Rail in the Illawarra about to hit congestion deadline

NSW Shadow Minister for Natural Resources and Wollongong MP Paul Scully has called upon the NSW government to get to work on improving freight and passenger rail to Port Kembla.

Scully’s comments come after Infrastructure Australia (IA) identified freight rail access to Port Kembla as a priority initiative, with an immediate time frame of 0-5 years.

IA noted that freight services can be held up for up to 11 hours due to priority being given to passenger services on the Illawarra Line. The report signals a need to improve the Illawarra and/or the Moss Vale-Unanderra Line, or find an alternative rail alignment to the port.

Once the Outer Harbour development at Port Kembla is complete, the need for connections to Western Sydney intermodal terminals will also increase, with the NSW government requiring no more than 10 per cent of the future terminal’s capacity to be shipped by road.

Scully noted that with increased demand for passenger services on the Illawarra line, the NSW government needs to work urgently on increasing capacity.

“We are rapidly heading towards when the deadline is going to hit when passenger and freight services will have to compete for rapidly declining slots because of the congestion on the South Coast Line.”

A Transport for NSW spokesperson said that as part of the More Trains, More Services program, short term changes will increase passenger services.

“Future service improvements for South Coast customers will include an extra peak hour service between Wollongong and the Sydney CBD, providing a 15 minute frequency for express services at Wollongong, North Wollongong, Thirroul and Helensburgh in the peaks, and an extra off peak service each hour between Wollongong and the Sydney CBD, meaning a train every 30 minutes.”

According to the spokesperson, extra services and timetable changes will not impact freight operators, who will have access to the same path capacity as they do currently.

Adam Zarth, executive director of the Illawarra Business Chamber, also expressed concern that rail lines would shortly reach capacity.

“The South Coast Line will reach freight capacity around 2030, which is why the South West Illawarra Rail Link presents as the only viable solution, which would additionally enable residents in the Illawarra and Wollondilly to access employment in Greater Sydney.”

One alternative is to recommence construction of the Maldon to Dombarton Railway, a single-track freight line between the Southern Highlands and Port Kembla. Although first commenced in 1983, construction was suspended in 1988. In 2014 Transport for NSW opened a Registration of Interest for private companies to build, operate, and maintain the line however, was not satisfied with either proponent.

The Transport for NSW website states that the rail link would require ongoing state government funding and that existing infrastructure is sufficient to manage short to medium-term rail capacity in the Illawarra. However, Transport for NSW acknowledges that in the longer term greater capacity will be required.

“Today’s Infrastructure Australia report keeps telling us the same thing we have heard for years: the NSW Government needs to flesh out how and how much funding it will commit to delivering on progressing the completion of the Maldon-Dombarton link,” said Scully.

“There is widespread support for both of these infrastructure projects in the Illawarra. The only support lacking is from the Federal and NSW Governments.”

ATSB on scene of fatal XPT derailment

Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) investigators are on the scene of an XPT train derailment north of Melbourne. The derailment claimed the lives of two rail employees and injured several passengers on Thursday evening.

A NSW TrainLink XPT travelling from Sydney to Melbourne derailed near the Hume Freeway at Wallan, roughly 50kms outside of Melbourne, just before 8pm on Thursday evening.

The express passenger train was carrying 153 passengers and five crew at the time of the derailment. Two of those crew members – the driver and the pilot – were killed in the derailment.

Senior ATSB investigators arrived at the scene shortly after 9am Friday morning to commence the formal investigation that will involve Victoria’s Chief Inspector.

Federal and state government officials have confirmed that the ATSB, Work Safe, and the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) will conduct a full and thorough investigation to establish the cause of the incident.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said no authority in Australia would allow a train to travel on an unsafe track as “the ARTC monitors these things very closely and regularly”.

Michael McCormack said investigations will look at every factor, including examining the speed limit, signalling, track maintenance, and interviewing witnesses.

“The track will not be reopened until everything has been looked at properly by authorities,” he said.

Greg Hood, Chief Commissioner and CEO of ATSB said they will start their investigation straight away once Victoria Police hand over custodian to investigators.

“All evidence will be gathered and examined in the next week or so,” Hood said.

Hood said ATSB will endeavour to release a preliminary report in the next 30 days and a full investigation report will follow.

