New grain siding complete in Coonamble South

A new rail siding in Coonamble South has been installed, ready for the 2020/21 grain season.

The siding, located in the Central West of NSW, would improve grain movements from the interior of the state, said Minister for Regional Roads and Transport Paul Toole.

“Previously the positioning of the old mainline grain loading point at Coonamble caused delays for trains for up to eight hours, creating congestion and holding up the movement of grain to port,” Toole said.

“The new rail siding will create an extra 450 hours each year where trains can pass through this section of track without being held up.

The new location will also help shift further freight onto rail.

“It will also see the three grain loading points in Coonamble better utilised and potentially encourage the transporting of grain off roads and onto rail, reducing the impacts of heavy vehicles on the road network,” said Toole.

The siding was built with a $2.5 million investment as part of the NSW government’s Fixing Country Rail program, which is funding $400m worth of upgrades to support, reinvigorate, and upgrade regional freight infrastructure.

Member of the NSW upper house Sam Farraway said the upgrades will boost productivity and confidence in rail.

“These upgrades have multiple flow-on effects, including more time to access the wider network and port, alleviating the pressure to find space on the rail network to meet shipping schedules,” he said.

The siding was announced as receiving funding in February 2019.

First train arrives at Kangy Angy Maintenance Facility

The first train of the New Intercity Fleet has travelled to the Kangy Angy Maintenance facility on the NSW Central Coast from Sydney.

The journey is part of the testing phase of the new fleet of 55 10 car trains and is one of the first of many trips to the Central Coast that the fleet will make, said local member Adam Crouch.

“The Central Coast and Newcastle Line will be the first in NSW to benefit from the New Intercity Fleet, which will deliver safer, more accessible and comfortable journeys,” Crouch said.

“The 24-hour-run Kangy Angy Maintenance Facility was purpose-built for the New Intercity Fleet, where the trains will be washed, maintained and serviced. It is close to 500,000 square metres in size, has about six kilometres of electric rail lines, a new rail bridge and offices and amenities for staff.”

The maintenance facility was completed in late August and was constructed by John Holland. UGL Rail will operate the facility as part of the RailConnect consortium which has built and designed and will maintain the fleet.

There are currently the trains from the New Intercity Fleet that are undergoing testing ahead of a larger roll-out later in 2020. The Central Coast and Newcastle Line will be the first line to have the fleet introduced into passenger service.

The New Intercity Fleet replace the V-set trains and come with accessibility and comfort upgrades, said NSW Minister for Transport Andrew Constance.

“Customers on the New Intercity Fleet will enjoy more spacious two-by-two seating, mobile device charging ports, modern heating and air conditioning, and dedicated spaces for luggage, prams and bicycles,” Constance said.

“Automatic Selective Door Operation, obstruction detection and traction interlocking are just some of the safety features on these new trains.”

Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole said the trains are hoped to make public transport preferred for regional residents.

“These new trains are fully accessible for our less mobile customers, building upon our vision to help make public transport a first-choice option for people living in the regions,” said Toole.

New Intercity Fleet reach Lithgow after Blue Mountains Line upgrades

Testing of the New Intercity Fleet has seen the electric trains reach Lithgow, the first new electric train to do so since the final V-Set was introduced.

Until recently, newer regional electric trains such as the Oscar train sets and the Tangara fleet have not been able to travel past Springwood due to limitations on the line.

Tight bends and narrow tunnels mean that only Narrow Electric standard rollingstock have been able to travel west of Springwood, meaning V-Sets were the only regional trains to take passengers further.

Engineering works to widen the line and extend platforms mean that the new trains are now able to run to Lithgow, said Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole.

“This is such an exciting development for the thousands of customers who travel between the city and these areas, particularly for Lithgow customers because it has only been made possible due to upgrades on the Blue Mountains Line,” he said.

Running the trains to Lithgow is part of the testing of the New Intercity Fleet before they enter passenger service later this year. The trains will first travel on the Central Coast and Newcastle lines, before the Blue Mountains and South Coast lines.

“Over the next few months we’ll see more of these trains tested on the Blue Mountains Line, mostly at night and on weekends,” said Toole.

