Rail body advocates for separate airport line between Sunshine and CBD

Rail industry advocacy body, Rail Futures, has criticised the Victorian government’s plan to run the Melbourne Airport Rail Link to the city via Melbourne Metro.

The body called upon the Victorian government to build additional tracks between the CBD and Sunshine, where the airport link will join the existing Melbourne rail network. This would benefit both regional Victoria services and trains to Melbourne’s west.

Rail Futures estimates that soon after the new lines are open in 2025, the new Melbourne Metro (MM) train lines will reach capacity, potentially as early as 2030.

“Notwithstanding this, the State Government appears intent on allocating 25 per cent of MM track capacity between the CBD and Sunshine to Melbourne Airport trains,” said Rail Futures president John Hearsch.

To accommodate demand from trains from the airport, western Melbourne and regional Victoria, the number of trains running at peak times on the Sunbury/Watergardens, Melton, and Ballarat lines.

“Once added to the metropolitan network, the Airport line will remain part of it for a very long time. This is bad news for these communities, long denied adequate train services but promised major service improvements once MM is completed.”

Rail Futures is advocating for a separate rail line, similar to the one proposed by IFM Investors, as part of the AirRail consortium.

“The alternative, long promoted by Rail Futures, is an additional express track pair between Southern Cross and Sunshine, supplementing MM and the Regional Rail Link track pair opened in 2015, already operating at near its designed capacity,” said Hearsch.

Population growth in western Melbourne and Geelong is already placing strain on trains travelling from Geelong to Melbourne via Tarneit and Wyndham Vale. Patronage on the line has grown by 131 per cent since 2015.

“Our plan transfers Geelong trains to the new fast tracks between Southern Cross and Sunshine and also provides additional express tracks between Sunshine and Wyndham Vale,” said Hearsch.

“These changes will enable Wyndham Vale to have a full metro-style service and for Geelong to have its long promised fast trains. Without them, Wyndham residents will have a much less frequent service and Geelong commuters will continue to endure slow journeys and chronic overcrowding, as no more trains could be accommodated between the City and Sunshine.”

Bombardier maintains keen local focus during light rail boom

Bombardier Transportation’s Todd Garvey sat down with Rail Express to discuss the mobility solutions provider’s approach to the booming local light rail market.

Australia, already home to the largest tram network on the planet, has become a hotbed for light rail developments in recent years. With new projects opened across multiple cities in the last five years, the project pipeline remains strong.

Despite this rapid development of a range of new opportunities for light rail vehicle (LRV) manufacturers in the region, Bombardier Transportation’s Todd Garvey told Rail Express the company doesn’t see its role changing drastically. Instead, the company plans to continue to rely on the qualities that have made it a successful player in the local market for years.

“There is a range of projects coming up that have a huge amount of focus for our business that we are excited about,” Garvey, the company’s head of sales for Southeast Asia and Australia, said.

“We’re focused on maintaining our role as a market leader in the supply and end- to-end manufacture of local content for Australia’s LRV needs. We’re working hard to ensure our local LRV manufacturing teams and indeed supply chain have a good, solid pipeline of work ahead of them.”

Maintaining the strength of the local supply chain has long been a key focus for Bombardier in Australia.

“Bombardier is in a unique position given our local manufacturing and supply chain for LRVs,” Garvey continued.

“Given Bombardier has been in this market for so long there is a huge amount of engineering and LRV subject matter experts within the business. That means there is an ability to not only identify and resolve the day-to-day challenges but also evolve the local supply chain capabilities for specific LRV requirements.”

E-CLASS TRAMS

The primary manufacturer of LRVs for Melbourne since 2013, Bombardier has now delivered around 85 E-Class trams to the Yarra Trams network, and has a current orderbook that will bring that figure to at least 100 LRVs.

Garvey told Rail Express the E-Class, which is comprised of Bombardier Flexity model LRVs, is the result of the company’s long-term approach to supply chain and market engagement.

“The Flexity is a world class tram,” he said. “They’re DSAPT compliant and built with passenger safety and comfort in mind.”

Beyond safety and comfort, however, the Flexity LRVs running in Melbourne have been developed to suit a network that presents a unique array of challenges for a fleet manufacturer/maintainer.

“Vehicles in Melbourne operate on a vast network that is unique in so many ways,” Garvey explained.

“One major factor is that in many sections of the network the vehicles will be operating on brownfield tracks. Some sections have been in existence for many decades, and in some cases for more than 100 years.”

“This is a natural phenomenon that happens all around the world,” Garvey said, “but in Melbourne it makes it even more important the LRVs are built to withstand these tough conditions.

“Fortunately, the Bombardier Flexity class is designed to suit this environment and has a proven track record in providing safe and comfortable passenger services in Melbourne.