Victoria Police have confirmed the two fatalities in the crash were the driver, a 54-year-old ACT man, and the train pilot, a 49-year-old Castlemaine woman. Dozens of passengers were taken to Northern and Kilmore hospital for minor injuries following the incident.

Acting inspector Peter Fusinato said the initial investigation will take days and must be completed before the wreckage can be cleared.

The derailment caused the train’s engine and first carriage to be left on their side opposite the track. Both the driver and the worker were in the same area of the train when it came off the tracks.

The standard gauge track is operated by the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) and has been damaged due to the derailment.

An ARTC spokesperson said services are suspended until further notice, to allow emergency services to respond to a train derailment.

“We are working hard to support emergency services, NSW TrainLink, and investigators to respond to this tragic accident,” the ARTC spokesperson said.

This incident follows a freight train wagon derailment earlier this month in Barnawartha located south of Wodonga, Victoria that caused 1800 damaged sleepers and 180 metres of damaged rail. 

Public Transport Minister Melissa Horne said she had written to the Australian Rail Track Corporation to continue with works on lines in the region after the Barnawartha incident three weeks ago.

“If it’s at all relevant, it will be looked at in the context of this investigation,” Hood said.

James Pinder, V/Line chief executive said the section of track was a “particularly complicated part of the infrastructure” because V/Line trains run alongside XPT trains.

“There are separate signalling systems for the different tracks,” he said.

Pinder confirmed V/Line was operating on the track on Thursday, before the Sydney to Melbourne service derailed.

Paul Toole, NSW minister for regional transport said the government can not speculate what investigations will find.

He said agencies across both Federal and State levels will be working closely together during this situation.

The Victorian Department of Transport said services on the Seymour, Shepparton and Albury lines would be affected by the incident today. The line is expected to remain closed for several days.

Ongoing track fault and delays between Albury and Southern Cross stations had been reported by V/Line’s social media updates in recent days leading up to the incident.

The train left Sydney’s Central Station at 7.40am Thursday morning and was running more than an hour late at the time the accident happened. It was due to arrive at Southern Cross Station in Melbourne at 6.30pm.

Several passengers said the train was gaining speed at the time of the accident after being stopped due to a signalling issue.

One passenger told The Age that signals should have alerted the driver to slow down to be able to move into the side track, but he did not notice the train slowing prior to the derailment.

Four hours before the incident yesterday, the Seymour V/Line Twitter account said the 12:45 Albury to Southern Cross service would be delayed by approximately 70 minutes due to an “ongoing rail equipment fault near Wallan”.

Infrastructure Australia said in December last year that the ARTC’s business case for an upgrade of the Melbourne-Albury North East Rail Line should not be ­included on its national priority list.

The business stated that Victoria’s regional trains had a self-imposed speed limit of 15km/h on the entire line from Melbourne to Seymour, due to “poor track quality” including mud holes and tight rail alignments.

Last year the Victorian and Federal Government committed $235mil to upgrade the North East line, due to be completed by 2021.

The Border Mail reported on Thursday that north-east train travellers were being asked to allow an extra 60 minutes for trips after a signal hut at Wallan was destroyed by fire earlier this month.

Luba Grigorovitch, Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) state secretary said the section of track was awaiting maintenance.

“Conditions were altered and V/Line drivers rightly refused to traverse this section over the past week,” she said.

“The RTBU is deeply saddened by the tragic accident that has taken the life of two rail workers and unnecessarily injured many more.

“Today marks a difficult day for drivers and rail workers across the state and the RTBU will be here not only to offer support but to ensure a thorough investigation is undertaken.”

The union had refused to operate in that area because it believed the tracks were degraded.

Danuek Bowen from the Public Transport Users Association said serious accidents on the Australian rail network are very rare, “but that makes it even more important to investigate the cause”.

Emergency crews, including from CFA and SES, scoured the tracks and surrounding scrub until 10am Friday morning.

Ambulance Victoria stated that an air ambulance was not required at the scene and a number of people did not require treatment. One passenger was taken by road to the Royal Melbourne Hospital in a stable condition.

The front locomotive carriage remains on its side as the train has not been moved from the position where it derailed.

Results from an engineering report will determine when it’s safe to travel trains on the line again.

Toole confirmed that the NSW regional rail fleet of XPT are 38 years old and have served their purpose. The aged fleet will be replaced in 2023 as part of the $2.8b upgrade with  Momentum Trains.

The Express Passenger Train (XPT) travels between Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Dubbo, Grafton and Casino.

