Electrical fire on Auckland metro network

An electrical fire in a signal cabinet has damaged signalling to the south of Newmarket on the Auckland metro network at just after 5am on Monday morning.

The fire was sparked in a passenger train signalling cabinet.

Todd Moyle, KiwiRail Group chief operating officer, said the fire has been extinguished as of 8am Monday morning.

“KiwiRail staff are on site and will restore the system as quickly as possible,” Moyle said.

“We are working with TransDev to reroute Southern Line trains along the Eastern Line from Otahuhu. At this point, the heaviest impact is limited to trains running between Penrose and Newmarket. Western Line trains continue to operate.

“We apologise for the inconvenience to Auckland commuters but safety must be paramount. The cause will be investigated.”

The heaviest impact during the peak hour commute was stations between Newmarket and Penrose (Penrose, Ellerslie, Greenlane, Remuera) as trains couldn’t run on that section on the track.

TransDev re-routed Southern Line trains via Otahuhu along the Eastern Line to access Britomart and all Western Line trains continue to run following the incident.

Auckland Transport stated in an updated social media post that southern line services will continue via the eastern line and western line services are stopping at Newmarket as of 11.10am Monday morning.

Hundreds of millions of dollars being invested in New Zealand’s KiwiRail network

The New Zealand Government has announced a further $109.7 million rail investment in Northland rail freight on the KiwiRail network.

This follows the injection of  $211 million to upgrade Wellington networks and services for Auckland rail.

Greg Miller, KiwiRail Group chief executive, said the Northland investment will enable hi-cube container freight to be transported by rail in the region for the first time ever.

$69.7m will be spent on lowering tracks in the 13 tunnels between Swanson and Whangarei; reopening the currently mothballed rail line north of Whangarei, between Kauri and Otiria; and building a container terminal at the Otiria rail yard, in Moerewa.

“Currently 18m tonnes of cargo is moved in and out of the region every year. Of that, around 30,000 containers leave Northland by road. Most aren’t able to fit through the tunnels, but this investment will change that – opening up a whole new market to rail,” Miller said.

“The tunnel work will have a huge impact on how freight is moved in and out of Northland.

“I’m really impressed by the ingenuity of KiwiRail’s engineering staff to be able to lower the tracks in the tunnels – which is a lot less expensive than boring bigger tunnels.”

This is the second Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) investment in Northland rail, following the $94.8m provided to make significant improvements to the Northland Line between Swanson and Whangarei, announced last year.

An additional $40m will be used by KiwiRail to purchase land along the designated rail route between Oakleigh and Northport/Marsden Point.

Miller said works in Auckland have already commenced, and will be completed in about four years.

“The third main adds an extra rail line between Westfield and Wiri in South Auckland, a section of line that is congested with freight trains going to and from Ports of Auckland and Port of Tauranga, and increasingly frequent metro commuter services. For CRL to deliver the level of commuter service Auckland needs, the 3rd main is crucial,” he said.

David Gordon, KiwiRail chief operating officer – capital projects and asset development, said work on the Wairarapa Line will start later this year, following the government’s $96m investment announced in 2018.

“$70m will be spent on improving the signalling system and track approach to Wellington Station, particularly the area north of the stadium where the Johnsonville, Hutt Valley, and Kapiti Lines all come together,” Gordan said.

A $15m investment in carriages for the Capital Connection service will allow KiwiRail to fully refurbish ex-Auckland Transport carriages including new interiors, seats, and toilets.

Track repairs commence following V/Line and freight train crash

Work is now under way to replace more than 1,800 damaged sleepers and more than 180 metres of damaged rail.

Last week an incident involving a freight and passenger train between Chiltern and Barnawartha in south of Wodonga, Victoria caused all services on the line to be suspended until further notice.

A northbound freight train derailed, and a passenger train travelling south on the adjacent track struck a wagon of the derailed freight train.

A spokesperson from the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) provided an update on the investigation following the incident that occurred on Wednesday, January 29. 

“The ARTC is continuing to work with rail safety regulators and operators on the recovery effort,” the spokesperson said.