Minister for Transport Andrew Constance said the new trains had a number of upgraded features.

“Customers on the New Intercity Fleet will enjoy more spacious two-by-two seating, mobile device charging ports, modern heating and air conditioning, and dedicated spaces for luggage, prams and bicycles,” Constance said.

“Automatic Selective Door Operation, obstruction detection and traction interlocking are just some of the safety features on these new trains.”

Unions have expressed concerns about the operation of doors on the trains, with guards unable to open their doors before the rest of the train doors.

Regional rail service passes first milestone

The second Bathurst Bullet is celebrating its one year anniversary.

A year ago, a second daily service from Bathurst to Sydney was launched to enable better connections from the Central Tablelands.

The service had been received well, said Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole.

“Pre-COVID-19 and last summer’s bushfires, we noticed an increase of up to 70 per cent more customers catching Bullet services.”

The second Bathurst Bullet, which stops at Rydal and Tarana, built on the success of the first Bathurst Bullet, launched in 2012.

Toole said the rail service was vital for those in regional communities.

“These changes have provided more opportunities for our customers living in regional areas to use public transport including for specialist medical appointments in Sydney,” he said.

Patronage has grown on the NSW intercity network, which links regional towns and cities with Sydney. Data from Transport for NSW shows that patronage reached a peak of over 900,000 journeys on the Blue Mountains Line in May 2019. Since a drop in April due to COVID-19, patronage has been returning, with July 2020 recording 376,000 trips.

Feeder bus services from Orange and Oberon have been introduced to support patronage on the train service.

The Bathurst Bullet runs on Endeavour Railcar rolingstock, which will be replaced by the $1.2 billion new regional rail fleet that will operate in bi-mode, running on electricity on electrified sections of track, and diesel further out. The fleet will be maintained in Dubbo and the first trains are expected to run in 2023.

The Bathurst Bullet was temporarily out of service earlier in 2020 due to damage to the Blue Mountains line due to bushfires, services resumed in April 2020.

“While the last year has presented many challenges with bushfires, landslides and COVID-19, we are committed to providing improved and more integrated connections as well as promoting growth in regional NSW,” said Toole.

Cowra Lines

Minister leaves door open for reinstatement of Cowra lines

NSW Minister for Regional Transport Paul Toole has indicated that the reinstatement of the Cowra rail lines could still go ahead, despite a feasibility study finding now option achieved a positive cost-benefit ratio.

Toole is pushing for further work to be done to see whether reopening the lines, particularly the 179km Blayney to Demondrille line, can be economically viable.

“The Cowra Lines has the potential to be economically viable when freight capacity on the Main West is constrained in the future,” said Toole.

“That’s why I have asked for this study to be taken to the next stage – to complete a high level design and some investigation works to determine a closer project delivery cost.”

In a feasibility study published by Transport for NSW, the most competitive option for reopening the Cowra lines was to re-instate the Blayney to Demondrille line at 25 tonne axle load (TAL) with a speed of 80km/h. This option assumed a scenario of the Main West and Illawarra Lines becoming significantly constrained in future and not able to adequately support central west freight rail services.

The benefit-cost ratio calculated for this scenario was 0.9.

With the Cowra lines closed between 2007 and 2009, most freight from the region is carried by road with some bulk freight picked up by services travelling along the Main West or Main South lines. The feasibility study notes that the region’s diverse resources and agricultural industries support a freight task.

The feasibility study found that the rail infrastructure itself is mostly intact, however sleepers and ballast would need to be replaced and two new crossing loops would be required. A number of timber bridges would also need to be replaced.

Toole said that now was a good time to investigate improvements to the freight network.

“With freight increasing across the State and the need to build a resilient network to cope with natural disasters and pandemics, this year has shown it’s an opportune time to further investigate our rail freight capabilities,” he said.

“This is about futureproofing the movement of rail freight through the Central West.”

Tamworth

More funding to begin freight rail works in Tamworth

The NSW government will inject $28 million to reopen a non-operational railway line, providing a rail connection to an intermodal terminal outside Tamworth.