NSW EPA trying to put the brakes on rail freight

Draft changes to NSW environmental standards could end regional branch freight lines, warns an alliance of rail industry leaders.

The joint letter signed by freight operators, farmers, and grain growers, and seen by Rail Express, responds to draft NSW EPA standards for rollingstock emissions and noise.

The draft standards set a noise ceiling of 85 decibels, a similar volume to a lawnmower, which would rule out diesel locomotives of the type used to transport grain from silos to port.

The 48 Class locomotives which service these branch lines have a low axel load of 12.5 tonnes, and are able to run on the older steel track which are restricted to locomotive axle loads of 17 tonnes.

The letter outlines that rather than improving environmental outcomes, the restrictions on noise, if implemented would force grain to be transported by trucks. The authors write that this could lead to an extra 25,000 B-double trucks on a “conservative” estimate. This would generate a 500 per cent increase in CO2 emissions compared with rail freight.

“In short, proposed new EPA environmental standards for diesel locomotives will significantly increase net [greenhouse gas] emissions in regional NSW,” write the authors. “This is a perverse outcome.”

Other costs include increased road accidents and fatalities and job losses of locomotive drivers and seasonal silo workers.

Additionally, by forcing grain onto trucks, the cost of exporting grain would increase, placing pressure on farmers’ margins at a time when drought is impacting upon agricultural profitability.

Emissions standards proposed by the NSW EPA also place a restriction on rail freight. While emissions kits can be installed in diesel locomotives, the cost of installing them would be prohibitive and would increase the consumption of diesel by five per cent, increasing greenhouse gas emissions. The weight of these emission kits can also push a locomotive over the axel load threshold.

The signatories to the letter are:

Dean Dalla Valle, Pacific National CEO

Klaus Pamminger, GrainCorp COO

Dick Honan, Manildra Group chairman

Jason Ferguson, Southern Shorthaul Railroad director

Maurice James, Qube Holdings managing director

Matthew Madden, NSW Farmers Association Grains Committee chair

Danny Broad, Australasian Railway Association chair

Geoff Smith, SCT Logistics managing director

Luke Anderson, Genesee & Wyoming Australia CEO

Anthony Jones, LINX Cargo Care Group CEO

Ian Gibbs, CF Asia Pacific / CFCL Australia executive chairman

Rooty Hill station upgrades increase accessibility

Station upgrades have been completed at Rooty Hill Station, in Western Sydney.

The station, located on the Main Western Line, now has four new lifts to make each platform accessible. Family accessible toilets have also been installed on each platform, said a transport for NSW spokesperson.

“The upgrade also includes a new pedestrian footbridge with new stairs to each platform, larger platform canopies for better weather protection and upgrades to CCTV and lighting to improve customer safety and security,” said the spokesperson.

In addition to the work on the station, a new commuter car park, with 750 car spaces, 16 accessible spaces, 10 motorcycle spaces, and 10 electric vehicle charging spaces, opened in early January.

Power for the vehicle charging ports will be locally sourced.

“The power requirements for these facilities are supplemented by sustainable features built into the car park design, including a rooftop solar system with 1140 solar panels. These also efficiently operate the car park lights and lift,’ said the TfNSW spokesperson.

Included in the upgrades are artworks produced by the local Aboriginal community, and pavers have been installed with the handprints of 450 school children from the local area.

The station’s heritage as the original terminus of the Western line’s extension to Blacktown, and its subsequent role in Sydney and NSW’s rail heritage is acknowledged in the station’s footbridge.

The upgrades to Rooty Hill station are part of TfNSW’s wider Transport Access Program, which is making stations more accessible around the state.

Sydney opening caps big year for Alstom

Alstom Australia’s managing director Mark Coxon sat down with Rail Express after a whirlwind 2019, with big wins for Alstom across multiple states and sectors.

The New Year’s break is a welcome opportunity for rest and relaxation for many professionals. But for Mark Coxon and his team at Alstom Australia, the 2019/20 break was perhaps the most well-earned in recent memory.

Eleven days before Christmas, Sydney opened quite a large present. The first revenue services for the Sydney CBD and South East Light Rail line between Circular Quay and Randwick represented the culmination of four years of construction and delivery.

Around 160,000 passengers rode the new line in its first two days, and they rode on some of the 60 Citadis X05 light rail vehicles delivered by Alstom.

By January 8, the line had already handled its first million passengers.