After safety regulators completed their initial assessments the day after the incident, the recovery operation started involving around 60 workers.

“Work so far has focused on recovering wagons, components, and containers from the track and moving the V/Line train and majority of freight containers,” the spokesperson said.

“While repairs are underway, timing for the line to reopen is not yet confirmed.

“With temperatures reaching more than 44 degrees in the recovery site area, hot works are being extremely carefully managed and crews provided additional rest breaks and hydration measures.

“ARTC will provide further updates to media and our customers as soon as they become available.”

Reduced dwell times to cut Sydney CBD light rail travel time

Sydney’s light rail has become 10 percent faster due to reduced journey times.

The 12-kilometre service between Randwick and Circular Quay had previously been running at around 45-50 minutes and this week the journey time will be improved to 40-45 minutes end to end.

Instead of adjusting speed limits, the journey will be quicker due to reduced dwell times at scheduled stops.

A Transport for NSW spokeswoman said more services will be added to the network to increase passenger journey times too. 

“The new timetable introduced yesterday (20 January) will boost the number of weekday services on the L2 Line by an additional 215 services per week, as well as improving the journey time between Randwick and Circular Quay,” the Transport for NSW spokesperson said. 

“Transport for NSW is continuing to work with ALTRAC to improve service reliability on the new light rail.”

The 19 stop service will become more frequent from the current foundation stage of running every 4-8 minutes between Circular Quay and Central, and every 8-12 minutes between Central and Randwick during peak times on weekdays.

Service operator Transdev told the NSW Parliament last year that projected travel times were 38-40 minutes.

Transport for NSW said they anticipated that there may be operational challenges and issues during the opening period of the L2 line, and there have been some unplanned disruptions to services.

“More than 1 million trips have been taken on the new L2 Randwick light rail line since opening on 14 Dec. On average, there are around 44,000 trips each day,” The Transport for NSW spokesperson said.

“Transport for NSW is continuing to work with the light rail operator to improve service reliability and journey time, especially in the lead up to the start of passenger services on the L3 Kingsford Line in March this year, funded through the existing project budget.”

NZ reveals long-term rail plan

A draft plan would facilitate a long-term planning and funding model for rail in New Zealand, with the aim of boosting passenger figures and freight share on rail to help achieve the government’s zero-emissions goal by 2050.

The draft New Zealand Rail Plan, released by the Ministry of Transport on December 13, outlines the government’s long-term vision and priorities for New Zealand’s national rail network.

It stems from the recommendations of the Future of Rail review, a cross-agency project led by the Ministry of Transport working alongside KiwiRail, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, and the Treasury.

The plan aims to put in place a sustainable approach to rail funding over the longer-term.

Key to this is the Land Transport (Rail) Legislation Bill, presented to Parliament on December 12.

The Bill proposes the implementation of a new planning and funding framework for the heavy rail network owned by KiwiRail. It also proposes funding for the rail network from the National Land Transport Fund, and giving rail ministers decision-making rights on funding rail network investments.

The Bill would make amendments to the Land Transport Management Act 2003 and the Land Transport Act 1998, to implement the new framework.

It also introduces track user charges.

“After years of rail being run into the ground by the previous government, our government is getting rail back on track,” deputy prime minister Winston Peters said.

“We need our rail network to be able to cope with New Zealand’s growing freight needs. Freight is expected to increase by 55 per cent by 2042. Freight carried by rail not only reduces wear and tear on our roads, it reduces carbon emissions by 66 per cent.”

This year’s federal budget included $1 billion in funding for the national freight rail network, $741 million of which for the first phase of works to restore a reliable, resilient and safe freight and tourism network.

“Passenger rail is also the key to unlocking gridlock in our largest cities and boosting productivity,” transport minister Phil Twyford said. “The more people take the train, the more our roads are freed up for those who have to drive.

“Building alternative transport options for people and freight is a vital part of achieving the government’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050. It also helps make our roads safer by reducing the number of cars and trucks on our roads.”

The draft plan will become final when the next Government Policy Statement of Land Transport is finalised in the second half of 2020.

Until then the government is inviting feedback from industry and community groups.

