Northland Line

Upgrades begin to allow more freight on Northland Line

Major works on New Zealand’s Northland Line have begun to enable more freight to be carried by train and faster passenger services.

The $204.5 million worth of works include replacing bridges, improving tunnels, and upgrading the rail line to Whangarei. Once complete, hi-cube containers will be able to be pulled on the Northland Line, enabling more freight to be carried by rail.

Services have been halted between Swanson, west of Auckland and Whangarei to allow for track occupancy and major civil works. Over the route, five bridges will be replaced and tracks will be lowered in 13 tunnels.

KiwiRail chief executive Greg Miller said that works are hoped to be completed by the end of the year.

“The work will be completed in stages, with the first objective being able to carry hi-cube containers through the tunnels between Whangarei and Auckland by Christmas.”

“Being able to carry hi-cube containers will also allow freight that can currently only come in and out of Northland by road, to instead go by rail. That additional transport option could help cut transport emissions and reduce the number of trucks on the roads,” said Miller.

Miller said that the delayed start was due to restrictions imposed by coronavirus (COVID-19).

“While our teams were able to continue design and planning work during the lockdown, COVID-19 halted most work on the ground. We’ve also been waiting on the arrival of specialist track laying equipment which has been held up by pandemic disruptions,” he said.

“This type of work can only be done while the line is shut. I regret the inconvenience for our freight customers and thank them for their patience. Once the line is upgraded, we will be able to offer more reliable train services to better meet their needs.”

Local businesses will be involved in the upgrade works, with Northland subcontractors tapped to provide supplies and carry out works.

“Local firm United Civil Construction has the contract to replace two of the bridges, all the ballast materials for the track upgrades are being supplied by Clements in Whangarei, and Busck, also in Whangarei, are supplying thousands of concrete sleepers,” said Miller.

In 2021, works on the Northland Line will continue, including the reopening of the line between Kauri and Otiria and the construction of a container exchange at Otiria.

Room for growth in trying times

While the COVID-19 pandemic is causing an undeniable impact upon the Australian economy, the rail industry is continuing to play its vital part in moving people and goods around Australia.

During these times, Rail Express will continue to deliver timely news and industry insights to our audience of rail professionals. Rail Express is the only publication dedicated to the rail industry that is publishing daily briefs as the story evolves. Our email newsletter database and online page views have been experiencing substantial growth over the past months, and we will endeavour to ensure that they continue to do so, even as disruption occurs.

Already, we have seen significant interest in how the rail industry will continue to be the lifeblood of Australia’s logistics supply chain. We have spoken with our key industry associations and partner organisations to understand that in fact, the demand for key rail services, particularly in the freight sector, is growing, with the resulting need for suppliers of equipment and services to continue to engage with the industry.

In addition, the growing government stimulus packages have a direct impact upon organisations working in the rail industry, many of whom are looking for the stimulus to go further so they can continue to meet the demand for mobility.

Finally, when the initial impacts of the virus subside, the rail industry will be continuing to grow as infrastructure spending is adopted by governments as a way to kickstart the economy.

More than ever, Rail Express is the resource that the Australasian rail industry turns to. The publication is continuing to grow in both print and online to meet the needs of the sector’s growth as a whole.

V/Line driver’s near-miss with a train after failing to stop at signals

An Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) rail safety investigation found a V/Line driver ran through a level crossing before the boom gates were down at Marshall, Victoria.

On January 2nd 2018 at around 2pm, V/Line train 7750 travelling to Geelong and 1305 V/Line travelling to Warrnambool were heading towards each other on a single track in suburban Geelong.

The two trains were 940m apart from colliding when a control room worker in Melbourne issued an emergency call instructing the drivers to stop.

The ATSB found that the driver of train 7750 did not respond to the Stop indications of signals MSL10 and MSL8 at Marshall.

The driver of train 7750 entered the single line section between Marshall and South Geelong and then into the Marshalltown level crossing before the crossing booms had lowered.

At approximately the same time, The 1305 V/Line Melbourne to Warrnambool service with two crew and 166 passengers on board had departed Geelong and was headed towards Marshall on the same single line section.

The trains were scheduled to cross using the loop track at Marshall.

The investigation report stated that in preparation for the cross of the two trains at Marshall, the train controller “was observing the signalling control and CCTV VDU when he saw train 7750 go through Marshall platform travelling too fast to stop at MSL10,”

“Realising that train 7750 would not be able to stop, the train controller made a fleet radio transmission to all trains in the area to ‘Red Light’ (Stop), the CCTV also allowed the train controller to confirm that train 7750 had stopped beyond the Marshalltown Road level crossing.”

The investigation concluded that the driver of V/Line train 7750 was most likely influenced by symptoms associated with nicotine withdrawal, having not applied a nicotine patch on that day.

“Following this incident, the driver of train 7750 tested positive for an inactive metabolite of cannabis, with levels suggesting use within the previous 7 days,” the report stated.

It could not be determined whether that had affected the driver’s performance at the time of the incident.

Report authors say attempts by V/Line safety critical workers to stop smoking should be managed under medical supervision.

As a result of the incident, V/Line has installed a train protection system at Marshalltown Road level crossing to stop a train that has passed a signal at Danger, which has over-speed sensors to prevent a train entering the crossing when unprotected.

V/Line has continued with planning for the provision of three-position signalling for this section as part of other infrastructure projects.

The driver of train 7750 no longer works for V/Line.

Coin acknowledges continental rail journey

Australian rail has been commemorated in a special edition coin.

The Royal Australian Mint has issued a new, coloured 50 cent coin with the Indian Pacific detailed on the reverse of the 50 cent piece.

The coin celebrates 50 years of the train’s service, which connects two oceans and crosses a continent, travelling from Sydney to Perth.

Now operated by Journey Beyond, when the service was first launched on February 23, 1970, it was a joint operation between the Department of Railways New South Wales, South Australian Railways, Commonwealth Railways, and Western Australian Government Railways. In February 1993 Australian national took over the service.

Since its first service, the transcontinental service now carries roughly 80,000 passengers a year.

This is the second time the Royal Australian Mint has commemorated iconic Australian train journeys, releasing a commemorative coin for 90 years of The Ghan in 2019. These coins  acknowledge the status of such services, said Royal Australian Mint CEO, Ross MacDiarmid.

“The Royal Australian Mint is delighted to share this unique limited edition coin that celebrates another of Australia’s world famous railway journeys, a story which will resonate with the Australian public, train lovers, coin collectors and fans of the iconic Indian Pacific itself,” he said.

The possibility of having one service travel the 4,352km between Sydney and Perth was enabled by the east-west standard gauge project. Previously, travellers would have had to change trains six times, limiting the rail connectivity of Australia.

Journey Beyond’s chief commercial officer, Peter Egglestone, noted how the train journey showcases the best of what Australia has to offer.

“The Indian Pacific is a truly transcontinental rail adventure that journeys across the Nullarbor, through mountain ranges and rocky valleys and across arid deserts.  The inaugural journey nearly 50 years ago was a significant achievement, which has now developed into the all-inclusive guest experience today with regionally-inspired food and wine, world-class service and off train excursions.”