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.”

Call for stricter penalties over transport staff assaults

Several public transport authorities have stated that penalties for assaults on public transport staff should be increased to come into line with existing protections for emergency service workers.

The Western Australian Government reported a significant reduction in assaults against public officers since it introduced mandatory jail sentences for the offence in 2009 and a minimum jail term of 12 months for grievous bodily harm in 2014. This included a 26 per cent reduction in assaults and a 35 per cent reduction in incidents of obstruction against public officers in the past decade.

Australasian Railway Association (ARA) chief executive officer Danny Broad said that such strong measures were needed to deter assaults.

“Elevating penalties to align with assaults on emergency services staff will reinforce the message that abusing and assaulting transport staff whilst they are simply doing their job will not be tolerated,” Broad said.

The South Australian Government has also tightened regulation surrounding public transport assaults, bringing penalties in line with existing rules for emergency personnel assaults in March 2016. Bus Industry Confederation executive director Michael Apps urged other states and territories to follow suit.

“We have written to Transport Ministers in NSW, Queensland, Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory and Tasmania calling on them to adopt a similar approach to Western Australia and South Australia by increasing penalties for those who assault public transport staff,” said Apps.

Naomi Frauenfelder, the executive director of rail charity TrackSAFE Foundation, added that appropriate penalties for people who threaten or assault rail staff were a “critical component” in trying to reduce incidents.

Cronulla line to reopen on July 15 following rail bridge works

The Cronulla line in Sydney is set to reopen on Monday July 15 following the completion of works to replace a rail bridge over Gannons Road in Caringbah.

The original bridge, which was built in 1939, was removed and replaced last weekend in one piece with the assistance of a 750-tonne crane, fulfilling a commitment made by state transport minister Andrew Constance and Cronulla MP Mark Speakman in December 2017.

The replacement required more than 20 pieces of heavy machinery and 450 tonnes of pre-cast concrete. The new bridge is designed to provide enough room for the road to expand to two lanes in each direction in keeping with the design of a second bridge on Gannons Road that was constructed in 2010 to support the launch of a new track on the line.

Speakman referred to Gannons Road at the time as a “bottleneck for local traffic” with no room for pedestrians or cyclists on approach to the bridge. The MP said on Twitter that the installation of the new bridge would allow the road underneath to be widened, “greatly improving traffic flow”.

Replacement buses that launched on July 6 between Sutherland and Cronulla to accommodate the closure will now run until Sunday July 14 prior to the line’s reopening the next day.

ARA: Safety reforms not meeting full potential

Australasian Railway Association (ARA) chief executive officer Danny Broad has commented on the current push for revised national transport regulations, saying that more needs to be done “to achieve the full benefits of reform”.

The ARA chief summarised the association’s Productivity Commission Inquiry into national rail safety reforms in particular, stating that jurisdictional differences between states, territories and Commonwealth had stopped them from reaching their full potential.

Broad pointed to New South Wales and Queensland state regulations in particular as examples of this, particularly regarding differences arising from fatigue, drug and alcohol laws.

“In some states, prescriptive regulations increase compliance costs with no proven safety benefit,” he said. 

“Deloitte modelling confirms that NSW and Queensland state-based rules that limit train driver working hours are at odds with the rest of the country. They create significant productivity losses and add unnecessary red tape, with no identified increase in safety.”

The ARA has recommended that the only effective way to manage rail safety risks is to focus on train operators on an individual level using a nationally consistent approach. It also added that while the establishment of the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) under the 2012 Rail Safety National Law (RSNL) had led to certain benefits, it had been unable to resolve jurisdictional differences. 

 “These productivity losses impact the rail freight sector’s ability to compete with heavy vehicles that have much greater flexibility in the hours they can drive, and less stringent drug and alcohol testing requirements. This inhibits our sector’s ability to compete on a level playing field,” Broad said.

Sydney Metro hits ‘one-millionth journey’ mark

Over one million commuters have travelled using the North West Metro within two weeks of the service’s launch, according to figures from the New South Wales Government.

