Councils look to light rail to connect south-west Perth

Councils in south-west Perth are pushing for a new rapid transit link between Murdoch and Fremantle.

The South West Group, made up of six councils from the region, have released a new report highlighting the need for a dedicated transport link to stimulate urban growth and improve transport connections. Read more

Contractor announced for Gold Coast Light Rail Stage 3 construction

John Holland has been nominated as the preferred contractor to deliver stage three of the Gold Coast Light Rail.

The $709 million joint local, state, and federally funded project, will extend the light rail line to Burleigh Heads from its current terminus in Broadbeach.

John Holland prevailed as the successful contractor over two competing joint ventures, one of CPB Contractors and Seymour Whyte Constructions and another between Fulton Hogan and UGL.

Stage three is expected to be completed in 2023 and adds eight stations and 6.7km of dual track to the network.

The Gold Coast light rail line has successfully increased public transport usage along the corridor, and was heavily patronised during the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Bailey said extending the line further south would improve on these figures.

“We’ve seen more than 50 million trips taken on light rail since it first opened, which shows just how hungry Gold Coasters and visitors to the city are for better public transport.”

Construction will come at a time when Queensland is looking to get people into job, particularly in areas such as the Gold Coast where tourism-reliant businesses have seen less demand due to COVID-19.

“Because Queenslanders have managed the health response of COVID-19, it means the Palaszczuk Government has been able to get on with the job of creating jobs and continuing the state’s plan for economic recovery,” said Bailey.

“For businesses and people on the Gold Coast that means building that all-important light rail connection between the city’s north and centre towards the south.”

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the project would support more local jobs.

“Light rail on the Gold Coast is already a key local employer, supporting about 800 operational jobs, and the extension to Burleigh is expected to support more than 760 construction jobs.”

Keolis Downer will continue to operate the extended line.

Torrens Connect

Torrens Connect takes on Adelaide tram operations

Torrens Connect has now assumed control over operations of Adelaide’s tram network and selected bus lines.

Announced as the successful tenderer for the outsourced operation of Adelaide’s tram services and some bus services in March, Torrens Connect took over operations from July 5 under an eight year contract.

The consortium of Torrens Transit, UGL Rail Services, and John Holland partnered with technology provider Trapeze Group to smoothen the transition process, occurring during the height of COVID-19.

Trapeze worked with Torrens Connect through the bid process and roll out of services, said Ben Dvoracek, Trapeze general manager for rail in Australia and New Zealand.

“We are proud to be part of this changeover, with Torrens Connect selecting Trapeze Group for both the bidding process and long-term roll-out of the planning and scheduling software solution. It was a pleasure to work with the team and facilitate implementation in less than four weeks.”

Trapeze, which provides planning and scheduling platforms as well as enterprise asset management and intelligent transport systems solutions for rail operators, was used to test plans ahead of operations. This testing and modelling process ensured that the transition occurred without any disruption or delay to services, schedules, or rosters. Torrens Connect staff received training from Trapeze locally to enable the smooth handover.

“Using the Trapeze software to run simulation models, Torrens Connect provided accurate optimised timetables that were quickly implemented without impacting operations,” said John Holland service delivery manager Rachel Parkin.

The contract covers 24 tram sets, 200 buses, and employment of over 250 staff.

As part of the privatisation of Adelaide’s public transport, operators are expected to undertake service improvements, with public consultation held earlier in 2020.

ACT

ACT Transport Strategy outlines continued investment in rail

The ACT government has released its strategy to move Canberra as the city grows to 580,000 people by 2040.

The ACT Transport Strategy 2020 updated the city’s transport vision and further outlines a shift towards public transport, walking, and cycling as the future of mobility in Canberra.

ACT Transport Minister Chris Steel said that investment would follow this vision.

“To ensure Canberra remains one of the world’s most liveable cities we will continue to heavily invest in transport with light rail, high frequency rapid bus services, and improvements to key active travel links as well as maintaining our quality road network,” he said.

The Strategy also responds to changing transport patterns that have been seen since the arrival of COVID-19. With an uptake of walking and cycling, the strategy proposes using these changes as a way to drive more permanent behaviour changes.

“We want to harness the opportunity of the pandemic to permanently grow the number of people walking and riding in the community beyond COVID-19,” said Steel.

“An ACT Transport Recovery Plan will help facilitate a return to public transport, when the time is right, so that we can efficiently and sustainably move people around our growing city.”