The funding covers five kilometres of track on the West Tamworth to Barraba line, as well as new level crossings to allow freight access to the Tamworth Intermodal Freight Rail Terminal.

Rehabilitating the line will allow goods from Tamworth to be transported by rail to Port Botany for export, said NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro.

“This significant investment is key to the development of the new intermodal rail hub that will better connect Northern NSW’s producers and businesses to the world,” he said.

“When complete, a functioning intermodal rail hub and freight terminal in Tamworth will create a direct rail route to vessels docked at Port Botany, saving businesses significant freight costs.”

Australasian Railway Association (ARA) CEO Caroline Wilkie welcomed the announcement.

“This is an important step towards delivering a facility that will get more freight on rail and better connect NSW producers with their suppliers.”

Regional freight is expected to increase by 28 per cent from 2016 to 2036. Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole said facilities such as the one in Tamworth will enable that freight to move more efficiently.

“Inland intermodals are an integral part of moving freight throughout NSW by providing a delivery point load breakdown services and an interface for road to rail integration,” he said.

The $28 million in funding will allow major works to progress along the line, after an initial $7.5 million committed in 2017 enabled early works to begin in May 2020.

Operations are expected to begin in 2021.

The work will include five level crossings as well as the interface between the West Tamworth to Barraba line and the Werris Creek to Armidale line.

Nearby road works are also underway, funded by the local, state, and federal governments.

Tamworth

Rail line at Port Botany. Photo: Sydney Ports Corporation / Brendan Read

Botany duplication and Cabramatta loop approved

The NSW government has given planning approval for the Botany Rail Duplication and the Cabramatta Passing Loop.

Both projects will be delivered by the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) with shortlisted contractor expected to be invited to tender shortly, Peter Winder, group executive Interstate Network at ARTC.

“These two landmark projects will encourage a shift in freight share from road to rail, to help rail carry more of Sydney’s freight growth and associated traffic congestion and support growth in the containerised freight task and port-shuttle rail services between Port Botany and intermodal terminals such as at Enfield, Moorebank, Minto and Chullora.”

The project will allow for freight trains up to 1,300 metres in length to pass between Cabramatta and Warwick Farm and enable Port Botany to handle increasing freight loads by rail, said Minister for Transport and Roads Andrew Constance.

“As the state’s largest container port, the efficient operation of Port Botany is critical. Forecasts predict a whopping 77 per cent increase in the amount of freight it handles from 14.4 million tonnes in 2016 to 25.5 million tonnes by 2036.”

The dual projects were one of a number of NSW rail projects that received fast-tracked planning approvals. According to Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole the projects will allow more freight to be carried by rail.

“These projects are crucial because more freight is moved on rail lines and congestion is busted with fewer trucks on our roads,” he said.

“This project will not only provide new rail infrastructure but will inject around $400 million into the economy and create around 500 local jobs during construction.”

The Cabramatta Loop will be completed by mid-2023 and the Botany Rail Duplication will be completed by late 2024.

Australian Logistics Council CEO Kirk Coningham welcomed the announcement.

“Duplicating the remaining 2.9-kilometre single track section of the Botany Line between Mascot and Botany and constructing a new passing loop on the Southern Sydney Freight Line at Cabramatta will inject greater efficiency and capacity into the freight network and help to meet NSW’s growing freight demands,” he said.

“The delivery of these projects by the Australian Rail Track Corporation will further encourage freight owners to transport more containers by rail and will build on significant investments NSW Ports has already made to increase port-side rail capacity.”

New Intercity Fleet

Blue Mountains Line ready for New Intercity Fleet

Upgrades to the Blue Mountains line to prepare for the introduction of the New Intercity Fleet are finished.

The $75 million upgrades included changes to platforms and the rail corridor, including the Ten Tunnels Deviation. Electrification infrastructure was also upgraded to be consistent with the rest of the network.

NSW Minister for Transport Andrew Constance said that this would allow improved train services for the line.

“The Blue Mountains Line between Springwood and Lithgow has now been upgraded to a more consistent standard to match the rest of the electrified network, meaning the new trains can now run all the way to Lithgow,” he said.

