety critical systems, there’s a level of no difference, whether it’s suburban network or a freight network. But the operational requirements can be very different. We focus on our ability to take those operating requirements of a given railway and turn that into a functional signalling scheme.”

On the Cross River Rail project, the installation of a new signalling technology
has to be integrated with the existing network along the brownfield sections and where the new infrastructure links to the existing rail line.

We’re looking at new technology but in an existing network,” said Hann. “We’re not the new technology provider on Cross River, but part of our role is ensuring integration with the existing signalling system and the current methods of operation such that once this new technology is commissioned it can operate seamlessly within the legacy systems of that network.”

On the Cross River Rail project, RCS Australia have deployed their design, construct, and commissioning teams for the safe and efficient delivery of the signalling infrastructure.

“For our integrated technology and delivery engagements, we are developing functional specifications based on the operational requirements of the railway, linking that to technology, and then developing and designing that technology. We deliver it in house from design development through to factory build, deployment to site and final commissioning,” said Hann. “All of those links in the process enable us to bring efficiencies to the party because of the integrated nature of the team and common goal of everyone involved.”

In addition, as Coldhill notes, on a large, multi-stakeholder project such as Cross River Rail, bringing these services in house enables a smoother project management process.

“You’re not managing subcontractors, you’re not challenged with technology or commercial interfaces, you’re not facing so many hurdles and, as a result, there is less delivery risk for our clients.”

Not being focussed on one particular technology, while being part of a multidisciplinary team allows for RCS Australia to take a ‘best for the project’ approach. This requires knowing the requirements of both technology vendors and rail operators.

“COTS vendors are a third-party supplier but they’re a key element to the success of the project in terms of product support. That’s where we focus on being able to translate what they’re doing into rail and present that to projects in a way they understand and that they can see mitigates risk and satisfies their overall requirements,” said Hann.“With the knowledge and expertise of our the team at RCS Australia, we are able to bridge that gap.”