In setting out the vision for Canberra’s transport network in 2045, the strategy proposes a number of key central links, along the city’s north-south and east-west spines. These would be complimented by orbital links. While the strategy does not explicitly state that these will be light rail lines, the central links largely follow the proposed light rail corridors, including future stages.

The Strategy also indicates a potential high-speed rail alignment, coming from the north of the ACT to the city centre or the Canberra airport. The Strategy states that the ACT government has begun corridor preservation for a future high-speed rail service.

“The ACT government continues to work closely with the NSW government to explore these opportunities with initial investigations into possible improvements to the Canberra Sydney service already underway,” the Strategy notes.

Light rail stop built as part of CIT Woden

A new light rail stop will be built as part of the construction of the Canberra Institute of Technology’s (CIT) Woden campus.

The light rail stop will be part of the replacement of the current Woden Interchange. More bus stops and bus layovers will be built as part of the new interchange on Callam Street to provide a safe and connected environment.

Construction on the public transport interchange will begin before the construction of the new campus, with works beginning in mid 2021. The new campus will be completed by 2025.

ACT Minister for Tertiary Education and Minister for Transport Chris Steel said that public transport is an essential part of the project.

“Better public transport is a key part of the project, with the construction of a new, safer interchange on Callam Street for buses and we’ll build Woden Station now ready for light rail to arrive,” Steel said.

“This project will create a new front door to Woden, with a well-lit pedestrian boulevard connecting the interchange, CIT campus, the square and Westfield for a more vibrant and welcoming Town Centre.”

The project now has to receive planning approvals before construction can begin.

The extension the current light rail line in Canberra from the city to Woden is in the approval stage. Both stage 2A from the city to Commonwealth Park and Stage 2B from Commonwealth Park to Woden are awaiting federal environmental approvals.

The announcement of the stop on Callam Street as part of CIT firms up the location of one of the stops on the Stage 2B route, with the rest at the indicative stage.

Services from the City to Woden are expected to commence in 2025.

The construction of the CIT campus and associated infrastructure is expected to cost between $250 million to $300m and support 520 jobs during construction.

Sunshine Coast

Sunshine Coast Council pushing for mass transit solution

The Sunshine Coast Council has called on the Queensland state government to back its vision for a public transport system.

The council is currently in the process of evaluating options for a mass transit corridor that would form the spine of the region’s public transport network.

One option under consideration is the construction of a light rail line from Maroochydore to Caloundra, with stage one connecting Maroochydore to the Sunshine Coast University hospital.

Sunshine Coast Council mayor Mark Jamieson said that the rapidly growing region needed to shift from a transport system focused on private vehicles.

“All that this will do is increase congestion and pollution, create bitumen eye-sores on our landscape and inhibit our current and future residents in being able to reach the places they need to get to or love to visit, like the beach, shopping centres, health facilities or where they work,” he said.

“Is this really the future that our residents want to see on our Sunshine Coast? I don’t think so.”

Planning for a mass transit system has been underway since 2012, with consultants preparing a preliminary business case. A final business case is expected to be completed by 2021 jointly funded with the Queensland state government.

In an interim report, the option for a light rail network was ranked highest, above improvements to the bus network or the creation of a bus rapid transit corridor.

The report found that “only the LRT option [is] considered to have significant benefits”. Buses were not found to be able to achieve the urban renewal benefits that the project sought.

The population of the Sunshine Coast is expected to rise to over half a million by 2041. The Queensland government is currently upgrading the heavy rail line from Beerburrum to Nambour and investigations are currently underway for a spur line to Maroochydore.

Queensland Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey said in May 2019 that governments would look to an integrated transport solution.

“Now is the time for us to work together to map out what is needed and when, so that these major infrastructure projects have the best chance possible of securing the funding that will be needed to build them.”

Jamison said that it was essential the community came together to support the mass transit plan.

“Our council needs to keep working on the development of the business case for a mass transit solution – because if we don’t, our Sunshine Coast will get nothing from the other tiers of government and our residents’ lifestyles will be forever compromised.”

community

Rail safety a community responsibility

The experience around Australia when a new rail line is opened is that the community it serves flock to the service. On the Gold Coast, by the service’s fifth year of operations, over 10 million passenger trips were being taken a year. In the first year of operations of Newcastle’s light rail line, over a million passenger trips were taken. In both cities, the introduction of a light rail service grew overall public transport usage.

These figures were similarly replicated in Canberra, where the new light rail line well-exceeded patronage expectations. Prior to COVID-19, the system handled over 15,000 boardings a day, levels that the system was not expected to reach until 2021.

