Footage of motorists flouting level crossing warnings released

Transport for NSW has released footage of motorists crossing rail lines as trains are moving at Port Kembla.

The vision comes from the Old Port Road level crossing, which is regularly used by freight trains carrying goods from the Port Kembla steelworks and industrial areas.

In the CCTV clips, cars can be seen crossing the tracks while trains are moving towards the crossing, ignoring the flashing red lights. In one incident, a waiting vehicle overtakes the vehicle in front of it across double lines as a train is beginning to enter the crossing.

Police will be targeting the crossing to ensure no incidents occur.

The weight and speed of trains means that motorists will come off worse, and Transport for NSW deputy secretary for safety, environment and regulation Tara McCarthy said that motorists needed to pay attention.

“Trains can travel at speeds of up to 160 kilometres per hour and can take up to one-and-a-half kilometres to come to a complete stop,” she said.

“That means that by the time they see you, it’s often too late. Signs, flashing lights, boom gates and road markings are at level crossings for a good reason, and drivers, riders and pedestrians need to pay attention.”

Motorists also need to consider the impact of a collision or close call on those manning the trains.

“We all have a duty of care when driving, not only for ourselves, passengers and other road users, but also for train passengers and crew,” said McCarthy.

The penalty from crossing a level crossing at the wrong time can include three demerit points and a $464 fine. Acting superintendent Ben Macfarlane from traffic and highway patrol said NSW police would be enforcing these penalties.

“We will be looking out for speeding and distracted drivers near these level crossings and those who disregard flashing lights and stop signs. The consequences of a car or truck hitting a train are severe so don’t rush to the other side,” he said.

Watch footage of the incidents below:


Mount Murray freight passing loop improvement construction begins

Work has begun on extending the Mount Murray loop in the NSW southern highlands to accommodate kilometre long trains.

The passing loop, located on the Moss Vale to Unanderra line, is being upgraded as part of the Fixing Country Rail program and received $7.5 million under the scheme in 2018.

Freight operators will benefit from the upgrade as it will enable more regional freight trains to access Port Kembla and improve connectivity between the port and regional exporters.

Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole said the upgrade provided a significant increase.

“The Mount Murray Loop Extension will see an increase in the length of trains from 41 to 62 wagons with three million tonnes of freight expected to pass through this section of track each year.”

Freight rail access to Port Kembla has been identified by Infrastructure Australia as a priority project. 60 per cent of freight to Port Kembla is brought by rail, however capacity is limited by passenger services on the Illawarra line. Additionally, improvements to container handling at Port Kembla and limits on truck movements will further increase the demand for freight rail services.

The NSW government has selected the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) to deliver the 300 metre extension and the project is expected to be completed later in 2020, allowing for productivity improvements.

“The longer trains will enable a higher volume of grain and mineral ore per trip, which will increase productivity and improve competitiveness for producers in the region, opening up new markets,” said Toole.

Local member for Goulburn Wendy Tuckerman welcomed the impact that works would have on her electorate, with 140 jobs expected to be created by the extension.

“While the Mount Murray Loop Extension will increase efficiency along this section of railway line allowing for more cost-effective freight transport, particularly for the grain and mining industries, it is also supporting local jobs and businesses,” said Tuckerman.

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.”

Coal Train Photo Hunter Valley Coal Chain Coordinator

IPART calls for review of NSW access regime

New South Wales’ Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) has asked the state to order a review of its rail access regime, which it says is not currently meeting stakeholders’ needs.

IPART made the request while handing down its final rate of return and mine life calculations for the state’s freight and bulk railways.

IPART on July 9 finalised a 5.3 per cent rate of return for the next five years of third-party access to the Country Regional Network, Sydney’s Metropolitan Freight Network, the Australian Rail Track Corporation’s non-Hunter Valley network, and RailCorp’s Hunter Valley network from Woodville to Newstan Junction.

The final rate of return figure is 0.5 per cent lower than the figure in IPART’s draft decision in April, a move IPART said was due to the recent decline in the risk-free rate, contributing to a decrease in the cost of equity.

IPART on July 9 also finalised its draft decision to increase RailCorp’s maximum allowed depreciation rate from 3.3 per cent to 4.8 per cent per annum for its coal railway between Woodville and Newstan Junction in the Hunter.

The depreciation increase reflected a shortening of IPART’s mine life estimate which now extends only to 2040, four years earlier than previously anticipated.

In handing down the figures, IPART chair Dr Paul Paterson explained that the undertaking had undergone “significant changes” since it came into effect and that it no longer met the needs of stakeholders. IPART has recommended the NSW Government undertake a review of the rail access regime, adding that a national review could suffice as a longer-term solution.

The line does not transport coal for export to the port of Newcastle, but it does transport coal to the Eraring and Vales Point power stations, BlueScope Steel, Port Kembla and other mines south-west of the line.

IPART’s decision was influenced by uncertainty regarding the future of coal-fired power stations and a projected decline in coal revenues over the next five years due to changing energy trends.

Origin Energy, the owner of the Eraring power station, is expected to exit coal-fired power generation after 2032.

“The shorter estimated life is an on-balance judgement, taking into account the best publicly available information on the rail line’s expected use, mine reserves, and closures of Eraring and Vales Point power stations,” Paterson said.

IPART conducts its review of the rail access undertaking every five years, including depreciation decisions for the Hunter Valley Coal Network, and rate of return for ARTC’s non-Hunter Valley network, Country Regional Network and Sydney Metropolitan Freight Network.

The next IPART review of the rail access undertaking will take place in July 2024.

The Hunter Valley Coal Network consists of 37 sectors, five of which are owned by RailCorp in accordance with the Rail Access Undertaking.

Railcorp’s sectors comprise roughly 21 kilometres of track running coal and freight trains from Newstan Junction (sector 405) to Woodville Junction (sector 497) in Hamilton.

The other 32 sectors are owned by the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) under a separate agreement with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).