The automated North West Metro opened on Sunday May 26 and runs for 13 stations between Tallawong and Chatswood. It transported an average of 72,000 patrons on weekdays, a statistic referred to by NSW Premier Gladys Berejikian as a “huge result for a brand new mode of transport”.

“The success shows just how much commuters appreciate the delivery of this game-changing project, which connects the area by rail like never before,” Berejiklian continued.

Line data gleaned from Opal found that May 29 had the busiest morning peak (23,330 trips) while May 28 had the biggest afternoon peak (27,542 trips) across over 3,400 metro train services. May 30 was the busiest day overall since the Metro’s launch, recording 75,876 trips.

The service launched on time at a cost of around $7.4 billion ($1 billion under budget). The service has suffered from a few initial technical issues, including a breakdown between Cherrybrook and Epping and a train that failed to stop properly at Chatswood station.

“As with any comparable railway of this scale around the world there have been some minor teething issues and we thank customers for their patience as we continue to fine tune the system,” said NSW Minister for Transport Andrew Constance.

NSW Govt adjusts traffic lights in Newcastle to improve tram awareness

Transport for NSW has released a statement urging road users in the Newcastle CBD to be tram aware due to a number of near misses since the launch of the city’s light rail service in February.

Road and maritime services director for the Hunter, Anna Zycki said that there had been in excess of 200 near misses around Stewart Avenue, Steel Street and Worth Place in the last few months due to motorists travelling through red lights and nearly colliding with trams that have the right of way.

In response to these incidents, Roads and Maritime Services has adjusted traffic light phasing and installed new signs at Stewart Avenue to raise awareness among drivers of passing trams. Zycki added that signs would also be installed on Steel Street “in coming weeks”.

Keolis Downer employee and tram driver Corey Moore and NSW Police Chief Inspector Amanda Calder joined Zycki in stressing the importance of vigilance among drivers as the light rail service becomes increasingly embraced.

“NSW Police will be out monitoring driver behaviour around the sites over coming weeks, but it’s important to remember police can be out in force, new signage can be put in, and traffic lights can be adjusted, but at the end of the day – drivers and other road users need to be aware of their surroundings and take care on and around the road,” she said.

Moore added that drivers should always be aware around light rail tracks.

“As tram drivers, we are trained to look out for other drivers and pedestrians,” he said. “We are being extremely cautious as we travel through intersections, but trams can’t stop quickly or easily and the close calls we’ve had are really concerning.”

The Newcastle Light Rail service, part of Transport for NSW’s Revitalising Newcastle project, launched on February 17 and runs 2.7 kilometres from Wickham to Newcastle Beach.

Over 63km of track removed in first phase of Inland Rail project

The Australasian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) has now removed over 63 kilometres of existing rail line from the Inland Rail construction in Parkes, New South Wales.

The project, a partnership between the Australian Government and private sector, is intended to upgrade the national freight network between Melbourne and Brisbane by developing regional lines across Victoria, NSW and Queensland.

The works on the section of line between Parkes and Narromine represent the first of a planned 13 Inland Rail projects encompassing over 1700 kilometres.

The track, which has been removed from the freight line between Parkes and Narromine (the P2N project), will be recycled and repurposed for Pacific National’s Intermodal Terminal in Parkes as well as other parts of the NSW rail network.

“It’s just one of the ways we keep our commitment to sustainability,” the ARTC stated in an inaugural project newsletter.

In addition to the track removal, over 100,000 cubic metres of material has been removed as a result of ongoing earthworks.

The works are being carried out by INLink, a joint venture between BMD Group and Fulton Hogan, which is focused on upgrading existing links, building new embankments and culverts, and upgrading signage, signals, level crossings and fencing.

The ARTC stated that they would install over 4000 culverts across the project in total.

Neighbouring projects include the southerly Stockinbingal to Parkes (S2P) project and northerly Narromine to Narrabri (N2N) project, which are both currently in the project feasibility stage.

The ARTC held its first community forum on the project, with two more set to follow on June 19 at the ARTC Community and Working Hub in Parkes and on June 20 at Peak Hill RSL in Peak Hill.

