North East Rail Line upgrade continuing

Work is continuing on the upgrade of the North East Rail Line, the ARTC confirmed on Friday, March 27.

While shutdowns of non-essential services to limit the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) have affected other industries, the construction of rail infrastructure has been deemed an essential service, said  Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) general manager projects Victoria, Ed Walker.

“The freight and transport industry is an essential service– and the North East rail line is a vital transport corridor for interstate freight trains, passenger trains, steel for construction and manufacturing and for regional goods like grain.”

The ARTC has implemented measures to ensure the safety of staff and contractors undertaking the vital upgrades. Workers are practicing social distancing, increasing hygiene and health measures, delivering work in smaller groups, and avoiding non-essential travel.

“We continue to follow advice from Government and monitor and assess the situation daily. The current environment is an uncertain and challenging one for everyone and we certainly recognise the responsibilities we have to the community as we deliver this vital project work and to ensure the safe running of essential freight and passenger train services,” said Walker.

Two weeks ago, sections of the track were shutdown and handed over to contractor John Holland Rail, so that a series of projects could be completed. A similar shutdown will occur from Saturday, April 4.

“Further works will take place next weekend, from Saturday 4 April at 6pm, with bridge and track renewal work taking place at the Old Barnawartha Road, West Wodonga and High Street, Barnawartha level crossings,” said Walker.

The announcement from the ARTC follows assurances given to Rail Express last week that a number of rail infrastructure projects are continuing, including the Level Crossing Removal Project, Metronet works, and Cross River Rail construction.

Theft of copper wire during North East Rail Line repairs around Wallan

Repairs to the North East Rail Line around Wallan were completed on Friday 28 February, with the first Melbourne-Brisbane freight service passing through at 2.50am Friday morning.

The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) will be implementing an interim 80 km/h speed limit on the line between Melbourne and Albury for all passenger and freight services. 

The Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) has written to the corporation to request an additional independent review focused on track condition, which the ARTC said in a statement “we understand and support”.

ARTC senior managers will ride in the cabs of freight and passenger trains between Albury and Melbourne through this week in order to assess the ride condition from the locomotive cab and to engage with train drivers. 

“While this is something our management does regularly, it is even more important at this time,” Fullerton said.

Fullerton is calling on any members of the community who have knowledge of, or saw suspicious behaviour between Wallan and Donnybrook before 1am on Saturday 29th February to contact Crime Stoppers.

More than 2.4km of copper signalling wire was stolen by thieves between Wallan and Donnybrook in the early hours of Saturday morning, which resulted in 60-90-minute delays to all rail services.

Fullerton said it is disheartening that thieves would seek to take advantage of such a situation.

Between July 2017 to July 2019 there were 231 incidents of copper line wire theft along the ARTC rail corridor between Craigieburn in Victoria and Sydney.

This has resulted in hard costs of around $600,000 in rectification, but further cost and impacts via significant delays to train services, call out time for staff responding, additional driver and staffing hours, late freight deliveries, and costs to passenger customer time.

From these incidents, ARTC reported that 77 per cent resulted in train delays to the network.

ARTC stated that the focused area of theft in Victoria is between Craigieburn in Melbourne’s north to Chiltern, south of the VIC/NSW border.

52 per cent of the incidents occurred within a roughly 40km stretch of track north of Melbourne according to the ARTC.

Major work continues part of the $235m North East Rail Line upgrade, including track quality improvements such as resurfacing and new ballast, and putting overhead wires underground to decrease the risk of line wire theft.

An ARTC spokesperson said site set up and establishment of the major contractor’s office commenced in December and works have started, commencing from Wodonga, moving south. 

Ballast trains have been delivering ballast to various work sites for a number of weeks.

“In addition, a targeted track tamping program has been operating since October 2019 and 130km of tamping has been completed. Two track tamping machines are stationed in North East Victoria for ongoing use, achieving an average of around 5km of track tamping per day,” an ARTC spokesperson said.

In addition to conducting repairs, ARTC have been assisting investigations into the XPT Wallan derailment that were launched by the Victorian Coroner, ATSB and the ONRSR.

Infrastructure Australia knocks back North East Rail line upgrade

Infrastructure Australia has announced that the current business case for the North East Rail Line upgrade is not nationally significant.

The business case, submitted by the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), covers the 316km Victorian line from Melbourne to Albury, via Seymour and Wangaratta. The estimated cost would be $198.3 million.

In a statement, Infrastructure Australia noted that rail service disruptions are locally or regionally significant, but not of national importance. Infrastructure Australia’s independent review of the business case found that the estimated benefits were overstated, while the business case itself said the costs would be higher than the benefits, highlighted chief executive of Infrastructure Australia, Romilly Madew.

“We know compared to other regional Victorian passenger lines, there is relatively poor punctuality, and reliability on the North East Rail Line. However, based on the current evidence available, the cost of the project would significantly outweigh its benefits.”

The Commonwealth’s independent infrastructure advisory board noted that 1,800 people use the line each day, however demand has fallen due to poor punctuality, while the neighbouring Hume Highway has been improved.

The lack of benefit to freight services was one reason that Infrastructure Australia turned down the project, along with the lack of new rail services, new rolling stock, or faster travel times.

Madew noted that a revised business case would be welcomed by Infrastructure Australia.

“We recognise the importance of good-quality regional rail transport to give people genuine travel choices and equitable service levels,” she said.

North East Rail Line early works progressing

Investigation work has commenced towards the $235 North East Rail Line Upgrade project in Victoria, after the contract was awarded to John Holland last week.

Ninety kilometres of the 500 kilometres of track have been walked and site assessments are now underway. Site walks started at Albury and will continue south towards Melbourne.

According to ARTC, a team of up to five John Holland and Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) project staff will be walking all 500 kilometres of track by mid-January, in preparation for the major works commencement in the new year.

Findings will inform site assessments about how  impacts to the community can be minimised.

Since October, early works have thus far included: 85 kilometres of tamping, the removal of over two kilometres of mudholes, and distribution of 6,500 tonnes of fresh ballast. Both tracks at the Summers Road level crossing in Springhurst have also be renewed.

“With our main works contractor in place, progress on the track upgrade will start to ramp up in the new year,” ARTC’s general manager for Victoria Projects Ed Walker said.

“Not only will people start to see increased activity in the rail corridor, but also John Holland and ARTC personnel out and about in local towns and businesses.”