“The car body is robust to suit local network requirements, and has been built to European fire and crashworthiness standards, which enhance the vehicle’s safety levels to that of worldwide leader status.”

ODAS TRIAL PLANNED

Bombardier plans to trial its Obstacle Detection Assistance System (ODAS) with its Victorian partners midway through 2020.

A joint development with the Austrian Institute of Technology, Bombardier’s ODAS uses an array of stereovision cameras focused on the area in front of the LRV, and highly advanced software algorithms which evaluate the vehicle envelope in real time along the track.

As soon as the system detects a considerable risk in front of the vehicle, it can alert the driver using visual and aural alerts.

“The ODAS product is progressing well and is active in the Flexity class in Europe,” Garvey said, ahead of the Victorian trial.

“In Frankfurt alone we have almost 150 systems in service. So far the ODAS platform has accumulated more than 10 million kilometres of passenger services, ensuring new levels of passenger safety and security.”

Bombardier has designed ODAS to be easy to upgrade, and switch in and out, thanks to its decentralised design featuring three separate components.

The first component is the camera unit: three identical stereo cameras within a single housing, mounted onto the inside of the windscreen. The cameras provide the high-resolution imagery and depth perception needed to provide accurate visual data for analysis.

That analysis is carried out in the second component of ODAS, the control unit. The unit is responsible for picture processing and interpretation, as well as additional routines which can provide further functionality.

The third component of the system is called the sync box, and is responsible for energy supply to the cameras, managing inputs and outputs, and providing a watchdog function to the controller. The sync box also acts as the liaison between the system and the tram, taking in vehicle information and delivering hazard warnings when needed.

LOOKING TO CONTINUE GOLD COAST SUCCESS
Bombardier is in discussions to supply vehicles for Stage 3A of light rail on the Gold Coast, and Garvey took a moment to reflect on the success of the 18 Flexity 2 trams Bombardier supplied to the project’s first two stages.

“The Gold Coast vehicles are performing extremely well,” he said. “Between 2014 and December 2019 there have been more than 46 million paid passenger trips on trams on that system, all on Bombardier LRVs.”

A particular point of pride for Bombardier was the performance of the fleet during the Commonwealth Games in 2018.“On some days during the Games they were running for 24 hours straight, in high traffic and warm weather conditions,” Garvey said, “and they did so without any issues.”

The fleet carried nearly 100,000 passengers a day during the Games, more than three times the daily average at the time – a success highlighted proudly by state transport minister Mark Bailey.

“It’s great to see so many people using the light rail network and other public transport modes to travel to events during the Commonwealth Games,” Bailey said in April 2018. “It is clear south-east Queensland commuters have responded well to taking all forms of public transport.”

Just prior to the Games the state managed to commission Stage 2 of light rail on the Gold Coast, which connected the original terminus at University Hospital to the Helensvale railway station – thus connecting the light rail to the region’s heavy rail network.

The results were immediate, with Bailey citing a “massive uptake of heavy rail commuters from both Brisbane and Varsity Lakes” during the games, and more than 180,000 passengers travelling to the Games via the heavy rail network in the Games’ first week.

With that success in the books, in November 2019 Queensland secured a funding package from the federal government to help deliver Stage 3A of Gold Coast Light Rail, further south to Burleigh Heads.

The state has said the 6.7-kilometre extension will require five new LRVs “similar to the 18 current vehicles,” and industry engagement is underway.

Free Tram Zone distracting from network improvements: PTUA

Members of Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) are calling for the Free Tram Zone in Melbourne to be abolished.

The PTUA said in a statement that they do not support the Free Tram Zone due to overcrowding on services across the Melbourne CBD.

This follows the state parliament inquiry into Expanding Melbourne’s Free Tram Zones. 

Parliament of Victoria received over 300 written submissions to the Economy and Infrastructure Committee. 

The PTUA said in their submission inquiry that the current Free Tram Zone already covers the busiest part of the tram network and urging greater investment in service improvements, instead of extending free transport.

The association said they believe the money spent on providing the Free Tram Zone would be better spent extending and upgrading services across Melbourne.

PTUA wrote in their submission that increasing free public transport will also reduce “the funding available to make much needed improvements to public transport services such as improving accessibility for people with disabilities, increasing frequencies and lengthening operating hours in poorly-serviced areas.”

PTUA said the state government should consider adopting a traffic light priority system that is commonly seen in many European cities.

“An ambitious approach to public transport priority could boost tram frequencies and capacity in the inner core of the network and thereby ease crowding,” they said.

“Reduced delays to public transport vehicles at traffic lights and the improved service levels enabled would make public transport more competitive.”

The association’s submission also suggested a full roll-out of high capacity signalling across the rail network would allow higher train frequencies and help to relieve crowding and enable efficient use of existing infrastructure.