Waratah

Sydney Trains brings carriage occupancy indicators to stations

Commuters at certain Sydney rail stations will now be able to see how crowded trains are in advance thanks to the introduction of occupancy indicator screens.

The indicator screens will indicate carriages with seats, standing room only carriages and completely full carriages using a colour-coding system. Red indicates that a carriage is full, amber indicates standing room only and green means that seats are still available.

The data is determined by weight sensors on the carriages that can indicate how many commuters are in each carriage and where spaces are still available. The technology is now brand new, but it is the first time the data has been made available at stations. Commuters previously had to access the data through the Transport for NSW Trip Planner (which launched in May last year), or other travel apps such as TripView, TripGo and Transport for NSW’s Opal app.

“The carriage capacity indicator has been available on real-time apps for more than a year and it has proven to be a great way for customers to quickly find out where seats are available on a train,” said NSW Minister for Transport Andrew Constance.

The station displays are currently usable at stops with Waratah trains, including the T1 North Shore and Western Lines. The system is one of several implementations being made at certain stations in preparation for the launch of Sydney Metro’s North West line on May 26.

The 36km North West line, which started construction in 2011, will run across 13 stations from Tallawong to Chatswood.

“When Metro opens in a week people are going to have to adjust to a whole new way of getting around Sydney, including transferring onto the existing rail network at Chatswood to get into the city,” Constance said.

“These capacity indicators will help passengers know where to go on the platform to get onto the train quickly and easily.”

Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 Project endorsed by over 70 organisations

Businesses and community organisations have expressed sentiments to the NSW Government encouraging the development of Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2.

Organisations such as the City of Parramatta, Property Council of Australia, Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue, Tourism & Transport Forum, NSW Business Chamber and Sydney Olympic Business Association wrote a letter to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance asking that the final business case for the project be released.

A survey of local residents by the Western Sydney Business Chamber and Olympic Park Business Association showed that 75 per cent of participants supported final route and start date commitments on the project.

“This project will be of massive benefit to Western Sydney and we are actively encouraging the NSW Government to get cracking on Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 as a priority of transport policy,” said Western Sydney Business Chamber executive director David Borger.

“The Greater Sydney Commission and the NSW Government talk about the goal of creating a ‘30-minute city’ – Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 together with Sydney Metro West will help deliver that vision.”

Early works commenced on Stage 1 of the $2.4 billion project in January this year.

Stage 1 of the project, which is expected to open to the public in 2023, will connect Westmead to Carlingford via the Parramatta CDB and Camellia.

Parramatta Light Rail Stage 2 is planned to connect to the developing Stage 1 line via Camellia. It will run to Sydney Olympic Park, Ermington, Melrose Park and Wentworth Point and is expected to open by 2025.

Earlier this month, Parramatta Light Rail revealed that the development would include a 1km stretch of ‘green track’, with grass and shrubbery running alongside the tracks at Cumberland Hospital, Robin Thomas Reserve and Tramway Avenue.

Labor promises $1bn for Queensland-Victoria high speed rail link

Labor says it will invest $1 billion to begin securing the corridor for a high speed line running from Brisbane to Sydney should it win the federal election on May 18.

The plans for the proposed 1,748km route would build on a feasibility study produced under Julia Gillard’s Labor Government in 2013. The feasibility study suggested that the nation-building project would return over two dollars in public benefit for every dollar invested.

“As Australia’s strong population growth continues in coming years, the already established case for High Speed Rail will become more compelling,” said Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development Anthony Albanese.

“If we start to acquire the corridor now, we will protect it from development and thereby minimise costs.”

The 2013 study envisaged a train capable of travelling up to 350km/h across rail link running between Melbourne and Brisbane via Sydney with spur lines to Canberra and the Gold Coast.

In keeping with the plans laid out in the document, Labor plans to create a High Speed Rail Authority, working with the ACT and east coast state governments to commence land acquisitions and finalise track alignments.

Albanese added that the project would bring regional communities closer to capital cities, increasing commuting and strengthening the case for investment in regional businesses.

“The project will also be an economic game-changer for communities along its path, including the Gold Coast, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Newcastle, the Central Coast, Southern Highlands, Canberra, Wagga Wagga and Shepparton,” he said.