Alstom has also delivered the project’s power supply equipment (including two kilometres of APS wire-free ground power supply), energy recovery substations, signalling, communications, and depot equipment for the project, and is now underway on a 19-year maintenance contract.

“We’re very happy with this project,” Coxon, Alstom’s managing director in Australia and New Zealand, told Rail Express shortly after the Sydney opening.

“The Alstom scope has been on time, and we’ve had new technologies brought for the first time to Australia – another sign of confidence in the Alstom delivery capability.”

Light rail vehicles are rolling down George Street for the first time in more than 60 years. Unlike the original system, it is free of overhead wires for two kilometres of its route thanks to Alstom’s ground-based APS power supply.

APS, originally Alimentation Par le Sol – “fed through the ground” – but now anglicised to Aesthetic Power Supply, uses modern technology to safely feed power through the base of the LRV via a third rail between the tracks.

Coxon notes APS is a new technology in Australia, but also that the Citadis X05 is the latest version of Alstom’s light rail vehicle range.

“On top of that, the reverse cycle power- optimised substations were in our scope,” Coxon continues. “So that’s a number of new technologies we’ve brought to this iconic project, and it was great to see trams going down George Street – and great to be on that first tram.

While Alstom’s share of the project was successful, Coxon is well aware of the disruptions caused throughout the overall project’s delivery. But he’s confident the quality of service passengers will enjoy in the longer- term will make up for it.

“It’s obviously become a well-known project to Sydneysiders, and it’s been quite disruptive to residents during construction. But over time, I am sure the people of Sydney will appreciate the project, particularly as journey time reduces and the reliability continues to grow,” he said.

“To be honest, these projects historically around the world are quite disruptive, and this is on one of the oldest and busiest streets in Australia. It would be difficult to implement that kind of project anywhere in the world. We managed to get this one online in 2019, a bit later than planned, but the opening has been successful and we look forward to the growth of patronage of that system.”

Sydney Metro a roaring success

Despite all the exciting new technology in Sydney’s new light rail, perhaps the most exciting thing delivered by Alstom in Australia during 2019 was north of the city.

When Sydney Metro Northwest opened on May 26, passengers rode on a fleet of 22 new six-car, driverless metro trains from Alstom, which also delivered signalling and will handle ongoing maintenance work.

In its first six months, the new metro line had serviced more than 11 million journeys.

“It’s been a successful journey,” Coxon said. “It’s the first driverless metro system in Australia, so that took some time for passengers to get used to, but the reliability growth that we’ve seen on our system has been as expected, and very similar to other projects around the world. Today, we’re getting to around 99 per cent availability of the system.

“That project contains two successful aspects for us: the Alstom rollingstock but also the signalling system, our CBTC driverless Urbalis 400 system. The integration between the CBTC system and the rollingstock has been extremely good, and I think that’s one of the advantages of being an integrator of both technologies.”

Maintenance details

The success on Sydney Metro Northwest led the NSW Government to exercise a pre-agreed extension in the original contract to the next portion of the line, Sydney Metro City and Southwest. The news – a $570 million win for Alstom – means Coxon’s team will now deliver another 23 trains (with an option for more), and its Urbalis 400 CBTC along the new portion of the line.

Coxon told Rail Express the extension demonstrated the government’s confidence in Alstom and its colleagues in the Sydney Metro delivery team.

“We always knew the success of Northwest would be a critical component on the augmentation for City & Southwest,” he said. “It’s such an iconic and strategic project for Alstom, and City & Southwest is a similar scope to what we executed on Northwest. Again I think it will demonstrate the importance of integrating the CBTC signalling technologies with the rollingstock.”

Once complete, the City & Southwest project will combine with Northwest to create a 66-kilometre continuous line, complete with Alstom rollingstock and signalling.

“We’re looking forward, as well, to extending the maintenance scope to that full line,” Coxon added.

Huge win in WA

Alstom’s success in 2019 wasn’t limited to the east coast. Early in December it finalised a $1.3 billion deal to deliver 246 EMU railcars 6 DMU to PTA, the public transport operator in WA. Under the 10-year contract, at least 50 per cent of railcar assembly will take place in WA, at a 12,000 sqm plant near the old Midland Railway Workshops. Alstom will also undertake maintenance for 20 years with the option to extend to 30 years.

Coxon told Rail Express the contract win was the result of more than two years of work with the government, local businesses, training organisations and community.