“In comparison to highly-performing lines in other cities, Melbourne only achieves comparatively low frequencies on its busiest railway lines due to signalling limitations,” the inquiry stated.

Rod Barton, party leader of Transport Matters Victoria said public transport groups against expanding Melbourne’s free tram network are confusing operational issues with a bigger picture solution.

“Frustrations over the limitations of the existing services should not prevent the committee considering the wider picture,” Barton said.

“There are ongoing complaints that the current free tram zone contributes to overcrowding on inner city trams. Paying commuters are frustrated when they are unable to board overcrowded trams in the inner city,

“Indeed, overcrowding exists across the entire public transport network. This is an operational issue that could be solved by adding increased services or shorter shuttle routes that take passengers to the perimeter of the zone.”

The inquiry into expanding Melbourne’s Free Tram Zone closed submissions on 31 January 2020.

High-capacity signalling test site under construction

A test site for high-capacity signalling is now being established at the Pakenham East Depot in Melbourne.

The test site will allow for the introduction of high-capacity signalling, described as “moving block” signalling systems, instead of “fixed block” systems. The new signalling system will enable trains to automatically adjust their speed, in order to maintain a safe distance from the train in front. This technology differs from current systems, which tell trains when it is safe to proceed to a new section of track via coloured signals.

High-capacity signalling is delivered by the Rail Systems Alliance, a consortium of CPB Contractors, Bombardier, Metro Trains Melbourne, and Rail Projects Victoria.

The test site will be constructed at Nar Nar Goon, in south east Melbourne. This will enable access to the high-capacity signalling platform and test track, situated inside the Pakenham East Depot.

Trackside equipment will be installed between March 2 and 6.

On the Melbourne network, high-capacity signalling will be installed on the Sunbury to Cranbourne/Pakenham line, as well as the Mernda Line between Epping and South Morang.

Signal control centres will be built at Sunshine and Dandenong. Signallers will support train movements across the lines from here, including through the Metro Tunnel.

In addition to the high-capacity signalling work, new high-capacity metro trains will be introduced on the Melbourne Metro network. On the platforms, floor-to-ceiling platform screen doors will be installed. These will reduce overcrowding, dwell times, and improve tunnel ventilation. These will be designed and supplied by Faiveley Transport. The platforms screen doors will also be tested at the Pakenham East depot.

Services suspended following V/Line and freight train crash

A V/Line train collided with a wagon from a derailed freight train on Wednesday evening south of Wodonga in Victoria.

An Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) spokesperson said ARTC can confirm an incident has occurred on its rail network between Chiltern and Barnawartha at approximately 5.40pm on Wednesday.

The ARTC spokesperson advised that a northbound freight train derailed and a passenger train service travelling south on the adjacent track struck a wagon of the freight train.

The 5.20pm V/Line Albury to Melbourne passenger service was travelling south on the adjacent track when it subsequently struck one of the freight train’s wagons.

The ARTC spokesperson said the train line “currently remains suspended to all services and the site is quarantined for attendance by independent safety regulators and for incident investigations through today,”

“Track opening will be subject to recovery and infrastructure damage assessments following site incident investigations across a roughly 1.7 kilometres long area,”

“A more detailed forecast of reopening will be provided once a full assessment of damage to the track is able to take place.”

ARTC said in a statement that their priority at this stage is to ensure the safety of the persons involved and assisting attending emergency authorities.

A CFA spokesperson said a number of the wagons were alight when emergency services arrived, and the flames sparked a grassfire.

The grassfire was deemed safe at 8.15pm Wednesday evening.

A VicEmergency update stated that the “train incident is still ongoing and is currently being assessed by the relevant agencies.”

There are no reported injuries to passengers or crews of either train service.

The ARTC will provide further updates as they become available. 

Toorak level crossing removed ahead of schedule

The Level Crossings Removal Project estimates that the Toorak Road level crossing will be removed six months ahead of schedule.

A revised completion date of April will see the new rail bridge operational, with cars travelling underneath.

Work currently being completed includes the installation of 18 concrete columns to support the new rail bridge. During February and March, U-troughs will be installed which will form the rail bridge. 20 of the structures will be installed along with retaining walls in Tooronga Park and Talbot Crescent.

While works and being undertaken, the rail line will be closed during the next months. These will be scheduled during off-peak periods.

In early 2021, 23,000 trees, plants, and grasses will be plated to finish the project.

Other projects currently underway as part of the Level Crossings Removal Project include site investigations for upgrades to the Hurstbridge Line. Surveys and investigations have occurred in Greensborough, Montmorency, and Diamond Creek.

As part of the Level Crossings Removal Project, the Victorian government plans to duplicate the rail line between Greensborough and Montmorency, and between Diamond Creek and Wattle Glen. Work will also be undertaken at Greensborough and Montmorency stations.