AusRAIL: McCormack highlights rail spending, King calls for skills focus

Minister for infrastructure, transport and regional development Michael McCormack and shadow minister Catherine King have highlighted their parties’ distinct transport commitments at AusRAIL Plus 2019.

“It’s been a strong and positive year for rail. Since I last spoke to you, much has happened in two key areas over the past year. With a focus on freight, we are on track to deliver the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail, which is a world class infrastructure project,” McCormack said.

“With a focus on commuters, in the past year the government has made a significant commitment to faster rail and we are investing heavily in metropolitan rail with our state government partners, through projects such as the Sydney Metro Greater Western in NSW and Metronet in Perth, Western Australia. Over the year, we also saw the 20-year National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy and National Action Plan agreed by all governments.”

McCormack highlighted Inland Rail’s latest milestone.

“The first section of greenfield track, the North West connection, opened in August with the first trains already running on this track. This new link is scheduled to join up with the newly upgraded Parkes to Narramine line by mid next year.

“Almost 900 people worked on this section and local businesses are benefitting, in concrete, transport, fencing, earth moving, drainage, electrical and other suppliers to the tune of $41.2 million in local contracts, so we’re well on track with Inland Rail.”

In terms of passenger rail, McCormack highlighted government’s Faster Rail Plan which will be overseen by a new National Faster Rail Agency. There are business cases already underway.

“We’ve committed $2 billion to help deliver faster rail between Geelong and Melbourne, and we’re getting on with our $5 billion commitment to deliver the Melbourne Airport Rail Link,” McCormack said.

In response, King called on the government to use its current infrastructure spend to leverage better investments in training and new technology.

“Strong investment gives government as seat at the table in planning our cities and regions,” King said.

As part of this King says the opposition intends to identify and respond to the impacts of these investments on the workforce.

“With rapid change in technology deployed in transport networks, what is often overlooked is the impact of this change on the workforce. The pace of change can often be confronting. Technology can be our ally in achieving greater productivity, and it does not always have to come at a cost to jobs.

“Transitioning jobs in industries like transport doesn’t just happen, it has to be planned.

What’s why last month, Labour leader Anthony Albanese announced Labour in government will establish Jobs and Skills Australia.King described the party’s vision of a workforce forecasting and research under a similar model to Infrastructure Australia.

The body would assess the skills requirements for services where “government is the major funder and where demand is expected to change”, such as transport. It would undertake workforce and skills analysis, and conduct capacity studies. It would be expected to review the adequacy of the training and vocational system.

“This will include the manufacture, operation and maintenance of our public transport network,” said King.

Melbourne to axe three more level crossings by 2022

Three level crossings on the Werribee line in Melbourne are to get the chop as part of the Victorian Government’s ongoing Level Crossing Removal Project.

The crossings will be removed at Cherry Street, Werribee Street and Old Geelong Road in Hoppers Crossing by 2022. The means by which the crossings will be removed was eventually narrowed down to one of two options, with the government expressing a preference for each crossing.

The preferred design for the Cherry Street crossing is a road bridge running over the rail line at Tarneit Road, with ‘Design B’ comprising an underpass at Cherry Street.

The road bridge was cited as the preferred option as it would allow the project to use the irrigation channel reserve adjacent to Wyndham City Council officers to provide a direct connection from Princes Highway to Railway Avenue and Tarneit Road.

The alternate design would involve digging a 4.6-metre trench to lower Cherry Street while the rail tracks retained their present level.

A rail bridge is the preferred option for the Werribee Street crossing, with a new road bridge at Bulban Road as backup. The rail bridge was chosen as the preferred option as it would incorporate improvements at Wyndham Park, and open up space below the rail line.

For Old Geelong Road, the preferred option is a new road bridge connecting Old Geelong Road to the Princes Highway, with a road bridge at the current crossing as the ‘B’ design 

Two community drop-in sessions will be held around Werribee and Hoppers Crossing to prompt further discussion around the project and allow the public to get involved on Saturday July 13 from 10am12:30pm and Tuesday July 16 from 5pm7:30pm.