“We’ve had a lot of engagement with local and international suppliers about the local content, and that concluded with the award of that project to Alstom, which we’re absolutely delighted with,” he said. “We’re looking forward to building a train in Western Australia that the people of Perth can be proud of.”

Work to build what will become Alstom’s new rollingstock base in WA is expected to be completed in 2021. Local work under the contract is expected to create at least 200 jobs in supply and maintenance, revitalising the state’s rail manufacturing sector.

“Obviously, it’s a long journey, and we’re going to be part of that recreation of the railcar manufacturing industry in Western Australia, but that’s not the first time Alstom have done that,” Coxon said. “We’ve done it all around the world; the US, South Africa, India, and of course 20 years ago in Victoria with the X’Trapolis trains.

“We’re not newcomers to it, but it is a new journey in Western Australia, and  we’re interested in taking the suppliers on board for that journey, as well as our future employees. We’re going to have to build up a strong skilled workforce in Western Australia.”

Coxon said Alstom is also looking to build a good partnership with the state’s Public Transport Authority, along with its suppliers to build a train which we hope to have on tracks by the middle of 2022.

“What made that contract so attractive to Alstom was the long-term maintenance contract, which allows us to make sure the rollingstock is designed to maintainability as well,” Coxon explained. “We’ll build a strong workforce for the build, and then progressively for the maintenance.

“We’ve included in the project our HealthHub technology which focuses on the predictive maintenance capability, to ensure we’re maintaining the core components as they’re being used, and we can plan our maintenance schedules to optimise availability of the product. That’s a similar product to what we’ve installed for the Sydney Metro, so it’s not the first time we’ve installed it here in Australia, but again is a first for Western Australia.”

Next X’Trapolis in the works

Alstom has been supplying its X’Trapolis metro fleet to Melbourne’s Metro Trains network for nearly two decades, with more than 102 trains delivered. “It has proven to be one of the most reliable products in Australia today, so we’re very proud of this product and our skilled workforce in Ballarat who deliver this,” Coxon said.

After being awarded the preliminary design contract for an X’Trapolis 2.0 in late 2018, Coxon said the team spent a large portion of 2019 working with the state towards a new generation of the successful train.

“The X’Trapolis 2 will have all the latest technologies, adapted to integrate seamlessly into the Melbourne network. We would like to see this product rolled out on the Melbourne network and continue the long and successful story of X’Trapolis Melbourne trains.”

Tunnelling, trains increase costs of Sydney Metro City and Southwest

Reports have surfaced that the Sydney Metro City and Southwest will increase in cost by nearly $5 billion.

The project was initially budgeted at between $11.5bn to $12.5bn but a review by Sydney Metro, reported by the Sydney Morning Herald, now estimates the cost at $16.8bn.

The increase in costs is reported to be due to cost overruns for new trains and systems, tunnelling, and the construction of underground stations.

A Sydney Metro City and Southwest spokesperson said that the project is on schedule and the NSW Government is committed to delivering the Sydney Metro City and Southwest, Metro West, and Metro Greater West.

“This is the largest public transport infrastructure program in the nation’s history.

“North West Metro was delivered on time and $1 billion dollars under budget,” the spokesperson said.

Revenue from offices, shops, and apartments built on top of stations is forecast to increase by $500 million.

The cost of new trains and systems is expected to double to $2.3bn. The rollingstock for the new line will be delivered by Alstom, in a deal announced in November 2019. The trains will be driverless and the French manufacturer will also deliver signalling to the project.

With multiple large and complex infrastructure projects underway at the same time across Australia, demand for the equipment and expertise needed to deliver tunnelling projects has increased, and this is reflected in the project’s increased cost for below-ground construction.

“The final cost of each project won’t be known until services commence,” the Sydney Metro spokesperson said.

NSW government praised for resumption of services on Blue Mountains line

After fires forced the closure of the Blue Mountains line in late December and early January, limited services resumed between Mount Victoria and Lithgow on the evening of Monday, January 21.

Bushfires in the Blue Mountains area laid waste to a 25 kilometre stretch of railway, damaging signalling equipment and rail infrastructure. In early January services between Mount Victoria and Lithgow were expected to be closed for months, after being suspended since 19 December.

Minister for Regional Transport and Roads, Paul Toole, highlighted that crews have been working on restoring services since the closure.