Train stabling at Victoria Park will also be upgraded and power and signalling will be improved along parts of the Hurstbridge Line. Submissions on changes to the Planning Scheme Amendment which will enable the project are now open.

 

Construction blitz planned for Melbourne’s Frankston line

To pave the way for a construction blitz in Victoria in May, work towards the construction of two new stations at Cheltenham and Mentone on the Frankston line and the removal of three congested level crossings is underway.

“We’re getting rid of these death traps – making Cheltenham and Mentone safer, and delivering brand new stations and more open space,” minister for transport infrastructure, Jacinta Allan, said.

“Cheltenham and Mentone are going to have a busy year and I thank residents and traders in advance for their patience during construction, which will deliver more trains, more often.”

The Frankston line will be closed between Frankston and Moorabbin in early to mid-February to enable the removals and continuing work at Cheltenham and Mentone.

Construction on the rail trenches which will lower the Frankston line under Park Road, Charman Road and Balcombe Road started in late 2019.

The crossings are expected to be gone by July 2020, and the new stations will open after finishing works by early 2021.

The works are part of the state government’s $3 billion investment on the Frankston line, which includes the removal of 18 level crossings and 12 new stations. Five crossings have already been removed.

Melbourne’s new stabling yard due for completion

Melbourne’s new train storage facility is almost up and running, with an expected completion date of early 2020.

Construction of the Wyndham Vale stabling yard began in late 2018. Intended to house up to six V/Line VLocity trains (regional passenger trains), it will also include driver facilities and a bypass track which will allow trains to access the facility and refuel without delaying passenger services.

This will provide immediate and long-term benefits to the regional network, according to a Victorian government statement.

The Wyndham Vale stabling yard will enable further stabling expansion and a maintenance facility if it is determined to be needed in the future, while also ensuring there is capacity to house additional trains in the future.

It will replace existing stabling at a facility near Footscray, and make way for extensions as part of the West Gate Tunnel Project.

As of early October, the majority of the track has been laid and structures such as gantires, fencing and gates have been installed.

According to a government statement, the track itself has been embedded with more than 100 Duratrack recycled plastic sleepers – a sustainable alternative to traditional concrete or timber sleepers.

Work has also started on facilities to house equipment, security and staff amenities.

McConnell Dowell, under the Western Program Alliance, is delivering the work. The total estimated investment in the Wyndham Vale stabling yard is $172.9 million, according to 2019/20 State Budget papers.

Flinders Street to partially close for Metro Tunnel works

The eastbound lanes of Flinders Street, Melbourne will be closed to traffic between Elizabeth Street and Swanston Street for up to three years while works on the Metro Tunnel project are carried out. 

The closure will begin from September 2, and the Victorian Government has warned of significant disruption to traffic. Trams will continue to run through the area in both directions in an attempt to ease the ensuing congestion however, with the exception of October 27.

The closure will cut truck movements on Swanston Street in half to around 100 trucks a day during peak construction in late 2020, with the full footpath on Flinders Street scheduled to re-open to pedestrians in late 2020

“This is a significant closure, but we need to do it – it’s the only way to build this vital underground connection between Flinders Street and the Metro Tunnel station,” said Victorian Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan.

“We know how disruptive this major construction will be so we’re doing everything we can to minimise disruptions and impacts on local residents, businesses and people visiting the city.”

Access for pedestrians and vehicles will be kept for residents and local businesses, with loading bays in place to the east of Elizabeth Street for drop-offs and deliveries. A new footpath will be constructed for pedestrians to the west of Degraves Street so that pedestrians can cross to the south side of Flinders Street, maintaining access to the tram stop.

The $5 billion Metro Tunnel project reached a drilling milestone last week as roadheaders broke through to the site of the State Library Station 30 metres below the Swanston Street surface. It is one of five new underground stations that will be built for the nine-kilometre project by 2025.

Metro Tunnel project achieves drilling breakthrough

Victoria’s Metro Tunnel project has reached a significant project milestone by connecting two caverns at the point that will become the new State Library Station in Melbourne. 

Three of the seven roadheader drills being used for underground tunneling works on the project in the city’s central business district met 30 metres underground at the site where the station will be built on Thursday.

Rail Projects Victoria expects excavation of the station area is to be completed by late 2020. The breakthrough, which took eight months to achieve, took place below Swanston Street between Franklin East and A’Beckett Street.

Four roadheaders will be employed for the State Library Station excavation, with the other three to be used for excavation of Town Hall Station.

“In total, more than 500,000 tonnes of material will be excavated – the equivalent of almost 70 Olympic swimming pools – with 1,500 tonnes of rock and soil removed every 24 hours,” the government said in a statement.

The $5 billion Metro Tunnel project will build five stations from North Melbourne to Anzac over a distance of nine kilometres. It is set for completion by 2025.