While these numbers would make transport planners happy and indicate the system’s success in getting people to where they need to go, for operators, the ongoing success of a light rail system is also down to its safety. Tilo Franz, general manager of Canberra Metro Operations, describes how the operator has channelled the community’s excitement with the new light rail line into ensuring safe day to day operations, particularly during Rail Safety Week.

“We try to include all community members, in particular schools, universities, and educational institutions of all kinds into our activities around Rail Safety Week.”

Safety initiatives to come from these collaborations have included wrapping the light rail vehicles with artwork from year 11 and 12 students to promote safety, to informing the community of the safety risks associated with light rail vehicles at depot visits. A strong focus has been on connecting with some of the younger riders in Canberra.

“Kids will certainly be frequent users of light rail in future,” said Franz. “The sooner they understand how to stay safe when using the light rail, that it’s no playground but a useful way to provide urban mobility, the better it is, and they will behave properly soon.”

In all three cities, Canberra, Newcastle and the Gold Coast, the newly instituted light rail systems were the first in their cities, apart from Newcastle’s tram network that was closed in the 1950s. Getting the community used to the system in this case is an extra consideration and requires their involvement.

“It is always difficult to introduce a brand-new railway system into an environment where you don’t have a history nor experience,” said Franz. “The community saw a construction site for almost three years and then suddenly, light rail vehicles (LRVs) are moving up and down the corridor at quite a significant speed. What is most important for all of us is to include the public into the evolution of the project, the message and to make them aware, to look out for fast approaching LRVs, because no technology will prevent them from injuries or worse if they step out in front of it.”

Another focus has been and will always be train driver training. With fewer physical barriers separating the rail corridor than on a heavy rail line, Canberra has conducted extra driver training.

“We have a basic driver training that we put every driver through, however we have enhanced and increased this training effort by having a defensive driver training. A fully packed LRV can be up to 60 tonnes travelling on a steel rail with a steel wheel, so you can imagine the braking distance is rather long. As a train driver, you have to have foresight while driving, you learn to read others using the road and adjacent to it in order to drive safely along the alignment.”

In Canberra in particular, where light rail vehicles travel at speeds of up to 70km/h and go through the intersections at 50km/h , there is a considerable risk if people do not take care in the corridor and ignore traffic lights or travel on the alignment where they shouldn’t be.

To address these risks, Canberra Metro has partnered with the Australian Federal Police and the ACT government to keep motorists, passengers, and pedestrians safe.

“We have identified hotspots, of course, of people running red lights on a frequent basis and we try to address that with the road authorities and to improve signage, or to make it clear that there’s no U-turn here because this is a light rail corridor,” said Franz.

For Rail Safety Week this year, Canberra Metro will be running a simulation exercise to highlight what can happen, and how the operator is prepared. The scenario will involve ACT police, emergency services, and local students will act as injured passengers during the event.

“This year, we will simulate a passenger having had an accident with our light rail vehicle inside as well as outside, being rescued, and afterwards the LRV being towed away simulating a technical breakdown,” said Franz. “This is to demonstrate that we are prepared for the worst. We do everything to prevent those accidents from happening, but we also want to use this opportunity during Rail Safety Week to train our own team and to interact jointly with the emergency services during incidents of which we might not be in control of but to limit the extent of damage or injury.”

Involving the community in safety is helping to ensure that Canberrans can continue to enjoy their safe and efficient light rail service.

Fare hike waived in ACT as light rail frequency increased

Public transport fares have remained frozen in Canberra, to help reduce the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fares have not increased since January 2019, and ACT Minister for Transport Chris Steel said that keeping fares the same would reduce the financial burden of COVID-19.

“The ACT Government knows that COVID-19 has put increased pressure on families, and every little bit counts,” he said.

“Many people rely on public transport to get around, and freezing bus and light rail fares will help to ease financial stress during this challenging time.”

Although Steel is not encouraging Canberrans to fully return to public transport just yet, he is advising that those who do need to travel do so outside of peak hours, where there is an additional saving.

“I encourage Canberrans to travel at off-peak times when it is cheaper, and to help reduce crowding on buses and light rail.”

Cash is also not being accepted around the network. MyWay cards or pre-paid tickets are permitted.

“Having a MyWay card is still the cheapest way to use public transport, as the card calculates the cheapest possible fare per passenger, based on any eligible concession and daily or monthly fare caps,” said Steel.