“Sydney Trains’ engineers have worked tirelessly to develop temporary systems that will allow us to restore rail connectivity and safely operate a limited number of freight trains from Monday evening and passenger trains from Tuesday 21 January,” he said.

“We recognise how important this rail connection is to passengers travelling to and from the west and to moving freight and we are doing everything possible to resume full services as soon as possible.”

Freight on Rail Group (FORG) of Australia chair Dean Dalla Valle, praised the NSW government for its swift resumption of services, noting that without the rail line, more freight had to be moved via roads.

“NSW Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole MP and Sam Farraway MLC – both Bathurst boys – immediately understood the urgent need to restore rail freight services along the bushfire impacted section of track between Lithgow and Mount Victoria.”

The damage was so extensive that significant parts of the line will need to be wholly restored, said Toole.

“This will be a long recovery process as we are essentially rebuilding some parts of the operating system from scratch.”

Sydney Trains staff have removed over 300 trees and relaid kilometres of communication, electrical, and signal wiring.

Dalla Valle highlighted the nature of the NSW operator’s response.

“I’d also like to call out Sydney Trains Chief Executive Howard Collins OBE for rolling up his sleeves, quickly travelling to bushfire impacted zones to assess first-hand what needed to be done, and liaising closely with industry,” said Dalla Valle.

Schedules are still be altered to account for maintenance, said NSW TrainLink chief executive Pete Allaway.

“The first Bathurst Bullet, the Broken Hill XPLORER and most Dubbo XPT services will resume to a slightly altered timetable, with the remaining affected services to continue to be replaced by coaches and buses while repair work continues.”

Sydney Train

Report: Sydney Trains maintenance backlog soon to exceed $1 billion

An internal NSW government report, completed in September, has forecast a $1.3 billion maintenance backlog on Sydney’s trains, the Sydney Morning Herald has revealed.

“Escalating maintenance costs, increasing levels of technical and component obsolescence and the ability to integrate into future network systems platforms … are prohibitive and present short and medium-term challenges,” SMH quotes the report.

Almost one-quarter of the passenger trains are more than 30 years old, while nearly half of the fleet is more than 20 years old.

The report cites the compounding impact of increased services, leading to trains, tracks and other rail assets “wearing out faster”. In turn, the rail network needs “more regular maintenance”.

While the overall condition of rail tracks is “good”, the backlog of deferred track maintenance is forecast to grow if more funding from the state is not forthcoming.

The backlog will surge to $1.3 billion by the end of the decade, from $419 million last year, if there is no funding boost, according to SMH.

“Due to the significant growth planned for time-tabled passenger rail services, it is anticipated the levels of wear and tear on infrastructure will increase proportionally,” the report says.

The report says there is “lack of long-term commitment for sustainable funding” by government to improve the condition of civil assets such as bridges, culverts and tunnels.

John Holland. Photo John Holland

John Holland partners with Strukton for new CRN bid

John Holland has announced a partnership with global track maintenance firm Strukton Rail to bid on the next operations and maintenance deal for the New South Wales Country Regional Network (CRN).

John Holland has operated and maintained the CRN under a ten-year state government contract since 2012. With that contract due to end in June 2021, Transport for NSW commenced a market sounding process for the next contract in May 2019.

With a long list of good work done since 2012, John Holland’s executive general manager for Rail, Steve Butcher, said a partnership with Strukton will help do an even better job if it is awarded the work over the next decade.

“We have a decade-long record of ensuring passengers and freight can move around regional NSW safely and reliably, and now we want to take this to the next level,” Butcher said.

“We want to drive innovation on the network in order to boost regional economies. This partnership will help us to better connect our regions with global leading-edge technology.”

Butcher noted in its decade operating and maintaining the CRN, John Holland has helped cut lost time due to speed restrictions by 50 per cent on passenger and grain lines. During its first three years running the network, John Holland managed to remove 99 of 103 temporary restrictions.

The firm has also replaced more than 1.5 million sleepers along the network, resurfaced more than 7,000 kilometres of track, and upgraded 155 level crossings.

The CRN comprises 2,386 route kilometres of operational passenger and freight rail lines and 3,139 route kilometres of non-operational lines, as well as 27,000 hectares of land and infrastructure.

In all the network includes 1,312 level crossings, 300 of which are active. It has 1,200 property assets, including 356 heritage assets. There are 600 rail under-bridges and 384 road over-bridges to be maintained.