“These upgrades will pave the way for the new fleet to provide better connections to places and opportunities for employment, education, business and enjoyment.”

The New Intercity Fleet will first begin running on the Central Coast and Newcastle line later in 2020, before being introduced to the Blue Mountains line and South Coast line. Testing will soon begin to Katoomba and then to Lithgow.

The new trains will improve customer comfort, said Minister for Regional Transport Paul Toole.

“Customers can expect more spacious seating, mobile device charging ports, modern heating and air conditioning and dedicated spaces for wheelchairs, luggage, prams and bicycles.”

The introduction of the New Intercity Fleet has been criticised, both for the need to upgrade stations to fit the new trains, as well as safety concerns raised by guards, with the RTBU refusing to staff the trains.

Permits required for freight crossing NSW border from Victoria

Freight rail personnel travelling from Victoria to NSW will have to apply for a permit, under new regulations imposed to limit the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

The new rules were imposed on July 8 and apply to anyone crossing the border from Victoria to NSW. While freight and logistics are exempted from the ban on travelling across the border as they are seen as providing critical services, a permit is required.

A separate permit is being created to clarify conditions for freight and transport operators. This permit will allow freight personnel to travel between NSW and Victoria for the purpose of their duties, as long as their employer has a COVID-19 Safety Plan and does not require them to self-isolate.

Applications for the new freight and transport permit will be live through Service NSW by close of business Thursday, July 9.

When the border closure was initially announced and put in place, freight and logistics operators were required to self-isolate, however chair of the Freight on Rail Group of Australia Dean Dalla Valle welcomed the change to the freight and transport-specific permit.

“Rail maintenance workers, terminal staff and safety compliance officers also need to regularly cross the Victorian-NSW border in cars to service and supervise essential freight train operations,” he said.

“Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole and his key agency staff immediately understood and appreciated these nuanced, daily practical requirements of our sector. He also understood the logistical difficulty of forcing hundreds of train crews to self-isolate for 14-days each time they crossed the border on a freight delivery run.”

Australian Logistics Council CEO Kirk Coningham also welcomed the NSW governments creation of the freight transport permit.

“ALC has been working with the NSW government and other industry groups over the past day to rectify the impractical requirement for freight transport workers entering NSW from Victoria to self-isolate for 14 days,” he said.

“We are pleased that the NSW Government is now creating a new permit that will allow our industry’s workforce to continue delivering essential goods to communities without being forced into self-isolation.”

Passenger rail between the two states has been halted, with the XPT service from Sydney terminating at Albury.

According to a statement from the Victorian and NSW agriculture ministers, both governments are working to ensure freight can flow across the border.

“We are working closely with our federal and New South Wales counterparts to ensure freight movements across the border can continue and our agricultural products can be delivered to market shelves across Victoria,” said Victorian Minister for Agriculture Jaclyn Symes.

NSW Minister for Agriculture Adam Marshall said that the governments will ensure that the agricultural supply chain will continue operating.

“Agriculture is critical to both our states and to the country, which is why we’ll be working to make sure there’s minimal to no disruption to this essential sector.”

Rail freight and the wider transport sector has been recognised as critical to ensuring Australians can access essential supplies throughout the COVID-19 period. When other state-borders were closed earlier in 2020, exemptions were granted for freight to continue. Coningham said that these procedures should continue.

“Our industry has supported communities right throughout this pandemic, and it’s important governments return that support by ensuring their COVID rules and regulations are practical, workable and allow us to keep delivering.”

Dalla Valle said that the efficiencies of rail had been clearly demonstrated throughout the pandemic.

“What has become crystal clear during the COVID-19 pandemic is the innate power of rail in being able to transport bulk volumes of freight over large distances and state borders in a safe and efficient manner,” he said.

“For example, a typical interstate goods train up to 1,500 metres in length can haul approximately 220 shipping containers, helping to significantly reduce the number of truck (and hence people) movements across state borders.”

Dalla Valle also said that rail was able to ensure that goods are transported via corridors and facilities that did not come into contact with the public.