While the ACT has decided to keep fares the same, NSW instituted changes to its fares on July 1. Transport for NSW lowered fares outside of the peaks, and off-peak pricing was instituted on light rail. A scheduled CPI increase was also not applied. Fares for journeys on buses and light rail under three kilometres were increased, to encourage walking and cycling.

In the ACT, from July 18, upgrades to the transport network will see trams frequency lifted to every five minutes during weekday mornings. A new bus network will provide an extra 692 buses each weekday, with changes to routes and increases in frequency.

Auditor-General calculates cost of Sydney light rail at $3.1bn

The final cost of the Sydney CBD and South East Light Rail will exceed $3.1 billion according to an NSW Auditor-General Report.

The $3.1bn figure is $200 million above the latest revised cost released by Transport for NSW (TfNSW) of $2.9bn, which was announced in November 2019.

The cost increase is the latest in a series of cost increases for the troubled light rail project. Initially costed at $1.6bn in 2012, the figure rose to $2.1bn in 2014. The cost rose again due to legal action taken by the builder that was settled in 2019.

The Auditor-General found that TfNSW omitted costs of early enabling works, the small business assistance package and financing costs attributable to project delays. The Auditor-General noted that TfNSW “has not consistently and accurately updated CSLER project costs, limiting the transparency of reporting to the public”.

A TfNSW spokesperson said that the small business assistance package is a short term expense and that these costs are not part of capital costs.

“TfNSW has always been transparent about the cost of the project and the Small Business Assistance Program since it was established in 2017 to support small businesses on the light rail alignment who believe they were negatively financially impacted by major civil construction of the light rail project taking longer than initially advised. TfNSW does not expect the construction cost for the CBD and South East Light Rail to exceed $2.99 billion.”

The report, which follows the opening of both the L2 line to Randwick in 2019 and the L3 line to Kingsford in 2020 also highlighted that the project’s projected benefits are still yet to be realised. Although journey times have been reduced since the line opened, by April 2020 the actual journey time across 97 per cent of services was almost 48 minutes, well above the contracted journey time of 37.5 minutes and the timetabled journey time of 40 minutes.

The project also aimed to reduce bus services between the city and south east, and the Auditor-General found that savings resulting from changes to bus services are “significantly lower” than the original projected benefit.

TfNSW said that changes to be made to the bus network will occur later in 2020 and the detailed plan is not yet finalised.

“It would be premature for TfNSW to outline the expected project benefits at this stage,” said a TfNSW spokesperson.

In its formal response to the report, TfNSW said that it would report the final cost in December 2020 after the project reaches completion and outstanding commercial issues are finalised. TfNSW also said that performance in the first months of the service will not reflect the long-term benefits, particularly due to the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Increases in population in the south east have led to growths in customer demand since the initial business case in 2012 and TfNSW said the addition of the light rail increases capacity.

The Auditor-General’s report did not consider the ongoing class action against TfNSW regarding the light rail line’s impact on businesses along the corridor.

Construction in Parramatta CBD underway ahead of revitalisation efforts

Major works in the centre of Parramatta have begun, bringing the new light rail line from Westmead to Carlingford one step closer.

Work on Church Street in the city centre, also known as ‘Eat Street’ due to its diversity of restaurants and cafes, has commenced.

Crews will remove the existing pavement and road surface to conduct deep excavation and moving or replacing underground utilities such as water, gas pipes, and telecommunication services.

Minister for Transport Andrew Constance said that the project was moving ahead to bring the new light rail line closer to completion.

“We know the community is eager to see this light rail built and we will be working hard over the next five months to make the most of this time,” he said.

The works will involve a micro-tunnelling machine that will reduce noise and impact compared to street-level work. The machine will move up to 10 metres a day.

“Our construction timetable together with innovative engineering techniques will see this precinct through to a fantastic new light rail network that will bring passengers into the heart of Parramatta,” said Constance.

The winter works program will be sped up to ensure that as much is done as possible before a construction grace period from 1 November until February 1 so that locals and visitors can return to the alfresco dining precinct during the summer.

Member for Parramatta Geoff Lee said that to stimulate business activity during this period, the government will be sponsoring precinct activation works.

“We’re pleased to give businesses certainty that hoardings will come down at the beginning of November, giving everyone a break from construction,” said Lee.

“This is in addition to the many other ways we’re proudly supporting Eat Street.”

Initiatives include installing colourful shadecloth and hoarding, an app to attract patrons, a shop local competition, and business support programs.