 


NSW regional rail map with CRN shown.

AusRAIL: What’s next for Inland Rail

Inland Rail CEO Richard Wankmuller has updated industry on the progress of  the project and what it will tackle next now that Queensland has given the greenlight to construction.

“We’re moving over the next few months to the next section. This is much larger, at least double the size of what we’ve completed so far. Now that we’ve been given the green light, we can begin the economic stimulus of this area. We’re trying to accelerate that as much as possible for these vital areas that have been impacted by the drought,” Wankmuller said, speaking at the AusRail Plus conference.

This section comprises 28km of new dual gauge track between Gowrie (north-west of Toowoomba) and Helidon (east of Toowoomba).

“This is an engineering feat. It will be very challenging, and we have to make sure that we get it right,” according to Wankmuller.

“The centrepiece is a 6.2 km long tunnel to be constructed through the Great Dividing Range of Toowomba, a mountainous terrain which leads down into the Lockyer valley, creating topographical and geological challenges requiring eleven rail and two road bridge and viaduct structures totalling 6.7km in length between Gowrie and Helidon.

“The tunnel through the Toowomba Range and I will call it The Tunnel, because The Tunnel is the second largest great tunnel in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s going to be an engineering marvel not just because of its size and its length but because of all the challenges that are involved in designing a world class and efficient system.

“But we do have to attack some of the big challenges which include ventilation. When you put a diesel freight train through a tunnel like that you have a lot of heat and you have to make sure you’re ventilating it appropriately and making it safe. We are future proofing it so passenger rail can go through if needed in the future.

“The highest of the thirteen structures along this section is the Six Mile Creek Viaduct which is expected to be about 966 metres long and 49 metres high at its maximum. By comparison the total length of the Sydney Harbour Bridge is 1149 metres and the bridge’s height clearance for shipping is around 49 metres. The second viaduct is expected to extend to about 1.8km in length, and in addition to rail bridges there are three crossing loops posed between Gowrie and Helidon, each about 2.2 kms in length.”

The extensive geotechnical investigations have been carried out with extensive stakeholder consultation, according to Inland Rail.

“This is one of the more challenging sections and it is challenging on a world scale, so we had to put together a world class team and we’ve done that. We now have 400 or so of the world’s best working directly for Inland Rail, not to mention the 1000s of service providers helping us meet this challenge. But the challenge is real.

“But Inland Rail’s ingenuity isn’t just about these really difficult challenges it’s also about what we do every day. We’re very proud of what we do every day and safety is near and dear to our heart every day. We look at innovation in all industries and one of the interesting things we’ve adopted is one we stole from the mining industry where we’re electronically tagging our people so when they enter a danger zone with equipment, that equipment automatically shuts down before there can be any reaction to that person and their equipment.

“We’ve changed the steel rail profile itself, which for many years has been the same design. We’ve rounded it out so we don’t need to grind it to get our trains in operation, this is going to lead to less maintenance.

“In 1700km we’re going to have 2-3 million concrete sleepers. We’re going to have to get those fabricated, delivered and unloaded on site. We’ve found a way to do that efficiently, by designing hydraulic machinery we can use to unload it in the most efficient way possible and touch it the least amount of times. If we can save 10 minutes or even 2 minutes every time we unload it across all those millions of sleepers, it saves a lot of time and productivity gains.”

One of the reasons for the delay in Queensland getting on board with Inland Rail has been the controversy surrounding the Condamine floodplain, Wankmuller addressed this.

“It’s not just about having global technology capabilities, it is about having local knowledge. That’s how you make a truly world class flood model. You talk to the local people and see what they’ve seen in previous storm events. By working together with global expertise and the local knowledge of people that have been there for generations, you get a model that makes sense and replicates what actually happens. So now you know you can rely on it in the future, because if you can’t, everything you do from that point is wrong.

“It is all about safety and we’re committed to not making the situation any worse than it was going to be anyhow by us being there. Water has to flow, it has to flow around and through our structures, and there’s some engineering challenges in that that we’re geared up to meet, and we’re doing the work to get it right.”

Wankmuller wrapped up with a call to federal and state governments to accelerate their uptake of the project.

“We need the federal and state governments to work together and they’re doing that but there’s still a lot left to do. We don’t know where the intermodal tunnel rails are yet, in Melbourne or Brisbane. Hard to build a rail line when you’re storing your stock.”